Hitler's scientists eventually introduced a new and devastating weapon aimed
at the civilian population. It was called the V1... but it was more commonly
referred to as the "doodlebug" or "buzz bomb". Let's start
with an overview and some technical information kindly provided by Brian
Background to the
The first attack on Britain by the V1 or ‘Buzz Bomb’ pilotless
rocket bomb occurred about 4am on Tuesday June 13th 1944. The ‘V’
stood for ‘Vergeltung’ or ‘Revenge’.
Illustration Supplied by Brian Smith
Authorities had long expected such an attack since the British Naval
Attache in Oslo received a report in November 1939 that the Germans were
developing pilotless rocket aircraft.
Raids on launching sites since 1943 had delayed attacks by the
They travelled at 360 miles an hour (a mile in 10 seconds), a bit
slower than the fighter of 1944 - typically reaching their target about
22-25 minutes later.
Launched from the ground, theoretically the engines cut out eleven
seconds before impact on the target.
Initially the most common route from France towards London was
over Dungeness but, early in July, some were launched from Holland based
bombers flying across Belgium and releasing their charge in the outer
Channel/Thames estuary causing an extra line of anti aircraft guns to be
set up from Whitstable to Blackwater (Hants or I.O.W?,) and around the
There were 3 forms of defence against V1s - fighter aircraft, anti
aircraft guns and balloons.... and not forgetting radar which provided an
Overall, the main onslaught by ‘flying bombs’ ended about 5½
months after that first ranging attack in June. This was at the
beginning of December when the Allies overran most of the Pas de Calais
Of 9,017 ground launched from France, 2340 or a little over 25%
reached London. Of the
balance that part of Kent outside London received 1378. However, Kent’s
season finished with a final four hitting the county early in September.
From September 16th the ‘Doodlebugs’ flew to London
north of the Kent coastline courtesy of the German air launching
squadron of 90 aircraft.
Fifty V1s were launched off the coast of Yorkshire - apparently,
still mainly targeting London. The final "air launched" phase lasted until
about mid January, although there were a few launchings through to
March, by which time about 1200 flying bombs had been air launched since
It was a nasty weapon that saved on
the cost of conventional aircraft and reduced losses of German pilots. Apart from the devastation and death
that it caused, it's potential to create fear stemmed partly from the sequence
of delivery. First, there was the drone of the engine.... followed by the
silence when the engines cut out.... followed by the explosion. However,
sound was not the only aspect to generate apprehension amongst the
civilian population. In daytime, the low altitude flightpath and pulse
jet engines created disturbing visual effects as Mollie Fallon
|When the V1's first began to come over, I saw one from the
bedroom window. It seemed so close to the roof and I thought it
was a plane on fire but the truth soon became known in the papers.
London - Formerly Whitstable
At night, the visual effects
could become quite eerie. Brian Smith describes one such scene below..
used to watch the directly approaching ‘Doodle Bugs’ from my
bedroom window in Mulberry House, Stanley Road.
convention was that, if, when the ‘engine’ stopped, the ‘Doodle
Bug’ was heading to pass over you and your line of sight to it was
about 45 degrees, you were in great trouble.
paternal grandparents had a fruit farm in Harbledown covering about
half the hillside facing North. On
the evening of what I would later learn was recorded as the greatest
‘Doodle Bug’ raid along the estuary, I stood with my step
grandfather on the hillside watching a continuing procession of the
‘Bugs’ heading towards London. No doubt many of them were passing
dark, we could only see the glow of the exhausts.
Occasionally, we saw ‘the light go out’ followed by a
distant glow from the ground as though we were watching a new
‘instant’ sunrise. That
was sometimes followed by a low rumble of the explosion if it wasn’t
too far away.
When describing the impact of doodlebugs, some commentators
focus primarily on London. This is understandable because the densely populated
city areas suffered the greatest casualties and material damage. However, it
should not be overlooked that slightly more V1s fell short and landed within the
boundaries of Kent.....
Strikes on Kent
map below shows the distribution of the 2400 V1 Flying Bombs that
were brought down or crashed in Kent.
That’s about 200 more than London received.
I have ‘ghosted’ a year 2000 map of Kent over those
sites, shown by the red dots, and marked the temporary wartime
county boundary with a light orange line.
I understand that boundary was reinstated as the formal
Kent boundary during the redistribution of boundaries in 1969.
kindly sent to us by Brian Smith
I have also
highlighted major roads and reprinted some town names to orientate
site clusters for readers. (Note:
please don’t count the red dot! I can’t guarantee there are
2400 as I have never tried to count them.
I actually had to draw in the red dots in three stages –
virtually 3 maps - and had little incentive to count them!
points struck me:
The sparsity of sites in North
The density of some clusters.
The number which appear to have
Despite the many stories of
fighter pilots ‘tipping’ V1s into the sea there are only 12
shown, and they are close to the coast.
Many clusters form an arc.
It would be interesting to be able to plot land based
defences to see if they coincide with the centre of each arc
All this leaves me with one overriding question.... Why
so many hits on rural Kent? Brian's remark about military installations
may eventually lead to some answers. However, many of those red dots
mark country locations with little or no military significance.
One obvious suggestion is that, whilst V1 technology
provided accuracy that was quite advanced for its day, it did not afford
the pinpoint precision of modern weaponry. Simply put.... things went
wrong on a regular basis! Brian and I have also exchanged emails
that discuss other ideas and suggestions. One fascinating explanation
came from a History Channel TV programme which suggested that British
security services fed false information to the German High Command regarding the
location of V1 hits - by reporting explosions west of London but not those in
the city itself. As a result, the Germans may have shortened the range of the
weapons causing the
explosives to fall short of the capital. If true, it certainly improved the
reputation of MI5.... whilst highlighting some alarming gaps in German
In truth, it is probably wrong to look for a single
explanation. Brian explains the wider picture below....
You referred to an M15
report of misinformation being released causing the Germans to shorten
the range of the V1s so that they would drop short of London.
That may well have been so - most likely I would think. However, there
were many other factors causing the ‘monsters’ to drop into Kent.
Although clever for its
time, the V1 engine was not truly a ‘rocket’ but a crude form of
jet – a pulse jet which gave the ‘Doodle Bug’ its peculiar
vibrating exhaust note. Fuel
quantity and the actual fuel metering played a major part in determining
the actual impact point of the weapon.
Air temperature, humidity etc would have had an influence,
although quite small, on the weapon’s range.
More importantly the fuel quantity could only be calculated
against a projected flight time to target with predicted wind direction
and windspeed. Of course
those could be reported back by aircraft overflying the route to target
but such factors may change by launch time or during the flight.
Actual flight time was the most critical factor determining the
impact point. The above
factors alone would have resulted in the quite scattered impact points
experienced across South East England.
The guidance system of
the V1 used the Earth’s magnetic North for its prime bearing.
Although clever in its time it was a very crude means of striking
a target compared with today’s sophisticated electronic systems which
can still miss the target. Although
a course correction would automatically be made to counter any wind
shift or brief wind gust the missile, again running true to its
‘compass setting’ relative to magnetic North, would be heading for a
different ‘spot’ on the earth’s surface.
In a similar manner, height was maintained by altimeter control
using barometric pressure. Up
or down drafts would bring an altitude or height correction into play.
That would only bring about a minor flight time delay but added
to the many other factors determining point of impact could have made a
difference between your house or the neighbours.
One of the main reasons so many V1s dropped into Kent
was the effort to bring them down before reaching their target!
Once they had crossed the Kent coast successful defence ensured
the county would suffer, residents would be killed in most cases.
Even some of those that later flew up the Thames Estuary were
‘diverted’ on to Kent soil, either
when shot down by fighters or during the brief period when fighters
‘tipped’ them off course to Kent or to the North.
Some say the fighters never did that.
Some believe the fighters used their wing tips under the V1’s
wing to physically tip them off course.
The British fighter pilots were smarter than that.
By placing their wing tips ahead
of the V1s wing they could use the airflow from their wing to divert
the missile without actually touching it.
Now let's get back to our specific "neck of the
woods. Unlike the western
channel formed by the Weald of Kent, the North East sector of the county
received very few V1s. Thus, Whitstable mercifully escaped the main
onslaught. However, many doodlebugs passed over the town en route to
targets further west. The first sightings caused a mixed reaction that
gave rise to curiosity, apprehension and uninformed theory.....
|In the 1950s, I recall my mother describing our family's first
experience of a V1. Apparently, the curious drone of the doodlebug
engines drew them into the garden where they watched one of the
devices pass by. The small size and curious shape did not fit the
normal view of a German plane and it drew the following comment
from my grandfather....
"There's no man in that
Granddad had got it spot on. In technical terms, there
was indeed "no man in that bugger". Fortunately, it (like most
V1s") passed overhead..
As familiarity grew, the local population
provided its own way of diverting the weapons westward....
caused some anxious but
humorous moments amongst my family. When the drone approached, they would
occasionally step into the garden and urge the doodlebug westward by waving their
arms and shouting. It was all intended to encourage the engines to operate a bit
longer and dump the explosives elsewhere.
Nevertheless, the V1 did have some direct impact on the town. Bill Dancer
picks up the story with a couple of examples.....
V1 at South Street
Bells ran a greenhouse operation on the west side of South Street
just about opposite Virginia Road. Their tomatoes were some of the best
I've ever eaten. Unfortunately, a V1 decided to put down there which did
not do much for the operation
The Denstroude Cottage incident was definitely a
V1. Our gang witnessed the explosion and set off in search of
souvenirs. On arrival, we found the cottage was more or less in tact
but, in the yard, bits and pieces were everywhere - including
corrugated iron pieces blown onto the roof of the cottage.
I was standing by a window when a policeman or
warden opened it and a sheet slid down coming to a halt some small
fraction of an inch from my chest. This was the closest I came to
being a war casualty and, as a result, we were ordered off the site
with no souvenirs.
Could life get worse? Well the answer was probably
"yes".... because Hitler's next weapon would be more sophisticated, less vulnerable and
a whole lot more difficult to counter than the V1. So it's time to move on to
another of our pages.... devoted to the V2 rocket.
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