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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : V-weapons Attack Britain

13 June 1944 to 27 March 1945

Location: Britain
Players: British civilians, German Luftwaffe.
Outcome: More than 6,000 people died and almost 18,000 were injured.

A German V-1 missile and a British fighter plane silhouetted against the sky
A German V-1 missile and a British fighter plane silhouetted against the sky©
The Germans developed two types of retaliation weapon (called Vergeltungswaffen in German): the V-1 flying bomb (actually a small aircraft, but without a pilot); and the V-2, a rocket. These were ballistic missiles, mostly launched from the ground (although a small proportion, much less accurate, were delivered from the air). The development of these rockets was a choice borne of the post-World War One Treaty of Versailles, which stipulated that the Germans could not possess heavy artillery, making no mention of rockets.

The Oslo Report of 1939 had alerted London to the development of these weapons, but the report hadn't been taken seriously. (The author of the report remained anonymous until 1989, when he was identified as German physicist Hans Mayer in the book Reflections on Intelligence, by former MI6 scientist RV Jones.)

In 1943, Churchill was aware that a ballistic missile programme was progressing in Germany. By June, intelligence had located the centre of production and in August, Bomber Command attacked Peenemünde, setting back German operations but not halting them.

The Germans first dropped flying bombs (V-1s) on Britain at dawn on 13 June 1944. In the following fortnight, around 2,452 bombs were dropped on England. Not all reached their intended target. A third were brought down by anti-aircraft fire over the Channel, or shot down by fighter pilots. About 800 missiles hit London and the surrounding area. The greatest single tragedy took the lives of 121 people when a V-1 landed on the Guards Chapel at Wellington Barracks during a service.

The first V-2 rocket attacks came on 8 September. More than 2,500 Londoners were killed in the following six months. In total, 9,000 V-2s were fired against England; nearly half were destroyed before impact. Meanwhile, V-1 attacks continued to target London, Southampton, Portsmouth and Manchester, causing 6,184 deaths in total and nearly three times as many injuries.

These attacks came to be known as the 'Baby Blitz', after the 1941 night attacks on British cities which were known simply as 'The Blitz' and took the lives of more than 43,000 civilians.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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