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Dodging the Doodlebug


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Contributed by 
People in story: 
Ivan Jones, Mrs Foster, Albert Jones, Agnes Jones
Location of story: 
Harrow, London
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
04 January 2006

In June 1944 the front page of the ‘Daily Express’ carried a large, detailed cut-away drawing of a V1 ‘Flying Bomb’, the first of Hitler’s so called vengeance weapons. Basically they were 2000 pound bombs fitted with wings and powered by a fairly crude ramjet. They were pilotless missiles fortunately with no guidance system. They were simply pointed at southern England and launched blindly from ramps along the Dutch coast. Between June 1944 and March 1945, when the last of the ramps was captured by advancing British forces, about 8000 were launched. Although some were shot down either by anti-aircraft guns or by fighter aircraft many got through. They killed 5,500 people in London and the south east in the last year of the war. This was the limit of their range before they ran out of fuel and fell from the sky hitting anything at random. We all called them ‘Doodlebugs’. They flew quite low but travelled quite fast at around 500 mph. The engine sounded very spluttery and uneven as if it was about to cut out at any minute. And when it did finally stop you knew you were in trouble! In the eerie silence that followed they either went into a steep and accelerating dive or they might glide on for miles in silence only gradually losing height. You hoped it would do the latter if you were underneath it when its motor stopped. Then it would be someone else’s problem!

The incident I am about to describe took place sometime during this ‘Flying Bomb’ period. I was aged about 9 at the time. I was 3 when the war started so it seemed to me that the war had been going on forever. My father had served in the Royal Navy between 1916 and 1931 and was recalled to serve again between 1940 and 1945. I was an only child. My mother looked after me and up to a point, I looked after her! We lived in north-west London and I was never evacuated so night after night my mother had sat alone with me during the Blitz. The best help I could give her was to do a bit of shopping. The nearest shops to us were a mile away which was along way for her to walk carrying potatoes. The only danger with this was if an air raid occurred while I was out. The same was true when I was walking to and from school. The advice generally given was that if the air-raid siren sounded while you were out you should go home if you were nearer to home or go to a public shelter (or back to School) if that was nearer. Invariably when the siren sounded you were somewhere in the middle! If this was the case and, as far as I was concerned, even if I was considerably past the halfway point, I would certainly turn round and go home! This was particularly true on a journey to school! A half-day holiday was always welcome. There had to be some compensation from the war!

On the day in question I had completed my shopping and was on my way home when sure enough the siren sounded. Tension immediately strikes you. I paused and took a quick look round what was a cloudless blue sky. There was nothing to be seen and there was nothing to be heard. I quickened my pace and left the recreation ground. There were two more long streets to traverse before I would reach the bottom of my own suburban avenue. All the way my eyes and ears were alert for any signs of danger. So far so good. I turned the corner into my own street.

The wind was now directly in my face. When this happens it is not possible to hear anything much except the sound of the wind. In order to listen properly you must turn you head to one side. When I did this to my horror a faint whistling noise continued! When I repeated the action the whistling sound continued and was, if anything, a little louder. I was still walking up the street towards my own front gate with perhaps 100 yards to go. I looked up but saw nothing. My instinct suggested that a bomb was falling and that I should run like hell. Further up the road I saw a Post Office dispatch rider dismounting from his small green motor bike and I saw Mrs. Foster, a neighbour, coming down her garden path to receive the telegram he was holding in his hand. It was a beautiful day and neither of these people seemed the slightest bit worried about the possibility of imminent death. If I was to run I would surely look very foolish? I just continued to walk as fast as I could and remain dignified! The distance between my gatepost and me just didn’t seem to be closing fast enough. I looked at these two comforting figures again and then something else occurred to me. The dispatch rider was wearing a crash helmet that covered his ears and Mrs. Foster was stone deaf! Neither of these two individuals would be able to hear anything!

I have never run as fast in all my life before or since. I reached the gate and hurtled down the garden path and in through the front door, which my mother always left wide open when I was out. At the top of my voice I shouted to my mother, “Quick! Get in the shelter there is something coming down!” Unchivalrously I turned right out of the entrance hall into my bedroom and flung myself headlong into our indoor Morrison air-raid shelter. (We lived in a bungalow. All the bedrooms were on the ground floor. My bed was in this shelter and I slept in it every night of the war from 1940 once it was delivered to us.) My mother got the message and set off from the kitchen. She got no further than the entrance hall opposite the front door when a tremendous explosion shook the whole house. There was no damage and neither of us was hurt. A V1 had cut out miles away and had passed over us to cause death and destruction a mile away in Stanmore!

What I have described here was all over in a minute or so. It was over in less time than it takes to describe it. In my minds eye much of it seems to take place in slow motion. Every detail is as vivid as if it were only yesterday. In war you live with very real fear every day of your life. It is to be avoided if at all possible. Afterwards I thought of Mrs. Foster. Her husband was also away in the navy. When telegrams were delivered they very often told women that their husbands had been killed! Fortunately he was not and returned home safely, as did my own father. What the war did was to estrange me from my father. We never really did get on afterwards, but that is another story not uncommon to children in wars.

IVAN JONES. Dec.2005. Aged70.

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Message 1 - Re: Dodging the Doodlebug

Posted on: 04 January 2006 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Mr Jones

I read your story with interest. However, the description you give of the V1 is inaccurate. The V1 was a guided missile in every respect and was the first successful cruise missile.

The V1 didn't stop when it ran out of fuel, all launched against London were aimed at Tower Bridge and had sufficient fuel (610 litres of aviation petrol) to reach the target at full power (415 mph at 4,500 ft). The guidance system was an Askaria pre-set auto pilot with gyro inertial platform and magnetic compass.

Although the guidance system was crude by today's standards it was technically complex; a small propeller in the nose determined when the set range was reached by a pre-set number of revolutions. At the set distance, the auto-log triggered explosive charges which locked the tail controls into a steep dive. It was intended that there would be a power dive, but the steep dive cut off fuel to the engine.


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