London, November 28, 1964
One day during the last war a British journalist visiting the Air Ministry was dismayed to see a cutting of one of his articles marked "information got from the enemy." He was relieved to find that by "the enemy" was meant not the Germans but the War Office. By now biographies, memoirs, and other works of history about the last war have made only too familiar the ferocity with which the war was carried on by other means among those responsible on our own side for running it, Mr Irving's book about the German V-weapons is remarkable because it describes in parallel how the fight proceeded not only on the British side, in the great argument about whether and what new German weapons were likely, but also among the Germans, in deciding to what weapons, new or old, resources ought to be applied at the war s climax.
Inevitably, in Britain, a key actor is again Lord Cherwell: disdainful as ever of the views of lay and unscientific persons such as Mr Sandys, who was given the task in the spring of sifting the evidence for German rockets, dogmatic and obdurate as ever in sticking to his first view that these long range rockets were so unfeasible scientifically as to be, in his scornful words, a "mare's nest" ; indignant and depressed when in the summer of 1944 his sceptical views were, fortunately, overridden, not just by the laymen but by the scientists as well, when the decision was made that there was a threat to be met by massive old-style bombing.
Yet too much ought not to be made of these quarrels or of the rights and wrongs of them. War is life-and-death economics: the business of allocating scarce resources among alternative means, based upon guesses about the (real) enemy's intentions and hunches about developments in technology, is at its tensest. The fact is, as Mr Irving's book again shows, that generally the British argument, with Mr Churchill having the last word, reached something like the right conclusions ; while the German argument, with the army, the air force, the SS and civilian ministers all fiercely engaged, and Hitler having the first word and the last, generally did not. Lord Cherwell was right as well as wrong. The big rocket with a devastating 50-ton warhead, instead of the one-ton charge of the V-2 when it came in September 1944, really was a mare's nest ; the flying-bomb or V-1 was, as he said, the likelier weapon, and the British intelligencers failed to spot it. The net effect of these diversions of Germany's work and resources from its armed forces. and crucially from its air force when a concentration of effort on its new rocket fighters might have made the allied bombardment, invasion and victory a vastly stiffer task, was to make the German defeat more sure.
The allies won in Europe by concentrating their superior resources on conventional weapons -- and mastery of the air. Hitler, with his talk of " revenge " and " terror," was in fact a defeatist, convinced that the war as he had waged it was lost. He was looking for a miracle, for the ultimate weapon (including, as well as the V-1 and V-2, very unperfected V-3 to pump shells into London at machine-gunrate) -- in fact, for the "deterrent." Ironically, it was the allies who, having beaten him by conventional means, found it -- and used it on Japan.
A tractor hauls a 14-ton A4 missile on its Meillerwagen transporter and launch rig across sand dunes at the Peenemünde test site. Illustration from the new edition of David Irving: The Mare's Nest. (Photo: Peenemünde Archives / Deutsches Museum).
(London) November 30, 1964
Cassandra [William Connor]
One of the most fascinating books I have read for a long time is "The Mare's Nest" by David Irving (published by William Kimber, 50s.).
It is the story of Hitler's revenge weapons, the V-1 Flying Bomb and the V-2 Rocket Missile that, with a little more luck on the Nazi side, could certainly have destroyed London as thoroughly as we destroyed Dresden.
Had Lord Cherwell's complacent view that the rocket menace was a "mare's nest" prevailed and had the Cabinet ignored what was going on at Peenemünde and in the Pas de Calais the number of Londoners killed by the V-1 and V-2 might have been nearer 900,000 than the 9000 who, in fact, did lose their lives.
Quite one of the most astonishing revelations of the whole campaign was the almost. casual announcement by Mr. Herbert Morrison's Ministry of Supply that "the Germans' explosive is eighty per cent, better than ours."
The Ministry of Supply explained to the Cabinet that by the simple process of adding small quantities of aluminium powder to existing explosives, improvements in efficiency of over eighty per cent, had been, obtained. This was in September, 1943.
What is almost incredible is that this vital fact was known to British scientists as far back as early 1940.
For years the R A F had, at enormous loss of life, been carrying high explosives to Germany, while the knowledge lay dormant is some Whitehall pigeon-hole that for every ton dropped on the enemy, a simple improvement would have given the destructive power of nearly two tons of high explosive.
Every British bomber could have been made nearly twice as effective without extra cost or crew, had this information been acted upon.
In October, 1943, Bomber Command alone had dropped 200,000 tons of bombs on Axis targets. With a simple aluminium additive, these loads could have been made as effective as 360,000 tons of high explosive.
It has taken over twenty years to unmask this high explosives scandal which was every bit as great as the shell scandal that Lord Northcliffe exposed in the First World War.
I wonder how many more military skeletons are mouldering in the Whitehall cupboards.
The Evening Standard (London) Ca. December 1964
Secrets of the war within the war
by Duncan Sandys, MP (photo from the new edition of David Irving: The Mare's Nest)
IN THE MARE'S NEST (Kimber, 50s.) David Irving gives an authoritative account of the V-weapon offensive as seen from Germany and from Britain. It presents the results of meticulous research in both countries and is full of interesting quotations from official British and German documents. These have been successfully woven together into a coherent narrative, written in a brisk style.
The story is interlarded with spicy accounts of personal disagreements, which, though somewhat over-coloured, will doubtless make the book more digestible to the general reader. I was the Minister entrusted with the task of detecting the German V-weapons and of planning our counter-bombing and defences against them. It is, therefore, fascinating to me to read in retrospect this step-by-step description of the German preparations, so much of which was concealed from us here at the time.
I have asked myself in what way we would have acted differently if we had known then all that we know now. While our information was naturally very incomplete on many points, there was only one strategically important gap in our knowledge. We did not at first realise that, in addition to the V-2 rocket, the Germans were also developing a pilotless aircraft or flying bomb, the V-1
If we had known sooner about the flying bomb we would certainly have taken steps to delay its development and production by bombing raids, as we did in the case of the rocket, about which we managed to obtain earlier information.
Likewise if we had known in advance that the flying bombs were too fast for our fighters, we would from the beginning have based our defence system primarily upon the anti-aircraft guns.
THIS would have reduced casualties in the early weeks of the bombardment; and it would have spared the two Commanders-in-Chief and myself the agonising decision to switch around all our defences in the middle of the battle, leaving London largely undefended for several days.
Whereas earlier knowledge of the flying bomb would have been most valuable. I believe, strangely enough, that if we had had more accurate information about the rocket, our countermeasures might actually have been less effective.
If it had been known that the rocket's warhead weighed one ton and not ten tons as we then believed, I might well have failed to persuade the Chiefs of Staff and the War Cabinet to authorize the air attack on the experimental establishment at Peenemünde in August 1943, involving as it did the use of our entire bomber force and the risk of crippling losses.
That was the decisive raid which disrupted Germany's rocket plans and postponed the bombardment of England by some six to nine months.
In the opinion of General Eisenhower, this may well have altered the course of the war. In fact, he has expressed the view that if the German V-weapons had come into operation six months earlier the Allied invasion of Europe from England would have had to be "written off."
ON the British side, the book is based largely upon the personal papers of Lord Cherwell Churchill's scientific adviser, and upon informaton provided by Dr. R. V. Jones, the able head of the scientific branch of the Air Intelligence Staff.
The author has consequently tended to treat the problem as primarily one of scientific intelligence and to pay insufficient attention to other more important aspects of the operation.
Lord Cherwell's disbelief in the existence of the rockets and the controversy which arose on this question may provide material for an interesting study of character and psychology.
Equally, the account of how we progressively pieced together the technical details of the V-2 rocket is an absorbing story of scientific detection. But none of this materially influenced our decisions.
It was the air photographs on which we acted. From these we observed that the Germans were devoting an enormous effort to the development of long-range weapons and were putting up suspicious structures is Northern France, oriented directly on London.
We concluded that all this was not intended for our benefit; and, without waiting to obtain scientific information about the precise nature of these new weapons, we attacked them wherever we found they were being developed, manufactured or deployed.
There is no doubt that Lord Cherwell was surprisingly slow to recognise the seriousness of the rocket threat. On the other hand, he was one of the first to point out the possibility that the Germans might attack us with pilotless aircraft.
I hope that nothing said about him in this book will obscure the great services which he rendered to our country.
Operation Crossbow was a war within a war, in which almost every branch of our military system was involved -- the Secret Service. the Air Reconnaissance units, the Intelligence Staff, British and American bomber squadrons, Fighter Command, Ack Ack Gunners, the balloon barrage, and the Civil Defence organisation.
To all of them we owe our thanks for the part they played in forestalling and derailing Hitler's last desperate offensive.
Students will find in The Mare's Nest a mine of important information, while much wider circles will enjoy David Irving's vivid presentation of a strange story.
The Times (London) December 3, 1964
Bombardments That Followed the Luftwaffe's Defeat
These two both tell the story of the battle against V-1 and V-2. Mr. Collier's shorter one tells the story in outline, building it up into a fascinating and readable "whodunit" of 150 pages, less appendices. Mr. Irving's longer work goes into far greater detail, but tells substantially the same tale: Its title, The Mare's Nest, indicates also one of its main themes, the conflicts of personality between scientists, intelligence officers, and Service leaders, which marked the search for information about these weapons,
"The Mare's Nest" was the unfortunate phrase, used by Lord Cherwell about V-2, and his part in this search, if the story revealed in both these books is comprehensive, was not one of his best contributions to the war effort. To some extent he was misled by early exaggerated estimates of the size of the weapon. In a sense the much smaller rocket which the Germans did actually produce was a mare's nest. Its productivity ratio is respect of destructive capacity to the effort involved in output was very low.
All along the search for the V weapons was confused by the fact that there were two of them, the V-2 rocket and the much cheaper and more destructive V-1 flying bomb. At times the skeins became crossed, and it was some time before the intelligence Services could disentangle them and establish that there really were two weapons. After that the search became much easier.
Anyone reading these books must be impressed with the efficiency of the British Intelligence Services at the lower level. On the whole they got on to the existence of these weapons at a very early stage and the backroom boys -- and girls -- were clever at putting the right interpretation on fragmentary pieces of evidence. It was the coordination and presentation of their conclusions at the higher level which was not always so good.
The atmosphere of Nigel Balchrin's Time Small Back Room was an ever present danger, and scientific and intelligence Boffins were sometimes unconvincing in face of gilded pundits like Lord Cherwell if they chose to disagree. Even then, the application of intelligence to operations was often misplaced. Some of the most disruptive damage to the V weapons programme was done when installations were bombed without any knowledge of what their real nature was. The gallant and brilliant Peenemünde raid of August, 1943, was a strategic and tactical triumph for Bomber Command. But it is arguable that by forcing the Germans to convey production and testing activities elsewhere their programme gained.
At one point the allies clearly missed a trick. After obliterating the first set of ski-shaped sites intended for V-1 launching, they had good intelligence of the alternative " modified" sites prepared by the Germans. For a number of reasons these were not bombed. Then, two days before the first V-1s were launched, air intelligence and ground agents both reported significant signs that the attack was about to begin. They included activity at the launching sites and a train loaded with V-1s on its way from Belgium. Still no action was taken. Perhaps the author of The Battle of the V-Weapons makes too little allowance for the fact that the Higher Command were more interested in winning the Normandy battle and thereby putting an end to the flying bomb threat for certain than in diverting resources to targets which might or might not be vital.
Who shall say that history will blame them? In the event, the Air Defence of Great Britain was conducted with consummate skill by Roderic Hill: and the land forces were very shortly overrunning the scattered French farmhouses round which were clustered the launching ramps and garages of wingless V-1 torsos. No defence was ever found against the V-2s, but as a military weapon they were remarkable as a foretaste of things to come rather than useful as a contribution to German chances of victory.
The New Statesman (London) December 18, 1964
Military technology, like any other science, demands scrupulous objectivity in those who pursue it. Yet no activity of government is more bedevilled by irrational impulse and romantic notions. Nowadays, a prime minister, as Mr Wilson is discovering, needs to know a great deal about such matters, for the sums of money involved are so enormous, and the consequences of error so decisive in the fate of nations, that decisions, however complex and specialised, must be referred to the highest authority. History, alas, can provide no guidelines for public men; but it can illustrate the kind of pitfall which yawns beneath their feet. The story of Hitler's, secret weapons contains a rich catalogue of human folly, and David Irving's excellent book* can be read with profit by statesmen on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
During World War II the Germans experimented with literally hundreds of secret weapons. Most of them, like their giant wind gun, designed to propel a miniature tornado towards approaching aircraft, remained little more than fantasies. Others, like the A10, an intercontinental rocket for the bombardment of New York, were only in their early stages when the war ended. The V3, or 'high-pressure pump' gun, designed to smother London in a rain of huge shells, was built but never used. Only the V-1, a flying-bomb, and the V-2, a small IRBM, became fully operational. Both these weapons-systems, as they would now be called, show the military planners on either side in a far from flattering light.
For the British, the problem was primarily one of Intelligence. The German War Office began work on a terror-rocket to bombard London as far back as 1930 (so much for the peace-loving Weimar Republic) and Von Braun's team, which eventually produced the V-2, was already in existence by 1932. The project expanded until it eventually occupied 200,000 people and a huge slice of Germany's war effort. Reports of all kinds flowed to London. A high-powered Intelligence team, under Mr Duncan Sandys, was appointed to investigate the problem. Yet the precise nature and capability of the weapon remained a mystery until the first rockets landed.
It is not entirely clear even now why our experts were baffled. A number of critical mistakes were made in the analysis of aerial photographs. But the real reason, I suspect, was that the British assumed too high a degree of rational purpose on the part of the enemy. They worked from the sensible premise that the scale of the German effort would be meaningless unless the rocket could deliver a warhead of about 10 tons. Arguing backwards from this assumption, they were confronted with the apparent absence of huge launching-sites and gigantic rockets which alone, so they reasoned, could propel so large a payload over such a range. It never seems to have occurred to them that the whole basis of the V-2 programme, from the viewpoint of military economies, was unsound. The rocket had only a one-ton warhead, which could have been delivered far more economically by a conventional bomber. The project was pursued because the men in charge of it were more interested in rocketry than winning the var. The British military scientists had made the elementary error of assuming that their enemies were acting on strictly rational principles. The hypothesis that your opponent is a fool should never be omitted from an Intelligence investigation.
Mr Sandys' belief in the German rocket threat was throughout hotly contested by Lord Cherwell (right), who dismissed the whole thing as a mare's nest. His behaviour was thoroughly irrational, ill-informed and, at times, tinged with personal rancour. His only real argument was that such a rocket could not be propelled by solid fuel; that this was the only type known in Britain (false, as it happened); and that the rocket therefore did not exist. During the course of the dispute, largely as debating points, he flung out the assertion that the rockets, if by any chance they did exist, would only have one-ton warheads, and that a flying bomb could deliver such a payload far more cheaply. Maddeningly enough, both these guesses proved absolutely correct.
But the errors of British Intelligence were more than balanced by the miscalculations of the Germans. The object of both the V-1 and the V-2 was to kill so many Londoners that Britain would be forced to make a negotiated peace. Neither had much hope of achieving this aim, since they were essentially nothing more than new delivery systems for conventional high-explosive. Without a far more destructive warhead, they had no chance of achieving a decisive effect. Yet the Germans showed no particular enthusiasm for nuclear explosives, the necessary complement to their V-weapons. Their entire programme, therefore, was based on a fallacy.
Within this framework of unreality there was a further crucial error. The V-1 and the V-2 were run as rival programmes, by the air force and the army respectively. Throughout, the V-2 was given the higher priority, though all the evidence showed that the V-1, in terms of cost-effectiveness, was by far the better weapon. Mr Irving produces some startling figures to prove this point. The flying-bomb offensive, from 12 June to 1 September 1944, cost the Allies £47,635,190 in loss of production, loss of aircraft and crews, extra AA and fighter defences, in an extra balloon barrage, in the clearance of bomb-sites and in the bombing counteroffensive; permanent repairs to houses damaged cost a further £25 million. As opposed to this, the manufacture of the flying bombs and the erection and defence of launching-sites cost a mere £12,600,670. In terms of lives, the disproportion was even greater: 7,810 (including 1,950 trained airmen) on the Allied side, 185 on the German. The flying-bomb, at £125 each, was a cheap killer. By contrast, the V-2 cost £12,000 each to deliver a similar payload and with no significant improvement in accuracy. It absorbed a higher proportion of Germany's scientific and skilled-engineering manpower than any other project, and the demands it placed on scarce supplies, particularly heavy chemicals, inflicted grave damage on the German war economy. Indeed, it might be argued that the V-2 did more harm to the German war effort than the entire Allied strategic bombing offensive.
How, Mr Irving asks, could a perceptive military economist like Albert Speer, the German Minister of Supply, allow such a thing to happen? The answer is simple and, again, instructive. Speer, like many less intelligent men, allowed himself to be captured by the mystique of rocketry. In order to control the flight of a rocket, a slow take-off is required: the huge missile must crouch on a pillar of flame as it rises ponderously into its trajectory. The first seconds in the firing of a big rocket provide perhaps the most awe-inspiring sight conceived by man. The noise is tremendous, the light blinding; but what impresses most of all is precisely the controlled lenteur of the takeoff, the image of cataclysmic force retained on a man-held leash. It is a firework display fit for gods. Whenever Von Braun and his minions ran into difficulties over priorities, whenever doubts were raised about the programme's profligate expenditure of men and resources, they treated their critics to such a display. It always worked. Hard-bitten men like Reichsminister Speer left the launching-site deaf and blinded by visions, bereft of logic, conscious only of the power and majesty which seemed to lie in Germany's grasp. For those unable to attend in person, an ingenious colour-film was made: it left audiences, including Hitler himself, stunned and converted.
It could be argued that the project-control system devised in Britain, and described in the latest volume of the official war history, would have prevented such a blunder here. Mr Irving also makes the point that the big rocket has a particular appeal to Germans, with their streak of childish romanticism and their attachment to Wagnerian fantasies. I would like to take comfort from this special pleading, but the post-war evidence suggests that no nation is immune from the contemporary rocket-madness. Mr Sandys, for instance, caught the virus while studying the V-2 during the war, and has never got rid of it since: in 1957, as Minister of Defence, he proposed an extraordinary scheme to take Britain out of the conventional arms race and concentrate the bulk of our resources on nuclear rocketry. Powers, great and small, are sliding fast down the Gadarene slope. The Americans have already spent over £40,000 million on rockets and the annual rate is still rising; in Russia the percentage of national income devoted to rockets. is even higher. Indonesia is now making rockets, and so is Egypt -- though both have a per capita annual income of under £30. No doubt other poor countries will feel obliged to follow suit.
V2_guidance platform with gyro stabilisers found at "Central Works" plants
Nevertheless, I remain sceptical of the assumption, now almost universal, that rockets constitute the most effective type of delivery system and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. By their nature they are complex, unreliable, inaccurate and hideously expensive. Those black monsters trundling over Red Square on May Day fill me not so much with awe as with relief -- at the incalculable diversion of scarce resources the Russians have been obliged to make in order to create them. Writing purely as an irrational non-scientist, it seems to me that there must be an easier way of carrying a warhead from A to B. But I suspect that the exploration of such theoretical alternatives will never be accorded the scientific and experimental resources they require so long as the emotional pull of the rocket is allowed to dominate military technology. We are still blinded by the Big Firework. Perhaps the tragicomedy of the V-2, now so readably and expertly presented, will provoke some doubts in the right quarters here.
(London) December 26, 1964
HITLER'S SECRET WEAPONS
THIS is a factual account, based upon original documents and a great deal of fresh information, of the construction and employment of the flying bomb and the rocket during the Second World War, but for sheer drama it has never been surpassed by the most sensational "thriller," and if confirmation be required for the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction it is to be found on these pages. Spies and secret agents of all kinds abound; the Chief of the German Air Staff is found dead on the floor, a revolver in his hand, and beside his body a note saying, "I cannot work with Goering any more"; and the most destructive air-raids are described with a wealth of lurid detail: for good measure quarrels in high places both in London and Berlin are thrown in, while in the background there ever hover the figures of Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler. In these circumstances it is not difficult to understand why when Mr. Irving's book is once taken up it is not easily put down.
Its title is taken from the belief of Lord Cherwell as late as October 1943, that "the rocket was a mare's nest." In holding this view he had originally to some extent been supported by the lack of evidence on the subject, for although a German Army establishment had as early as 1936 been experimenting with what later came to be known as the V-2. British Intelligence knew practically nothing until December 1942. Such being the case, Lord Cherwell's earlier scepticism was venial, but it soon became merged in a personal vendetta against Mr. Duncan Sandys, who held the opposite opinion.
Lord Cherwell's own distaste for rocketry dated back at least to 1932, and probably to his First World War days at Farnborough; and his attitude towards Mr. Sandys, which had never been amicable, was now characterised by an uncompromising antipathy.
So strong were these feelings . . . that the Paymaster-General allowed them to rule his reasoning, and he talked himself into defending a false and unscientific position which he must himself have increasingly believed to be indefensible.
In effect, he felt that his position as the eminence grise of Downing Street was threatened from the moment that the Prime Minister appointed his son-in-law to be Joint Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Supply with responsibility for all weapon research, development. and production, and he made no secret of his resentment.
Curiously enough, if the appearance of this new weapon caused dissensions among Churchill's advisers it had the same effect upon Hitler's. The Army and the Air Force each had definite and mutually exclusive views upon long-range bombardment, quite apart from the fact that the experimental station at Peenemünde was employing labour which Goering thought could be much better used elsewhere. So the struggle went on, with the experts divided among themselves, and, in the author's opinion, " the consequent errors in the rocket's design for mass-production were to cost Germany dear when production actually began at the end of 1943." As for the Fuhrer himself, the "superficiality" of his mind is here well illustrated by his inability to make it up where the flying-bomb and the rocket were concerned.
The descriptions of the way in which news of what was happening on the remote Baltic coast reached London are extremely vivid, and nothing could have been better done. Perhaps the best is the story of the German officer, a tank expert, who was captured in the North African Desert, and proved a " more than usually co-operative prisoner." Within a year he had become by subtle metamorphosis Mr. Peter Herbert and Technical Adviser to the Fighting Vehicle Division of the Ministry of Supply, commuting daily between Whitehall and his home in the suburbs. The only drawback seems to have been that when he had exhausted his memory he tended to fall back on 'is imagination, for "like Scheherazade he suspected that dire consequences might lie in store for him if ever his wonderful fund of stories should dry up."
The author does well to call attention to the difficulties encountered by British Intelligence where the production of the flying-bomb and the rocket were concerned, and he is fully justified in saying how easy it is for a historian today with all the facts before him "to point out only those agents' reports which are known from hindsight to have been correct and well founded, and question why these alone were not acted upon. The situation was very different for contemporaries, who had to deal with a flood of reports many of which were the result of a fertile imagination, while others had been deliberately planted by the enemy: winnowing the wheat from the chaff in these matters is not so facile an operation as it often appears in retrospect.
The invasion of Normandy began on June 6th, 1944, and 10 days later the first flying-bombs were dropped on England: the rocket made its appearance three months after that, for it was not until September 8th that the first V-2 fell at Chiswick killing three people and seriously injuring 17 more, and 16 seconds later another descended harmlessly in Essex: in both cases the sky was shortly afterwards filled with the sound of a heavy body rushing through the air. A generation has grown up since those days to whom these attacks are not even a memory, so it was well worth Mr. Irving's while to put on record that rather more than 6000 civilians were killed in London by flying-bombs and about 2700 by rockets, while the material damage was very extensive indeed. It is also not without interest to learn that the number of deaths per "incident" was twice as high in the case of the rocket as in that of the flying-bomb, and the author feels that "this may well have been the result of the closer pulverisation of the rubble, which suffocated more victims: another factor would have been lack of warning." On the other hand, the V-1 did more destruction to property than the V-2, and at one time, 20,000 houses in London were being damaged every day, mainly by blast.
The effect upon the capital's morale is a more disputable point, and Mr. Irving says that the German strategists knew that in the spring of 1944 it had been at its lowest for four years. In support of this he cites the tragedy which took place at Bethnal Green Underground Station in March of that year when at the sound of the siren a crowd of people stampeded into it with the result that 175 of them were killed, mostly by suffocation, and 60 more were seriously injured at the foot of a short staircase, though no bombs fell at all that night. Morale seems to have varied in different parts of London, and in any event it rose rapidly as soon as the success of the Normandy landings was assured.
However this may be, before the year 1944 was out there were nagging doubts even at the Fuhrer's headquarters whether either the flying-bomb or the rocket was likely to have any influence upon the outcome of the war, and there can be little doubt that this was primarily due to the Royal Air Force: a confidential report was already circulating in the German Admiralty to the effect that "the V-1 has not proved decisive as an innovation in this war. It has not forced England to her knees. V-2 won't either; and that is all that matters." The fact was that Hitler had been compelled to launch the campaign too late owing to the British bombing offensive, though Sir Winston Churchill would not admit it, which severely restricted the scale of both V-programmes; had this not been the case the Second World War might have had a very different result: as it was, the rocket in particular was a disturbing omen for the future rather than an effective weapon in the present.
"The Mare's Nest" by David Irving. Illustrated. (William Kimber; 50s.)
DAVID IRVING David Irving, 28, created a stir in political and military circles with the publication of his first book, The Destruction of Dresden, in 1963.
The Spectator (London) January 15, 1965
IN The Destruction of Dresden, Mr. David Irving has already given us one of the best and most illuminating books that have come out of the last war. One is tempted to say that The Mare's Nest is an even better one. It is, first of all, an admirably clear and thorough account of the development, production and operational deployment of the secret weapons with which, as the twelfth hour approached, Germany still hoped to avenge herself on Britain and even to win the war. It is also an account of the measures by which Britain tried to penetrate the mystery of the V-weapons and to counter the potential threat which they created; this seems to me one of the best descriptions I have ever read of how intelligence operations are actually conducted and their results assessed. Lastly, the book gives us a slightly nightmarish illustration of how, in war, decisions of critical importance may be determined by factors, of ignorance, human fallibility, prejudice, egotism, which are hardly amenable to rational control.
These were of three kinds. There was the V-1, or flying bomb, developed by the Luftwaffe; there was the V-2, or long-range rocket, pioneered by the German army; and, potentially most dangerous of all, there was the V-3, or 'high-pressure pump,' a colossal gun designed to bombard London with 600 shells an hour from an underground emplacement near Calais which was virtually indestructible by air attack. Only the first two ever became operational, and when they did they had a material effect which in no way justified the enormous resources devoted to their production.
For this elaborate and deadly game, in which science, bluff, espionage, revenge, panic and ignorance all played their part, Mr. Irving is able to assemble a cast of personalities which any writer of fiction mght envy. It includes Churchill and Hitler themselves, Himmler, Albert Speer, Professor Wernher von Braun, more interested in space than in bombing London, Lord Morison, Mr. Duncan Sandys, Lord Cherwell, and the admirable Dr. R. V Jones, FRS, the wartime head of scientific intelligence, whose investigations of the problem of the secret weapons were a model of how intelligence operations should be conducted; all in their way, together with a host of minor figures, contributed by their weaknesses as well as their strength to the wonderfully complicate plot of Mr. Irving's book.
What helps the fun along, as it were, is that science itself seems to add to the confusion. Lord Cherwell, for instance, had every justification for thinking that the secret weapons must carry a warhead of at least ten tons to justify their employment; he thought this was technically impossible and that therefore the whole problem was non-existent, 'a mare's nest.' In fact they only carried a war-head of one ton.
On the other hand, if the Germans had concentrated on one, instead of three, types of weapon, all the resources, of labour, material, organisation, scientific research and technological skill, which they devoted to the secret weapons programme, there seems little reason to doubt that they could have launched an attack, at a time, on a scale, and with accuracy.
Mr. Irving has succeeded in combining all the varied and complicated strands of his story into a single narrative which does not for a moment fail to hold our interest. Mr. Collier, in The Battle of the V-Weapons, tells the same story clearly and competently but without the wealth of detail, the painstaking research, and the insight into the human factors involved, which makes The Mare's Nest outstanding.