|Topic||World Battlefronts: The Enemy: V-2|
FromTime Magazine, 20-Nov-1944
Nazi meanness, cleverness and persistence were proving hard to scotch. The end of England's travail was not yet at hand.
For weeks southern England had been under a bombardment as lurid as something out of an early Wells novel. Both London and Berlin kept the business under wraps. Then, last week, Berlin announced that London was under heavy fire from V2, the second Vergeltungswaffe or "vengeance weapon"—the long-range rocket which Berlin had long threatened and London had long anticipated.
Two days later Winston Churchill lifted the lid in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister gave a thumbnail sketch of V-2 in action, said that "casualties and damage have so far not been heavy" and that "the scale and effect of these attacks have not hitherto been significant."
High, Fast, Deep. Best information at hand indicates that V-2 is a wingless, cylindrical missile, 40 ft. long and 5 ft. in diameter, which soars to the astounding height of 60 to 70 miles.* Reports from Sweden were that it has a range of 250 to 300 miles, and that its maximum velocity is around 4,000 miles per hour. Near the end of its steep fall, atmospheric resistance slows it down to 1,000 m.p.h. or less, but since that is still faster than the speed of sound, it gives no audible warning. The whoosh of its passage is heard after the explosion. It digs a crater 30 ft. wide by 30 ft. deep.
According to a sectional diagram in the London Daily Express, a radio control unit is mounted immediately behind the warhead. Then come hydrocarbon and liquid oxygen fuel chambers, a centrifugal compressor, a combustion chamber, and a set of tail fins 10 ft. long.
Like V-1 (the flying bomb), V-2 carries an explosive charge of about one ton, but it penetrates deeper, causing more damage at the crater site, less damage and injury from blast and flying glass in the vicinity. Mr. Churchill implied that this effect was intentional. But the speed of the rocket's fall is so great that the most sensitive impact fuse would probably not be able to explode the warhead above ground.
Hot Ramps. Winston Churchill said that one of the V-2 firing stations was on
Walcheren island, whose capture opened the port of Antwerp to the Allies. Other sites seemed to be located in the Dutch coastal area north of the Maas. The London Evening Standard described the launching apparatus as a steel platform slightly bigger than a tennis court. "During actual launching operations," said the Standard, "the ramp is constantly sprayed with jets of ice-cold water because as the rocket shoots into the air, heat develops which expands the steel frame . . . and bends it."
In some military circles V-2 had been expected to arrive with a formidable warhead of ten to twelve tons. It was rumored that the Nazis, experimenting with this heavy load, had found it so ruinous to the launching apparatus, or to the crews, or both, that they had reduced it.
Random Hits. Witnesses who saw the V-2 falling at night said it looked like a "falling star" or "the tail of a comet." By day, it looked like "a flying telegraph pole." Louder than V1, the rocket explosion could be heard for 20 miles.
V-2 seems to be far less accurate than V1. According to one expert, it has a radius of error of 30 to 200 miles. Like V1, it is more of a morale and propaganda weapon than an effective military instrument, and Winston Churchill flatly characterized it as such. Nevertheless there were some tragic hits. One rocket landed in a crowd of shoppers, killed "a number." Nine children at a birthday party were blown to bits. Schools, churches and hospitals were damaged.
Nasty Thing. To soften the news that Germany had lost control of the Antwerp approaches, the Nazis claimed that the port was being devastated by both V-2 and V1. Actually they fired some V25 over the Allied lines in Belgium, Holland and France. One dud was found to have an explosive charge of 1,600 Ibs.
However hopeless it was as a victory weapon for Germany, V-2 was a nasty thing for the Allies. The defenses which had been of some help against V-i—fighter planes, antiaircraft guns and barrage balloons—were of no avail against V-2 because of its high trajectory and enormous speed. Winston Churchill pictured a race between the Germans and the Allies, the former trying to increase the rocket's range as the latter pushed the firing positions farther & farther back into Germany.
At the present stage of development, there seems to be no possibility that the Germans can bombard the eastern U.S. with V2. But a joint Army and Navy statement last week warned the country not to be surprised if they try it with V1, launched from submarines or from airplanes which would be sacrificed after a one-way Atlantic crossing. In their increasing desperation, the margin between what the Nazis could do and what they would do seemed very small.
* It is, therefore, not only the highest rocket but the highest missile of any sort ever fired by man. Shells from the Germans' long-range Paris gun of World War I reached 24 miles at the top of their trajectory.
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