In the current (September 2019) issue of Aeroplane Monthly, here, artist Ian Bott and I have out latest ‘Briefing File’ feature on the defences against the V-1 bomb in 1944.
While researching the history, it became evident that the comfort of hindsight has stripped away the fact that at the time, no-one really knew what was going to happen. The Germans hoped it would be a war winning weapon, the Allies expecting everything from a (hoped for) damp squib – up to a devastating all out biological or chemical warfare attack. Part of that was to be enhanced by the propaganda dispatched by the Germans over the UK.
Cheaply produced, the leaflets, like most such propaganda items, are hard to find these days being rapidly discarded or decaying quickly. On cheap paper, using both black and for horror the ever popular red, the design includes the threatening skeleton setting London landmarks afire, with full gory predictions on the reverse. Note the ‘they started it’ trope used to defend indiscriminate bombing of cities.
While it’s tempting to think it would’ve been laughed off by Britons reading it, and that was the counter-propaganda angle taken, in reality the uncertainly over the scale of the threat (remarkably well reduced by the defences) and the confronting nature of the leaflet may well have preyed on people’s minds at the time. It was, indeed, as quoted ‘the beguinning of a new arena in war history of the world.’
It wasn’t, of course, the only poster, though I think the most scary. Three more, one two-colour image in a similar vein, and two others showing the V-1 ‘Doodlebugs’ in full attack on Britain also survive.
I should, at this point, note it’s one of the most nicknamed and codenamed aircraft. From Wiki, here: “The V-1 flying bomb (German: Vergeltungswaffe 1 “Vengeance Weapon 1”)—also known to the Allies as the buzz bomb, or doodlebug, and in Germany as Kirschkern (cherrystone) or Maikäfer (maybug – as well as by its official RLM aircraft designation of Fi 103)” – That’s the Fieseler Fi 103, too, to include the design authority, and the Allied codename was ‘Diver’, particularly in the context of anti-V-1 operations.
Part of the challenge was that the actual machinery and construction of the bomb was not well known, and early, publicly available graphic explanations were sometimes (with hindsight) massively off the mark. This one, above, is accurate only in the layout and that items like ‘engine’ ‘explosive charge’ and automatic gyro pilot’ were actually included – not where, or how they worked.
Again we must remember that the jet engine was a radical innovation (the pulse jet rarely used even today); and unmanned flying bombs a topic of science fiction and a few specialised trials, not a huge campaign of attack.
And finally, we must also remember that without the Allies’ massive, complex and effective response (as Ian and I summarise in Aeroplane Monthly) the German hopes and propaganda could well have been a lot more accurate than it thankfully was.
James Kightly, Vintage Aero Writer.
Images: Various internet finds, & author’s files.
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