V-2 Rocket / V-2-Rakete

The V-2 (German: Vergeltungswaffe 2, “Retribution Weapon 2”), technical name Aggregate 4 (A4), was the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile. The missile with 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 artificial object to cross the boundary of space with the vertical launch of MW 18014 on 20 June 1944.

A V-2 launched from a fixed site in summer 1943.

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 A-4, which went to war as the V-2. Beginning in September 1944, over 3,000 V-2s were launched by the German Wehrmacht against Allied targets during the war, first London and later Antwerpand Liège. According to a 2011 BBC documentary, the attacks from V2s resulted in the deaths of an estimated 9,000 civilians and military personnel, and a further 12,000 forced laborers 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, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union—raced to capture key German manufacturing sites and technology. Wernher von Braun and over 100 key V-2 personnel surrendered to the Americans. Eventually, many of the original V-2 team ended up working at the Redstone Arsenal. The US also captured enough V-2 hardware to build approximately 80 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.

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Layout of a V-2 rocket.

Developmental History

In the late 1920s, a young Wernher von Braun bought a copy of Hermann Oberth’s book, Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (The Rocket into Interplanetary Spaces). Starting in 1930, he attended the Technical University of Berlin, where he assisted Oberth in liquid-fueled rocket motor tests. Von Braun was working on his doctorate when the Nazi Party gained power in Germany. An artillery captain, Walter Dornberger, arranged an Ordnance Department research grant for von Braun, who from then on worked next to Dornberger’s existing solid-fuel rocket test site at Kummersdorf.  Von Braun’s thesis, Construction, Theoretical, and Experimental Solution to the Problem of the Liquid Propellant Rocket (dated 16 April 1934), was kept classified by the German Army and was not published until 1960. By the end of 1934, his group had successfully launched two rockets that reached heights of 2.2 and 3.5 km (1.4 and 2.2 mi).

At the time, Germany was highly interested in American physicist Robert H. Goddard’s research. Before 1939, German engineers and scientists occasionally contacted Goddard directly with technical questions. Von Braun used Goddard’s plans from various journals and incorporated them into the building of the Aggregat (A) series of rockets, named for the German word for a mechanism or mechanical system.

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 due to unfavorable aerodynamic stability testing of the A-3 in July 1936, von Braun specified the A-4 performance in 1937, and, after an “extensive series of test firings of the A-5” scale test model, using a motor redesigned from the troublesome A-3’s by Walter Thiel, A-4 design and construction was ordered c1938/1939. During 28–30 September 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.

Peenemünde Museum replica of V-2.

By late 1941, the Army Research Center at Peenemünde possessed the technologies essential to the success of the A-4. The four key technologies for the A-4 were large liquid-fuel rocket engines, supersonic aerodynamics, gyroscopic guidance and rudders in jet control.  At the time, Adolf Hitler was not particularly impressed by the V-2; 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 sufficiently impressed by the enthusiasm of its developers and needed a “wonder weapon” to maintain German morale, so authorized its deployment in large numbers.

The V-2s were constructed at the Mittelwerk site by prisoners from Mittelbau-Dora, a concentration camp where 12,000-20,000 prisoners died during the war.

First rank, from left to right, General Dr Walter Dornberger (partially hidden), General Friedrich Olbricht (with Knight’s Cross), Major Heinz Brandt, and Wernher von Braun (in civilian dress) at Peenemünde, in March 1941.

Technical Details

The A-4 used a 74% ethanol/water mixture (B-Stoff) for fuel and liquid oxygen (LOX) (A-Stoff) for the oxidizer.

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, after which the rocket continued on a ballistic free-fall trajectory. The rocket reached a height of 80 km (50 mi) after shutting off the engine.

A U.S. Army cut-away of the V-2.

The fuel and oxidizer pumps were driven by a steam turbine, and the steam was produced by concentrated hydrogen peroxide with sodium permanganate catalyst. Both the alcohol and oxygen tanks were an aluminum-magnesium alloy.

The combustion burner reached a temperature of 2,500 to 2,700 °C (4,530 to 4,890 °F). The alcohol-water fuel was pumped along the double wall of the main combustion burner. This regenerative cooling heated the fuel and cooled the combustion chamber. 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 on contact with the atmosphere, accounting for the long, diffuse exhaust plume. By contrast, later, post-V-2 engine designs not employing this alcohol boundary layer cooling show a translucent plume with shock diamonds.

The warhead was another source of troubles. The explosive employed was amatol 60/40 detonated by an electric contact fuze. Amatol had the advantage of stability and the warhead was protected by a thick layer of fiberglass, but even so, it could still explode in the re-entry phase. The warhead weighed 975 kilograms (2,150 lb) and contained 910 kilograms (2,010 lb) of explosive. The warhead’s percentage by weight that was explosive was 93%, a very high percentage when compared with other types of munition.

The protective layer was used for the fuel tanks as well and the A-4 did not have the tendency to form ice, which was common to other early missiles such as the balloon tank-design SM-65 Atlas. The tanks held 4,173 kilograms (9,200 lb) of ethyl alcohol and 5,553 kilograms (12,242 lb) of oxygen.

The V-2 was guided by four external rudders on the tail fins and four internal graphite vanes in the jet stream at the exit of the motor. The LEV-3 guidance system consisted of two free gyroscopes (a horizontal and a vertical) for lateral stabilization, and a PIGA accelerometer to control engine cutoff at a specified velocity. The V-2 was launched from a pre-surveyed location, so the distance and azimuth to the target were known. Fin 1 of the missile was aligned with the target azimuth.

A sectioned V-2 engine on display at the Deutsches Museum, Munich, 2006.

Some later V-2s used guide beams, radio signals transmitted from the ground, to keep the missile on course, 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.

Dr. Friedrich Kirchstein of Siemens of Berlin developed the V-2 radio control for motor-cut-off (German: Brennschluss). For velocity measurement, Professor Wolman of Dresden created an alternative to his Doppler tracking system in 1940–41, which used a ground signal transponded by the A-4 to measure the velocity of the missile. By 9 February 1942, Peenemünde engineer De Beek had documented the radio interference area of a V-2 as 10,000 meters (33,000 feet) around the Firing Point, and the first successful A-4 flight on 3 October 1943, used radio control for Brennschluss. Although Hitler commented on 22 September 1943 that “It is a great load off our minds that we have dispensed with the radio guiding-beam; now no opening remains for the British to interfere technically with the missile in flight”, about 20% of the operational V-2 launches were beam-guided. The Operation Pinguin V-2 offensive began on 8 September 1944, when Lehr- und Versuchsbatterie No. 444 (English: Training and Testing Battery 444) launched a single rocket guided by a radio beam directed at Paris. The wreckage of combat V-2s occasionally contained the transponder for velocity and fuel cutoff.

The painting of the operational V-2s was mostly a ragged-edged 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 original German designation of the rocket was “V2”, unhyphenated — exactly as used for any Third Reich-era “second prototype” example of an RLM-registered German aircraft design — but U.S. publications such as Life magazine were using the hyphenated form “V-2” as early as December 1944. This hyphenated form has now become common usage.

Captured V-2 on public display in Antwerp, 1945. Exhaust vanes and external rudders in the tail section shown.


The first successful test flight was on 3 October 1942, reaching an altitude of 84.5 kilometers (52.5 miles). Walter Dornberger, in a speech at Peenemünde of 3 October 1942, declared:

“This third day of October 1942, is the first of a new era in transportation, that of space travel…”





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