First German V2 rocket lands on London
With the Allied advance across the French countryside the V1 flying bomb was no longer a serious threat to Britain, the few air-launched versions having being countered by conventional fighters, the improved anti-aircraft defences, and barrage balloons. The Nazi hierarchy, in particular Hitler himself, was increasingly desperate to find a weapon that would turn the tide, or at the very least give hope to its forces in the field.
Enter the V2 rocket. Like the V1 which preceded it, the V2 was developed at the Peenemunde research facility in Prussia. The project began in the mid-1930s, but in spite of major support for it the first working version of the final design was still not available in mid-1944.
The rocket used an alcohol-based fuel, and it is estimated that over 30 tonnes of potatoes were required to enable fuel for one V2 to be distilled. In a Germany suffering the privations of war this was a serious consideration. It is also of interest that focus on the V2 as a magic bullet diverted attention from more conventional systems, reducing the numbers of bombers available to the Luftwaffe.
When Peenemunde became impractical as a manufacturing site, production was shifted to the Kohnstein tunnel system, where 20,000 slave labourers died in horrific conditions.
The V2 was a ballistic missile, launched with a 65 second burst from its engine that sent the rocket and 2,000lb warhead in a parabolic curve reaching fifty to sixty miles above the earth before plunging silently down on its target.
Travelling at mach four the rocket could not be intercepted by aircraft, nor could it be hit by anything other than blanket anti-aircraft fire that would be both expensive and devastating in its own right, faulty munitions likely to land in the towns and cities being protected. With the ultra-high-speed descent no sound would be heard by those about to be hit, a disconcerting fact that for a time hit civilian morale.
Impossible to defend against once in flight, the V2 was also developed to launch from mobile equipment moved from place to place, each launch requiring about two hours in one spot before the convoy would move to another, thereby avoiding Allied bombers.
The first V2 launched against Britain landed in Chiswick, destroying a large part of Staveley Road, killing three and wounding 17. This rocket had been launched from The Hague, along with another that landed without causing casualties in Epping . On the same day rockets were launched against recently liberated Paris. It is no coincidence that the V in the V2 stood for Verwaltungswaffen, or retaliation weapon.
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From John Christopher Sunol on 23rd February 2013
these were the equivalent for the modern missile warfare and the V1 was the predesessor of the modern drone warfare and cruise missle
From Christina McKerrow (nee Watt) on 16th April 2009
I was nearly ten in September 1944. My father was a sub-divisional Inspector in the Metropolitan Police; he was stationed at West Ham, and we lived in the police house next door to the station at 66 West Ham Lane (no longer there I believe). The house had two bedrooms: one faced onto West Ham Lane and the second faced down the street behind us. At the bottom of that street there was a railway line as far as I remember. One day my aunt, who had been staying with us, took me with her to the country. That night a V2 landed in the street behind our little house. The blast flattened streets to the left and right of our home. The only damage we sustained was broken windows in what was my bedroom, a broken biscuit barrel in the pantry, and the death of the gold fish in the pond in the back garden. V1s were very frightening when their engines cut out (as one did one night right overhead), but the V2s were worse. If you can tell me what date that V2 dropped in West Ham I would be interested in knowing about it. I am presently writing a piece of creative non-fiction on what happened to evacuees when they were sent off to HAVENS?