Speakers' Corner, Marble Arch

18 March 1945

By Alec Gladd

At 9.31am on 18 March 1945 a V2 rocket hit Speakers' Corner at the north-eastern end of Hyde Park, close to Marble Arch. Three civilians were killed and 81 others injured. Fortunately, the rocket landed at a time when relatively few people were walking through the park. The consequences could have been far worse had the strike taken place later in the day. A march past at Speaker's Corner by the National Fire Service (NFS) was scheduled for that afternoon. Thousands of people would have been watching. Had the rocket struck the Corner (London's free speaker venue since 1872) there could have been carnage.

The V2 carved out a deep crater just south of the Marble Arch, shredded trees, burst a water main and broke windows in the Cumberland Hotel on Oxford Street and in buildings on Park Lane. The writer V.S Pritchett noted: “Green snow fell in dry, unmelting flakes in Holborn. We picked this new venture of the English climate off our coats; a V2 had just fallen nearly two miles away in Hyde Park and had blown the leaves off the trees into these mysterious smithereens” (‘London’, 1956).

Hitler’s ‘Vengeance’ rocket, or V2, was developed by Nazi Germany in the Second World War and were used against London and Antwerp. This liquid fuel-propelled rocket was the world’s first long-range ballistic missile. Over 1,400 were launched at Britain with more than 500 landing on London. Each strike caused a masive explosion and widespread blast damage. Unlike the V1 flying bomb V2's arrived unseen and unheard.

By late 1944 fewer and fewer V1s were reaching London. Many were destroyed in flight by anti-aircraft fire or by RAF fighters; others were ensnared by barrage balloons to the south of the capital. As the allied armies advanced remorselessly through Northern France and the Low Countries they overran the V1 launching sites and the threat to London receded.

But on 8 September 1944 Hitler launched V2 Long Range Rockets against London, the first landing in Chiswick. Their impact was described as:

"a curious explosion, a double thunder clap, followed by the noise of a remote and aerial express train". (Westminster in War, William Sansom, 1947)

Much speculation initially followed the launching of the first V2s as there was no mention in newspapers or government warnings. For some uneasy weeks Londoners dubbed them “flying gas-mains”. At first they assumed they were either arms factory explosions, gasholder accidents or acts of sabotage.

Eventually the government revealed that the mystery explosions were Long-Range Rockets. Launched from Holland, with a flight time to London of five minutes, they arrived at 3,600 mph with no warning.

The V2 attacks ended on 27 March 1945. By then they had killed 2,754 people and seriously injured 6,523 others.

Photo:Crowd gathered at Speakers' Corner (Marble Arch in background)

Crowd gathered at Speakers' Corner (Marble Arch in background)

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Air Raid Damage Report for Speakers' Corner, 1945

Air Raid Damage Report for Speakers' Corner, 1945

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Bomb Map: V2 strike at Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park, 18 March 1945

Bomb Map: V2 strike at Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park, 18 March 1945

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park

This page was added by Alec Gladd on 15/03/2012.

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