This week in… 1944

On 13 June 1944, with war going badly for Germany, Hitler took his last throw of the dice and began a wave of attacks with flying bombs whose sinister rasping sound struck terror into the hearts of those living in southern England.


On 13 June 1944, with war going badly for Germany, Hitler took his last throw of the dice and began a wave of attacks with flying bombs whose sinister rasping sound struck terror into the hearts of those living in southern England.

Initially, it was unclear what these so-called ‘doodle-bugs’ were, but within two weeks of the first launch, the V1 had given up its secrets, and The Engineer, so tight-lipped on details of British military hardware, was delighted to share the missile’s vital statistics with its readers.

‘The pilotless aircraft operated by the Germans from the French coast in their indiscriminating attacks on southern England is jet-propelled and launched from a ramp, probably with the aid of a take-off rocket,’ wrote the magazine. ‘The range… is about 150 miles and the speed in level flight between 300 and 350 miles an hour.

‘The explosive is carried in the warhead mounted in a thin casing in the front part of the fuselage. The engine is driven by petrol and the noise heard in flight is down to the intermittent explosions within the jet propulsion unit.’

In some respects, the V1 could be regarded as an early precursor to today’s UAVs, not least because of its pioneering auto-pilot system. ‘It is not radio-controlled, but operated by an automatic pilot, set before the take-off.’

The Engineer commented, in a propagandistic vein, ‘by their use of this unmilitary weapon of chance, the Germans acknowledge that the Luftwaffe is powerless to stem the Allied offensive in Europe, or to be a serious menace to the air forces of the United Nations. The attacks have been launched in an attempt to console the people of the Nazi Reich and halt a further deterioration of morale’.

More than 9,000 V1s were fired at southern England and around 2,500 reached their targets. The rest were destroyed in flight by anti-aircraft gunfire, fighter planes and barrage balloons.

Jon Excell