Chapter 7: Flying Bombs and Rockets
On the night 14th/15th June, 1944, Flight Lieutenant J. G. Musgrave, the pilot of a Mosquito of the County of Warwick Squadron (No. 605) and his observer, Flight Sergeant F. W. Samwell, were over the Channel. Soon after midnight they saw coming from the Continent what Musgrave inevitably described as a ‘ball of fire’ It flashed past on our starboard side a few thousand feet away and at the same height as we were flying. I quickly turned to port and chased it. It was going pretty fast, but I caught up with it and opened fire from astern’. After three bursts from his cannon, ‘there was a terrific flash and explosion and the thing fell down in a vertical dive into the sea. The whole show was over in three minutes’. The Flight Lieutenant was, in all probability, the first member of the Royal Air Force to shoot down a flying bomb. This weapon, known as the V.1 (Vergeltungswaffe—meaning retaliation weapon), was one of the means by which Hitler hoped to restore the fallen fortunes of the Reich. The other was the rocket.
The existence of the flying bomb, or pilotless aircraft, was for a long time unsuspected by our Intelligence. Evidence from sources, which ranged from statements by slave workers to photographic reconnaissance photographs, appeared at first and for many months to show that what the Germans were preparing was some form of rocket. In the past half century, rockets in various forms seem to have had great attraction for the Germans, and between 1932 and 1934 the engineers of the Berlin Cosmonautical Society had devoted much thought to the problems connected with them. War came and their labours continued, but it was not until the first half of 1942, when a swift victory in Russia, with all that that implied, was seen to be impossible, that the work of research, begun eight years before, was intensified.
As early as November, 1939, only two months after the outbreak of war, the British Intelligence Service obtained a document, known subsequently as the Oslo Report, which gave remarkably accurate details of some of the German rocket weapons, including the Hs.293, the glider-bomb which sank the Roma. Three years passed
and then, first in December, 1942, then in April, 1943, a number of reports were received describing the trials of a secret weapon, thought to be a long-range rocket, carried out, some said, at Swinemünde, others at Peenemünde. That this place was a research centre was already well known. That it was concerned, partly at any rate, with the perfection of rockets as weapons, was suspected from the ‘unwitting indiscretions of two high ranking German prisoners’. Moreover, a part of the Baltic Sea, afterwards discovered to be the area in which the experimental bombs fell, had for no adequate reason been closed to shipping.
On 12th April, 1943, the question of German rockets was brought officially before the British Chiefs of Staff, and Professor C. D. Elks, the Scientific Adviser to the Army Council, gave it as his considered opinion that in this field the enemy were up to mischief. A committee, under the direction of Mr. Duncan Sandys, Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply, was thereupon set up and called upon to answer three main questions. Was a rocket capable of travelling more than 100 kilometres, with a warhead weighing between one and five tons, a possibility? If so, what stage in its development had been reached, and what, if any, should be the counter-measures? It will be seen at once that the task of the committee was formidable. To fulfil it Sandys was given a singularly free hand and was able to override all Government departments.
The first step was to discover whether the rocket existed. Special photographic reconnaissances were flown and a number of prisoners subjected to close interrogation; but up to July, 1943, no additional evidence was forthcoming. All that could be said with certainty was that there was a rocket and that the chief centre of its development was at Peenemünde. Photographs of this place, taken on 22nd April and on the 12th and 23rd June, showed ‘two large objects which appeared to be rockets some forty feet long and seven feet wide’. Other photographs, taken elsewhere, disclosed the presence of large unfinished works of an unknown character at Watten, near Calais, at Wizernes and at Bruneval—all, be it observed, in Northern France.
The scientists were puzzled. How could rockets, if this was what they were, of such size be propelled, unless, and this was the point, the Germans had invented an entirely new form of fuel of at least twice the calorific content of cordite? The days went by and it began to seem more and more likely that they had been able to do so. The future was ominous. If, as was in theory possible, rockets containing ten tons of explosives were being prepared and were to fall in the London area at the rate of one an hour for a month such action would, it was estimated, kill 108,000 people and injure an
even larger number. Lord Cherwell, close friend of the Prime Minister and his intimate adviser on scientific matters, was, however, sceptical, and was at one time inclined to believe that the whole matter was an elaborate hoax, a cover plan to conceal some other secret weapon of quite a different kind.
What then, were to be the counter-measures? The first, and most obvious, was the obliteration of Peenemünde. At the same time, the I.G. Farben factories at Leuna, Ludwigshafen and Oppau, which might be producing the new fuel, if it existed, must also be attacked together with Friedrichshafen, where electrical components were manufactured. Since Peenemünde was a long way from his bases, Air Chief Marshal Harris had to wait until the night of 17th/18th August before he was able to despatch 597 aircraft to drop 1,937 tons of bombs upon it. The Master Bomber was Group Captain J. H. Searby, of No. 83 Squadron, and the technique he then applied had been rehearsed with great success ten nights earlier over Turin. Three aiming points were chosen and each was to be attacked in turn for forty-five minutes. To mark them, ‘blind illuminators’ would identify the area by dropping yellow target indicators on the exact aiming point and the ‘backers up’ would follow with showers of green. H Hour was to be 0200 hours. The island of Rügen, close to Peenemünde, provided a natural landmark for the guidance of the Pathfinders.
In excellent weather the Group Captain took off in Lancaster ‘W for William’, and after traversing the North Sea at 200 feet, presently reached Rügen. Flying beneath a thin layer of cloud he approached the target, over which an artificial smoke-screen was beginning to form. Fortunately it had not had time to become effective. ‘Shortly before H Hour’, runs his report, ‘the first group of yellow markers went down and these were followed almost at once by the red aiming point indicator. This was correctly placed’. The bombing began at the planned hour, and seeing that some of the bombs had overshot, the Group Captain broadcast more than once to the main force ‘assuring them of the accuracy of the marking and exhorting them to keep up this very high standard’. The attack had been in progress about ten minutes when German night fighters appeared and by 0215 hours were beginning to be very active. ‘ We saw many bombers go down in flames’. The night’s loss was forty. During the final run over the target by the Master Bomber it proved ‘quite impossible to distinguish individual buildings owing to the tremendous fires which were sweeping the area’.
The attack was undoubtedly successful, and, if Göbbels’ diaries are to be believed, threw ‘preparations back four or even eight
weeks’. The west plant did not appear to be hit and important testing equipment in the east plant seemed to have escaped damage. On the other hand the administration building and the drawing office of the main workshops were completely destroyed, as was the housing shed and the hutted camp where the workers, many of them slaves, were housed. Between 600 and 800 persons lost their lives, among them being Dr. Thiel, in charge of development, and another important scientist. Ten days later the mysterious buildings at Watten were attacked by a force of 185 United States Fortresses, nineteen direct hits being scored on them. Bomber Command also visited Friedrichshafen, Ludwigshafen and Oppau, but without very much effect.
It was at this juncture that further information came to hand which revealed a most disturbing state of affairs. The fact that the Germans were preparing rockets seemed incontestable; but what was to be made of a report received early in June, 1943, of ‘an air mine with wings’? The activities of Sandys and his committee were suddenly so widened in scope, that he called on the Air Ministry to investigate this new development. It did so and was soon collecting a number of reports, one of which, dated 12th August, five days before the attack on Peenemünde, from a source ‘unusually well-placed to learn of new weapons’, not only corroborated everything so far discovered about the rockets, but added the disquieting information that experiments were being made with the object of producing pilotless aircraft.
This news was soon confirmed by a hurried sketch drawn by a courageous Dane who, walking on the shore of the island of Bornholm, had come across the prototype of one of these machines lying in the sand. From this drawing it appeared that its warhead would contain about 1,000 pounds of explosive and that it would be propelled somewhat in the manner of a rocket. How this was to be done and how the pilotless aircraft was to be steered were unknown.
Obviously counter-measures more energetic than the bombing of a few factories and research centres were urgently necessary. The Sandys Committee had performed excellent work, but a move must now be made from the sphere of investigation to that of action. On 18th November responsibility, therefore, for both counter-measures and further investigations was handed over to the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Bottomley. An added, perhaps a commanding reason for taking such a step was the increasing number of reports, each more circumstantial than the last, which began to come in. One of the earliest and most important referred to an experimental unit engaged in carrying out firing trials at the village of Zempin,
near Peenemünde. It was soon to move to Northern France under the command of a Colonel Wachtel, where it was to be known as Flak Regiment 155W. Headquarters, said the agent, would be at Amiens and its duties would be to operate 108 ‘catapults’ situated on an arc between Dunkirk and Abbeville. Other reports indicated that concrete emplacements were being constructed in the Pas de Calais and in the neighbourhood of Cherbourg. They were located at Siracourt and Marquise-Mimoyecques with others at Watten and Wizernes and at Martinvast in the Cherbourg Peninsula.
Then, on 28th October, a new report arrived. It spoke of the construction in the middle of the Bois Carré, ten miles north-east of Abbeville, of ‘a concrete platform with a centre axis pointing directly to London’. This information was confirmed by photographs which showed, in addition to a platform about thirty feet long and twelve feet wide, two rectangular buildings and one square, and erections that looked for all the world like a pair of skis or hockey sticks. Here was something very different from the concrete structures at Siracourt and elsewhere—the ‘large sites’, as they had been called. The new discovery was named the ‘ski site’ and within a fortnight twenty-nine more had been found and reports from agents indicated there were some seventy or eighty more in that part of France between Dieppe and Calais. All were between 130 and 140 miles from London.
What were these new installations and what was to be launched from them? The answer was supplied very largely by the Central Photographic Interpretation Unit at Medmenham. In the first six months of 1943 the whole area of Peenemünde had several times been covered by photographic Mosquitos of No. 540 Squadron and photographs continued to be taken of the site after the bombing. On 3rd October the interpreters, one of whom was Flight-Officer Babington Smith, of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, observed a small aircraft, with a wing span of about twenty feet and a length of nineteen, on the edge of the airfield at Peenemünde. Earlier photographs were re-examined and two more similar specimens discovered. It was thought probable that the aircraft in question was jet-propelled, but its connection with the ramps, appearing in other pictures of Peenemünde, was not suspected. The Spitfires of No. 541 (Photographic Reconnaissance) Squadron covering Northern France redoubled their efforts and by the end of November, 1943, seventy-two ‘ski sites’ of a kind similar to that discovered at Bois Carré were identified and seven in the Cherbourg Peninsula. On 28th November, the connection between these and the small jet-propelled aircraft became more obvious. Squadron Leader J. R. H. Merrifield and Flight Lieutenant Baird of No. 540 Squadron, sent to photograph
bomb damage in Berlin, found their target obscured by cloud and photographed instead the airfields at Peenemünde and Zempin. On examining their pictures it was found that an installation exactly similar to those in the Bois Carré and elsewhere had been set up. Here evidently was the connection and this deduction was confirmed by the behaviour of the 14th Company of the Air Experimental Signals Regiment, a German organization which specialized in radar, and which had played an important part in the direction and operation of the radio beams used in the winter of 1940 and 1941 by the Luftwaffe in their night attacks on Great Britain. About November, 1943, it became clear that this company, which it was known was stationed on the shores of the Baltic, was engaged in plotting the course of flying bombs launched from Peenemünde.
Suspicion had now become almost certainty, and then on 28th November conclusive photographic proof was at last obtained. The pictures taken that day showed a pilotless aircraft on a launching ramp. Moreover, the buildings at Zempin were similar in size and shape to those discovered near the ‘ski sites’ in France. London then was to be attacked by flying bombs launched from the north of France. The work of the Photographic Reconnaissance squadrons, heavy though it already was, was intensified with the result that before 1943 was out reports of agents had been confirmed and eighty-eight ‘ski sites’ discovered, while fifty more were suspected.
There remained the problem of propulsion. How did the flying bomb fly? Was it propelled by a continuously burning rocket, by a turbo-jet or by the propulsive duct system? The last, in fact, was the form of propulsion, but this was not definitely established until May, 1944, when a prototype crashed in Sweden, less than a month before the first flying bombs were launched. It was found to be a pilotless monoplane with tapered wings of a span of 16 feet, though later models were provided with parallel closed wings spanning 17½ feet. The length of the fuselage was nearly 22 feet, that of the propulsion unit just over 11. The bomb was made of steel and a light metal alloy. The warhead contained about 1,870 pounds of high explosive, the tank when full 130 gallons of a new fuel which drove a jet-propulsion engine of the simplest kind. Directional control was secured by gyroscopes.
It had at first been intended to launch the bomb not from the ground but from the air, and the prototype was, in fact, so discharged from a Focke-Wulf Condor in December, 1942, by the inventor of the weapon, Gerhardt Fieseler. Almost immediately, however, it was decided that the weight of the attack would not be heavy enough unless launching ramps were used. The first bomb left the first of
these on Christmas Eve of the same year and flew an intentionally limited distance of three kilometres. Not until the following July were long distance flights attempted but these soon reached 243 kilometres. By then many technical troubles had developed. Wachtel and his men were working against time, for the German General Staff had been so impressed by the first trials and so impervious to subsequent warnings that perfection had not yet been attained, that they provisionally fixed 15th December, 1943, as the date on which operations were to begin. This, as it turned out, was far too optimistic. The bomb had originally been designed to fly at a speed of from 600 to 700 kilometres an hour at any height between 500 and 3,000 metres. The maximum height it ever reached, however, was 2,500 metres and the maximum speed about 500 kilometres an hour. The trimming mechanism remained faulty for months, the early bombs showed a tendency to turn to port and the propulsion unit was liable to develop too rich a mixture. But the fundamental technical imperfection lay in the complexity of the compressed air system.
To these defects were added those connected with the launching of the bomb. Many experiments had to be made before the right type of ramp was designed. The medium of propulsion called at first the Dampferzeuger, was an unfailing source of trouble, and its tendency to destroy not only itself and the bomb but also those discharging it was hardly conducive to operational efficiency. The death roll, in fact, became so high that it equalled that caused by the British and American bombing of the sites. These were the final and gravest source of delay.
Since they had to be hidden as far as possible from the prying eyes of the Royal Air Force, no paved roads could be built leading to them and the bombs had thus to be transported over rough ground. The original ‘ski sites’ had been designed to hold a reserve of twenty bombs each and the ‘large sites’ a stock of 250. Though these arrangements had to be drastically altered, even as late as 5th October, 1943, Wachtel still hoped to be in action by the date ordered, provided that the supplies of concrete and stone he required could be made quickly available. Here, too, his optimism proved too great. Though by then some 40,000 heavy workers were engaged on the construction of sites in France or on their repair, the amount of work they did was not enough to complete the programme in time. Moreover, the mass production of the bomb by the Volkswagenwerke at Fallersleben was proving far from easy. By 25th September, 1943, an average of only two bombs a day were being delivered, an output hardly sufficient to meet the requirements of Zempin, where trials were still taking place. The modifications, too, which had to be made
after delivery before the bomb could be fired consumed 200 man-hours. But the gravest blow of all fell on 12th November when Wachtel was informed from the headquarters of the Führer that the promised production of 5,000 bombs a month would not be attained until June, 1944, and that until that date not more than 1,500 a month could be produced.
Side by side with these troubles marched others of a personal kind. Relations between Flak Regiment 155W. and LXV Army Corps, which controlled it, were strained from the outset and as the weeks and months passed steadily deteriorated. Each was jealous of the other, and since the Army Corps Commander was the senior, the energetic Colonel Wachtel suffered, especially as he fell foul of Colonel Walter, Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe attached to the Corps. The picture presented by captured German documents and by the interrogation of persons concerned displays an enthusiast, lapped in coils of red tape, striving with desperation to induce unresponsive and unimaginative senior officers to give him a free hand. There is no doubt that at some stage Hitler and some of his advisers considered that the flying bomb and the rocket would be able to replace the bombing force of the Luftwaffe. The Führer, indeed, made this clear to Colonel Wachtel but not until 28th June, 1944, when he saw him at Berchtesgaden a fortnight after the attack by flying bombs had begun. At the moment hopes in their efficacy were high; but this had not always been so. In fact almost from the beginning there had been a fundamental difference of opinion in the German High Command regarding the employment of the bomb. The Army thought that it should supplement bombing attacks by the Luftwaffe, whereas Wachtel, aware of its great inaccuracy, was perfectly content to use it purely as an instrument of terror, a riposte to the heavy bombing of German cities. Into this troubled atmosphere there presently and inevitably entered the SS, in the person of Hauptsturmführer Richter. He had, too, in his own opinion at least, another and most powerful pretext for intervention, for he had been developing his own method of the long-range plotting of the bomb. It was based on a seismographic echo measuring system, and, despite the fact that the early tests had been unsuccessful, was preferred to the system invented by Wachtel’s own expert, Major Dr. Sommerfeld. The protests of Wachtel only earned him a severe reprimand for refusing to comply with the orders of his superior officer.
By the late autumn of 1943, having learnt and deduced so much the Air Ministry was ready for action. It set up a new directorate with instructions to co-ordinate all information on CROSSBOW,
the code-name now given to the measures to deal with the bomb. The new body was soon made responsible not only for discovering what was about to happen but also for proposing the appropriate counter-measures. Of these the immediate and obvious, was the high explosive bomb, and by the middle of December, the ‘ large sites’ had been heavily attacked by fighter-bombers of Fighter Command and by Marauders of the United States Ninth Air Force, 2,060 tons of bombs being dropped upon them. Then came the turn of the ‘ski sites’. Between the 5th and the end of the same month, fifty-two of them received 3,216 tons dropped partly by the Second Tactical Air Force and partly by Bomber Command and the United States Eighth Air Force. Seventy-nine more were attacked in the first half of January, 1944. The technique of the assault differed with the different aircraft. Doolittle’s Americans used the Norden bombsight, the most accurate up to then invented. Harris’ bombers relied on OBOE and Coningham’s Second Tactical Air Force on low-level attacks by fighter-bombers, Mustangs and Spitfires belonging to Nos. 83 and 84 Groups and Mosquitos of No. 2 Group. Of the three, the tactics of the last were the most interesting because they represented a new departure, the use of the low flying fighter-bomber against a small target where precision was vital to success.
The CROSSBOW sites were situated, for the most part, in woods or orchards. This made it difficult to pick them up at a glance; on the other hand a wood is an easily identifiable object from the air. For some reason the Germans made no effort to camouflage their ‘ski sites’. ‘Had they done so’, said Group Captain L. W. C. Bower of No. 138 Wing, ‘and had they refrained from building them in a wood and set them instead in open fields, it would have been almost impossible to find them’. Preliminary tests with an instantaneously fused bomb dropped from a height of 2,000 feet gave no results. It proved necessary, therefore, to descend to tree-top level and throw the bomb into the main building, the non-magnetic concrete hut standing near the ramp. At first it seemed that attempts to do so would be to invite crippling casualties. Very careful routing, however, combined with exact timing removed this danger. The routing was the most important part of the pilot’s briefing, and it was based on information supplied through the army liaison officers and from other sources and kept up to date not only daily but hourly, and, when necessary, every fifteen minutes. It was concerned with a point of paramount importance—the exact whereabouts of the anti-aircraft batteries likely to be met with near the target or on the way to and from it. Once the position of these was known, it was always possible to find a point on the iron coast of France—that stretch of forbidding cliff
running from the River Seine to Cap Gris Nez—at which an aircraft, flying very low beneath the radar screen, could slip inland unseen. Once the ‘GEE-box’ had been installed in Mosquitos, the problem of accurate flying became easier, but pilots were urged, and even enjoined, to learn to fly by visual observation. Like those of the Spitfires and Mustangs they were trained to paint, as it were, upon the canvas of their minds, a mental picture of the shape and appearance of certain landmarks as seen from a low altitude, and to assist them photographs of these as they appeared from 50, 250 and 1,000 feet were kept constantly at hand. To approach the CROSSBOW, or to give them their other code-name, the NOBALL sites, a number of small and very narrow gaps, none of them more than 200 yards wide, were used in the chain of defences stretching between Dieppe and Le Treport. To slip through them required the most accurate navigation. For example, it was found at one spot that, provided the pilot flew along the left-hand side of a wood some 300 yards wide he was safe; if he chose the right-hand side, where the anti-aircraft guns were situated, he would assuredly be shot down. If the pilot, or in the case of the Mosquito the navigator, failed to strike one of the gaps immediately, the orders were to return at once to base. To fly along the coast even for a few hundred yards, seeking the landmark which showed where the gap was, was to court destruction.
Another method was to fly just above the wave crests until the French coast was reached, when the pilot would pull back his control column, shoot his aircraft several thousand feet into the air till it was out of range of light flak and then almost immediately dive down again to tree-top level. The disadvantage of this manoeuvre, ‘rocketing’ as it was called, was that though the climb and the descent were abrupt and swift, it was nevertheless possible for an alert radar station to pick up the intruder and therefore to warn fighters, which would lie in wait for him. It was presently discovered that the main danger was from rifle and machine gun fire.’ It cannot be too strongly emphasized’, said Wing Commander H. J. W. Meadkin, to his pilots at the time, ‘that small arms fire is the real danger to the Mosquito, because when it flies at nought feet practically anybody can hit it with a rifle or machine-gun’.
The number of aircraft detailed for each attack was usually small—eight to ten, flying in pairs, the first armed with 30-second delay fused bombs, the remainder with 10-second. Radio-telephone silence was rigidly maintained. Using tactics of this kind, the pilots of the Second Tactical Air Force achieved great and deserved successes and were specially congratulated by a signal from the Chief of the Air Staff on 30th January, 1944, in which the results they achieved
were described as outstanding. By then they had become so accustomed to these operations that they renamed the village of Tocqueville, which was surrounded by many of the sites, Mosquitoville. One entrance to the flying bomb area was marked by a small wooden shed from which a stream of not ill-directed small arms fire was wont to spout. The unknown gunner, its presumed occupant, was christened ‘Hans Schmidt’, and since the shed was of value as a pin-point, pilots were reluctant to destroy it. One day, however, Wing Commander Dale, of No. 21 Squadron, suffered a particularly determined attack. Retaliation was irresistible and he sprayed the shed with cannon-fire. As he turned for home, a cow was observed to emerge from it.
How successful was the onslaught upon the flying bomb sites maintained by Bomber Command, by the Americans and by the Second Tactical Air Force, may be seen from the figures. By the end of May, 1944, 103 sites out of 140 had been destroyed. To achieve this result the Fortresses had required 165-4 tons of bombs for each site, the Mitchells 219 and the Marauders 182-6. Mosquitos of No. 2 Group, flying by day, had required no more than 39-8. This Group flew 4,710 sorties with a loss of 41 aircraft and with damage to 419. By May, then, probably less than ten ‘ski sites’ were capable of discharging a bomb. The first Allied counter-measure had been conspicuously successful and can, with truth, be described as a victory. It forced the Germans to modify their programme; it considerably reduced the number of bombs which could be launched; and it transformed what might have been an attack of the utmost severity into an assault which, though perhaps of more than nuisance value, when at length it came, was neither heavy enough nor strong enough to influence the course of operations. For the moment the effect was decisive, and on 7th January, 1944, the keeper of Wachtel’s war diary sorrowfully recorded that ‘if Allied bombing continues at its present rate for two more weeks, the hope of ever using the original site system operationally will have to be abandoned’.
But the Germans are nothing if not pertinacious, and Wachtel, undeterred by bombs, reprimands or the sneers of his enemies on the staff, set to work anew. A simpler form of launching ramp, prefabricated and easily assembled, was designed. The first of these new types was photographed by the Royal Air Force on 27th April, 1944, near the village of Belhalmelin on the Cherbourg Peninsula. Within the next fortnight twenty more had been discovered. They were at once known as ‘modified sites’; for, though they possessed a launching ramp and non-magnetic buildings, the ‘ski’ shape constructions were absent. Moreover, many of them were camouflaged
to resemble farm buildings. Soon they were springing up, if not as fast as mushrooms, still faster than they could be destroyed by the Royal Air Force and the Americans.
They would, Wachtel was convinced, spring up faster still, if it were not for the British Intelligence Service. Allied agents and spies were swarming everywhere, he asserted, especially in the launching area. His example was infectious and before long all ranks were convinced that these sinister persons were behind every hedgerow. Wachtel himself was presently maintaining that he went in danger of assassination. A certain Colonel Martin Wolf was, therefore, ostensibly put in command of the regiment and made frequent appearances in a beard. Wolf was none other than Wachtel himself, and to make the disguise even more impenetrable he received permission to wear any uniform of the Wehrmacht he chose. Here, however, he reckoned without the German navy, who firmly refused to allow him to pass as a naval officer. On 9th February, 1944, the headquarters of the Flak Regiment, which since November, 1943, had been at Merlemont, were moved to Auteuil. The transfer took place in the greatest secrecy. During its progress, Wachtel changed his uniform several times while driving round Paris in a series of taxis. So elaborate were the precautions taken that his headquarters lost touch with their laundry and went for weeks without clean shirts or underclothes.
By the spring of 1944, Regiment 155W., now called Flakgruppe Creil, with as a regimental crest the figure eight surmounted by a W, this being a play on their commanding officer’s name, was installed in and near the modified sites. LXV Corps still disliked them so much that it removed Flak Regiment 93, which had been furnishing the guards to the sites, and thus added guard duties to their already heavy burdens. Nothing, however, could deter or discourage Wachtel, and by the beginning of June, 1944, his organization, though far—very far—from what he had hoped, was almost ready to become operational on a modest scale. It would have been still more modest could the new sites have been successfully attacked; but though the Allies had won the first round, it seemed that the enemy might win the second. During those summer days, when Southern England swarmed with men and machines and the great invasion was imminent, photographic aircraft ranged the north of France and by 12th June, the day on which the first flying bomb was launched, thirty-six ‘modified sites’ had been found and identified. To hit them was far more difficult than hitting the former ‘ski sites’. On 27th May an attempt to do so by Typhoons of the Second Tactical Air Force failed and the strenuous efforts of the United States Eighth Air Force were hardly more successful.
At 0130 hours on 6th June the Flakgruppe received its first news of the Allied invasion of Europe. That same day LXV Corps issued orders that operation RUMPELKAMMER, the bombardment of England by flying bombs, was to begin immediately. In vain Wachtel protested. Many of the sites had not yet been occupied by his regiment, supplies of fuel were quite inadequate, and motor transport was grievously lacking. There were, too, no lighting facilities and no tests had been carried out with the hurriedly assembled equipment. To crown all, every member of the regiment was utterly exhausted by days and nights of unremitting labour. LXV Corps, however, remained adamant. The latest date on which operation RUMPELKAMMER was to begin was 12th June. On that date, therefore, the first bomb was launched. Shorn of all technicalities this in essence is how it was done.1 The main component of the launching structure was an inclined ramp about 150 feet in length, of which the top end was about sixteen feet above ground level. The ramp itself was mounted on a concrete base. Beneath the ramp and running throughout its length was the firing tube in eight sections. Above this two machined plates with guide rails were welded to the ramp, the plates—liberally greased before each launching—forming a continuous platform along which slid the bomb carrier. Into the firing tube was fitted a dumb-bell shaped piston with a protruding lug which was attached to the fuselage of the flying bomb, this being the connecting link which drove the bomb up the ramp. The bomb arrived for launching on a metal trolley and its tail rested on a cradle-shaped carrier block which moved with it. A rocket starter trolley provided the means to drive the piston forward and so launch the bomb. The firing switches were operated from a nearby pillbox.
When the bomb had been ‘set’ in the Richthaus (the non-magnetic building), it was brought to the base of the firing ramp, where it was fuelled and placed on the rails. The sledge carrying the tail was secured to a bracket mounted at the base of the ramp. The rocket starter trolley was then brought into position, and two minutes before starting the pressure reducing valve on the bomb itself was unscrewed. At this point the crew retired to a safe distance, and subsequent operations were carried out from within the firing pillbox. At the appointed moment, the power unit switch inside that building was pushed over to the fully forward position and at the same time the switch marked ‘Start’ was pressed.
By so doing the fuel feed valve was opened by compressed air, allowing the fuel to pass into the combustion chamber. At the same
time ignition occurred and the combustion of the propellants began. The power unit was then run on full power for about seven seconds, the bomb being held stationary at the base of the ramp during this period until sufficient pressure had been built up behind the piston to cause the retaining bolt, securing the sledge to the bracket on the ramp, to sheer. The instant it snapped, the bomb shot forward up the ramp which it quitted at a speed of 400 kilometres an hour. The sledge and piston it left behind flew through the air for a distance of 200 or 300 yards and were recovered later for future use. After launching, the base of the firing ramp had to be hosed down by members of the crew wearing protective rubber clothing. The time needed to prepare for the first launching of the day was at least one and a half hours, but subsequent launchings took place more quickly. A really good crew could fire one V.1 each half hour, and one site despatched eighteen missiles during one night. The launching device had great simplicity and it was part of its devilish incongruity that it so exactly resembled something which in peace time had given thousands of people thrills of delight in every fun-fair from Coney Island to Blackpool.
On that first day, out of fifty-five sites technically ready, seven alone fired, getting off ten rounds. Of these, four bombs crashed not far from the site, and three detonated in the air. Such an achievement was scarcely encouraging and might even be called lamentable. Wachtel’s reluctance to begin had, he felt, been more than justified. Nevertheless, he persevered. Three days later, 244 bombs were launched from fifty-five ramps, by 21st June the thousandth bomb had been despatched against London, and by the 29th the two thousandth.
Congratulations now began to pour in and there was a marked change in the attitude of LXV Corps. Striking while the iron was hot, Wachtel proposed a swift expansion of the regiment, which should now be turned into a brigade; the sites it operated should be multiplied, and the production of bombs increased from 3,000 to 8,000 a month. Anon, came a summons to Berchtesgaden, to which place Wachtel and a Colonel von Gyldenfeldt, who had been in general charge of the weapon’s development almost from the beginning, repaired on 26th June. After waiting two days in the Berghof and fourteen hours in the Führer’s anteroom they finally entered the Presence and poured out their story of inadequate supplies. Hitler assured them that this would be set right, that the regiment would obtain the transport it needed, and that adequate fighter cover over the sites would be provided. Three weeks later, a second flying bomb regiment, known as 255W, came into existence, and Wachtel had reached the zenith.
His chief concern was to obtain accurate news of the effect of the bombardment. Great attention was therefore paid to stories appearing in the British Press about the effect of the bomb and to reports from agents, of whom one had access to the Ministry of Information. As his reports were carefully concocted by our own counter-intelligence, their value to the enemy was possibly not very great. Of greater accuracy, until they were suppressed, were the obituary notices published in national newspapers of persons killed by the bombs. A study of these enabled the point of impact of a bomb to be determined with a fair degree of accuracy. Presently Wachtel was declaring that the moral effect of his weapon was very great and noting in the regiment’s diary that, despite the appeal of the Lord Mayor of London to Londoners to stay at their posts, only 160 out of 615 (sic) Members of Parliament had remained behind to listen to an important speech by Mr. Anthony Eden. Captain Mossel took a more cautious view. ‘My own personal impression’, he records in his diary, ‘is that the effect of the bombardment upon England is great, but apparently not annihilating. It is too early to say whether this new weapon is of decisive effect or whether it will influence the trend of the war in the West to any great extent’.
One man had no doubt of its success—Göbbels—and under his direction the German Press and Radio indulged in a chorus of vehement gloating. The unpleasant facts of the situation in France, where Allied troops had made a mockery of Hitler’s boast that they would not remain on the shore of Europe even for nine hours, were forgotten. The lurid situation in England now roused the German nation to a fever of frenzied hope. All London, it seemed, was on fire and all Southern England covered with such a pall of smoke that it had not been possible to take photographs of the hideous shambles that obviously lay beneath it. North of the Metropolis, in the districts to which the bomb had not penetrated, the roads were seen to be choked with fleeing refugees, even more terrified than those who had swarmed through Belgium and France in the great days of 1940. In London itself all public services had ceased. Famous monuments and buildings lay in ruins. The capital of the British Empire was a chaos of panic and terror. Jedermann in shattered Hamburg, Berlin, Essen—or whatever ruin might now be his home—absorbed all this with avid eyes and ears. If a single day’s attack of flying bombs could achieve so much, what might not a week accomplish, and then a month, and then three months? Yes, in three months, so he reckoned, the War would be won. What, in fact, had happened?
The first flying bomb, or ‘doodle-bug’ which it was at once christened, fell at 0418 hours on 13th June at Swanscombe, four and a half miles west of Gravesend. It was followed six minutes later by a second which fell at Cuckfield in Sussex, and a third demolished the railway bridge at Grove Road, Bethnal Green, killing six people and seriously injuring nine. These bombs do not appear to have been picked up by the south coast radar stations, but at least one of them was reported by a motor torpedo boat on patrol in the Channel between Dungeness and Cap Gris Nez.
That morning the Chiefs of Staff Committee met to take a very important decision. Should the modified sites, from which these bombs had been launched, be attacked? Forty-two of them had been identified in the Pas de Calais and in the neighbourhood of the Somme, and some 3,000 sorties by Fortresses would be necessary to destroy them. This would mean a very great diversion of bombers from the Battle of France, now seven days old. The meeting soon reached the conclusion that nothing was to be allowed to interfere with the progress of OVERLORD. ‘The Chiefs of Staff are not unduly worried about “CROSSBOW”‘, reported the Chief Intelligence Officer at the Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Air Force, to his chief, Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory. ‘They do not wish air support to be diverted to it from “OVERLORD” but would like the Allied Expeditionary Air Force to do what they reasonably can about it’. Leigh-Mallory, himself, was very much of this opinion and in consequence, for the first three days of the flying bomb attack, only two of the four suspected supply sites, those at Domleger and Beauvoir, were assaulted. The War Cabinet adopted the same attitude and decided to wait until a heavier onslaught developed. They did not have to wait long.
Between the nights of 15th and 16th June, 151 flying bombs were reported by the defences. Of these, 144 crossed the coast and seventy-three reached London. Fourteen were shot down by anti-aircraft fire, seven by fighters and one by a combination of the two. The flight of the bombs was very inaccurate, one falling near Chichester and another as far north as Framlingham in Norfolk. It was evidently time to put into effect defensive plans drawn up some months before by Air Marshal Sir Roderic Hill, commanding the Air Defence of Great Britain, and General Sir Frederick Pile, commanding anti-aircraft defences. The plan was known as the ‘OVERLORD DIVER’ plan, DIVER being the code-name given to the flying bomb. In addition to assaults by bomber aircraft on the sites, guns and fighters were to be used against the bombs themselves in flight. Fighter aircraft were to be the first line of defence, and fighters
of No. 11 Group were ordered, whenever an attack was in progress, to patrol at 12,000 feet on three patrol lines; the first, twenty miles off the coast between Beachy Head and Dover; the second, over the coast line itself between Newhaven and Dover; and the third on a line between Haywards Heath and Ashford. At night, the fighters would be controlled by the various fighter sectors. These measures had been adopted for the defence of London. For the protection of Bristol and the Solent, fighters would be held ready if attacks appeared imminent. Hill and Pile had discussed various possibilities and, by 21st June, 192 heavy and the same number of light anti-aircraft guns and 480 balloons were deployed to cover London. At the same time eleven fighter squadrons, of which two were armed with Mosquitos, carried out the planned patrols. Thus, eight days after the opening of the attack, the first scheme of defence was in full operation.
It was soon seen to be inadequate, and a special CROSSBOW Sub-Committee of the War Cabinet was summoned, and attended by such important persons as Field Marshal Smuts, the three Chiefs of Staff and the Deputy Supreme Commander of OVERLORD. It at once delegated its powers to a smaller committee, of which Duncan Sandys was the chairman, and ordered it to review the progress of every kind of counter-measure. In the deliberations of the Sandys Committee can be followed the progress of the campaign. Both Hill and Pile were dissatisfied with the weight of the defence contemplated. Pile wished to augment the number of guns until it reached 376 heavy and 540 light; Balloon Command to augment the number of balloons from 480 to 1,000; but there was to be no increase in the number of fighters. Every effort was also to be made to increase the efficiency of the radar stations and the Royal Observer Corps by providing them with the latest equipment.
In the meantime Tedder was considering how best to co-ordinate the bombing attacks on CROSSBOW targets, to which Eisenhower shortly gave priority ‘over everything except the urgent requirements of the battle’. There were plenty of them. Forty-seven modified sites had now been identified and to these were added two other targets, a suspected railhead for flying bombs at Nucourt, fifteen miles north-west of Paris, and the electricity system in the Pas de Calais. During the first week the attacks were unsatisfactory, and this for a very simple reason—the weather. It was extremely bad and flying had, in consequence, to be severely curtailed. Neither Harris nor Doolittle showed much confidence in the results which their Commands might achieve against the modified sites. These, as they pointed out, were exceedingly difficult to locate and required
a degree of accuracy in bombing which their crews had not attained. It would be far better, they urged, to wait until clear weather which would at least give the bomb-aimers a chance of seeing their tiny targets. Better still, in their view, would be a mass attack on Berlin, 1,200 American aircraft delivering it by day and 800 of Bomber Command by night. Tedder thought an assault on such a scale might indeed damp the spirits of the German people. He made it clear, however, that such an attack was not, in his view, a substitute for assaults on the flying bomb organization proper, and at his suggestion Doolittle set aside 200 bombers for exclusive use against CROSSBOW targets. The attack on Berlin would not, of course, have had any influence on the flying bomb campaign and was no contribution to the defensive measures taken against it. It was eventually carried out on 21st June, but only by the Americans.
Nevertheless, it must not be thought that the efforts to bomb the weapon sites, which had originally been so successful, were entirely negligible. The attack, for example, on Watten by No. 617 Squadron at dusk on 19th June was particularly fruitful, fifteen 12,000-lb. TALLBOY bombs were dropped, twelve falling within one-hundred yards of the aiming point. The attack by Fortresses of the United States Eighth Air Force on 22nd June on Nucourt was also successful. Nor must the steady work of the medium bombers of the Second Tactical Air Force be forgotten.
The fact was that at this early stage the defence was puzzled. Though there was much information about the bomb it was by no means complete, and the most important item, the probable numbers which might be launched, was not known. During the first two weeks, the average had been ninety-seven bombs every twenty-four hours. Was this a maximum or a minimum, and for how long could it be maintained? The Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Intelligence) inclined to a sombre view. On 26th June he reported that ‘the enemy’s scale of attack will be maintained at its present level and might even increase’, but he was careful to add that he did not think the increase would be large.
There was then the problem created by the bomb itself. At what height and speed did it fly? It had been observed at heights between 1,000 and 4,000 feet, and at speeds which varied from as slow as 250 to as high as 400 miles an hour. Unless shot down by guns or fighters about sixty-five per cent. of the bombs launched reached the London area. At 3,000 feet it presented a difficult target to the gunners, being too low for the heavy anti-aircraft guns and too high for the light. Fighters, also, found it an awkward customer. Their margin of superiority in speed was small and interception had to be made very
quickly before the bomb reached the gun and balloon belts in front of London.
To these problems were added those of warning and control, both very difficult but neither insoluble, for by that time the Royal Observer Corps and the Operations Rooms, which were controlled from the Biggin Hill sector, were in a high state of efficiency. Their staffs were, moreover, determined to do all that they could to alleviate the lot of the long-suffering Londoner. The system of control was made as flexible as possible. Thus radar stations and the Royal Observer Corps centres at Horsham and Maidstone were used to direct fighters, the reason being that the time available for interception was shorter in the case of the bomb than in that of the piloted aircraft. Batteries were also allowed to fire independently.
How the gun and fighters were to co-operate was naturally of the first importance and had to be decided. As early as 16th June, Hill had sent his fighters to patrol the Channel and the strip of land between the coast and the gun-belt. On 19th June it was laid down that fighters would operate only when visibility was very good and guns only when it was very bad. On days when it was neither, both forms of defence would be used. These three conditions were somewhat comically named FLABBY, SPOUSE, and FICKLE. Such rules, though possibly the best which could be devised in the circumstances, were far from effective. Fighter pilots were soon reporting with increasing frequency that they had been fired at by the guns, the gunners replying with equal truth that their operations had been interfered with by the fighters. A lack of mutual confidence was soon manifest, and to the dismay of those in authority it grew rather than diminished. Before describing how it was overcome and how a very remarkable victory was achieved, the type of aircraft used in the defence and the general bombing policy pursued must be considered.
At first, Tempests Mark V and Spitfires Marks XI, XII, and XIV, were used together with Typhoons, while at night the Mosquito, with A.I.2 apparatus, was employed. The Mustang Mark III, was also found to be satisfactory. Interception of the flying bomb depended on obtaining accurate and timely information concerning its course and speed. That was not all; the pilot had been told where to look for his target but he still had to find it, and this, even in good weather, was far from easy, for the bomb was small and travelled fast. Experience soon snowed that it was most easily detected in twilight. At night its fiery tail made it easy to spot but hard to shoot down.
By the end of June, two methods of controlling fighters were in use. First was the close control method, used by controllers in the radar stations on the coast. As soon as a flying bomb appeared on the radar screen its course and speed were plotted and the necessary information passed to the patrolling pilot. The disadvantage of this system was that there were but four controlling radar stations on the south-east coast, and they could not detect the bomb at a distance much greater than fifty miles. The pilot had, therefore, at the most, six minutes in which to intercept and shoot it down. On the other hand the great advantage of close control was that the bomb fell harmlessly into the sea. Over land, what was known as the ‘running commentary’ method was used. In this, the position and course of the bomb was passed by the controller to all fighters working on the same radio-telephone frequency. These then worked out their own course to the target. The obvious disadvantage of this method was that not infrequently more than one fighter went for the same bomb.
Tactics for shooting down bombs also had to be evolved. A stern chase was usually futile unless the fighter was higher than the bomb and could dive, thus increasing speed. The best method was presently found to be to fly ahead on a parallel course to the bomb, allowing it to approach the fighter and then delivering a series of deflection bursts. To approach closer than 100 yards was suicidal, for the explosion of the bomb destroyed the fighter. What an attack by a fighter upon a flying bomb looked like from below has been well described by an onlooker dwelling in the sorely-tried county of Kent. ‘The golden wink of their guns in the wings’, he says, ‘could be seen a few seconds before the sound of them could be heard. If you were directly below them it was a moment of tense and terrifying beauty, for the impact of the shells on the bomb came at about the same moment as the sound of the shells being fired, and in the few seconds of interval you could only wait with breathless and uncertain excitement. If there was no impact and the bomb was not hit, you knew that it would fly on until the fighter attacked it again and you knew, not without a certain natural human relief, that for the moment you were safe again. But you knew, too, that it would go on until it was forced down or came down of its own accord, and that wherever it came down, the lives of innocent and decent people would be terrorised or blown into a thousand unrecognizable pieces. If, on the other hand, the bomb was hit and the fighters turned suddenly and steeply away you had two chances. There was a chance, and it was a good chance, that the bomb would burst where it flew, in the air, exploding into countless pieces that did nothing more than frighten the birds, the blast of it simply absorbed by the spaces of sky; or there was
a chance that if it came down the bomb would fall harmlessly in woods or fields, hurting nothing but a sheep or two. And since the English countryside is not so thickly populated as statisticians sometimes seek to show, that was a good chance too’.
Balloons were obviously a particularly useful form of static defence. A bomb travelling at nearly 400 miles an hour, however, not infrequently cut the cable without damage to itself, and the device known as the ‘double parachute link’ was used. This allowed a section of the cable fitted with parachutes to be carried away by an aircraft on impact, causing the machine to stall. Although not entirely satisfactory this method was responsible for most of the destruction caused by balloons.
In general, the radar equipment by which the bombs were picked up showed itself to be reasonably efficient. It proved, however, difficult to locate the sites from which the bombs were being fired, especially when these were situated between the Seine and the Somme, and also to distinguish between a piloted aircraft and a flying bomb. The re-siting of an American station, known as the M.E.W. (Microwave Early Warning) proved very useful.
By 15th June, Wachtel and his men had got into their stride and from that date until 15th July the attack was more or less continuous, the worst day being 2nd July, when 161 flying bombs crossed the coast, the best the 13th when the number fell to 42. The peak was reached during the week ending 8th July when 820 flying bombs were plotted.
These intensified operations were in great part made possible by the weather, for Wachtel increased the number of bombs launched when skies were cloudy. On the other hand Allied bombing, interfering as it did with his supplies, was another factor in the irregularities of the attack. The assaults by Bomber Command on St. Leu d’Esserent on the nights of the 4th and 7th July, when nearly 3,000 tons of bombs were dropped, were exceedingly successful. On the morning of 8th July its commandant reported that all roads and approaches to his depot were utterly destroyed and that the roofs of many of the underground passages in which the bombs were stored had collapsed. St. Leu is situated in the valley of the Oise at a point where the river runs through steep, low hills. On either side of these escarpments run underground stone caves of vast extent which for centuries have provided stone for building. On the south side in peacetime many of them were used for the cultivation of mushrooms for the Paris market. On the north they were still producing large quantities of stone. In these caves the Germans thought that they had found the ideal store for their flying bombs and
sent thither as many as thirty-four train-loads of them in a single day. With their usual efficiency they had adapted the caves, flooring them with concrete, and building roads, ramps and gantries to facilitate the handling of the bombs. It was these which had suffered so severely.
Nucourt was also once more the subject of attention. Two attacks, one on the 10th and the other on the 15th failed, but that night Bomber Command delivered a third which caused much damage. Nor were the factories producing the bomb neglected. The United States Eighth Air Force attacked the Volkswagenwerke at Fallersleben, near Brunswick, on the 20th and 29th June with excellent results. On 18th July, 415 Flying Fortresses dropped 953 tons of bombs on the hydrogen peroxide plant at Peenemünde. In that same month Bomber Command also once more attacked Nucourt and storage depots at Rilly la Montagne.
Those in authority in Britain and America preserved a sense of proportion and did not allow CROSSBOW to become a major commitment. Moreover the commanders of the bombing forces showed little enthusiasm for attacks on flying bomb sites or depots. Their criticism of the Directorate of Bomber Operations at the Air Ministry, it must be admitted, had point. This directorate constantly changed the targets which the bomber commanders were called upon to attack. Thus between 15th June and 15th July, large sites, supply sites, storage depots, and factories in Germany were all at one time or another given overriding priority, and this at a time when there was no direct evidence that some of the targets listed as storage depots were in fact depots at all. As late as 27th June, ‘ski sites’ were still being attacked although there was no indication that they were in use. It was eventually decided that the United States Eighth Air Force should attack modified sites and Bomber Command mainly storage depots. The fact was that accurate information about the activities of Wachtel and his Flak Regiment was still lacking; so much so that, on 8th July, on the suggestion of Major General Anderson of the United States Strategic Air Force, orders were given for the organization dealing with CROSSBOW Intelligence to be thoroughly overhauled. An Anglo-American committee consisting of representatives of Air Intelligence and the operational staffs of the Air Ministry and the United States Strategic Air Forces, known as the Joint CROSSBOW Target Priorities Committee, was set up to choose the targets to be attacked. Its first meeting was held on 21st July. At the same time Leigh-Mallory, whose primary task, it must not be forgotten, was to ensure full air support to the armies now fighting in Normandy, asked the Deputy Supreme Commander to relieve him of his responsibility for CROSSBOW operations.
Tedder agreed and decided that the planning of CROSSBOW bombing should henceforth be carried out by the Combined Operational Planning Committee.
The weather, as usual during that lachrymose summer, caused difficulty. On 1st August for example, out of 719 aircraft of Bomber Command sent to bomb six sites and a depot in the Forest of Nieppe, only 74 reached their targets, and the United States Eighth Air Force was almost equally unlucky. From the 3rd to the 6th the weather improved and twelve attacks were made by Bomber Command on various places reported to be storage depots; 2,650 tons fell on the Forest of Nieppe, 3,400 on the Bois de Cassan, 3,100 on Troissy St. Maximin and 2,300 on St. Leu d’Esserent. All told, in one week, nearly 15,000 tons of bombs were cast down upon depots or launching sites. In the second half of the month Bomber Command persisted in its attacks, a notable assault being that of 18th August, against a storage depot at Forêt de l’Isle Adam, in the Oise valley north-west of Paris, when over 700 tons of bombs were dropped, whilst on the night of the 25th/26th the Opel works at Rüsselsheim were attacked by 410 aircraft and received over 1,500 tons. To end the month, on 31st August, storage depots in the Pas de Calais received 2,400 tons to which was added a further 500 tons on 1st September, this attack being the last made by Bomber Command against flying bomb sites, the Allied Armies having by then cut communications with Germany. The Americans were also active, Peenemünde, and a factory close to the notorious concentration camp in Buchenwald, near Weimar, being attacked.
Despite these efforts, Flak Regiment 155W. continued to discharge the bombs. Between 15th June and 15th July, 2,579 of them arrived in England, of which 1,280 fell inside the London area. 1,241 were destroyed by the defences. Among the casualties of this period were the deaths of 121 worshippers in the Royal Military Chapel in Wellington Barracks, demolished at twenty minutes past eleven on Sunday morning, 18th June; 45 persons lost their lives and 150 were injured between Adastral House and Bush House, Aldwych, on the 30th; and 64 soldiers, mostly American, were killed at Turks Row, Chelsea, on the morning of 3rd July. From then onward until towards the end an average of one historic building a day was destroyed or severely damaged. In Holborn, the lovely Staple Inn; in Westminster, St. George’s Church; in Kensington, Holland House; in Fulham, the Palace; in Hammersmith, the Friends Meeting House; in the City, the Customs House and five churches; in Greenwich, Charlton House; in Camberwell, Dulwich College; in Southwark, the Cathedral. Of the urban districts, Penge was the
worst afflicted. In eighty days every one of its six thousand houses was destroyed or damaged, two-thirds of them being hit more than once. One in twenty of its population—after the evacuation of the women and children—was killed or injured.
The percentage of successes against the bombs was rising steadily and reached fifty in the week of the 9th to 15th July. This was due, for the most part, to the efforts of the fighter pilots, who in five weeks were able to double the average number of bombs they shot down. They came mostly from No. 11 Group of the Air Defence of Great Britain, but they were too few in number to be decisive. Hill could dispose only of three squadrons of Tempests, Mark V, and three of Spitfire, Mark XIV. A flight of Mustangs, Mark III, belonging to No. 316 (Polish) Squadron reinforced these, and was so successful that three squadrons—a complete wing—of Mustangs, were transferred from the Second Tactical Air Force and began their patrols on 12th July. By then, thirteen single-engined fighter squadrons and three Mosquito squadrons were being used entirely to combat the flying bomb, while six other squadrons divided their time between pursuing these targets and patrolling over the beach-head in Normandy. Hill, himself a very expert pilot, carried out sixty-two flying bomb patrols, using each type of single-seater fighter in turn.
To increase the speed of the aircraft engaged on flying bomb patrols all armour and unnecessary external fittings were removed, as also was the camouflage paint, the surfaces of the wings being instead polished in the manner long used by Photographic Reconnaissance Units. Engines were also adapted for the use of 150 octane fuel. Such measures put a very great strain upon airframes and engines, but the risk of accident was unhesitatingly accepted and casualties to the bombs slowly rose.
Occasionally unorthodox methods proved successful. On 23rd June, for example, a Spitfire pilot threw a flying bomb on to its back by tipping it with his wing so that it fell out of control, and on 27th June a Tempest pilot destroyed a bomb by using his slipstream which forced it into a spin. The weather continued to be the main obstacle to sustained success. Its vagaries are shown by the daily number of sorties, which were as low as 100 and as high as 500.
Balloons accounted for eight per cent. of the bombs destroyed. Their number had rapidly increased but had to be governed by the amount of hydrogen available in the country.3 Moreover, to fly them in a gale of wind would have entailed losses too heavy for replacement. There were many days, therefore, when the balloon barrage
was entirely or partly grounded. During this period the guns shot down thirteen per cent. The introduction of new American equipment was to be of great effect as soon as the gun crews had been trained to use it.
Despite all these efforts, after Wachtel had been at work for five weeks, half the flying bombs launched were still reaching their destination in London. The target was the largest in the world—‘famous and mighty London’ as the Prime Minister described it on 3rd August when giving a report to a crowded House of Commons on the counter-measures. It measured some twenty miles across and contained seven million people; for about one million, mostly women, children, and the elderly had quitted it when what was in store became obvious.
The number of bombs reaching their destination was still far too high to be tolerated and a new plan was therefore drawn up. The gun-belt was to be moved to a strip of coast situated between St. Margaret’s Bay and Cuckmere Haven. Here Pile and his men were to be allowed complete freedom. This redeployment rendered the task of the fighters more difficult, but soon became very effective against the bomb despite the forebodings of the Air Ministry, which was ‘doubtful whether this reduction (in the number of kills by fighters) will be made up for by an increased or even a similar number of successes on the part of the anti-aircraft gunners’. On 14th July the change began. The guns moved to the coast, the aircraft inland or far out over the Channel. By the 17th all the heavy gun batteries originally forming the inland belt were in position on the coast. They were followed two days later by the light guns. Thus, on the morning of 19th July, 412 heavy and 572 light guns were ready for action in the coastal belt. In addition there were 168 Bofors guns, 416 20-mm. guns of the Royal Air Force Regiment, 28 light guns of the Royal Armoured Corps and some batteries of rocket guns. The speed with which this manoeuvre was accomplished is worthy of note. More than 3,000 miles of cable of inter-battery lines alone were laid, 30,000 tons of stores and the same amount of ammunition were moved to the coastal belt, and in the first week the vehicles attached to Pile’s artillery units travelled two and three-quarter million miles. Rapid progress was also made with the replacement of mobile guns by static guns of which 288 were in position by the end of July and a fortnight later that figure had reached 379.
This redeployment of guns and aircraft solved the problem, and to the guns must go the lion’s share of the credit. The improvement in the results they achieved leapt in the first week from sixteen per cent. to twenty-four per cent., and in the week of the 7th to 14th August
they destroyed 120 out of 305 flying bombs, thus for the first time exceeding the claims of the fighters. The new policy had shown itself to be a great success, and, what was more, confidence between the gunners and the air force had now been established. Henceforward the battle was won, though time was necessary to make sure of the victory. The Germans had been content—necessarily, for their sites were fixed—to pursue an unvaried form of attack. The defence had taken the opposite course and now ‘dozens of fighters, hundreds of guns and balloons, were operating with little mutual interference in an area little more than fifty miles deep against targets which could cross the sea in five to six minutes’. By the middle of August, the defences were at their greatest strength. Fifteen day fighter and six night fighter squadrons of the Air Defence of Great Britain were engaged entirely on DIVER patrols, the balloon barrage numbered 2,015 balloons, more than 1,600 of which were equipped with light wire armament, and along the coastal belt were 592 heavy and 922 light guns. There were also over 600 rocket firing barrels. The shells fired by the guns were fitted with a special proximity fuse. It proved not only invaluable, but essential, and played a major part in the victory. The results grew steadily more and more noteworthy. Of the 1,124 bombs launched between 16th August and 5th September, only seventeen per cent. fell in the target area, and in the last four days of the attack only 28 bombs out of 192 fell in London. The climax was reached on the night of 27th/28th August when out of 97 bombs reported approaching the United Kingdom 87 were destroyed; 62 by the guns, 19 by the fighters, two by balloons and four by a combination of balloons and guns. By 5th September, the Allied armies had overrun most of the sites. Wachtel and his men had had to withdraw. The battle was virtually over.
The lull which occurred after 5th September in the attacks did not last for long. They were resumed on the 16th, but this time in a very different manner and from a different direction. Between 0530 and 0630 hours seven bombs crossed the coast. Two fell in London and five in widely separated points in Essex. They were launched from aircraft, mostly Heinkel 111’s, which operated at night from airfields in Holland at Varelbusch, Zwischenahn and Aalhorn. By the end of September, eighty bombs had been launched by these aircraft on twelve nights. Of these twenty-three were destroyed. In the first fortnight of October, however, when sixty-nine bombs were launched, thirty-eight were destroyed—a very marked improvement.
The method of launching them was for the Heinkel or elderly Junkers—they were all obsolescent aircraft useless for any other
purpose—to fly at 300 feet over the North Sea and then to rise to several thousand feet when about sixty miles from the coast of the United Kingdom. The bomb was released at a distance varying between thirty and forty miles and the parent aircraft immediately lost height and made for base at its best speed. Very often our radar plots showed the moment when the bomb parted company with the Heinkel. The German unit engaged on this duty—I KG.53—suffered heavy casualties both from the attentions of No. 25 Squadron (Mosquito night fighters) who were presently able to claim four Heinkels destroyed, two probably destroyed and two damaged, and also from accidents; for the aircraft were over-loaded and required to fly at a very low altitude.
By then night fighters had become expert in their attacks on the bombs. Being at the outset confused by the tail of flame emerging from the rear of the ‘doodle-bug’, which made it hard for them to judge correctly its speed and the distance it was away from them, they had recourse to the scientists. Sir Thomas Merton, a distinguished spectroscopist, very speedily designed a simple range-finder. This was of considerable value, but the old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ was never truer than when applied to the career of the night fighter pilot hunting a flying bomb, and by the end of September all had had many opportunities to increase their skill. In this period twenty-one were brought down by Mosquitos unaided; Tempest squadrons by the aid of searchlights accounted for fifty. Altogether during the four months of this phase, commencing on 16th September, 205 bombs eluded the defences out of 608 seen on their way to the capital.
By 4th December, three Gruppen of the Luftwaffe, operating about one hundred aircraft, were engaged in this singularly unproductive form of warfare. On the 24th of that month some fifty of them directed bombs at Manchester, launching them from a point off the coast between Skegness and Bridlington. Only one fell within the city boundaries, six landed within ten miles and eleven within fifteen. The casualties were thirty-seven killed and sixty-seven badly injured. Taken thus in the flank, Hill and Pile’s defences were evaded and no bomb or parent aircraft was destroyed. But the Luftwaffe did not persevere and this was the only attack made on a city other than London, except for some half-hearted assaults in the early days on Southampton.
On 14th January, 1945, another lull occurred and then, on 3rd March, more bombs appeared, discharged this time from launching ramps in Holland. From the evening of 5th March until the early afternoon of the 29th, one hundred and four were plotted of which
eighty-one were shot down, seventy-six of them by the guns. During this final period, 125 bombs altogether came close enough to the coast to be reported, ninety-one were destroyed and only thirteen entered the London Civil Defence Region. The last flying bombs to fall in that area burst at 0754 hours and 0755 hours on 28th March, 1945, at Chislehurst and Waltham Holy Cross respectively. The last bomb to fall in England was shot down near Sittingbourne on the following day. Altogether, between June, 1944, and March, 1945, out of a total of 3,957 bombs destroyed, aircraft of the Air Defence of Great Britain accounted for 1,847 and Anti-Aircraft Command for 1,866. A further 232 were destroyed by striking balloon cables and twelve by the guns of the Navy. Among the squadrons which had taken part in the successful defence of the Kingdom, No. 3, flying Tempests, had the highest score of bombs to its credit—258. No. 486 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force, also comprised of Tempests, had 223½, and No. 96 Squadron of night fighter Mosquitos could claim 181. Thirty-four pilots were credited with the destruction of ten or more bombs, the list being headed by Squadron Leader J. Berry of No. 501 Squadron who shot down 61½.
Such was Vergeltungswaffe No. 1 (the V.1). No. 2 was of a very different kind and displayed to the full the ingenuity of the German race. On 8th September, 1944, at 1840 hours a loud explosion occurred in Chiswick, followed a few moments later by the sound of a heavy body rushing through the air. The first rocket had arrived and shattered a number of houses. The day before, Mr. Duncan Sandys had committed himself to the statement that the Battle of London was over ‘except possibly for a last few shots’. During the next six months these were to amount to more than 1,000 rockets and nearly 500 flying bombs.
After the attack by Bomber Command on Peenemünde in August, 1943, some of the experimental plant and those engaged on developing it, were moved to Blizna, 170 miles west of Warsaw. Here they worked under the close control of the SS and here they remained undetected until March, 1944, when a flying bomb launching site was observed. Not until July, however, was a rocket discovered. In due course the whereabouts of three rocket storage depots, two of them underground in Northern France and the third at Kleinbeldungen, became known. Mr. I. Lubbock, of the Asiatic Petroleum Company, was able to announce that there was in existence a liquid fuel, composed possibly of aniline and nitric acid, which could certainly be used to propel a rocket. His theory was checked by eleven scientists, of whom only one dissented from the general conclusion that a new fuel of composition still unknown had now been found.
In the meantime the Polish Underground Movement had shown great energy and had set up machinery by which parties reached the spot—often a village or its remains—where experimental rockets fell, before the arrival of the German research squads and there collected all the fragments they could find. From this and from other sources it was conjectured that the new weapon was about forty feet long and six feet in diameter. Then on 28th July, an agent, picked up in a Dakota aircraft from Poland, was flown to Italy and thence to the United Kingdom. He brought portions of the rocket with him and was able to shed light on many doubtful points. The next link in the chain was a number of documents captured in Northern France. By 24th August the main characteristics of the rocket were known, and a reasonably accurate estimate of the amount of damage it was likely to cause could be made. It was forty-six feet long and five feet seven inches in diameter, its warhead contained about a ton of explosive, probably trialen, its range was about 200 miles and—this from a rocket which fell in Sweden—the main fuel used to propel it was liquid oxygen. The method of launching was simple. The rocket, standing on four fins, was placed upright upon a slab of concrete and then fired. During flight it was at some point radio-controlled. Where it was being produced was less certain. Wiener Neustadt and Friedrichshafen were said to contain factories where it was assembled and there was a factory at Klausthal where it was thought the propellant was in production.
The prospect of a new weapon’s unannounced arrival was disturbing and Herbert Morrison, then Home Secretary and Minister of Home Security, drew the attention of the Cabinet to the consequences which would follow if a thousand rockets crashed down upon the country, each with a warhead weighing seven tons. The amount of the explosive carried was in fact overestimated; but the new weapon was serious enough and the varied proposals he put forward in the field of civil defence were agreed to immediately. The first counter-measure was the equipment of five radar stations with cathode ray direction finding and photographic equipment to observe the flight of rockets. A continuous watch was then kept, of which the object was to give warning, if that should prove possible, and also to locate the point of launching. The only possible measure of a more active kind, apart from attempts to jam the wireless gear inside the rocket, was bombing. The rocket itself could not be attacked by aircraft, for its speed would obviously be greater than that of sound. By the middle of July, 1944, it was thought that Mimoyecques, Watten, Siracourt, and Wizernes were the four places from which the rockets would most likely be fired. Marquise-Mimoyecques was
afterwards found to be the site of a long-range gun installation designed to contain 50 barrels, each 400 feet long, set in inclined shafts sunk into a hill. The gun was pointed at London, which the Germans hoped to bombard with 6-inch shells at a rate of more than one a minute. Fortunately, as a result of bombing and the fact that the projectiles proved unstable in flight, the project was abandoned.
In point of fact only Wizernes and possibly Watten were designed for the rocket. Nevertheless, heavy attacks were made on all four, and by the time they were overrun 7,469 tons of bombs had been dropped upon them. In addition, seven attempts were made to guide old bombers, filled with explosives and controlled by an accompanying aircraft, to the sites so that they might crash upon them and explode. These efforts were not successful but others had better fortune. On 24th August Fortresses of the United States Eighth Air Force struck a blow when they bombed a factory near the concentration camp at Buchenwald. In that week, too, five liquid oxygen plants in France and Belgium were attacked, and on 31st August and 1st September Bomber Command dropped 2,897 tons on nine suspected storage depots. As soon as the enemy began to fire the rockets it was the intention of the Allied High Command to add bridges to the general list of targets to be attacked. If some thirty of these on or near the frontiers of Belgium, France, and Germany could be cut, the supply of rockets would soon fall away.
Matters stood thus when the first rocket fell. The opening counter-measures were undertaken by Photographic Reconnaissance Unit aircraft, which photographed the suspected firing area, and No. 100 Group, Royal Air Force, was ordered to despatch aircraft to jam all radio signals which might seem to have some connection with rocket firing. Between the 8th and 16th August, twenty rockets arrived in England, ten of them in London. The casualties and damage they did were small. Aircraft of the Air Defence of Great Britain continued to patrol between The Hague and Leiden and flew nearly 900 sorties in an attempt to find the storage and launching points. Efforts at radio jamming were unsuccessful, mainly for the reason that the rocket attacks had been expected from Northern France and not from Holland, which was beyond reliable range.
The descent of the 1st Airborne Division on Arnhem on 17th September would, it was hoped, remove the menace, or mitigate it. The attempt failed, however, and the rockets continued to be fired. Between 25th September and 3rd October Norwich came under fire sixteen times and in the next eleven days a further thirty-nine incidents were reported in that city and in London. By then the whereabouts of the chief assembly plant of the rocket was known.
It was at Niedersachswerfen, near Nordhausen, in the Harz mountains, and was exceedingly difficult to attack, for it was located in two parallel tunnels in a former gypsum quarry. The only bombs which might conceivably penetrate as far as these tunnels were TALLBOY bombs, of which but few were available, and these were being held in readiness for the Tirpitz. Eventually the Second Tactical Air Force were ordered to conduct an offensive against the area lying between The Hague and Leiden and in the neighbourhood of the Hook of Holland. It was from here that the rockets were being launched, though the exact spot was not known. Between 15th October and 25th November the attacks duly took place. The Second Tactical Air Force flew nearly 10,000 sorties and Fighter Command 600. In the course of these much German transport was destroyed, but whether or not the activities of the crews firing the rockets had been affected it was impossible to discover.
In the meantime the drizzle of rockets continued, sixty-three falling in the fortnight ending on 4th November, and sixty-two in the following fortnight. Casualties began to rise and when on 25th November, a rocket hit a crowded Woolworth’s store in New Cross Road, Deptford, 160 people were killed and 135 seriously injured.
The natural reluctance of the British Government to bomb a crowded city like The Hague, in the far from certain hope that the crews launching the rockets, or the weapons themselves, might be destroyed, gradually lessened, especially when the members of the Dutch Government agreed that if such attacks were likely to prove successful, they should be made. Accordingly No. 12 Group began a series of assaults on targets in the Haagsche Bosch, and on suspected storage areas at Wassenaar, at Voorde and Huis te Werve, and against the Hotel Promenade at The Hague, thought to be housing rocket-firing troops. That these attacks had some effect can be regarded as certain, for the number of rockets falling in England decreased, as also did the number falling in Antwerp, but precisely what they achieved is not known.
The Spitfires, Mark XVI, which mainly delivered the assaults, operating as they did from the United Kingdom, could carry only two 250-lb. bombs and the targets they attacked, being in densely wooded country, were difficult to find. The Home Secretary continued to press for stronger counter-measures, pointing out that the rockets might penetrate to a tube station, with consequent heavy loss of life among those sheltering there. It was considered, however, that to use heavy bombers would be to destroy much Dutch property without achieving any conclusive result. The Spitfire assaults were therefore continued against eleven targets, seven of them in the wooded areas
round The Hague. It being winter time the weather was bad and a high proportion of the sorties flown had to be abandoned. A notable assault—the heaviest single attack that had yet been mounted—was carried out on Christmas Eve. Thirty-three Spitfires, Mark XIV, of Nos. 229, 602 Squadrons and No. 453 Squadron RAAF attacked Marlot, a block of flats near the Haagsche Bosch, thought to be the headquarters of the rocket-firing troops in the vicinity. Each Spitfire (refuelling in Belgium) carried one 500- and two 250-lb. bombs. Considerable damage was done and the building evacuated.
Largely ineffective though they might be, these attacks were the only riposte the Royal Air Force, or indeed the armed forces of the Crown in general, could make against a weapon which, could it have been controlled with accuracy, might have inflicted the gravest damage. As it was the rockets fell haphazard all over the southern half of England. During January, of some 300 sorties flown against The Hague in the first two weeks, nearly one-third had to be abandoned owing to the weather, whilst in the second half of the month it was possible to mount only nine attacks. Armed reconnaissances were equally rare: of seven attempted only two were carried out. The least unsuccessful of the attacks during this month was that delivered on 22nd January by four squadrons of Spitfire fighter-bombers belonging to the Second Tactical Air Force which destroyed the liquid oxygen factory at Alblasserdam. At the urgent request of the War Cabinet attacks in The Hague area were intensified in the following month, but out of 286 planned sorties between the 3rd and 16th February, forty were cancelled or proved abortive. Nevertheless the Haagsche Bosch, that wooded belt where in summer children play and lovers walk, was attacked on seven occasions, and another wood near the Hook of Holland, Staalduinsche Bosch, five times.
The most difficult target attempted was the liquid oxygen factory at Loosduinen. It was surrounded on three sides by dwelling houses and the risk of causing casualties to the civilian population was therefore great. Two attacks were made on 3rd February, one on the 8th and two on the 9th, all but one from that side of the factory which was free of buildings. The technique of the pilots has been described as ‘trickling their bombs towards the target’. About one-third of them fell in the target area, but these were judged to be sufficient.
Meanwhile the assaults on the wooded areas continued, with what result it was almost impossible to say. On occasion the dropping of a bomb or burst of cannon-fire would be followed by a heavy explosion, which seemed to indicate that a rocket had been hit, but the general results must be described as meagre. Nevertheless, the
number of rockets reaching London remained few, only fifty-seven falling in the first half of December as against eighty-six in the previous fortnight. Moreover the fighter-bomber attacks had at least had the effect of inducing the Germans to fire the rockets at night rather than during the day. At this time two serious incidents, in which 107 people were killed and 134 injured, occurred, one in Islington and the other in Chelmsford.
The reason for the slackening of the enemy’s efforts against London was, in all probability, because he increased them against Antwerp, which received 217 rockets during the period when von Rundstedt was conducting the last desperate offensive of the Wehrmacht through the Ardennes. As soon as it was over the weekly average of rockets falling in the United Kingdom rose from thirty-four in December to fifty-nine in January. On 26th January thirteen incidents—that non-committal word used to describe the sudden and violent disintegration of buildings and the persons in them—occurred in London. Casualties continued to mount, and, during the period 3rd January to 15th February, were double those of December, 755 being killed and 2,264 seriously injured.
Though warning of the advent of rockets was slowly improving, largely through the activities of No. 105 Mobile Air Reporting Unit at Malines in Belgium, it was still neither sufficiently swift nor accurate to make it possible for General Pile to put into practice a scheme that he had had in mind of firing salvos of anti-aircraft shells in the path of the rocket, thus exploding it in mid-air. The chances of the shells hitting them, with a warning to the gunners of at most seventy-five seconds, were put by Professor C. D. Ellis at one in a hundred, by Sir Robert Watson Watt at one in a thousand.
Repeated examination and analysis of the rocket bomb attacks forced upon the authorities the melancholy conclusion that only between the 4th and 15th December, 1944, when it had been possible to maintain fighter-bomber attacks on The Hague on a reasonably large scale, had the volume of German fire been reduced. Obviously a sustained effort by day and night upon that area and others nearby in Holland could alone mitigate what had now become more than a nuisance. On 22nd January, 1945, the Chief Intelligence Officer of Fighter Command urged this course. Accordingly the Spitfire squadrons renewed their offensive against Holland. In one attack, No. 124 Squadron dived from 11,000 to 5,000 feet to drop its bombs in the Haagsche Bosch, all two miles of which had received marked attention for three months, and a marked decline in the German attack in the last week of February showed that at last results were being achieved. A photographic reconnaissance carried out on the
morning of the 24th revealed that there were no rockets in the Haagsche Bosch. They had been transferred to an area in the north which contained a race-course. This new area was at once attacked with a certain degree of success, and No. 602 Squadron, after dropping its bombs on the primary target, attacked and destroyed a large number of vehicles in a motor transport park north-west of Rotterdam. There was still, however, some doubt about the Haagsche Bosch and our Intelligence Services could not decide whether or not the enemy had completely evacuated it. An increase in the number of rockets falling on England seemed to prove that this was not so and attacks were therefore resumed, a particularly severe one being delivered on 3rd March by the Second Tactical Air Force, which used Nos. 137 and 139 Wings of No. 2 Group, flying Mitchells and Bostons for this purpose. Unfortunately the briefing on this occasion was faulty, and the bombing caused much damage to the city of The Hague and many civilian casualties. As a result Coningham issued orders that medium bombers were not in future to be used against The Hague.
So the contest continued until on 27th March, 1945, the last rocket fell in Kynaston Road, Orpington. It was the 1,115th to hit the United Kingdom. The total casualties from the rockets were 2,855 killed and 6,268 seriously injured; those from the flying bombs being 6,139 and 17,239 respectively. Compared with the boastings of Göbbels, this achievement, deplorable though it was, was negligible. It had no influence whatever on the course of the war. Once more, as in the grim days of 1940, the nerves of Londoners proved themselves equal to the task of holding out against air attack. By some—men for the most part—the assault of flying bomb and rocket were regarded with less apprehension than had been those made by the Luftwaffe four years before. Savage though they were, they were not aimed, and that sporting instinct, indigenous in the male Londoner, came to his rescue. In the case of the rocket, whether a citizen was hit or not was soon seen to be a matter of pure chance, and to a male population which delighted to take its pleasures at the race-course, or the dog track, the element of gambling was to a certain extent reassuring. The women were more affected; for many of them the fear of injury from flying glass was very real and the notion that they were helpless tended to grow. Moreover, since the attacks took place largely by day, when members of individual families were so many of them scattered between school, shopping centre and factory, the anxiety remained so long as the housewife did not know the result of an incident. Both sexes shared a sense of shame at the relief when the bomb roared overhead to burst on
someone else’s house. There were minor but appreciable compensations. Many who had come back to the Metropolis in the summer of 1941 when the first aerial bombardment had come to an end, hastened to quit it once more when the flying bombs arrived. For those who were left there was in consequence a greater quantity of food and the queues were shorter. There was too, a revival of that free-and-easy spirit of comradeship, so noticeable in the winter of 1940-41. Total strangers were liable to burst into animated conversation. The passenger in the tube, the commercial traveller on the stool in the public bar of the Rose and Crown, the clerk at the marble-topped table, the ticket collector, the bus conductor, all shewed a disposition to be what is best described as ‘matey’. Flying bombs and rockets were good for democracy.
Above all, there was a sense of pride, inarticulate, but very sustaining. Men and women from Barnet to Croydon, from Greenwich to Richmond, felt that they were, to a certain extent, sharing the perils of their fathers and brothers, their sons and husbands, now driving the hated enemy from his last strongholds in Belgium, across the Rhine. No such happy thought had sustained them in 1940, when, save for Wavell’s men in North Africa, the armies of Britain had been standing at bay along her own coastline. Now those same men were driving forward triumphant, irresistible; and the only recourse left to a desperate foe was to use the ingenuity of his scientists to harass, with nasty, lethal but obviously inadequate means, a population hardened to war and with the sweet odour of victory already in its nostrils.