13 June 1944: At approximately 4:30 a.m., the first V-1 flying bomb struck London. The “buzz bomb” detonated on a London and North Eastern Railway bridge crossing over Grove Street, between Devonshire Street and Osborne Road in Bethnal Green. Six persons were killed by the explosion, and twenty-six others were injured.
Twelve homes were demolished and at least fifty others badly damaged.
The bridge was along an important railway route. It was heavily damaged and the LNER decided to replace it rather than undertake any repairs. The new bridge was in service by 7:45 p.m., that evening.
A Mr. Dowe witnessed the attack from the Bethnal Green Town Hall. He said, “When warning went I saw my wife and family into the shelter and then stood at the entrance to watch events. I heard a plane in the distance, then gunfire and then the sound of the plane as if diving. There was an orange flash, followed by a terrific explosion. There were no sounds of bombs falling as in the blitz, only only that of the plane zooming.”
Three other “P.A.C.s” (Pilotless Aircraft) ¹ fell in Kent and Sussex with little effect.
The Fieseler Fi 103 (better known as the Vergeltungswaffe 1 (“retaliation weapon”), or simply, the V-1, was what would today be considered a cruise missile. It was designed and built by the Gerhard Fieseler Werke GmbH. Construction of the missiles was very simple and it was mass produced at a rate of about 8,000 per month.
The V-1 is an unmanned mid-wing monoplane, constructed of a welded steel fuselage with straight wings which were covered by sheet steel. A pulse jet engine was mounted above the fuselage. The “flying bomb” was 8.325 meters (27 feet, 3¾ inches) long with a wingspan of 5.370 meters (17 feet, 7½ inches). The wing used a symmetrical airfoil with no sweep, dihedral or twist. There are no ailerons. Steel barrage balloon cable cutters were installed in the wings’ leading edges. The aircraft had a total weight of 2,160 kilograms (4,762 pounds).
Powered by an Argus Motoren Werke GmbH As 014 pulse jet engine which produced a maximum thrust of 3,530 newtons (794 pounds of thrust) at 750 kilometers per hour (460 miles per hour) at Sea Level. The pulse jet engine had no moving parts and fired 45–50 times per second. It burned low-octane gasoline with compressed air.
The V-1 was controlled in flight through pneumatic servos connected to a gyroscopic automatic pilot built by Askania Werke AG. A magnetic compass in the nose could be set to direct the V-1 in a particular direction. Air driven vanes at the nose drove an air log, which kept track of the distance flown by means of a turn counter. At a preselected count, the device shut down the pulse jet engine and the flying bomb entered a steep dive and crashed into the ground and the warhead detonated. The V-1 was only accurate enough to land in a general geographic area.
The aircraft had a maximum speed of 600 kilometers per hour (373 miles per hour) at 2,500 meters (8,200 feet). The maximum range was 235 kilometers (146 miles).
The warhead contained 830 kilograms (1,830 pounds) of Amatol 3 gm (a mixture of the high explosive TNT with ammonium nitrate). The warhead could be detonated by any one of three fuses: an electrical impact fuse, a mechanical impact fuse, or a mechanical delayed action fuse.
The V-1 was usually launched from an inclined ramp by catapult, though it could also be air launched from a carrier airplane.
Between 13 June 1944 and 29 March 1945, approximately 10,500 V-1s were launched against England. In the area around London, 6,184 people were killed and 17,981 others seriously injured. The V-1 was also targeted against cities on the European continent, especially Antwerp. 8,696 V-1s were launched against that city, and 3,141 fired at Liège. These attacks killed 4,683 persons and wounded 10,075.
¹ “Flying bomb” replaced Pilotless Aircraft as the preferred term in a Cabinet meeting, 19 June 1944.
© 2018, Bryan R. Swopesby