The V2 Rocket Strike on the Isle of Dogs

Towards the end of World War II, in September 1944, the German Wehrmacht commenced launching V2 rockets (mostly) against London and Antwerp. Known in German as Vergeteltungswaffe 2 (‘Retribution’ or ‘Vengeance’ Weapon 2), the supersonic missile was intended as a retaliation for the Allied bombings against German cities, but Hitler hoped also, forelornly, that it – and other new weapons – would turn the tide of the war in the Nazis’ favour.

V2 test launch at Peenemünde, Germany.

Travelling at more than 5,500 km/h at the peak of its trajectory (and at more than 2,500 km/h on impact) there was no way to intercept and destroy a V2 rocket once launched. Its supersonic speed meant also that there was no warning of an impending impact, no air raid warnings that an attack was expected. The warhead contained close to 1000 kg of high explosives. Wikipedia:

A scientific reconstruction carried out in 2010 demonstrated that the V-2 creates a crater 20 metres (66 feet) wide and 8 metres (26 feet) deep, ejecting approximately 3,000 tons of material into the air.

From September 1944 to March 1945, 1,358 V2s hit London, resulting in 2,754 deaths and 6,523 injured.

Aftermath of a direct hit on Woolworth’s, New Cross on 25th November 1944. 160 were killed and 108 seriously injured.

Having a range of 320 km (200 miles), and the coasts of Northern France and Belgium already in Allied hands, the majority of V2 launching sites were along the North Sea coast of The Netherlands. In December 1944 Dutch resistance reported that rockets had been transported to the Haagse Bos, a wooded recreational area which borders the centre of The Hague (Den Haag).

Allied reconnaissance photo of V2 rockets in the Haagse Bos. (Source: v2rocket.com)

At 01:28 on 24th March 1945, a V2 rocket was launched from the Haagse Bos, aimed at Poplar. Emergency Services reported that at 01:31 it hit Ovex Wharf off Stewart Street on the Isle of Dogs, destroying what was left of the already bomb-damaged wharf (the times are not precise; the rocket took about 5 minutes to travel from The Hague to the Island).

1939 (Map: Mick Lemmerman)

I have not found any reports of casualties caused by the V2 strike. Probably there were none due to it being the early hours on an industrial site. Other areas of East London were less fortunate. Three days later, on the 27th, a rocket launched by the battalion responsible for the Ovex Wharf V2 (Battalion 3./485) hit Hughes Mansions in Vallance Road, killing 134 people.

Hughes Mansions, Vallance Road

This was the last V2 to fall on London. In the following days, V2 battalions in the Haagse Bos retreated to Germany to avoid the approaching Allied forces.

As for Ovex Wharf, it was taken over by ship-repairing and engineering firm, Rye Arc Welding Company, who constructed a range of new buildings on the derelict site. They left in 1973 and now housing occupies the site.

Circa 1946

Former Ovex Wharf in about 1970

I went on a walk through the Haagse Bos and close-by Wassenaar not that long ago. At the time I had no real idea of its WWII history (it was not only a V2 launching site, it was an integral part of the ‘Atlantic Wall’) until I started encountering concrete bunkers and other remains. It’s a pretty and peaceful place; hard to imagine a missile being launched from these woods and then exploding on the Island five minutes later.

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3 Responses to The V2 Rocket Strike on the Isle of Dogs

  1. brian gilbert says:

    Brian Gilbert Another interesting piece of Island and WW2 history,l have not long read V2 by Robert Harris which is set in and around those sites in occupied Holland.

  2. Peter Batten says:

    Hi. My name is Peter Batten, Obviously I am a member of a well-known Island family and second cousin to boxer Jimmy. I grew up on the other side of the river in Bermondsey. My father Ernest Batten worked at the Surrey Commercial Docks doing ship repairs and refitting. 2 V2s fell in the same place in the road where I lived, about a month apart and less than a quarter of a mile from my home. I always thought this was a terrible co-incidence but your article may me realise that they must have had a target. In fact they just touched the edge of the main line from London Bridge to Dover and the South East. I am quite shocked to realise that the Nazis could launch such an attack on our little community. The Rockets landed at the eastern end of a large, very busy street market. Peter Batten.

  3. George Rollinson says:

    My father worked at Rye Arc as a turner from the early 50’s until they closed. I used to walk from Dunbar House to meet him when he worked on a Sunday. I must only have been about six years old but the gatekeeper used to let me in the yard. Once I’d seen my dad I used to mess about on the large debris ringed in one of the images. He used to say don’t go near the river though. As you walked in the yard on the right was the fabrication sheds and the building on the left of the image was the machine shop. My dad would have been in his early 30’s and used to machine the ships tailshafts. Often it was an all night job and he would get in as I left for school. He always rated Rye Arc and when they closed he shifted to working at various other ship repairers in the Royal Docks.
    When they finished on Sunday it was always before 2:00 pm and it was lemonade and crisps outside the Queen’s before heading home.

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