Legacy Of The V-2 Rocket

Roundup: Talking About History

Paul Rincon, BBC News (online), 09 Sept. 2004

In the first of two features, BBC News Online looks at the legacy of the V-2 rocket - how the Americans and the Soviets raced to exploit the German technology and expertise they had captured at the end of WW II.

In the early 1930s, rockets were considered successful if they travelled several metres from their launch site.

But Germany's thirst for re-armament after World War I spurred an ambitious programme of rocket development that would produce a ballistic missile (the world's first) with a range of 320km (200 miles): the V-2.

"Launching a rocket is much more difficult than, say, taking off in an aeroplane," says Konrad Dannenberg, 92, a propulsion specialist who worked on the V-2, originally designated the A-4.

"With a rocket, especially a space rocket, you need to launch vertically. And in order to do that, your thrust has to be larger than the total weight of your vehicle.

"Unfortunately, rockets are at least twice as heavy as aeroplanes because you need to carry an oxidiser on a rocket as well as your fuel. So in my opinion, it was a very major breakthrough."

After the war, Dannenberg was one of about 118 engineers from the V-2 experimental centre at Peenemuende initially selected via Project Paperclip to travel to the US to work on an American rocket programme.

The Americans, the Soviets, the British and the French, had all raced to first understand and then exploit the V-2's technology following the collapse of Germany.

One way the countries did this was by grabbing as many V-2 parts as they could find, before taking them away to be put back together and fired.

Another way was persuading former engineers from Peenemuende - the experimental centre where the V-2s were built - to come on board their nascent rocket programmes.

In this latter regard, the Americans fared best, getting Peenemuende's technical director Wernher von Braun and his top engineers.

In America, the Peenemuenders would eventually develop the rockets that carried astronauts Alan Shepard and John Glenn into space and the Apollo capsules to the Moon.

comments powered by Disqus