V-2 Rocket

During World War II the German military developed several advanced weapons. None of the weapons was decisive in the war, but the V-2 Rocket did have a devestating impact and did form the basis for the U.S. ballistic missile development program following the war. The name V-2 means Vergeltungswaffe 2 ("Retailiation-weapon 2").

Captured German V-2 rocket in post-WW II test firing by the Soviet Union
Captured German V-2 rocket in post-WW II test firing by the Soviet Union.

Today in WW II: 28 Feb 1942 Japanese forces invaded Java, beginning the Battle of Java with defending Allied personnel [28 Feb-12 Mar].  More 
28 Feb 1943 Operation Gunnerside: Six Norwegians led by Joachim Ronneberg attack the German-controlled heavy water plant Vemork, destroying key facility of German atomic program.
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Background of the V-2 Rocket

The German V-2 Rocket program started in 1937, and the first V-2 was launched 6 July 1942 from Peenemünde, the German coastal launch facility. The third missile, launched on 3 October 1942, flew 170 miles, the first successful V-2 flight.

V-2 Rocket Captured from Nazi Germany, Post World War II Test. Only five original V-2s remain in existence.
V-2 Rocket Captured from Nazi Germany, Post World War II Test.
Only five original V-2s remain in existence.

The Germans built a 900,000 sq-ft underground production plant near Nordhausen, in two parallel tunnels 500 feet apart, each a mile and a quarter long. The main rocket assembly line started at one end of the first tunnel. Missiles moved on rails as they were assembled reaching the opposite end of the tunnel finished, tested and ready for delivery to launching sites. Forty-six cross tunnels connected the two main tunnels so that parts and subassembly units could be brought to the main assembly line on schedule. The total length of the entire tunnel system was 18 miles.

Between August 1944 and February 1945, the Germans manufactured about 3,000 V-2 rockets with a peak production of thirty V-2s in one day. The V-2s were launched against England and, after D-Day, Allied-occupied areas of Europe. Their nose cone warhead contained almost a ton of payload that created huge explosions on impact, terrorizing populations of the target cities until the end of the war.

The V2 Rocket Arrives at White Sands, NM

The Allied armies captured Nordhausen and Peenemünde in the Spring of 1945 as the war in the European Theater of Operations ended. In mid-August 1945, three hundred railroad freight cars of captured V-2 components arrived in New Mexico, requiring twenty days and every available truck to move to the White Sands Proving Ground (WSPG).

A partial inventory of the V-2 components includes 215 combustion chambers, 180 sets of propellant tanks, 90 tail units, 100 sets of graphite jet vanes, and 200 turbopumps. No intact V-2s were received in flyable condition. The General Electric Company was contracted by the U.S. Army Ordnance Department to assemble, test and fire the V-2s. Gyroscopes and other critical components had to be rebuilt or replaced before V-2s could fly again.

British officials were also interested in the V-2. Although the U.S. military confiscated most of the V-2 technology, components and personnel, the British were able to recover a few and made three launches on 2 October through 15 October 1945. The Soviet Union also captured and tested several V-2s after the war (top photo).

German Scientists Arrive at White Sands

Captured German scientists and missile experts were sent to the U.S. to work on the missile program. Approximately 100 carefully screened individuals were chosen, headed by Dr. Wernher Von Braun. They arrived in the U.S. on 17 November 1945 and in January 1946 were moved to Fort Bliss, TX and nearby WSPG. German personnel at WSPG reached a peak of 39 in March 1946. By the spring of 1947, the German specialists and engineers were replaced by American contractor personnel, although Von Braun and other Germans eventually became an integral part of the U.S. space program.

The V-2 Test Program at White Sands

The V-2 test program assembled and launched 67 V-2s at White Sands between 1946 and 1952, providing the U.S. with its initial experience in the assembly, pre-flight testing, handling, fueling, launching, and tracking of large missiles. The scientific experiments conducted aboard the V-2 yielded significant information about the upper atmosphere, and one series of tests, the "Blossom Project," carried out the first biological experiments in space.

Landmark tests included:

  • V-2 No. 1: First firing, static test for 57 seconds; 15 March 1946
  • V-2 No. 2: First flight test, altitude 18,000 feet; 16 April 1946
  • V-2 No. 3: First high altitude flight, altitude 70 miles; 10 May 1946
  • V-2 No. 9: First separation of nose cone; 30 July 1946
  • V-2 No. 13: Motion pictures showing Earth's curvature: 24 October 1946
  • V-2 No. 19: First auto pilot system used, forerunner of remote controlled rocket; 23 January 1947
  • V-2 No. 40: Photographs of 800,000 square miles of Earth's surface; 26 July 1948
  • Last V-2 Launch: 19 September 1952

In late 1946 Army Ordnance started a development program leading to a two-stage rocket test vehicle. A WAC Corporal missile was mounted on the nose of a V-2 to form the first two-stage missile, known as the "Bumper" or "RTV-G-4", first launched 13 May 1948. The last Bumper flight on 29 July 1950 from Cape Canaveral, FL (later NASA's Kennedy facility) attained a record speed of Mach 9.