After the V1 threat had arrived on 13th June
1944 to terrorise the populace of London, measures were taken
to limit the flying bombs impact, and to defend
London and other cities of Britain.
These measures included moving AAA batteries
along the south coast of England and lining them along the corridor
the flying bombs travelled to their intended targets, from their
launch locations in Nazi held Europe. Other measures included
deploying RAF fighter squadrons and using them as interceptors,
they would chase and shoot down the cruising flying bombs
over the English Channel or over the countryside.
With these defensive measures in place, the
Allied bombers concentrated on destroying the V1 launch sites
on the northern European mainland, combined with the Allied
ground forces advancing across northern Europe, continually
pushing the Nazis into retreat, to the point finally where British
targets were out of range from the threat of the V1.
In the early days of September 1944 Mr. Herbert
Morrison, Home Secretary, had claimed that Hitler had lost the
battle of London. In the Independent on Sunday (4th
Oct 1992) it reports that Herbert Morrisons Rocket Consequences
Committee rejoiced as late as 5th September 1944, saying "
enemy is unlikely to be able to launch rockets or flying bombs
against London on any appreciable scale
We have therefore
to meet the contingency of severe
rocket attack should so far as possible be kept on a paper basis."
But several days after making that announcement
a new menace would emerge and would threaten London, and this
threat would have no defence. This menace took the shape of
Dr. Wernher von Brauns A4 rocket, developed in secret
by his German rocket team at the Peenemünde centre on the
Baltic coast, deep inside Hitlers Third Reich.
Von Braun briefs
Nazi onlookers at
For propaganda purposes Hitler had the rocket
named Vergeltungswaffe (Retaliatory Weapon), Vengeance
Weapon 2 or known more infamously as the V2. The rocket would
be launched from deep inside occupied countries from mobile
launchers, hard to detect and destroy.
On September 7th 1944, the first V2 was launched
in anger, and its target was Paris. The V2 campaign had begun,
and with it 6 months of uncertainty and terror would befall
London and other cities in Britain, as well as cities in northern
Europe newly liberated by the Allies.
This particular moment in time signalled a
new threat, a demoralising, soul destroying moment and not in
hindsight a turning point in history, which on reflection it
was. Especially as the end of the war was in sight, and with
it, the promise of returning to some normality, and the secret
weapons threat meant that the people of London would have to
endure a Blitz for a second time.
In fact London had already returned to some
normality during the closing years of the war. The Luftwaffe
had ceased to be a threat and Allied air forces dominated the
skies over Britain and northern Europe. Long gone were those
dreadful nights at that beginning of the Battle of Britain,
night after night of bombing raids known as The Blitz.
But seven days after the D-day landings (6th
June) and the successful execution of Operation Overlord,
June 13th 1944, saw the beginning of the new Blitz using new
technology to terrorise in the hope of changing the course of
the war back in favour of the Nazis. Although the Allies quelled
the V1 threat, the V2 menace was near impossible to deal with,
and defend against.
The V2s launch procedure compounded the
problem of detection. Unlike the V1, the V2 did not need static
built ramps for launching, hence launch sites could not be easily
detected and then destroyed by allied bombers. The V2 could
be launched anywhere by the use of mobile carriers. These mobile
units where near impossible to locate, constantly on the move
to avoid detection until such time they were needed to launch
Once launched from its secret location it would
take less than 5 minutes to reach its intended target, while
at the same time the mobile unit would be back on the move and
disappear into the shadows. 50 years on, in the Gulf War, the
very same threat would be encountered when dealing with Iraq
During that conflict its interesting to note
that the Allies did not locate or destroy any of the Iraq mobile
The other factor that made defence impossible was the rocket
itself. Its incredible speed made detection impossible, and
so made air-raid warnings also impossible.
The V2 on re-entry would achieve speeds of
3000mph, several times the speed of sound. At the least the
V1 gave some warning, if only from listening to the drone of
the pulse jet engine. When the drone ceased, the engine having
its fuel automatically stopped, the V1 would shed its wings
and engine, and would hurtle to the ground and dispatch its
The V2 on the other hand gave no warning at
all, unless you can count the double thunder clap
or a Rumble and plop that could be heard as the
supersonic rocket re-entered the atmosphere. The warning served
no purpose for the victims, for a fraction of a second after
the double thunder clap the rockets 1 ton
payload would unleash its devastation on the impact area. The
victims would know nothing about the attack.
On Friday 8th September 1944, in a quiet picturesque
road in Chiswick, west London W4, would be the Britains
first recipient of Hitlers silent, but deadly V2 rocket.
Launched from occupied Holland just minutes earlier the V2 re-entered
the earths atmosphere and hurtled towards London at supersonic
speed. It was a drizzly Friday evening at 6.44pm when a mystery
explosion shattered the quiet surroundings of Staveley
Road in Chiswick and killed three people.
Private Frank Browning was walking down the
quiet cherry tree lined road. The young soldier was on leave
and about to visit his girlfriend. He was killed instantly.
A young child, Rosemary Clarke aged 3 years
old, was killed in her cot while asleep. No details exist regarding
Mr & Mrs Clarke, but obviously they were among the injured
The adjoining house to the Clarkes resided
Mr & Mrs Harrison. Mrs Ada Harrison, 65 years old, became
the third fatality. Mrs. Harrison and her husband, William,
were sitting by their fireside at the time of the attack, and
the house collapsed upon them.
The local school caretaker was a 64-year-old
council worker Robert Stubbs. By his own account he was blown
20 yards across a playing field by the V2 blast. After which
he staggered to the scene of the blast to offer assistance.
By this time Ada Harrison had managed to crawl out from the
wreckage and the debris of her house, only to die in the arms
of the Robert Stubbs.
William Harrison was severely injured but survived.
An accurate account of the injured is unknown, but it is believed
between 17 and 20 people were trapped or injured due to the
mystery explosion. But its without a doubt that
the death toll and injured would have certainly been much higher,
if it had not been for the evacuations caused by the V1 threat
earlier in the summer of 1944.
Also inaccurate reports appeared in newspaper
articles regarding the Staveley Road blast immediately after
the incident, and in reports found in the press 50 years on.
This only lessens the effect of the devastation caused by the
V2, termed a mystery explosion at the time.
The authorities were in no doubt that this
incident was in fact a new Nazi secret weapon, the first of
Hitlers new Vergeltungswaffe (Retaliatory
Weapon), the V2. The mystery explosion even prompted
an immediate visit to the scene by the then Home Secretary,
Herbert Morrison, accompanied by Ellen Wilkinson, his Parliamentary
Secretary and Admiral Edward Evans of the Civil Defence.
Even before Herbert Morrisons visit,
RAF, British and US army experts wasted no time at all, and
arrived on the scene 30 minutes after the explosion to investigate
the damaged they suspected was caused by the new Nazi weapon.
But the incident in Staveley Road would remain
a mystery explosion, even though another mystery
explosion happened approximately 15 seconds later on the
other side of London in Epping Forest. But journalists and residents
were informed that a gas mains was the official cause of the
explosion. But rumours were abounded that it was far from a
gas mains that was the cause of the explosion.
The Government ordered a complete news blackout
that lasted for two months, even though more devastating incidents
of mystery explosions occurred, and rumours circulated
amongst the populace. Photographs of the Staveley Road incident,
and others from that period, have the censors official red stamp
"Not to be published". Also a complete ban in naming
the area in which the explosion occurred was implemented. This
logically denied important information to the enemy regarding
their accuracy, and so denying them the opportunity to improve
In the newspaper report from The Daily Telegraph
50 years on, 9th September 1994, it states: "By Oct. 25,
the first 100 rockets claimed 82 lives. On Nov. 1, V2s
killed 24 people at Dulwich and 31 at Deptford. Continuing strikes
killed 32 more in Islington on Nov. 5, 19 at Luton the following
day and another 19 at Aldgate on Nov. 10."
The authorities continued, and would have continued
in their stance of denial of a new Nazi weapon longer, if it
had not been for a Nazi propaganda announcement about stepping
up their attack on London with the V2 rocket on the 9th November
1944. The Nazis announced that a new weapon had been introduced
with a more devastating effect than the V1, a "far effective
The Telegraph continued by saying "The
next day (10th Nov.), Sir Winston Churchill, Prime Minister,
gave the commons the first formal news of the V2 campaign, explaining
that no official statement had been issued because it might
have given useful information to the enemy."
Its no doubt that the Government also had one
eye on trying to avoid panic amongst its populace, which in
turn would have demanded immediate action to stop the threat.
Something that would have obviously caused the Allies major
headaches, as the rockets were undetectable and unstoppable.
This would have been part of Hitlers plan to demoralise
the people of England and other cities in the Allied sphere.
Now it was out in the open, and these mystery
explosions and Gas mains explosions was in
fact a new Nazi secret weapon.
Going back to the Staveley Road incident, using the Brentford
& Chiswick Borough Record of Incidents Caused by Enemy Action,
1939 1945. We can see an accurate account of the
incident logged in the official records of the devastation caused
by the V2 rocket.
The entry for the 8th September 1944 V2 attack
on Staveley Road reads:
"Centre of Staveley Road opposite No.
5". It continues, "11 houses demolished, 12 seriously
damaged and evacuated, 516 slightly damaged, 40 minor. Water
and gas mains. Very large crater, 20ft deep, in middle of road."
The report goes on to explain the actions taken
by the authorities with regard to the incident. "St.Thomas
Rest Centre opened 16 accommodated, closed 15th Sept. W.V.S.
Incident Inquiry Point opened 9th Sept., closed 10th. 14 families
re-housed, 3 persons killed. Searchlight from the Searchlights
Unit Riverside Lands was used to illuminate site but was not
The log entry ends with "This was the
first and only Long Range Rocket (V.2) to fall within the borough,
and understood to be the first to fall in this country (certainly
the first to fall in the London region)."
The official log helps locate the exact impact
point for the V2 in Staveley Road. Which is something constantly
amiss in various reports and articles that have been published.
One major blunder stands out, and pointed out by Donald Eustace
who lived in 13 Staveley Road at the time of the attack.
Mr. Eustace, recently deceased, was the last
surviving resident in Staveley Road when Cal McCrystal interviewed
him in Sept/Oct. 1992. Cal McCrystal wrote an article for the
Independent On Sunday, which was sparked by the
then forth coming celebrations being held in Germany of the
launching of the first V2, 50 years previous (3rd October 1942).
Within the article, published 4th Oct. 1992,
84 year old Donald Eustace of 13 Staveley Road describes visiting
the Science Museum (London) in 1989. They presented him with
a poster of a photograph of the bombed road. Printed over the
photograph were the words:
13 STAVELEY ROAD, CHISWICK W4. THE FIRST
STEP ON THE JOURNEY TO THE MOON.
"This is a British poster celebrating
the V2," Mr. Eustace tells Cal McCrystal, "they made
a balls of it. It wasnt my house that got hit. It was
So between the official log, and the words
of an eyewitness, the impact point can be attained. But the
poster should be regarded as a swipe rather than as an obvious
celebration of the V2, with the use of British black humour.
Its a reminder that there is a darker side to the story
that got a man to the moon, that achievement came at a high
price in human lives. Its a dark side that is often forgotten
when telling the story of Man conquering the moon. A facet to
the dark side, as it reminds us of the victims of the V2 attacks,
but we must remember the many thousands so that suffered and
died in captivity, in forced labour camps building the secret
The Daily Telegraph reported that one of the
first victims of a V2 attack in Britain was a Mr. Ernest Butler.
Mr. Butler was blown out of a fruit tree somewhere in southern
England, location and date is unknown, when a V2 landed nearby.
He was discovered unharmed near the impact crater, but missing
his trousers which had be removed by the shock wave caused by
the V2 explosion.
Without a date and location for this incident
Staveley Road is remembered as the first British target for
a V2 rocket.
The V2 attacks on London ended on the 27th
March 1945, when V2 mobile units retreated deep into Germany
because of the advancing Allied armies. This put London out
of range of the rocket, but the V2 continued to target other
Allied liberated cities such as Antwerp and Rotterdam. These
targets were important to the Allies as the advancing armies
relied on supplies via these ports to continue goal of defeating
An interesting article on the Staveley Road
incident appeared in the News Chronicle, which was
published on 7th September 1945, the eve of the first anniversary
of the V2 attack in Chiswick.
Nearly four months after the Nazis surrendered
in Europe and one month after the dropping of the A-bomb on
Hiroshima, an unnamed reporter for the News Chronicle
exactly one year ago, when the
people of Staveley Road, Chiswick, unwittingly and involuntarily
became part of history."
On hindsight, and considering what the V2,
and its creator, led to in the not so distant future, how accurate
he was. Unbeknown at the time, but if still alive in 1969, the
reporter would have witnessed Neil Armstrong set foot upon the
moon, and I wonder if that reporter think back to the Staveley
Road incident he wrote about, and realise how prophetic his
words really were?