This week ‘London Shoes’ looked back to the latter stages of WW2 and the devastating impact that one specific aspect of enemy attack had on the lives of so many Londoners.
This week’s publication onto the ‘London Shoes’ Website-FB & Twitter portals is entitled “V2 Rocket attacks on London – the ‘first the worst & the last” !!!.
Whilst battles were being fought throughout occupied Europe and in other countries – Germany knew that it had to come up with a new strategy to attack Britain from the skies in order to decimate production and defence, and to crush the morale of the British people.
The ‘Blitz’ had come and gone, and Britain’s ability to defend itself from aerial attacks had been greatly enhanced with the introduction of high tech radar mechanisms and also anti-aircraft weaponry.
Germany knew that it had to develop a more advanced and more lethal method of attacking Britain from the skies – and so it turned to one of its leading scientists in rocket technology-‘Wernher von Braun’ to design and develop a new form of bomb weaponry, that could be launched from the land, in Europe – directed to specific targets in Britain-then be fired across the English Channel – to hit and obliterate the designated targets on British soil.
Being the capital London was obviously a prime target for the majority of these rocket attacks.
The first rocket design that ‘Wernher von Braun’ came up with was known as the ‘V1’ Rocket – the ‘V’ standing for ‘Vengeance’. It became more commonly known as the ‘buzz-bomb’ because of the buzzing noise that could be heard when approaching, and when its engine cut-out, then you knew that it was going to land somewhere very soon and cause death and destruction.
The very first ‘V1’ rocket to hit London, was launched from European soil on 13th June 1944 and hit a railway bridge in Grove Road-Bow-East London, killing 6 people and badly injuring 42 others – all in all, 9,000 V1 rockets were launched on London.
By September 1944, Germany, and in particular von Braun, had started developing a much more advanced and deadlier version of the V1 rocket – which was known as the ‘V2’.
The ‘V2’ rocket was, at that time, the world’s first long range ballistic missile.
The ‘V2’ rocket weighed 23 tons – travelled at 3,000mph – flew so high that it couldn’t be tracked by radar or shot down by anti-aircraft weapons – their approach couldn’t be heard at ground level – and when they exploded, they could leave a crater of anything up to 10ft deep. They were so powerful that their destructive effect would fan-out for up to a quarter of a mile from where they landed.
Germany started its ‘V2’ rocket bombardment of Britain in Sept 1944, and over 1,500 were subsequently dropped on London alone.
So – what were the ‘first’ the ‘worst’ & the ‘last’ V2 rocket attacks on London?
The very ‘first’ V2 rocket attack on London happened on 8th Sept 1944 – and for some unknown reason, hit the quiet little suburban residential street of Staveley Road in leafy Chiswick, located down by the Thames in the far reaches of south-west London. This very first V2 attack killed 3 people outright and seriously injured 17. The blast from this rocket completely obliterated the area of the quiet little street.
The ‘worst’ V2 rocket attack took place a couple of months later on 25th Nov 1944, when the bomb dropped from the skies on a busy Saturday morning, and hit the Woolworths store in New Cross Road, in the Bermondsey district of south London – killing 168 people including babies and children who had been out shopping with their mothers – and its devastation also left 121 people seriously injured.
The Co-Op store next door to Woolworths collapsed as a result of the attack, and it took rescue services a whole 3 days to retrieve all of the bodies from the carnage.
The very ‘last’ V2 rocket attack on London took place on 27th March 1945 at around 7am in the morning, when it hit ‘Hughes Mansions’ – part of a residential block of flats situated at the Whitechapel end of Vallance Road-London E1 – killing 134 of its residents.
The devastation of the V2 rockets (and the V1’s) left thousands of Londoners homeless – or left them with home that no longer had a roof or utility services – but throughout all this tragedy and devastation, the resilience, camaraderie and community spirit amongst Londoners (and inhabitants of all Britain’s targeted cities) eventually saw them through what was one of the darkest periods of London’s history.
Shortly after the Hughes Mansions attack in March 1945, allied forces advanced into Europe and captured all the bases where the V1’s & V2’s had been launched from – and these bombardments finally came to an end.
As for the German scientist ‘Wernher von Braun’ who designed these ‘V’ rockets – he was ‘encouraged’ by the allied forces, to surrender to the US Army, as opposed to the Russians – and was very soon made a full US Citizen, and went on to become one of the leading designers of the early incarnations of the US NASSA space project……… the irony of War eh!!!
Today – it is somewhat reassuring & comforting to know that these awful unimaginable events have not been forgotten – as scattered across London are several commemorative plaques and memorials acknowledging what Londoner’s went through as a result of the V2 (& V1) rocket attacks and the tragic loss of life that followed.
So – for this blog, I set out to visit the exact locations of ‘The First – The Worst – The Last’ V2 rocket attacks – and this is what I found.
In quiet leafy ‘Staveley Road’–Chiswick, the site of the very ‘first’ V2 rocket attack on 8th Sept 1944 – there stands a memorial at the spot where the rocket initially hit. Next to this memorial is a sort of ‘story-board’ that reminds us of, and commemorates the lives of the 3 people who were killed.
In ‘New Cross Road’ south-east London, and not far from New Cross Gate mainline station – the ‘worst’ V2 rocket attack is commemorated by 2 plaques on the exterior wall of an Iceland supermarket store, which is built on the site of the old ‘Woolworths’ department store that was so devastatingly bombed by a V2 on 25th November 1944, taking the lives of 168 people – the ‘worst’ tragedy as a result of these rocket attacks.
Finally, in Vallance Road-E1 just round the corner from Whitechapel mainline station – there is a commemorative stone tucked away in the grounds of the ‘Hughes Mansions’ housing estate that the very ‘last’ V2 rocket hit on 27th March 1945 – killing 134 innocent people. A children’s playground now stands on the actual spot that was the centre of the explosion.
So – having spent the day travelling from south west to south east then east London seeking out the ‘first – worst & last’ V2 rocket attack sites, it was time for a little liquid refreshment before heading off back home – and so I continued walking up Vallance Road-E1 from ‘Hughes Mansions’ towards Bethnal Green, and popped into a legendary east-end pub “The Marquis of Cornwallis” situated on the corner of Vallance Rd & Bethnal Green Road.
‘The Marquis of Cornwallis’ is a typical old east-end type boozer that has a bit of history behind it. Records show that there has been a pub on the site since 1793, and the current pub building dates back to 1835.
It has a bit of notoriety about it as in the past it was often the preferred watering-hole for a lot of the local gangsters, and in fact, the Kray Twins dad ‘Charles Kray’ senior, was once a ‘regular’ – even when he was on-the-run’ from the authorities-as it is said, he often was.
Knocking back a couple of ‘cheeky’ beers in the ‘Cornwallis’ gave me the time to contemplate on just how difficult and terrifying life must have been for Londoner’s during WW2 years – and hopefully, through commemorative plaques and memorials, however big/however small – the courage and resilience of those who lived through this kind of stuff is appreciated and never forgotten.
Hope my accompanying photos help to bring a bit of reality to this article.
See below for the full range of photographs taken to accompany this blog