IT was 75 years ago today that the first four German flying bombs, the V-1s, nicknamed doodlebugs or buzz bombs, landed in the UK. Ten had been launched from France but only four made it to their target, which was London. The first exploded harmlessly at Swancombe, but at around 4am a V-1 landed at the railway bridge in Grove Road, now in Tower Hamlets, killing six people and injuring many more. Soon around 100 a day V-1s were being launched and many made it to London, killing around 9000 people in a few months.

Many years later it was revealed that scientists visited the first and other flying bomb site to check on possible radiation – it was feared that the V-1 might be what we now call a cruise missile and be carrying a nuclear bomb or biological weapon.

It was the start of a new and terrifyingly random campaign by the Nazis and was deliberately done in retaliation for the invasion of Normandy by the Allies the previous week.


AS is usually the case with anniversaries from wartime, the Allies’ leaders celebrate victories and mark the sacrifice of the armed forces, but no one in authority has planned any serious commemoration of this 75th anniversary because civilian deaths were not “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”.

It comes just two days after the BBC announced that, principally due to the Tory Government ending its support for the scheme in 2015, the corporation would end the provision of free TV licences for the over-75s unless they’re already on pension credit.

That’s the thanks you get for surviving war and ration-book austerity ... and why don’t we formally thank the civilians who died in the war? Thousands were killed and injured by the V-1s and their successor – where’s their Remembrance Day?


AFTER Britain began the mass bombing of German cities in retaliation, at first, for the Blitz, and later in a bid to affect German industry and the people’s morale, in September, 1943, German war production minister Albert Speer promised “a secret weapon” to be used against Britain.

It was the Vergeltungswaffen or vengeance weapon, and had been in development since 1940, production speeding up and launch sites being rapidly constructed in 1943 as the Allies began to turn the tide of the war.

It was a simple but deadly weapon – a warhead with 850kgs (1870lbs) of explosives was mounted on an 8m (25ft) long missile powered by a pulse jet that was launched from a ramp or sometimes from an aircraft. It flew at a speed of 580kmph (360mph), usually between 3000 to 9000 feet and had an average range of 240kms (150 miles).

The distinctive rat-a-tat noise of the jet got it the nickname doodlebug or buzz bomb. When over the target – nearly always London – an onboard timing device would cut the fuel supply so that the missile fell silently to earth, usually from a great height.


THE intelligence services had told prime minister Winston Churchill that the flying bombs were coming – RAF patrols had seen the launch ramps being installed across the channel.

The RAF was tasked with defending London and Operation Crossbow – the Allies’ code name for all operations against the German long-range weapons – swung into action.

Anti-aircraft guns ringed London, and a coastal belt of guns with radar and other electronic spotting devices had increasing success against the V-1s. Fast aircraft such as the Typhoon, Tempest, and Mosquito were able to shoot many down, while the Mustang and Spitfire (pictured, in foreground) were modified to reach V-1 speed – some pilots developed the technique of “flipping” the V-1 by using their wings to send the doodlebugs down.

In addition, the RAF and US Air Force combed the launch sites incessantly.

Still, as many as 2500 of the 8000-plus V-1s launched at London made it to England, though most were halted before they could explode on the metropolis.


TO defeat the V-1s you first had to spot them, and air commodore Finlay Crerar, commander of the Royal Observer Corps, pledged that his people would do so – and by and large they did. Crerar was already a hero in his native Scotland for his extraordinary feat of “capturing” an Italian steamship from the air in the North Sea – he strafed it and made the captain head for port.

Sir Findlater Stewart, then with the Home Defence Executive, also played a vital role. It was his decision to start a deception programme convincing the Germans that their bombs were overshooting the target whereas they were hitting London. The Germans adjusted their fuses accordingly and missed their targets

by miles – some 10,000 lives are estimated to have been saved.


THERE is evidence of some panic at first, but by and large Londoners stoically learned to cope – if the buzz of the bomb cut out, they would run for shelter.

One intelligence officer told the story of how a Cockney said to him after the first raids “that will be the secret weapon we’re not supposed to know about”.


WITH its limited range, the V-1 could only fly to London from north-west France and after D-Day the Allies ranged forward to capture the launch sites – after which the remaining V-1s were withdrawn to Germany and fired at the key port of Antwerp in particular.

By late September, 1944, the V-1 campaign against London was over. Then the V-2 launches started, and that’s a whole different story.