Antwerp, "City of Sudden Death"

  The historic city of Antwerp lies 80 Km from the North Sea on the Scheldt River. The river Schelde flows into the Dutch Schelde called Westerschelde. On the northern embankment of the Schelde lies Noord Brabant, then the South Beveland and Walcheren penisulas. The port is one of the Europe's great harbors, but it is not a natural harbor. Its docks were dug out and fitted with locks to regulate the water and allow transportation of goods further inland.

   On September 1, 1944, as the Germans retreated toward the Reich, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower assumed overall command of General Montgomery's 21st Army Group and General Bradley's 12th Army Group. Eisenhower ordered a broad front advance to hold the Germans at bay and not overstretch the Allied supply lines. North of the line, Montgomery's forces were to be given priority until the port of Antwerp could be secured. Capture of the vast port facilities could greatly improve the supply situation for the advancing Allied armies. The British 11th Armored Division captured the city and port intact on September 4, 1944. But, they failed to seize the bridges over the Albert Canal, and when the British troops tried to cross a few days later, the bridges were blown by the retreating Germans.

   The Germans still had control of South Beveland and Walcheren. This would soon hamper Allied efforts to clear and open the port area. After the failure of operation "Market Garden", the urgent need for the port at Antwerp to become operational (close to the front lines) was very apparent.

   Hitler and the German High Command also understood the significance of the port to the Allies. In early October, Hitler ordered that all V-weapons should now target London and Antwerp exclusively. SS General Hans Kammler received the orders for the bombardment of Antwerp under the code name Anton. After four years of German occupation, it soon would become clear to the residents of Antwerp that the Nazi scourge on their city was not over - the German wonder weapons were about to target the historic port city.

   On October 7, 1944, a V-2 range-finding shot impacted near the Belgian city of Antwerp. It fell in the community of Brasschaat, about eight kilometers to the northeast, without any casualties. A few days later, residents of Antwerp heard a tremendous explosion on the morning of Friday, October 13, when a V-2 rocket destroyed several buildings on the corner of Schildersstraat and Karel Rogierstraat. There were reports of many citizens being crushed under the tons of rubble. The infamous V-2 had just claimed its first victims in the Belgian port city. Later that same day, another rocket impacted in the city. The local residents came to the scene of the impacts for a closer inspection. Fears among the city's population were increased, but at this point no one was in panic.

   Greg Hayward was an 18-year-old airman with the Royal Air Force during the invasion of Europe. He served with the 146th Wing, equipped with fighter bombers supporting the British and Canadian forces during their advance from Normandy to the German frontier. Hayward arrived in Antwerp on October 2 and was based at Deurne, a prewar civilian airport just three and a half miles from downtown Antwerp. During the following days, Hayward and his comrades witnessed the increase of V-weapon attacks. On October 19, a V-2 rocket impacted the Kroonstraat at Borgerhout, destroying 25 houses, killing 44 people and injuring about 100. The explosion on October 28 at Bontemantelstraat (one of the most densely populated parts of the city) was the first real massacre of the V-weapon campaign.

   Hayward recalls a harrowing experience at Deurne:  “The closest shave I experienced was on October 25 when a V-2 exploded on the airfield where, along with some 20 of my comrades, I was working on one of two aircraft dispersed for servicing. The incident left five airmen dead and a dozen or so injured. The rocket landed only 50 yards away but fortunately missed the concrete roadway and hit an area of soft ground—otherwise, I would probably be dead. I was standing on the wing of an aircraft at the time, waiting to climb into the cockpit. All I remember was a brilliant crimson flash, but no actual recollection of an explosion. Then, I was on the ground, the air around me black with smoke and dirt thrown up by the impact.” Hayward recounted, “By the time I sorted myself out and realized that I was still in one piece, the smoke and dirt had dispersed, revealing a scene of devastation and a still-smoking crater where the rocket had landed. Rescue teams were immediately on the scene and ordered me back to our workshop to clean up. One of the dead airmen was a friend of mine, we had been at training school together, he was only 18!” 

   The newspapers of the day gave no real hint to the actual cause of the blasts, but they did urge the Antwerp residents to take certain precautions if they encountered the German flying bomb. This is curious because in reality - no V-1 hit the city before October 25 due to bad weather conditions and high winds.

   During the following days, October 15-19, more incidents occurred. On October 19, a V-2 rocket impacted the Kroonstraat at Borgerhout destroying 25 houses, killing 44 people and injuring about 100. On the morning of November 17, 1944, a V-2 struck the St. Joanna Institute at the Ferdinand Coosemansstraat. Thirty-two of the nuns there died under the massive pile of debris. The explosion on October 28 at Bontemantelstraat (one of the most densely populated parts of the city) was the first real massacre of the V-weapon campaign.

   It wasn't until the last German forces were cleared from the Walcheren peninsula that the Allies were finally able to take advantage of the port's vast facilities. By the first of November, Canadian and British forces had cleared South Beveland and Walcheren. It took another two weeks for the Royal Navy to clear the mines left by the retreating Germans in the estuary. Finally, on November 28, 1944, the port of Antwerp was opened.

   Unloading of supplies began immediately. Since the time the city had been captured, it had taken almost three months for secure the harbor. Unlike the ports at Brest and Cherbourg, which had been completely destroyed by the retreating Germans, Antwerp remained surprisingly intact. Close to 9,000 Belgian civilians worked daily in the port unloading equipment and supplies with the Allied troops.

   V-2 rocket batteries firing toward Antwerp were stationed at several places. In October, the first and third batteries of the Art. Abt. 485 and the newly activated SS 500 Battery were all firing at Antwerp from positions near Burgsteinfurt in Germany. The second and third batteries of the Art. Abt. 836 bombarded Antwerp from firing positions near the town of Merzig and the first batterie also targeted Antwerp from positions near Hermeskeil. In November, all three of the Art. Abt. 485 batteries launched for a time from the Burgsteinfurt area against the Belgian port. The SS 500 battery had moved to new positions in Holland near Hellendoorn. All three batteries of Art. Abt. 836 fired in unison from Hermeskeil until December, when they moved across the Rhine River to the area of the Westerwald frontier.

   Kenneth Hartman was a 23-year-old U.S. soldier stationed in Antwerp during the 175 days of V-weapon bombardment. His unit, Headquarters Q-189, Headquarters Company, 54th QM Base Depot, arrived in the city during October of 1944, finding neighborhoods seemingly deserted. Only a few children were seen in the streets. The job for his unit was to get the harbor open and operational. He remembers the V-weapons bearing down on the city as the symbol of the city, the bronze statue of mythical hero Brabo, held vigil in the old city center as the terror rained from the sky. “I would go to witness the result of the worst of the bombings. The V-2s did the most damage,” said Hartman. “On October 14, I went to Schildersstraat the day after a V-2 had killed 32 and wounded 45.” A rocket fired by the third batterie of Battalion 836 from Merzig came down at the corner of the Schildersstraat and the Karel Rogierstraat. Approximately 100 structures were damaged, including the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. Forty-three houses were totally destroyed.

   “A few days later, a V-2 impacted in the suburb of Borgerhout, at Kroonstraat, killing 44 and wounding 98. Three-story residences were literally sliced away from the next, leaving a common wall exposed to the weather,” Hartman remembered. “I stopped going to the tragic sites after November 17. That day I came upon the ruins of the Boy’s Orphanage at Durletstraat. The Belgian Red Cross had removed 36 dead children and another 125 wounded by a V-1 the day before.” Also on November 17 another V-2 struck the St. Joanna Institute at Ferdinand Coosemansstraat. Thirty-two of the nuns died there under the massive pile of debris. 

   Since his youth, Charles Ostyn (now living in Australia) has been fascinated by the details of the terrible V-bombs that fell around his home when he was a young man growing up in Antwerp. In 1944, Charles was 18 years-old and living in Hoboken, which is a suburb of Antwerp. He lived in a house with his parents and one sister. He was working in the city as a young drafting apprentice at the time.

   Ostyn vividly remembers what it was like to live in Antwerp that winter, and he told V2ROCKET.COM about his experiences: "On November 6, 1944, I got a phone call in the office in the city telling me to go home 'pronto' as a V-bomb had fallen in our street, but that was about all they could tell me. It turned out that some 2 hours before, a V-1 had fallen into the park behind my house. The blast was not more than 30 meters from our house. It just so happened that a thick park wall shielded our home from the blast somewhat, the upper part and the roof were gone but my parents were unhurt except for glass cuts."

   "I spent the next few days clearing away the rubble, moving furniture and looking for missing things, but it was clear the place was uninhabitable. That winter was one of the coldest we had during the war and certainly the most miserable for us having lost our house early on..."

   To this day, Ostyn cannot forget the earth-shattering sound of the V-2s that rocked his city. "For the V-2 there usually (but not always) were two bangs, separated by a split-second, this I clearly remember," Ostyn recalled. "They were usually accompanied by a violent tremor if the impact occurred nearby. The approach of the rocket was only rarely observed..."

   Amazingly, Ostyn actually witnessed a V-2 plunging to earth; "I saw this flash during the day, but only once - I just happened to look at the sky in the right direction. It was definitely not a contrail, but it was like a streak from a comet - as fast as a shooting star. It was a long, thin, white streak, more like a flash coming down to the earth. This was seen about 1-2 seconds before the impact."

   "When a V-2 rocket hit in the city it was always followed by a huge black or brownish cloud of debris. If you dared to keep on watching (as I foolishly did many times), large pieces of metal and junk kept coming down all around you for several minutes. I always wondered if these twirling pieces of sheet metal were from the rocket itself. The only other time I saw a V-2 explode was on December 12, it was still dark outside and I was riding the tram to work. I didn't see a flash - just one hell of a bang and a yellow mass of flame lighting up the city. It hit about 500 meters away," said Ostyn.

   Ostyn was one of the few people in Antwerp that knew, on a daily basis, where the V-weapons had hit on any particular day. The office of his employer was on the fourth floor of a building on a narrow street in the old part of the city. Many times, after hearing the bangs, he would volunteer to climb to the roof and check on where the big brown cloud was billowing. He would stand in amazement looking at the junk and scrap pieces of metal fluttering down for several minutes. He later commented, "It is one of the silly things you do when you are 18 years-old I suppose."

   After coming down from the roof he would tell what he had seen and give the general direction of the impact. Everyone knew when a hit was very close because of the tremor, the falling of plaster and the breaking of glass windows. A slight vibration could be felt in the building a split-second before the two bangs.

   Greg Hayward described the V-2 descent and impact this way:  “One puzzling feature of the V-2 arrival was on a clear day, a descending vapor trail was clearly visible in the sky, and the first explosion occurred several thousand feet above the ground. This explosion appeared to be the rocket casing as hundreds of pieces of debris could be seen seemingly fluttering to the ground above the point of impact. I have never heard an official explanation of this phenomenon in the years since. All this, of course, was only seen after the warhead explosion alerted one to its arrival.” In fact, what Hayward probably had witnessed was a midair breakup of the V-2.

Teniers Square

   On November 27, a terrible incident occurred at a major road junction near the Central Station. Teniers Plaats (Square) was the busiest intersection in town (as it still is today). Military policemen were always regulating the heavy traffic for an Allied convoy passing through the square.

   It was on the main north-south axis for the supply columns. From the docks, American troops were heading south to the US supply bases near Liege and British columns were heading north to the front lines in Holland. There were four tram lines crossing the square in both directions, plus there were many autos and pedestrians moving throughout the busy intersection.

   "I often went there after lunch to watch the military activity..." said Charles Ostyn. "and the British MP, right there in the middle, regulating and directing both military and civilian traffic. On very busy days there were two MP's."

   A V-2 came down at ten minutes past noon and exploded in the middle of all this activity. A British convoy was moving through the intersection and was caught in the blast. This particular rocket was believed to have exploded just above ground possibly having struck the overhead tram lines just where the traffic policemen stood. A city water main burst, water bubbling up from the ground. Soon, the whole square was filled with water.

   "I heard and saw this explosion from a short distance away while riding in the back of an open truck and approached the scene about 2 hours later," Ostyn remembered. "There was water running everywhere and the whole place was cordoned off and guarded by U.S. soldiers. There was a massive crowd of onlookers and many people with bandages on their heads walking around. It must have hit something above ground first because no crater was ever found."

   The result was total devastation. The water began to pool on the street. Floating on the water were dismembered corpses, various body parts, clothing and large amounts of debris. Several of the vehicles in the convoy exploded or caught on fire, their occupants lay burning. The glass windows of the passing trams near the intersection were all shattered causing injuries to those riding on the trams.

   One of the MP's was completely disintegrated and the charred body of another was found sometime later on the roof of a nearby hotel, about 60 meters away. Soon, the story of the unfortunate MP who was blown to bits was infamous among the locals. In all, the dead were 126 (26 were American & British soldiers) and another 309 injured.

   On that same bitterly cold November day, Simone De Ceunynck happened to be walking home from her place of employment. She worked as an assistant bookkeeper at a local insurance agency in Antwerp and was on her way home to Deurne for her lunch break. Simone had recently decided to alter her normal route because of all the V-weapon blasts occurring near the old path she walked before. Simone was in a hurry to get home, so she went ahead of her friends from the office. After walking about two blocks, she was approaching the city crossing at Teniers Square when suddenly she felt uneasy. She quickly darted in front of the Army convoy, trying to get across the street as fast as she could. She heard the loud voice of the nearby MP yelling at her just as she reached the other side of the street. It was at that moment that the rocket struck. All of a sudden the noise of the city stopped, there was a split second of silence, then a low rumble followed by fire and screaming. Simone found herself standing between many broken and bleeding bodies. The gloves she had been carrying were gone. Dazed, she looked around and saw them lying on a dead British soldier. Simone reached down to retrieve the gloves and was greeted with the awful sight of the soldier’s brains spilling out of his skull. She began to panic, screaming as the horror of the scene overtook her. Another British soldier calmed her down and escorted her to the nearest Red Cross station. Simone was bleeding but alive. Shrapnel had entered her leg and breast; however, she was one of the lucky ones. Although she did not know it until she returned to work days later, two of her coworkers had died in the attack.

   Leaving the Red Cross station, Simone walked home, wondering if her mother had heard the blast. As it turned out, she had not. Walking into her home, the first comment from her mother was that Simone was late. Then she saw her daughter standing there, hair full of debris and glass, her clothes exsanguinous and bloody. They immediately traveled to the family doctor in Deurne.

   First Lieutenant Verne W. Robinson just happened to be traveling near Teniers that day. Robinson was in a vehicle with Private Herbert L. Moyer and Private Marcel Snauwaert—all three members of the U.S. 604th Engineers. Driving from Namur, they were on a routine errand to a railroad station in Antwerp to pick up some supplies. As they approached the intersection at Teniers, they were slowed by the heavy traffic bustling through the crossing. In a flash, the mayhem of the rocket explosion left Lieutenant Robinson lying on the cobblestone street mortally wounded, as shrapnel pierced his temple. In the aftermath he was cared for by pedestrians, but to no avail. A tragic illustration of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, Lieutenant Robinson was the only soldier from the U.S. 604th Engineers to be killed during the war. 

   Earlier, Greg Hayward was delighted to be off duty that day, and he was preparing to spend the afternoon in the town center. He was hoping to pay a visit to an American Red Cross canteen, where coffee and doughnuts were available. “At midday an explosion signaled a V-2 arrival, and it was apparent from the smoke and debris in the sky that it was somewhere near the center of the town,” said Hayward. “After lunch I took a tram into town and as I walked from the terminal toward the Keyserlei, it was obvious that the site of the incident was very close. On reaching the area of Teniers Square, I saw a scene of utter devastation. My own lasting recollection is of street gullies running red as water from the broken main and fire hoses mixed with the blood of victims. Realizing that the area was closed and that there was nothing I could do, I returned to my base.”

Teniers Square just happened to be the geographical center of Antwerp. It is highly probable that it was the aiming point for many V-2 rounds.

Photos above show the devastation at Teniers Square.

Photos above mark the impact spot at Teniers.

The Rex Cinema

   On the first day of the German Ardennes offensive, December 16, 1944, the worst disaster occurred. The "Rex" Cinema on avenue De Keyserlei was packed full of people in middle of the afternoon, nearly 1200 seats were occupied, all watching the featured movie. At 15.20 hrs the audience suddenly glimpsed a split-second flash of light cutting through the dark theater, followed by the balcony and ceiling crashing down during a deafening boom. A V-2 rocket had impacted directly on top of the cinema.

   Charles Ostyn happened to be near the cinema that day and would later learn of a personal tragedy in his life caused by this particular rocket attack.

   "December 16, 1944, is a day I can never forget. It all really sank in on us after the massacre at the Rex Cinema..." said Ostyn. He told about his feelings at that time: "I still remember that Saturday as if it were yesterday. I had walked past the theater about 20 minutes before the impact - to think, at that very moment a V-2 was being tanked-up by members of the SS Werfer Battery 500 in Holland, it being destined to kill all those people in one blinding instant."

   The destruction was total. Afterwards, many people were found still sitting in their seats, stone dead. For more than a week the Allied authorities worked to clear the rubble. Later, many of the bodies were laid out at the city zoo for identification. The death toll was 567 casualties to soldiers and civilians, 291 injured and 11 buildings were destroyed. 296 of the dead & 194 of the injured were U.S., British, & Canadian soldiers. This was the single highest death total from one rocket attack during the war in Europe.

   "I heard the explosion while I was traveling home on the tram. The cinema was packed with more than 1100 people and I remember the movie playing was 'The Plainsman' * with Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur (about "Wild Bill" Hickock - I was a real movie nut in my younger years). Later, I found out that my employer and his girlfriend were in the audience. Apparently, my boss took his girlfriend out to see the film on a spur of the moment decision."

   James Mathieson remembers the rocket struck the cinema just at the point in the movie where “Gary Cooper had captured an Indian who informed him that General Custer and his troops had been wiped out.” Mathieson was a member of an RAF intelligence unit, one of the first permanent RAF units in Belgium, which was stationed at German Admiral Erich Raeder’s former headquarters in Antwerp.

   “That day my CO decided he would allow a few men off to have a little break. We decided to go to the Rex because the picture showing was The Plainsman, starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur, who were two of my favorite actors,” said Mathieson.

   Upon entering the cinema, Mathieson and his buddy decided to sit in the back row of the smallest portion of the balcony. When the roof fell in, Mathieson felt bricks and mortar falling from above. He put his left hand up to shield his head, which was quickly sliced open from the falling debris. Another brick landed on the opposite side of his head leaving a large gash. In a state of semi-consciousness, covered in dust and blood, Mathieson remembers being rescued from the debris.

   “I was in a row where only three seats remained attached and I was lying over into space from the balcony.  If I had gone down into the pit I would have had no chance. I consider to this day that I have a guardian angel looking after me because I think it was an absolute miracle that I escaped with so little injury.”

   Mathieson was moved to a British Army hospital in the Belgian town of Duffel. When he awoke a few days later, he discovered his wounds had been stitched up and his head and arms were wrapped in bandages. Amazingly, he was told the building housing his unit was hit by another V-2 the very next day and practically everybody was wiped out. Even though the V-2 explosion at the Rex almost killed the young Mathieson, the injuries he sustained may well have saved him from perishing with his unit. 

   Survivors said that the rocket came through the roof and exploded on the mezzanine. The rubble and debris was up to 5 meters high and it took the rescue teams six days to dig out all the dead. American and British teams had to join in with Army cranes and trucks. The hospitals were swamped and health services couldn't cope anymore.

   "The news that something really terrible had happened in the city filtered to the suburbs later that evening," said Ostyn. "During the following week, it was finally confirmed that our boss and his fiancee were found dead under a thick layer of dust, both remarkably intact except for terrible head wounds."

   "Thinking back, my closest call of being blown to eternity was one week after the 'Rex', we were at the funeral for my boss at Silsburg Cemetery at Deurne and just before the coffin went down into the ground, at about 14.30 hrs, a V-2 exploded at the other end of the cemetery, ploughing into a row of houses... as if to underline the tragedy of it all. It was a very weird episode, which I cannot ever forget."

   After this shock, all theaters and cinemas were shut down and no more than 50 people were allowed to gather in any one place. People who could afford it left the city for safer parts and Antwerp became a somber and semi-deserted city. The residents remaining really felt that they were under siege.

(Photos 1 & 2 above) The aftermath of the Rex Cinema V-2 impact.
* The movie playing at the REX CINEMA is often reported incorrectly as "Buffalo Bill," when in fact it was "The Plainsman"

   The first time the press referred to Antwerp as "The City of Sudden Death" occurred in March 1945 in TIME magazine. Reporters had spoken to many of the US soldiers working in the port area during the final week of the V-weapon activity. The soldiers told of the terror reigned on the city for the past 4-5 months.

   "There was never any real panic in the city but, tension and fear existed—especially after the 'Rex' incident," said Charles Ostyn.

   There was a total news blackout about the bombardment in the papers and this went on until April of 1945. What made matters worse was that this included any news about how the war effort was going. Any reports about locations of V-1 or V-2 hits would have given the Germans data that they could have used to improve their aiming. So, the people of Antwerp never got any official information about what was happening.

   The V-weapon onslaught combined with the bad news from the Ardennes offensive in December made Antwerp residents realize that the war was far from over and that thousands more civilians and soldiers were going to die before Germany was defeated.

"The psychological effect on the citizens of Antwerp was great. It made us despondent and war weary, scared of what else Hitler had in store for us," said Ostyn.

Between December 10-16 about 761 civilians were killed by the V-weapons. The increased V-weapon attacks in December could not have come at a worse time for the citizens of Antwerp. The severe winter weather and the destruction of many houses caused great anxiety in the port city.

Between the start of the V-weapon attacks and the end of 1944, greater Antwerp (city and port area, left bank and eight suburbs—population in 1944 was approx. 500,000) had recorded 590 direct hits, which had flattened 884 homes and caused around 1,200 others to be uninhabitable. Almost 6,000 buildings were badly damaged and more than 23,000 others were damaged in some manner. Casualty figures stood at 1,736 dead and another 4,500 injured. It seemed that no neighborhood had escaped the destruction, as piles of debris could be seen everywhere.

The only surviving piece of the V-2 was always the large combustion chamber, which were found all over the city and the suburbs usually half buried in the ground. The chamber would sometimes careen after impact, sometimes killing many people in its path (combustion chamber weight = 600 Kg).

"V-weapon activity was normally much less at night than by day. Still, there was the occasional ear-splitting bang late at night or in the early morning announcing the arrival of another 'Whispering Death' in the city. Only the loudest of thunderclaps can match this sound in its intensity or volume," said Ostyn.
   The residents of Antwerp were witness to almost indescribable daily scenes - such as a horse and cart that was unfortunately close to a V-2 explosion, which meant the poor horse was terribly maimed and had to be dispatched with a hammer by a civilian soon after and was left lying in the street for many days after. There were scenes of funeral processions for victims as the V-1s buzzed overhead. As terrible as it sounds, it is these little sketches of a city under siege that show the reality and horrors endured by the people of the city during this time.

   Residents in the two northern suburbs of Antwerp, on very clear days only, could sometimes see V-2s rising in the air (launched from Hoek van Holland or Den Haag) on their way to London. The German V-2 batteries firing on London were only a little over 50 air miles from Antwerp's northern suburbs.

(Photo at right shows "twin-shot" V-2s being launched from Den Haag area going toward London, as seen from northern outskirts of Antwerp)

   The coming new year started no better than the previous. Shortly after midnight on New Year's Eve the city was struck by another flying bomb. Then on January 2 the city registered no less than 20 V-1 strikes. The heavy snow made rescue work almost impossible. Ever since the disaster at the Rex cinema all theaters and public places had been closed down. The very center is Antwerp was now desolate. The municipal authorities had provided temporary housing for the bombed out residents of the city, but they were almost overwhelmed by those in need. With the help of Allied forces, including doctors, nurses and soldiers, they were able to cope. Rescue workers often had to deal with more than 50 corpses a day and the very real possibility that a wall or entire building, so weakened by the blasts, might suddenly collapse on top of them.

   In the port of Antwerp itself, despite the bombardment, a constant flow of ships was still delivering supplies for the Allied war effort. Thousands of dock workers unloaded the ships in the midst of the raining V-weapon attacks. One ship was sunk (by a direct V-2 hit) and 16 others were damaged at some point, the Kruisschans lock was damaged, several marshaling yards were hit and the Hoboken petroleum installations were hit twice. Even so, the bombardment never seriously affected the functionality of the harbor. There were some casualties but, it never took very long for repairs to be made to these installations. The civilians who worked at the docks received an extra bonus in their pay from the Allies. This bonus was called Bibbergeld, which literally meant—Shivering Money—for the risks of working in the port while the V-bombs were falling.

   In late January, early February, the number of flying bombs had increased to the highest point and then tapered off in the month of March 1945. As the V-weapon attacks on Antwerp came to an end and the German firing crews were forced to retreat by the advancing Allied troops, the last V-2 rocket was felt in Antwerp on March 27, landing in Mortsel killing 27 and injuring another 62 people. The last of the flying bombs occurred on March 30. A V-1 flew into Antwerp's tower block, the Boerentoren, a 24-story building which was hit by the flying bomb between the 4th and 5th floors. The warhead and the moving impact of the flying bomb failed to budge the tower itself (built by Jan van Hoenacker) and the observers stationed on top of the tower never even felt the impact.

   Charles Ostyn knew of the destructive power of both V-weapons. In his opinion, although terrible, the V-2 was not as terrifying as the drone of the V-1 coming overhead: "Although the V-2 was terrible, the most scary for us in Antwerp was the 'little dingbat' or the V-1. We could hear them come from a long distance when they crossed the Allied anti-aircraft gun belt around the city but, too many got through. They had a characteristic rattle or buzz and flew overhead at high speed clearly visible. When the motor stopped it came down in a long curve and delivered its one ton of explosives on our citizens. We had about fifteen or twenty seconds to dive for cover when the engine cut out, which saved many lives. In January and February the V-1s were a real scourge on the city. Later, in March of 1945 the Allied gunners got the upper hand and manage to bring down most of the incoming V-1s. I have to admit though, things would have been very different if Mr. Kammler had thrown double the amount of rockets onto our heads, it was more like a steady drizzle not a full-scale bombardment. I suppose the fear factor has a lot to do with this, with V-2 it lasted only a few seconds and it was all over, no time to think or do anything."

   On November 10, 1944, American Brigadier General C. H. Armstrong had arrived from Paris to take command of the Flying Bomb Command Antwerp X. This consisted of American, British and Polish units of about 22,000 men. New plans had been drawn up for the three brigades of artillery to be stationed in a ring outside of the city to form a protective barrier against the flying bombs.

  Field Marshall Montgomery had demanded that Antwerp-X Command to try and bring down half of all the V-1s launched at the city. This figure was reached in December (52%). In January 1945 they reached the 64% mark and by February 1945 they managed to bring down 72% of all incoming V-1s. They had hundreds of guns spread out in 3 different gun belts around the town. Antwerp X would fire almost a million rounds of ammunition over the next few months and was responsible for shooting down more than fifty percent of the incoming V-1s. The Command lost 32 men killed and 298 wounded during action.

   Many people tend to associate the V-weapon campaign as one directed only against England; however, Antwerp was the recipient of even more V-2s than London, resulting in more than 30,000 killed or injured. For the whole of the V-bomb campaign, Antwerp received on average three V-2s per day in the city and its suburbs. The number of V-1s was on average four per day in December and January, climbing to 12 daily in February of 1945. In late January/early February, the number of flying bombs had increased to the highest point and then tapered off in the month of March 1945. More than 1,600 V-2s fell on the port city during a six-month period. The V-weapon attacks on Antwerp came to an end as the German firing crews were forced to retreat because of the Allied advance.

   The V-weapon campaign against Antwerp is often overlooked by military historians. The indiscriminant bombardment was certainly a terror for the civilian population of Antwerp, but it was also a monumental hindrance to Allied war planners. It is short sighted to say the V-weapons were ineffective simply because the port of Antwerp remained open throughout the campaign. Not even the Germans believed the rockets would completely destroy the port, but it was hoped, by amassing their fire on this strategic target, they could severely inhibit the Allies’ progress toward Germany.

   In the weeks leading up to the Ardennes offensive, the V-weapons made it very difficult for supplies to reach the overstretched Allied lines. Hitler hoped to cut the American and British forces in half, with the capture of Antwerp being his ultimate goal. In the face of Allied air superiority, the V-bombs were Hitler’s only available means to stem to flow of supplies prior to and during the German offensive. Even though Hitler lost the Battle of the Bulge, the V-bombs continued to fall on Antwerp. Throughout the later portion of 1944 and well into 1945, the V-weapons severely curtailed the amount of supplies brought into Antwerp. The port never did reach its expected goals, and the Allies were forced to divert ammunition and manpower to Ghent.

(Photos 1 & 2) At the Antwerp City Hall there is this map indicating all of the V-weapon strikes in the city. (Photos 3-6) Allied servicemen examine the remains of V-2 rockets that impacted in Antwerp. (Photos 7 & 8) Allied servicemen open up the docks at Antwerp.

(Photo 1) V-2 damage at Bontemantelstraat. (Photo 2) V-2 damage. (Photo 3) The very first V-2 blast to hit the city (Oct. 13), the big wall on the right is the Museum of fine Arts. (Photo 4) Museum of Fine Arts. (Photo 5) Schildersstraat impact, then and now. (Photos 6 & 7) Damage in the suburb of Hoboken. (Photo 8) Various pieces of V-2 wreakage salvaged from Antwerp streets.

(Photo 1) Remains of V-2 combustion chamber buried in the street. (Photo 2) Allied soldiers examine rocket debris immediately after a V-2 impact. (Photo 3) Wartime map of Antwerp. (Photos 4-6) V-weapons on display in Groenplaats (Green Square). The Allied exhibition of war material was held here in July of 1945.
   During the V-weapon onslaught, over a period of 175 days and nights, the German launching crews fired more than 4,000 V-1s and more than 1,700 V-2s at greater Antwerp. Of those, 106 V-1s and 107 V-2s hit the heart of the city. During that period more than 3,700 civilians were killed and some 6,000 injured in the provence of Antwerp. Only about 30 percent of the V-2s launched against Antwerp reached the city. The rockets that were off-target kept falling all around the Antwerp area and often very far away from the port area. Several factors come into play for the modest number of V-2s Antwerp suffered each day, but the main reasons were the German bottleneck in their alcohol and liquid oxygen supply and the enormous dispersion of the still imperfect weapon.

   Click on the image at right to view a detailed map showing the "fall of shot" related to the German V-missile campaign directed toward greater Antwerp. The map was created by Antwerp city officials immediately after the end of the war in Europe.

Courtesy John Pridige and Public Records Office (PRO) London.

Impacts in greater Antwerp
October 1944
November 1944
December 1944
January 1945
February 1945
March 1945
(Figures may not be 100% accurate, however,  this is a good account from J. De Launay)  - For the whole V-bomb campaign on Antwerp on average 3 (three) V-2s per day impacted on the area of greater Antwerp. The number of V-1 was on average 4 per day in December and January, climbing to 12 daily in February 1945.

Content Sources:

• Guido De Maeseneer, Peenemünde, 2001
• Greg Hayward, personal account, 2002
• Kenneth Hartman, personal account, 2003
• Simone De Ceunynck, 2003
• Lynne (Robinson) Lawrence, 2004
• Charles Ostyn, 2001
• Koen Palinckx, Antwerpen Onder De V-bommen 1944-1945, 2004
• James Mathieson, 2005
• T. Franssen, De Slag om Antwerpen, 1945
• De Schuyter, Gemarteld Antwerpen, 1945
• Achiel Rely, After the Battle 57, 1987
• Benjamin King & Timothy Kutta, Impact, 1998
• PRO WO.205/999, Defense of Antwerp and Belgium

Related Links:
Canadian Troops in Belgium WWII
Dredging Under Fire
History of Cinema REX in Antwerp

Special Thanks: Dr. Ken Hartman, Charles Ostyn


© T Dungan