The V2 was to bring terror to London towards the end of World War Two. The V2 was the first of the true rockets – part of Hitler’s revenge (Vergeltungswaffen) weapons – the secret weapons he had promised his generals would win the war. Whereas the V1 could be seen and attacked, the V2 was effectively invisible after it had been fired. The first Londoners knew about a V2, was when it exploded.
The main input behind the V2 came from Wernher von Braun, a German scientist who excelled at rocker propulsion. Rocket propulsion was being experimented with at Peenemünde on the German Baltic coast. The first true fighter jet was German – the Messerschmitt Me 262 – and this technology was transferred to von Braun’s dream of a rocket that could leave the Earth’s atmosphere and re-enter at speeds that made it unstoppable.
The V2 was 46 feet in length and fully loaded with fuel and warhead, weighed 13 tons. From launch to the speed of sound took only 30 seconds. Its maximum trajectory height was between 50 to 60 miles for long range targets. Its warhead weighed one ton and could do devastating damage.
Initially, the test flights of the V2 had been disastrous to such an extent that the hierarchy in the Nazi Partywas less than supportive of its development. With the V1, there were tangible results which the likes ofHermann Göering could see. But the V2 was a far more complicated and sophisticated weapon than the V1. Many of the initial test firings ended with the prototype exploding before it even lifted off. To the scientists at Peenemünde, this was all part of experimentation. To senior Nazis it was a waste of time and resources. In “Inside the Third Reich” by Albert Speer, Hitler’s armament’s minister, it is claimed that the inability of senior Nazi figures to fully comprehend rocket technology, led to a delay in overcoming initial problems with the V2. Speer believed that the V2 would have been operational a lot sooner had the project received more backing from those who did not understand modern technology.
If this is true, then what Eisenhower wrote after the war becomes more meaningful. Eisenhower claimed in “Crusade in Europe” that if the Nazis had got the V-weapons programme working just six months earlier in January 1944, then D-Day would have been made a lot more difficult, even impossible.
|“It seems likely that if the Germans had succeeded in perfecting and using these new weapons earlier than he did, our invasion of Europe would have proved exceedingly difficult, perhaps impossible. I feel sure that if they had succeeded in using these weapons over a six-month period, and particularly if they had made the Portsmouth-Southampton area one of the principal targets, “Overlord” may have been written off.”Eisenhower.|
Over 5,000 V2’s were launched but only 1,100 reached any part of Great Britain. The destruction of central London was so severe that the government took the decision to use false information to get the Germans to change their target. German intelligence was fed the information that to escape the V2 attacks, the government had moved its headquarters to Dulwich in south-east London. This was not true but it had the desired effect. The Germans changed the direction of their V2 attacks to this area of London and central London received far fewer hits.
The V2 attacks only stopped as a result of the advance of the Allies across western Europe. As this occurred, the launch sites were taken over. However, a V2 blitz on Antwerp in Belgium did a great deal of damage to a port the Allies needed to provide supplies to their men as they advanced east.