Last updated

V-1 flying bomb V-1 cutaway.jpg
V-1 flying bomb
V-2 missile Esquema de la V-2.jpg
V-2 missile
V-3 cannon Mimoyecques eastern site reconstruction.jpg
V-3 cannon

V-weapons, known in original German as Vergeltungswaffen (German pronunciation: [fɐˈgɛltʊŋsˌvafṇ] , German: "retaliatory weapons", "reprisal weapons"), were a particular set of long-range artillery weapons designed for strategic bombing during World War II, particularly terror bombing and/or aerial bombing of cities. [1] [2] They comprised the V-1, a pulsejet-powered cruise missile; the V-2, a liquid-fuelled ballistic missile (often referred to as V1 and V2); and the V-3 cannon. All of these weapons were intended for use in a military campaign against Britain, though only the V-1 and V-2 were so used in a campaign conducted 1944–45. After the invasion of Europe by the Allies, these weapons were also employed against targets on the mainland of Europe, mainly France and Belgium. Terror bombing with V-weapons killed approximately 18,000 people, mostly civilians. The cities of London, Antwerp and Liège were the main targets. [3] [4]


They were part of the range of the so-called Wunderwaffen (superweapons, or "wonderweapons") of Nazi Germany.


As early as 28 June 1940, a terror bombing rationale had been advanced for the A4 (V-2 rocket) being developed at a meeting between Army Ordnance Chief Emil Leeb and Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht, Walther von Brauchitsch. [5] Following the relative failure of the Baedeker Raids on Britain in 1942, development of both flying bomb and rocket accelerated, with Britain designated as the target. [6] On 29 September 1943, Albert Speer publicly promised retribution against the mass bombing of German cities by a "secret weapon". [7] Then the official 24 June 1944 Reich Propaganda Ministry announcement of the "Vergeltungswaffe 1" guided missile implied that there would be another such weapon. [8] After the first operational A-4 launch in September 1944, the rocket was renamed the V-2. [9] (although no one knows exactly who gave it this name). [10] However, the V-2 operations manual distributed to firing batteries continued to use the A-4 name for the rocket. [11]

Use against Britain and Europe 1944–45


A V-1 is rolled out Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1973-029A-24A, Marschflugkorper V1 vor Start.jpg
A V-1 is rolled out

Beginning in October 1943, launch sites for the V-1 were constructed in Northern France, along the coast from Calais to Le Havre. Aerial bombing attacks on these sites by the Allied airforce were only partially successful, and by June 1944 they were ready for action. [12] Prompted by the Normandy Landings of 6 June, in the early morning of 13 June 1944, the first V-1 flying bomb attack was carried out on London. [6] [13] Ten missiles were launched, of which four reached England. The first of these impacted near Swanscombe, causing no casualties. At Bethnal Green, however, a bridge was destroyed, six people killed and nine injured. [14] After the 15th[ clarify ] the attacks became sustained at a rate of about 100 a day. [13] With the first attack the British put their pre-planned Operation Diver (after their codename "Diver" used for the V-1) into action.

The buzzing sound of the V-1's pulse jet engine was likened by some to "a motor cycle in bad running order". As it reached its target and dived, the sound of the propulsion unit spluttering and cutting out, followed by an eerie hush before impact, was quite terrifying, though the silence was also a warning to seek shelter (later V-1s were corrected to have the originally intended power dive). [15] At least one business in London advertised how quickly a patron could access a nearby shelter. Despite this, the cloudy and rainy conditions of June and July aided the effectiveness of the weapon, and casualties were high. By late August a million and a half people had left London, and the rate of work production was affected. [16] By the late summer and autumn, however, increasingly effective countermeasures against the V-1 were taken, and people started returning to London. [17]

A total of 9,251 V-1s were fired at targets in Britain, with the vast majority aimed at London; 2,515 reached the city, killing 6,184 civilians and injuring 17,981. Croydon to the south, on the flight path of the V-1s, suffered severely, taking 142 hits. [18]


V-2 launch, Peenemunde Bundesarchiv RH8II Bild-B0791-42 BSM, Peenemunde, Raketenstart (cropped).jpg
V-2 launch, Peenemünde

V-2 rocket launching sites were set up by the Germans around The Hague in the Netherlands on 6 September 1944. The first was launched from here against London on 8 September 1944 and took an estimated 5 minutes to fly the 200 miles (320 km) from the Hague to London, where it struck at 6:43pm on 8 September on Chiswick, causing 13 casualties. [19] As the V-2 explosions came without warning, the government initially attempted to conceal their cause by blaming them on defective gas mains. However, the public was not fooled and soon began sardonically referring to the V-2s as "Flying gas pipes". [20]

By October the offensive became sustained. A particularly devastating strike was on 25 November 1944, when a V-2 exploded at the Woolworth's store in New Cross Road, killing 168 people and seriously injuring 121. [21] Intercepting the supersonic V-2 missiles in flight proved virtually impossible, and other countermeasures, such as bombing the launch sites, were fairly ineffectual. Sustained bombardment continued until March 1945. The very last missiles arrived on 27 March 1945, with one of them killing 134 people and injuring 49 when it hit a block of flats in Stepney. [22]

Ruined buildings in London, left by the penultimate V-2 to strike the city on 27 March 1945; the rocket killed 134 people Damage Caused by V2 Rocket Attacks in Britain, 1945 HU88803.jpg
Ruined buildings in London, left by the penultimate V-2 to strike the city on 27 March 1945; the rocket killed 134 people

1,115 V-2s were fired at the United Kingdom. The vast majority of them were aimed at London, though about 40 targeted (and missed) Norwich. They killed an estimated 2,754 people in London, with another 6,523 injured. A further 2,917 service personnel were killed as a result of the V-weapon campaign. Since the V-2 was supersonic and could not be heard (and was rarely seen) as it approached the target, its psychological effect "suffered in comparison to the V-1". [24]

The V-weapon offensive ended in March 1945, with the last V-2 landing in Kent on March 27, and the last V-1 two days later. In terms of casualties, their effects had been less than their inventors hoped or their victims feared, though the damage to property was extensive, with 20,000 houses a day being damaged at the height of the campaign, causing a massive housing crisis in south-east England in late 1944 and early 1945. [25]

The existential horror of the V-2 attack on London is the theme of Thomas Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow . [26]

V-2s were launched against Antwerp and Liège in Belgium; the attack on Antwerp was to prevent use of the Port of Antwerp which was essential for Allied logistics. In the six months following liberation in September 1944, Belgian towns were targeted by German V-weapons. A total of 2,342 V-weapons (mostly of the more advanced V-2 type) fell in a 10-mile radius around Antwerp alone. [27] A post-war SHAEF report estimated V-Bombs had been responsible for killing 5,000 people and injuring a further 21,000, mostly in the cities of Antwerp and Liège. [27]

On 17 March 1945 eleven V-2 rockets were fired at the Ludendorf rail bridge across the Rhine at Remagen on Hitler's orders, see Battle of Remagen. This was the only time they were fired at a tactical target or at a target in Germany; the nearest hit to the target was 270 meters (890 ft) away; and one hit Cologne, 64 kilometers (40 mi) to the north. The General Staff were against their use as they were inaccurate and could kill German citizens and troops, but Hitler was desperate to destroy the Allied bridgehead across the Rhine. They were launched by Batterie SS Abt. 500 at Hellendoorn in the Netherlands, about 200 kilometers (120 mi) to the north.


Prototype V-3 Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1981-147-30A, Hochdruckpumpe V-3.jpg
Prototype V-3

The V-3 cannon, also designed to fire on London, was never used for this purpose due to Allied attacks on the launch facilities, especially the fortress of Mimoyecques, and the offensive in northern Europe in 1944, overrunning the launch sites. Consequently, its use was diverted, in the winter of 1944, to bombard Luxembourg, with minimal results. [28]

See also

Related Research Articles

Peenemünde Army Research Center World War II weapons research center

The Peenemünde Army Research Centre was founded in 1937 as one of five military proving grounds under the German Army Weapons Office (Heereswaffenamt).

V-2 rocket Worlds first short-range guided ballistic missile

The V-2, technical name Aggregat 4 (A4), was the world's first long-range guided ballistic missile. The missile, powered by a liquid-propellant rocket engine, was developed during the Second World War in Germany as a "vengeance weapon", assigned to attack Allied cities as retaliation for the Allied bombings against German cities. The V-2 rocket also became the first man-made object to travel into space by crossing the Kármán line with the vertical launch of MW 18014 on 20 June 1944.

V-1 flying bomb Cruise missile

The V-1 flying bomb —also known to the Allies as the buzz bomb, or doodlebug, and in Germany as Kirschkern or Maikäfer (maybug), as well as by its official RLM aircraft designation of Fi 103—was an early cruise missile and the only production aircraft to use a pulsejet for power.

Henschel Hs 293 German anti-ship radio-controlled glide bomb used in World War II

The Henschel Hs 293 was a World War II German anti-ship radio controlled glide bomb with a rocket engine slung underneath it. It was designed by Herbert A. Wagner.

Intermediate-range ballistic missile ballistic missile with a range of 3,000–5,500 km

An intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) is a ballistic missile with a range of 3,000–5,500 km, between a medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) and an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Classifying ballistic missiles by range is done mostly for convenience; in principle there is very little difference between a low-performance ICBM and a high-performance IRBM, because decreasing payload mass can increase range over ICBM threshold. The range definition used here is used within the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. Some other sources include an additional category, the long-range ballistic missile (LRBM), to describe missiles with a range between IRBMs and true ICBMs. The more modern term theater ballistic missile encompasses MRBMs and SRBMs, including any ballistic missile with a range under 3,500 km (2,175 mi).

Walter Dornberger German general

Major-General Dr. Walter Robert Dornberger was a German Army artillery officer whose career spanned World War I and World War II. He was a leader of Nazi Germany's V-2 rocket program and other projects at the Peenemünde Army Research Center.

Dr Walter Thiel was a German rocket scientist. Walter Thiel provided the decisive ideas for the A4 (V-2) rocket engine and his research enabled rockets to head towards space.

La Coupole World War II bunker complex in France

La Coupole, also known as the Coupole d'Helfaut-Wizernes and originally codenamed Bauvorhaben 21 or Schotterwerk Nordwest, is a Second World War bunker complex in the Pas-de-Calais department of northern France, about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from Saint-Omer, and some 14.4 kilometers south-southeast from the less developed Blockhaus d'Eperlecques V-2 launch installation in the same area. It was built by the forces of Nazi Germany between 1943 and 1944 to serve as a launch base for V-2 rockets directed against London and southern England, and is the earliest known precursor to modern underground missile silos still in existence.

Operation Crossbow World War II Allied operations against German long-range weapons

Crossbow was the code name of the World War II campaign of Anglo-American operations against all phases of the German long-range weapons programme. It included operations against research and development of the weapons, their manufacture, transportation and their launching sites, and against missiles in flight".

<i>Blockhaus dÉperlecques</i> military museum

The Blockhaus d'Éperlecques is a Second World War bunker, now part of a museum, near Saint-Omer in the northern Pas-de-Calais département of France, and only some 14.4 kilometers north-northwest from the more developed La Coupole V-2 launch facility, in the same general area.

Saint-Leu-dEsserent Commune in Hauts-de-France, France

Saint-Leu-d'Esserent is a commune in the Oise department in northern France.

Bezuidenhout Place in South Holland, Netherlands

Bezuidenhout is the neighborhood southeast of the Haagse Bos neighborhood of The Hague in the Netherlands. Bezuidenhout includes the Beatrixkwartier financial area near the Central Station and streets such as Bezuidenhoutseweg, Juliana van Stolberglaan, Laan van Nieuw Oost-Indië, Prins Clauslaan, and Theresiastraat.


Brécourt was a Nazi Germany bunker in Équeurdreville-Hainneville near Cherbourg, in Manche of Normandy, northern France.

"Big Ben" was the World War II code name for the British project to reconstruct and evaluate captured German missiles such as the V-2 rocket. On 31 July 1944, after the UK agreed to exchange Supermarine Spitfires for the wreckage of a V-2 in Sweden during World War II, experts at Farnborough began an attempt to reconstruct the missile.

10Kh was the designation for the initial series of Soviet Union pulse jet engine powered air-launched cruise missiles, reverse engineered from the Fieseler Fi 103 (V-1) flying bomb, developed in the 1950s by OKB-52 under the leadership of Vladimir Nikolaevič Čelomej (Chelomey) and cancelled in the same decade.

Military intelligence on the V-1 and V-2 weapons developed by the Germans for attacks on the United Kingdom during the Second World War was important to countering them. Intelligence came from a number of sources and the Anglo-American intelligence agencies used it to assess the threat of the German V-weapons.

V-2 rocket facilities of World War II

V-2 rocket facilities were military installations associated with Nazi Germany's V-2 SRBM ballistic missile, including bunkers and small launch pads which were never operationally used.

V-2 missile launch site, Blizna War museum in Ropczyce-Sędziszów, Poland

The V-2 missile launch site, Blizna was the site of a World War II German V-2 missile firing range. Today there is a small museum located in the Park Historyczny Blizna in Blizna, Poland. After the RAF strategic bombing of the V-2 rocket launch site in Peenemünde, Germany, in August 1943, some of the test and launch facilities were relocated to Blizna in November 1943. The first of 139 V-2 launches was carried out from the Blizna launch site on 5 November 1943.

155th (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery

155th (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment was an air defence unit of Britain's Royal Artillery formed during World War II. Around two-thirds of its personnel were women from the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). After defending the West of Scotland and later London, the regiment was heavily engaged in Operation Diver against V-1 flying bombs, and later was deployed to Antwerp to carry out anti-Diver duties there in the closing stages of the war.

183rd (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery

183rd (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment was an air defence unit of Britain's Royal Artillery formed during World War II. Around two-thirds of its personnel were women from the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). The regiment was heavily engaged in Operation Diver, defending England against V-1 flying bombs, and later was deployed to Antwerp to carry out anti-Diver duties there in the closing stages of the war.


  1. Basil Collier (1976) The Battle of the V-Weapons. Morley, The Elmfield Press. p. 138.
  2. "V-WEAPONS (CROSSBOW) CAMPAIGN". All World Wars. Retrieved 19 October 2008.
  3. Pieter Serrien (2016) Elke dag angst. Antwerp, Horizon.
  4. "History of the V-terror in Belgium".
  5. Neufeld, Michael J. (1995). The Rocket and the Reich: Peenemünde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era . New York: The Free Press. pp.  137, 237. ISBN   0-02-922895-6.
  6. 1 2 Basil Collier (1976) The Battle of the V-Weapons. Morley, The Elmfield Press: 15–16.
  7. Henshall, Philip (1985). Hitler's Rocket Sites . New York: St. Martin's Press. p.  128.
  8. Johnson, David (1982). V-1, V-2: Hitler's Vengeance on London. Stein and Day. p. 80. ISBN   0-8128-2858-5.
  9. Irving, David (1964). The Mare's Nest. London: William Kimber and Co. p. 288.
  10. Klee, Ernst; Merk, Otto (1965) [1963]. The Birth of the Missile:The Secrets of Peenemünde. Hamburg: Gerhard Stalling Verlag. p. 47.
  11. McGovern, J. (1964). Crossbow and Overcast . New York: W. Morrow. p.  80.
  12. Basil Collier (1976) The Battle of the V-Weapons. Morley, The Elmfield Press: 160-3[ clarify ].
  13. 1 2 Angus Calder (1971) The People's War: Britain 1939–1945: 645.
  14. Basil Collier (1976) The Battle of the V-Weapons. Morley, The Elmfield Press: 74-5[ clarify ].
  15. Basil Collier (1976) The Battle of the V-Weapons. Morley, The Elmfield Press: 80.
  16. Basil Collier (1976) The Battle of the V-Weapons. Morley, The Elmfield Press: 11-12, 80-1, 125[ clarify ]
  17. Angus Calder (1971) The People's War: Britain 1939–1945: 646-7[ clarify ]
  18. Angus Calder (1971) The People's War: Britain 1939–1945: 647.
  19. Basil Collier (1976) The Battle of the V-Weapons. Morley, The Elmfield Press: 113, 170.
  20. King, Benjamin (2009). Impact: The History Of Germany's V Weapons in World War II. De Capo Press. p. 244. ISBN   0786751673.
  21. Basil Collier (1976) The Battle of the V-Weapons. Morley, The Elmfield Press: 129.
  22. Basil Collier (1976) The Battle of the V-Weapons. Morley, The Elmfield Press: 135.
  23. Bisbach, Emily. "The last V2 on London". West End at War. Archived from the original on 4 February 2016. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  24. Wade, Mark. "V-2". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Retrieved 21 October 2008.
  25. Angus Calder (1971) The People's War: Britain 1939–1945: 646-50[ clarify ].
  26. Review of Gravity's Rainbow.
  27. 1 2 "V-Bomb Damage in Belgium Extensive". Canberra Times . 17 May 1945. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  28. Max Hastings (2004) Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944–1945: 196.