History of Rocketry Chapter 4
By Cliff Lethbridge
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 pilotless 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 Peenemunde 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 Peenemunde at the same time.
British intelligence received information that secret weapons were under development at Peenemunde, so hundreds of Allied heavy bombers attacked Peenemunde 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 Peenemunde, 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, Adolph 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 Adolph 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 Peenemunde Experimental Center. Following the Allied bombing of Peenemunde on 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 Peenemunde, 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 “meillerwagen”. Here, the rocket was clamped to a cradle in a horizontal position. The cradle on the “meillerwagen” 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 “meillerwagen” 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 “meillerwagen”, 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 “meillerwagen” 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.
The loss of launch sites in France and Belgium caused the Germans to test a winged version of the V-2 intended to increase the range of the missile. Called the A-4b, the missile was a V-2 outfitted with winds to allow a glide path to a more distant target.
The first A-4b prototype was test launched on January 8, 1945 but failed to meet its test objectives. A second A-4b prototype was launched on January 24, 1945. This missile validated the winged V-2 concept, and became the first winged missile to break the sound barrier. Although promising, A-4b missiles never went into production.
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
It should be noted that a number of follow-up versions of the V-2 were envisioned by German engineers, and historians will continue to wonder how World War II would have played out if Germany had the time to develop these concepts, along with perhaps an atomic or biological weapons payload.
The German concept weapons carried the “A” designation, like the A-4 which eventually became known as the V-2. The A-5 actually preceded the A-4, and was used as an interim test prototype of the A-4. German concept vehicles considered to follow the V-2 began with the A-6.
Although design of the A-6 was completed, the vehicle was never built. The A-6 would have been identical to the V-2 with the exception of fuel. The A-6 would have used nitric-sulfuric acid as oxidizer and vinyl isobutyl ether mixed with aniline as fuel.
These fuels were storable, and were intended to quicken the speed and ease with which the weapons could be handled and launched. The same operational improvement was incorporated when the U.S. Air Force liquid-oxygen burning Titan I was replaced by the Titan II, which employed storable propellants.
The A-7 was a winged missile based upon the design of the A-5. Dummy versions of the A-7 were dropped from aircraft for the purpose of gathering ballistic flight data. Test versions of the A-7 were launched using a 3,500-pound thrust engine adapted from the A-5.
The A-7 was found to have a 30-mile glide path when launched from an aircraft flying at an altitude of five miles, or a 15-mile range when launched from the ground. The vehicle was intended for testing only, and was never deployed as a weapon. The A-8, which was never built, would have been a winged version of the A-6.
The A-9, similar in concept to the short-lived A-4b, was proposed to increase the range of the V-2 to 400 miles through the incorporation of wings. The wings would allow the A-9 to glide toward its target, rather than drop to the ground, at the end of its ballistic flight.
However, since the A-9 would have a greater range than the V-2, it would be required to glide toward its target at relatively low speeds. Like the V-1, the A-9 would have been relatively easy to intercept in flight. As a result, the A-9 was neither built nor tested.
An interesting application of the A-9 concept was a manned version of the A-9 employing a triangular landing gear. Had it been built, the manned A-9 could potentially have carried a pilot a distance of 400 miles in just 17 minutes.
The designation A-10 was given to what would have been the first stage of a missile employing the A-9 as a second stage. The A-10 stage would have been 65 feet long and had a diameter of 13 feet, 8 inches. It was designed to produce a 400,000-pound thrust by burning nitric acid and diesel oil.
Calculations indicated that the A-10 first stage coupled with an A-9 second stage could carry a 2,000-pound payload a distance of 2,500 miles. If built, this would have been the world’s first intermediate-range ballistic missile.
But, the von Braun design team did not stop there, and indeed had plans on the drawing board that could have resulted in the first space launch vehicles. The designation A-11 was given to the first stage of a vehicle that would have employed an A-10 as second stage and an A-9 as third stage. The specific intention of von Braun was to carry a manned A-9 third stage into space.
The A-12 designation was given to a powerful first stage concept capable of producing a liftoff thrust of 2.5 million pounds. The A-12 would have been mated to an A-11 second stage and an A-10 third stage. Calculations indicated that the total vehicle could have carried a 60,000-pound payload into space.
One must wonder what might have happened if World War II had turned out differently for Germany. The von Braun design team had laid the groundwork for the development of the world’s first space launch vehicles even before the close of the war. It is likely that, given the time, Germany would have applied these concepts to the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
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 Sanger. Sanger 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.
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 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, a 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
German air-to-air missiles were tested during World War II, but were never deployed. The Germans did modify barrage rockets for the purpose of firing from aircraft at aircraft, but these were largely ineffective.
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 Peenemunde 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 grass 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.
The Me-163B was powered by a liquid-fueled engine and was assisted at take-off by two solid-fueled 1,000-pound thrust JATO units. The Me-163B was 19.5 feet long and weighed about 9,040 pounds. Its engine could be throttled between thrusts of 660 and 3,500 pounds.
Performance of the Me-163B was impressive. It could achieve a maximum speed of 550 m.p.h. for about eight minutes, and could achieve a maximum altitude of 32,800 feet in just three minutes after take-off. About 60 Me-163B aircraft were deployed by Germany as interceptors through the close of the war.
A proposed follow-up version of the Me-163B was known as the Ju-263, the 8-263 and ultimately the Me-263. It underwent glide tests only, and could not be deployed before the close of the war. The Me-263 was 23.1 feet long, weighed about 11,280 pounds and was intended to employ a liquid-fueled engine that could be throttled between thrusts of 440 and 3,740 pounds.
Although never deployed, the Ba-349 would have been an impressive weapon. Nicknamed the Natter, the Ba-349 was 19 feet long and weighed about 4,925 pounds. It could achieve a maximum speed of 600 m.p.h.
The Natter was ramp-launched from a vertical position, and was designed to be flown just once, in the event of an impending air raid. After being assisted at launch by two powerful solid-fueled JATO units, the Natter would be powered by a liquid-fueled sustainer engine.
Ground-controlled radar would then guide the Natter toward its Allied bomber targets. Once in range, the pilot would fire either a cluster of 28 electronically triggered barrage rockets or two 30-millimeter guns.
The Natter would then glide to an altitude of 10,000 feet, where the pilot would bail out. The wooden airframe of the Natter would be destroyed, but the sustainer engine was intended to be recovered and reused.
It could well have become a potent anti-aircraft weapon, but development of the Natter ceased after its first manned test flight. The pilot was killed when the cockpit was torn loose at an altitude of 330 feet.
German Rocket Scientists Surrender To U.S. Forces
Although somewhat of a genesis of modern rocketry research had been established in the United States prior to the end of World War II, certainly the greatest impact in modern U.S. rocketry occurred when the bulk of German rocket scientists surrendered to U.S. forces.
As early as January, 1945 Wernher von Braun met secretly with his senior staff members to decide whether or not to remain at Peenemunde and most certainly eventually surrender to Soviet forces or head southward to meet and surrender to U.S. forces.
With the German war effort crumbling and German military leadership showing a state of confusion, official orders for von Braun remained vague. Different orders reached him from Berlin, local army and navy commanders, the SS as well as Nazi party bosses. Some ordered von Braun to stay and defend Peenemunde, while others ordered him to retreat to a more secure site.
In general, von Braun decided to ignore the orders to stay while considering the best of the orders to abandon the site. Since escape to U.S. forces was his goal, he needed an official plan that best aided this objective.
An official order was eventually given to von Braun which involved a relocation of the Peenemunde operation to the town of Bleicherode in the Harz Mountains. This plan was obeyed to an extent. Although the relocation order was obeyed, von Braun arranged for tons of sensitive documents to be moved, as well as the families of his associates.
A convoy was assembled, and von Braun had the words “Vorhabenzur besonderen Verwendung” painted in red letters on all vehicles. This meant “Project for Special Disposition” which aided von Braun in passing through Gestapo checkpoints more easily. The designation was completely fictitious.
In all, about 5,000 Peenemunde employees and their families accompanied von Braun and his closest associates toward Bleicherode. They traveled in ships, railroad cars, trucks and automobiles.
SS General Hans Kammler, who had earlier tried unsuccessfully to assume control of the rocketry research at Peenemunde, was in command at Bleicherode, an area which hosted a number of concentration camps. In fear of Allied reprisal for being in charge of concentration camps, Kammler hatched a scheme to hold von Braun and his colleagues hostage at the end of hostilities.
On April 2, 1945 Kammler issued a plan to move von Braun and about 500 key personnel to an empty army camp near Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps. This area had been declared a last retreat for German forces. Sensing a plot was at work, von Braun convinced the SS to allow his personnel to be housed outside barbed wire fences to prevent being captured all in one place.
This also protected the group from being vulnerable to a bombing attack. Indeed, the von Braun group was widely dispersed throughout about 20 villages in the area. 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 Adolph 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.