By Konrad K. Dannenberg
Member of the Alexander Order
One of the early V-2's is getting prepared for a launch in Peenemünde, Germany.
This presentation will briefly describe the activities in the German Rocket Development Center in Peenemünde, and summarize the key factors that made the V-2 rocket an effective weapon. The Allied Forces showed, after the war, great interest in learning more about this new weapon and its military applications. The U.S. War Department decided therefore at the end of the World War II to bring a number of German scientists and engineers to this country for interrogation, as well as to demonstrate through actual experimentation the use and operation of these new systems. About 500 specialists were brought here under "Operation Paperclip" for this purpose.
The story of 118 of these rocket scientists after arrival in this country will be told. During a period of five years in Fort Bliss, Texas, these scientists taught a team of U.S. Army personnel and people from General Electric, a support contractor, the skills for testing, assembling, and finally launching a V-2 ballistic missile. The launchings took place at the U.S. Army Missile Range of the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico. After extensive modification, two of the last few missiles were taken to Florida, where they were launched from what is now known as the Cape Canaveral Test Range.
After the White Sands firings, the Army relocated the group of scientists to the Redstone/Huntsville Army Ordnance Arsenal. There, the first large U.S. ballistic missile, the Redstone, was designed, developed, and deployed. So was the Jupiter, with its increased firing range. The Jupiter was the first U.S. IREM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile), and was successfully deployed in Italy, Turkey, and Great Britain.
The U.S. Army provided the Redstone missile with a booster stage for the launching of the first U.S. satellite, the Explorer. It also "boosted" the first manned missions, and provided the first basic transportation into space for Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom. In 1961 President John F. Kennedy announced the intention of landing the first men on the Moon. The Saturn series of space boosters helped to fulfill this dream. The Saturn I flew several missions, demonstrating the capability of the "cluster design" principle of rocket engines, as well as other features.
The huge Saturn V, which eventually carried men to the Moon, was proof of the feasibility of space travel, not only to the Moon but to the planets. The role of the German "Rocket Team" in this achievement will be discussed in the perspective of its far-reaching importance for the future of mankind.
After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles prohibited Germany from building and using heavy artillery. For this reason, the German Army Ordnance Department tried to replace this missing link in German armaments by rockets. Such an endeavor seemed reasonable, based on advances shown by many amateur rocket groups operating in several European cities. One group especially, in the Berlin area, had become well known, having Hermann Oberth, Rudolf Nebel, and Wernher von Braun as their members. Demonstration firings at the private rocket field at Reinickendorff convinced the Germany Army to employ a small nucleus of this group and to support their work by funding to be provided from the Ordnance Department.
The Army decided to relocate these efforts to an Army base at Kummersdorf. It soon became apparent that the Berlin environment was not conducive to rocket flights, and it was decided in the mid-Thirties to establish a rocket development facility at Peenemünde on the Baltic Sea island of Usedom, at the mouth of the Oder River.
In spite of the wartime conditions and many ups and downs, the work progressed rather satisfactorily, and at the end of World War II a new potent weapon had been developed, the ballistic missile known by its builders as the A-4.
It was designed to use liquid propellants (incl. LOX) to make it easily transportable. The use of a turbopump for the pressurization of the propellants was a major advance to realize this need. This permitted light-weight tanks, so that the missile could be erected in the field at almost any launch location. The German rocket troops were trained to erect 3 missiles at a time, and to fuel, to align, and to 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. Another 500 or so were used in test and training launchings, while a total of about 10,000 had been built and shipped from a central German assembly facility located in the Hartz Mountains, in the vicinity of Nordhausen, also known as the Mittelwerke. Many missiles were still in the pipeline to the front, or had been rejected by the troops because of problems and damage.
These accomplishments impressed the Allied Forces to such a degree, that they became interested in learning more about the design, the operations, and the tactical uses of the A-4, which had meanwhile been renamed by Hitler's propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels, the V-2.
The British launched 3 V-2's from the Cuxhaven area. They used captured German soldiers who had served in missile firing units. A small group of German engineers from Peenemünde had also been brought to the launch site. They had to supervise testing and preparations of the captured V-2's and had to approve the final assembly and use for a flight. Only a few German rocket engineers joined the British missile program. The Russians reactivated the Mittelwerk facility and assembled V-2's at that location, but relocated this activity soon to an area near Moscow. The Russians had already started an active rocket development program during the war. The French eventually hired several former Peenemünde workers and initiated their own missile program shortly after the war's end.
The U.S. Army decided to bring 118 rocket scientists, engineers, and technicians to this country. I have been asked to tell you about the work of these 118 rocket people. My story may sound as if they had done all the work. I want to correct any such impression right here and now: the work of the group was supported by an enlightened and outstanding leadership on the American side. Without their visionary and active role, the accomplishments described in the following pages would not have been possible. I also want to give full credit to the many soldiers, civil servants, and contractor personnel who played vital roles in the total endeavor.
As a demonstration of this situation, I can tell you that besides the people, also components for the assembly of about 100 V-2's had been brought to this country. This assembly work was to be done at the Army's White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico. Here, Army personnel, support contractors, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory had been doing missile development work for the army, and had already established a test and firing range, which was also to be used for the launching of the captured V-2's.
The task of the German group was to instruct the Army personnel and the support contractor (General Electric) in the handling, operation, and launch procedures, so that the Americans could eventually take over this entire process without any support from the Germans. The launched missiles were used for scientific purposes and measured, for the first time, temperatures, pressures, air composition, and radiation levels at these unexplored altitudes. These missiles, especially the warheads research program, had to undergo in many cases major modifications. Thus, the U.S. space research program got its start at that time and concluded in the launch of 66 modified V-2's. Eight missiles were eventually modified for the use of a second stage, the JPL-developed WAC Corporal as an upper stage. This configuration, also called the Bumper-WAC, established an altitude record of almost 250 miles, which remained a record for many years.
But we have gotten ahead of ourselves! Let's go back to Fort Bliss and White Sands. Another task of the group of rocket people was to propose follow-on projects. After von Braun had made some most ambitious proposals with little chance for obtaining the necessary funding, one proposal was to attach a ramjet as a second stage to a modified V-2, or possibly a future Army missile. Due to many technical and political difficulties, this project never sustained life, although some follow-on work was taken to Huntsville and continued there for a few years. Projects of this type are now being discussed again.
The Army was apparently impressed with the work of this group, as well as with the performance of the launched V-2's, and it was decided to establish a permanent Army facility for the research and development of guided missiles and rockets. This triggered the move to Huntsville, Alabama, in the summer of 1950. At that time, several members departed from the group and joined private industry (General Dynamics, Convair, NAA, Lockheed), where they eventually took leading positions. Another small group that had worked on the Loki Project moved north, in order to continue their development work there for an Army contractor.
Konrad Dannenberg at the Marshall Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
The city fathers of Huntsville were initially reluctant to welcome the rocket people, since they had hoped to attract an Air Force facility for the testing of high-speed vehicles, which later on became the Arnold Engineering and Development Center near Tullahoma, Tennessee. This Air Force facility eventually attracted also a number of Paperclip personnel. As it turned out, the Army rocket work grew into a much larger and economically more important activity than originally anticipated.
Original tasks at the new location were the continuation of the ramjet work started at Fort Bliss. But the Army wanted mostly to pursue the development of an American ballistic missile, which later on became known as the Redstone. It had many features very similar to the V-2: it used the same propellants, and an improved but still similarly designed powerplant. But it featured a much advanced guidance and control system, and especially a warhead that could be separated in order to overcome a major problem of the V-2, the disintegration of the vehicle during the re-entry phase, the feared re-entry bursts. The Redstone was deployed by the U.S. Army for several years in Europe. It was the U.S.'s first medium-sized ballistic missile.
From the progress in rocketry, it became apparent that it would be possible by the use of upper stages to put a payload into an Earth orbit, and to create an Earth satellite. In the framework of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) the United States and the Russians agreed to proceed with such a project and to launch earth satellites for scientific purposes. President Eisenhower decided not to use a military missile system, like the Redstone, for these U.S. satellite carriers, and he ordered the Navy to undertake the development of the Vanguard Project for these IBY launches.
In the meantime, the Russians had proceeded with great success with the development of their missiles, leading up to an ICBM launch in the summer of 1957. To meet their part of the IGY agreement, they used this same vehicle with minor modifications for the launch of their Sputnik satellite on October 4, 1957, to the surprise of the world. The second Sputnik launch even demonstrated the survivability of living beings in space, with the launch of the dog Laika. This happened before the United States could launch its first IGY mission.
After these two Russian successes, the first two launch attempts by the United States within the IGY framework, using the Vanguard launch vehicle, were dismal failures. After these two mishaps, the Army Ballistics Missile Agency (ABMA) was finally given approval to prepare a modified Redstone missile for the launch of a satellite as the U.S. contribution to the IGY.
This launch vehicle had been in storage for several years; it had originally been prepared for test launches of ablative nose-cones to demonstrate the capability to survive re-entry from space. Several launches of this type had already proven this feature, using Redstone vehicles with two solid propellant upperstages furnished from the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. This demonstration was to verify the re-entry capability of the Jupiter-IRBM nose cone. This vehicle had been prepared for the same purpose, and the simple addition of an extra solid propellant upper stage gave it an orbital capability. A proposal to use this combination under the name "Project Orbiter" had been turned down by the Administration. With it, a U.S. satellite could have been orbited a year or two prior to the Russian launch.
This Explorer I launch put Huntsville, Alabama, for the first time, on the map. Further feats were to come. The launch of the dog Laika indicated that one Russian goal would be manned space flight. To demonstrate the U.S. capability of a safe re-entry from space flight, a modified Jupiter warhead carried two monkeys during a ballistic flight. They both survived and had thereby shown that the ablative system for nose-cone re-entry would also be safe for human survival during return from space.
Based on these experiences, the Redstone vehicle, which was now known as "Old Reliable," was called upon again, this time to carry Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom as the first two U.S. astronauts into space on top of a Redstone-Mercury configuration, and to recover them. Unfortunately, the Russians again had launched their cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, a few weeks earlier. And Gagarin also orbited the Earth, something the one-stage Redstone-Mercury could not do. John Glenn was the first American to orbit; he used a modified Atlas-ICBM almost a year after Shepard's flight for that purpose.
These two Redstone missions--the Explorer and the Redstone-Mercury flights--opened the door for the von Braun rocket team to participate in more ambitious missions of the future. When President Kennedy announced the intention of landing men on the moon and bringing them back alive, he called on NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center to furnish a new NASA to furnish the transportation to the Moon. The Center had just been established as a new NASA Field Center. It was staffed by most of the people in the Rocket Team, now including many American technicians, engineers, and scientists. Marshall is located on Federal property managed by the U.S. Army Redstone Arsenal's Support Agency.
While still with the U.S. Army, the rocket team had already started the development of a large booster by "clustering" eight Jupiter engines underneath a central Jupiter tankage and a set of eight Redstone tanks arranged in a circle around it. This design created a powerful first stage for multi-stage missions, and became finally the Saturn I booster, which made a series of early test flights for the Apollo lunar landing program. This booster was improved later on, and finally propelled about a dozen additional Saturn IB flights for practice missions prior to traveling all the way to the Moon for landing.
Since people doubted the reliability and dependability of such an eight-engine cluster, it had been decided to develop a new, and very powerful engine. It was named the F-1 engine, and became the main booster element of the Saturn V launch vehicle. Without all these early activities, the lunar landing would most likely not have taken place in the Sixties, as President Kennedy had wanted.
In order to try out the newly developed J-2 engine, which had been developed for the use of hydrogen and oxygen, it was decided to modify the second stage of the Saturn I for its initial use. Since this change resulted in a much more powerful rocket, it was named the Saturn IB. This configuration found extensive use in several demanding pre-lunar missions, since it permitted testing of all systems required for the lunar landing; except that all these preliminary tests had to be done in Earth orbits, not in the vicinity of the Moon. This permitted the program to proceed with utmost assurance that all components performed well, and that no major design flaws were hidden in this most complicated system of components and software.
In summary, it can be said that the impact of the presence of the Rocket Team on American space technology has been impressive. Most of the credit for these accomplishments has to go, of course, to the leader of the group: Dr. Wernher von Braun. His charisma, his vision, his technical and managerial abilities were the driving force behind all the described activities. He enticed the team members to stay with the group, although they all could have doubled their pay by joining private industry. Wernher von Braun could convince his superiors that his ideas were realistic, deserving of support, and should be implemented as proposed. The successful and timely completion of the lunar landing is the most impressive accomplishment of the German-American team of rocket engineers and space scientists and will be noted in the annals of human history for all time to come.
Besides their technical contributions, the Rocket Team and its work also had a great impact on the city of Huntsville, Alabama. In the beginning, the town had a population of about 16,000 people. Today, Huntsville and Madison County itself have a population of about 180,000 people.
In addition, there have been other improvements. The city now has a symphony orchestra, established with the help of several German members. Members of the team also built on the top of Monte Savo, just north of the city, the Von Braun Astronomy Facility. The Von Braun Civic Center, was built as a result of the economic improvements brought by the space program in Huntsville. Educational needs in the town were initially served by a branch of the University of Alabama. This branch has now grown into a major Alabama University, which is endeavoring to be a leader in many areas of space sciences.
It all started with the desire to travel into the Solar System, and eventually to conquer the universe. The first small steps had to be fostered by financial support from government sources for military purposes--in this country as well as at Peenemünde. This was realistically the only approach which could be taken, and which finally paved the way to the Moon.
Konrad Dannenberg was former director of rocket motor development in Peenemünde.
After the end of World War II he was a director of Redstone Rocket production in Huntsville; former deputy program manager of the Saturn booster project that put first men on the Moon. Later, a space station program manager until 1973.
Now serves as consultant to the Alabama Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.
© PROMETHEUS 121/2007
PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin - News, Politics, Art and Science. Nr. 121, July 2007