The pilotless plane, flying bomb, or whatever its correct name may be,
is an exceptionally unpleasant thing, because, unlike most other projectiles,
it gives you time to think.


You want to hear the bomb pass safely overhead
and die away into the distance before the engine cuts out.

AS I PLEASE, by George Orwell
Tribune, June 30, 1944

I Notice that apart from the widespread complaint that the German pilotless planes 'seem so unnatural' (a bomb dropped by a live airman is quite natural, apparently), some journalists are denouncing them as barbarous, inhumane, and 'an indiscriminate attack on civilians'.

After what we have been doing to the Germans over the past two years, this seems a bit thick, but it is the normal human response to every new weapon. Poison gas, the machine-gun, the submarine, gunpowder, and even the crossbow were similarly denounced in their day. Every weapon seems unfair until you have adopted it yourself. But I would not deny that the pilotless plane, flying bomb, or whatever its correct name may be, is an exceptionally unpleasant thing, because, unlike most other projectiles, it gives you time to think. What is your first reaction when you hear that droning, zooming noise? Inevitably, it is a hope that the noise won't stop. You want to hear the bomb pass safely overhead and die away into the distance before the engine cuts out. In other words, you are hoping that it will fall on somebody else. So also when you dodge a shell or an ordinary bomb — but in that case you have only about five seconds to take cover and no time to speculate on the bottomless selfishness of the human being...

AS I PLEASE, by George Orwell
Tribune, September 15, 1944

...The official statement on the doodlebug, even taken together with Churchill's earlier statement, is not very revealing, because no clear figures have been given of the number of people affected. All we are told is that on average something under thirty bombs have hit London daily. My own estimate, based simply on such 'incidents' as I have witnessed, is that on average every doodlebug hitting London makes thirty houses uninhabitable, and that anything up to five thousand people have been rendered homeless daily. At that rate between a quarter and half a million people will have been blitzed out of their homes in the last three months.

It is said that good billiard-players chalk their cues before making a stroke, and bad players afterwards. In the same way, we should have got on splendidly in this war if we had prepared for each type of blitz before and not after it happened. Shortly before the outbreak of war an official, returning from some conference with other officials in London, told me that the authorities were prepared for air-raid casualties of the order of 200,000 in the first week. Enormous supplies of collapsible cardboard coffins had been laid in, and mass graves were being dug. There were also special preparations for a great increase in mental disorders. As it turned out the casualties were comparatively few, while mental disorders, I believe, actually declined. On the other hand, the authorities had failed to foresee that blitzed people would be homeless and would need food, clothes, shelter, and money. They had also, while foreseeing the incendiary bomb, failed to realize that you would need an alternative water supply if the mains were burst by bombs.

By 1942 we were all set for the blitz of 1940. Shelter facilities had been increased, and London was dotted with water tanks which would have saved its historic buildings if only they had been in existence when the fires were happening. And then along came the doodlebug, which, instead of blowing three or four houses out of existence, makes a large number uninhabitable, while leaving their interiors more or less intact. Hence another unforeseen headache — storage of furniture. The furniture from a doodlebugged house is nearly always salvaged, but finding places to put it in, and labour to move it, has been almost too much for the local authorities. In general it has to be dumped in derelict and unguarded houses, where such of it as is not looted is ruined by damp.

The most significant figures in Duncan Sandys's speech were those dealing with the Allied counter-measures. He stated, for instance, that whereas the Germans shot off 8,000 doodlebugs, or something under 8,000 tons of high explosive, we dropped 100,000 tons of bombs on the bases, besides losing 450 aeroplanes and shooting off hundreds of thousands or millions of A.A. shells. One can only make rough calculations at this date, but it looks as though the doodlebug may have a big future before it in forthcoming wars. Before writing it off as a flop, it is worth remembering that artillery scored only a partial success at the battle of Crecy.

AS I PLEASE, by George Orwell
Tribune, December 1, 1944

"V2 (I am told that you can now mention it in print so long as you just call it V2 and don't describe it too minutely) supplies another instance of the contrariness of human nature. People are complaining of the sudden unexpected wallop with which these things go off. 'It wouldn't be so bad if you got a bit of warning' is the usual formula. There is even a tendency to talk nostalgically of the days of the V1. The good old doodlebug did at least give you time to get under the table, etc. etc. Whereas, in fact, when the doodlebugs were actually dropping, the usual subject of complaint was the uncomfortable waiting period before they went off. Some people are never satisfied. Personally, I am no lover of the V2, especially at this moment when the house still seems to be rocking from a recent explosion*, but what depresses me about these things is the way they set people talking about the next war. Every time one goes off I hear gloomy references to 'next time', and the reflection: 'I suppose they'll be able to shoot them across the Atlantic by that time.' But if you ask who will be fighting whom when this universally expected war breaks out, you get no clear answer. It is just war in the abstract — the notion that human beings could ever behave sanely having apparently faded out of many people’s memories...


*27B CANONBURY SQUARE (from Homage to Orwell)
...It was a happy time for the Orwells when they moved to Canonbury Square after a V-1 "doodle-bug" destroyed their previous flat and temporarily buried the typescript of Animal Farm. They had a five month old baby boy named Richard Horatio Blair who they'd adopted in June 1944...

Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~