The German V1 attack on London had been defeated by intensive air defences and then the advance of the Allies in Europe. V1 rockets continued to be targeted on Antwerp and Holland in an attempt to disrupt the Allied supply lines – with little significant effect.
However there remained on alternative means of targeting the rockets at Britain. The forerunner of the air launched cruise missile was a Nazi adaptation to use Heinkel bombers to get the V1s within range of Britain and fire them whilst in mid air. They could only be crudely targeted and the ultimate destination was only determined by the engine cutting out, as before. 1,176 missiles were launched against Britain but a large proportion either failed to launch properly or failed to reach the land.
Once again the Allied superiority in cracking German codes was to give them a huge operational advantage. Although they could not completely neutralise the attacks they could be in precisely the right position to fight back.
Richard Leggett was a Mosquito pilot who participated in the counter-arrack on the Heinkels in the early hours of Christmas Eve, 1944:
The British ‘Y’ Service would get information that V1-carrying Heinkels would be taking off, and we’d be told that at such and such a time they would be in place. No other op was as tidy as this. We looked at our watches and thought, ‘My goodness, they’ll be here in another few minutes’; and sure enough, right on the button, it would all happen. It was a question of whether you’d be the lucky one because there were lots of us.
I looked at my clock and knew that at around 02.30 hours there would be several Heinkels in the usual place. The enemy obviously did not know we were going to meet him.
Being in a position to stab him in the back in the dark was a nice way to fight a war. One was mentally tuned to this. We felt sorry for our bomber chaps. We in the night fighter force didn’t have to drop bombs on women and children. We had to kill Germans who were trying to do things to our women and children with nasty weapons. It was a very clear and clean way to fight.
Sure enough, almost on the dot we saw the flash of a V1 being launched. At the same time ground control said they had contact.
There might be twelve, thirteen, fourteen of these Heinkels, all doing it at once. It was a timed op. Then they’d turn to port. I don’t know why but they always did this. Then they would go down very rapidly and head for home. Our job was to lose height quickly, go below 100 feet and pick up the Heinkel.
The Mk X was a good AI, but there were a lot of sea returns and it depended on the expertise of the navigator. I had a very good one. Sure enough, the Heinkel turned left and at two to three miles we got a contact.
It wasn’t a good night. There was rain and ‘stuff’ about. The Germans only came when the weather was bad.
We started to close. It was still dark and there was a lot of cloud. You knew perfectly well that on our straight and level course behind him we would get a tremendous wash from his engines. I felt it. Then for some reason, he started to turn away slightly, as if he had an indication that we were behind him. It foxed us a bit.
Eventually, it settled down again. I closed in on him. It was in cloud. Guns and sights were harmonized at about 200 yards but we could not get a visual, although we could feel his slipstream We dropped away and my navigator picked up contact again.
Some people might have lowered their undercarriage at this point, but l didn’t like to. I had as much flap as I dared and managed perfectly well. We waited and we waited.
Off Den Helder I was getting concerned. We’d followed him for fully fifty-five minutes. We waited as patiently as one can in this situation and eventually, as the dawn was coming up I closed in at 300 yards range. I fired my cannon in his slip- stream and had to put on a lot of throttle to prevent a stall.
I got a number of strikes on it and that was it. The Heinkel went in very quickly. When we broke away the cloud base was only at 200 feet. It was a beautiful morning.
This account appears in The Men Who Flew the Mosquito: Compelling Accounts of the ‘Wooden Wonders’ Triumphant WW2 Career
Heinkel 111H-22 of 7./KG 53 Legion Kondor crashed in Holland and one of the five man crew survived.
Not all the Heinekels were intercepted before they could launch their weapons. The aiming point was apparently Manchester – but they fell over a very wide area of northern England. BBC Shropshire has an account of a V1 from this raid that fell outside Newport. Aircrash Sites has analysis of where the V1s fell around Manchester.
31 of the 45 missiles launched on this night fell on England (although accounts vary), with the worst single incident being in Oldham where 27 people were killed. The times of the attack differ from that given by Leggett.