British Response to V1 and V2

Detail of a V2 rocket diagram, 1945 (AIR 40/2541)
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How did Britain respond to the threat of attack by missiles in 1943?

In 1939, Britain and her allies went to war with Germany and her allies. To begin with, Germany was very successful in defeating her 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.


Tasks

1. Read Sources 1 and 2. You must advise the War Cabinet on the threat level from three sites: Peenemunde, Wissant and Watten. These sites are believed to be part of the German rocket project. Read the documents and then answer the questions.

  • Is Peenemunde part of the German rocket project? Should it be bombed? Give reasons for your answer
  • Is Wissant part of the German rocket project? Should it be bombed? Give reasons for your answer
  • Is Watten part of the German rocket project? Should it be bombed? Give reasons for your answer. How good was the advice you gave?

1a. Yes: 10 points No: 0 points
Should we bomb Peenemunde?
There was clear evidence that the Germans were developing a long-range rocket there. This site was so dangerous that it had to be attacked as soon as possible.

1b. Yes: 1 point No: 9 points
Should we bomb Wissant?
While answering yes is not completely wrong, it was decided not to bomb the suspected launch sites at the time.

1c. Yes: 8 points No: 2 points
Should we bomb Watten?
This site turned out to be where the fuel was put into the rockets. So it was very dangerous and had to be attacked.

Score of 27
Excellent, you could not have given better advice. If the Germans were allowed to develop their missiles and rockets, then huge destruction could have been caused to British cities. You are going to be promoted.

Score of 15 or above
Well done, you have given good advice. If the Germans were allowed to develop their missiles and rockets, then huge destruction could have been caused to British cities.

Score of 14 or less
You have given poor advice. If the Germans were allowed to develop their missiles and rockets, then huge destruction could have been caused to British cities. You are in danger of being transferred to the Ministry of Food where your job will be to give advice on nothing more serious than how to make tasty meals using powdered eggs.

2. Look at Source 3. Plan the attack on Peenemunde.

You need to advise the bomber pilots on which parts of the site they should aim to destroy.

Study the aerial photograph of Peenemunde. Can you identify the areas listed in the table below? If you need more help finding them, have a look at the target map in Source 3a. Which of the following targets would you advise the bomber pilots to aim for? Give reasons for your choice of targets.

  • Experimental station
  • Factory workshops
  • Power plant
  • Unidentified machinery
  • Experimental establishments
  • Sleeping and living quarters
  • Airfield

When you have finished you can read source 4 to see what happened.

3. Read Source 4. This is an extract from the account of the raid on Peenemunde on the night of 17-18 August 1943 by Group Captain John Searby, the Master Bomber.

  • In this account of the air raid, 250 scientific workers died. What do you feel about the killing of scientists in the attack?
  • Bomber Command losses in this operation were 41 Lancasters. How many RAF men were lost if this many Lancasters were shot down? (HINT : A Lancaster had a crew of 7 men)

Background

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.


Teachers' notes

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

Sources

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)


External links

Flying Bombs and Rockets
Site explaining the impact of the V1 and V2 attacks on London, including photographs of bomb damage.

V1 Vengance weapon site, Hazebrouck
Site showing photographs of a V1 launching site in France.

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