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Forward: Rockets in World War II
During World War II, Nazi Germany developed two unmanned long range bombardment rockets. The first of these rockets, the V-1, was a winged rocket, and was an early design for the Cruise missile. Although this had long range, it proved to be unreliable, inaccurate, slow, and was easily shot down by the enemy's defensive forces. The V-2, however, flew faster than the speed of sound, and if it worked properly there was no defense against it. This is what convinced the Germans to spend vast resources to develop this revolutionary new weapon.
The German scientist heading up this research was named Wernher von Braun. He was hired by the German army and started working on Germany's rocket program at a research facility at Peenmunde. Although von Braun did not really want to develop weapons for Germany, it was an excellent opportunity to continue his research on rockets.
The V-2 was also known by the name A-4. This A-4 was the next in the series of the A rockets, and it had a very sophisticated guidance and control system.One of the reasons they added this new control system was that the earlier A-3's control system was faulty and made the rockets a complete disaster. In order to test this new system, a smaller version of the A-4 was built, named the A-5. This A-5 would be a smaller version of the A-4 come with everything scaled down except for the engine, which came from the A-3.
The first test of the finished A-4, then referred to as the V-2, was made on the thirteenth of June, 1942. During this test, the rocket immediately lost control and crashed. This first test was unsuccessful. The second test established an important milestone, as it passed the sound barrier on the sixteenth of July, but unfortunately it was destroyed shortly after. The third test, on the third of October, was a complete success. It gained an altitude of 50 miles and a range of 120 miles.
This success gained much attention from both Hitler and the British. When Hitler heard of the success, and that the V-2 was fully developed, he set up a huge production organization. Although this was the entire point of the rocket program, many scientists at Peenmunde considered it a "Thorn in the side of Peenmunde.".
The British also became interested in Peenmunde, and the they decided to make an air raid with hundreds of heavy bombers at the facility. On the night of August 17, 1943, the bombers hit the facility destroying the V-2 production plants. Although this killed over 800 people, it did not kill any important scientists, and did little to disrupt the rocket program.
After the production plant was destroyed by the British air raid, it was moved to an underground Mittelwerk facility, which was a converted oil depot. At this factory, nine hundred V-2's per month were being produced. Although Mittelwerk was responsible for assembling the rockets, there were many other factories involved. The steam generators, propellant containers, Guidance system, and many other parts were all developed in separate factories, then assembled at Mittelwerk.
This success also attracted the attention of other branches of the German military. The SS was very interested in this project, and tried to coerce Vaughan Ron into leaving the Army and working for them. When he refused, he was arrested two days later at 2:00 a.m. by Gestapo agents and brought up on false charges, this was brought to Hitler's attention, whom immediately ordered his release.
Over the course of World War II, a total of five thousand V-2's were built. Of these five thousand, six hundred were used in tests, and many of the remaining were used against targets in Britain and Allied territory on the continent.
The first attack with the V-2 rocket was on the sixth of September, 1944, when two V-2's were launched unsuccessfully against Paris. If everything went completely right, there was no defense against this weapon. Five minutes after its launch, it would hit the target at almost one mile a second (3600mph)! However, many things could go wrong. The Guidance system could fail, the warhead could be a dud, it might explode anywhere on the flight, and it also might burn up on atmospheric reentry. Despite all the things that could go wrong, the V-2's did considerable damage. They were responsible for over twenty-five hundred deaths, and they caused great property damage.
In January of 1955, when the Third Reich was in its final collapse, von Braun met secretly with his top scientists to decide their options. They could either stay at Germany and wait for the Russians, or move south and surrender to the Americans. Virtually all chose to go south. The confusion and chaos rampant in the last days of World War II made the move much easier. Von Braun received nearly a dozen different orders, both saying to abandon the base and move to a safer location, and to remain where they were and defend it. They filtered out the orders telling them to stay, of and kept the orders telling them to abandon base.
With these orders, von Braun, his close associates, five thousand employees and families at Peenmunde, and many documents and drawings were moved south. As they escaped South in ships, railroad, and trucks, they had to dodge allied planes and fool German forces at checkpoints. Finally, they reached the town of Bleicherode, where the armament ministry in Berlin directed for the research to continue.
By a strange coincidence, the same SS general that was responsible for arresting von Braun was the commander. Because he was also in charge of several concentration camps, he knew that he would be prosecuted for war crimes when World WarTwo was over. He decided that he could bargain better with the Allies if he had hostages, and so he took von Braun and the other Peenmunde scientists hostage. On the April 2, 1944 he ordered them to move to an abandoned military base, but they were quickly moved out because the danger from allied bombers were to great.
On the April 2, 1944, Hitler's death was announced on the radio. This signaled them to make the final plans to surrender to America. Wernher's English speaking brother, Magnus von Braun, was sent to contact the Americans and make arrangements for their surrender. When he surrendered to Fred Schneiker of the 44th Infantry Division, he announced that he was the representative from a group of German rocket scientists who wished to surrender. Soon arrangements were made for the Peenmunde scientists to surrender to America, and they were moved to army barracks at Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
News of the rocket scientist's surrender soon brought further efforts to salvage the German rocket program. The head of the Ordinance Corps Rocket Branch, Colonel Gervais Trichel Commons, requested that Colonel Holger Toftoy, chief of the Ordinance Technical Team in Paris, ship all V-2 assemblies from the Mittelwerk underground factory immediately back to America when it was captured. When the Americans finally reached the Mittelwerk plant, virtually all of the V-1 and V-2's assembly lines were undisturbed. This became one of the greatest technical prizes won in the history of war.
However, the Americans were under much pressure to move out all the assemblies before the Soviets moved into the region. The equipment was shipped on several trains, during May 22-31, 1945. In all, 341 railroad cars were used to ship out the assemblies to Antwerp, where sixteen Liberty ships shipped them to New Orleans. There they were then transferred to the New Mexican desert.
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