Skip to content

80 Years Since Germany Launched the First V-1 Missile Attack on Britain

  • Home
  • Posts
  • 80 Years Since Germany Launched the First V-1 Missile Attack on Britain
Authored by Beth Potter
Published on 13th June, 2024 5 min read

80 Years Since Germany Launched the First V-1 Missile Attack on Britain

On this day (13/06/2024) 80 years ago, Nazi Germany launched the first V-1 missile attack on Britain. It landed and exploded on Grove Road in Bow, east London, in the early morning of 13 June, killing six people and injuring at least a further 30.[1] These were the first casualties of the German Vergeltungswaffen or “revenge weapons”, deployed exactly a week after D-Day in retaliation for the Allied “Operation Overlord”.

Also known as “doodlebugs”, “flying bombs”, or “buzz bombs” due to the distinctive and ominous sound that they made when flying overhead, V-1 rockets were winged bombs powered by jet engines. Once launched, the missile flew without a pilot until its fuel ran out, when it would crash to the ground and blow up. The population of London had become used to aerial bombing attacks during “the Blitz” (1940–1941), but many reported finding the V-1 missiles more psychologically distressing due to the apparently random destruction they caused. Civilians learnt to listen for the bombs’ motors to cut out and would subsequently run for cover.[2]

The inaccuracy of V-1 technology and the indiscriminate attacks on civilians it inflicted generated outrage in the British press. One newspaper stated that the crewless missiles provided “no military advantage”, and were “simply the act of a mad beast which seeks to destroy everything within reach.”[3] The intention of the German command was to deploy “revenge weapons” in order to terrorise British civilians and crush public morale. Yet British newspapers adopted a defiant tone, recasting civilian bombings as acts of desperation by a struggling Nazi military. For example, the Gloucestershire Echo reported that the missiles had “only a nuisance value”.[4] “If the motive of the Nazi High Command in introducing this new form of terror was to destroy British morale, it will have to think again,” it stated; “the morale of the British public has never been stronger than it is today”.[4] 

Though the press perhaps overstated the morale-boosting effect of the doodlebug attacks in order to foster confidence among the British public, the Allied forces were successful in taking down V-1 missiles and disrupting Nazi attacks. The British military established a series of air defences to combat V-1 missiles, including barrage balloons, fighter aircraft, and anti-aircraft guns, which would intercept the missiles before they dropped from the sky. Launch sites and storage depots on the Nazi-occupied French and Dutch coastlines were also bombed by the Allied forces. These defensive measures were expensive, but effective. The last V-1 site within range of Britain was overrun by the Allies in October 1944. From then on, the missiles were directed towards Belgium, with the German military targeting the port of Antwerp in particular.

The destruction wrought by V-1 missiles in the southeast of England was therefore less severe than “the Blitz”. In fact, more slave labourers died making the V-weapons than there were civilians killed in V-1 attacks.[5] But the V-1’s inauguration of crewless missile design casts a long and dark shadow over twentieth and twenty first century military history. In an otherwise light and satirical take on the doodlebug, a writer in the July 1944 edition of The Sketch—published just a month after the first deployment of the V-1 missile—entered into a moment of reflection, offering a prescient commentary on what has now become the default weapon of contemporary militarised nation states. “War by remote control—man destroyed by the manless machine,” he wrote: “no, I do not think it adds to the glories of the Brave New World.”[6]

[1] Digitised maps of V-1 and V-2 bomb damage from the London Metropolitan Archives are available at 

[2] For more contemporary eye-witness accounts of V-1 attacks, see Peter Haining, The Flying Bomb War: Contemporary Eyewitness Accounts of the German V-1 and V-2 Raids on Britain, 1942–1945 (Robson Books, 2002). 

[3] “The Flying Bombs”, Alderley & Wilmslow Observer, 30 June 1944, p. 6, available at

[4] “Flying Bombs”, Gloucestershire Echo, 20 June 1944, p. 3, available at

[5] 43,000 people are estimated to have died in “the Blitz” of 1940–1941, while there were 5,475 civilian casualties from V-1 missiles recorded between June and October 1944. Statistics from The National Archives, available at Statistics of slave labourer deaths from the Imperial War Museum are available at

[6] British Online Archives, The Sketch, 1893–1958, Alan Kemp, “Motley Notes”, available at, image 2. 

Authored by Beth Potter

Beth Potter

Beth Potter is a PhD student in English and History at King's College London. Her research focuses on popular performance, especially circus, early television, and film. She also has keen interests in the politics of the archive and British imperialism; her work on circus and empire has been published in Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film. Beth is currently on a PhD placement at the British Online Archives funded by the London Arts and Humanities Partnership/AHRC.

Share this article

Notable Days


The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

Get Social

Back to Top