A wheat field, seen from Kent Gate Way, Addington, Croydon – a stone’s throw from Layhams Farm (see below). The area is closer to suburbia than this view suggests; the New Addington housing estate is just beyond the horizon & if you continue NE along Kent Gate Way (left of the picture) the suburbs of Bromley are about a mile away.
In early September 1944 the German V1 launching units evacuated France and the threat to London from the flying bomb was greatly diminished – if not quite at an end. However, 8th September marked the start of another bombardment (lasting until the end of March 1945) as two V2 long-range rockets fell to earth – one in Chiswick, the other in a wood near Epping.
If the V1 struck like a tornado, the V2 was more like a mini earthquake, slamming into the ground at speeds in excess of 3,000 miles an hour. The damage caused by the two weapons was not dissimilar (they both carried about the same weight of explosive), except that the fall of a V2 usually resulted in greater damage at the point of impact, including a large crater with considerably more damage to gas and water mains (whereas a V1 typically left only a shallow crater, but caused wider blast damage). However, the rocket tended to cause more casualties, about twice as many fatalities. In terms of its psychological effect on Londoners the rocket appeared like a bolt from the blue and so did not provoke the same fear and tension that preceded the fall of a flying bomb; there was no air raid siren, no sound of its approach; you simply did not know it was coming. Londoners were reported to be stoic as they went about their day-to-day lives in the knowledge that at any time, day or night, they might fall prey to Hitler’s ‘Wonder Weapon’.
The V2 attack turned out to be much less heavy than the V1 raids. On average only 18 rockets reached Greater London each week (peaking at around 27 p/w between January and March 1945), as opposed to the 200 flying bombs that fell weekly during the peak of the raids in June and July 1944.
For two months the UK Government decided to conceal the fact that London was under rocket attack, in an attempt to prevent any useful information regarding its performance from reaching the Germans. At one point officials blamed the explosions on faulty gas mains. Surprisingly, for a regime usually quick to exploit the dark art of propaganda, it was not until 8th November that the Nazi’s announced in a radio broadcast that ‘V2′ was being used against London (possibly because they were unsure where the rockets were falling). Churchill responded two days later with a statement in the House of Commons acknowledging the capital was under fire from a long-range rocket, but playing down its effectiveness and predicting Allied armies would overrun the launch sites in due course. In reality the existence of the rocket was already common knowledge and early on it had been nicknamed flying gas main.
The rocket was so fast that the roar of its arrival was heard moments after it had already hit the ground and exploded. It was, however, prone to failure: nearly 10% either broke up, or exploded in the air. (By comparison the V1 flying bomb was vastly cheaper, simpler and mechanically much more reliable, except by the end of August 1944 it had become almost completely neutralised by the R.A.F. and the guns of Anti-Aircraft Command).
Once it was launched the V2 was unstoppable (by external forces, at least), but it turned out to be less accurate than the V1. Its mean point of impact (i.e. the average position when all its impacts are taken into account) was mostly around the boundary of London and Essex (see map). As a result many rockets fell in rural areas – at least 25 on London’s farms. These incidents caused a handful of serious injuries along with some minor casualties, but no fatalities were recorded – a very different outcome to those occurring in urban areas. Other open spaces to avoid in London during this period
included golf courses (10 rocket incidents), the Lee Valley reservoirs (5 known incidents) and the capital’s parks (13). In all, around 10% of rockets fell where they could do less harm or damage.
Although most V2s fell short in the east, a number did manage to reach the outskirts of west London. This included a rocket that shattered the peace of Cain’s Farm in the tiny hamlet of Heath Row, on 16 September 1944, by which time this area was already in the process of being obliterated in advance of an even heavier assault (on the senses at least) from the air.
Below is a list of London’s Farms Under Fire between September 1944 and March 1945:
Andrews’ Nurseries | Top of Dawes Hill, on open ground. Sewardstone Rd, Waltham, Waltham Holy Cross. (9.3.45 at 13.52) – V2 long-range rocket
Avery Hill Farm | On open ground, Coalpits Wood, adjacent to farm, Crown Woods Way, Eltham, Woolwich. (8.3.45 at 01.37) – V2 long-range rocket
Big Bush Farm | Salmon St, Kingsbury, Wembley. (16.9.44 at 08.31) – V2 long-range rocket
Cain’s Farm | Opposite farm. Cain’s Lane, Heathrow, Yiewsley.(16.9.44 at 10.29) – V2 long-range rocket
Claverhambury Farm, ‘The Kennels’ | Fell on open ground. Claverhambury Rd, Waltham Abbey, Waltham Holy Cross. (28.3.45 at 07.55) – V1 flying bomb
Coldharbour Farm | Airburst, Coldharbour Farm area. Green Lane, New Eltham, Woolwich. (3.3.45 at 03.50) – V2 long-range rocket
Cooks Farm | Fell in allotments. Old Park Rd, Plumstead, Woolwich. (5.3.45 at 20.05) – V2 long-range rocket
Coombe Farm | Fell in second field W of Coombe Farm, Lloyd Park, Sandilands, Croydon. (26.1.45 at 18.07) – V2 long-range rocket
Copped Hall Estate | In farmland, south of Spratt’s Hedgerow Wood, Waltham Abbey, Waltham Holy Cross. (23.2.45 at 01.04) – V2 long-range rocket
Crouch Farm | Fell in orchard. Exploded on impact with trees. Crockenhill Rd, Crockenhill, Orpington. (11.9.44 at 09.10) – V2 long-range rocket
Cuckoo Hall Farm | Bomb fell in allotments, NW of Cuckoo Hall farmhouse. Cuckoo Hall Lane, Edmonton. (10.1.45 at 00.28) – V2 long-range rocket
Friern Hospital Farm | Bomb fell in field. Pinkham Way, New Southgate, Friern Barnet. (22.1.45 at 12.20) – V2 long-range rocket
Grandfield’s Nurseries | Fell in nurseries. West Common Rd, Hayes, Bromley. (9.2.45 at 17.25) – V2 long-range rocket
Heathfield Nursery | Exploded on farmland. Galley Hill Rd, Waltham Abbey, Waltham Holy Cross. (20.2.45 at 13.37) – V2 long-range rocket
High Cannons Estate | Fell in field, NE of Buckettsland Farm, Buckettsland Lane, Shenley, Elstree. (26.1.45 at 06.15) – V2 long-range rocket
Hockenden Farm | Fell in ploughed field. Hockenden Lane, Swanley, Chislehurst. (12.12.44 at 17.59) – V2 long-range rocket
Holly Hill Farm | Open farmland. The Ridgeway, Botany Bay, Enfield.(24.1.45 at 10.50) – V2 long-range rocket
Home Farm (“Old Farm”) | Fell in open ground. Old Park Ride, Waltham Cross, Cheshunt. (7.1.45 at 15.38) – V2 long-range rocket
Hostye Farm | On farm, Cudham Lane, Cudham, Orpington. (27.3.45 at 05.25) – V1 flying bomb
Jackson & Bryant’s Nurseries | On farmland, Whitewebbs Rd, Crews Hill, Enfield. (5.3.45 at 12.32) – V1 flying bomb
Layhams Farm | Exploded among trees. Layhams Rd, Keston, Orpington. (12.9.44 at 08.52) – V2 long-range rocket
Lusted Hall Farm | Fell in open country, Hesiers Hill & Beddlestead Lane, Tatsfield, Orpington. (12.1.45 at 22.15) – V2 long-range rocket
Myrtle Farm | On open ground. Colyers Lane, Crayford. (6.12.44 at 07.15) – V2 long-range rocket
Old Park Farm | Fell in South Osiers Wood, 400 yds south of farm, Old Park Ride, Theobalds Park, Cheshunt. (27.3.45 at 03.02) – V2 long-range rocket
St Lawrence Farm | Bomb fell in field, E of farm, Hammondstreet Rd, Cheshunt. (7.10.44 at 20.09) – V1 Flying bomb
Sheepcote Farm | Fell in ploughed field south of Hockenden Wood, Crockenhill, Orpington. (6.3.44 at 04.35) – V2 long-range rocket
Shenley Lodge (land army hostel) | On open ground, Ridge Hill, Shenley, Elstree. (30.10.44 at 20.45) – V2 long-range rocket
Spring Farm | Fell in field near Dysons Osiers, Off Old Park Ride, Waltham Cross, Cheshunt. Damage to Sloeman’s farm. (13.2.45 at 06.18) – V2 long-range rocket
Woodgreen Farm | Bomb fell in field. Old Park Ride, Goffs Oak, Cheshunt. (23.2.45 at 11.25) – V2 long-range rocket
For details of where rockets were launched and where many of them fell visit this site: http://www.v2rocket.com/start/deployment/timeline.html
CAB 121/215, Cabinet War Papers, 2 February to 28 March 1945, HO 198/106 & HO 198/106 Long Range Rocket Bomb Census (The National Archives)
LCC/FB/WAR/3/11 (London County Council, Fire Brigade), Final situation reports on Long-range rockets, Sep 44 – Mar 45 (London Metropolitan Archives)
Hitler’s Rockets by Norman Longmate