In 1939, Britain and its allies went to war with Germany and her allies. To begin with, Germany was very successful in defeating its enemies. In the first two years of the war, German bombers attacked British cities causing great damage and loss of life. Roughly 43,000 people were killed and two million made homeless by the bombing. However, by 1943 the tide of war was turning and Germany was on the defensive.
It was then that intelligence of a new threat to Britain’s cities began to emerge – missiles and rockets. The V1 missile, once launched, flew without a pilot until it ran out of fuel and came crashing down, blowing up. The V2 rocket was a long distance weapon that could travel at the speed of sound. You will investigate how serious a threat these weapons were to Britain in 1943.
The people of Britain called the V1 missiles ‘Buzz Bombs’ or ‘Doodlebugs’. The first was dropped at Swanscombe in Kent on 13 June 1944 and the last one at Orpington in Kent on 27 March 1945. During that time, 6,725 were launched at Britain. Of these, 2,340 hit London, causing 5,475 deaths, with 16,000 injured. Three lines of defence were put in place against the missiles: fighter planes over the English coast, anti-aircraft batteries in Kent and barrage balloons around London. These were successful in destroying 3,500 V1 missiles.
V2 rockets were first launched against England in September 1944. Over the next few months, nearly 1,400 struck London. They were less accurate than V1 missiles, but since they travelled at the speed of sound, and so made no warning noise before impact, it was almost impossible to defend against them.
The Royal Air Force began bombing the launch sites in 1944. The threat from these weapons ended in 1945 as the British army and their allies advanced across France, Belgium and Holland, capturing the launch sites.
This lesson could be used as part of the following topic areas:
- changing technology and warfare, showing how new inventions completely change the way war is waged
- the Home Front: the story of the V1 and V2 bombings is part of the story of the Blitz as well as the mobilisation of the British people in the First World War. Air raids are some of the most powerful British memories of the 20th century and present opportunities for students to do some independent research
- civilians and ‘total war’. The 20th century introduced the British people to ‘total war’. For students who have studied the Zeppelin raids of the FirstWorld War and the Cold War as prescribed by the National Curriculum at key stage 3, this lesson could be used to compare and contrast these conflicts and help conclude the unit
Illustration: V2 Rocket diagram (AIR 40/2541)
Source 1: An extract from Air Scientific Intelligence Interim Report on German Long-range Missiles, 26 June 1943 (DEFE 40/12)
Source 2: Extracts from the report by Duncan Sandys to the War Cabinet Chiefs of Staff Committee on German Long-range missile development, 26 August 1943 (AIR 20/2629)
Source 3: Aerial photograph of Peenemunde (AIR 34/184) – Transcript Peenemunde Site Plan/Target Map, 1943 (AIR 34/632)
Source 4: Extracts from the account of the raid on Peenemunde on the night of 17-18 August 1943 by Group Captain John Searby, the Master Bomber on the raid. (AIR 20/4040)
Flying Bombs and Rockets
Site explaining the impact of the V1 and V2 attacks on London, including photographs of bomb damage.