History of War

HITLER’S VENGEANCE

The Nazi “vengeance weapon” offensive of 1944-45 aimed to utterly demoralise the British population, particularly in London and the south east (and later the newly liberated Belgian city of Antwerp). Alongside the loss of lives and physical destruction ran a psychological battle between Allied and Nazi propaganda. Did the Führer’s terror tactics lift German morale and demoralise his opponents, even at this late stage of World War II – or do just the opposite?

“A WEEK AFTER D-DAY, WHEN EVERYONE IN BRITAIN WAS HOPING THE WAR WOULD SOON BE OVER, IT SHOOK PEOPLE’S MORALE. IT WAS THE BLITZ OF 1940 ALL OVER AGAIN”

The onslaught begins

Just after 4.00am on 13 June 1944 the Royal Observer Corps at Dymchurch in Kent signalled the arrival of an entirely new enemy weapon. From a Martello tower built when Britain faced invasion from Napoleon, and now used as a lookout for anything Hitler might fling across the channel, spotters saw an approaching object spurting red flames from its rear and making a noise like “a Model-T-Ford going up a hill”. It was the V-1 Flying Bomb, the V standing for Vergeltungswaffe: ‘Vengeance weapons’.

During the summer of 1944 several thousand of these missiles would land in southern England, killing nearly 5,500 civilians and causing enormous damage to property. A week after D-Day, when everyone in Britain was hoping the war would soon be over, it shook people’s morale. It was the Blitz of 1940 all over again.

“The bombardment will open like a thunderclap at night,” Field Marshal Keitel, head of the German High Command, enjoined. But in truth the very first attack did not seem particularly terrifying. Ten flying bombs were despatched by Flakregiment 155, the German unit charged with operating the new secret weapons from a launching site in the Pas de Calais. “After months of waiting, the time has come to open fire,” Colonel Max Wachtel told his men. “We approach our task supremely confident in our weapons.” However, five V-1s immediately crashed and another disappeared from view. The remaining four were sighted over Dymchurch, flying in the direction of London, but only

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