This photograph shows a cutaway drawing of a V-2 rocket. The V-2 was an extremely advanced piece of technology, and the scientists and engineers responsible for it went on to play key roles in the post-war space programmes of the United States and Soviet Union. However, the V-2 was enormously expensive to produce at a time when the German Army desperately needed cheap and effective weapons that could be manufactured en masse.
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The German V-weapons offensive was a desperate attempt to stave off defeat through new technology.
In early 1944 Germany was facing defeat, while Allied bombers were able to destroy German cities at will. In response, Germany deployed advanced new Vergeltungswaffen or 'revenge' weapons: the V-1 flying bomb and V-2 rocket. The first V-1 hit Britain on 13 June 1944, and the first V-2 rocket on 8 September 1944.
The V-weapons were typical of Nazism’s military economy; manufactured by slave labourers, the weapons incorporated expensive high technology and were intended to terrorise a civilian population and damage morale. Conversely, their use against Britain also gave a short-term boost to morale on the German home front.
British anti-aircraft defences were able to destroy many V-1s before they reached their target areas. The V-2’s speed made it impossible to intercept, but it too proved an ineffective strategic weapon; it was too expensive to be manufactured in sufficient quantities.
The V-weapons offensive ended in March 1945 when the last launch sites were overrun by Allied troops. The campaign inflicted immense suffering, causing over 30,000 civilian casualties, but failed to change Germany’s disastrous strategic situation. The V-weapons achieved a certain psychological effect; their impersonal and apparently random strikes were unnerving, but the destruction was less then than that endured in the Blitz of 1940-1941.
The technological legacy of the V-weapons was enormous, foreshadowing modern unmanned weapons and long-range ballistic rockets, and they contributed to the Cold War-era space race.
Photograph of Police Constable Frederick Godwin as he tries to comfort a man who has returned home to discover that his wife has been killed by a V-1, 1944. His house in Upper Norwood, South London, is reduced to rubble behind him. Rescuers, including two American Ambulance women, pick through the ruins in search of survivors.
Photograph of the crew of a 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun keeping watch for flying bombs, June 1944. Anti-aircraft guns were responsible for the destruction of over 1,800 V-1s. Similar numbers were shot down by fighter aircraft. Two hundred were destroyed by barrage balloons.
A Tempest Shooting Down a Flying-Bomb, 1944, by Roy Nockolds. This painting by shows a Royal Air Force Tempest fighter plane pursuing a V-1 that has escaped a barrage of anti-aircraft fire. Nockolds, a painter known for his pre-war images of motor racing, conveys a sense of speed. The image also captures some tactical details, such as the deployment of anti-aircraft guns on the coast, allowing fighter aircraft free reign to intercept flying bombs over land.
This photograph of V1 flying bombs was taken at the Central Works, a vast underground production plant at Nordhausen in the Harz Mountains, shortly after its capture by Allied troops. Tens of thousands of civilians from occupied Europe were subjected to a brutal regime of starvation, torture and frequent executions while slaving for the Nazi economy. An estimated 20,000 died. More slave labourers died making V weapons than were killed by them on the ground.
Defensive measures against the V-1 included massed batteries of anti-aircraft guns along the North Downs and the coast and the use of fast RAF fighter aircraft to shoot or 'tip' down the incoming flying bombs before they reached their intended targets. This photograph was taken in flight by the gun camera of an intercepting RAF fighter aircraft, moments before it destroyed the V-1 by cannon fire.
This is a fragment of rudder from a V-1 flying bomb which fell on the junction of Wandsworth Road and Wilcox Road in South Lambeth, London, on 9 July 1944, injuring 10 people. The first flying bombs - also known as the 'doodlebugs' or 'buzz bombs' on account of the distinctive sound they made when in flight - landed in London and the Home Counties during the night of 12-13 June 1944.
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