Rediscovering the V1
The Ski Sites
In this final part on the ski sites I am going to look at the buildings that gave them their name. Three of the other constructions can be found at all but the most modified of sites.
I would just stress that if you visit a site with these buildings then it almost certainly wasn’t operational. it is not quite true to say that none were ever used but there are only a handful of ski sites that ever became operational.
The Ski storage buildings
Here it is then, the weirdly shaped building that gave these sites their nickname. They are built in the same way as the preliminary storage block that you might find at the entrance to the site. A double wall of breeze blocks that are locked together by crossing some of the blocks over between the two sections. The roof is the only part of the structure that is made from concrete.
There were always three of these structure. One was 72 metres long and the other two 82 metres long. As stated in the introduction the reason for this disparity being the theory that each site would fire twenty missiles a day which gave the need for buildings of 7 + 7 + 6, V1 rockets.
The bend at the entrance forms an arc of about 15 metres and was intended to cut down the risk of blast damage during bombardments. The arc baffled the photographic interpreters in their initial studies because the calculation was that the much larger V2 (which was identified before the V1) would never have been able to negotiate such a bend.
At the stage when the V1 would have been housed in these buildings the wings would still have been strapped to the sides of the fuselage.
Within the corridor along the arced section (and sometimes the entire length) were two raised levels along the walls. These created a trough along which the trolley carrying the missile was pushed. The raised sides making it easier to guide the missile around the corner.
Only the curved end of the building had gates that could be opened. At the far end was a small door for the personnel.
The curve of the building could be in either direction according to how the structure was situated, in relation to the remainder of the site. As has been already mentioned it was these buildings that gave away the other structures and the significance of the site.
They would be the first thing removed in the design of the newer light or modified sites.
The Richthaus – anti-magnetic building
The anti-magnetic building is one of the very few buildings that can be found at all but the very barest of V1 sites. At the ski sites it’s great archway makes it simple to identify. It is also one of the largest of the structures on the site and was known as the square building to the Allied bombers.
As the V1 was guided by a simple magnetic compass it was vital that at the moment of its launch the compass had been correctly calibrated. To that purpose this building used absolutely no ferrous metal in its construction.
This lack of strengthening made the structure quite weak, relying on a double wall with interlocking bricks and the centre filled out with sand. The two concrete arcs needed to be more than seven metres wide because the missile would enter the building with the wings fitted into place.
Another item of interest to the Allied researchers was the fact that this building was always pointing in exactly the same direction as the firing ramp. As this was the last stop for the missile before launch it is never far from the ramp either. If you can find this building you can generally find the ramp or at least have a good guess as to where it might have been.
At the entrance to the Richthaus a team would fit the wings into place. The V1 was then wheeled, backwards, on its trolley along a set of rails into the building as far as the second arch. The guidance rails would bring it to an exact position beneath the arch.
The modified sites (Belhamelin styled) did away with this large structure and replaced it with a wooden building made up of covered panels. As there was no longer an archway a crane was used. The floor though was still marked out as follows.
Just behind that position was an arc on the floor marked in degrees. The centre of the arc was marked by a socket (the Zapfenlager) directly underneath the second arch.
By means of a hoist the V1 was lifted up off its trolley, which was then sent on its way for another missile. The V1 was then lowered over the socket so that the lug which would connect to the launch ramp piston was directly above it. By using the graduations on the rear arc it was possible to deviate the missile by up to sixty degrees left or right.
Why would this be necessary ? Well, according to the weather situation it might be necessary to allow for cross winds. As the ramp was pointed in an exact direction it could also be useful to have the missile sent on a different course to hit other targets.
If you ever need to orientate yourself towards London these constructions are ideal, certainly along the Channel coast.
The team carrying out these refinements was the best trained of the entire complex. It was their expertise that ensured the V1 went where it was supposed to.
The detonators would be fitted with their safety caps in place and the V1 was lowered onto a different type of trolley designed to correspond to the firing ramp.
Like the chemicals for the steam generator the detonators were kept in a separate bunker either above or below ground.
The fire control bunker
As time moved on and the Allies became ever more capable of spotting, and bombing, the V1 sites, so the number of buildings associated with them diminished. The one that always accompanied the ramp however was the fire control bunker.
It was always placed to the rear left of the ramp — a few sites were equipped with another bunker on the right, but never solely on the right. It will be remembered that all the controls and access points to the V1 were on the left side of the fuselage.
The bunker is usually half buried and of a very solid construction. The observation slits were fitted with armoured glass. The ceiling was often also reinforced with wood and vegetation
The danger to the crews was not the Allies but the possibility of the missile exploding on the ramp, which did happen from time to time.
The firing ramp
As the launch ramp was fragile, in the respect that it needed to be completely straight and angled correctly, protective blast walls were built either side of it. These were 80 cm thick with an exterior double layer half way up their entire length. The top of the wall rose at the same, six degree, angle as the ramp.
To the rear the wall widened out (see the photograph of Ligescourt fire control bunker above) in order to contain the massive slab of concrete designed to hold the base of the ramp.
This slab is about 10 m long and 4 m wide. What you may not always understand when looking at one is the fact that it is also 2.5 m deep. It needed to be solid in order to contain the forty tonne shock wave created by the launch process.
The base block was extended by eight pairs of blocks fitted with bolts onto which the ramp would be fitted. The blocks themselves can be various heights according to the terrain on which they were built. They are usually about 90 cm square. I have however seen rectangular blocks
I am pretty certain that no authentic ramps exist any more but there are a number of places where they have been recreated. Val Ygot offers a short section with a V1. There is a full length version at Guerville (Poteau de Montauban) again, with a V1 in place. Both these sites are free to visit.
Though not free the Blockhaus d’Eperleques offers not only a massive building designed to launch the V2 rocket but also a full length V1 ramp with the missile about to head on its way.
Posted : 13 May 2022