Peenemünde and the German V-2 rockets

Let’s have a look, for this new Space Law article on Space Legal Issues, at Peenemünde and the German V-2 rockets. Peenemünde is a municipality on the Baltic Sea island of Usedom in the Vorpommern-Greifswald district in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany. The community is known for the Peenemünde Army Research Center, where the world’s first functional large-scale liquid-propellant rocket, the V-2, was developed.

In World War II, the area was highly involved in the development and production of the German V-2 rockets, until the production’s relocation to Nordhausen. The village’s docks were used for the ships which recovered V-2 wreckage from test launches over the Baltic Sea. German scientists such as Wernher von Braun, who worked at the V-2 facility, were known as “Peenemünders”.

The entire island was captured by the Soviet Red Army on May 5, 1945. The gas plant for the production of liquid oxygen still lies in ruins at the entrance to Peenemünde. The birthplace of modern rocket science is today displayed at the Peenemünde Historical Technical Museum, a World War II museum on the European Route of Industrial Heritage opened in 1992 in the power station of the former Army Testing Site, and the area of the World War II power station (now part of the village) – exhibits include a V-1 and a V-2.

The Peenemünde Army Research Centre

The Peenemünde Army Research Centre or Heeresversuchsanstalt Peenemünde, was founded in 1937 as one of five military proving grounds under the German Army Weapons Office (Heereswaffenamt). On April 2, 1936, the aviation ministry paid the town of Wolgast for the whole Northern peninsula of the Baltic island of Usedom. By the middle of 1938, the Army facility had been separated from the Luftwaffe facility and was nearly complete, with personnel moved from Kummersdorf. The Army Research Center consisted of Werk Ost and Werk Süd, while Werk West was the Luftwaffe Test Site.

Several German guided missiles and rockets of World War II were developed by the Peenemünde Army Research Centre, including the V-2 rockets, and the Wasserfall, Schmetterling, Rheintochter, Taifun, and Enzian missiles. The Peenemünde Army Research Centre also performed preliminary design work on very-long-range missiles for use against the United States of America. That project was sometimes called V-3 and its existence is well documented. The Peenemünde establishment also developed other technologies such as the first closed-circuit television system in the world, installed at Test Stand VII to track the launching rockets.

In November 1938, Walther von Brauchitsch ordered construction of an A-4 production plant at Peenemünde. By midsummer 1943, the first trial runs of the assembly-line in the Production Works at Werk Süd were made. In early September 1943, Peenemünde machinery and personnel for production were moved to the Mittelwerk, which also received machinery and personnel from the two other planned A-4 assembly sites. On October 13, 1943, the Peenemünde prisoners from the small F-1 concentration camp boarded rail cars bound for Kohnstein.

Operation Hydra (1943)

The bombing of Peenemünde in World War II was carried out on several occasions as part of the overall Operation Crossbow to disrupt German secret weapon development. The first raid on Peenemünde was Operation Hydra of the night of August 17, 1943, involving almost six hundred heavy bombers of the Royal Air Force.

Operation Hydra was an attack RAF Bomber Command on a German scientific research centre at Peenemünde on the night of August 17, 1943. Hydra began Operation Crossbow, a campaign against the German V-weapon program. The British lost two hundred and fifteen aircrew, forty bombers and killed several hundred enslaved workers in the nearby labour camp. The Luftwaffe lost twelve night-fighters and about one hundred and seventy German civilians were killed, including two V-2 rocket scientists. Prototype V-2 rocket launches were delayed for about two months, testing and production was dispersed and the morale of the German survivors was severely affected.

Peenemünde and the German V-2 rockets

The V-2, technical name Aggregat 4 or A4, was the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile. The missile, powered by a liquid-propellant rocket engine, was developed during the Second World War in Germany as a “vengeance weapon”, assigned to attack Allied cities as retaliation for the Allied bombings against German cities. The V-2 rocket also became the first man-made object to travel into space by crossing the Kármán line with the vertical launch of MW 18014 on June 20, 1944.

Research into military use of long-range rockets began when the studies of graduate student Wernher von Braun attracted the attention of the German Army. A series of prototypes culminated in the A4, which went to war as the V-2. Beginning in September 1944, over three thousand V-2s were launched by the German Wehrmacht against Allied targets, first London, and later Antwerp, and Liège. The attacks from V-2s resulted in the deaths of an estimated nine thousand civilians and military personnel, and a further twelve thousand labourers, and concentration camp prisoners died as a result of their forced participation in the production of the weapons.

As Germany collapsed, teams from the Allied forces (the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union) raced to capture key German manufacturing sites and technology. Wernher von Braun and over one hundred key V-2 personnel surrendered to the Americans. Eventually, many of the original V-2 team ended up working at the Redstone Arsenal. The United States of America also captured enough V-2 hardware to build approximately eighty of the missiles. The Soviets gained possession of the V-2 manufacturing facilities after the war, re-established V-2 production, and moved it to the Soviet Union.

MW 18014 – Peenemünde and the German V-2 rockets

MW 18014 was a German V-2 rocket test launch that took place on June 20, 1944, at the Peenemünde Army Research Centre in Peenemünde, Germany. It was the first man-made object to reach outer space, attaining an apoapsis of one hundred and seventy-six kilometres, which is above the Kármán line. It was a vertical test launch. Although it reached space, it was a sub-orbital spaceflight and therefore returned to Earth in an impact.

MW 18014 was part of a series of vertical test launches made in June 1944 designed to gauge the rocket’s behaviour in vacuum. MW 18014 broke the altitude record set by one of its predecessors, launched on October 3, 1942, to attain an apoapsis of one hundred and seventy-six kilometres.

MW 18014 is the first man-made object to cross to cross the Kármán line (one hundred kilometres), usually accepted boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. However, as the Kármán line is an anachronistic definition, the German rocket scientists didn’t celebrate the milestone at the time. A subsequent V-2 launched as part of the same set of vertical test launches would break MW 18014’s record with an apoapsis of one hundred and eighty-nine kilometres. This is what can be said concerning Peenemünde and the German V-2 rockets.