At first Walter Dornberger struggled to convince the German Army that rockets could be a practical weapon But with a rocket team assembled from the cream of the VfR he would ultimately build the first missiles

The VfR chose the right man when they approached Walter Dornberger about potential funding in 1932. A veteran of the First World War who had studied physics for several years, he was in charge of a small weapons-testing facility at West Kummersdorf. Dornberger was a strong advocate of the idea that rockets could be used as ballistic missiles - burning their engines to the peak of their flight path, and then descending on a trajectory similar to that of any other projectile. The first person to suggest such an application had been French rocket enthusiast Robert Esnault-Pelterie in the late 1920s, but he had been unable to interest the French military in the proposal.

Wernher von Braun was among those who argued that the VfR should accept funding to work on military applications. The society's members were as a whole far more interested in spaceflight than in missiles, but there were sharp divisions between those who wanted nothing to do with warfare and those who saw military funding as a means to finally get some serious support for their work. While the VfR ultimately rejected the Army offer, it was inevitable that some of its leading lights would follow the money.

The fruits of their effort were a number of increasingly ambitious rocket designs, the A-series. While the A1 never got off the drawing board let alone the launch pad, von Braun himself was able to launch a pair of A2 rockets, christened Max and Moritz, from the island of Borkum in December 1934. These rockets burned an ethyl alcohol/liquid oxygen propellant mix, and incorporated an important new feature - a spinning gyroscope in their mid-sections. The weight of this spinning mass helped to stabilize the entire rocket, ensuring it maintained a steady flightpath that reached a peak at around 2,000m (6,600ft).


The first A4 was ready for launch on 13 June 1942, but crashed due to a guidance failure, as did a second test in August. Finally on 3 October, the third test flight flew for 192km (119 miles).


The peninsula of Peenemünde, on Germany's northeastern coast, was suggested by Wernher von Broun's mother when he mentioned the need for on isolated site.



of space travel."

"This ... is the first day of a new era ... that


Preparations for a test at Peenemünde reveal the true scale of history's first large rocket.

Walter Dornberger, on the first successful A4 launch, 3 October 1942


The rocket team frequently welcomed high-ranking visitors to Peenemünde (though Hitler visited them only once at Kummersdorf, and seemed unimpressed). Here, Admiral Dönitz and his entourage are seen during an inspection in May 1943. Wernher von Braun is on the right, wearing a dork civilian suit.

This success, and the development of static test engines with far greater power than the A2's motors, convinced the Army to put more money into rockets. As von Braun's team outgrew Kummersdorf, a new base was established at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast. Over the next few years, it would grow to incorporate test ranges, test stands for measuring engine performance, and factories for rocket assembly.

length 14m (46ft)

maximum diameter 1.7m (66in)

total mass 12,870kgf (28,373lbf)

unfuelleo mass 4,008kg (8,836lb)

engines 1 x A4

lift-off thrust 25,000kg (55,125lb)

manufacturer Mittelwerk


Their suspicions aroused by aerial photographs and Polish resistance reports, the Allies launched air raids against Peenemünde in August 1943.

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