The Last V-bomb Casualties

It is almost always bad to be last. If you are the last casualty of a war, that means you survived all of the worst of the times, saw the light with the coming end of the war, and then was lost to the war anyway.

This is never good.

Today marks such an occasion. Sixty-six years ago, the last German V2 rocket fell on England. It struck between Court Road and Kynaston Road in Orpington, a town on the edge of the southeastern sprawl of London. The rocket explosion injured 23 people and 34 year-old Ivy Millichamp became the last civilian killed by a V2.

Joyce Green says she remembers the day all too well. She explained that when the rockets came, there was complete chaos in the streets—no one knew where to go, what to do. She said that with the rockets, there was very little warning before the explosion. She added that the explosions were devastating.

The German V1 and V2 attacks on London ravaged both the city and the people. The Germans fired more than 5000 V2 rockets at England; only 1100 reached their targets. Of those that reached England, they killed more than 2500 men, women, and children. The injured numbered greater than 6000.

The Americans called the V1 rockets “Buzz Bombs” and the English referred to them as “Doodlebugs.” They flew in at about 400 miles per hour between 2000 and 3000 feet. They had a very rudimentary auto pilot system that held them on heading and altitude until the fuel ran out. Then, they would simply fall into the city.

Defense against the V1 included barrage balloons, anti-aircraft fire, and later, the spectacular technique of “tipping.” At first, airplanes were no match for the Buzz Bombs, but soon, the Spitfire started touching 400 mph. When a RAF pilot tipped the V1, he would essentially fly his airplane up next to the flying V1 and put his wingtip under the wing of the V1 and, quite literally, tip it over.

This technique upset the bomb’s gyroscopic guidance system and they would fall into the countryside exploding harmlessly. Defense against the V2s, however, was non-existent.

The pulsejet engines of the V1s gave the victims some warning; by the time the V2s reached England, with their fuel depleted, they just fell into the city. Because of this, when a V2 was inbound, the people in the area had very little, if any, warning. Typically, the bombs simply surprised them by the explosion. Then they were on pins and needles waiting for another to hit. Life in London during the war was not good.

Hopefully, we will never see such again.


© 2011 J. Clark

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