Datchworth and the last enemy action of the Second World War

V-1 Datchworth

The V-1 that landed at Datchworth was the last enemy action of any kind on British soil. - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Throughout the Second World War, Britain was under constant threat of aerial attack, but that all came to an end at Datchworth in late March of 1945.

Bearing the brunt of German bombs during the Battle of Britain and The Blitz in 1940, attacks on major cities continued throughout the war.

But, in June 1944, just a week after the D-Day landing at Normandy, attacks on Britain would become scarier than ever before.

For the first time, the roar of bomber aircraft overhead was replaced with buzzing of the ‘Vergeltungswaffe I’, or Vengeance Weapon I, a terrifying and never before seen threat to the nation.

Known to the Allies as the buzz bomb or doodlebug, the first V-1 flying bomb hit the UK on June 13, 1944. During that first campaign of raids, up to 100 V-1s fell every hour on London. Over an 80-day period, more than 6,000 people were killed and 17,000 injured.

One of the earliest examples of the cruise missile, the V-1 was pilotless, powered by a pulsejet engine, with a top speed of 400mph and an explosive payload of more than 1,800lb. The distinctive buzz of the engine was scary, but not as scary as when it stopped.

“The V-1s were quite noisy and you could hear them in the air-raid shelter,” remembered Jim Woods, who was a child during the Second World War.

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“They sounded like a motorbike running without a silencer. You would listen for them to stop and if they stopped overhead, you knew they would hit close by.

“Sometimes they came over during the day. As kids we were curious to see them rather than running for a shelter.

“They were more body than wings. Pointed at the front and cut off at the back. They had short square wings. It was as big as an aircraft. Probably bigger than a Spitfire in size.

“You couldn't mistake them for anything else. When they landed, they could devastate a whole area.”

13TH JUNE : On this day in 1944 the first V-1 bomb is dropped on England. Rescuers and a photographe

Damage from a V-1 flying bomb that landed on London. - Credit: PA

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill questioned the morality of the German’s newest weapon, saying: “The introduction by the Germans of such a weapon obviously raises some grave questions upon which I do not propose to trench today.”

To stop the V-1s, everything was tried.

2,000 barrage balloons were deployed, with hopes the rocket would hit the cables and either crash or explode away from highly populated areas. But, the leading edge of the V-1s wings were fitted with cable cutters, and fewer than 300 were brought down by barrage balloons.

Although initially ineffective, anti-aircraft fire quickly proved to be one of the best ways to destroy a V-1 as it raced across the English Channel.

The speed of the V-1 made it difficult for Royal Air Force planes to catch and successfully destroy the rockets, but dive attacks from Hawker Tempests, Supermarine Spitfires and de Havilland Mosquitos often did the trick.

Pilots also attempted the unconventional when it came to taking down the weapons, using their wings to nudge the V-1 and send it off course.

One such pilot who did this was Flying Officer T.D Dean, at the controls of the new jet-powered Gloster Meteor, one of few aircraft able to keep pace with the rocket.

“I half expected the guns to jam because several other pilots had experienced that problem before me,” he wrote of the experience.

“I also knew that any sudden movement would upset the V1, and so when my guns failed, I already had a good idea of what I should do.

“I just followed on in and tipped it up. When I got back to base, I found that there was a small dent in my wingtip where I had hit the flying bomb. This was the only damage to the aircraft, which was serviceable again after a few hours.”

V-1 Datchworth

The Gloster Meteor was the RAF's first jet aircraft. - Credit: IWM

In total, 10,492 V-1s were launched against Britain, with more than 4,000 destroyed before hitting the ground.

The last to land and explode on British soil came on March 29, 1945, when a V-1 hit Datchworth.

In a post on Herts Memories, Geoff, who was a boy at the time, remembers the rocket landing nearby.

“A flying bomb, commonly known a doodlebug to the British, fell out of the sky and landed in a field close to a sewage farm at 9:00am on Thursday, March 29, 1945. There were no casualties,” he wrote.

“Though nobody realised at the time, this would be the ignominious end of Hitler’s much vaunted weapon assault on Britain.

"My brother, Ray and myself were looking out of the window, at 9 Bridge Terrace, now 13 Bridge Road, waiting for mum to get home with some shopping when I heard the engine and saw the exhaust light of this V-1.

“They both went out and I dived under the table, but Ray stayed at the window. There was a very large explosion and the windows shook, but Ray did not move.

“Mum was only on the other side of the road and ran in to find us both okay.”

While two further V-1s were launched against Britain after this attack, neither landed and exploded, meaning the Datchworth rocket was the last enemy action of any kind on British soil.

After more than five years of bombing, the home front was finally safe.