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History on 16th August


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Rainham V1 Train Disaster

Rainham, Kent The 16th of August 1944 AD

From the start of the V1 flying-bomb campaign in June 1944 to its cessation in September that year when the allies over-ran the launch bases the simple and devastating devices brought a new terror to the southern part of Britain. London was the main target which first hit on June 13th . The ‘doodlebug’ that derailed the 3.35pm Victoria to Ramsgate train at Rainham on August 16th was almost certainly heading for the capital.
RAF pilots quickly developed tactics to knock the machines out of the sky – quite literally with one method. Shooting them down was difficult, with few vulnerable components and tough steel casing they defied machine gun fire, and if hit close-up by cannon rounds the attacking pilot risked his plane being damaged in the explosion. Thus tipping the devices over by actually nudging one wing, or by flying with a wing just above the bomb’s to disrupt the airflow, began to be practiced to good effect. Most V1s so treated fell in open country.
For obvious reasons of propaganda and morale details of the precise events relating to the Rainham disaster were kept quiet. It is not even sure if an RAF plane had downed the V1 in question, as it glided gently down rather than diving – the engines were suspect, and some were sabotaged by the slave-labourers forced to build them in vile conditions underground in Germany. But survivors of the crash spoke of a Spitfire pilot trying to warn the engine-driver of imminent danger, and others of a Meteor jet fighter spotted nearby. Both those aircraft had the speed to catch V1s.
The flying bomb hit a rail-bridge just in front of the train, the time from detonation to derailment about 20 seconds. The engine somehow straddled the gap across the road below, but several of the coaches crashed down the embankment. Eight people died in the wreckage, with many more injured, the number of fatalities remarkably low given the circumstances and the fact that there were perhaps 400 passengers crowded onto the train.

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Comment

From Graham Smith on 19th December 2012
One of the civilian dead was my mother, Ivy Maud Smith.

From Jon Smale on 26th November 2012
There is not much info on this event anywhere to be found. Interestingly, it was in Rainham, Kent, not Rainham, Essex. However, my mother was a WRAF signalwoman on this train, I interviewed her about the whole incident again 2 years ago, shortly before she died aged ninety. I could sell you my final, researched article including a brief description of our visit to the underground concentration camp* in the Harz Mountains where the VIs were manufactured... if you are interested. (original text has circa 1400words but may be shortened)

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