The History of the v 2 Rocket

“We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.” Wernher Von Braun (WVB)

There is one man upon whom the history of space exploration pivots, Wernher Von Braun, and he was the force behind the construction of the V2 or as he called it the A4 rocket. With his lifetime of dedicated devotion to rocket science, he pushed its understanding and practical application further than any one before him.

Dr. Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun; was born in 1912 and discovered his life’s passion by the aged of 13. Wernher was nearly, arrested for strapping a bundle of fireworks to his sisters red trolley and setting them off down a public street. He attended the Technical University of Berlin and majored in Aerospace Engineering, dreaming of rockets visiting the moon and other planets.

“Our sun is one of 100 billion stars in our galaxy. Our galaxy is one of billions of galaxies populating the universe. It would be the height of presumption to think that we are the only living things in that enormous immensity.”-WVB

Whilst Wernher was working of his doctoral thesis, the Nationalist Government Socialist German Workers Party (NAZI) assumed power within Germany. Suddenly his field of expertise was in great demand, the new government had big plans and Wernher was (politely forced) to join the new party. The government banned all civilian involvement in rocketry and set up a base in Peenemunde, a rural district in Northeast Germany on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Wernher was, awarded his doctorate in 1932, though what he submitted was a fraction of his real thesis, which was classified Top Secret until 1960.

In Peenemunde, the Nazi party accumulated the finest German minds available to cover the various aspects of rocketry all to be, captained by Wernher von Braun. With dreams of space exploration roughly pushed aside by his new ruthless employers, they forced him to concentrate on long-range bombardment missiles. By 1936, having successfully tested two of the first Aggregate rockets (A1, A2) Wernher and his team, began to think bigger and contemplated a 25 metric ton thrust rocket that would become the A4.

“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.”-WVB

Wernher was the first to admit his extensive use of the published plans and theories of Robert H. Goddard, in the design and construction of the A series rockets.

“His rockets … may have been rather crude by present-day standards, but they blazed the trail and incorporated many features used in our most modern rockets and space vehicles” -WVB

The V3 was a failure with major stability problems, in late 1939 Werhner called a conference to initiate university research into the three prime problem areas, liquid-fuel rocket engines, supersonic aerodynamics, and guidance and control. Much of the theory and engineering behind the project was unexplored territory and required new on the spot, ideas, formulations, and engineering practices.

“I have learned to use the word impossible with the greatest caution.”-WVB

Though Wernher had implied in 1940 that the A4 was ready for deployment, the A4 was still not fully functional by 1942, when Hitler issued an order for the mass production of V2 (V for Vengeance) rockets. This caused the, Mittelbau-Dora Nazi concentration camp, to be set up for a large-scale manufacturing plant, at Mittalwerk near Nordhausen, Germany. By early 1944, Hitler desperate for fading homeland support increased the pressure dramatically for working rockets.

In September 1944, the first V2 mobile carrier arrived in Belgium, the next day other units moved to The Hague and on September 8th, both positions fired successfully. Their V2 launches silently arrived in Paris, France and London, England, beginning the V2’s reign of terror. In all 3172, V2 rockets made it to their destination causing widespread damage and a constant fear in a war torn people conditioned to hearing the bombs arrive. This figure does not take into account all the failed launches and mid air-explosions. The last V2 to be launched and received was on the 25th of March 1945, ending a 6-month nerve wracking and destructive barrage.

The Allies had received a fair amount of intelligence relating to the V2 rocket and there was a race between the Americans and Russians to capture V2 assembly line at Mittalwerk and the facilities at Peenemunde. Werhner was relocated by the Nazi high command deep into protected territory, but not before hiding all his essential plans and papers in a near by mineshaft. He had previously come to an agreement with his staff and decided to defect to the Americans. In the event of losing the war, the officers responsible for Werhner and his team, were on orders to shoot all of them. When Hitler committed suicide, the officers rushed to find Werhner and shoot them before killing themselves, by this time Werhner had engineered the escape of himself and his staff, they reported to the nearest American outpost. The American government secretly flew Werhner and his team to New Castle Army Air Field, Wilmington, Delaware, USA, under Operation Paperclip.

The A4 rocket though initially forced into military purposes was the base for Wernher’s dream of space exploration. Through his efforts, the V2 would evolve into the Jupiter-C, and would place the first USA satellite into space, and launch the birth of the USA space program, NASA.

“Don’t tell me that man doesn’t belong out there. Man belongs wherever he wants to go – and he’ll do plenty well when he gets there.”-WVB