|V2 Guided Ballistic Rocket
V2 rocket was the world’s first ballistic missile. It was originally
designated A4, as it was the fourth in a line of rocket developments,
however, Joseph Goebbels's propaganda ministry renamed it
Vergeltungswaffe 2 (Retaliation Weapon 2).
It was naturally shortened to V2 The major character in the
development of the German ballistic missile program was engineer Werner
von Braun, who became the Head of the German Rocket Development Centre
As an engineering student he was a member of the Verein fur
Raumschiffahrt (Society for Space Travel) and was always interested in
furthering the cause of rockets as a means of space travel. At the
request of the Reichswehr Ordnance Department, he began work on rockets
in 1932 upon graduation from the Berlin institute of Technology. This
was popular in Germany as it was not covered by the Treaty Of Versailles
which prohibited most weapon development after the WW1.
The fledgling Reichswehr’s interest in rocketry was to legally get
around the restrictions on the number and size of artillery pieces laid
out in the Treaty of Versailles following WW I. Rockets were not
included as artillery pieces. Unlike the VI developed by the Luftwaffe.
which flew low, and slow enough to be intercepted by fast aircraft, the
V2 was a true, guided, ballistic missile, rising into the stratosphere
before plunging down to the target.
The only warning of an approaching V2 was the double boom as it broke
the sound barrier shortly before impact. There was no defence against
the V2, so the English went after the launching sites. They did this
very effectively in the Pas de Calais so that only mobile V2s could be
launched. None of these systems were ever successfully attacked.
However, due to the large bomber raid on the Peenemunde test site,
the V2 program was set back a few crucial months. They were not ready in
time for the Allied landings in Normandy, where they could have played
considerable havoc with logistical systems. Instead the Germans rained
V2s onto Antwerp once the Allies captured it, as it was used as the
major European port for Allied supplies. In this one night of British
bombing they lost 300 airmen!
The German rocket troops were trained to erect 3 missiles at a time.,
fuel, align, and launch them in a matter of 2 hours.
About 1000 of these missiles were fired at the cities of London and
Norwich, while about 2000 more were fired at targets on the European
continent, primarily Antwerp. Another 500 or so were used in test and
training launches. A total of about 10,000 were built and shipped from a
central German assembly facility located in the Hartz Mountains, in the
area known as the Miftelwerke.
Many missiles were still in the pipeline to the front, or had been
rejected by the troops because of problems and damage when the war
ended. The V2 ultimately failed as a weapon due to its great expense,
relatively small warhead and inaccuracy. Had the Germans developed a
nuclear warhead for it, then it would have been a very different matter.
A version of the V2 named V4 was intended to be launched against
America from submarines, and these plans for these rockets were well
advanced, submersible containers having been tested. The design of the
A9 and A10 made this design obsolete. These three stage rockets would
have been capable of attacking the USA,. from sites in Normandy (Brix).
After the war the Allied Forces showed great interest in learning
more about this new weapon and its military applications. The US War
Department decided at the end of the World War 2 to bring a number of
German scientists and engineers to the USA, for interrogation, as well
as to have them demonstrate the use and operation of these new systems.
About 500 German rocket specialists were used in "Operation
Paper-clip" for this purpose, including Wernher von Braun. Many of them
became naturalised Americans and contributed greatly to all of the
American rocket programs, both military and scientific.
The Germans were very secretive about their Vengeance weapons and
very little filmed evidence was ever shot and even less remains. Most of
the film sequences you see today are of the British launches after the
war using German troops and equipment. After the Allies liberated
Holland, many V2’s fell into American and British hands. The Americans
shipped nearly 200 completed rockets back to the US.
The British had less than ten, and some of these were launched from
Holland by German personnel, wearing their correct uniforms. It was
called "Operation Backfire" and most of the film footage you see of a V2
launch comes from this episode.