Archive: Jan 2010
This is from a series I have been working on of English houses that were hit by German V2 rockets during the final months of the Second World War. They were ordinary, boring places then and they’re ordinary boring places now. By a fate of trajectory these places were selected to be the recipients of the most advanced and sophisticated scientific technology of the time. The final rocket struck at 4.54pm on 27th March 1945 and killed Ivy Mildred Millichamp, a 34 year old married woman who was making a cup of tea in the kitchen of her house at 88 Kynaston Road, Orpington, Kent.
The ‘V’ in V2 refers to the German word for Vengeance – vergeltungswaffe. Hitler believed that this weapon would be the miracle that would save Germany from defeat and that the destructive impact of the V2 would cause such a collapse in morale that the allies would be forced into a retreat.
There is something sordid, pathetic and poetic in the fact that this technologically superior weapon, with 2,200lbs of explosive on board, arriving at 3,000mph via the Earth’s upper atmosphere, only 3 minutes after it’s launch from Holland, managed to kill a solitary unarmed woman in the kitchen of a bungalow in a suburb of London at teatime. Of the other 1401 V2′s aimed at London there were incidents of hundreds of deaths at a time but in this final throw of the dice the futility of the meisterwerk is laid bare.
Wernher von Braun, the inventor of the V2 was captured by the Americans as Berlin crumbled at the end of the war. He went on to become a director of NASA and was the chief architect of the Saturn V rocket that propelled the first astronauts to the moon.
I’ve recently become obsesssed with the significance of trajectory in my career. This has been brought about by a book I’m reading on the Apollo 13 moon mission that went wrong. There is a point in the story where, with what little fuel they have available and 250,000 miles from home, the astonauts have to fire their engines and adjust the ship’s trajectory so as to put them in line for a good earth re-entry position. Their current trajectory is in line to send them 40,000 miles past the earth. To correct this the engines need to be fired for six minutes. Six minutes is not much to effect a difference of 40,000 miles over a distance of a quarter of a million miles. The point of this is that over such a long distance, the slightest wiggle has a massive effect at the other end and I’ve recently been thinking about the fact that I’ve realised I set myself on a course 17 years ago that was easier but possibly wrong – though barely perceptible at the time – and the upshot of the story is that 17 years later I’ve arrived at a destination that I’m beginning to think has me 40,000 miles away from where I wanted to be. So now, I may have to burn my fuel & my engines for a good deal longer than 6 minutes to get me back on what I think is the correct course for re-entry.