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V-Weapons

Discussion in 'The Home Front' started by Jim, Oct 19, 2007.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The first “Vergeltungswaffen” campaign commenced on 12th June 1944 and lasted until 5th September. Allied intelligence had been aware of German work on pilotless guided bombs (in modern terms, ‘cruise missiles’) since 1943 due to information filtering in from agents in occupied Europe; and RAF raids against installations at Peenemunde on the Baltic had delayed progress. Intelligence had given the V1 flying bombs an estimated speed of 200mph (in reality they could reach 400mph), and indicated their targets as being the Solent area, Bristol and London. On 7th December 1943 a major threat warning was passed to Anti-Aircraft Command; in defence of London a protective belt of 1,000 guns, searchlights and barrage balloons was to be positioned between the capital and the sea. Similar defences were to be prodded for Bristol; but due to their coastal locations and the nature of the threat, it was felt impossible to give much extra protection to the Solent ports of Portsmouth and Southampton. The impending invasion of mainland Europe saw an initial abandonment of the defence plans, followed by a revision before their final implementation. On 12th June 1944, a week after the Allies had landed in Normandy, 27 V1’s crossed the English Channel heading for targets in Kent, Sussex and London. This initial foray was thought to he merely a test run for a major offensive to follow much later; but it was only two more nights before the German launch programme began in earnest. By the time this first VI campaign was effectively ended by the British 2nd Army overrunning the launch sites in the Pas de Calais in August, about 9,017 had been launched. Of these, 6,725 had been recorded over the UK, of which 3,463 were destroyed by AA fire and RAF fighters. London had been the main target area, although some had been directed at Southampton and Portsmouth. Of the total plotted, some 34 per cent reached their planned target areas. The loss of the fixed launch sites did not end the use of the VI, but changed the method of its deployment: the Luftwaffe now relied in aircraft as launch platforms. Some 400 V1’s had been launched in this manner during the first offensive, mainly against Southampton Mid Gloucester, by bombers of Kampfgeschwader 3. Beginning on 16th September 1944, the second phase of the campaign employed around 100 Heinkel He111 bombers of Kampfgeschwader 53 flying from Venlo in the Netherlands. This second phase targeted the east coast of England. By December 1944 the 2nd Army had advanced to the Meuse River, forcing the He111 launch units back to the Bremen and Hamburg area. By mid-January 1945 aircraft losses, bad weather, fuel shortages and bombing of German airfields had brought the Heinkel launch missions to an end. As many as 1,200 V1's were launched during this second phase, 638 being recorded by the British defences, which destroyed 403 of them. There was a lull during the winter of 1944-45 before the final phase commenced, from sites in Holland, on 3rd March. After the launch of only 275 further V1's (modified for increased range), the 'Doodlebug' campaign came to an abrupt end. Meanwhile, the Germans devastating V2 (A4) rocket had been targeted against London since 7th September 1944, although many - like the V1's had fallen short throughout Kent; the following month the V2 was also unleashed against the liberated cities of Antwerp and Brussels. Carrying a larger warhead than the V1 (2,1501b, rather than 1,875lb), the V'2 was in fact less efficient, since it buried itself deeply on impact. Unlike the V1, the V2 could neither be seen nor heard, let alone intercepted by fighter planes. Impacting at about three times the speed of sound, it gave no warning of its approach. The Civil Defence services were surprised by the first impacts and had no idea what had happened, believing that buried aerial mines or large bombs must have detonated after long delays. The government at first laid the blame unconvincingly on "gas main explosions", and this inexplicable 'silent death' caused public unease. Generally, although the casualties caused by both the V-weapons were less than those suffered during heavy bombing raids, the effect on morale was more damaging. While the V'2 could not be intercepted, and exploded without warning, the V1 could be both seen and heard, and waiting for the tell-tale cutting-out of its pulse jet engine was an ordeal in itself. Fatalities from V2 (Big Ben) impacts in England reached a peak average of 250 per week during November 1944, although prior to this the first 100 impacts, up to the end of October had killed only 82 people. The V 2s were fired from mobile launch sites making their bombing by the Allies almost impossible, and enabling launches to be continued from north-west Holland as the Allies advanced through France and Belgium. Rockets launched against England from Holland continued to cause up to 150 deaths weekly during this time, but after the rapid loss of German-controlled territory the last V2 fell on 27th March 1945 a few days before the last V1 impact. That V2 which fell on Orpington Kent caused the war's last civilian death attributable to enemy action. It is not widely known that the Germans had also constructed a V3 weapon. This was a 'supergun' with a 400ft smoothbore barrel capable of sending 75 rounds an hour out to a range of 100 miles. The first of 30 planned sites was built on a hillside at Mimoyecques less than 95 miles from London, a second was destroyed by Allied bombing. There is evidence to suggest that a number of test rounds were successfully fired across the Channel, their impacts being recorded as of unknown origin or V2's. Fortunately the static nature of the gun meant that it soon fell to advancing British troops.
     

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