For the people of Southern England, including the Isle of Wight, the arrival of the V-1 was a stark reminder that despite the success of D-Day the war was far from over.
In this special article, Island author and freelance writer Dr Dave Sloggett looks forward to the 70th Anniversary of the first V-1 Doodlebugs landing on the Island.
He says: “The sound of the engine was always distinctive. As it crossed overhead the one thing people did not want to hear was it cutting out. If it did, seconds later there would be a huge bang and some poor soul may be lying dead or injured. The V-1 was a terror weapon. It and its sister weapon the V-2 were designed to bring Britain to its knees just at the point where victory seemed to be in sight.
“The V-1 had been developed in a clandestine programme carried out at a remote research base on the edge of the Baltic Sea called Peenemünde. Over time the Nazis improved the design of the weapon. Once launched from a ski-ramp it could fly straight and level over a range of up to 160 nautical miles. The Nazi’s planned to launch 50,000 a month from their sites in Northern France into Southern England with the main focus being on London. This was not the only target; the dockyards at Bristol, Southampton and Portsmouth were also ‘on the radar’. To fly to Southampton meant flying over the Isle of Wight!
“British intelligence had been alerted to the development and had issued warnings to the Royal Observer Corps to inform them what to expect. If they saw a V-1 they were to issue a simple codeword on the telephone. That word was ‘Diver’. On June 13, 1944 as the first wave was launched just before 4am several ‘Diver’ reports were made.
“It signified the onset of a campaign that would last for nine months. In that time over 9,000 V-1 were launched against the United Kingdom. The peak of the V-1 campaign came in the summer of 1944. In the first week of July just over 800 V-1 flying bombs were launched. This was a level of attack that was not to be repeated. The reliability of the V-1 was not high. Many crashed into the English Channel, failing to make landfall.
Others en route to Southampton crossed over the Isle of Wight. The Island was directly on the pre-programme flight path from France to Portsmouth and Southampton. The nights of July 10 and 11 saw nearly 50 V-1 cross the Island. One narrowly missed Cowes as its engine cut out early. It splashed in the sea.
They had first been sighted off Sandown Bay at 5.20am on July 11. Another landed at Newtown Creek. These are just a small number of examples of where V-1 narrowly missed the Island in those early weeks of July, 1944. For a brief period in the Island’s history it was literally raining flying bombs, each one carrying a deadly payload.”
Dr Sloggett has been conducting research into the V-1 campaign over the last two years and has naturally taken an interest in those stories with a link to the Isle of Wight. Already he has collected several hair-raising stories. He of course is interested in anyone with specific recollections of those days getting in touch.