Category Archives: Out Of London

Launch And Landing Sites Of The First V-2 On London

I was in the Hague for my last post, and before leaving I wanted to visit a site in a suburb of the Hague that has a very direct and tragic connection with London.

London had been under fire from V-1 flying bombs starting in June 1944 until October 1944 when the launch sites were captured as the allied forces progressed through France and Belgium.

In September 1944 a new weapon was first used against London. This was the V-2 rocket which had a much more flexible launch method than the V-1 and also longer range so launching against London was possible from the areas still held by German forces.

Although Allied forces were pressing up from the Belgium border, through Eindhoven and Nijmegen, the coastal west of the Netherlands was still under German control and the area around the Hague offered the ideal location to launch against London. The Hague had the rail connections to bring in the rockets and their fuel, and the suburbs of the Hague offered a large wooded area, crisscrossed by small roads which provided the perfect cover for mobile launches.

The V-2 was a highly sophisticated weapon. The supporting infrastructure allowed the rocket to be launched from a mobile launcher with fueling carried out on site along with final setting of the gyros that would guide the rocket to its destination. The speed of the rocket meant that it was almost impossible to destroy whilst in flight. The trajectory for the rocket was a parabola from the launch site up to the edge of space before descending at up to three times the speed of sound to the weapon’s target.

The following photo shows a V-2 rocket on a launch platform. Most photos of the V-2 show the black and white painted rocket, these were the test versions and the painted colour scheme ensured that any rotation of the rocket could be identified during flight. In use, the rockets did not have a colour scheme.

V-2

Black and white (CL 3405) V2 on launching platform Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205087580

Wassenaar is a suburb of the Hague, located to the north east of the city. It is a wooded area with small roads crossing the area, concealed under trees which also line the roads. Wassenaar was one of the main launch sites for V-2s and the first rockets against London were launched from Wassenaar’s roads.

Before leaving the Hague, I wanted to find the location of the first V-2 launch against London, so headed out on the short drive to Wassenaar.

The following map shows the city of the Hague. Follow the orange road (the N44) that runs from the Hague to the north east and you will find Wassenaar.

V-2

The following map extract shows Wassenaar in detail. The first launches against London took place on the evening of the 8th September 1944. There were two simultaneous launches at two different road junctions. These were ideal locations as road junctions offered a larger space for the rocket launcher and supporting vehicles as the rocket was fueled onsite. The map also shows the wooded nature of the site and that these were side roads – good concealment for the time needed to prepare and launch.

V-2

(The above two maps are  “© OpenStreetMap contributors”).

At around 6:35 pm on the evening of the 8th September 1944, the residents of Wassenaar heard a loud roaring noise and saw two objects rising above the trees, slowly at first before quickly gathering speed, then rushing skyward.

One was from the junction of three roads shown as point 1 in the above map. This is the junction of Lijsterlaan, Konijnenlaan and Koekoekslaan. This is the view of the junction as I walked up to the site:

V-2

Looking down one of the roads leading of from the junction shows the narrowness of the roads and the tree cover. It has not changed that much since the rockets were being launched here and shows how good the area was for concealment.

V-2

The original V-1 had to be launched from a fixed launching ramp. As well as the technological development of the rocket, other innovations with the V-2 were mobility where the complete system comprising a mobile launcher, fuel tankers (including liquid oxygen), launch and control system could drive up to a new location and launch within about two hours.

The following illustration shows a V-2 rocket in launch position on its mobile transport and launch platform:

V-2

The following photo shows a V-2 just after the initial launch. Two of these being launched almost simultaneously from the wooded side roads of Wassenaar must have been a frightening sight for the local residents.

V-2

Black and white (CL 3429) German photograph of a V2 rocket in the initial stage of its flight Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205087577

This part of Wassenaar is occupied by large houses and grounds. Reports from immediately after the launch tell of the road surface been scorched and melted, with trees being burnt for a few feet above ground level where flame from the rockets engines must have bounced of the road and been deflected onto the adjacent trees.

On the next day, the 9th September, the RAF started bombing Wassenaar. A cat and mouse game ensued with rockets, fuel and launch equipment being stored across the area and mobile launches taking place on a regular basis, and the RAF trying to locate and bomb any V-2 related infrastructure that could be found.

Another view of the road junction.

V-2

If you look at the patch of grass on the right, there is a white painted stone. Look to the upper right of the white stone, and just to the left of the tree is a small, wooden pillar.

The pillar records the junction as being the site of the first launch of a V-2 rocket on the 8th September 1944:

V-2

Soon after returning from the Netherlands, and on the 8th September 2018, I visited the site where the V-2 launched from Wassenaar landed – in Staveley Road, Chiswick where another pillar can be found recording that the first V-2 fell here. It had taken the rocket around 5 minutes to get from Wassenaar to Chiswick.

V-2

The view looking along the street from in front of the memorial pillar:

V-2

The memorial pillar is in front of a small electrical substation:

V-2

To the right of the pillar, mounted on the fence is an information panel which was unveiled by the Battlefields Trust and the Brentford and Chiswick Local History Society, on the same day that the pillar in Wassenaar was also unveiled.

V-2

The V-2 on Chiswick resulted in three deaths. Three year old Rosemary Clarke who lived at number 1 Staveley Road, Ada Harrison aged 68 of 3 Staveley Road and Sapper Bernard Browning, who was on leave, and on his way to Chiswick Station.

Destruction was considerable. The V-2 blew a crater 30 ft wide and 8 ft deep at the point of impact. The following panoramic photo from the Imperial War Museum archive shows the damage that a V-2 could inflict.

V-2

V1 AND V2 DAMAGE, 1944-45 (HU 66194) ‘Extensive damage caused by mystery explosion in Southern England.’ The photograph actually shows the site of the first V2 rocket impact on Britain, Staveley Road, Chiswick. Photograph taken 9 September 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205070209

There was a second V-2 rocket launched at the same time, a very short distance from the location described above. This V-2 was launched from the point marked 2 in the map, at the junction of Lijsterlaan and Schouwweg. This V-2 would land minutes later at Parndon Wood, near Epping. Due to the rural nature of this location there were no casualties.

The following photo shows the junction from where this second V-2 was launched:

V-2

From the 8th September onward, there was a continuous series of V-2 launches from Wassenaar and the Hague. The area was also used for storage of rockets and fuel, launching equipment and the German forces and command structure that would launch the rockets were also housed in the surroundings of Wassenaar and the Hague.

Allied planes flew many missions over the area trying to locate and destroy V-2 infrastructure. On the 3rd March 1945 a large force of bombers mounted an attack on the forested regions of the Hague, but due to navigation errors many of the bombs fell on the Bezuidenhout suburb resulting in a large loss of life in the Dutch population.

The Dutch population also suffered when rockets misfired, and also the disruption and treatment they suffered from living in and around a place that was used to store, transport, prepare and launch such an intensive rocket programme.

One of the locations where V-2 rockets were checked and prepared was the tram depot in Scheveningen, the coastal suburb of the Hague.

This is the view of the tram depot today:

V-2

There are historical posters around the streets commemorating the 200th anniversary of Scheveingen as a seaside resort. One of these posters shows the state of the tram depot in 1945:

V-2

The text states that after the liberation, it took some time for trams from the Hofplein line to return to Scheveningen-Kurhaus station and that the tram connection was finally reestablished in 1953.

On the 27th March 1945 the last V-2 was launched against London. It fell on Orpington in Kent resulting in the deaths of 23 people. Whilst the west of the Netherlands was still occupied, rail connection with the rest of Germany had been cut and the German rocket forces had already been withdrawn from the Hague in order to avoid capture of the personnel and their equipment.

From the first V-2 on the 8th of September to the last on the 27th March, a total of 3172 V-2 rockets were launched. Of these around 1358 fell on the greater London area.

London did not suffer as badly as Antwerp, An important port for the Allied forces allowing supplies to be delivered into Belgium rather than the French ports further south, around 1610 V-2 rockets were launched against Antwerp.

Other rockets landed in France, Maastricht in Holland and even in Remagen, Germany where the use of rockets were an attempt to try and disrupt US forces by targeting the Ludendorff Bridge across the Rhine. This was the first time that rockets had been used to attack a very specific target. Eleven rockets were fired at the bridge, however none hit their target, but American soldiers and German civilians were killed.

The V-2 campaign against London killed more than 6,000 people.

The rockets were constructed by slave labour and many tens of thousands died due to the appalling conditions in which they were held and laboured.

The impact of the V-1 and V-2 weapons was considerable on those forced to build them, the areas where they were launched and their targets.

Two pillars in two countries, roughly 205 miles apart provide a reminder of the devastation that these weapons would cause.

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Exploring Post War Netherlands – The Hague

Although by far the majority of my father’s photos are of London, he took his camera with him where ever he went, and in the late 1940s and early 1950s, along with some friends, he cycled across the UK, staying in Youth Hostels and taking photos along the way. I have already featured a number of these locations.

In 1952 he also traveled out to the Netherlands, cycling to a number of cities, both typical tourist destinations and also places that had featured significantly in the war. (I will use the Netherlands as the full name of the country, probably better known as Holland, although this is really only the name of the western province of the country).

Coincidences are strange. My father always wanted to return to the Netherlands and in 1989 my job transferred to the country, so along with my wife and daughter I moved out to live in the Hague for the next five years. It was a wonderful experience, and during this time my parents came to visit several times and we took them to visit the places my father had been to almost forty year earlier.

I knew that he had taken photos, but these photos had not been printed so it has been only in the last few years that I have scanned and seen the photos he took during his post war visit – I had not seen any of these when we lived in the country.

We recently decided to spend a week in the Netherlands this summer to visit the places where we use to live, and as my aim with this blog is to trace the locations of my father’s photos it was a perfect opportunity to track these down as well, now that they have been scanned, rather than hidden in negative boxes.

So, with apologies that this is not London, for the next few weeks I would like to take you on a journey across the Netherlands. Not just tracking down the locations of my father’s photos, but also to discover much about the history of the country, how a suburb of the Hague will forever have a tragic link with west London, how the Dutch commemorate the sacrifices of British and Polish forces, when the war came to Nijmegen, Arnhem and Oosterbeek, and how the bombing of Rotterdam during the German invasion of the country gave an indication of the destruction that would soon visit London.

On the way there are some fascinating individual stories, street photography, some wonderful architecture and architects, and for me, given the state of the world today, some very important lessons that should not be forgotten.

But before leaving, there was some important documentation to check. My father had just bought a new Leica camera from R.G. Lewis in High Holborn and the photographic press at the time was reporting on a number of confiscations of “expensive miniatures” by customs on return to the country. Leica cameras in the post war years could be purchased in Germany for much less than you would pay in the UK so documentary proof was needed that a camera had been purchased in the country. R.G. Lewis were able to provide assurance that the receipt provided sufficient documentation:

the Hague

With the right documentation to avoid any customs problems on return to the UK, it was time to get going.

From Tilbury to Rotterdam

To start, we need to get from London to the Netherlands. At the time, the easiest method was to take the train out to Tilbury, then catch the Batavier Line ship, Batavier II from Tilbury to the port of Rotterdam.

This is the route that my father took, when, along with two friends, they took their bikes with them from London. They traveled light, each with a bike and a saddlebag containing everything they needed for the trip.

The following photo from Britain from Above shows the passenger terminal building at Tilbury with the station platforms behind the terminal building. The much larger RMS Strathaird is docked rather than the smaller Batavier II.

the Hague

I would have loved to have seen some photos of the Tilbury terminal, the ship and the outbound voyage, however one of the limitations in the days of film cameras was the cost of film and the amount that could carried, so there are only a few photos.

The first is of the Red Sands fort in the Thames estuary. Built during the war as an anti-aircraft gun emplacement to defend London from aircraft approaching up the Thames, when my father took the following photo of the fort, it was still in use.

the Hague

In 2015 I was on the paddle steamer Waverley on a trip from central London out to the forts and took the following photo with the Shivering Sands fort and the Red sands fort in the distance.

the Hague

There are also a couple of grainy and distant photos of the Thames river bank as the Batavier II headed out into the north sea, but the first detailed photos are the arrival at the port of Rotterdam. This one from the bow of the Batavier II:

the Hague

The Batavier Line was a Dutch shipping line established in 1830 by the Netherlands Steamship Company, when a regular service was operated from the Port of London to Rotterdam. In 1895 the Batavier Line was sold to Wm. H. Müller and Co, and the Batavier name was retained and a number of new ships were ordered including the Batavier II (a replacement of a ship with the same name). The ship was delivered in 1921.

The Batavier II was the only ship of the Bataview Line that survived the war. Of the immediate pre-war Batavier ships, the Batavier V was seized by the invading German forces, but sunk by the Royal Navy in 1941. The Batavier III had also been seized and sunk off Norway in 1942 after hitting a mine whilst being used as a German troop carrier.

Only the Batavier II survived the war to reenter service on the Tilbury to Rotterdam route which survived until 1958 when Batavier ended their passenger services.

The following postcard shows the Batavier II. On the reverse of the card is written “Batavier Line, London to Rotterdam”. The above photo was taken from the front of the boat, just by the railings which can be seen in the postcard.

the Hague

The port of Rotterdam is one of Europe’s largest ports, as it was when these photos were taken with industries related to shipping lining the river for a considerable distance.

the Hague

There are no passenger services from London to Rotterdam today, however the alternative would be a train journey from Liverpool Street to Harwich and then the ferry service from Harwich to the Hook of Holland.

I am not sure where the ship docked in Rotterdam. It was not at the Hook of Holland as this terminal is located at the entrance to the port. My father’s photos show that the ship traveled further into central Rotterdam.

the Hague

When we travelled to the Netherlands this year we did not take the ferry, instead we travelled on the EuroTunnel shuttle service from Folkestone to Calais, then a drive up through France and Belgium, to arrive in Holland.

I suspect my father visited Rotterdam first, and this city will be the subject of one of the coming posts, For this Sunday’s post, it is a brief visit to:

The Hague

Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands whilst the Hague is the administrative centre. The city where the States General of the Netherlands (the country’s parliament) is located, along with the Supreme Court and the International Court of Justice.

As with the country as a whole, the Hague has a complex history. The origins of the city date back to the early 13th century, when Floris IV, the Count of Holland established a base in the area,

The city and what was to become the Netherlands has been through a series of occupations, consolidation and separation. The Spanish occupied the city during the eighty years war, the country was a client state of the First French Empire at the start of the 19th century, the country was combined with Belgium with separation only achieved in 1830, and the country was occupied by Germany during the second world war. As with the rest of the Netherlands, the Hague suffered terribly during the last war.

The country has also had a long trading history, at times in competition and also at war with England.

Whilst in the Hague, my father took some photos of the Binnenhof, the meeting place of the States General (the equivalent of London’s Palace of Westminster) and the official residence of the Prime Minister of the Netherlands.

Considering the function of the Binnenhof, access is open and the visitor is free to walk around. Whilst there are armed police around the site, there are no searches or restrictions to exploring the open areas and taking photos.

The main entrance into the Binnenhof complex:

the Hague

Once inside and standing in the central courtyard, I found the location of the first of my father’s photos:

the Hague

As probably to be expected of the seat of Government, there has been hardly any change. The main physical change is that the fountain in the above photo has been moved slightly to the left, so just outside of the photo of the same scene today.the Hague

I always find the small details fascinating in comparing the original photos with the scene today. Despite being almost 70 years apart, there is a mobile ice cream seller in almost exactly the same place:

the Hague

One side of the courtyard is taken up by the Ridderzaal, or Knight’s Hall.

the Hague

The origins of the Ridderzaal date back to the 13th century when Floris V built his first manorial hall within the area of land first developed by his grandfather. The Ridderzaal has been used for a multitude of purposes over the centuries, and today hosts the annual opening of the Dutch Parliament by King Willem-Alexander.

The Ridderzaal today, again with hardly a change:

the Hague

I am not sure of the significance of the clothes that this group were wearing.

the Hague

But again,. the scene is much the same today:

the Hague

The Binnenhof appears to have escaped any significant damage during the war, although this was not the same for the rest of the Hague. The population suffered considerably during occupation, and the Hague, along with much of western Holland was occupied until the closing months of the war. Supplies were cut and much of the population were close to starving. When I lived in the Hague, work colleagues told stories of the time which included tinned food being floated down the canals from liberated areas into the occupied.

There was also physical destruction to the Hague, not just from the occupation forces, but also from the Allied forces. The suburbs of the Hague were used for V2 rocket launches against Antwerp and London and the RAF tried to address this threat by bombing the facilities used to store the rocket fuel, the rockets and the mobile launch platforms, however one significant bombing raid missed the target resulting in hundreds of deaths among the local population.

In the Binnenhof courtyard is a rather impressive, neo-gothic fountain. Designed by the architect P.J.H Cuypers (who was also responsible for the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam), the fountain was in operation by 1885.

the Hague

The fountain today. Colour photography brings out the gilding of the fountain. It appears to have been relocated slightly at some point over the last 70 years.

the Hague

As the home of the Dutch Parliament, the Binnenhof has always had a symbolic importance to the Dutch population and the state. It was therefore used for rallies and ceremonies by the occupying forces not that many years before my father’s 1952 photos. The following photo is of the main courtyard with the fountain visible in the top left.

the Hague

And in front of the Ridderzaal:

the Hague

As mentioned earlier, the Dutch population suffered terribly during the war. Arthur Seyss-Inquart was the Reichskommissar of the Netherlands during the war. An Austrian and a fervent Nazi, he aggressively pursued the round up and deportation of Jews within the country. He was found guilty in the Nuremberg Trials and hanged shortly after. 

A very different ceremony was held in the Binnenhof courtyard in May 1945 following the liberation of the Netherlands by British and Canadian armed forces.

the Hague

Directly outside the Binnenhof is the Hofvijver, translated as Court Pond, although the word pond does not seem appropriate for this large expanse of water.

the Hague

The history of the Hofvijver can be traced back to the first manorial buildings here in the 13th century. It was originally a lake within the sandy landscape of the area (water is never far away in much of the Netherlands).

As part of the development of the Hofvijver, it was bounded by street and pedestrian areas on three sides with the Binnenhof on the fourth side to form a rectangular area of water, which from the sides looks remarkably shallow.

The scene has not really changed for centuries. This painting from the Dutch School, dated 1625 shows a similar view, although the Hofvijver today is not used for any form of boating.

the Hague

So if it looks much the same over almost 400 years, I would expect the views over the last 70 years to be much the same, and indeed they are:

the Hague

Apart from the expansion of high rise buildings in the background. The building on the left of both photos is the Mauritshuis, the home to a large collection from the golden age of Dutch art, and home to Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” – well worth a visit.

The small, circular building to the right of the Mauritshuis is known as the “Little Tower” and is the office of the Dutch Prime Minister.

the Hague

Another view along the Hofvijver:

the Hague

Although the lake that formed the Hofvijver dates from before the first buildings, the island in the middle is only about 300 years and of unknown original purpose.

the Hague

A close up view, with the Prime Minister’s office on the left:

the Hague

At the opposite end of the Hofvijver was a fountain:

the Hague

And a rather less impressive fountain can still be seen today:

the Hague

It is interesting to compare transport systems when visiting other cities and whilst the Hague is many times smaller than London, it does have a very impressive public transport system with a combination of buses and trams providing comprehensive coverage of the central city and surrounding suburbs and towns.

Trams navigate the central streets of the Hague and the pedestrian needs to keep a careful lookout for the large number of bikes as well as trams.

I was please to see the number 1 tram. This tram runs from the coastal suburb of Schvenenigen to the town of Delft. It was the tram I caught every day to and from work. The same model of tram is currently in use so these must be over 30 years old.

the Hague

However very new trams have been introduced on a number of routes.

the Hague

The public transport system is fast, efficient and reliable. A day card allowing travel on trams and buses across the Hague and the surrounding towns covered by the system costs the equivalent of £6 (and would be less, but given the current very depressed state of the Pound against the Euro),

My father only took a few photos of the Hague, he would take many more in the places he visited next. We left the Hague to Amsterdam as our next destination, but not before a trip to a suburb of the Hague which has a tragic connection with west London and that will be the subject of my next (midweek) post.

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The Ankerwycke Yew

There is plenty of history surrounding London and it is possible to take a short train journey from the city and reach a place which could not be more different.

This is the first of a very occasional mid-week series of posts highlighting some of these places. For this first post the subject is the possibly 2,500 year old Ankerwycke Yew tree near the village of Wraysbury, close to the River Thames and possibly the location for the meetings between King John and the Barons which resulted in the Magna Carta.

Not only is the age of the Ankerwycke Yew remarkable, but also the location where it can be found.

The following extract from OpenStreetMap shows the location of the Ankerwycke Yew (red circle lower left of the map) with Heathrow Airport to the upper right, the M25 running vertically down the centre of the map, the large reservoirs that supply water to London and the lakes where once sand and gravel was extracted to build much of the infrastructure to the west of London are also to be found close by.

There is an excellent walk to the Ankerwycke Yew which starts at Wraysbury station (45 minutes from Waterloo station). The station is the yellow circle on the black railway line on the left side of the map. The guide to the walk can be found here.

The first part of the walk passes the Wraysbury Reservoir, one of the large reservoirs in this area that supply London. Continuing the water theme, the walk now passes some of the lakes that formed following sand and gravel extraction. The geology of the area is a product of the River Thames, as over the centuries it has changed route and flooded and as a result has left beds of sand and gravel. These have been dug out over the centuries, with major industrial extraction commencing in the 1920s when there was an influx of companies into the area around Wraysbury.

After a short walk along the Staines Road, then following a track by another lake, the walk reaches the River Thames, although a very different river to the channeled river that runs through the centre of London.

Turning from the banks of the Thames, a short distance further are the ruins of a Benedictine Priory. Dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, this was a small priory with only six or seven nuns and a Prioress at the start of the 16th Century with an annual income of £20. The Priory was founded here at Ankerwycke around 1160 and closed during the dissolution in 1536. Today only a small part of the old Priory buildings survive.

Close to the Priory is the Ankerwycke Yew. There are various dates for the age of the tree ranging from 1,500 to over 2,500 years dependent on the measurement method, assumptions etc. with most estimates ranging between 2,000 and 2,500 years. Whatever the actual age it is very old.

The Ankerwycke Yew is close to Runneymede which is on the opposite side of the Thames and there is some claim that the Magna Carta was signed at, or close by the Ankerwycke Yew. In the 13th Century, the landscape would have been different as the area was probably rather marshy as it was within the flood plain of the Thames. The Ankerwycke Yew is on a slightly raised area of land (therefore dry) and with the proximity of the Priory perhaps both lend some credibility to this claim.

Richard Montfichet, Lord of the Manor of Wraysbury was also one of the 25 Barons appointed to monitor King John’s future conduct after signing the Magna Carta. It was Richard’s ancestor Gilbert Montfichet, Knight and Lord of Wraysbury who founded the Priory.

The size of the trunk provides an appreciation of the age of the Ankerwycke Yew. A circumference of 8 metres confirms that this is a tree of some age.

Standing next to the Ankerwycke Yew, a living tree possibly well over two thousand years old it is hard to imagine that the M25 and Heathrow are so close and that it is just a short walk and train journey from central London. The sound of aircraft on their approach into Heathrow was the only distraction. The Ankerwycke Yew could well have been a few hundred years old when Roman London was founded.

The National Trust have set up a semi-circle of benches around the tree, however even on a sunny winter weekend, there were no other visitors to the Ankerwycke Yew.

From the Ankerwycke Yew, it was then a short walk into the village of Wraysbury, a stop at a pub then back to the station having just met a very remarkable tree.

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