firing table

V-2 rocket

The V-2 rocket (Vergeltungswaffe 2) was the first ballistic missile and first man-made object to achieve sub-orbital spaceflight, the progenitor of all modern rockets including the Saturn V moon rocket. Over 3,000 V-2s were launched as military rockets by the German Wehrmacht against Allied targets in World War II, resulting in the death of 7,250, military personnel and civilians, while as many as 20,000 at Mittelbau-Dora died constructing V-2s.

Developmental history

Following successes at Kummersdorf with the first two Aggregate series rockets, Wernher von Braun and Walter Riedel began thinking of a much larger rocket in the summer of 1936 based on a projected 25-metric-ton-thrust engine. After the A-4 project was postponed after unfavorable aerodynamic stability testing of the A-3 in July 1936, von Braun specified the A-4 performance in 1937, and A-4 design and construction was ordered c1938/1939. During September 28-30 1939, Der Tag der Weisheit (English: the day of wisdom) conference met at Peenemünde to initiate the funding of university research to solve rocket problems.p40 By late 1941, the Army Research Center at Peenemünde possessed the technologies essential to the success of the A-4. The three key technologies for the A-4 were large liquid-fuel rocket engines, supersonic aerodynamics, and guidance and control. Then Hitler was not particularly impressed by the V2; he pointed out that it was merely an artillery shell with a longer range and much higher cost.

In early September 1943, von Braun promised the Long-Range Bombardment Commission that the A-4 development was 'practically complete/concluded', but even by the middle of 1944, a complete A-4 parts list was still unavailable. Hitler was impressed by the enthusiasm of its developers, and needing a "wonder weapon" to maintain German morale, Hitler authorized its deployment in large numbers.

Technical details

At launch the A-4 propelled itself for up to 65 seconds on its own power, and a program motor controlled the pitch to the specified angle at engine shutdown, from which the rocket continued on a free-fall (ballistic) trajectory. The fuel and oxidizer pumps were steam turbines, and the steam was produced by concentrated hydrogen peroxide with potassium permanganate catalyst. Both the alcohol and oxygen tanks were an aluminium-magnesium alloy.

The combustion burner reached a temperature of 2500−2700 °C (4500 - 4900 °F). The alcohol-water fuel was pumped along the double wall of the main combustion burner. This cooled the chamber and heated the fuel (regenerative cooling). The fuel was then pumped into the main burner chamber through 1,224 nozzles, which assured the correct mixture of alcohol and oxygen at all times. Small holes also permitted some alcohol to escape directly into the combustion chamber, forming a cooled boundary layer that further protected the wall of the chamber, especially at the throat where the chamber was narrowest. The boundary layer alcohol ignited in contact with the atmosphere, accounting for the long, diffuse exhaust plume. (Later, post-V2 engine designs not employing this alcohol boundary layer cooling show a translucent plume with shock diamonds.)

The V-2 was guided by four external rudders on the tail fins, and four internal graphite vanes at the exit of the motor. The LEV-3 guidance system consisted of two free gyroscopes (a horizon and a vertical) for lateral stabilization, and a gyroscopic accelerometer connected to an electrolytic integrator (engine cut-off occurred when a thin coating of silver was electrochemically eroded off a poorly conducting base). Some later V-2s used "guide beams" (radio signals transmitted from the ground) to navigate towards the target, but the first models used a simple analog computer that adjusted the azimuth for the rocket, and the flying distance was controlled by the timing of the engine cut-off, "Brennschluss", ground controlled by a Doppler system or by different types of on-board integrating accelerometers. The rocket stopped accelerating and soon reached the top of the (approximately parabolic) flight curve.

The painting of the operational V-2s was mostly a camouflage ragged pattern with several variations, but at the end of the war a plain olive green rocket also appeared. During tests, the rocket was painted in a characteristic black-and-white chessboard pattern, which aided in determining if the rocket was spinning around its longitudinal axis. The rocket reached a height of 80 km (50 miles) before shutting off the engine.


Notable test launches include the third test launch on October 3 1942 (the first successful flight):

Two test launches were recovered by the Allies. The first was a launch on June 13, 1944 with radio guidance for the Wasserfall missile project. The second was a launch on 30 May 1944 from Blizna that was recovered by Polish resistance and transported to the UK during Operation Most III.

Heidekraut was a German test range in Tuchola Forest (North Poland) for production V-2 missiles. Between August 1944 and January 1945, SS troops under Hans Kammler and Walter Dornberger carried out extensive tests of the A-4 missiles (V-2 rockets).


A production line was nearly ready at Peenemünde when the Operation Hydra attack caused the Germans to move production to the Mittelwerk in the Kohnstein where 5,200 V-2 rockets were built:

Period of Production Production
Up to 15 Sep 1944 1900
15 Sep to 29 Oct 1944 900
29 Oct to 24 Nov 1944 600
24 Nov to 15 Jan 1945 1100
15 Jan to 15 Feb 1945 700
Total 5200

Launch sites

Initial plans for launch from massive underground blockhouses at Éperlecques and La Coupole were dropped in favor of mobile launching. An entire convoy for the missile, men, equipment and fuel required about 30 trucks. The missile was delivered to a staging area on a Vidalwagen (made by Vidal) and the local crews installed the warhead. Launch teams then transferred the missile to a Meillerwagen (made by Meiller) and towed it to the launch site. There it was erected onto the launch table, fuelled, armed, gyros were set and the rocket was fired. From arrival at a site to firing took about 90 minutes. The crew could leave the firing site within 30 minutes.

This was very successful, and an average of ten V-2s were launched per day, by far the most large rockets of a single type. After the war, estimates showed that up to 100 V-2s could be launched per day with these trailers, given sufficient supply of the rockets.

The missile could be launched practically anywhere, roads running through forests being a particular favorite. The system was so mobile and small that not one Meillerwagen was caught in action by Allied aircraft.

Operational history

After Hitler's August 29 declaration to begin Operation Penguin as soon as possible and German agent 'Artist' informed agent 'Tricycle' in September to leave London due to impending danger, the offensive began on September 8, 1944, when Lehr und Versuchs Batterie No. 444 (English: Training and Testing Battery 444) launched a single rocket guided by a radio beam directed at Paris which caused modest damage near Porte d'Italie.p218,220,467 The 485th at The Hague launched two against London the same day at 6:43 pm,p285 -- the first landed at Chiswick and killed 63 yr old Mrs Ada Harrison, 3 yr old Rosemary Clarke, and Sapper Bernard Browning on leave from the Royal Engineers.p11 Upon hearing the double-crack of the supersonic rocket (London's first-ever), Duncan Sandys and Reginald Victor Jones looked up from different parts of the city and exclaimed 'That was a rocket!', and a short while after the double-crack, the sky was filled with the sound of a heavy body rushing through the air.p286 Explosions could be attributed to other causes or to no particular cause. The Germans themselves finally announced the V-2 on 8 November 1944 and only then, on 10 November 1944, did Winston Churchill inform Parliament, and the world, that England had been under rocket attack "for the last few weeks".

Over the next few months the number of V-2s fired was at least 3,172, distributed over the various targets as follows:

The final two exploded on (or near) their targets on 27 March 1945. The last British civilian killed was Mrs Ivy Millichamp, 34, in her home in Elm Grove, Orpington. An estimated 2,754 civilians were killed in London by V-2 attacks with another 6,523 injured , which is just two people killed per V-2 rocket. However, this understates the potential of the V-2, since many rockets were mis-directed and exploded harmlessly. Accuracy increased greatly over the course of the war, particularly on batteries where Leitstrahl-Guide Beam apparatus was installed, with V-2s sometimes landing within meters of the target. Accurately targeted missiles were often devastating, causing large numbers of deaths—about 160 in one explosion in a Woolworth's department store in New Cross, south-east London and 567 deaths in a cinema in Antwerp—and significant damage in the critically important Antwerp docks.


Like the V-1, the V-2 was immune to electronic countermeasures. Unlike the V-1, the V-2's speed and trajectory made it invulnerable to anti-aircraft guns and fighters, as it dropped from an altitude of 100–110 km (60–70 miles) at up to four times the speed of sound. A plan was proposed whereby the missile would be detected by radar, its terminal trajectory calculated, and the area along that trajectory saturated by large-caliber anti-aircraft guns. The plan was dropped after operations research indicated that the likely number of malfunctioning artillery shells falling to the ground would do more damage than the V-2 itself.

The only defences against the V-2 campaign were to destroy the launch infrastructure—expensive in terms of bomber resources and casualties—or to cause the Germans to "aim" at the wrong place through disinformation. The British were able to convince the Germans to direct V-1s and V-2s aimed at London to less populated areas east of the city. This was done by sending false impact reports via the German espionage network in Britain, which was controlled by the British (the Double Cross System).

There is a record of one V-2, fortuitously observed at launch from a passing American B-24 Liberator, being shot down by .50 caliber machine-gun fire.

Ultimately the most successful countermeasure was the Allied advance that forced the launchers back beyond range.

On 3 March 1945 the allies attempted to destroy V-2s and launching equipment near The Hague by a large-scale bombardment, but due to navigational errors the Bezuidenhout quarter was destroyed, killing 500 Dutch civilians.


The V2 program was the single most expensive development project of the Third Reich. 6048 were built, at a cost of approximately 100,000 Reichsmarks each; 3225 were launched. Despite being one of the most advanced weapons in WWII, it had virtually no effect on the outcome of the war. According to Freeman Dyson, who was working with RAF Bomber Command, "Those of us who were seriously engaged in the war were grateful to Wernher von Braun....Each V2 cost as much to produce as a high-performance fighter....German forces were in desperate need of airplanes, and the V2 rockets were doing us no damage....From our point of view, the V2 program was almost as good as if Hitler had adopted a policy of unilateral disarmament." It has been estimated that for the cost of the V2 program, Germany could have produced as many as 48,000 tanks. Others say it is fortunate for the Allies that Germany chose not to pursue development of the Wasserfall antiaircraft rocket, which, deployed in large numbers, could have devastated the bomber fleets.

However, such comparisons of the opportunity cost of deploying the V2 versus other weapons systems need to consider the realities that Nazi Germany faced and the psychology of the senior Nazi leadership. For example, by late 1944 Nazi Germany did not have the fuel or qualified manpower to field an additional 48,000 tanks. The production of the fuel for one V-2 required 30 tons of potatoes. Sometimes as Germany lacked enough explosives to put in the V-2, concrete was used and sometimes the Germans put in V-2s photographic propaganda of German citizens who had died in allied bombing. With the war all but lost, regardless of the factory output of conventional weapons, the Nazis resorted to V-weapons as a tenuous last hope to influence the war militarily (hence Antwerp as V-2 target), as an extension of their desire to "punish" their foes and most importantly to give hope to their supporters with their miracle weapon. In short, the V-weapons were important to the Nazis even though they had dubious military value.

The V2 lacked a proximity fuse, so it could not be set for air burst; it buried itself in the target area before or just as the warhead detonated. This reduced its effectiveness. Furthermore its guidance systems were too primitive to hit specific targets, and its costs were approximately equivalent to four-engined bombers, which were more accurate (though only in a relative sense), had longer ranges, carried many more warheads, and were reusable. Moreover, it diverted resources from other, more effective programs. Nevertheless, it had a considerable psychological effect as, unlike bombing planes or the V1 Flying Bomb, which made a characteristic buzzing sound, the V-2 traveled faster than the speed of sound, with no warning before impact and no possibility of defense.

The V-2's undeniable value, despite its overall ineffectiveness, was in its novelty as a weapon which set the stage for the next 50 years of ballistic military rocketry, culminating with ICBMs during the Cold War and modern space exploration.

Unfulfilled plans

A submarine-towed launch platform was tested successfully, effectively making it the prototype for submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The project codename was Prüfstand XII (Test stand XII), sometimes called the rocket U-boat. If deployed, it would have allowed a U-boat to launch V-2 missiles against United States cities, though only with considerable effort (and likely limited effect)

Twelve dismantled V-2 rockets were shipped to the Japanese. These left Bordeaux in August 1944 on transport U-boats U-219 and U-195 reaching Djakarta in December 1944. A civilian V-2 expert was a VIP passenger on the U-234 bound for Japan in May 1945 when the war ended in Europe. The fate of these V-2 rockets is unknown.

Near the end of the war, German scientists were working on chemical and possibly biological weapons to use in the V-2 program. By this stage, the Germans had produced munitions containing nerve agents sarin, soman and tabun, however they had never used any of them.

Post-war V-2 usage

At the end of the war, a race began between the United States and the USSR to retrieve as many V-2 rockets and staff as possible. Three hundred trainloads of V-2s and parts were captured and shipped to the United States, and 126 of the principal designers, including both Wernher von Braun and Walter Dornberger were in American hands. In fact, Von Braun and his team decided to surrender to the United States military to ensure they were not captured by the advancing Soviets. See Redstone (rocket)

In October 1945, British Operation Backfire assembled a small number of V-2 missiles and launched three of them from a site in northern Germany. The engineers involved had already agreed to move to the US when the test firings were complete. The Backfire report remains the most extensive technical documentation of the rocket, including all support procedures, tailored vehicles and fuel composition. In his book My Father's Son, Canadian author Farley Mowat, then a member of the Canadian Army, claims to have obtained a V-2 rocket in 1945 and shipped it back to Canada, where it is alleged to have ended up in the National Exhibition grounds in Toronto.

Operation Paperclip recruited German engineers to the U.S., and Special Mission V-2 transported V-2 parts to White Sands Proving Grounds, from which programs with animals in space and the Bumper rocket were conducted.

The U.S. Navy attempted to launch a reassembled German V-2 rocket at sea-one test launch from the aircraft carrier USS Midway was performed on September 6, 1947 as part of the Navy's Operation Sandy. The test launch was a failure, as the V-2 involved in the launch splashed down in the ocean only some 10 km (6.2 mi) from the carrier. Film of V-2 launch from USS Midway The launch setup on the Midway's carrier deck is notable in that it used a set of four foldaway arms surrounding the V-2 missile's upper body, in much the same way as Sergei Korolyev's R-7 missile was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Soviet Union only a decade later.

The USSR also captured a number of V-2s and staff, letting them set up in Germany for a time. The first work contracts were signed in the middle of 1945. In 1946 they were obliged to move to Kapustin Yar in the USSR, where Groettrup headed up a group of just under 250 engineers. The first Soviet missile was the R-1, an exact copy of the V-2. Most of the German team was sent home after that project, but some remained to do research until as late as 1951. Unbeknownst to the Germans, work immediately began on larger missiles, the R-2 and R-5, based on extension of the V-2 technology.

Post-war V-2s launched in secret from Peenemünde may have been responsible for a curious phenomenon known as Ghost rockets, unexplained objects crossing the skies over Sweden and Finland.

The Canadian Arrow, a competitor for the Ansari X Prize, was based on the V-2.

In popular culture

Model rockets

Model rocket V-2s are available in many sizes. For Germans, the 33-cm and 47-cm NORIS models are the best flying versions, because they can be launched without special permission with model rocket engines available in Germany.

Since the 1960s Estes Industries has released several versions of the V-2. Currently there are no Estes V-2s in production.

Surviving V-2 examples and components

At least 20 V-2s still existed in 2005.


  • One at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, including complete Meillerwagen transporter. The rocket has the most complete set of guidance components of all surviving A4s. The Meillerwagen is the most complete of the three examples known to exist. Another A4 was on display at the RAAF Museum at Point Cook outside Melbourne. Both rockets now reside in Canberra.


  • One engine at Cité de l'espace in Toulouse.
  • V-2 display at 'La Coupole' museum, Wizernes, France (Pas de Calais, five kilometers from Saint-Omer).
  • One rocket body no engine, one complete engine, one lower engine section and one wrecked engine on display at 'La Coupole' museum


United Kingdom

  • One at the Science Museum, London.
  • One (painted bright green, and cut through to display the engine and some other interior parts) at the Imperial War Museum, London (on loan from Cranfield University).
  • The RAF Museum has two rockets in its collection. One is at the museum's London site and one at the RAF Cosford site. In addition to the rockets, the museum holds many items of V-2 ancillary equipment, including a Meilerwagen transport and erection trailer, a Vidalwagen road transport trailer, a 15-ton Strabo gantry crane and a Abschussplattform (firing table) together with its towing dolly.

United States


References and Notes

Further reading

  • Dungan, Tracy D. (2005). V-2: A Combat History of the First Ballistic Missile. Westholme Publishing. ISBN 1-59416-012-0.
  • Huzel, Dieter K. (ca. 1965). Peenemunde to Canaveral. Prentice Hall Inc.
  • King, Benjamin and Timothy J. Kutta (1998). Impact: The History of Germany's V-Weapons in World War II . (Alternately: Impact: An Operational History of Germany's V Weapons in World War II.) Rockville Center, New York: Sarpedon Publishers, 1998. ISBN 1-885119-51-8, ISBN 1-86227-024-4. Da Capo Press; Reprint edition, 2003: ISBN 0-306-81292-4.
  • Piszkiewicz, Dennis (1995). The Nazi Rocketeers: Dreams of Space and Crimes of War. Westport, Conn.: Praeger. ISBN 0-275-95217-7.

External links

Search another word or see firing tableon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature