German Rocketry in World War II

Wernher von Braun Joins The VfR

In 1927, an eager 17-year-old scientist named Wernher von Braun joined the VfR, or Verein für Raumschiffahrt (Society for Space Travel), which had been formed in June, 1927. This group of mainly young scientists immediately began designing and building a variety of rockets.

Membership in the VfR quickly soared to about 500, a sufficient member base to allow the publication of a periodic journal, Die Rakete (The Rocket). A number of VfR members, including Walter Hohmann, Willy Ley and Max Valier, had written, and continued to write, popular works on the field of rocketry.

Hohmann's book Die Erreichbarkeit der Himmelskörper (The Attainability of Celestial Bodies) published in 1925 was so technically advanced that it was consulted years later by NASA. Valier would later seek to popularize rocketry by helping to organize tests of German rocket cars, gliders, train cars and snow sleds.

Other VfR members, including Hermann Oberth and von Braun, participated in the Ufa Film Company project in the late 1920's through 1930, which also sought to popularize the field of rocketry.

The VfR Begins Rocket Tests

In 1930, the VfR set up permanent offices in Berlin and began testing rockets which would ultimately change the nature of warfare and propel the world into the space age.

These at first humble tests began at an abandoned German ammunition dump at Reinickendorf nicknamed Raketenflugplatz (Rocket Airfield). The true genius of the VfR team at this time was reportedly Klaus Riedel, although he had no formal training. Riedel was killed in an automobile accident prior to the close of World War II.

By August, 1930 tests began on the first of the VfR rockets, called Mirak-1 (Minimum Rocket-1). Powered by a combination of liquid oxygen and gasoline, Mirak-1 employed a 12-inch long liquid oxygen tank that shrouded a combustion chamber, thus cooling it. Gasoline was carried in a three-foot long tail stick.

Mirak-1 was successfully static test fired in August, 1930 at Bernstadt, Saxony. During a second static test firing in September, 1930 Mirak-1 exploded when its liquid oxygen tank burst.

German Rocket Testing Continues

On March 13, 1931 Karl Poggensee launched an experimental solid-fueled rocket near Berlin. The rocket carried an altimeter, cameras and a velocity indicator. It reached an altitude of 1,500 feet and was successfully recovered by parachute.

The first European liquid-fueled rocket was launched on March 14, 1931 not by the VfR but rather by German scientist Johannes Winkler, supported in his research by Hugo A. Huckel. The pair launched a 2-foot long by 1-foot wide rocket called the Huckel-Winkler 1, powered by a combination of liquid oxygen and liquid methane.

The Huckel-Winkler 1 was launched near the city of Dessau and reached an altitude of 1,000 feet. This was followed by the launch of Huckel-Winkler 2 near Pillau in East Prussia on October 6, 1932. This rocket caught on fire and crashed after reaching an altitude of just ten feet.

In April, 1931 a German scientist named Reinhold Tiling launched four solid-fueled rockets at Osnabrück. One exploded at an altitude of 500 feet, two reached altitudes of between 1,500 and 2,000 feet and one reached an altitude of 6,600 feet at a maximum speed of 700 m.p.h.

Tiling later launched two more solid-fueled rockets, each more advanced than the first four. These rockets were launched from Wangerooge, one of the East Frisian Islands. Details of these tests are not certain, but one of the rockets is believed to have reached an altitude of 32,000 feet.

The VfR Makes Advances In Rocket Testing

Also in the spring of 1931, VfR tested the Mirak-2, which was similar in design to the Mirak-1, but incorporated an improved propulsion system. Like the Mirak-1, the Mirak-2 rocket was destroyed during a static test firing when its liquid oxygen tank burst.

VfR then moved on to tests of a new series of rockets called Repulsor, so named by VfR member Willy Ley. Repulsor rockets, like their Mirak ancestors, also burned a combination of liquid oxygen and gasoline. But the Repulsor combustion chamber was cooled by water stored inside a double-walled aluminum skin.

Repulsor-1 was successfully launched by VfR to an altitude of 200 feet on May 14, 1931 in the second European launch of a liquid-fueled rocket. Repulsor-2 reached an altitude of 200 feet and range of 2,000 feet on May 23, 1931.

 VfR then introduced a series of rockets under the designation Repulsor-3, which were intended to be launched then recovered intact via parachute. The first Repulsor-3 reached an altitude of 2,000 feet and range of 2,000 feet, although its parachute was torn off and the rocket crashed. Several Repulsor-3 tests followed with mixed results.

 These tests were followed by the Repulsor-4 series, which introduced a rocket incorporating a single tail stick for stability. In August, 1931 the first Repulsor-4 reached an altitude of 3,300 feet and was recovered by parachute. Subsequently tested Repulsor-4 rockets typically reached altitudes of about one mile.

German Army Considers Support Of VfR Rocket Tests

Membership within the VfR dropped dramatically in 1932 as German police began objecting to rocket tests within the Berlin city limits. This was coupled with a fear of Adolf Hitler, who began restricting the activities of organizations, like VfR, that had significant ties to the international community.

Facing total elimination, VfR made pleas to the German Army to aid in the continuation of rocket testing. In the summer of 1932, the German Army allowed VfR to launch a Repulsor-type rocket at an army proving ground at Kummersdorf.

The German Army then allowed Wernher von Braun to continue experiments while working on his doctoral thesis in rocket combustion phenomena using the facilities at Kummersdorf.

First Modern Manned Rocket Is Proposed

The first definite plans to construct a manned rocket emerged in 1933 as a part of the Magdeburg Project, headed by German scientists Rudolf Nebel and Herbert Schäfer. A test rocket was launched on June 9, 1933 at Wolmirstedt near Magdeburg. The rocket never left its 30-foot launching tower.

Several tests followed with mixed results. On June 29, 1933 a rocket left the launch tower, but flew horizontally at a low altitude for a distance of about 1,000 feet. This rocket was recovered undamaged and refashioned into a design more closely resembling the VfR Repulsors.

This rocket was eventually launched from Lindwerder Island in Tegeler Lake near Berlin and reached an altitude of 3,000 feet before crashing about 300 feet from the launching tower. Additional test launches were conducted from a boat on Schwielow Lake through August, 1933 at which time the Magdeburg Project was completely abandoned.

German Army Absorbs VfR Rocket Testing

The VfR was forced to disband in the winter of 1933/1934 because the organization could not meet its financial obligations. Rocketry experiments ceased at the Raketenflugplatz facility in January, 1934 and the area resumed operation as an ammunition dump. Upon the disbanding of VfR, all private rocket testing in Germany ceased.

Wernher von Braun, however, went to work officially for the German Army at Kummersdorf. There, the Heereswaffenamt-Prüfwesen (Army Ordnance Research and Development Department) established the Versuchsstelle Kummersdorf-West as a static testing site for ballistic missile weapons.

Kummersdorf also became a site for the development and testing of a number of prototype jet-assisted take-off (JATO) units for aircraft. These tests were conducted by Wernher von Braun in association with Major von Richthofen and Ernst Heinkel.

Under the direction of Captain Walter Dornberger, the Kummersdorf team was quickly able to design and build the A-1 (Aggregate-1) rocket. The A-1 was powered by a combination of liquid oxygen and alcohol, and could develop a thrust of about 660 pounds.

A 70-pound flywheel gyroscope was carried in the nose of the rocket to provide stability during flight. The A-1 was ultimately unsuccessful because its small fiberglass liquid oxygen tank housed inside its alcohol tank was fire prone. In addition, the gyroscope was located too far from the center of the rocket to be effective.

The A-1 was soon followed by the A-2, which employed separate alcohol and liquid oxygen tanks. The A-2 gyroscope was located near the center of the rocket between the two fuel tanks. In December, 1934 two A-2 rockets, nicknamed Max and Moritz, were launched from the North Sea island of Borkum. Each reached an altitude of about 6,500 feet.

But the feasibility of effective military rockets remained speculative at best, exemplified by the fact that in 1935, Adolf Hitler rejected a proposal from Artillery General Karl Becker for a long-range bombardment rocket.

Lesser Known Rocket Tests Commence In Germany

Sanctioned German rocketry research was also conducted by engineer Eugen Sänger, whose work began in 1936 and eventually yielded experimental rocket engines which burned a combination of liquid oxygen and diesel fuel. These engines could produce a sustained thrust of 50 pounds for up to 30 minutes, but had no military value.

Rockets Carry Propaganda Leaflets In Spain

Solid-fueled sea-rescue rockets were used in a particularly interesting manner during the Spanish Civil War, which lasted from 1936 to 1939. These rockets were converted for the purpose of carrying propaganda leaflets behind enemy lines.

The sea-rescue rocket nose cones were modified to burst open at a predetermined time and altitude to release a payload of leaflets, which were printed on an especially thin paper to conserve weight.

German Rocket Tests Commence At Peenemünde

In April, 1937 all of the German rocket testing was relocated to a top-secret base at Peenemünde on the Baltic Coast. The first task of engineers at what was established as the Heereversuchstelle Peenemünde (Army Experimental Station Peenemünde) was to develop and test a new rocket called the A-3.

By the end of 1937, the Peenemünde team had developed and tested the 1,650-pound, 21-foot long A-3 rocket, which burned a combination of liquid oxygen and alcohol. Although the propulsion system of the A-3 functioned well, its experimental inertial guidance system did not. The guidance problems were solved, and larger rockets were planned.

By 1938, Germany had begun invading huge portions of Eastern Europe, and Adolf Hitler began recognizing the need for an effective ballistic missile weapon. The German Ordnance Department requested that the Peenemünde team develop a ballistic weapon that had a range of 150 to 200 miles and could carry a one-ton explosive warhead.

The size of the weapon would need to be compatible with existing railways in terms of tunnels and bends and would need to be transportable in the field by truck. These criteria led directly to the development of the A-4 rocket.

An interim test vehicle to bridge the gap between the A-3 and the A-4 was named the A-5. The A-5 was similar in design to the A-3, but employed a simpler, more reliable guidance system and stronger structure. The A-5 was fashioned with the exterior appearance of the proposed A-4 weapon.

A-5 tests were conducted from the fall of 1938 through 1939. The rockets were launched both horizontally and vertically, and were often recovered by parachute and launched again. The first A-5 launched vertically reached an altitude of 7.5 miles.

Germans Seize Rocketry High Ground As World War II Rages

Civilian and military efforts in the field of rocketry in all other nations combined paled in comparison with the strides made in Germany, where the first A-4 was tested with complete success on October 3, 1942. The very first A-4 rocket reached an altitude of 50 miles and flew a distance of 120 miles.

The A-4, later renamed V-2, would go on to lay the cornerstone of modern rocketry.

The German V-1 Buzz Bomb

Although Germany produced and deployed a number of rocket and missile weapons during World War II, the potency of their weapons was based on the so-called "V" weapons. The "V" was short for "Vergeltungswaffen", roughly translated "weapons of retaliation", "weapons of reprisal" or "weapons of vengeance".

The V-1 was the first of the numbered V-weapons. The V-1 was a pilot-less bomber that employed a gasoline-powered pulse-jet engine that could produce a thrust of about 1,100 pounds. The entire V-1 weighed about 4,900 pounds.

V-1 test flights began in 1941 over the Peenemünde range. The V-1 was originally called the Fieseler Fi-103. The V-1 bore no resemblance to the V-2, which was under development at Peenemünde at the same time.

British intelligence received information that secret weapons were under development at Peenemünde, so hundreds of Allied heavy bombers attacked Peenemünde on August 17, 1943. About 800 people were killed, including Dr. Walter Thiel, who at the time was in charge of V-2 engine development.

Allied forces did not know the extent of weapons development at Peenemünde, nor that their bombing raids did not significantly hinder development of the weapons themselves. Indeed, the V-weapons were soon to be used in combat.

V-1 attacks aimed at targets in England began in June, 1944. Each V-1 was launched from a ramp, and was unguided. After it was launched, the V-1 flew a preset course until a switch cut off its engine, causing the V-1 to simply fall on whatever was under it.

The distinctive sound of the V-1 engine resulted in the vehicle being nicknamed the "buzz bomb" by Allied forces. People on the ground knew they were relatively safe if the buzzing sound came and then faded as the weapon passed out of range. However, if the buzzing sound stopped abruptly, it was quickly understood that a powerful explosion could occur nearby.

Each V-1 carried about 2,000 pounds of explosives, and was capable of causing great damage. But, since the V-1 was unguided, the weapon rarely hit a specific target. The V-1 had a top speed of about 390 m.p.h. so could be intercepted by fighter aircraft or destroyed by anti-aircraft artillery.

The V-1 airframe was also prone to failure due to engine vibration. It is believed that about 25 percent of all V-1 missiles launched were destroyed by airframe failure before reaching their targets.

Although specific numbers vary from source to source, a British report released after the war indicated that 7,547 V-1 missiles were launched at England. Of these, the report indicated that 1,847 were destroyed by fighter aircraft, 1,866 were destroyed by anti-aircraft artillery, 232 were destroyed by flying into barrage balloon cables and 12 were destroyed by Royal Navy ship artillery.

That left about half of all V-1 missiles launched at England unaccounted for, and a large number were able to cause extensive property damage. The British reported that 6,139 people were killed as a direct result of V-1 attacks, about three times the number that were killed by the V-2.

Allied reports also indicated that about 5,000 V-1 missiles were launched toward Antwerp, Belgium which was captured from German forces by British and Canadian troops in September, 1944. Antwerp became a major staging area for Allied forces and thus became a popular target for the V-weapons. Although V-2 rockets caused extensive damage at Antwerp, V-1 barrages reportedly had little effect there.

A Pilot For The German V-1 Buzz Bomb

It is lesser known that the Germans designed a manned version of the V-1 called the V-1e. The V-1e was not intended to be recovered. It would have been launched, then guided to its target by a pilot on a suicide mission. Similar to the Japanese kamikaze concept, the V-1e group was code-named Project Reichenberg.

The V-1e was about 27 feet long and employed a cockpit and pilot instrumentation. The V-1e was test flown several times by German test pilot Hanna Reitsch.

Reitsch confirmed that the basic V-1 airframe was prone to severe vibration resulting from engine noise. She believed the deployment of the V-1e as introduced would result in significant pilot losses, even if the pilot had agreed to perform a suicide mission. The Germans could not sustain design changes late in the war, so the V-1e was never deployed in combat.

The German V-2 Is Designed And Tested

The German V-2 rocket, developed under the designation A-4, is believed to be one of the most significant scientific advances of World War II, second only to the development of the atomic bomb.

Aerodynamic data was generated for the basic V-2 design during wind tunnel tests conducted in 1936 and 1937. Certain V-2 components were in production as early as the spring of 1939, when launches of a test version of the rocket called the A-5 were being conducted.

Through 1942, development of the V-2 was conducted 24 hours per day under the supervision of Wernher von Braun. The first models of the V-2 were ready for firing by the spring of 1942.

The first test launch of a V-2 occurred on June 13, 1942. The rocket pitched out of control and crashed as a result of a propellant feed system failure. The second V-2 test launch was conducted on August 16, 1942. This V-2 flight was also considered a failure, but the vehicle became the first guided missile to exceed the speed of sound.

On just its third test launch on October 3, 1942 the V-2 scored a complete success. The rocket achieved a maximum altitude of 50 miles and maximum range of 120 miles, meeting the initial performance criteria for the weapon.

Following this achievement, Adolf Hitler, just a few years earlier unreceptive to the potential of guided ballistic missiles, established a military production committee within the Ministry of Armaments and War Production to manage further development of the V-2.

While this did inject needed resources for the V-2 program, Wernher von Braun later stated that the military organization placed in charge of V-2 development by Hitler lacked scientific judgment, and ultimately hindered the capabilities of the weapon significantly.

Indeed, von Braun was not to participate in the V-2 development program without great personal risk. As the potential of the V-2 as a potent weapon became better and better documented, the German SS, in particular SS General Hans Kammler, sought to take over its development.

In February, 1944 von Braun was called to Gestapo headquarters in East Prussia where he was extended an invitation by Heinrich Himmler to abandon the V-2 program in favor of developing weapons for the Gestapo. The invitation was denied, and three days later von Braun was arrested by three Gestapo agents and taken to a prison in Stettin.

Two weeks later, von Braun was accused of not being interested in war rockets, but rather having space exploration as his sole motivation for developing the V-2 missile. It was also alleged that von Braun sympathized with the British, and had hatched a scheme to escape to England by airplane and share his rocketry knowledge with the enemy.

These were serious charges, but the matter was dropped after Walter Dornberger appealed directly to Adolf Hitler, claiming the charges were false and that von Braun was not expendable where continued development of the V-2 was concerned. Hitler agreed, and von Braun was released from prison. The infighting over development of the V-2, however, would remain a constant thorn to von Braun.

Hundreds of V-2 missiles were manufactured and test launched through 1944 to validate the performance of the vehicle and train the troops that would deploy it. A number of these test launches resulted in spectacular failures, one of which was particularly advantageous for the Germans.

In June, 1944 a V-2 outfitted with a radio guidance system intended to test this radio guidance system for the proposed German Wasserfall surface-to-air missile strayed off course and crashed near Kalmar, Sweden. The wreckage was recovered and examined by British forces.

Identifying the missile as radio-guided, the British incorrectly concluded that the new German weapon would be radio-guided and subject to radio jamming as a defensive method. This left allied forces totally unprepared for the onslaught of V-2 missiles which followed using an on-board gyroscopic guidance system against which there was no defense.

The German V-2 Enters Production

Wartime production of the V-2 began at a virgin facility at the Peenemünde Experimental Center. Following the Allied bombing of August 17, 1943. V-2 production was relocated to an underground facility at Mittelwerk, near Nordhausen in the Harz Mountains. The site was converted from an oil depot.

The Mittelwerk site consolidated all of the production efforts previously carried out at Peenemünde, and eventually became the sole location for V-2 production. V-2 production plants were originally under construction at sites near Vienna, Berlin and Friedrichshafen, but construction of these sites was abandoned because of a persistent threat of Allied attacks.

Certain individual V-2 components were manufactured at sites throughout Germany, and troop training was also conducted at other sites. But V-2 production was based at the plant at Mittelwerk. A remarkable 900 V-2 missiles per month were being produced at the Mittelwerk plant by the close of the war.

The German V-2 Technical Specifications

Each V-2 was 46 feet long, had a diameter of 5 feet, 6 inches and finspan of 12 feet. The entire rocket weighed about 27,000 pounds at launch. The top six feet of the V-2 was a warhead containing up to 2,000 pounds of conventional explosives.

Below the warhead was a 5-foot section containing instrumentation, a 20-foot section containing the fuel tanks and a 15-foot section containing the engine.

The instrumentation section contained an automatic pilot, accelerometer and radio equipment. The automatic pilot was made up of two electric gyroscopes that stabilized the rocket's pitch, roll and yaw motions.

As the rocket moved about the axes of the gyroscopes, the movement was measured by electronic potentiometers. This caused electric command signals to be sent to a series of steering vanes at the base of the rocket.

The V-2 employed two sets of steering vanes. An external set of four steering vanes was made up of one steering vane at the base of each of the four V-2 fins. An internal set of four steering vanes was located at the base of the engine.

Both sets of steering vanes were designed to work together to deflect the engine exhaust and steer the rocket. Movement of the steering vanes was intended to cause the potentiometers in the instrumentation section to read zero voltage, thus keeping the rocket on a predetermined path.

Whenever the potentiometers read any voltage, an electric command would be sent to corresponding steering vanes to correct the motion of the rocket until the voltage again read zero. The steering vanes were controlled by electrohydraulic mechanisms.

The accelerometer was used to measure the velocity of the rocket, while the radio equipment was used for a variety of purposes. In some instances, the radio equipment was used merely to receive commands from the ground to shut off fuel flow to the engine.

In more complex applications, a radio transmitter and second receiver were employed to measure the rocket's velocity through the Doppler principle. In some cases, radio equipment allowed the V-2 to be radio-guided from the ground.

The instrumentation section also carried a number of steel bottles that contained compressed nitrogen used to pressurize the fuel tanks and operate some valves.

The V-2 contained two fuel tanks. One contained liquid oxygen, while the second contained a combination of 75% alcohol and 25% water. These were the fuels that powered the V-2 engine.

The engine itself was composed of a combustion chamber, venturi, fuel pipes, a liquid oxygen fuel pump, an alcohol fuel pump, a steam-driven turbine that drove the two fuel pumps and hydrogen peroxide auxiliary fuel that operated the steam turbine.

Through a natural chemical breakdown, the hydrogen peroxide decomposed into oxygen and water. The breakdown occurred at a high enough temperature to instantly turn the water into steam, which in turn drove the turbine. The turbine then pumped fuel into the engine.

The German V-2 Deployment And Launch

Completed V-2 rockets were transported by rail car from the factory to storage areas, where they were moved to special trailers by portable cranes. Storage time was kept to a few days, since testing determined that excessive storage time resulted in more V-2 failures.

After being stored, the V-2 rockets were moved by truck and trailer to their launch sites. Although deploying the V-2 at fixed launch sites would simplify launch processing, it was felt that fixed launch sites would be too prone to attack. Therefore, the V-2 was deployed as a mobile missile.

Prior to launch, each V-2 missile was transferred to a vehicle called a "Meilerwagen". Here, the rocket was clamped to a cradle in a horizontal position. The cradle on the "Meilerwagen" was then raised by hydraulic pistons until the rocket reached a vertical position.

A launching platform was then raised up until it assumed the full weight of the rocket. The cradle clamps were then released, and the "Meilerwagen" was withdrawn several feet.

The launching platform was a 10-foot rotatable ring housed in a square, angle-iron framework supported at its corners by jacks. The launching platform was very simple in design, and could be readily moved from launch site to launch site.

Each launch site was supported by about 30 vehicles, including transport trucks and trailers, the "Milerwagen", propellant storage trucks, command and control trucks, personnel carriers and military support vehicles. The operation was very efficient, and a V-2 could typically be launched from four to six hours after a suitable launch site was selected.

Electrical power for the V-2 was provided by ground sources when it rested on the launching platform and by batteries while in flight. Ground power was necessary for launch preparations, including the firing system.

During launch preparations, the V-2 could be accessed by a vertical arm on the "Meilerwagen" or by ladders extending from nearby fire trucks. Launch preparations included the installation of guidance components, steering vanes, engine igniters and the loading of fuel.

A number of tests were also performed, including a "dry" purge of the fuel tanks with compressed nitrogen to locate any leaks. A similar test to locate leaks in rocket fuel tanks remains in use today. Great care also was taken to make sure the V-2 was properly oriented on its launching platform.

The actual launch was controlled from a remote location some 200 to 300 yards away from the rocket. An armored vehicle of some type was typically used as a "firing room".

When the rocket was ready for launch, the control officer would fire the igniters by electric command. The flow of fuel would then be activated by solenoid valves.

The liquid oxygen and alcohol then flowed by gravity to the exhaust nozzle, where they were lit by the igniters, which resembled a 4th of July pinwheel. This burning in itself was not sufficient to launch the rocket, but it did give the control officer a visual indication that the rocket was functioning properly.

Once the control officer believed the rocket was ready for launch, an electric command was sent to start the fuel pumps. After about three seconds, the fuel pump steam turbine reached full speed, the fuel flow reached its full value of 275 pounds-per-second and the engine thrust reached about 69,000 pounds.

The V-2 was then launched, and began to rise slowly. It continued in a vertical rise for about four seconds, then was pitched to its programmed launch angle by the gyroscopic guidance system. The maximum pitch angle was typically about 45 degrees, which produced the greatest range.

After about 70 seconds, the V-2 fuel flow was stopped, and the engine shut down. By this time, the rocket had achieved a speed of 5,000 to 6,000 feet-per-second. The rocket would then complete an unpowered ballistic trajectory, reaching its target just five minutes after being launched.

Achieving a maximum altitude of 50 to 55 miles, the V-2 could impact a target within an operational design range of 180 to 190 miles, although some are believed to have flown as many as 220 miles. Because the V-2 flew so high and so fast, there was no defense against it. The missiles could not be detected until they exploded on the ground.

The German V-2 Becomes A Weapon Of War

The first hostile V-2 missiles were launched on September 6 1944. On that day, two V-2 missiles were launched toward Paris but failed to inflict any damage.

V-2 attacks on England began on September 8. 1944. V-2 missiles were typically launched toward London and Antwerp, Belgium. Allied forces also reported that eleven V-2 rockets impacted near Remagen, Germany on March 9 and 10, 1945 as the Germans made an unsuccessful attempt to prevent engineers from completing a pontoon bridge across the Rhine River and hinder an Allied advance there.

German forces initially maintained V-2 launch sites in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Launch capability from France and Belgium were quickly eliminated as Allied forces advanced across European soil through the latter half of 1944. As a result, the lion's share of V-2 launches took place from launch sites near the Hague in the Netherlands.


Specific numbers vary from source to source, but it is generally believed that about 1,100 V-2 missiles reached England until V-2 attacks ceased on March 27, 1945. About 2,800 people are believed to have been killed and another 6,500 injured as a direct result of V-2 attacks.

It is generally believed that about 5,000 V-2 missiles were manufactured by the Germans prior to the close of World War II. About 600 were used for test launches and troop training, with the remainder launched toward targets. Given these numbers, the V-2 failure rate was quite large.

The V-2 failure rate was due to a number of factors. In many instances, the missiles failed to be successfully launched. In other instances, the guidance system failed, causing the missile to miss its target. The missile often exploded or broke up due to the stress of supersonic flight, and in many cases the V-2 explosive warhead failed to detonate after impacting a target.

Both the V-1 and V-2 proved themselves to be potent weapons, but they suffered from basic weaknesses that did not allow the weapons to turn the tide for Germany at the close of World War II.

The weapons were rushed into deployment before they could be completely tested and refined. As a result, they lacked accuracy and the ability to carry explosive payloads large enough to compensate for this lack of accuracy.

While barrages of huge numbers of V-1 and V-2 missiles might have compensated for the basic weaknesses of the weapons, the Germans were unable to introduce sufficient numbers to overwhelm Allied advances.

German Concept Weapons Based On The V-2




Standard V-2 (~280 km range)
Winged A4b (~580 km range)
A10/A4b two-stage supersonic-glide missile (~2500 km range)
A10/A9 two-stage hypersonic-glide missile (~5000 km range)





One of these German long-range concept weapons was based not on research of the von Braun team, but by research of German scientist Eugen Sänger. Sänger envisioned a weapon called the Antipodal Bomber which would have been about 92 feet long and weighed about 220,000 pounds.

The Antipodal Bomber would have been launched from a rail-based sled powered by rockets capable of developing about 1,345,000 pounds of thrust. The sled would propel the Antipodal Bomber into the air at a speed of about 1,000 m.p.h. An engine capable of producing a 220,000-pound thrust would then fire, carrying the Antipodal Bomber into space at an altitude of about 160 miles.

The Antipodal Bomber would then skip along the Earth's atmosphere, somewhat like a stone skips along the surface of a pond. Calculations indicated that the Antipodal Bomber could carry a 12,000-pound payload from Germany to New York in about 80 minutes.

Scientists in the U.S. and Russia were intrigued with this concept after the war, and the U.S. military performed limited research on the Antipodal Bomber concept under the designation "Skip Bomber".

Other German Ballistic Missiles

While the V-weapons remain the best known of the German war missiles, a number of other missile designs were either tested or deployed by Germany during World War II.

Rheinmetall Borsig Rheinbote

Although unguided, this was the first multi-stage missile to be used in warfare. Guidance was based on careful aiming of the launcher, with each stage of the missile having six slightly canted fins which caused the missile to spin, reducing inaccuracies.

The velocity achieved at final stage burnout was not exceeded until the development of the Inter continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM)

The German Rheinbote missile was a solid-fueled, four-stage rocket that weighed about 3,700 pounds. It had impressive performance for a solid-fueled missile, with a first stage capable of producing about 84,000 pounds of thrust and a fourth stage capable of producing about 7,500 pounds of thrust.

But, like the V-weapons, the Rheinbote was rushed into service before it was sufficiently tested. The Rheinbote never incorporated a guidance system, and was very erratic in flight. It could only carry a maximum 88-pound payload, of which half was an explosive charge.

This made the Rheinbote a nuisance weapon only. About 60 Rheinbote rockets are believed to have been launched toward Antwerp in January, 1945. None of the rockets caused significant damage.

The German Nebelwerfer missile was originally designed to create a smoke screen for infantry assaults. The Nebelwerfer was produced in diameters of 15, 21, 28 and 32 centimeters. The missile itself was about 4 feet long and weighed about 200 pounds.

Each Nebelwerfer missile could carry a 22.5-pound payload to a maximum range of about four miles. The solid-fueled missile could be launched from multiple-rocket launchers typically able to launch five or six missiles each.


The Germans produced an imitation of the U.S. bazooka, styled in two different weapons. The Panzerfaust fired a missile with a diameter of 2.36 inches. The Panzerschreck fired a missile with a diameter of 3.46 inches. The projectiles fired by both weighed from seven to nine pounds each, making both effective single-soldier anti-tank weapons.

A prototype "tow missile" concept was also developed by Germany, but never used in combat. The X-7, Rotkäppchen (Little Red Ridinghood) was a proposed anti-tank weapon designed to be launched from a spring, rail or shoulder launcher.

The X-7 projectile was 2.5 feet long, had a diameter of 5.5 inches and a wingspan of 1.3 feet and employed a two-stage solid-fueled motor. Once launched, the X-7 would be guided by electronic commands sent along a wire unrolled from spools located on the wingtips.

The Germans also experimented with a submarine-launched ballistic missile, adapted from barrage rockets that were sealed and fitted with a special ignition system. The rockets would be launched underwater from a specialized deck-mounted steel firing rack. The concept was abandoned when tests determined that deck-mounted firing racks hindered a submarine's maneuverability.

German Surface-To-Air Missiles

Germany was able to develop a number of surface-to-air missiles, the priority of which heightened toward the end of World War II when relentless Allied bomber attacks on German soil went virtually unchallenged by German fighter aircraft.

These missiles included the ramp-launched Enzian, a winged missile that was 12 feet long and weighed about 4,350 pounds. The Enzian was assisted at launch by four solid-fueled Jet-Assisted Take-Off (JATO) units and had a range of about 18 miles. The missile could achieve a maximum speed of 600 m.p.h. and maximum altitude of nine miles.

The Feuerlilie F-25 was 6.7 feet long and weighed about 265 pounds. It had a range of three miles, and could achieve a maximum speed of 600 m.p.h. and maximum altitude of 1.8 miles. The Feuerlilie F-25 was a solid-fueled, winged missile. The Feuerlilie F-55 was 15.75 feet long and had a range of six miles. A winged missile, the Feuerlilie F-55 could achieve a maximum altitude of three miles and a maximum speed of 900 m.p.h. The missile employed a solid-fueled booster engine and a liquid-fueled sustainer engine.

The Hecht was a liquid-fueled, ramp-launched winged missile that resembled a small airplane. It was 8.3 feet long and weighed about 308 pounds. The Hecht could achieve a maximum speed of 650 m.p.h. and maximum altitude of four miles.

The Rheintochter 1 was a liquid-fueled missile with a length of 20.7 feet and weighed about 3,850 pounds. The missile was aided at launch by a single solid-fueled JATO unit, and employed six stabilizing fins in the rear and four control fins at the forward.

An impressive missile, the Rheintochter 1 employed a gyroscopic stabilizer system and could achieve a maximum range of 7.5 miles, a maximum speed of 680 m.p.h. and a maximum altitude of 3.7 miles.

The Rheintochter 3 was an improved version of the Rheintochter 1. It was 16.6 feet long and weighed about 3,450 pounds. The missile was aided at launch by multiple JATO units, and was powered by either a solid-fueled or liquid-fueled sustainer engine. The Rheintochter 3 could achieve a maximum range of 22 miles, maximum speed of 750 m.p.h. and maximum altitude of nine miles.



The Schmetterling, referred to as the V-3, was a 12.5-foot long monoplane that weighed about 980 pounds. It was launched from rotatable platforms and employed two externally mounted solid-fueled booster engines and a liquid-fueled sustainer engine. The Schmetterling could achieve a maximum range of ten miles, maximum speed of 540 m.p.h. and a maximum altitude of seven miles.

The Taifun was a modified barrage rocket intended to be fired in large numbers against enemy bombers. Each missile was 6.3 feet long and weighed about 66 pounds. The Taifun could employ either a solid-fueled or liquid-fueled motor, and could achieve a maximum range of 7.5 miles, maximum speed of 2,800 m.p.h. and maximum altitude of five miles.

The Wasserfall was an impressive weapon based upon the V-2. Toward the close of World War II, the Wasserfall took production priority over the V-2 as Germany desperately needed a powerful anti-aircraft weapon as opposed to a ballistic barrage weapon.

Wasserfall was essentially a one-third scale version of the V-2. Each was 26 feet long and weighed about 7,800 pounds. Like the V-2, the Wasserfall employed a pressure-fed, liquid-fueled engine. The missile was radio-guided and was controlled by a set of four control fins located about 11 feet under the nose.

The Wasserfall could carry a 674-pound explosive payload detonated by radio command from the ground. The missile could achieve a maximum range of 17 miles, maximum speed of 1,900 m.p.h. and maximum altitude of eight miles. Although an innovative infrared homing device was designed for the Wasserfall, it was never actually used.

German Air-To-Surface Missiles

Air-to-surface missiles, designed to be launched from aircraft at surface targets, like other types of missiles developed by Germany, were introduced toward the end of World War II. Some never left the drawing board, and the remainder saw limited deployment with little effect.

The Bv-143 was a solid-fueled anti-ship missile that was 19.5 feet long and weighed about 4,000 pounds. It had a maximum range of ten miles and could achieve a maximum speed of 600 m.p.h.

The Bv-246 was a solid-fueled anti-ship missile that was 11 feet long and weighed about 1,600 pounds. It had a maximum range of 12 miles and could achieve a maximum speed of 260 m.p.h.

The Hs-293 was made up of a glide bomb attached to a liquid-fueled rocket motor. The missile was 12.5 feet long and weighed about 2,300 pounds. The Hs-293 was radio guided and was responsible for the sinking of several Allied ships, including the HMS Egret in the Bay of Biscay in August, 1943. The Hs-293 had a maximum range of ten miles and could achieve a maximum speed of 470 m.p.h.

The Hs-294 was 20 feet long and weighed about 4,800 pounds. The Hs-294 was an air-to-underwater torpedo missile that was powered by two liquid-fueled engines. The wings and engines were torn off at water impact, allowing the missile to continue toward its target as a torpedo. The Hs-294 had a maximum range of 8.5 miles and could achieve a maximum speed of 580 m.p.h.

The Hs-295 was designed to neutralize lightly armored ships. It was 16.2 feet long and weighed about 4,600 pounds. The missile was radio guided and employed a high-explosive armor-piercing warhead. The Hs-295 had a maximum range of five miles and could achieve a maximum speed of 500 m.p.h.

The Hs-296 was an experimental missile that incorporated features of the Hs-293, Hs-294 and Hs-295. It was 17.1 feet long and weighed about 6,000 pounds. The Hs-296 had a maximum range of four miles and could achieve a maximum speed of 500 m.p.h.

The SD-1400 was an extremely advanced missile in its day. It was 15.4 feet long and weighed about 5,500 pounds. The SD-1400 was an armor-piercing Esau bomb with four added wings and tail spoilers. The missile was radio guided, had a maximum range of nine miles and could achieve a maximum speed of 625 m.p.h.

SD-1400 missiles were credited with the destruction of the 42,000-ton Italian battleship Roma, considered to be a remarkable achievement for a guided bomb. The Roma broke in two and sank after a number of SD-1400 strikes in September, 1943 following Italian surrender to Allied forces.

The SD-1400 was also called the X-1, with follow-up concepts tested as the X-2, X-3, X-4, X-5 and X-6, each of which tested different types of guidance systems. While German air-to-surface missiles met with limited success and had promise, the Germans could not adequately train the crews launching them. Allied forces also became quite adept at jamming the radio guidance systems of these missiles.

German Air-to-Air Missiles

Concept missiles included the Hs-298, which was a two-stage, solid-fueled missile employing a radio guidance system. The Hs-298 was 6.7 feet long and weighed about 265 pounds. It had a maximum range of five miles and could achieve a maximum speed of 535 m.p.h.

The X-4 was a concept "tow missile" which was guided by electronic commands sent along a wire unrolled from spools located on the wingtips of the missile. The X-4 was 6.6 feet long and weighed about 132 pounds. It had a maximum range of three miles and could achieve a maximum speed of 550 m.p.h.

German Rocket-Powered Aircraft

German rocket-powered aircraft were under development as early as 1937, but saw limited action during World War II. The first of these, the He-176, was powered by a 1,300-pound thrust engine but never left the testing phase.

The rocket design work of the Wernher von Braun group at Peenemünde originally included the development of rocket-powered aircraft, but these efforts were canceled in their early stages by the German Air Ministry.




The von Braun group was, however, able to successfully develop a jet-assisted take-off (JATO) unit that was employed during the war. The JATO unit burned a combination of liquid oxygen and water-diluted alcohol and could produce a thrust of 2,200 pounds. Two JATO units fired in tandem could allow He-111 or Ju-88 aircraft to take off with heavy payloads from a short rass strip.

An experimental aircraft called the Me-163A underwent extensive unpowered tow tests without an engine, and was able to achieve a maximum speed of 640 m.p.h. when a liquid-fueled engine was installed. Me-163A tests led to the development of the Me-163B.

General Dornberger eventually joined this group as well, much to the delight of von Braun.

Word reached the group on April 30, 1945 via radio that Adolf Hitler was dead. The timing couldn't have been better, because this was just a few days after the von Braun team had settled in the area. This prompted von Braun to finalize his plans to escape to U.S. forces.

The plan was high treason, and directly involved General Dornberger. Secretly, von Braun and Dornberger sent von Braun's brother, Magnus von Braun, to attempt to contact U.S. troops and offer surrender terms for the von Braun team. The choice of Magnus von Braun was based on the fact that he could be trusted and could speak English.

Just days before the official German surrender of May 8, 1945 Magnus von Braun successfully surrendered to U.S. forces at Reutte, Tyrol. Circumstances were at first confusing, and U.S. troops did not know what to make of Magnus von Braun and his claims.

No Allied scientists or scientific advisors were available at the scene, and a large number of German citizens not related to the von Braun activities were also seeking surrender terms at the same time. Magnus von Braun was finally able to convince U.S. troops that Wernher von Braun and his closest associates, now living at an inn behind German lines, wanted to surrender.

Magnus von Braun did this by convincing U.S. troops that the U.S. was the best nation to continue the research started by von Braun, with the ultimate goal of interplanetary travel. He also asserted that Wernher von Braun's life was in immediate danger due to a German directive to kill key personnel prior to surrender.

Arrangements were made for Wernher von Braun, Dornberger and one Colonel Axter to cross German lines and stay with U.S. troops. During this meeting, U.S. officials were convinced that the von Braun team was vital to U.S. interests. But permission for a mass evacuation of the team was slow to come.

After screening key von Braun personnel, a decision was made to move von Braun and about 150 of his staff to a more secure location and a higher command location. This group was moved to a captured German army barracks at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where they languished for several months.

General Dornberger was eventually transferred to British forces, who promptly placed him in a prisoner of war camp where he spent two years before being released to the U.S.

U.S. military leaders would not allow von Braun to be treated in this manner, primarily because of his knowledge of where the bulk of German rocketry documents and hardware were located. U.S. intelligence recognized that valuable hardware was housed at the Mittelwerk plant, and needed to be secured for transport to the U.S.

Below is an obscure late 1940s image taken from the Boeing Historical Archive. It is an artist's impression from North American Aviation that strongly resembles work performed in Nazi Germany by EMW at Peenemünde concerning manned versions of the V-2 missile.

The image was on microfilm and labeled "Rocket plane launch on V-2" and has been photographed and digitally enhanced.


North American Aviation V-2-Launched Rocket Powered Interceptor of the late 1940s
A Wernher von Braun design?

Wernher von Braun VTO Interceptor
Art by Joshua Hildwine




When one considers von Braun's theoretical work on his VTO Interceptor and the laborious work by EMW to design functional models of just such a radical manned missile, it is not hard to believe that North American produced this crude design with two MG or cannon ports in the nose and a general streamlining of the missile with highly swept-back wings as a postwar derivative of German aeronautical design concepts from 1945.

North American's study from their archives were transferred to Boeing and that is where this oddity was located.

Peenemünde Manned V-2 project - the EMW A-9

Although the North American V-2 launched rocket interceptor concept is intriguing, it is far from original. It seems to be a merging of the von Braun Interceptor design above and the earliest concepts of a manned V-2 as both a reconnaissance plane and intercontinental manned missile meant to strike New York City in late 1945.

Original plan for manned A-9 in 1944

Internal schematic

Profile published in the January 1946 issue of the French publication Revue Aeronautique (Aeronautical Review)

~ Rob Arndt

Britain's Mystery Manned V-2 Concept:
How Space History Could Have Been Altered

After Nazi Germany surrendered in May 1945, Britain, the United States, and U.S.S.R. captured a huge amount of German war documents and scientists involved with the V-2 project which bombarded London from late 1944 to early 1945 and Antwerp in 1945.

Information on the V-2 missile was put to good use by the victorious US and
Soviet Union for further development towards military missiles and early spaceflight. Britain, however, lacked the resources to match the two postwar superpowers as Britain won the war, but had to rebuild and pay back immense war debts to the United States.

However, a British independent proposal put forward just one year after the war, if it had been properly developed, could have altered the history of space exploration as we know it.

A two-man study group (R.A. Smith and H. E. Ross) of the British Interplanetary Society submitted a private design for an adapted German V-2 rocket to the Ministry of Supply on December 23, 1946. The civilian adaption consisted of a new pressurized cabin in the nose of the rocket, in place of the usual explosive 1,000 kg amatol warhead, which would enable a man to be launched as a passenger on the flight. The cabin was to be detachable, allowing the astronaut to experience several minutes of weightlessness, before it parachuted back to Earth.

Due to lack of funding, however, the proposal was not adopted as fate would have it. Britain was still in the reconstruction phase in 1946 from all the war damage caused during the previous years by the Luftwaffe and V-Weapons campaign.

The concept, however, is almost identical to that used by NASA in 1961, when US Astronauts Alan Sheppard and Gus Grissom were sent on sub-orbital flights with a Redstone rocket (ironically derived from the V-2), going through several minutes of weightlessness.

Had the British succeeded in their manned V-2 and had both the resources and Ministry funding, the first moon rocket might have been named Brittania or Victoria and the Union Flag might have been planted on the moon instead of the Stars & Stripes.

~Rob Arndt