London was now experiencing the worst of the V1 onslaught, as the Germans despatched up to a 100 rockets a day at the capital. For obvious reasons the true scale of the devastation they were causing could not be acknowledged publicly. Measures to combat them were urgently introduced. The anti aircraft defences around London were beefed up.
Meanwhile the German double agents working for British intelligence were feeding back false reports of where they were landing. By leading the Germans to believe they were landing north of London it was hoped to induce them to reduce the range – so they would actually fall south of London, rather than the intended target area of central London.
In north London George Beardmore, at home with his pregnant wife and young daughter, recorded his first encounter with the V1:
18 June, Sunday
The latest development to affect our lives is the ‘Bumble Bomb’, which is a pilotless aeroplane carrying a cargo of high explosive let loose on the continent and pointed in our direction in the hope that it will land where it will do most harm. Our first intimation of this menace was a noise like a motor-boat fifty feet above our heads first thing last Thursday morning, the 15th.
I sprang out of bed to find out what on earth it was but it had passed out of sight by the time I had reached the window. I said: ‘A plane out of control, I should think’, but Jean, sitting up in bed and leaning on one arm, said after awhile: ‘Georgie, you don’t think it’s something new, do you?’ Since then we have heard two or three of the damned things, in the distance.
Amos had heard what they really were from somewhere. Sparing of comment, as usual, he said: ‘See you in the Shelter, then.’ However, we haven’t yet taken to the Surface Shelter because Jean is now pretty heavy and uncomfortable. She sleeps downstairs behind the 1940 barricades while I sleep with Victoria in the big bed upstairs in case she grows frightened, which she was last night. Heaven knows what permanent effect all these bumps in the night and other strange noises are going to have on her!
Our neighbour on the other side, Woodstreet, who is a railway policeman at Euston, had seen three last night, and gave an impression of their flying over in droves — or should the word be flocks — at quarter-hour intervals. They land anywhere within the Greater London area but more especially in south London, just as though south London had not already had enough damage inflicted on it.
This is indiscriminate bombing at its most blatant, its object being I imagine to cause the civilian population to demand an end to the war. Its effect is quite the opposite for it rouses anger.
Most annoying is the official statement that we were taking their measure, having known about them for months – why, in the next sentence they say that they don’t even know whether or not they are radio-controlled! As usual they are toning down a real threat though it has many times been demonstrated that the best course is to tell the public the worst and ask them to face it — at least they know what to face. Only Churchill and Woolton know the secret of imparting confidence.
Perhaps the most ominous aspect of the V1 was that people knew that it was approaching – and could merely guess when it might finally dive to earth. The next day RAF navigator C.F Rawnsley found himself at Victoria railway station in central London with his wife. In the distance they heard a faint throbbing, which rapidly became louder:
The throbbing quickly became louder and more strident and vicious as we continued walking along a platform that had suddenly become deserted. There was no cover we could take, apart from baling out on to the railway lines, so we made for the waiting train. The lofty roof of the station, already denuded of its glass, looked horribly flimsy, and it began to shake with the wild beating in the air. The dubious shelter of the nearest carriage of the train looked a long way away.
I had not noticed that the pace of our walking would have done credit to a Rifle Regiment. The throbbing in the air had swollen to a fiendish, staccato crackling, and the ground itself seemed to be trembling. It seemed that the wretched thing must be overhead, but still the din went on getting louder and closer. And then the guns joined in, the shells whining up and bursting with angry cracks close overhead.
Just as I opened a carriage door, the crash of another salvo was overwhelmed by the bellowing crescendo of the last dive of the flying-bomb. In my hurry to get to shelter I trod on the heels of my wife’s shoes. The roar of the explosion shook the windows of the carriage.
We sat down, panting in the uncanny silence. And then, with a clatter and bustle, the station came to life again; and people grinned feebly at one another with the inevitable self-satisfaction of those who had been bombed but who had escaped.