Sunday, May 21, 2006

“V is for Vengeance”

A well-known view of the main Entrance Hall at the Imperial War Museum, London. Among the weapons and modes of transport seen in this photograph is a German V2 ‘Flying Rocket’, one of Hitler’s ‘Vengeance weapons’. A German Fokker Wolf aircraft from WW2 can also be seen.

[Photograph by Joseph Ritson]

(For some personal views about Vengeance Weapons see Comments below)


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Some views on Hitler's Vengeance weapons

From June 1944 until almost the end of the war the Germans began a menacing campaign that caused much untold death and destruction. The first of the new weapons used in this campaign was the ‘Flazeitlgerät Fzg 76’ / ‘Fieseler Fi 103’ (Flying Bomb). It is perhaps better known as the ‘Vergeltungswaffe 1’ or ‘V 1’. The V stood for ‘Vengeance’. Hence when the second new weapon, the A4 Long-range Rocket, began to be used it became known simply as the ‘V2’.

One of my kinfolk, Leading Aircraftwoman Betty Cowan, a first cousin of my father, was a victim of German bombing at this late stage of the war. Despite attempts to learn exactly what happened, much of what happened remains unrecorded. Any members of the family who were told what happened have long since passed away.

Trying to find out exact or specific information about the actual numbers of V1 and V2 weapons used or the casualty figures is frustratingly difficult to find. Checking various books on that deal with V1 and V2 weapons give different figures. During these latter months of the war, the press gave away very little actual information about V1s and V2s. There seemed to be a tacit ‘understanding’ between the Government, the press and the public at large that this was the best tactic to confound the Germans of the success of the Vengeance weapons.

From what I was told by my father and other family members a relation of ours, WAAF Betty Cowan died in October 1945 of ‘bomb blast injuries’ sustained in the London area some months earlier (see “People’s War” story, Article Reference ID: A4180835). Before writing that account, I visited the local County Records Office to try and find an article about Betty being wounded in the local wartime newspapers, hoping to find more about what had actually happened. From family information and something written by Aunt Elizabeth at the beginning of November 1944 it seems that Cousin Betty was apparently in good health at that date. Therefore, had hoped to trace an article about Betty in ‘The Whitehaven News’ some time between November 1944 and VE Day, 8 May 1945. At the very least I hoped to narrow down the date that Betty suffered her injuries and her best friend was killed.

Although there are many articles about men being killed or wounded in various Theatres of War in 'The Whitehaven News', I could not see an article mentioning Betty. This was a surprise given that family members always said it was important to remember Betty and her sacrifice. They always spoke of her with pride. Additionally, Betty’s sister Margaret worked at ‘The Whitehaven News’ office. Betty's parents seemed to know the editor of the newspaper, his wife and family as friends and certainly the two families were members of the same church congregation.

In normal circumstances I would have expected the editor to have written a tribute to Betty at the time she was reported to have been injured in the bombing. Yet, even in West Cumbria, more than 300 miles north of London, the need for secrecy about the V weapons was deemed to be greater than according Betty an appropriate recognition for the service she gave her country. Hence, nothing ever seemed to be printed in 'The Whitehaven News'.

Consequently, I have been trace more about Betty's service record or exactly where and when she was injured. According to family information, Betty's best friend in the WAAF, who I understand was called Daphne Pope, was killed outright at the same time that Betty was injured. However, I can trace no record of Daphne in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Archives.

Another relative of Betty’s has told me that Daphne Pope was definitely the name of Betty’s friend who was killed, and Daphne’s parents continued to write to Betty‘s family after the war. The reason for Daphne being omitted from the CWGC record is possibly because her remains were not positively identified, but this is merely a conjecture. Whatever the reason for this omission, and whatever details that Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Walter had been told about the bombing, this knowledge seems to have died with them. Because of the need for secrecy about Vengeance weapons at this period of the war, nothing seems to have been passed on to the local ‘Whitehaven News’ for publication.

In a way, Aunt Elizabeth, Uncle Walter, and their other surviving daughter Margaret, also suffered as a result of Hitler’s Vengeance weapons. My father told me he felt Aunt Elizabeth was never the same person after Betty’s death. Aunt Elizabeth cared for Betty at home through her last painful months. Betty Cowan was laid to rest in Whitehaven Cemetery when she eventually died in October 1945. As Betty served in the WAAF, her grave is maintained by the CWGC.

Aunt Elizabeth passed away a couple of years after Betty. Uncle Walter died in the early 1960s. They too are at rest in Whitehaven Cemetery, as is Betty's sister Margaret. Each year, at Remembrance time, I visit the cemetery and place a poppy cross on Betty’s grave. She was just one victim of Hitler’s Vengeance weapons.

Sunday, 21 May, 2006  
Blogger Peter G said...

I read your account of the V1 and V2 with interest, Ritson. But could I just clear up the names and designation of them?

You refer to "the ‘Flazeitlgerät Fzg 76’ / ‘Fieseler Fi 103’ (Flying Bomb). ... perhaps better known as the ‘Vergeltungswaffe 1’ or ‘V 1’. The V stood for ‘Vengeance’."

The Fiesler designation of the weapon was Fi-103, and that remains its official designation. The Luftwaffe, however, used cover-names FZG-76 and Kirschkern; on 30 April '44 Hitler ordered that FZG-76 Kirschkern be dropped in favour of Maikäfer ("June Bug"). Goebbels' Propaganda ministry began using the term V-1 (Vergeltungswaffe-1 "Retaliation Weapon - 1") during a radio broadcast made on 23 June 1944, and Hitler made this its official name on 4 July '44. This remained its official title until 2 November 1944, when Hitler renamed it Krähe ("Crow"), but the designation always was Fi 103.

The V2 ("Retaliation Weapon - 2")was always officially designated the A-4, the final product of the 'A Series' of German rockets.

As to the number launched and hits, the official History of the Second World War - United Kingdom Military Series - The Defence of the United kingdom Appendix XLV The Flying Bomb Offensive gives precise documented figures compiled from British and German sources. A total of 10,492 V1s were launched (8,892 from ramps and 1,600 from aircraft) The figure for those launched by aircraft, 1600, is an estimate; the precise figure to 10 November 1944 was 1,287 but later records were destroyed.

Of these 3,957 were destroyed by all arms, and 3,531 eluded defences. Of these, the number reaching the London Civil Defence region was 2,419.

As to the V2, a total of 1,403 were launched of which 1,115 arrived in the UK.

In Britain, the V1s killed 6,184 with a further 17,981 seriously injured. The V2s, 2,754 killed, with 6,523 seriously injured. These figures are for civilians and exclude service personnel.

In contrast, conventional bombing killed 51,509, with 61,423 seriously injured.

Monday, 22 May, 2006  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Thanks Peter,

I looked at different references in the library about the designated names of Hitler's 'Secret Weapons', and I also have a couple of books of my own. The information you give is spot on, but it's much easier to use V1 and V2! Apparently Antwerp suffered more than London in many respects.

Regarding the numbers of V1 and V2 weapons, and the casualty numbers, the books I looked at quote different figures. The source information used is based on different official documentation. According to a recently published book ('London 1945' by Maureen Waller) there are slight variations in the official figures found in the National Archives and the Metropolitan Police Reports for the London area, for example. Partly at least I think because the area of the 'London Region' is slightly different for each of these sources.

Unfortunately, I am not sure whether my relative Betty Cowan suffered as a result of a V1 or V2. My father used to tell me a lot about Betty. I'm not sure that Betty's relatives ever got to know the full story of what happened, or whether it was a V1 or V2.

My father, his eldest brother and my Grandmother Ritson travelled to London in February 1945 to attend the wedding of another of my father's brothers (story posted to the "People's War"). That was when the V1s and V2s were still being sent over and when they talked about the wedding they mentioned the V1s and V2s. I don't think Cousin Betty was at the wedding, although she was in the London area for most of the war so far as I know. However, the bridegroom was two days late turning up for the wedding I doubt Betty was able to go even if she was still OK then. I can't remember anyone ever specifically mentioning if Betty was at the wedding.

Whether Betty was injured before or after February 1945 I can't say. I do know Betty was back at home for several months. She was cared for mainly by my Aunt Elizabeth, and then Cousin Betty died in October 1945.

Finding out anything more specific has not been very successful thus far, unfortunately. As there is no 'Next of Kin' (ie parent, sibling, child) left alive, I can't see how I would get a copy of Betty's service record. That at least might give some dates.


Monday, 22 May, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home