Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on June 9, 1974 · Page 86
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 86

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, June 9, 1974
Page 86
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The Day of the Doodlebug By Peter Bloxham If any aggressive power should ever take on the awesome responsibility of pressing that ultimate button to launch a nuclear war, there wouldn't be much comfort in it for anyone. But at least the attacker's devastation-dealing strike force would be unlikely, nowadays to catch its victim entirely unawares. ,Sophisticated. early-Darning networks.'keeping unceasing vigil, would have alerted air defenses at almost the moment the danger was born. The immense destructive, power of modern nuclear weapons has obviously hastened the evolution of these complex, ultra-efficient security systems-. But they also reflect the lesson of something that happened in London on June 13, 1944, just 30 years ago -when the city was dealt the first of 8,500 body-blows from Hitler's new terror weapon the V-l flying bomb. »v It was one of those all-too- familiar nights in the bomb- torn London East End. W h i t e pendils of light stabbed, as searchlights probed the gloom. Anti-aircraft guns barked, and the smell of burning hung in the air. £ The war-weary inhabitants of Bethnal Green had seen it all before. Suddenly, their ears caught an odd new sound, quite different from anything recalled from former German air raids. It was almost like the angry buzz of air outboard engine or a two-stroke motorcycle. But it was somewhere up there in the sky. Peering upwards, the sleepy Londoners were amazed to see the fast-approaching shape of what looked like a t i n y m o n o p l a n e . It f l e w straight and low, not even attempting to evade the upward-hurtling barrage of shells. Its tail was brightly lit. Then, as they watched, the engine of the little plane cut out and its nose dipped. · It plunged down -- and- crashed with a terrible explosion on the railway bridge at Grove Road, Bethnal Green. The bridge, .and flanking terraces of small houses, collapsed into ruins. Six people in the houses died,'and . nine more were seriously injured. *· The same morning brought three more "doodlebugs", or "buzz-bombs", as Londoners soon named them -- slipping in across the coast to cause furth'er havoc at Cucksfield, Sussex; at Swanscombe, near Gravesend; and at Platt near' Sevenoaks. The compactly-contoured missiles were each about half the size of a Spitfire. They carried a ton of high explosive, at speeds ranging from 250 to 300 mph -- and they were designed to home on their targets through any kind of weather. Right through what became the summer of the "buzz-bomb blitz" the pattern of the Bethnal Green attack was repeated many times elsewhere. The sequence was always the same: first the warble of the air-raid sirens; then, distantly at first, that sinister buzz. As it grew louder, anxious eyes f i n a l l y spotted the dreaded dart-like shape. Every time it happened, those who heard the sound hoped, half-guiltily, that it would pass overhead and die away. But often the noise cut out abruptly; and many have lost their vivid memory of the suspenseful seconds that followed. For several thousands, it was just about the last sound they ever heard. For throughout the summer, as the trail of damage spread wider across London, funeral processions became a- familiar sight in the ravaged streets. 'Hitler was overjoyed . . . the V-l was fulfilling his crazy hope of smashing London." Three days after the first "doodlebug" raids, a huge V-l onslaught on London was launched on Hitler's instructions. ·· During the first day, 144 flying bombs got over the coast, 73 of them scoring hits on London. For two weeks they plunged down on the city in wave after wave, at the rate of 120 a day. Casualties equalled the peak of the Blitz: 1,719 Londoners killed, 4,500 badly injured and 5,000 slightly in- j u r e d , 200,000 homes destroyed. The Air Ministry, in the S t r a n d , was hit and 198 killed. Hitler was overjoyed. The V-l was fulfilling at last -or so it seemed -- his crazy hope of smashing London. But he had counted without the defiant Cockney spirit that would not give in. Under fire, Londoners adapted themselves quickly to this latest lethal device. As buildings crashed into rubble, every backstreet had its heroes ^"and not all their stories were ever told. Not even the V-l could stop those stubborn Cockney singsongs in the air-raid shelters. Spotters quickly familiarized themselves with the technique of identifying the distinctive sound of the V-l's approach, and the bright light in its tail. Even young children learned to listen for the cut-out. But the new push-button offensive was putting a serious brake on war production, and achieving too heavy a toll of workers killed or "injured. Something more than bare courage was needed -and it was found. Anti-aircraft guns and barrage balloons dealt with some of the flying bombs. Incredibly, one was even destroyed by a warning rocket sent up from a Kentish observer post. But it was Squadron-Leader Joe Berry of the RAF who found the most effective answer. He took the offensive into the sky and shot down 61 doodlebugs -- over twice as many as any other pilot. Three times he was almost blown to bits by his prey, as he moved in close for the "kill". At one period, he was the only pilot left alive in his unit. Scouring the skies night after night, Joe Berry devised a risky technique of intercepting the V-l's at high speed, loosing off his cannon at them -- then avoiding the whizzing shrapnel to fly clear. But at last, on a mission to bomb V-l launching sites in Holland, his aircraft was shot down over the Dutch coastline. _ His companions heard him say over the radio: ''I've had it, chaps, Carry on.. .." He was awarded two bars to his DFC. One evening, in south-east London, a V-l explosion upset four hives of bees. Thousands of furious bees attacked an old man working in his garden, who later'died. A police-sergeant who res- cued him had 132 bee stings extracted from his body -and survived. \ Unexploded V-ls caused endless problems. When the first was found at Southborough, Kent, the whole area was thrown into chaos, and 1,500 people were evacuated from their .homes. Two army experts found that the spring-loaded mechanism of the bomb's three fuses was jammed and might go off at any second. Warily, .the experts approached the fuses -- which could have contained, all kinds of built-in booby-traps. They dismantled them successfully, and aU.was well. But on another occasion, at Hopton, Suffolk, a bomb disposal officer was killed and two others wounded -while trying to defuse a sma shed-up V-l that lay festooned across a field and hedge. The shattered railway bridge has long ago been rebuilt at Bethnal.Green; tne heroes of the V-l summer,, are largely forgotten. But the lesson was learnei / 8m CHARLESTON, W. VA. ·June 9. 1974, Sundav Gazette-Mail

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