Autumn 1944, and London was under attack from space. Hitler’s ‘vengeance’ rocket, the V-2, was the world’s first ballistic missile, and the first man-made object to make a sub-orbital spaceflight. Over 1400 were launched at Britain, with more than 500 striking London. Each hit caused devastation. The 13 tonne rocket impacted at over 3000 miles per hour. There was no warning; the missile descended faster than the speed of sound and survivors would only hear the approach and sonic booms after the blast.
Left: Occasionally, craters are still visible, as here on Leyton Marsh. Right: Often, whole blocks were obliterated, as can still be seen in this aerial image of Brockley.
It took half a year for Allied forces to neutralise the threat. In that time, some 9000 Londoners lost their lives to the V-2. As with the Blitz, South and East London took the brunt of the onslaught, with Woolwich, Ilford, Barking, Greenwich and West Ham each receiving over 20 hits. Some did make it into the central areas, however. V-2 explosions devastated Selfridges, Speakers’ Corner and Holborn. That isolated Caffe Nero near the mural on Tottenham Court Road stands on the still-undeveloped site of a blast that killed nine. More seriously, 110 people were slaughtered at Farringdon when a rocket hit a packed market building on 8 March 1945. The worst death toll of all came on 25 November 1944, when 168 people lost their lives after a direct hit on Woolworths in New Cross.
These famous tragedies are well documented, but over 500 rocket strikes, many with significant death toll, remain obscure. We’ve mapped out some of the impact sites above, with more to follow when we can access further information. Make sure you zoom in and check satellite view. Commonly, an area hit by a V-2 is now covered with a car park or 1960s housing estate. These areas are usually devoid of mature trees, and still stand out over 60 years on.
Notes on data sources
Records for the area then-governed by the London County Council (LCC) are most readily available thanks to Flickr uploads of war damage maps by Yersinia (see also the London at War group). Further out, we’ve used various web sites, books and eye-witness accounts to plot additional impacts. Least information is available for those eastern boroughs mentioned above that were most badly hit. If you have any information about V-2 strikes in these (or other) areas, let us know in the comments.