'Big Ben' - V2

By August 1944, the A4 rocket was ready for use and on August 29th Hitler sanctioned a projected offensive against London. The launching troops, some 6,000 strong with nearly 1,600 vehicles, began moving into Western Germany and Holland in two groups – Gruppe Nord and Gruppe Sud. Gruppe Nord took up positions in The Hague for attacks against London while Gruppe Sud was ordered to prepare for attacks against targets in France and Belgium.

The Allies considered that the threat to London from long range rockets had passed due to the rapid advance of Allied Forces. On September 8th Gruppe Sud launched the first A4 rocket against Paris and on the same evening the first rocket was launched from The Hague against London.

The first phase of the V2 attacks lasted until mid- September when the Allies began their attempt to get a footing across the Lower Rhine and Mass. Gruppe Nord was ordered to withdraw from The Hague as a result and a battery ordered to Staverten, in Friesland, to keep the offensive going with Norwich and Ipswich being the targets.

By the end of September it was obvious to the Germans that the Allied operations to cross the Lower Rhine and Mass had failed and a battery of Gruppe Nord was ordered back to The Hague to resume attacks against London.

The Allied Supreme Commander and the Chiefs of Staff considered that A4 launching sites should only be a low priority for bombing so it was largely left to fighter-bombers to attack the sites. These attacks only had a limited effect. Meanwhile AA Command had been considering the problem of blowing up rockets in the air. During December 1944 a scheme was drawn up to explode a curtain of 150 shells in the radar-predicted path of approaching rockets. Specially modified radar sets were deployed on the East Coast and another set forward in Holland to track the trajectory of the rockets. At first plotting was inaccurate but further modifications improved results so that radar could predict the landing area within an area of 2,500 yards square. By March 1945 General Pile was confident of hitting 3% to 10% of all rockets and on March 28th he ordered the guns to be ready to fire. However on March 30th, after considering Pile’s plans, the Chiefs of staff refused permission to fire at the rockets. Independent scientists considered that success would only be one in thirty if the volume of fire was increased to 400 rounds. It was considered that such a volume of fire would disturb the population of London and that there was a real danger of casualties from shell fragments beneath the barrage. The decision proved to be academic as the last V2 rocket to reach the country fell at Orphington on March 27th.

Above: Left - launch areas for the V2. Right: V2 being prepared for launch.

References

Ack-Ack, Gen Sir F Pile, G.C.B., D.S.O., M.C., Panther Books, 1956
The Defence of the United Kingdom, B Collier, HMSO, 1957
The Battle of the V- Weapons, B Collier, The Elmfield press, 1964

V2
v2 launch

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