by Gerald Boerner
Today we look at one of those examples of something that is very destructive and used for “evil” being turned into something so beneficial to mankind. We are talking about one of Hitler’s “Vengeance” weapons — the V-2 Rocket. It was developed in Germany, built with labor from a concentration camp, and used to rain destruction upon London and Antwerp during the last days of World War II.
That was the “evil” part of the equation. The “good” part was that many of the V-2 rocket’s parts and most of the scientists and engineers, including the head engineer — Wernher von Braun, were captured by the American Army and brought back to this country. This team and the rocket became the basis of our launch vehicle for the exploration of space.
In fact, the basic technology led to the development of the Saturn V launch vehicle that put the Apollo 11 crew on the moon in 1969! So, this weapon system became the basis of our space program and the German engineers became the core of the “brain trust” that saw us making huge leaps during the 1960s and beyond. GLB
[ 3670 Words ]
“Build a rocket ship and leave the earth!”
— Jon Heder
“If I had a rocket launcher, some son of a bitch would die.”
— Bruce Cockburn
“If there is a small rocket on top of a big one, and if the big one is jettisoned and the small one is ignited, then their speeds are added.”
— Hermann Oberth
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
— Dwight D. Eisenhower
“I certainly remember building model rockets. It was fun to watch the rocket blast into the air, suspenseful to wonder if the parachute would open to bring the rocket safely back.”
— Eric Allin Cornell
“If you put somebody on a crack pipe and give them a 9 mm Baretta, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going to happen next.”
— James Lee Burke
“My mother was a modern woman with a limited interest in religion. When the sun set and the fast of the Day of Atonement ended, she shot from the synagogue like a rocket to dance the Charleston.”
— Lionel Blue
“Nowhere in this country should we have laws that permit drinking and driving or drinking in vehicles that are on American highways. This is not rocket science. We know how to prevent this, and 36 states do.”
— Byron Dorgan
German V-2 Rocket: Launched to 100-Miles
The V-2 rocket (German: Vergeltungswaffe 2, vengeance weapon 2), technical name A4, was a long-range ballistic missile that was developed at the beginning of the Second World War in Nazi Germany, specifically targeted at Belgium and sites in southeastern England. The rocket was the world’s first long-range combat-ballistic missile and first human artifact to achieve sub-orbital spaceflight. It was the progenitor of all modern rockets, including those used by the United States and Soviet Union space programs, who gained access to the scientists and designs through Operation Paperclip and Operation Osoaviakhim.
Over 3,000 V-2s were launched as military rockets by the German Wehrmacht against Allied targets during the war, mostly London and later Antwerp, resulting in the death of an estimated 7,250 military personnel and civilians. The weapon was presented by the Nazi propaganda as a retaliation for the bombers that succeeded in attacking ever more German cities from 1942 until the end of the war.
In 1919, the Smithsonian Institution published Robert Goddard’s groundbreaking work, A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes. The report describes Goddard’s mathematical theories of rocket flight, including his experiments with solid-fuel rockets. Along with Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s earlier work, The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices (1903), Goddard’s work influenced subsequent pioneers, Hermann Oberth and Sergey Korolev.
In the late 1920s, a young Wernher von Braun acquired a copy of Hermann Oberth’s book, Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (The Rocket into Interplanetary Space). Starting in 1930, he attended the Technical University of Berlin, where he assisted Oberth in liquid-fueled rocket motor tests. Von Braun was working on his creative doctorate when the Nazi Party gained power in Germany. An artillery captain, Walter Dornberger, arranged an Ordnance Department research grant for von Braun, who from then on worked next to Dornberger’s existing solid-fuel rocket test site at Kummersdorf. Von Braun’s thesis, Construction, Theoretical, and Experimental Solution to the Problem of the Liquid Propellant Rocket (dated 16 April 1934), was kept classified by the German army and was not published until 1960. By the end of 1934, his group had successfully launched two rockets that rose to heights of 2.2 and 3.5 kilometers.
At the time, Germany was highly interested in American physicist Robert H. Goddard’s research. Before 1939, German scientists occasionally contacted Goddard directly with technical questions. Von Braun used Goddard’s plans from various journals and incorporated them into the building of the Aggregat (A) series of rockets.
Following successes at Kummersdorf with the first two Aggregate series rockets, Wernher von Braun and Walter Riedel began thinking of a much larger rocket in the summer of 1936 based on a projected 25-metric-ton-thrust engine.
After the A-4 project was postponed due to unfavorable aerodynamic stability testing of the A-3 in July 1936, von Braun specified the A-4 performance in 1937, and A-4 design and construction was ordered c1938/1939. During 28–30 September 1939, Der Tag der Weisheit (English: the day of wisdom) conference met at Peenemünde to initiate the funding of university research to solve rocket problems. By late 1941, the Army Research Center at Peenemünde possessed the technologies essential to the success of the A-4. The three key technologies for the A-4 were large liquid-fuel rocket engines, supersonic aerodynamics, gyroscopic guidance and rudders in jet control. At the time, Adolf Hitler was not particularly impressed by the V-2; he pointed out that it was merely an artillery shell with a longer range and much higher cost.
In early September 1943, von Braun promised the Long-Range Bombardment Commission that the A-4 development was ‘practically complete/concluded’, but even by the middle of 1944, a complete A-4 parts list was still unavailable. Hitler was probably still not impressed with the weapon but was impressed by the enthusiasm of its developers, and needing a "wonder weapon" to maintain German morale, Hitler authorized its deployment in large numbers.
An estimated 20,000 inmates at the Mittelbau-Dora plant died constructing V-2s. Of these, 9,000 died from exhaustion and collapse, 350 were hanged (including 200 executed for acts of sabotage) and the remainder were either shot or died from disease or starvation.
At launch the A-4 propelled itself for up to 65 seconds on its own power, and a program motor controlled the pitch to the specified angle at engine shutdown, from which the rocket continued on a free-fall (ballistic) trajectory. The rocket reached a height of 80 km (50 mi) after shutting off the engine.
The fuel and oxidizer pumps were steam turbines, and the steam was produced by concentrated hydrogen peroxide with potassium permanganate catalyst. Both the alcohol and oxygen tanks were an aluminium-magnesium alloy.
The combustion burner reached a temperature of 2500–2700 °C (4500 – 4900 °F). The alcohol-water fuel was pumped along the double wall of the main combustion burner. This cooled the chamber and heated the fuel (regenerative cooling). The fuel was then pumped into the main burner chamber through 1,224 nozzles, which assured the correct mixture of alcohol and oxygen at all times. Small holes also permitted some alcohol to escape directly into the combustion chamber, forming a cooled boundary layer that further protected the wall of the chamber, especially at the throat where the chamber was narrowest. The boundary layer alcohol ignited in contact with the atmosphere, accounting for the long, diffuse exhaust plume. (Later, post-V2 engine designs not employing this alcohol boundary layer cooling show a translucent plume with shock diamonds.)
The V-2 was guided by four external rudders on the tail fins, and four internal graphite vanes at the exit of the motor. The LEV-3 guidance system consisted of two free gyroscopes (a horizon and a vertical) for lateral stabilization, and a PIGA accelerometer to control engine cutoff at a specified velocity. Some later V-2s used "guide beams" (radio signals transmitted from the ground) to keep the missile in course, but the first models used a simple analog computer that adjusted the azimuth for the rocket, and the flying distance was controlled by the timing of the engine cut-off, "Brennschluss", ground controlled by a Doppler system or by different types of on-board integrating accelerometers. The rocket stopped accelerating and soon reached the top of the (approximately parabolic) flight curve.
The painting of the operational V-2s was mostly a camouflage ragged pattern with several variations, but at the end of the war a plain olive green rocket also appeared. During tests, the rocket was painted in a characteristic black-and-white chessboard pattern, which aided in determining if the rocket was spinning around its longitudinal axis.
The original German designation of the rocket was "V2", not "V-2". The first English translation of the book V2– Der Schuss Ins Weltall (English: "V2– The Shot Into Space"), by Walter Dornberger, was published in England by Hurst And Blackett in 1954 and titled V2. In that book, the rocket is called the "V2". But in the US version of V2– Der Schuss Ins Weltall, published in the US by Viking in 1954 and titled V-2, the rocket is called the "V-2". The text in the books V2 and V-2 appears to be identical, except that in the book V2, published in England, no hyphens are used to designate any of the rockets: they appear as "V2", "A4", "V1", etc. But in the book V-2, published in the US, the rocket names are always hyphenated: they appear as "V-2", "A-4", "V-1", etc. It’s likely that the US Air Force requested the change so that the designations would conform to the usual method that the US military used (and still uses) to designate its planes. For example, P-38 Lightning, P-51 Mustang, B-29 Superfortress.
Following Operation Crossbow bombing, initial plans for launching from the massive underground Le Blockhaus and La Coupole or from fixed pads such as near the Chateau du Molay were dropped in favor of mobile launching. Eight main storage dumps were planned and four had been completed by July 1944 (the one at Mery-sur-Oise was begun in August 1943 and completed by February 1944). The missile could be launched practically anywhere, roads running through forests being a particular favorite. The system was so mobile and small that not one Meillerwagen was caught in action by Allied aircraft, although Raymond Baxter reported that he shot at a V2 from his Spitfire as it was launched.
An average of ten V-2s could be launched per day and up to 1000 V-2s could be launched per month, given sufficient supply of the rockets.
After Hitler’s 29 August declaration to begin V-2 attacks as soon as possible, the offensive began on 8 September 1944 with a single launch at Paris, which caused modest damage near Porte d’Italie,. Two more launches by the 485th followed, including one from The Hague against London on the same day at 6:43 p.m. – the first landed at Chiswick which killed 63-year-old Mrs. Ada Harrison, 3-year-old Rosemary Clarke, and Sapper Bernard Browning on leave from the Royal Engineers. Upon hearing the double-crack of the supersonic rocket (London’s first-ever), Duncan Sandys and Reginald Victor Jones looked up from different parts of the city and exclaimed ‘That was a rocket!’, and a short while after the double-crack, the sky was filled with the sound of a heavy body rushing through the air. The Germans themselves finally announced the V-2 on 8 November 1944 and only then, on 10 November 1944, did Winston Churchill inform Parliament, and the world, that England had been under rocket attack "for the last few weeks."
An estimated 2,754 civilians were killed in London by V-2 attacks with another 6,523 injured, which is two people killed per V-2 rocket. However, this understates the potential of the V-2, since many rockets were misdirected and exploded harmlessly. Accuracy increased greatly over the course of the war, particularly on batteries where Leitstrahl-Guide Beam apparatus was installed, with V-2s sometimes landing within meters of the target. Accurately targeted missiles were often devastating, causing large numbers of deaths—160 killed and 108 seriously injured (the worst loss of life in a single V2 attack), in one explosion on 25 November 1944 in mid-afternoon, striking a Woolworth’s department store in New Cross, south-east London (plus 108 seriously injured) and 567 deaths in a cinema in Antwerp—and significant damage in the critically important Antwerp docks.
As a result of such deadly targeting, British intelligence leaked falsified information implying that the rockets were over-shooting their London target by 10 to 20 miles. This tactic worked and for the remainder of the war most landed in Kent due to erroneous recalibration.
The final two exploded on 27 March 1945. One of these represented the last V2 to kill a British civilian: Mrs. Ivy Millichamp, aged 34, killed in her home in Kynaston Road, Orpington in Kent , evidencing the German re-calibration.
A scientific reconstruction carried out in 2010 demonstrated that the V2 creates a crater 20m wide and 8m deep, throwing up around 3000 tons of material into the air.
The V-2 program was the single most expensive development project of the Third Reich: 6,048 were built, at a cost of approximately 100,000 Reichsmarks each; 3,225 were launched. SS General Hans Kammler, who as an engineer had constructed several concentration camps including Auschwitz, had a reputation for brutality and had originated the idea of using concentration camp prisoners as slave laborers in the rocket program. The V-2 is perhaps the only weapon system to have caused more deaths by its production than its deployment.
"… those of us who were seriously engaged in the war were very grateful to Wernher von Braun. We knew that each V-2 cost as much to produce as a high-performance fighter airplane. We knew that German forces on the fighting fronts were in desperate need of airplanes, and that the V-2 rockets were doing us no military damage. From our point of view, the V-2 program was almost as good as if Hitler had adopted a policy of unilateral disarmament." (Freeman Dyson)
The V-2 consumed a third of Nazi Germany’s fuel alcohol production and major portions of other critical technologies: for one V-2 required 30 tons of potatoes. Due to a lack of explosives, concrete was used and sometimes the warhead contained photographic propaganda of German citizens who had died in allied bombing.
The V-2 lacked a proximity fuse, so it could not be set for air burst; it buried itself in the target area before or just as the warhead detonated. This reduced its effectiveness. Furthermore its guidance systems were too primitive to hit specific targets, and its costs were approximately equivalent to four-engined bombers, which were more accurate (though only in a relative sense), had longer ranges, carried many more warheads, and were reusable. Moreover, it diverted resources from other, more effective programs. Nevertheless, it had a considerable psychological effect as, unlike bombing planes or the V1 Flying Bomb, which made a characteristic buzzing sound, the V-2 traveled faster than the speed of sound, with no warning before impact and no possibility of defense.
With the war all but lost, regardless of the factory output of conventional weapons, the Nazis resorted to V-weapons as a tenuous last hope to influence the war militarily (hence Antwerp as V-2 target), as an extension of their desire to "punish" their foes and most importantly to give hope to their supporters with their miracle weapon. The V-2 had no effect on the outcome of the war, but its value, despite its overall ineffectiveness, was in its novelty as a weapon which set the stage for the next 50 years of ballistic military rocketry, culminating with ICBMs during the Cold War and modern space exploration.
Post-Second World War usage
At the end of the war, a race began between the United States and the USSR to retrieve as many V-2 rockets and staff as possible. Three hundred trainloads of V-2s and parts were captured and shipped to the United States, and 126 of the principal designers, including both Wernher von Braun and Walter Dornberger were in American hands. Von Braun, his brother Magnus von Braun, and seven others decided to surrender to the United States military (Operation Paperclip) to ensure they were not captured by the advancing Soviets or shot dead by the Nazis to prevent their capture.
Operation Backfire (WWII) V-2 rocket on Meillerwagen
(S.I. Negative #76-2755)
British and Canadian
In October 1945, British Operation Backfire assembled a small number of V-2 missiles and launched three of them from a site in northern Germany. The engineers involved had already agreed to move to the US when the test firings were complete. The Backfire report remains the most extensive technical documentation of the rocket, including all support procedures, tailored vehicles and fuel composition. In his book My Father’s Son, Canadian author Farley Mowat, then a member of the Canadian Army, claims to have obtained a V-2 rocket in 1945 and shipped it back to Canada, where it is alleged to have ended up in the National Exhibition grounds in Toronto.
Post-war V-2s launched in secret from Peenemünde may have been responsible for a curious phenomenon known as Ghost rockets, unexplained objects crossing the skies over Sweden and Finland.
The Canadian Arrow, a competitor for the Ansari X Prize, was based on the V-2.
The USSR also captured a number of V-2s and staff, letting them set up in Germany for a time. The first work contracts were signed in the middle of 1945. In 1946 (as part of Operation Osoaviakhim) they were obliged to move to Kapustin Yar in the USSR, where Groettrup headed up a group of just under 250 engineers. The first Soviet missile was the R-1, an exact copy of the V-2. Most of the German team was sent home after that project, but some remained to do research until as late as 1951. Unbeknownst to the Germans, work immediately began on larger missiles, the R-2 and R-5, based on extension of the V-2 technology.
Operation Paperclip recruited German engineers and Special Mission V-2 transported the captured V-2 parts to the United States. At the close of the Second World War, over 300 rail cars filled with V-2 engines, fuselages, propellant tanks, gyroscopes and associated equipment were brought to the railyards in Las Cruces, New Mexico, so they could be placed on trucks and driven to the White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico.
In addition to V-2 hardware, the U.S. Government delivered German mechanization equations for the V-2 guidance, navigation, and control system, as well as for advanced development concept vehicles, to U.S. defense contractors for analysis. In the 1950s some of these documents were useful to U.S. contractors in developing direction cosine matrix transformations and other inertial navigation architecture concepts that were applied to early U.S. programs such as the Atlas and Minuteman guidance systems as well as the Navy’s Subs Inertial Navigation System.
A committee was formed with both military and civilian scientists to review payload proposals for the reassembled V-2 rockets. This led to an eclectic array of experiments that flew on the V-2s and paved the way for American manned space exploration. Devices were sent aloft to sample the air at all levels to determine atmospheric pressures and to see what gases were present. Other instruments measured the level of cosmic radiation.
Only 68 percent of the V-2 flights were considered successful. A supposed V-2 launched on 29 May 1947 landed near Juarez, Mexico and was actually a Hermes B-1 vehicle.
The U.S. Navy attempted to launch a reassembled German V-2 rocket at sea—one test launch from the aircraft carrier USS Midway was performed on 6 September 1947 as part of the Navy’s Operation Sandy. The test launch was a partial success; the V-2 went off the pad, but splashed down in the ocean only some 10 km (6.2 mi) from the carrier. The launch setup on the Midway’s deck is notable in that it used foldaway arms to prevent the missile from falling over. The arms pulled away just after the engine ignited, releasing the missile. The setup may look similar to the R-7 launch procedure, but in the case of the R-7 the trusses hold the full weight of the rocket, rather than just reacting to side forces.
Other Events on this Day:
The first representative convenes in Jamestown, Virginia.
The city of Baltimore is founded.
Mary Draper Ingles is kidnapped by Shawnee Indians at Draper’s Meadow, Virginia.
The first rocket to attain a 100-mile altitude, a captured German V-2 rocket, is launched from the White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico.
The phrase “In God We Trust” becomes the official national motto.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: V-2 Rocket…
Wikipedia: Wernher von Braun…
Brainy Quote: Rocket Quotes…