E E Woodland and A M Wraight were manning Mike 2, an Observer Post on top of a Martello Tower at Dymchurch in Kent, on the night of 12/13 June 1944, when at 04.08 hours they spotted the approach of an object spurting red flames from its rear end and making a noise like ‘a Model T Ford going up a hill.’
What they had spotted was the first of Hitler’s vengeance weapons: the Vergeltungswaffe 1, a Fieseler Fi-103 flying bomb.
As the V-bomb approached to within five miles of them, Woodland put an urgent telephone call through to the Royal Observer Corps centre at Maidstone, saying, ‘Mike 2, Diver, Diver, Diver – on four, north-west one-o-one’, thereby setting in motion the defensive measures planned for such an event.
The term ‘Diver’ was used in the call as that was the codename given to the operation that had been put together to defend Britain against Hitler’s V-weapons. This was part of what became known as ‘Operation Crossbow’, which covered not merely defensive measures, but those of offence and intelligence as well.
Intelligence was of obvious importance, whether from sources inside Germany and the occupied territories – some aspects of which were more reliable than others – or from the various and numerous RAF photographic missions, often undertaken in the most hazardous conditions.
It was known from as early as November 1939 that Germany was developing rockets for military purposes. Then, in late 1942 and early 1943, reports began to come in of long-range rocket tests linked with what has since become a famous name – Peenemünde on the Baltic Coast.
From this point, the threat was serious, and plans began to be formulated to defend the country. This became a huge task, as barrage balloons, heavy and light artillery, day and night fighters, and radar had to be positioned and roles coordinated. Intelligence and air photographs had to be sifted through and targets on the Continent identified, as a good part of the defence would be counterattack.
Although the title says ‘written at the time’, this is not a collection of personal memoirs or diaries. Nor is it the recollections of ordinary people or those on the front line of action. It is, as another part of the subtitle suggests, an ‘official history’.
The book is based primarily on a series of documents, held under file reference AIR 41/72 at the National Archives, at Kew, entitled Air Defence of Great Britain: Volume 6 – the flying bomb and rocket campaign, 1944-1945.
It is, therefore, neither a simple narrative nor a critical analysis, but, rather, a fairly detailed account of official understanding and responses, governmental and military, to the developing threat of Hitler’s V-weapons.
The book is divided into eight parts, each with numerous sections and subsections, each dealing with a period of time, in date sequence. The whole is accompanied, as one might expect in such a production, with some 18 appendices. These include lots of statistics and lists, such as Appendix XI, entitled ‘Fall of Flying Bombs on Greater London, 1944-45’, which gives the number of V-1s falling on the different boroughs by month.
Several other appendices, however, consist of official memoranda, reports, or minutes, such as the report by the Chief of Air Staff to the Cabinet on the first flying-bomb attack.
As AIR 41/72 has not been digitised, Grehan’s book offers readers an excellent opportunity to get their hands on the inside story of Britain’s response to Hitler’s V-weapons.
The Battle against the V-1 and V-2, Written at the Time an official history, John Grehan (ed.), Frontline Books, £25 (hbk) ISBN 978-1526770059.
Review by Keith Robinson.