Flying Bomb

From Historical Hastings
1944 V1 Cutaway Diagram

In June 1944, the Germans started sending V1 Flying bombs (or 'Doodlebugs') to target London. A doodlebug was essentialy a bomb with wings, appearing very similar to a small aeroplane albeit with no pilot. In a sense, they could have been called the pre-decessor of the cruise missile. Thousands of these doodlebugs were launched against London.[1]. The missiles were powered by fairly simple pulse-jet engines with a small propellor on the front being used to calculate distance flown by rotating a shaft a set number of turns. When the pre-set number was reached, a mechanism deflected the control surfaces on the bombs causing them to dive onto their targets[2].

Navigation of the missiles relied largely on the launch-ramps being directly oriented to point at the target, London with a compass being used to 'fine-tune' the direction in which the missile flew - hence the non-magnetic ​building​ in the launch site structures described below.

Launch Sites

Flying bomb being prepared for launch

These early guided missiles were launched from fixed ramps situated in France. The launch sites had a number of unique ​building​s associated with each site in addition to the launch ramp; These were the 'ski' shaped ​building​s utilised for storage, a non-magnetic ​building​ used to set the compasses in the missile, and a number of associated ​building​s for filling of propellant etc.[3] These ultimately made detection of the sites by the Allied reconnaissance experts easier, by the similarity of one site to another, although later in the war, minimalist sites consisting of very little else but the launch ramp and non-magnetic ​building​ were constructed in woodland[2].

Although the target was London, many of these fell short of the target, whether due to impact with coastal cliffs, being 'tipped' over by pilots, or simple errors in the settings/manufacture. This was compounded by reports sent back to Germany by double agents (spies that had been 'turned' to work for the Allies) that missiles were over-shooting, causing them to fall still further short of target[2].

It was commonly said that as long as you could hear the engine, you were safe. The moment the engine cut-out due to the guidance system suddenly tipping the elevators causing the bomb to dive, you would run for cover. This defect was rectified soon after the Germans became aware of it.

East Sussex had perhaps more of a share in the explosions and devastation caused by the V1s than any other counties on the south coast, the track of most missiles from the launch sites being directly over the county[4], leading the area to be nicknamed 'Doodlebug Alley'[5]. In terms of Hastings, there were six 'lanes' in which the robotic aircraft flew over the town[6].

On the 15th of June 1944, five batteries of heavy anti-aircraft guns were set up. These had been relocated from London to counter the flying bombs by enforcing a 'no fly zone' along the coast where allied aircraft were not permitted to fly, leaving the guns free to fire at anything flying[2]. These known to have been located at Sea Road, The Oval and the East and West Hills. One of the Auxiliary Territorial Service officers at the West Hill battery was Mary Churchill, daughter of the prime minister Winston Churchill[7].

Known V1 Impacts in Hastings

There were 16 known impacts within the Borough with 15 damaging property or life[6];
Bexhill Road (near The Bull public house) - 15th of June 1944. This was the first to come down on/near Hastings and was shot-down by Ack-Ack guns on the seafront[8].
Mayfield Farm
Bexleigh Avenue
89/91 Pevensey Road West[9]
Fairlight Cliffs - this impact partially buried a minefield on the beach below Fairlight Glen
High Beech Farm
In the sea off of Carlisle Parade
Amherst Road
Conqueror Road
Ledsham Court
Old Church Rd 3 fatalities, 47 injured and two houses destroyed 16 July 1944[5].The 'tipping' and subsequent crash of this was filmed and uploaded to YouTube and can be seen below.
Pine Avenue near to The Ridge
Shear Barn Farm, destroying the farmhouse on the 20th July 1944 with one fatality, Ethel Barnes[10]. This was the last fatality as a result of the doodlebugs
St. Leonards Parish Church destroyed when a V1 exploded on its steps 29th July 1944
Old Harrow Road
Wellington Mews

The below video shows the interception of a V1 over Hastings, appearing to have been taken from a short film held by the Imperial War Museum

The final bomb to land on the town was that of the 2nd August 1944[a] and the threat receded as Allied advances in France pushed the launch sites out of range. In total, the flying bombs claimed only four people, with a further 29 seriously injured and 37 slightly injured[6]


Additional Links

References & Notes

  1. Although according to Sussex Police History this was on the 8th of August
  1. UK WW2 Heritage group
  2. a b c d 'The Secret War' Brian Johnson (BBC Publishing 1979) ISBN: 9780563177692
  3. V1 Launch sites
  4. Flying Bombs over East Sussex: Flying Bombs over East Sussex, accessdate: 7 January 2020
  5. a b Hastings and St. Leonards Observer: Dawn of new danger after D-Day as doodlebugs attack - Hastings and St. Leonards Observer, accessdate: 7 January 2020
  6. a b c British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 16 September 1944 Pg. 0007
  7. The Hastings Chronicle: 1900-1949 – The Hastings Chronicle, accessdate: 4 May 2021
  8. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer: Dawn of new danger after D-Day as doodlebugs attack - Hastings and St. Leonards Observer, accessdate: 7 January 2020
  9. Leigh Kennedy - Historical Hastings Facebook
  10. Hastings at War 1939-1945 Nathan Dylan Goodwin (2005)