The 'V' came from the German word Vergeltungswaffen, meaning
weapons of reprisal. The V-1 was developed by German scientists at the
Peenemünde research facility on the Baltic Sea, under the direction
of Wernher von Braun and Walter Dornberger.
They were nicknamed "buzz bombs" by the British due to the
distinct buzzing sound made by the pulse-jet engines powering the bombs,
which overall resembled a small aircraft. Other British nicknames included
"doodlebugs" and "flying bombs." Each V-1 was launched
from a short length catapult then climbed to about 3,000 feet at speeds
up to 350 miles per hour.
As the V-1 approached its target, the buzzing noise could be heard by
persons on the ground. At a preset distance, the engine would suddenly
cut out and there would be momentary silence as the bomb plunged toward
the ground, followed by an explosion of the 1,870 pound warhead.
The first V-1s were launched against London on June 13, 1944, a week
after the D-Day landings. During the first V-1 bombing campaign, up to
100 V-1s fell every hour on London. Over an 80 day period, more than 6,000
persons were killed, with over 17,000 injured and a million buildings wrecked
Unlike conventional German aircraft bombing raids, V-1 attacks occurred
around the clock in all types of weather, striking indiscriminately, causing
suspense and terror among the population of London and parts of Kent and
Prime Minister Winston Churchill recalled, "One landed near my
home at Westerham, killing, by cruel mischance, twenty-two homeless children
and five grownups collected in a refuge made for them in the woods."
According to German records, 8,564 were launched against England as
well as the port of Antwerp, with about 57 percent actually reaching their
designated targets. The remainder failed as a result of antiaircraft guns,
barrage balloons, and interception by fighter planes.
Over 29,000 V-1 bombs were built, mainly through slave labor at a huge
underground factory near Nordhausen. Launch sites and production facilities
were specially targeted by Allied bombers during Operation Crossbow. In
those raids, nearly 2,000 Allied airmen were killed.
Eventually, British and American planes knocked out the majority of
the launching sites. By September of 1944, however, the Nazis introduced
the V-2 rocket, a liquid-fueled rocket that traveled at supersonic speeds
as high as 50 miles, then hurtled down toward its target at a speed of
nearly 4,000 miles per hour, smashing its 2,000 pound high explosive warhead
into the ground without warning. Unlike the V-1, the V-2 rockets could
not be intercepted. Over a thousand were fired at London.