On December 21, 1988, at 7:00pm, Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York exploded in midair over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members aboard, as well as 11 Lockerbie residents on the ground. A bomb hidden inside an audio cassette player detonated in the cargo area when the plane was at an altitude of 31,000 feet. The disaster, which became the subject of Britain’s largest criminal investigation, was believed to be an attack against the United States, because although the passengers came from 21 countries, the majority, 189 of the 259 victims on the plane were American. Islamic terrorists were accused of planting the bomb on the plane while it was at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. The investigation lasted for years, 15,000 people were interviewed and 180,000 pieces of evidence were examined. Finally, in 2001, Mohmed al-Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to 20…and later 27 years in prison. Lamin Khalifa Fhimah was acquitted, and the Libyan government eventually agreed to pay damages to the families of the victims.
The lateness of the explosion made much of the recovery impossible until the stark light of day, when the horror really became clear to the world. The reasons for the attack, in the minds of Islamic terrorists were to destroy life as much as possible, and I’m sure they thought they had succeeded. Yes, the people who died and their family, will never get over their loss. It just doesn’t work that way. It never goes away, but out of that tragedy, came something amazing too…the Lockerbie Heroes.
Lockerbie is a small town in Scotland, and something like this attack is unheard of. Such things seemed so far away, but as we all know, such things can come to small towns, and it is then that these little hamlets take center stage…sometimes for a short time, sometimes for years, and sometimes its forever. This small town took it upon themselves, to make a difference. Most of us would run away from the horror, or hide so we didn’t have to face it, but not the citizens of Lockerbie. Every member of this town turned out, and with no specific plan in place, they simply started to help. On that December day in 1988, a Pan Am flight had blown up, and hundreds of pieces of metal, random, objects, and body parts come raining out of the sky.
Most of us assume that we would go into state of panic, but the people of Lockerbie didn’t have time to panic. They were too busy diving into the wreckage to collect any personal items they might find. No, not to keep them or sell them on eBay, it was the 80’s after all. They did it simply to comfort the victim’s families. In order to store the tens of thousands of debris pieces that had been scattered over 845 square miles, the first thing the townspeople did was build a warehouse. Any items that weren’t of forensic value were left for the townspeople to organize. These The compassionate people of Lockerbie knew that they couldn’t hand them to the bereaved families looking so ugly. The reality was that seeing these items in the condition they were now, would be pure torture. The townspeople decided to perform an act of love and compassion. Working as a gigantic assembly line of washers and dryers and ironers and folders, the townspeople restored the countless items of clothing scattered across the charred, muddy, usually quite apocalyptic landscape. They developed rolls and film and put diaries back together to identify the owners, while any stray rings, wallets, and other effects were carefully matched up to the corresponding suitcase. In one instance, the State Department informed one family that they couldn’t have their daughter’s stuff back because it was “too badly damaged.” The people of Lockerbie scoffed at that and un-damaged it. What a gift. You can’t help but cry and the enormity of their kindness.
Before long, the relatives flocked to Lockerbie in order to be near to the site of the crash. The town opened its doors and took them in, setting the foundation for friendships that still survive today. Christmas cards are exchanged, letters are written, and families still journey to the town. It takes a lot of awesome to turn a town from “giant crater where my loved one died” to “place of friendship and comfort.” As the years have passed, the people coming aren’t as many, but the town of Lockerbie and the world remember each and every victim.
For a time, bombs or bomb threats seemed to be the weapon of choice for terrorists and hijackers on the worlds airlines. With better screenings and luggage checks, things have improved and we see fewer incidences like these, but that in no way means that we should ever let our guard down, because evil exists in this world, and awareness of that fact saves lives. On April 2, 1986, we weren’t quite as prepared as we are today. On that day, Trans World Airlines Flight 840 was on a regularly scheduled flight from Los Angeles to Cairo via New York City, Rome, and Athens. The plane was flying at 11,000 feet over Greece, on its way to Athens, when the bomb went off. Four people, including an eight-month old baby, were sucked out of a TWA passenger jet after an explosion ripped a hole in its side.
It blew a hole six feet by three feet wide under a window in front of the starboard wing. It is believed the explosion happened at floor level in the passenger compartment itself. The four bodies of the victims were retrieved from a site 87 miles southwest of Athens. Three were from the same Greek-American family, believed to have been a grandmother, her daughter and her granddaughter. Police also found the body of a male passenger identified as a Colombian-born American, sucked out of the plane still in his seat. Remarkably, the remaining 118 passengers and crew survived, including Christian author, Jeanette Chaffee, who has written about this and other incredible situations, called “Extravagant Graces,” a book I think I will have to read. The pilot, Captain Richard Petersen, made an emergency landing, telling Athens control tower that the pressurization in the cabin was failing.
The pilot, Captain Richard Petersen, made an emergency landing, telling Athens control tower that the pressurization in the cabin was failing. He is being hailed as a hero. “We are proud of him,” said a TWA source. Just seven passengers were taken to hospital, and only three were kept in for treatment. One was Ibrahim al-Nami, from Saudi Arabia, who said he had been sitting next to the man who was sucked out with his seat. “We heard a big bang outside the window,” he said,” and then I saw the man next to me disappear and I felt myself being pulled out.” He avoided sharing the same fate by clinging on to his wife’s seat. Another passenger escaped because she left her seat only minutes earlier to go to the lavatory. Florentia Haniotakis, a Greek-American from Ohio, praised the crew. She says they comforted passengers to calm them during the emergency landing.
The airliner was on the same Rome-Cairo route as a similar TWA plane hijacked by Shia Muslim gunmen in June 1985 after leaving Athens for Rome. The investigation found that the bomb had been planted under seat number 10F, probably inside a lifejacket. A group calling itself the Ezzedine Kassam Unit of the Arab Revolutionary Cells claimed responsibility, and said the bombing was in retaliation for US bombing raids against Libya the previous month. Police initially suspected a Lebanon-born Palestinian woman named Mai Elias Mansur. Mansur was a suspected terrorist connected with the Abu Nidal extremist group, who was involved in an abortive attempt to bomb a Pan American airliner in 1983. She had travelled in seat 10F on an earlier flight of the same Boeing 727. Mansur denied any involvement. After a two year investigation, the US State Department said it believed that she had carried out the bombing, operating on the orders of known Palestinian terrorist Colonel Hawari, but they were unable to definitively prove it. Therefore, nobody has ever been convicted of carrying out the bombing. TWA filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and was taken over by American Airlines.
Gunner was a stray male Kelpie, born in August 1941, who became notable for his reliability to accurately alert Allied Air Force personnel that Japanese aircraft were approaching Darwin during the Second World War. Gunner was six months old when he was found whimpering under a destroyed mess hut at Darwin Air Force base where he suffering a broken leg on February 19, 1942, following the first wave of Japanese attacks on Darwin.
Gunner was taken to a field hospital, but the doctor insisted he could not fix a “man” with a broken leg without knowing his name and serial number. The doctor repaired and plastered his leg after the air force personnel replied that his name was “Gunner” and his number was “0000”. Gunner entered the airforce on that day. It might have been unofficial, but only is the way he was “drafted.” Gunner’s Air Force career was very real. Leading Aircraftman Percy Westcott, one of the two airmen who found Gunner, took ownership of him and became his master and handler. Gunner was badly shaken after the bombing and quite skittish, but being only six months old he quickly responded to the attention of the men on base.
About a week later, Gunner first demonstrated his remarkable hearing skills. The men were working on the airfield, when Gunner became agitated. He started to whine and jump. A little while later, the sound of approaching airplane engines was heard by the airmen. Suddenly, a wave of Japanese raiders appeared in the skies above Darwin and began bombing and strafing the town. Somehow…Gunner knew. Two days later, Gunner became agitated again, and not long afterwards came another air attack. In the months that followed, the same pattern played out every time an attack occurred. Long before the sirens sounded, Gunner would become agitated and head for shelter. Because of Gunner’s amazing hearing he was able to warn air force personnel of approaching Japanese aircraft up to 20 minutes before they arrived and before they showed up on the radar. Gunner was never agitated when he heard Allied planes taking off or landing….just the enemy aircraft. Somehow Gunner could differentiate the sounds of Allied and enemy aircraft. He was so reliable that Wing Commander McFarlane gave approval for Westcott to sound a portable air raid siren whenever Gunner’s whining or jumping alerted him. Before long, there were a number of stray dogs roaming the base. McFarlane gave the order that all dogs be shot, with the exception of Gunner. They couldn’t afford any distractions.
Gunner became such a part of the air force that he slept under Westcott’s bunk, showered with the men in the shower block, sat with the men at the outdoor movie pictures, and went up with the pilots during practice take-off and landings. When Westcott was posted to Melbourne 18 months later, Gunner stayed in Darwin, looked after by the RAAF butcher. It is unknown what happened to Gunner after the war, but he was a most amazing dog.
Most plane crashes are caused by pilot error or mechanical failure, but sometimes, someone commits an act of terrorism, or as in the case of United Airlines Flight 629 someone commits an act of hatred aimed at one person. These acts are never rational, and this one certainly wasn’t, because Jack Gilbert Graham was not a rational man. I think many, if not most of us have thought at one point or another that our parents were somehow meaner to us than any other parent in the universe, but Jack Graham took that obsession to the next level. He decided that his mother was responsible for giving him a horrible childhood, and so he decided to take his revenge on her by placing a bomb in the luggage she was checking.
His mother, Daisie Eldora King, who was a 53 year old Denver businesswoman was en route to Alaska to visit her daughter. Her flight United Airlines Flight 629, registration N37559, was a Douglas DC-6B aircraft also known as “Mainliner Denver.” The flight had originated at New York City’s La Guardia Airport and made a scheduled stop in Chicago before continuing to Denver’s Stapleton Airfield and landed at 6:11pm, 11 minutes late. At Denver the aircraft was refueled with 3,400 US gallons of fuel, and had a crew replacement. Captain Lee Hall, who was a World War II veteran, assumed command of the flight for the segments to Portland and Seattle. The flight took off at 6:52pm and at 6:56pm made its last transmission stating it was passing the Denver omni. Seven minutes later, the Stapleton air traffic controllers saw two bright lights suddenly appear in the sky north-northwest of the airport. Both lights were observed for 30 to 45 seconds, and both fell to the ground at roughly the same speed. The controllers then saw a very bright flash originating at or near the ground, intense enough to illuminate the base of the clouds 10,000 feet above the source of the flash. Upon observing the mysterious lights, the controllers quickly determined there were no aircraft in distress and contacted all aircraft flying in the area; all flights were quickly accounted for except for United Flight 629. The date was November 1, 1955.
The plane was blown up over Longmont, Colorado at about 7:03pm local time, while en route from Denver, Colorado, to Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. All 39 passengers and five crew members on board were killed in the explosion and crash. There was early speculation that something other than a mechanical problem or pilot error was responsible, given the magnitude of the in-air explosion. Investigators determined that Jack Gilbert Graham was responsible for bombing the airplane to kill his mother as revenge for his childhood and to obtain a large life insurance payout. Within 15 months of the explosion, Graham, who already had an extensive criminal record, was tried, convicted, and executed for the crime.
It was a horrible thing. One sick man committed murder in the skies, by killing his mother with a bomb, and in the process killed 41 other people too. I don’t know if he though the could really get away with it, but investigations are pretty sophisticated…even back then. It amazes me that they can take all those plane parts and examine them…somehow finding the source of the explosion, and tracing it back to the source. Then, by finding out who the luggage belonged to, they figured the whole thing out. Criminals really aren’t so smart, even though they think they have it all figured out. It is just sad that 42 people lost their lives, because some spoiled brat of a child thought his mom was too harsh when he was a kid…with no evidence to prove his point at all.
When dealing with one of the world’s more horrible murdering dictators, armies will try just about anything to take them down. Adolf Hitler seemed to be one of those dictators who just couldn’t be taken down. He even flaunted it in the face of his enemies, sending it across the airways, that he was still alive, even after they tried to kill him again. July 21, 1944, was one of those times when Adolf Hitler took to the airwaves to announce that the attempt on his life has failed and that “accounts will be settled.” Not only was Hitler good at dodging a bullet, but he was arrogant too.
On this particular day, Hitler had survived the bomb that was meant to take his life. He didn’t get off unscathed, however. Hitler suffered punctured eardrums, some burns and minor wounds, but nothing that would keep him from regaining control of the government and finding the rebels. In fact, it only took a mere 11½ hours, to put down the coup d’etat, that was supposed to accompany the planned assassination of Hitler. In Berlin, Army Major Otto Remer, believed to be apolitical by the conspirators and willing to carry out any orders given him, was told that the Fuhrer was dead and that he, Remer, was to arrest Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda. But Goebbels had news for Remer. Hitler was alive. He proved it, by getting him on the phone, because the rebels had forgotten to cut the phone lines. Hitler immediately gave Remer direct orders to put down any army rebellion and to follow only his orders or those of Goebbels or Himmler. Remer obeyed and let Goebbels go. The SS then snapped into action, arriving in Berlin, which was now in chaos, just in time to convince many high German officers to remain loyal to Hitler.
What followed forth rebels was hideous. Arrests, torture sessions, executions, and suicides were the order of the day. Count Claus von Stauffenberg, was the man who actually planted the explosive in the room with Hitler. He had insisted to his co-conspirators that “the explosion was as if a 15 millimeter shell had hit. No one in that room can still be alive.” But it was Stauffenberg who would not be alive for much longer. He was shot dead the very day of the attempt by a pro-Hitler officer. There was no trial, and no second chance given. The plot was completely demolished.
Then, Hitler set out to restore calm and confidence to the German civilian population. At 1am on July 21, Hitler’s voice broke through the radio airwaves: “I am unhurt and well…. A very small clique of ambitious, irresponsible…and stupid officers had concocted a plot to eliminate me… It is a gang of criminal elements which will be destroyed without mercy. I therefore give orders now that no military authority…is to obey orders from this crew of usurpers… This time we shall settle account with them in the manner to which we National Socialists are accustomed.” The attempt on his life was over, and Hitler would live…to die another day.
My dad was the top turret gunner and flight engineer on a B-17G Fortress Heavy Bomber during World War II. That was something that my family always knew. Dad didn’t talk much about it, but we were always very proud of him. What we didn’t know about all of that was that my dad was on the toughest plane ever built. At the time of his service, this little known fact probably wouldn’t have brought much comfort to his parents or siblings, but now, all these years later, it somehow brings a good measure of comfort to my dad’s daughter…me. My dad made it home from the war, of course. I know that there were times that his plane sustained damage, but it always brought the crew home.
The testing of the B-17 Bomber, as is the case with most planes was rigorous. Is this great trial, the B-17 Flying Fortress put up one of most impressive displays, proving not only an effective carrier of firepower in which the plane delivered over a 3rd of the ordnance dropped by the allies in Europe and much of the ordnance dropped in the Pacific, but an astoundingly tough plane. Pilots and crews soon learned that the B-17s, which flew tens of thousands of missions under heavy anti-aircraft and fighter-plane pressure, could take extraordinary damage and still get home.
During the war years, the B-17s proved time and time again just what a wonderful plane they were. While they may not have brought their entire crew home every time they returned, they came home with part of them even with parts of the nose, propellers, and wings missing…and even with a tail that was hanging on by a thread. Of course, if the wing was torn completely off or the plane took a hit that ripped it in half, it did go down, but that is to be expected, as was the case with B-17G-15-BO “Wee Willie,” 322d BS, 91st BG, after direct flak hit on her 128th mission.
Still, the condition in which some of these planes came home would have shocked the builder altogether, if you ask me. I have looked at the pictures of these damaged planes, and I don’t know how they stayed in flight. The “All American,” with the 97th Bomber Group, made without a doubt, the most astonishing return. The plane had a huge gash in it’s tail section from a collision with an enemy fighter, whose wing sliced almost completely through the fuselage. The tail gunner was trapped at the rear of the plane because the floor connecting his section to the rest of the plane was gone. The plane was piloted by Lieutenant Kendrick Bragg, who flew 90 minutes back to base with the tail barely hanging on. One crew member said that the tail wagged like a dog’s tail. The pilot, proceeded to drop his bombs, and then made a U-turn taking the plane in a wide turn over 70 miles, so as not to stress the tail. When the plane landed and came to a complete stop, the tail finally broke off. Now that is one tough plane!!
We all look for firsts in things, like first steps, first words, first man in space, first man on the moon, and in this case, the first around the world flight of a jet engine. You would expect that it might be some new jet, designed by an aviation expert, and you would be right, but the flight in question happened on January 16, 1957. The plans were three Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses. This was not just a flight for the purpose of setting a record, but rather it was a flight designed to prove a very important point. The operation was called Operation Power Flite…I’m not sure why flight was spelled flite. The planes made the trip around the world in 45 hours and 19 minutes, using in-flight refueling so that they could stay aloft for the entire journey. The mission was intended to demonstrate that the United States had the ability to drop a hydrogen bomb anywhere in the world. Led by Major General Archie J. Old, Jr. as flight commander, five B-52B aircraft of the 93rd Bombardment Wing of the 15th Air Force took off from Castle Air Force Base in California on January 16, 1957, at 1:00 PM, with two of the planes flying as spares. Old was aboard Lucky Lady III (serial number which was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James H. Morris, who had flown as the co-pilot aboard the Lucky Lady II when it made the world’s first non-stop circumnavigation in 1949. Heading east, one of the planes was unable to refuel successfully from a Boeing KC-97 Stratofreighter and was forced to land at Goose Bay Air Base in Labrador. The second spare refueled with the rest of the planes over Casablanca, Morocco and then split off as planned to land at RAF Brize Norton in England.
After a mid-air refueling rendezvous over Saudi Arabia, the planes followed the coast of India to Sri Lanka and then made a simulated bombing drop south of the Malay Peninsula before heading towards the next air refueling rendezvous over Manila and Guam. The three planes continued across the Pacific Ocean and landed at March Air Force Base near Riverside, California on January 18 after flying for a total of 45 hours and 19 minutes, with the lead plane landing at 10:19 AM and the other two planes following each other separated by 80 seconds. The 24,325 miles flight was completed at an average speed of 525 miles per hour and was completed in less than half the time required by Lucky Lady II when it made the first non-stop circumnavigation in 1949. General Curtis LeMay was among the 1,000 on hand to greet the three planes, and he awarded all 27 crew members the Distinguished Flying Cross. Though Old called the flight “a routine training mission,” the Air Force emphasized that the mission demonstrated its “capability to drop a hydrogen bomb anywhere in the world.” The flight was in reality, a warning to hostile nations, that the United States was capable of dropping a bomb anywhere in the world, and it would be for the best if these nations did not provoke the United States.
When we think of Nazi Germany, Hitler always comes to mind. We all know that he was an insane, murderous dictator, and that the people of Germany were afraid to stand up to him and his army. We know that he hated the Jewish people, even though he was part Jewish, and that later he also hated the gypsies. His hatred grew so strong that he enslaved and killed many thousands of these people, for no crime other than that they were Jewish or gypsies. During the years of Hitler’s reign, there were those who followed him because they agreed with him, those who just weren’t sure what they believed, and those who disagreed, but dared not oppose him. Children were often taken from their families and raised to be good Nazis. I’m sure this added to the number of people who agreed with Hitler, because it is a well know fact that children learn what they live.
Nevertheless, while many people think that all the German people agreed with Hitler’s ways, but in reality, that was not the case. As World War II started to turn against the Germans, and Hitler’s atrocities grew, growing numbers of Germans, both military and civilian…began conspiring to assassinate their leader. It was assumed that the masses were unlikely to turn on the man in whose hands they had placed their lives and future. That said, they knew that it was up to men close to Hitler…German officers, to remove him. Leadership of the plot fell to Claus von Stauffenberg, newly promoted to colonel and chief of staff to the commander of the army reserve. His position gave him access to Hitler’s headquarters at Berchtesgaden and Rustenburg.
Stauffenberg had served in the German army since 1926. He was a staff officer in the campaign against the Soviet Union. He became disgusted at his fellow countrymen’s vicious treatment of Jews and Soviet prisoners. He requested to be transferred to North Africa, where he lost his left eye, right hand, and two fingers of his left hand. After recovering from his injuries, Stauffenberg became determined to see Hitler removed from power by any means necessary. He traveled to Berchtesgaden on July 3 and met with a fellow army officer, Major General Helmuth Stieff, who gave him a bomb with a silent fuse that was small enough to be hidden in a briefcase. On July 11, 1944, Stauffenberg was summoned to Berchtesgaden to report to Hitler on the current military situation. He planned to use the bomb on July 15, but at the last minute, Hitler was called away to his headquarters at Rustenburg, in East Prussia. Stauffenberg was asked to follow him there. On July 16, a meeting took place between Stauffenberg and Colonel Caesar von Hofacker, who was another conspirator, in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee. Hofacker informed Stauffenberg that German defenses had collapsed at Normandy, and the tide had turned against them in the West. The assassination attempt was postponed until July 20, at Rustenburg. In the end, it wasn’t an assassin’s bomb that ended Hitler’s reign, but rather his own hands. Nevertheless, it wasn’t because the German people wanted him to continue to be their leader, because they definitely did not.
For most of us, taking a fall, of any kind is no fun. Taking a fall off of a one story roof is terrifying, and if we were to fall from a two story building, we might not expect to live through it. For Serbian flight attendant, Vesna Vulovic a two story fall is like stubbing her toe. On January 26, 1972, while she was working on JAT Flight 367, a terrorist bomb exploded on the plane. Vesna found herself in a freefall without a parachute at an altitude of 33,333 feet. Vulovic, who was just 22 years old, and thought she had landed a wonderful career that would allow her to travel to exotic places. Never in a million years did she imagine that her career would end this way.
Flight 367 was flying over Srbská Kamenice in Czechoslovakia, which is now part of the Czech Republic. She had not been scheduled to be on that flight, but she had been mixed up with another flight attendant who was also named Vesna. I’m sure she wished she had not been as she was falling through the air that awful day in 1972. While falling 33,333 feet, a person has a good bit of time to think about what they wished they had done, or not done. And at 22, I’m sure there were many things she had hoped to accomplish in her lifetime, and now those things could never happen.
The official report of the Czechoslovak investigation commission, which was handed over to the ICAO on May 7, 1974, stated that there had been an explosion in the front baggage compartment of the plane. The Czechoslovak secret service, which was leading the investigation, presented parts of an alarm clock ten days after the crash which they claimed came from a bomb. The report concluded that a bomb brought down Flight 367. That morning, an anonymous man called the newspaper Kvällsposten published in Malmö, Sweden, claiming, in broken Swedish, that he was a Croat and member of a nationalist group that placed the bomb on the plane. Shortly after the phone call, the Yugoslav government blamed the Ustaše. According to the official report the explosion tore the McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 to pieces in mid-air. Vulovic was the only survivor.
Vulovic suffered a fractured skull, three broken vertebrae, one of which was crushed completely, and that left her temporarily paralyzed from the waist down, and two broken legs. She was in a coma for 27 days. In an interview, she commented that according to the man who found her, “…I was in the middle part of the plane. I was found with my head down and my colleague on top of me. One part of my body with my leg was in the plane and my head was out of the plane. A catering trolley was pinned against my spine and kept me in the plane. The man who found her said she was lucky. He was in the German Army as a medic during World War II. He knew how to treat trauma. The medic is identified as Bruno Henke. Vulovic continued working for JAT Airways at a desk job following a full recovery from her injuries. She regained the use of her legs and continued to fly sporadically. She claimed she had no fear of flying, which she attributed to her loss of memory of the crash, and she even enjoyed watching movies with plane crashes. She was considered a national heroine throughout the former Yugoslavia and was awarded the Guinness Record title by Paul McCartney at a ceremony in 1985. As to becoming the world record freefall holder, Vesna comments, “I am like a cat, I have had nine lives.”
Every time I research one of the weapons used in war, I am more and more stunned by the hatred that brings the need to destroy one another. During World War II, Hitler continuously created…or rather had his scientists create newer, more powerful, and more devastating bombs. His V-1 missile, also known as the V-1 flying bomb, or in German: Vergeltungswaffe 1, meaning “Vengeance Weapon 1” became known to the Allies as the buzz bomb, or doodlebug. In Germany it was known as Kirschkern, or cherrystone, and as Maikäfer or maybug. It was an early cruise missile, and also the first production aircraft to use a pulsejet for power.
The V-1 was developed at Peenemünde Army Research Center by the Nazi German Luftwaffe during World War II. During initial development it was known by the codename “Cherry Stone.” It was first of the so-called “Vengeance weapons” (V-weapons or Vergeltungswaffen) series designed for terror bombing of London. As one of my readers, Greg (sorry, I don’t know his last name) pointed out to me, it was one of the V weapons…the V-3 to be exact that would ultimately cause the death of Joseph Kennedy, but that is a story for another day. The range of the V-1 missile was limited, and so the thousands of V-1 missiles launched into England were fired from launch facilities along the French (Pas-de-Calais) and Dutch coasts. The first V-1 was launched at London on 13 June 1944, one week after, and actually prompted by the successful Allied landings in Europe. At its peak, more than one hundred V-1s a day were fired at south-east England, 9,521 in total, decreasing in number as sites were overrun until October 1944, when the last V-1 site in range of Britain was overrun by Allied forces. After this, the V-1s were directed at the port of Antwerp and other targets in Belgium, with 2,448 V-1s being launched. The attacks stopped only a month before the war in Europe ended, when the last launch site in the Low Countries was overrun on March 29, 1945.
It took a V-1 about 15 minutes to travel from its launch pad in Calais, France to the heart of London…a distance of nearly 95 miles. Nearly 10,000 V-1s were launched from sites in Northern France over an 80 day period beginning in June 1944. Their targets included London, as well as other cities in southern England. At the peak of the bombing, more than 100 rockets were hitting Britain daily. Casualties climbed to 22,000 people, with more than 6,000 of them fatalities. Hitler hoped his new weapons would crush British morale, bringing surrender. More V-1s would later be fired from inside Germany itself at Liege and the port of Antwerp. Hitler had underestimated the British, however. The British operated an arrangement of air defenses, including anti-aircraft guns and fighter aircraft, to intercept the bombs before they reached their targets as part of Operation Crossbow, while the launch sites and underground V-1 storage depots were targets of strategic bombings.