By Jeff Holubitsky
When the Third Reich launched its first V-1 missile at England on June 13, 1944, it unleashed a new era of technological terror on the British public. Over the next ten and a half months, 6,724 buzz bombs or doodlebugs, as they were also called, followed. More than 2,300 smashed London alone, causing 5,475 deaths and injuring 16,000.
“It was the first cruise missile,” Phil Vere, a 79-year-old long-time volunteer at the Alberta Aviation Museum says. “Certainly, they could destroy a short street with 2,000 pounds of explosive going off.”
The retired sheriff was delated the task of leading a team of like-minded enthusiasts in creating a half-scale replica of the aerial weapon that caused so much grief to so many.
“But you know, nobody works on anything alone,” Vere says of his contributions. “If anyone tells you he’s a self-made man, that’s baloney.”
After many hundred hours of construction, this month the V-1 should finally hang in its permanent location suspended from the ceiling of the museum’s Second World War hangar. It will be part of the display that includes a twin-engine Mosquito fighter bomber largely made of plywood, similar to the one flown by Second World War legend Russ Bannock.
Born Russell William Bahnuk in 1919 — Bannock’s father changed the name in 1939 — he was educated in Edmonton schools, attended the University of Alberta and earned his pilot’s licence the Blatchford Field municipal airport.
Because he had been a bush pilot, Bannock spent most of the war in Canada as a flight instructor before finally receiving permission to join the fight in Europe in 1944. Assigned to the 418 (City of Edmonton) Squadron, he helped develop methods of taking down the dreaded gyro-guided V-1.
“The Mosquito was one of the few aircraft fast enough to catch up to the cruise missiles,” museum curator Ryan Lee says. “Bannock is credited with shooting down 19 V-1s, plus 11 enemy aircraft and was dubbed ‘the Saviour of London,’ by British newspapers.”
Bannock later worked for de Havilland Canada and was the chief test pilot for the DHC-2 Beaver and DHC-3 Otter. Much later in life after running his own company, he returned to de Havilland to become president and CEO. He died in 2020 at the age of 100.
From even a few feet away, the V-1 replica appears as if it is made of painted steel. Parts look to be held together with rivets and crude welds. Mechanical shutters on the air intake of its top-mounted pulsejet engine look like precision engineering. But its all a fantastic illusion. The body and wings are crafted from expanded polystyrene or Styrofoam. That intake shutter is made of steel tubing and bolts Vere tracked down at a hardware store.
“I had to make a 20-foot lathe to shape it,” Vere says of the V-1. “A one-and-a-half-inch steel pipe runs down the centre.”
All the measurements were derived by scaling back actual German military records by half. Looking at photos of those old blueprints and thinking of the people who drew them is an eerie feeling indeed.
“The cruise missile was made by slave labour in several locations and brought together for final assembly,” he says.
Vere explains how he made a hot wire cutter to trim the Styrofoam to a rough shape before crafting a large sanding bar to smooth the replica down to accurate dimensions.
Vere credits the challenging work of many volunteers who put in their hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays on bringing the project to a close.
On a recent morning, long-time volunteer, expert model builder and painter Vic Scheuerman was finishing up some of the fine details. It was his job to paint the missile to make it look real. His camouflage patterns and colours, for example, are purposely mismatched and the fake welded seams appear crudely made.
On this morning he cuts out letter stencils in a carefully chosen font that looks like something the Third Reich might have used. Period photos of actual V-1 missiles often show the use of several fonts.
“I don’t know what it says,” he laughs. “I don’t speak German.”
Click here to plan your next visit to the museum to discover this and many other projects that our dedicated volunteers are working on.