The period between June and August 1944, was like nothing experienced before or since. It has often been called the
"Doodlebug Summer"   People soon got used to the strange sound of the V1's clattering across the sky. The rasping,grating
noise was caused by the pulse jet engine which powered the missile. They soon also realised that if this noise continued and
went away in the distance that they were safe. However,if the engine cut out nearby then there was about 15 seconds
before the missile came crashing down
Doodlebug Summer
The specification of the V1's system was  after a certain amount of kilometres had been flown (as detected by a small
windmill in the nose) the flaps were pushed down so that the missile would go into a power dive. What the designers did not
reckon with was that by doing this all the fuel went to one end of the tank causing fuel starvation and the engine cut out. This
caused two results  for Londoner's one positive and one negative. Firstly,  they soon learned that when the engine cut out
they had 15 seconds to take shelter wherever they could. Whilst this does not sound very long it would have undoubtedly
saved lives as people dived into an air raid shelter or under a sturdy table . The other effect was less positive though. Because
the now engineless V1 landed after a shallow glide,rather than a power dive, it impacted on the surface not in a crater. This
meant that the blast wave of the explosion was Able to travel over a further distance. This was often up to 400 yards in each
directions (a total blast area diameter of 1/2 mile.) In some cases, for example at
Lewisham Market  it is reported that the
blast covered 600 yards in each direction. (later missiles carried a larger warhead made of more powerful explosive and it
would seem likely that Lewisham suffered from one of these)
People left London in their thousands both through official and unofficial evacuation schemes. By mid July 15,000 a day
were leaving the terminal stations on packed trains. Some reports describe a situation at the main stations of near panic as
people struggled to get tickets and onto the over flowing trains. It is variously reported that somewhere between 1.5 and 2
million people fled the capital during this period. This created and eerie and empty feeling in many parts. Children disappeared
from the streets and food stuff which had been in short supply became easier to get again. This evacuation must have saved
many many lives.
It was a cold dank summer and some of the prevailing impressions of the period are the grey, the Doodlebugs scuttling along
in and out of the heavy clouds. The smell of powdered brick dust and plaster filling the air. Mingling with this the smell of
crushed leaves stripped from trees by the blast waves. In some places spring arrived twice and trees were reported blossoming
and leafing again later in the summer due to their confusion at the conditions. Underfoot the crunch of broken glass and slates
from millions upon millions of windows and roof. The  day and night punctuated with the Doodlebugs coming
over,sometimes in flights of 10 or more at a time , the ear splitting noise of the engines and then the periodic explosion. Going
to work and seeing familiar suburban streets ripped apart,familiar houses,churches,shops  and buildings destroyed
The V1's  had a very negative effect  on morale. There had been a brief period of elation after D day,until the people realised
that the war was still not going to be over quickly. When death and destruction started to fall from the skies again it was a
huge strain on Londoners. They were tired after five years of war and this was the last straw. They  became tense and
nervous and exhausted through lack of sleep. They were frequently awoken as the sirens kept going off or by the ack ack
guns trying to shoot down the V1's. Many took to sheltering again. The tube system was hugely popular and also from mid
July a number of
deep level shelters were opened along the alignment of the Northern Line. (the entrances can still be seen
today at a number of  sites including Stockwell)
The back garden Anderson shelter also became a frequent refuge and bed for many. They were to save countless lives and
stood up incredibly well to the V1 blast. The more recent Morrison Shelter which resembled a large table with a steel top also
gave great protection
The human tragedy was enormous. appx 8938 lost their lives in Doodlebug summer and the V2 attacks. 10's of thousand
were injured and maimed. Countless people suffered,terrible injuries, the loss of loved ones,their home or their treasured
During research I came across one incident completely by chance which painfully illustrates the human suffering.
On the evening of the 18th July 1944 a Doodlebug dived through the open doors of
ElmersEnd bus garage in Beckenham. It
exploded among the buses killing 17 people. One of these was a 17 year old called Sydney Steer. It is not recorded if he was
a London Transport staff member but as many of the casualties  were, it seems likely.
His family must have been devastated at the loss of a young life but on the 2nd August a further tragedy was to happen. His
father Herbert Steer was at a
restaurant at Clockhouse in Beckenham which was hit by a V1 at 13.02 when it was packed
with diners. 44 were to die including Herbert Steer. It was one of the worst tragedies in South London . It is hard to imagine
the effect that this double loss must have had on his wife for the rest of her life.
This is an awful illustration of the futility and tragedy of the V weapon attacks
Gypsy Road Welling which received 2 V1 hits during
Doodlebug Summer
Next : Read about the V2
Next : Read about the V2