Richard Atkinson: The Guns at Last Light:
Even on the Sabbath morn, antiaircraft crews across Target 42 manned their guns and scanned the southeastern sky for the apparition soon called Doodlebug, Hell Hound, Buzz Bomb, Rocket Gun, Headless Horseman, or, simply, It. Earlier in the week some gunners had crowed in jubilation at shooting down what they believed were German bombers but were now known to be pilotless bombs designed to fall from the sky. This Sunday, June 18, was Waterloo Day, and worshippers packed London churches to commemorate the British Army’s victory over Napoléon in 1815, and to petition for divine help again.
In the Guards Chapel at Wellington Barracks on Birdcage Walk, across from the former pig meadow and leper colony currently known as St. James’s Park, a full-throated congregation belted out the “Te Deum” and prepared to take communion from the bishop of Maidstone. “To Thee all angels cry aloud,” they sang, “the heavens and all the powers therein.” At 11:10 A.M. an annoying growl from those same heavens grew louder. Ernest Hemingway heard it in his Dorchester Hotel suite, where he was making pancakes with buckwheat flour and bourbon; from the window he looked for the telltale “white-hot bunghole” of a jet engine. Pedestrians in Parliament Square heard it and fell flat, covering their heads. Clementine Churchill, the prime minister’s wife, heard it in Hyde Park, where she was visiting the gun battery in which her daughter Mary volunteered.
The Guards Chapel congregation heard it and kept singing. Then they heard nothing—that most terrifying of all sounds—as the engine quit, the bunghole winked out, and the black cruciform fell. Through the chapel’s reinforced concrete roof It plummeted before detonating in a white blast that blew out walls, blew down support pillars, and stripped the leaves from St. James’s plane trees. A funnel of smoke curled fifteen hundred feet above the wrecked nave; rubble ten feet deep buried the pews even as six candles still guttered on the altar and the bishop stood unharmed. One hundred and twenty-one others were dead and as many more injured.
Two thousand memorial plaques accumulated by Guards regiments during eons of war lay pulverized, although a mosaic donated by Queen Victoria remained intact: “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.” Clementine Churchill hastened home to alert the prime minister, who was still reviewing papers in his bed at 10 Downing Street. “The Guards Chapel,” she told him, “is destroyed.” He hurried to Birdcage Walk and watched salvage teams lift out the dead. Among others, several musicians from the Coldstream Guards band were found in a side gallery, still holding their instruments as if in a wax tableau, surely faithful unto death. Churchill wept.
That afternoon he motored to Bushy Park and asked Eisenhower to redouble efforts against the flying bomb. In a memo on Sunday evening, the supreme commander ordered that the targets code-named CROSSBOW, comprising V-1 launch areas, supply dumps, and related sites, “are to take first priority over everything except the urgent requirements of the battle.” Yet more than thirty thousand attack sorties already had flown in the past six months, dropping the tonnage equivalent of four Eiffel Towers on CROSSBOW in an effort to eviscerate a program Allied intelligence knew was in development. Some launch sites were hit forty or more times before analysts realized that the V-1 could be fired from elusive mobile launchers. Ideas for defeating the flying bombs poured in from the public: harpoons fired from tethered Zeppelins; huge butterfly nets; projectiles filled with carbolic acid. One patriot offered to put a curse on German launch crews...