Kapustin Yar

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At the end of the Second World War a large number of captured Nazi scientists were transported back to Russia and enticed to work on developing rockets similar to the V2 for the Soviet Union. When these scientists eventually returned to Germany, it was soon realized that they were one of the few sources of up to date intelligence on Soviet scientific activity and they were quickly debriefed by American and British intelligence officials. It was during these debriefs, in early 1953, that Western intelligence began to get reports of a new Soviet missile testing site at Kapustin Yar, a remote site near the Volga River (48.35N, 46.18E), to the North of the Caspian Sea and East of Volgograd, still known then as Stalingrad. The returning German scientists reported that the Kapustin Yar site was one of the most important military missile testing grounds in the USSR. Western intelligence agencies were determined that Kapustin Yar should be photographed to confirm the reports, the problem was how?


At this time, before the U-2 was built, the USAF lacked an aircraft with the necessary performance for such a risky sortie. However, the Canberra had recently entered RAF service and this aircraft alone possessed the performance necessary for this particular mission. The USAF approached the RAF and requested their assistance; with an agreement for the USAF to support the mission in any way required and then share in the results. The idea of the RAF flying such a mission made perfect sense. Firstly, there was a Presidential ban on the USAF from over flying the Soviet Union. Secondly, the Canberra was the only aircraft available with sufficient range, speed and altitude to be able to carry out the mission and was an excellent day photographic platform, as well as being able to fly high enough to evade most of the Soviet air defenses. The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was informed of the USAF proposal and gave authority for the sortie to proceed.

The generally accepted version of events is as follows: one day sometime in Aug 53, a specially modified Canberra B2 or PR3 took-off from Giebelstadt, in what was then West Germany, and headed East directly towards Kapustin Yar. The entire sortie took place during the day and the Canberra, probably carrying a crew of two a pilot and a navigator, would have climbed to its maximum operating altitude, between 46,000 and 48,000ft, as the fuel burn off. The Canberra was tracked on radar by Warsaw Pact forces all along its route, as it flew over Czechoslovakia, Poland and then the Ukraine. Continued attempts to intercept the Canberra were made, but at this extreme altitude the MiG-15 pilots, who were operating without any onboard radar, failed to intercept the aircraft. The MiG-15 pilots were unable to maintain the same altitude as the Canberra, so they began to attempt to zoom-climb up behind the aircraft and quickly fire off a few shots from their cannons, before they quickly stalled and lost height. Eventually, as the Canberra neared Kapustin Yar, one MiG-15 pilot got lucky and managed to obtain a few hits on the Canberra. Although the Canberra was not seriously damaged, the holes in the airframe caused a slight vibration. Consequently, although the Canberra photographed Kapustin Yar as planned, the photographs were blurred and revealed little detail of the site itself. After completing the photo run, the Canberra turned southeast over the Caspian Sea and eventually landed at an airfield in Iran.

Red Air Force Lieutenant, Mikhail Shulga, recalls trying to intercept a Canberra in his MiG fighter in the Kapustin Yar region, although the exact date is unknown. He was guided during the attempted interception by Soviet ground control and recalled: "I began to climb to 48,000 ft, to 48,500 ft, and they said ‘Look around you. Look to the right and look to the left.’ I looked. They said ‘look higher and look a bit to the right.’ I looked up and there a few thousand feet above me I saw the plane. They asked me: 'Can you see it ?' I said, 'Yes, I can, shimmering beautifully in the sunshine.' They said: 'Prepare your guns.' So I accelerated and climbed up towards the plane - 4,500 feet, 5,000, 5,500 feet higher and my plane was stalling. Nothing came of it. The plane was flying higher than me. They said: 'Do it again.' I tried again. 'Can’t you reach it?' No, I can’t.'" Later, on 5 Aug 1960, the Philadelphia Inquirer carried another account of the incident by a Soviet defector, who in 1953 had served as an air defense radar operator. The defector remembered that ‘During the (Canberra) flight all sorts of unbelievable things happened ......... in one region the operator accidentally sent the Soviet flights West instead of East; in Kharkov, the pilots confused the planes (aloft) and found themselves firing at each other.’ The defector also reported that: The incident resulted in a major purge. Many Generals and Officers were removed from their posts. One General was demoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and committed suicide. Other personnel were sent to punishment battalions.


Assuming the various sources who have detailed the sequence of events described above are telling the truth, it is now 52 years since this incident took place and yet, despite everything else that has been de-classified since the end of the Cold War and the Freedom of Information Act, the precise details of what actually took place remain as elusive as ever. The official UK government position is that the flight did not take place - so perhaps it's time to review the evidence and then you can draw your own conclusions.


The RAF overflight of Kapustin Yar was first mentioned in 1964 by Robert Amory, deputy director of the CIA in the 1950s, in an oral history he completed for Columbia University. His version was that the USAF Chief of Staff Nathan Twining said "it couldn't be done" but the RAF did it instead. A British Canberra took off from Germany and "got some fair pictures" then landed in Iran, but it had been detected by Soviet radar en-route. According to Amory the British said “God, never again, so to speak. The whole of Russia had been alerted to the thing and it damn near created a major international incident. But it never made the papers”. The same story, with some additional details about the Canberra being intercepted and damaged by gunfire, was repeated by Stewart Alsop in 1968 in his book about the CIA entitled 'The Centre'. It is believed that Alsop was supplied with the additional information on the overflight by General Lewis, a key USAF intelligence officer in the mid-1950s.


No more details about the overflight surfaced until the 1980s when a CIA historian, Don Welzenbach, was researching the history of the CIA's airborne reconnaissance program for his book 'Overview'. He interviewed Dr Jim Baker, the famous Harvard astronomer who designed the lenses for most US reconnaissance cameras in the 1940s and 1950s. Don Welzenbach wrote that Baker recalled that visiting Europe in Jan-Feb 54 when a high ranking RAF intelligence officer, possibly Air Marshal Fressanges, told him that the Kapustin Yar overflight had taken place the previous summer, although in a later interview Baker stated that they only discussed high-level oblique photography. In a later paper that Don Welzenbach submitted to a US/UK symposium held in Sep 93, he linked the overflight to Operation Robin and stated that an extended range Canberra PR7 had conducted the mission, despite having previously referred to a "specially modified Canberra Mk II" as being the aircraft used for this sortie. As the PR7 didn't enter RAF service until 1954, this type of aircraft would not have been available in the summer of 1953.


The next reference to the RAF overflight of Kapustin Yar was made by Cargill Hall, the NRO Historian, in his 1997 paper in the US Military History Quarterly "The Truth About Overflights". Hall includes more detail, stating that the flight was part of Project Robin and was conducted by a Canberra B2, stripped of all excess weight and with its bomb bay filled with fuel tanks, carrying a special camera with a 100 inch lens. It departed from Giebelstadt in Aug 53 and flew at between 46-48,000ft via Kiev-Kharkov-Stalingrad en-route to Kapustin Yar and then down the Volga River before landing in Iran. Hall also mentions the aircraft being damaged and the consequent poor quality of the blurred images obtained. Although the RAF overflight of Kapustin Yar has been mentioned in some subsequent publications, they all essentially repeat the same details described by Cargill Hall, without adding any additional new information. The official UK Government position remains unchanged, officially the flight never took place and so far no mention of the over flight has ever been uncovered from The UK National Archives, formally the Public Records Office in Kew.


So we are faced with three possibilities about the overflight of Kapustin Yar:


The over flight of Kapustin Yar never took place and all the details have been made up.


The over flight of Kapustin Yar never took place, the details of the over flight have been confused with other RAF over flights, in particular, Op Ju-Jitsu or Op Robin.


The over flight of Kapustin Yar took place essentially as described by Cargill Hall and others, but for reasons best known to the faceless bureaucrats who make these decisions, the file is still withheld from public view.

If we examine the first possibility, the obvious question is why would various Americans officials, who were in a position to know what took place, decide to make up this incident? If they wished to make up a daring overflight to ‘spice up’ their recollection of Cold War incidents, why would they suggest the sortie was undertaken by an RAF aircraft - surely they would have described the sortie as being undertaken by a US aircraft?


Looking deeper into the second possibility, I can see no obvious reason why anyone would confuse Op Ju-Jitsu with the overflight of Kapustin Yar. The requirement for Op Ju-Jitsu was completely different - to radar map potential targets for SAC and Bomber Command, rather than a photographic reconnaissance sortie to check on activity at a secret rocket test site. Three American RB-45Cs, crewed by RAF personnel, were used rather than a single Canberra. The RB-45Cs departed from Sculthorpe in England and flew three different routes well north of the track taken by the Canberra. Although it is believed that RAF Canberra’s undertook other sorties over southern Russia in the early 1950’s, they are believed to have been mounted from Turkey and Iran, not from Germany. Op Robin, more of which later, was a series of flights in 1954 and 1955 along the East Germany border that used a special camera to take a series of long-range oblique photographs of targets over the border. The Op Robin flights operated out of RAF Wyton, flew at about 40,000ft on a course roughly 40 nms parallel with the borders of West Germany and no overflight of any Warsaw Pact territory took place. The Op Robin sorties were all conducted by a 'specially modified Canberra', WH 726 fitted with an American 240 inch bomb camera, but this aircraft should not necessarily be confused with the 'specially modified Canberra' that undertook the Kapustin Yar overflight, although the same aircraft could have been used for both operations. The differences between the two operations are glaringly obvious and I find it difficult to believe that anyone involved in intelligence activity at the time would confuse either Op Ju-Jitsu or Op Robin with the overflight of Kapustin Ya.


If we assume the overflight of Kapustin Yar by an RAF Canberra took place as described, why did the RAF, rather than the USAF undertake the sortie? Firstly, by 1953 the various US intelligence agencies had reliable information from numerous German scientists that the Soviets were developing rockets at Kapustin Yar and would have been determined to discover exactly what was going on - the USAF had a real paranoia about Soviet aeronautical capabilities at this time. At the time the USAF were forbidden for conducting overflights of Russia and anyway lacked an aircraft with the necessary range and performance to undertake this sortie. Also, after the first successful Op Ju-Jitsu sortie in Apr 1952, the UK Government under Winston Churchill clearly had few reservations about agreeing to undertake this kind of operation using a specially modified Canberra. Churchill was very keen that Britain play an active part in an alliance with the USA and agreeing to an operation like the Kapustin Yar overflight is exactly the kind of daring operation that would have appealed to him.


In 1996-7 the UK government released two files that help shed some light on RAF reconnaissance activities in the early 1950s. The two files were the Secretary of State for Air's files on 'Project Robin' (AIR 19/1106) and 'Operation Ju-Jitsu' (AIR 19/1126). Rather surprisingly, the first three papers from the Project Robin file (two from Dec 54 and one from Mar 55) are still withheld. These 50 year old papers presumably contain some sensitive information, although quite why this information, that is almost certainly related to information that has been in the public domain for so many years, can still be considered sensitive is a mystery. The documents might contain details of the Kapustin Yar overflight, or refer to the other Canberra overflights of southern Russia, or some detail of Op Robin - until someone actually realizes that this information is unlikely to surprise anyone, least of all the Russians, and actually releases these three papers, we simply just don't know what they contain. However, currently other than an obscure reference to ‘a recent flight in the Eastern Mediterranean’ in a memo to the Secretary of State for Defence dated 22 Jun 55, there is nothing in the Op Robin file to suggest that this operation had any connection with the overflight of Kapustin Yar.


The next question that needs to be addressed is which squadron and what aircraft was used for the RAF overflight of Kapustin Yar? The most obvious squadron for undertaking the sortie was 540 Sqn based at RAF Wyton. They were a dedicated Canberra reconnaissance squadron who had been employed for specialist reconnaissance tasks - their later involvement in the Top Secret Op Robin confirms their suitability for an unusual reconnaissance sortie. By May 1953 the Canberra PR3 was just coming into service, and 540 Sqn were soon equipped with eight aircraft. The remaining aircraft on the squadron strength consisted of three Canberra B2s on loan from Bomber Command from Jun-Jul 53 (WH726, WJ573 and WJ574). Originally built as bombers, these three Canberra's were 'specially modified' for reconnaissance duties with 540 Sqn. These modifications would certainly have included the installation of a number of cameras in the bomb bay and possibly even the rear fuselage. In addition, although with tip-tanks the Canberra B2 had a range of 3,000 miles, this may well have been extended by adding an additional fuel tank in the bomb bay, making any of these three aircraft suitable for a very long-range sortie over Russia.


The Operational Record Book for 540 Sqn records that on 27th and 28th August 1953 two aircraft (Canberra B2s WH726 and WJ574) flew 'long range sorties as briefed' as part of an 'operational exercise'. However, although these two flights have previously been identified as possibly being the Kapustin Yar overflight, further research by Chris Pocock has made this possibility very unlikely. According to the ORB these aircraft took-off at 0800hrs from RAF Wyton and returned to Wyton at 1030hrs. Rather unusually, three crew, rather than the usual two, were carried in each aircraft. WH726 carried a Wg Cdr AWH (Freddie) Ball from the Wing HQ, together with Sqn Ldr WN (Don) Kenyon (OC 540 Sqn) and Sgt AJ (Jim) Brown. WJ574 carried Flt Lt Garside, Flt Lt Shield and FS Wigglesworth. On 28 Aug 53 the same two aircraft flew a similarly described mission from Wyton between 1010hrs and 1220hrs with the same crews, expect that Flt Lt Reeve substituted for Flt Lt Shield. Note that both sorties look place in daylight, during the morning when visibility was good, but well after sunrise in the East and why were the older B2s used for these sorties, rather than the newer PR3s?


What was considered sufficiently important about this 'operational exercise' that it was necessary to have three, rather than usual two crew on board, including a Wg Cdr from Wing HQ? We know from the file that Op Robin had received political approval in Jun 53, so I believe that these sorties were the first attempt to fly accurately at high level down the West German / East German border, remaining at least 10 miles inside the West German border whilst obtaining long-range oblique photographs of targets inside East Germany. This sortie probably provided clear evidence that the current RAF cameras on the Canberra B2 provided insufficient detail for this kind of operation and probably led to a request to the US for the loan of one of their latest long-range oblique cameras for installation in one of the Canberra B2s. The use of two aircraft for these two sorties is significant - the later Op Robin sorties in 1954 and 1955 always involved two aircraft, with the second aircraft checking that the first aircraft was not leaving a contrail. The additional crewman on board each Canberra could have helped cross-check the accuracy of the navigation to ensure the aircraft remained within West German airspace, or operated the camera. Unless the official records are incorrect there is no reason to assume that either sortie had anything to do with an overflight of Kapustin Yar.


It is clear from the records that all three Canberra B2s were later transferred from 540 Sqn to other Canberra squadrons, including 58 Sqn which was also stationed at RAF Wyton. Subsequently, on 1 Mar 54, Flt Lt DC Downs and Flt Lt J Gingell flew Canberra B2 WH726 to Hanscom Field in the USA where the aircraft was fitted with the 240 inch LOROP bomb camera for Op Robin. Consequently, if the Kapustin Yar overflight did take place as reported in Aug 1953, the crew would not have had access to the Canberra equipped for Op Robin as the aircraft was not fitted with the special camera until six months later. Furthermore, conventional downward looking framing cameras were much preferred by photographic interpreters of this period for the kind of imagery that was required of Kapustin Yar, so they would not have specified the use of a special LOROP camera. Finally, having flown all the way over Eastern Europe, with all the risks that entailed, there would be little point in standing-off' from Kapustin Yar to use a LOROP camera, there were no SAMs around in those days and little threat from AAA at 48,000ft, so it would make far more sense to plan a direct overflight.


All this evidence points to the RAF over flight of Kapustin Yar being a completely separate operation from Op Robin. I believe the available evidence suggests that 540 Sqn undertook this operation using one of their specially modified Canberra B2s. Such a Top Secret and politically sensitive sortie would not have been recorded in the squadron or station records at the time, as these records were only classified to Secret.


So what can we pierce together about the Kapustin Yar sortie? If it took place in the summer of 1953, as most people now believe, it could have involved a Canberra PR3, but most probably was one of the modified Canberra B2s and either way it would almost certainly have been flown by a crew from 540 Sqn. The sortie was almost certainly mounted from Giebelstadt, an American base about 8 miles southeast of Würzburg in West Germany. The aircraft’s departure would have been timed to allow it to arrive overhead Kapustin Yar (48.35N 46.18E) during daylight, lets say midday. Assuming a departure from Giebelstadt (49.38N 009.58E), a direct track to the target would have been about 1603 miles - given a cruising speed of 420 kts, this leg would have taken around 4 hrs, therefore, the aircraft probably took off between 0700 and 0800hrs GMT. If the aircraft eventually landed at Tabriz this was about another 772 miles, assuming a direct track this equates to a flight time of about 1hr 45 mins, so the aircraft probably landed between 1400-1500hrs GMT having flown about 2400 -2500 miles. Up until the 1957 coup d’etat, the RAF made regular visits to various Iranian airfields. The Canberra certainly landed in Iran and Tabriz was the airfield closest to the Russian border, but either Khatami near Isfahan, or Zehedan near Tehran were all within range.


Because of the range of the target from Giebelstadt, there would have been little option of flying anything other than directly towards Kapustin Yar, which is situated some 60 miles east of Volgograd (formally Stalingrad), in an area to the north of the Caspian Sea. But this poses an interesting question: why mount the sortie out of Giebelstadt, West Germany, at extreme range where the only option available was a direct track to the target over an area known to be covered with radar sites and fighter stations? If it was possible to land the aircraft in Iran, then why not mount the sortie from there or from the RAF Habbaniya in Iraq? Both these options would have been nearer to the target and would have allowed the aircraft to enter Russia through a much less heavily defended area. Another option would have been Incirlik in Turkey, which was later used in 1956 as a base for U-2 operations over Russia. Perhaps the UK wanted the flight to depart from a US base in West Germany, knowing it would be tracked by radar, to give the impression that the aircraft was American, rather than British. Certainly, there must have been some overriding reason why the sortie was flown from Giebelstadt, but exactly what that was remains yet another mystery.


It is widely believed that the RAF did undertake the daring mission over Kapustin Yar in 1953, but unfortunately which aircraft and crew flew the sortie still remains a complete mystery. There are various possibilities. The range of a Canberra B2 with tip tanks was 3000 miles, with a ceiling of 48,000ft, so this type of Canberra would certainly have been capable of the sortie. However, it is not known whether the ‘special modifications’ which were carried out to the Canberra B2’s that served on 540 Sqn included the installation of an additional fuel tank in the bomb bay, nevertheless, this is a distinct possibility. In comparison, the range of a Canberra PR3 was 3585 miles, with a ceiling of 50,000ft, so the sortie could have been carried out using a Canberra PR3, fitted with a standard F52 camera, the PR3 certainly had greater range and altitude than the B2 without tip tanks and an additional fuel tank. So did Canberra of 540 Sqn fly the daring Kapustin Yar sortie? Unfortunately many of the members of 540 and 58 Squadron are now dead and their individual stories are lost forever. Several officers who served on 540 Squadron, including Gordon Cremer, Don Greenslade and Harry Currell who served of 540 Sqn were also involved in the RB-45C sorties from Sculthorpe. Given the details that have now emerged about Op Ju-Jitsu, hopefully more details may eventually emerge about reconnaissance flights over Russia by Canberra’s during the early 1950’s – time will tell.


Canberra WH726 was struck off RAF charge on 21 Sep 66. It was initially sold to BAC on 1 Feb 66 and then after conversion to B72 standard, was then sold to Peru, given the Fuerza Aerea del Peru (FAP) registration 236 and joined the FAP Frupo de Bombardeo 21 at Limatombo. Unusually, no photographs of this aircraft in RAF service seem to be available, however, a photograph does exist of the aircraft in service with the FAP and the aircraft’s eventual fate is unknown, but it is believed to have been scrapped. Canberra WJ573 was transferred from 540 Sqn to 1323 Flt and then was stored at the RAF Technical College at RAF Henlow from 20 Oct 1960 as part of the RAF Museum collection until it was scrapped at Henlow in 1975. Canberra WJ574 was sold back to BAC in Dec 69 and after conversion to TT18 standard, the aircraft served on FRADU until Jul 91. The aircraft is now in private hands and is still flying today in the USA. I believe that it was one of these three Canberra B2 aircraft that carried out the Kapustin Yar overflight – but which one is anyone’s guess.


Despite the overflight taking place nearly 50 years ago, being openly acknowledged by the Russians and alluded to in a wide variety of publications, nothing has ever been officially admitted by the British Government about this famous incident. Furthermore, unlike the RAF RB-45C overflights from Sculthorpe, no individual has ever admitted taking part and the actual aircraft involved has never been positively identified. In the interests of Cold War military and aviation history, it is widely hoped that the file on the Kapustin Yar overflight eventually emerges into view at The UK National Archives in Kew. Only when this happens, and the whole truth finally emerges, can the skill and bravery of the men who actually flew this sortie be publicly acknowledged; hopefully this will happen whilst they are still alive and allow them to receive the long-overdue public plaudits that they so rightfully deserve.


The true configuration of the world's first ICBM, the R-7, was revealed only in 1967, ten years after its first test. The Soviet N1 moon rocket was only revealed in 1990, 21 years after its first launch. At the same time, other Russian ballistic missiles were routinely paraded before the cameras of the world press even before they went into service. The extraordinary sensitivity of the Soviet leadership over these Korolev designs may be traced to the fact that they derived from the work of the Gröttrup German rocket engineering team.

Official Soviet accounts and memoirs gloss over the German contribution to early Soviet rocketry. In fact, during the early days of Soviet long-range rocketry, competitive design competitions were held between Korolev and the German team. In each case the German design was found superior by state commissions. It was German aerodynamic analysis that came up with the unique conical rocket configuration adopted by Korolev for the R-7 and N-1. It was the German team that suggested fundamental features adopted by Korolev in the R-7 - integral propellant tanks, placement of the liquid oxygen tank forward of the fuel tank. German guidance teams developed a radio-corrected guidance technique that was adopted for the first generation of Soviet ballistic missiles. German-developed engines were used by Glushko as the basis for those of the same missiles. In some cases, German drawings were used without modification, the German text begin erased and Russian text substituted.

The extent of the reliance on the German team has only become apparent in recent years through the work of Dr Olaf Przybilski of the
Technical University at Dresden. Dr Przybilski has done new fundamental research with the survivors of the German team and in Soviet archives. The story told in these new documents is significantly different from Soviet accounts.

The Soviets first became officially aware of German long range rocketry research when Churchill wrote to Stalin on 13 July 1944
and informed him of the impending use of the V-2 as a war weapon. In September of that year the Red Army overran the A4 research unit at Dembidze in Poland and the first V-2 wreckage was recovered. In March of 1945 a team of rocket specialists from RNII-1 was sent to Poland. With assistance from members of the Polish resistance, V-2 parts were identified and loaded aboard an Li-2 aircraft (license-built DC-3). The aircraft crashed near Kiev and only some of the parts made it to Moscow. However it was sufficient for a team of ten specialists under V F Bolkovitinov to make the first reconstruction of the V-2 missile.

On 19 April 1945
Decree 8206 of the State Committee for Defence ordered formation of TsKB-1 - Central Design Bureau 1 - for the purpose of recovering liquid rocket technology from Germany. By 24 May the first group from the bureau arrived in Berlin (Genera Gaidukov was the leader; members included Semenov, Mriykin, Pobedonsotetsev, V S Budnik, Shaprior, Timofeyev, Chertok, and Volfovich). A week later Stalin decreed that all rocket institutes in the Soviet zone of Germany were to be taken over and put back into operation.

The group reached Peenemünde on the first of June. They were astounded at the variety of rocketry and test stands they found - not just the V-2, but Rheintochter, Rheinbote, Wasserfall, and Taifun missiles. Ten V-2's were partially assembled by German 'volunteer' technicians located in the surrounding area by Soviet security squads. It was clear that the German technological advances were so great that additional experts were needed from
Moscow from the automotive and electrical industries..

In July 1945 American forces pulled back from areas of
East Germany they had occupied but were allocated to Stalin at Yalta. This included the underground slave-labour V-2 production facility at Nordhausen.. Although the Americans had stripped the facility of V-2 components and left only 'remnants' for the Russians, the remaining materials were more significant than usually noted.

By August reconstruction of the V-2 had begun by 150 German specialists lead by Chertok and Isayev at Bleicherode. On the ninth of August a new group of 284 specialists arrived from
Russia, including Korolev, Glushko, Pilyugin, Barmin, and Mishin.

Prague a special train used to support V-2 flight test was located, and Mishin was sent to fetch it. While drawings of most of the V-2 were located, not all could be found. Therefore Bleicherode set up a bureau to completely reconstruct the missile's technical drawings. It was then to be put into production for the Red Army.

Recruiters combed the occupied zones for German rocket engineers. The most prominent that would consider working for the Russians was Hermann Gröttrup, then in the
US zone. Chertok conducted two negotiation sessions. Gröttrup finally accepted a stipend of 5000 Marks per month plus a villa, and moved his wife and two children to Bleicherode. Chertok considered organising the kidnapping of Wernher Von Braun, but decided not to go through with it. For this inaction he was fingered by his colleagues 24 years later, only partly in jest, as the 'man that lost the moon race'.

The Germans dubbed their facility at Bleicherode 'Institut Rabe' which they told the Russians stood for 'Raketenbau und Entwicklung' (Rocket Production and Development). Only later did the Russians realise what 'Rabe' meant. They then directed that the name be changed to the more innocuous 'Zentralwerke' (Central Works). Barmin headed the counterpart 'Berliner Institut' which was devoted to preparing for Soviet production of the smaller German missiles - Wasserfall, Schmetterling, Taifun, etc.

In August the Zentralwerke's V-2 engine static test stands were back in operation. By December 1945 600 German and Soviet specialists were at work at Zentralwerke. In March 1946 the first two complete V-2's were ready for test. At the engine test stands German and Russian specialists tweaked the standard V-2 engine for better thrust and performance. A series of 40 test firings between July and September 1946 used modified propellant mixer heads and varying mixture ratios. Thrust of the basic V-2 engine had been increased from 25 tonnes to 30 tonnes.

By that summer 5,000 workers laboured on construction of the V-2 throughout the Soviet zone. Buyers were sent to the Western zone and
France to purchase certain necessary parts from the original manufacturers. The parts were smuggled to Zentralwerke without much trouble. By September 1946 the first ten series N new-production V-2's were completed. Five were equipped for atmospheric measurements, and five for radio guidance tests.

But moves were afoot to move this work deep into
Russia, away from the eyes of Western observers. On 13 May 1946 a secret decree created an array of new research institutes on Soviet soil with the objective of comprehensively exploiting German rocket technology. Ustinov was put in charge of the entire effort. The new institutes were:

  • NII-88, at Podlipki, General Gonor in Command, Korolev Chief Designer, for rocket design
  • OKB-46, at Khimki, Glushko Chief Designer, for duplication of the V-2 engine
  • NII-885, Ryanskiy Chief Designer, Guidance Systems
  • NII-885 at Monino, Pilyugin Chief Designer, Control Systems
  • NII-10, V I Kuzentsov Chief Designer, Gyroscopes
  • GSKB, Barmin Chief Designer, Launch equipment
  • General Vosnyuk, Commander, Soviet Rocket Test Range (site to be determined)

Following months of preparation, the Soviet secret police struck on the night of Tuesday, 22 October 1946. A huge party was thrown for the 234 German specialists, with plenty of toasting in the Russian tradition in order to put the attendees under the weather. At 4 am in the morning the hung over specialists were awakened by Red Army soldiers banging on their front doors. They were asked to immediately volunteer for five years work in the Soviet Union. On the following morning the specialists, their families, and their belongs were loaded on trains and shipped to Russia.

When the specialists first arrived in
Russia, they were assigned to work closely with the Russian teams in Khimki, Monino, and Podlipki. But slowly they were all moved to Gorodomlya, an island used for research into animal diseases (and possibly biological warfare) in the 1930's. By May 1948 the entire German team was there, and no longer privy to what the Russians were actually doing with their designs, or what progress they were making. The first Soviet V-2 test stands were built in the Crimea, using equipment taken from Peenemuende. Later the focus of the effort moved to Zagorsk, nearer Glushko's primary facilities.

The first group of 234 specialists was moved to Gordodomlya on 22 May 1947
and given the task of designing a 600 km range rocket (the G-1/R-10). Work had begun on this already in Germany but the initial challenge in Russia was that the technical documentation was somehow still 'in transit' from the Zentralwerke. The other obstacle was Russian manufacturing technology, which was equivalent to that of Germany at the beginning of the 1930's. Nevertheless the team completed the G-1 draft project and defended it on 28 December 1948.

Meanwhile the Russians were secretly preparing to test the N-series German-built V-2's at the new test range at Kaputsin Yar. The test stand was completed in September 1947 with the objective of having the first launch by the 30th Anniversary of the October Revolution. However the Soviet technicians could not get the rocket's igniter to work due to miswiring of the electric starter. In desperation on 13 September 13 German technicians were loaded on a train and brought to the secret test site. They arrived on 28 September, but the wiring problem was not identified and corrected until 15 October. The first rocket successfully thundered aloft on 18 October, although it immediately veered into the wrong direction. German 'sabotage' was suspected. Nevertheless by 13 November all ten of the rockets had been launched. The German team was back on Gordomlya by 9 December, once more in the dark about the program. They were never informed of the production of the Soviet copy of the V-2, the R-1, or of its first flight test series beginning in September 1948.

Meanwhile the German team at Khimki was completing build of ten KS-59 'Lilliput' subscale versions of a radical new flat-plate injector combustion chamber with a 60 atmosphere chamber pressure. The first engine was completed at the end of 1948. These were designed to test the design planned for the G-4/R-14. From the summer of 1949 to April 1950 100 tests were made of the engine. A wide range of propellants were used, including exotic fluorine compounds and suspended beryllium hydride fuels. The Lilliput endured them all.

During the test series the Russians gradually took over the testing. The German team was not even aware that tests continued beyond the end of 1948. Without their knowledge Glushko built the German design for the next phase of the engine, the 7 tonne thrust ED-140, in 1951. The ED-140 configuration would form the basis of Glushko's rocket engines for the next fifteen years.

For Korolev's R-3, Glushko proposed to copy the V-2 approach by using 19 of these 7 tonne chambers as 'preburners' to feed a main mixing chamber, producing a high-performance engine of over 100 tonnes thrust. However during development problems of stability in the mixing chamber could not be solved, and this approach was abandoned. Instead he scaled up the ED-140, as the Germans had planned. The first attempt was a leap to 65 tonnes thrust for the RD-105/RD-106 for the R-7. But this also proved unachievable, and Glushko settled for four chambers of 25 tonnes thrust each in the RD-107/RD-108 engines. Although the configuration was new and the performance spectacular, the per-chamber thrust was the same as the V-2.

When the decision was made to develop Gröttrup's G-4/R-14 configuration in place of Korolev's R-3, the chief designer finally caved in and adopted the German's aerodynamic solutions with fervour. Although he put the R-3 on a slow track to oblivion, he adopted the German design for the follow-on R-7 ICBM. What started out as 'a cluster of G-4's' (perhaps the mysterious G-5 / R-15) became the R-7 when Korolev conceived of a lengthened core sustainer stage. This would allow all engines to be ignited on the pad, eliminating the problems of air start in the initial 250 tonne two-stage design (as in the US Titan or Gröttrup R-12A). It also eliminated the technically complex jettison of 3 to 4 booster engines (as in the US Atlas or Gröttrup R-12K).

When the time came for the N1 rocket in the late 1950's, Korolev again turned to the German work. The N1 was the direct aerodynamic descendent of the Gröttrup G-2 and G-4. It incorporated all of the essential features of Gröttrup's designs - the 85 degree slope cone, topped by a cylindrical forebody and a sharply spiked nose, and the use of upper stages of the conical vehicle as smaller launch vehicles (the R-12B in the case of the R-12A; N11 and N111 in the case of the N1). It was only the limitations of Soviet manufacturing technology that forced Korolev to adopt the spherical tank design of the N1 in place of the integral common-bulkhead tanks of the Gröttrup vehicles.

The German team was aware of none of this. Members of the team began to be repatriated on 3 Apri; 1951
. By October 1951 they were completely isolated and work basically stopped. The last member of the group returned to Germany on 22 November 1953. Gröttrup made it to West Germany and was debriefed by the CIA in 1957, but provided some deliberately false information and downplayed the importance of the German work in order to avoid Russian retribution. The full story did not come out until the end of the century.