The ‘incident’: The bombing of July 3, 1944

Fast facts

  • At 7:47 a.m., a V-1 flying bomb —or “buzz” bomb —emerged from the haze over Sloane Court East, a short residential road in Chelsea, London.  In an act that reportedly saved some lives, the commander of the 130th Chemical Processing Company, a U.S. Army company stationed on Sloane Court, shouted for his troops to take cover.  Within seconds, the bomb exploded at the north-west end of the road, close to the intersection with Turk’s Row, releasing a blast equivalent to a 1,000kg parachute mine —a blast that did not produce a crater but was strong enough to destroy the surrounding housing units and start a fire.  (See the entry “Bomb damage” for more.)006-1-web
  • The bombing was the single greatest incidence of loss of life for American servicemen due to a V-1 blast and was the second worst V-1 incident in London (1).  The exact death toll from the blast remains unclear, but at least 65 American servicemen and nine civilians lost their lives.  Military casualties included members of the 130th Chemical Processing Company and the G-5 Division of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF). Members of the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) were among those injured.

  • In an interview in 1998, Bill Figg, who witnessed the aftermath of the bombing, said,  “I saw this big army truck with four bodies slumped over the back.  In the middle of the road there was a head.  All down Sloane Court East there were more bodies than you could shake a stick at.”  He continued, “You just rolled over the bodies and felt the pulse. I must have rolled over 20 or 30 bodies, but they were all glassy-eyed.  It was beyond me.  When I realized I couldn’t help, I just got on my way” (2).
  • Members of the 130th Chemical Processing Company were billeted at numbers 4, 6, and 8 Sloane Court.  Number 6 was completely destroyed: numbers 4 and 8 were mostly destroyed.  That morning, a group of soldiers from the company was being loaded into a truck.  None of the soldiers on the truck were able to escape when the bomb struck.  Members of the G-5 Division of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) were also stationed at Sloane Court and suffered additional casualties.
  • The Sloane Court area was notorious for its barrage of buzz bombs, which earned it the nickname “buzz bomb alley.”  Reportedly, 90 percent of buzz bombs passed over the area (3).

  • Glenn Miller, the U.S. Army band leader, had been stationed at Sloane Court until they moved on July 2, 1944 —one day before the bombing.  As Don Hayes, one of the members of Miller’s band, confirmed, Miller requested the transfer out of concern over the barrage of buzz bombs passing over the area: “Glenn was more determined than ever to get the boys out of there, but fast” (2).  (See the entry “Glenn Miller’s Luck” for more.)
  • Due to wartime censorship, the event was not broadcast in any newspapers at the time and has been reduced to a footnote in history books, despite its significance in terms of death toll and harm to American servicemen.

Sources

  • (1) Winston G. Ramsey, The Blitz: Then and Now, volume 3, London: Battle of Britain Prints International, 1990, p.408-9.
  • (2) Allan Gill, “One man’s fight to honour dead GIs,” The London Evening Standard, 1 October 1998, p.16.
  • (3) George Simon, Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, New York: Da Capo Press, 1974, p.364.
  • “GIs remembered,” The Royal Borough Newsletter, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Winter 1997, p.12.
  • “At last we remembered them: One man’s mission is fulfilled in Chelsea,” The Chelsea Society Report, 1998, p.32-4.