There were a number of V2 rocket bombings in Bermondsey, the best known of which are the two at Southwark Park Road railway bridge (John Bull Arch) and one was at Parkers Row, close to Dockhead Fire Station when the Priest’s Home at Most Holy Trinity church was hit. Albert Hemming was awarded a George Cross for his rescue work – see Dockhead Bravery.
The V2 bombs, launched from the occupied Netherlands and Germany, were the first ballistic missiles, their route taking them to the edge of space before they dropped on to their target at supersonic speed – faster than the speed of sound.
Because the travelled faster than the speed of sound, the explosion happened before the noise of them approaching was heard.
The rockets had basic guidance system to take them to the target, but were nowhere near as accurate as today’s missiles and bombs that use GPS and lasers to guide them. Most of the rockets landed and exploded in residential areas were people lived.
Because of their speed, there was no defence against a rocket with the defensive weapons of World War Two. Anti-aircraft guns that could shoot down an aircraft travelling at 350mph could not work fast enough to shoot down a missile travelling at a maximum speed of 3,580mph – over tens times as quick. The only defence was to destroy the missiles before they were launched.
The rockets carried a ton of explosive (equivalent to a small car’s weight) which devastated everything nearby when it exploded as can be seen in the picture below from Whitechapel.
The attacks only stopped as the Allied armies advanced East across Europe and captured the launch sites.
The V2 was rocket was designed by Wernher von Braun, the same man who would, many years later, design the Saturn V rocket for the Americans that took them to the moon. After World War Two many German engineers and scientists were taken out of Germany by the Americans and Soviets to work in their arms industries. As part of Operation Paperclip, the Americans alone took 1600 Germans.
The production of V2 rockets was by enslaved workers who had no choice. More workers died in the brutal factories making the rockets for the Germans than were actually killed by the rockets when they exploded at their targets.