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Live Rocket!

by hillmaxhistry42

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Harold Alfred Wybrow
Location of story: 
Hyde Park Gun Site WWII
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
13 November 2003

My father served in the Home Guard between October 1942 and May 1943. He did fire-watching duty (e.g. at Staples Corner, London)and was on the anti-aircraft guns in Hyde Park London. He was subsequently in the RAOC and RASC.

He died many years ago, but amongst other things, he told me that he once had to unload a live rocket from one of the rocket guns on the Hyde Park gun site. The gun site was located where there is currently a wide-open space above the underground car park at Marble Arch, flanked by Park Lane.

The guns fired a salvo of six rockets and each rocket had a clockwork-timer. This meant that the rocket was presumably still likely to go off!

He also told me that, on one occasion, a complete gun crew were blown up.

Not much seems to ever have been said publicly about the gun site and the personnel working there, which must have involved them in much bravery and risk, and I often wonder how my father must have felt, travelling from our home, in North Kensington (a source of further stories) to that gun site.

My sister (she is older than me; I was a baby) remembers visiting my father at the gun site, and I believe that Lady Soames (wife of Sir Winston Churchill) who was in the ATS, visited the gun site. I would love to see any photographs concerning the gun site and to learn more about it.

Amongst other things, I have my father's Soldier's Service Book and a certificate from King George VI, commemorating his service in the Home Guard.

Yours sincerely,

Dr B.Wybrow.

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Message 1 - AA Rockets

Posted on: 07 January 2004 by John de Mansfield AbsolonResearcher 238443

Dear Dr Wybrow
I had some small experience with the early rocket projecters. The original weapon fired a single rocket and they were designed purely as a barrage weapon. I remember seeing the first projecter at a camp in Surrey just south of London. It was set up for a demonstration which was attended by Winston Churchill who was in a bad mood that day. After a lot of messing about the rocket was fired over London. Winston Churchill walked away in disgust saying "it wasn't fused" it landed in Carshalton and destroyed at house fortunately no casualties.
The rockets were placed on rails and a clip attached to the propelling charge which was fired by a battery. The fuse was set by hand to the estimated range but did not become live until the rocket was fired. The normal drill was to estimate the future position of the target and then order the range which was set followed by a bearing and elevation. When the target reached the presumed position the order to fire was given and ,hopefully, the rockets and the target met together. Apart from that the experience of all those rockets bursting together in front of an aircraft was very off putting. As the drill was very simple it was easy to train teams of Home Guard to operate them. Several hundred men were needed to work the shifts. There were two men to each rocket launcher.They were protected from premature bursts by a shield but the most dangerous area was behind them there being a large sheet of flame from the rear of the rocket when fired. Miss -- fires were usually caused by either bad connections or flat batteries. The rocket would then have to be removed.The danger lay in the propellant igniting whilst the rocket was being moved to a safe place. They were then destroyed by a controlled explosion.
As far as I know the Germans didn’t use a similar weapon against aircraft. Their research was directed more towards the aggressive Vengeance weapons.
AA Z guns were re-adapted in a ground role as MRLS(Multi-rocket Launching Systems) for use in the Pacific war. My unit was just about to convert to them when the atom bomb was dropped.
I hope this is some help to you as a general background picture
John Absolon


Message 2 - AA Rockets

Posted on: 20 January 2004 by hillmaxhistry42

Dear Mr Absolon,

Thank you for the detailed reply.

However, I remember, my father telling me that a salvo of six rockets was sent off, and that each had a clockwork timer, so that, time being equivalent to gained altitide, mean't that the projectile exploded at a desired height.

Could your experiences possibly relate to earlier on in the war, whilst my father's corresponded to a later period, namely, October 1942 to May 1943, when he served in the Home Guard on the Hyde Park Gun Sight.

Are there any photographs of the guns in Hyde Park, either on Internet web sites, or elsewhere. I know that Lady Soames, who was in the ATS, visited the Gun Sight.


Message 3 - AA Rockets

Posted on: 21 January 2004 by John de Mansfield AbsolonResearcher 238443

Dear Dr Wybrow.
Thank you for your post I had very little to do with the the operation and use of Z Guns and there could well have been six barrelled and nine barrelled versions. I believe that the Ground to Ground (codenamed Land Mattress) version had either 9 or 12 launching rails. My experience of fuses tells me that it was pre-set clockwork fuse set just before firing and was armed on launching probably as a pre-set distance from the launcher. In any miss-fire the back end was the dangerous bit. The report by my father who picked up two men in his ambulance that were caught in the backfire was horrendous.
I think it was Mary Lady Soames who served on the 3.7 AA site in Hyde Park and as you know was Winston Churchill's daughter. Apart from the Imperial War Museum I wouldn't know where to locate photographs of Z Guns
I hope I have been of some little help in your research.
John Absolon


Message 4 - AA Rockets

Posted on: 21 March 2004 by hillmaxhistry42

Dear Mr Absolon,

Thanks for the recent reply; I will continue to search for photographs.

Best wishes,

Dr Wybrow.

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