Hitler’s Terror Weapons: The Price of Vengeance

Hitler’s Terror Weapons: The Price of Vengeance
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Did Hitler’s use of unproven exotic weapons cost him the war? Were they worth the price? What effect did the V weapons have on Allied plans, morale and supplies? Roy Irons also investigates Hitler’s thirst for revenge following 1918 and his dread when Russian victories and Allied bombing began to shadow the Third Reich.Roy Irons' fascinating book investigates whether Hitler's campaign would have been a greater success if he had put fewer resources into experimental weapons of revenge such as the V-2 rocket and the V-1 Doodle-bug. Enormous resources were poured into these experimental projects, often inspired by Hitler's thirst for revenge after the collapse of Germany in 1918 and his dread of a recurrence when Russian victories and allied bombing began to cast grim and ever-growing shadows over the Third Reich. He considers such questions as what effect the bombardment really had on London's morale and on Allied supplies through the port of Antwerp? Were these weapons really worth the price? With a foreword by Professor Richard Overy and fascinating images from the Imperial War Museum and Public Record Office, this is a unique account of this key element of the Second World War.

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Hitler’s Terror Weapons

The Price of Vengeance

Roy Irons

This book is dedicated toErica Roe IronsandRebecca Ann Irons

On June 16 1944 Joseph Goebbel’s Propaganda Ministry sent out a directive to the German press announcing that the first attacks on London with weapons ‘of a new sort’ would take place that night. It was to be the ‘event of the day’ for the following morning’s front pages. Eight days later the press was told that the weapon would be called the ‘V 1’, the ‘V standing for Vergeltung or vengeance. Thus did the German public learn of what soon became the V-weapons campaign.

Ever since the onset of heavy bombing on German cities in 1942 Adolf Hitler had sought some form of terrible retaliation that would force the British and Americans to stop. In the winter of 1943–4 the German Air Force launched the so-called ‘Baby Blitz’ on London, but there were too few bomber aircraft to achieve anything of significance against well-organised air and passive defences. Instead Hitler threw his dictatorial weight behind the development of long-range missiles, first the V-1 flying bomb, then the V-2 rocket. Plans were developed to produce them in vast numbers using simple work methods and slave labour supplied by Heinrich Himmler’s concentration camps. Some evidence suggests that Himmler was planning to fill the warheads with radioactive waste, but this came to nothing. Instead each missile became an expensive way of transporting modest quantities of conventional high explosives.

The story of the German V-weapons has two sides to it. The British were aware that German scientists were pioneering weapons at the cutting edge of modern military technology. They imagined the worst, and prepared for a new apocalypse, just as they had done in the 1930s in anticipation of German conventional bombing. Until now little has been written about just what the British did to understand, anticipate and combat the new weapons. The account that follows explores not only the warped mindset that drove Hitler to gamble a large proportion of Germany’s overstretched war effort on untested technology, but it presents in fascinating detail the twists and turns of British policy in the full glare of the missile threat. Roy Irons gives us the first round in what became the principal feature of post-war superpower confrontation – missile threat and anti-missile defence.

It is tempting to suggest on the basis of this candid account – exaggerated fears on the one side and expectations on the other – that later missile wars might have been different from the terrifying scenarios of nuclear destruction that fuelled the arms race of the 1950s and 1960s. Without the German experiments of the wartime years the post-war missile race would have taken longer anyway. Poor though the strategic gains were for Germany from the V-weapons, the long-run technical gains for the wartime Allies were substantial. It is a peculiar irony that German scientists and engineers working for Hitler ended up supplying the West with the technical means to defend democracy against Communism.

Vengeance, as Roy Irons makes clear, was Hitler’s stock-in-trade. The thirst for vengeance in 1919 after German defeat was savagely assuaged in the extermination camps of the Second World War and the search for wonder-weapons of awesome destructive power. What follows is the history of two very different systems fighting very different wars. The V-weapons are in some sense an emblem of Hitler’s dictatorship; the British response was the product of a democratic system at war – long discussions in committee, many muddled arguments, but enough sensible judgement to get through. In Roy Irons’ sympathetic and original account the V-weapons campaign becomes not simply a test of technical ingenuity, but a revealing window on the way two very different adversaries made war.

Richard Overy

King’s College


My first acknowledgements of debt in writing this book are to my Mother and my Grandmother. The former woke my twin brother and me in the middle of the night to hear the newsflash “Hitler is dead”, and took us to see the ‘V weapons arrayed in Trafalgar Square in 1946. The latter, when a ‘doodlebug’ seemed to stop exactly overhead (as they always seemed to do) would quietly and contemptuously smile at Hitler’s foolish attempt to steal victory from her beloved England. What child could fail to be impressed by this calm assurance amid the giant clash of little understood arms over London, or by hearing ‘live’ news of the death of the dreaded tyrant, and seeing the captured weapons themselves, still sinister and impressive amid the triumph of their victims?

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