Was this "THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS" Part Two
THE TERROR OF THE DOODLE BUGS OVER HASTINGS.
by JOYCE BREWER
According to the record books, the last High Explosive bomb dropped by the tip and run raids on Hastings was on March 27th 1944; we began to think our troubles were over because we knew that the invasion of Europe was soon to take place and hopefully we would see the end of the war then.
Soon, there came another menace, the V1, or, as we called them, the Doodlebugs. They looked like a small plane with short wings, a small engine on the back, a huge explosive charge in the nose and NO pilot. They were
launched from ramp sites in France and Belgium and reaching speeds of up to 400 miles an hour, it did not take them long to wing their way across the English Channel and head for their intended target -London.
The first we knew of them was on June 14th when the first one came over Kent and all of the ACK-ACK gun sites were given the code name for them, Diver-Diver. The following night my two future brothers-in-law, Jim and
Jack, were having supper with us when the sirens sounded and then we heard this awful chugging sound in the skies above. We ran to the front door, the weather was overcast with drizzly rain. The first Doodlebug flew in low over the houses in Mount Pleasant, not that we could see its shape in the dark, just a jet of flame and this horrible unforgettable racket. Jim rushed to the Bofors gun and Jack dived into the bucket seat of the twin Browning
machine guns situated just across the road from our house. He opened up fire immediately and hit an electric pylon in Fir Tree Road and scared the daylights out of a passer-by; the robot machine sailed on unscathed.
After all of our previous experiences this came as another shock to our nervous systems, I felt sick with fright and buried my head in the pillow, but it did not block out the noise and needless to say we slept very badly that night as more bugs came over.
And that was how things continued for the next two months; thousands of them were launched and literally hundreds flew over Hastings in that time, on occasions as many as six could be seen in the skies above us. This part of
southern England became known as Doodlebug Alley and all kinds of defences were installed to combat them. These included heavy and light batteries of guns, barrage balloons and the fighter planes that were fast enough to catch them; Spitfires, Tempests Typhoons, P38 Lightnings and P47 Thunderbolts.
On the East and West Hill and all along the seafront guns pointed out to sea, the cost in ammunitions must have been terrible, considering the barrage that was put up. At night it looked like a huge firework display with shells exploding all around those fiery monsters. With red-hot, jagged lumps of shrapnel dropping to the ground, the only safe place to be was in the air-raid shelter; believe me, it wasn’t fun.
As the gunners became more experienced their success rate improved but inevitably not all the Doodlebugs were shot down into the sea, some landed on the town, causing many deaths and injuries and severe damage to property. The planes were very effective too, they downed hundreds with cannon fire and some very brave pilots flew alongside the bugs and with the planes’ wings tipped them off-balance to upset the gyroscope, which sent them diving to the earth. I think that 15 Doodlebugs fell on Hastings but the people living in the country area fared far worse. The RAF pilots had orders to bring the Doodlebugs down on open land if possible but many fell on isolated
farms and cottages, causing lots of casualties.
While all this was going on I had to continue with my war work, delivering the rations of milk to the Hastings people. It wasn’t pleasant, bullets and shrapnel were clattering down, and my milk van had only a flimsy tarpaulin-type roof. I felt very vulnerable and often borrowed my Dad’s tin hat when he wasn’t at work. I vividly remember one particular day. I decided to alter my round and was in Fairlight Road when a Doodlebug was hit by shellfire directly overhead and it dived towards Ore Valley, where I lived, and exploded with a huge bang. Worried to death for my Mum and family, I drove straight home to find them safe and sound but worried about me. The bomb had landed in Pine Avenue, causing casualties and damage to the house next to where I should have been, if I hadn’t changed my route.
Another time we were seated at the table enjoying something special that Mum had concocted from our meagre rations; she declared we wouldn’t let anything spoil our meal. Some hope! We heard the buzz, then planes and machine-gun fire so we rushed to the door just in time to see a P38 Lightning explode a Doodlebug over the town. There was a huge bang and a big black cloud and shock waves that made the windows rattle, one less Doodlebug to fall on
One night, ‘our gun’ scored a hit and the bug turned a somersault and headed back out to sea. I actually saw a Doodlebug released from a plane inland; the Germans were experimenting with carrying them slung under the fuselage of Junkers 88 bombers but thank goodness it didn’t prove to be very successful. It was scary enough when they came from the seaward direction.
During this period we used to sleep downstairs on mattresses; this would not have saved us during a direct hit but it gave us a small sense of security. Not for me though, I could tell when a Doodlebug was heading our way long
before it arrived because the sound waves were transmitted through the seabed as they flew over The Channel. I guess it was similar to how the American Native Indians used put their ears to the ground to listen for approaching horses.
Then, hope was at hand. The invasion of Europe had taken place on June 6th 1944 and as the Allied Armies moved through France, Belgium and Holland they over-ran the launching sites of the V1 and the subsequent V2, which had silent engines and was therefore more terrifying. Suddenly, our skies were free of those hateful monsters. Not that we could really relax. We did not know if the Germans could produce some other missile to terrorise us, even if it was obvious that they were fast loosing the war.
For more of Joyce's exciting war memories go to
Hasting's Favourite Website, and click on HISTORY