Victims of a wartime V2 fiasco
23 November, 2018
• AT this time 74 years ago London was being bombarded with an average of 62 V2 rockets every week.
Sunday marks the anniversary of the deadliest strike – at Woolworths, New Cross, killing 168 and injuring 122. The Smithfield Meat Market strike, killing 110 and injuring 123, would come on March 8, 1945.
Some 2,917 RAF servicemen were killed and 1,939 injured in operations to attack the production and launch capacity of the V2. These figures are dwarfed by the estimated 120,000 slave labourers who died horrific deaths building the rockets.
But had it not been for the RAF and our US allies, the first V2 to hit London could have done so in spring 1943 – followed by 1,500 or more a week. We’d have lost the war. The Nazis were already developing the V10, which could hit New York.
A V2 could destroy every building within 320 yards of the point of impact. There was no defence at that time as the V2 reached speeds of up to Mach 5 – about 3,600mph. And the only warning was the sonic boom a split second before landing.
But the attack on London need never have happened had our war leaders not been fighting each other in 1943-44 rather than fighting the enemy.
Implacable enemies of each other were Lord Cherwell, Duncan Sandys and home secretary Herbert Morrison – along with Air Marshals Sir Roderic Hill, Sir Charles Portal and Sir Arthur Tedder, and Air Vice Marshal Norman Bottomley.
The problems were exacerbated by Ultra Clearance (knowledge that we had cracked the Enigma codes at Bletchley Park). Several officers without Ultra Clearance – and most Americans without it – outranked those with it.
The whole fiasco, of course, was presided over by Winston Churchill.
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