As I drive over to see my neighbour, Guy in his old folks home at Rue I cut past the wood at Ligescourt. Going round one of the bends this great double wall juts out from the trees towards the road. I was aware that it was part of a German installation from the Second World War but until last autumn when I cycled over to have a rummage about the woods I had never realised just how many bunkers there were.
In effect we have an entire ski type V-1 Launch Base within the wood.
Hidden by the trees it is difficult to appreciate all the buildings but the wee museum at Crécy has some superb models of the lay out, so I thought it might be time to write something about these bases which surround the village where I live.
Whilst looking up information I discovered that there is another site at Huits Rues near Hazebrouck which has been turned into an historic site complete with information panels. It has to be said that Ligescourt survived its bombings in a better condition, but Huits Rues is a lot more accessible.
The Fieseler Fi 103, is better known as the V-1, its description Vergeltungswaffe is German for vengeance weapon.
My father describes it as a flying blow-lamp and he is not so far out. The fuselage was constructed of sheet steel, the wings were often simple plywood and it carried an 850 kg warhead. The jet engine pulsed 50 times per second giving it a characteristic buzzing sound which the Londoners soon nicknamed the Buzz Bomb.
One of the problems with the rocket was the fact that it could not take off under its own power and so needed a piston driven launch pad to hurl it out in the right direction with enough velocity to allow the on-board engine to take over and keep it in flight. Militarily it was probably the first Cruise Missile.
The guidance system was very simple, based around a gyrocompass, stabilisers and a fixed amount of fuel. The catapult sent the V-1 off in the required general direction and the gyrocompass then took over, the stabilisers kept it flying level and when the fuel ran out, it dropped.
People soon began to realise that so long as the buzzing continued the rocket was flying overhead and there was no danger, but as soon as the engine stopped the bomb was activated.
To help conceal its purpose the V-1 was officially named as an anti-aircraft apparatus (FZG) and the regiment of the Luftwaffe created to use them was designated Flakregiment 155 (W) (Flak being the abbreviation for an anti-aircraft gun and thus the reason for allied pilots having to: Take Flak)
The V-1 rockets were built by Volkswagen at their factory near Hamburg.
Between 13th June 1944 and 29th March 1945 about 10,000 were fired at England; 2,419 reached London, killing about 6,184 people and injuring 17,981. All in all some 30,000 V-1s were manufactured.
One of the ways of limiting the destruction of London was by falsely reporting the strikes. By stating that the far side outer suburbs had been bombed instead of the centre, the launch teams reduced the fuel, causing short falls. This may well have limited the damage to the capital but the bombs still fell on somebody.
The control centre was based at Creil near Paris but moving it to the old Citadelle at Doullens, where the telephone exchange was already based, had been considered.
The German military hierarchy had differing ideas as to how to launch their new weapon. Huge bunkers (which would draw attention to themselves) or smaller, less obvious sites. In the end Göring made the decision to build 4 large bunkers (Wasserwerken - waterworks) and 96 smaller bases. 64 of these bases were to be constructed by October 1943 whilst the remainder would be held in reserve.
The Tödt Organisation used 40,000 workers in northern France to build the bases. Nobody was allowed to work in their own village, so although a base was built at Ligescourt, drafted workers from the village would have been sent elsewhere.
Although adapted to the local situation the bases followed a very similar design allowing missiles to be brought in, stocked, prepared and launched on a conveyor belt system.
The base needed to be on flat land and small woods were considered to be the ideal location.
The linking roadways between the bunkers were created using concrete slabs and the buildings for the most part were constructed with breezeblocks, which dispensed with the need to provide a casing for poured concrete.
Following intelligence reports concerning a new construction at Bois Carré near Yvrench (Just outside Crécy) 170 Squadron RAF flew a reconnaissance sortie E/463 on the 3rd November 1943. The observers noted a number of bunkers which they described as : ski-shaped buildings 240-270 feet long.
There are usually three such buildings and at 80 metres long by over 4 metres high and wide they have a curved end for blast protection. From the air they look like skis lying on their sides.
The design is so distinctive that the RAF very quickly identified over 70 other such sites and Operation Crossbow was commenced in order to bomb them. These missions were named : No-Ball Missions, and the very first was launched against the installations at Ligescourt by B-26 bombers of the USAF on the 5th December 1943.
In effect then, none of these heavily fortified bases ever got to be used because they were just too obvious and ended up drawing the RAF and allied bombers onto them. This eventually became an advantage to the Germans who ensured that the French workers were occupied in repairing the sites. Observation and spies concluded that continual bombardment was necessary and the ski sites became bomber bait.
My elderly neighbours would say that the RAF became so tunnel visioned about Ligescourt that they missed the light launch site at Wadicourt only a few kilometres away.
To get round the problem of the high visibility of the larger complexes the German command ordered the creation of lighter launch sites with fewer bunkers and a basic ramp. These were quicker to build and much more easily repaired. The Germans only used slave labour and German engineers to carry out the work which allowed for greater secrecy.
These modified sites were much more discreet in their construction and were only identified for what they were days before the V-1 blitz on London began on the 13th June 1944.
It would seem that we had one not far from the house here.
There were certain similarities between the bases through necessity of preparation. There were bunkers to store the chemicals for the catapult (hydrogen peroxide and potassium permanganate) and an antimagnetic building constructed without any iron in it at all.
This was the last building that the rocket passed through before launch and it was here that the magnetic compass would be set. The entire flight depended on the compass working properly and so any possible interference had to be avoided at this stage.
The one building that seems to have been augmented was the firing bunker which now offered the firing crew a better field of vision and better protection.
The ski shaped storage bunkers and the launch ramp blast walls though had gone. The launch ramp itself was prepared elsewhere and was now simply bolted to a pre-prepared platform.