In the later part of 1944 and early 1945, as the allied forces were liberating France, Germany launched a new onslaught on the UK using their new ‘vengeance’ weapons: the V1 Doodlebug and V2 Rocket – the earliest examples of the drones and missiles that are now commonplace in modern warfare.
Whilst these were primarily targeted on London and occasionally other built up areas, this was long before GPS provided these weapons with any degree of accuracy, and so many fell randomly across East Anglia. And much of the defence against these weapons, anti-aircraft guns and fighter planes, was based in our region.
John Bridges’ new book, Doodlebugs and Rockets: Norfolk and Suffolk 1944-45 tells the story of the how the defences were set up and how the weapons affected East Anglia. There are still people alive today who remember the V1 and V2 explosions from when they were children, and the author has tracked down some of them and recorded their stories. His meticulous research in national and county archives has identified where and when they fell, and the damage caused, and this information is recorded in an appendix. There are also many photographs from the period, collected from archives, museums and personal collections. Particularly interesting for me were the descriptions of the Spitfire and Mosquito sorties from RAF Coltishall, where Bittern Books is now based.
This is a fascinating and highly readable book which sheds light on a period of local history that’s often overlooked, the focus at this time having been on the allied progress through Europe rather than the terror attacks still being inflicted by the Germans at home.
Norfolk and Suffolk 1944-1945
Cold War East Anglia
This is not a new book, but is in a similar vein to Doodlebugs, albeit relating to a later period. During the 1950s and 1960s, East Anglia was home to the new nuclear deterrent systems: missiles and bombers carrying nuclear warheads. But these weapons were not entirely reliable, or particularly safe in their own right. And their presence in our region made East Anglia a prime target for Russian missiles – should war have broken out, the chances of survival for residents would have been slim.
Much of this was unknown at the time, even up till quite recently. Jim Wilson’s book looks at a number of aspects of how the cold war affected East Anglia, explaining some of the defensive infrastructure – the observation posts and command centres that were established – as well as providing details of the airborne reconnaissance units and the nuclear bases. There are also descriptions of some frightening near misses that could have left a very large hole in the landscape!
Another fascinating book for this period is Most Secret: The Hidden History of Orfordness, which tells the history of the curious installations on this remote part of the Suffolk coast. And Sculthorpe: Secrecy and Stealth goes into a lot more detail about the role of this Norfolk air base in reconnaissance during the period.