Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Feeling Supersonic

Despite the allies reconquest of Europe, London was a dangerous place as WW2 rushed to its climax. From September 1944, the Nazis started to use their terrifying V2 rocket against Great Britain. It was a massively destructive weapon that travelled faster than the speed of sound. There was no warning of an impact, and early casualties were attributed to gas explosions by the Government in order to prevent panic. About 3,000 V2 rockets were fired - their flight arc made them the first manmade objects into space - until their launch sites were overrun, with about half of them aimed (though 'pointed at' is perhaps a more accurate phrase) at Britain, the majority landing in the South East and London. The last V2 to land on Central London was at Hughes Mansions in Bethnal Green, killing 134 on March 27th 1945. Among many other hits were Smithfield Market (110 dead), Selfridges Store (18 dead) and New Cross Woolworth's which slaughtered 168. Anyone familar with Tottenham Court Road will know the mural on the building near Heal's. The blank expanse in front of it is a V2 impact site, still undeveloped. 9 people died here. By the time the V2 threat was over, about 9000 Londoners had been killed by this horribly indiscriminate weapon.

The then London County Council kept meticulous maps of bomb damage, some of which can be seen on Yersinia's site at Flickr. The full-size versions can be seen at the London Metropolitan Archives.

Flickrite Matt From London has created this map showing all the V2 impact sites in the wider London area as well as that of the old LCC - it's an ongoing project and a perfect example of what a wonderful place the internet can be.

View Larger Map


Velky Al said...

The one that landed on Staveley Road would have been rather close to where my father's family lived. Used to play in Gunnersbury Park when we were kids visiting our Nan.

Ten Inch Wheeler said...

It was a horrible time in a horrible war - especially as there was nowhere to hide from a V2.

M@ said...

Thanks for the link, and great write-up. One small correction: most sources give the final V2 as Elm Grove, Orpington, killing one person. But I guess Orpington is far enough outside the centre to be considered a town in its own right.

By the way, if any readers of this blog know of V2 strikes not already on the map, please leave a comment on Londonist, so we can keep adding to this resource.

Ten Inch Wheeler said...

Hi M@, i've just edited the post.

Affer said...

What a fascinating blog, and well done M@. My father lived in Bow and worked in Plaistow throughout the war; he was of the opinion that the V1 was worse because you knew it was coming - as opposed to the V2, which you only knew about after it had arrived. He told a story of fire-watching on the roof of a school, and turning around to see a V1 float past, dead-engine, to explode below before he had any chance to raise the alarm.

Ten Inch Wheeler said...

That's a chilling story, Affer. It's these little vignettes of wartime life that I find so fascinating.