Winston Churchill visits bomb damaged areas of East London during World War II.
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World War II’s first ‘doodlebug’ V-1 flying bomb in London was dropped on Grove Road

At 4.25am on 13 June, 1944, the first V-1 flying bomb used by the Germans in London during Word War II fell in Bow. The first one to strike the city landed on Grove Road, decimating the railway bridge, nearby housing and killing six people. We dive into the history behind this tragic event.

Have you heard of the V-1 bomb before? If you haven’t, that could be because it goes by different names. Known as the ‘doodlebug’, ‘buzz bomb’, or its German codename ‘Cherry Stone’, this weapon was, contrary to its misleadingly innocuous nicknames, a weapon of vengeance and destruction, deployed to cause some serious damage during the start of World War II.

A doodlebug is a bomb with wings; an aeroplane with no pilot. It is similar to a cruise missile, but a bit bigger. This weapon coined its endearing name ‘buzz bomb’ from the loud, vehicular noise its pulse engine made when hurtling through the sky. Doodlebugs have been described as making tearing and rasping sounds, but when their motors cut out at a predetermined distance, they became eerily silent, dropping to the ground without a trace.

Because of its limited range, the thousands of V-1 missiles launched into England were fired from launch facilities along the French and Dutch coasts. The very first one that landed in England fell in Kent.

On that fateful night that the Wehrmacht, Nazi Germany’s armed forces, dropped the first V-1 in London, locals recalled the sound as similar to a motorbike or a steam train in poor condition struggling up a hill. Residents described the sight as a burning plane crossing the sky with a tail like a sword of flame. 

When the V-1 hit Grove Road, six people died, 30 people were injured and 200 were made homeless. The bridge that carries the Great Eastern Railway across Grove Road from Liverpool Street to Essex was badly damaged. Surprisingly, railway traffic was restored within 40 hours, as a temporary bridge was used instead, serving customers until 1948.  

Now in its place hangs an enamelled steel blue plaque. This was erected on 13 June, 1987 – 41 years after the bomb had fallen – by the Greater London Council in 1985 following a proposal from Joseph V Waters, a lifelong East Ender, one of whose brothers had been injured by the bomb. However, the plaque was later stolen in 1987; it was replaced with an English Heritage ceramic blue plaque the following year.

 Sir Ian McKellen paid his tributes to the site in 2016, stating in interviews that ‘it’s important for the recent generations to realise the disaster of the bombing in this area.’ 

Following the violent bombing, the land surrounding Regent’s Canal was devastated. The area was left derelict until plans began to renovate it in the 1950s  – the idea of creating Mile End Park was born. This wasn’t to be realised until nearly 50 years later with the financial help from lottery money and the Environment Trust.

Surprisingly, one property was left standing after the catastrophic V-1 bombing incident of that June day in 1944. Carl Boedecker, 62, owned this four-bedroom Victorian house for 22 years before putting it on the market in 2016 for £1.25 million. 

When interviewed, Boedecker explained his fondness for the property, ‘the home has a real history to it…it was one of the main attractions which drew me to the place as well as the Mile End Ecology Pavilion at the back of the house.’

The tragedy of this event and the widespread bombing of the East End in general will never be forgotten. Although commemorating such a devastating moment in history is difficult, it’s comforting to know that the ecological haven that is Mile End Park rose from the ashes of a destroyed Grove Road and its surrounding area caused by the V-1 bombing. 

The V1 Flying bomb, aka Doodlebug, Vengeance Weapon, Cruise Missiel Fieseler Fi, being pulled by solders to its launch position, 1944
The doodlebug, or V1, being pulled into launch position, 1944 © German Federal Archives
World War II's first doodlebug dropped on Grove Road, Bow, East London
The first doodlebug was dropped on Grove Road © Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archive
Flying bomb plaque in Mile End from World War II
Blue plaque on Grove Road

Enjoyed reading this? See what other heritage points are marked with a blue plaque around Bow here.


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3 thoughts on “World War II’s first ‘doodlebug’ V-1 flying bomb in London was dropped on Grove Road

  • Hi my mother passed away aged 83 on 2nd December 2020. My mother was 7 when the first doodlebug fell on Grove Road London E3, my mother was living in Cordova road and her landlord refused to leave his home for Nazi Germans, sadly he was never found again after the V1 landed. Coincidently Cordova road was demolished by the blast and was never rebuilt by Tower Hamlets council.

    id really appreciate if anyone has any photos of Cordova road and Grove road prior to the bombings of the first doodlebug.

    Reply
  • This wasn’t the first V1 to land in England, that landed in Kent, this was the first V1 to land on London, as it says on the plaque. Also, saying it occurred during the ‘Blitz’ is a bit confusing because the well known Blitz, including the Battle of Britain, occurred in late 1940 to 1941; the V1s were launched in 1944, just after D-Day, until March 1945.

    Reply
  • Such a tragedy! A couple of inaccuracies in this recounting though – 1944, when the doodlebug hit the bridge was a year before the end of the war, not ‘during the start of World War II’ as described above.
    And Carl Boedecker’s house wasn’t the only house left standing – several others in that row are still there and others remained in good condition and lived in until the 70s when compulsory purchase orders were made by the local council and they were knocked down to create Mile End Park.

    Reply

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