Peenemünde hosted the Heeresversuchsanstalt, an extensive rocket development and test site established in 1937, during World War II. Prior to that date the team headed by Wernher von Braun and Walter Dornberger had worked in Kummersdorf, south of Berlin. However, Kummersdorf proved too small for testing. Peenemünde, located on the coast, permitted the launching of rockets and their subsequent monitoring across about 200 miles of open water.
Between 1937 and 1945 the Peenemünders developed many of the basics of rocket technology and two weapons, the V-1 and the V-2. Test-firing of the first V-1 occurred in early 1942 and the first V-2 (then called the A-4) first flew on October 3, 1942 , from Prüfstand VII. The German Luftwaffe ran the V-1 cruise missile experiments in Peenemünde west, whereas the Heer (army) ran the ballistic missile development (V-2) project. Peenemünde also served as the development site for many cutting-edge night-navigation and radar systems, under the direction of Dr. Hans Plendl.
In the course of World War II some heavy air-raids targeted the site, including an attack by almost 500 RAF heavy bombers on the night of 16 - 17 August, 1943 ("Operation Hydra"). This raid killed, according to an official German report, 815 staff, mostly Foreign POWs, and Walter Thiel, the head of engine development. This raid prompted the moving of the production of the V rockets underground.
In spite of the raids, many technical installations in Peenemünde remained intact at the end of World War II, because most of the bombs landed on the surrounding woodlands, the housing areas and on the concentration camps for Foreign POWs.
Much controversy exists over how the Allies found out about Peenemünde. The official British version states that air reconnaissance collected all the information. However, witnesses and documents state that Polish underground army (Armia Krajowa or AK) intelligence and some information from others (including a Danish pilot who photographed something looking like a V rocket nearby) unmasked Peenemünde. British intelligence for years denied that it received any information about Peenemünde from Poland. However copies of reports emerged after the war in Poland. R. V. Jones contradicted himself: first he denied that fact, and later in his book The Wizard War he wrote that many bombs fell on camps for Foreign POWs who gave the allies information; he failed to point out that these Polish workers had AK membership. Within the last few years Polish politicians and historians have demanded access to British archives (since Britain held archives of most if not all AK reports). So far the British authorities have answered that all AK reports were destroyed.
The Vergeltungswaffen or weapons of retribution, as Hitler called the V-1 and particularly the V-2 rockets, were frightful and terrible. The V-2 rockets were radio-controlled, and about 47 feet long and 5 feet in diameter. They had a range of 200 miles, could reach a height of 90 miles, and attain a speed about 900 miles per hour. At such a speed people on the site where a rocket was about to hit could not even hear it.
When the first V-2 struck the London suburb of Chiswick on September 8, 1944, it destroyed 19 homes, killed scores of people, and left a crater 30 feet deep. British authorities were panic-stricken. Immediately they muzzled the media and forbade any mention of the impact and destruction. It was only two months later that the British public found out anything about the damaging weapon.
What if Hitler had had this weapon sooner? Why did he not strike earlier? How many lives would have been lost? Would operation Overlord ever have taken place? Would any concentration of the large contingent of troops necessary for the invasion of the continent have been possible?
The production of V-2 was considered by Hitler as a project of high secrecy and priority. When Wernher von Braun showed Hitler the perfect launch of the V-2 on a color film, it is reported that Hitler jumped from his seat and in a somewhat uncharacteristic display of emotion pumped Braun's hand with the greatest excitement. "This is the decisive weapon of the war. Humanity will never be able to endure it," he said, and added "If I had had this weapon in 1939 we would not be at war now."
Polish intelligence reported in 1941 that the Nazis were building new and mysterious weapons in Peenemünde on the Uznam island, on the Baltic Sea. Polish reports and maps delivered to British intelligence in 1942 and 1943 were more specific, and indicated that they were building rockets capable of mass destruction.
The British, convinced of the veracity of these reports and supplied with all the necessary information, on August 17, 1943 bombed and demolished the V-2 factory in Peenemünde. Over 500 Allied bombers dropped 1600 tons of bombs and 280 tons of incendiaries. The operation code name was Hydra. Forty bombers were lost over Peenemünde and one Mosquito over Berlin - the whole operation was conducted as though it was directed as a regular bombing of Berlin.
To Germany the loss was much greater than the Allies realized at that time. Gen. Hans Jeschonek, the chief of staff of the German air force, the Luftwaffe that should have prevented the bombing, committed suicide and left a suicidal note that read: "I hate Göring. Heil Hitler." Hermann Göring was the commander in chief of the Luftwaffe.
Hitler immediately turned over the entire responsibility for production of these rockets to Heinrich Himmler, Minister of Interior of the Reich and Reichsführer of the powerful and ferocious SS. He frantically, in an around-the-clock operation, transferred the manufacturing of weapons to the deep tunnels of the Harz Mountains. However, testing was still necessary, and was conducted in Poland in the early Summer of 1944.
Polish intelligence officers who had been given the reports of tests of the V-1 and V-2 rockets from the Polish underground Home Army, notified the British that they knew where the experiments were conducted, and the British, confident that the Poles could do just about anything, asked if by any chance the Polish underground army could steal one of the V-2s and ship it to England. The Polish underground soldiers did exactly that: they stole the V-2 rocket, one of the most guarded secrets of the Third Reich. They had also stolen one of the earlier models of German rockets, the V-1, and sent it to England.
It happened when one of the tested V-2 rockets landed on a muddy bank of the river Bug and it did not blow up. The Polish underground fighters were waiting for just such a situation and immediately camouflaged the rocket. Then, after the German patrols stopped looking for it, at night they took 6 horses and pulled the V-2 out of the mud and hid it in an empty barn. Later four Polish scientists disassembled the rocket and packed it into empty barrels. While waiting for the plane that the British promised to send to pick up the rocket they used the time to study its guidance system. Finally the plane, a Dakota C47, arrived with Lt. Culliford as its pilot. To load the huge cargo, and the four Polish scientists, into the plane was a frantic operation due to the nearness of the Nazi forces.
The C47's motors were running high but unfortunately the heavy plane could not move on the wet, muddy field. While many attempts were being made, distant Nazi automobile lights became visible on a vicinity road. Nervousness among those present rose high, and Lt. Culliford ordered the already dynamited plane to be blown up. But about 100 members of the underground army pleaded for one more try. They clawed the mud with their bare and already bleeding hands to enable the plane to move. Their last chance Their last try Finally the wheels moved and slowly rolled down on the provisory runway. The C47 had lifted into the air with its so precious cargo. The remaining Poles were quickly went out into the nearby woods - which were usually avoided by the Germans, particularly at night.
Some historians believe that the incredible airborne Market-Garden operation that was supposed to secure bridges on the Rhine and seize Arnhem was greatly accelerated by two events. First, Gen. Bernard L. Montgomery's promotion to Field Marshall, and second, the V-2 explosion in Chiswick two days earlier. If successful, the three airborne divisions and one Polish brigade were also to wipe out the launchers of the V-2 menace. Tragically the operation failed miserably, even though in his memoirs Marshall Montgomery remained its unrepentant advocate.
The German Gen. Fritz Krämer rushed his V-2 rockets to the center of the Hague, Netherlands, as soon as the Market-Garden operation was halted by German forces, and the V-2s exploded again, some in London and some in Antwerp. But the attacks did not last long, for they were the last convulsions of the dying Nazi beast. The last V-2 exploded in London on March 27, 1945, killing 127 innocent people.
What if the Germans had had the V-2 rockets one year earlier? - Even if the Nazis had been victorious on all fronts well into the Summer of 1945 - the nuclear bomb would most likely have exploded over Berlin first rather than Hiroshima, and the war would have ended right then and there.
Apart from Peenemünde, other sites in Germany saw noteworthy rocket launches. Some took place between 1957 and 1964 at Cuxhaven and between 1988 and 1992 at Zingst.
Peenemünde after World War II
At the end of World War II von Braun and most of the scientists fled westwards to ensure their capture by the Americans. The Soviets and British captured the site and most of the technicians, who feared trial for war crimes for the V-2 attacks on London.
On May 5, 1945, the Soviet Army occupied Peenemünde. Little is found. Western intelligence is convinced that the Soviets conduct missile tests from Peenemünde in the late 1940's (the Scandinavian 'ghost rockets'). But Russian historical sources available after the downfall of the Soviet Union do not support this belief. In accordance with an agreement, the Red Army destroyed the site with explosives.
On July 5, 1945, the Soviets occupied Mittelwerk as the Americans withdraw from the Soviet zone, having taken key V-2 tooling and parts.
Most destruction of the technical facilities of Peenemünde took place between 1948 and 1961. Only the power station, in what has now become a museum, the airport, and the railway link to Zinnowitz remained functional. The plant for production of liquid oxygen lies in ruins at the entrance to Peenemünde. Very little remains of most of the other buildings and facilities.
The Peenemünde Historical and Technical Information Centre, opened in 1992 in the shelter control room and the area of the former power station. It is concerned with history of Peenemünde and in particular with the history of rocket development between 1936 and 1945. Special show-pieces are the reproduction of the Fieseler Fi-103 and the A4-Rakete.
Germans at last learn truth about von Braun's 'space research' base
The Nazi missile base from where the first V1 "doodlebugs" and V2 rockets were launched is being turned into a museum. For the first time, ordinary Germans will be confronted with the evils behind the "wonder weapons" that Adolf Hitler used to attack Britain in the closing stages of the Second World War.
Until now, the Germans have sought to portray the base at Peenemünde - which employed 12,000 people during the war years - as merely the missile research centre run by Wernher von Braun, who later worked on the American space programme. The site has remained a largely deserted wasteland since German reunification in 1990 when the East German army withdrew from the area.
Attempts to develop Peenemünde have been fraught with controversy. A German government-backed project to turn the site into an American-style "space park" failed in the early 1990s because of lack of investment. The scheme was also criticised for almost completely ignoring the fact that the site was used to create the most controversial weapons of the war.
"Wernher von Braun's post-war involvement in the American space programme provided an excuse to glorify Peenemünde as the place where the technology for the Moon landings was developed," Dr Johannes Erichesen, the German historian behind the new £4.6 million museum project said. "The fact that the Nazis used the place to build missiles to win the war was regarded as an unfortunate aberration."
After more than a decade of argument, German regional and central government has begun an investment programme that aims to turn Peenemünde into a museum dedicated to revealing the truth behind Hitler's most ambitious weapons development project.
"We are trying to destroy the myths that have obscured the facts surrounding Peenemünde," said Peter Profe, one of the curators at the new museum. "Previous attempts to develop the site have been about as sensitive as proposing to open a supermarket on the site of a former concentration camp."
Visitors to the completed sections of the exhibition - it will be two-thirds finished by next month - are already left in no doubt about the importance of Peenemünde for the Nazi regime.
The first section of the exhibition is devoted to the inaugural flight of the V2 rocket on October 3, 1942, the first time in history that a missile entered outer space. Original film of the take-off is offset by the voice of the Nazi propaganda minister, Josef Göbbels, glorifying the new "wonder weapon" specifically designed to terrorise Britain.
Wall-sized photographs of the destruction caused in London by the V2 and the earlier V1 flying bomb are coupled with private snapshots of German technicians, officers and their wives enjoying the almost holiday-like atmosphere of the Peenemünde base.
Such images contrast sharply with the horrific conditions experienced by more than 20,000 foreign slave and concentration camp labourers who perished through starvation and maltreatment while constructing the V1 rocket at "Dora", the underground Nazi armaments factory in Thuringia, central Germany.
A Polish slave-labour survivor of the Dora factory recalls how Wernher von Braun visited the works and seemed "completely unperturbed" by the piles of corpses. Further evidence exposes the role played by Heinrich Lübke, the former West German federal president, as one of the organisers of Nazi slave labour at Peenemünde and at Dora. For decades, allegations by Communist East Germany that Lübke was a "war criminal" were dismissed by West Germany as propaganda.
The Peenemünde museum is still working on plans for a further exhibit to explain the background to the RAF's raid on the site in August 1943. Codenamed "Hydra", it was one of the largest single bombing sorties ever carried out by Britain and led to production of the V2 being evacuated to Thuringia.
Organisers of the exhibition have gone to great lengths to underline the ultimate military failure of the V2. More than 3,000 of the rockets were aimed at London, Antwerp and Brussels during the closing stages of the war. Although they killed 2,774 people in Britain their use failed to alter the course of the war as Hitler had hoped.
The V1 flying bomb claimed more than 8,000 lives, but its effect was also of minor military significance. Development of both weapons, however, ultimately accelerated Nazi Germany's defeat. They devoured millions of marks which most historians conclude would have been better spent on improving the German army's tank capability on the Russian Front.
Extermination, Work, and Community in the Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp System
Major changes took place in the camps between 1943 and 1945. The heavy reliance of the armaments industry on slave labor, the growth in the number of exterior sub-camps and work gangs, and the great expansion of the sheer number of prisoners made this a dynamic period in the concentration camp system's history, one much different than earlier periods at places such as Dachau, Sachsenhausen, and Flossenburg.
It was partially the war situation itself, and partially the designs of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler to subsume war production under the aegis of his organization, that led to the creation of Dora. By the middle of 1943, Germany's crumbling hegemony over Europe was forcing a reassessment of the military potential of more conventional weapons as well as armaments production in general. To make matters worse for the Nazi regime, Germany also faced a severe shortage of labor to staff factories in the armaments industry. German authorities increasingly turned to forced and slave labor to make up for the shortfall. Forced labor had been in use at Peenemünde since 1940, but after the bombing of the ultra-secret rocket research facility at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast, Himmler convinced Hitler to move rocket production underground and, in order to maintain the strictest secrecy considerations possible, use concentration camp prisoners to produce the weapon.
Before rocket production could be transferred underground, suitable facilities had to be created. The site chosen by the SS and civilian engineers was a secret oil depot in a mine in the Harz Mountains near the town of Nordhausen in central Germany. To prepare the site for mass rocket production, the tunnels needed to be expanded and production machinery installed. This was accomplished by SS and civilian authorities at an enormous cost in human life. From September 1943 through March 1944, prisoners transferred by the SS from Buchenwald to Dora worked under the most brutal conditions. Production planners, who gave absolute priority to factory installation, had little regard for their safety or well-being. They slept in the tunnel galleries, and hygienic conditions were catastrophic. During the winter of 1943-44, inbound trains from Buchenwald delivered more and more prisoners to replace those who died in the tunnels or were too weak to work and sent to be gassed at Majdanek. Suitable barracks for the prisoners were not erected until May 1944.
The camp dynamic at Buchenwald was initially responsible for relations between prisoners at Dora. Political prisoners at Buchenwald, the so-called "Reds," were in charge of most of the important prisoner functionary positions and were able to have many German criminal prisoners, the "Greens," sent to Dora, where they in turn were put in charge of many important functions. Eventually, the Reds managed to seize control of the important positions at Dora and relegated the Greens to the key positions in satellite camps such as Ellrich and Harzungen, thereby making even worse the terrible disparity between conditions at Dora and the sub-camps. Sellier shows that the greens, reduced to subordinate positions at Buchenwald and Dora, had the opportunity to vent their frustration and did not hesitate to take it. Moreover, their deep-seated xenophobia was played out on the other nationalities within the camps as they murderously beat average prisoners in the various work Kommandos. The harder the Kommando, the stronger the national antagonisms". Through their physical abuse and twisted supervision of the work, they were responsible for working many prisoners to death.
This deadly arrangement of the prisoners' living and working conditions exacerbated rivalries between nationalities in the Dora camp system. For Sellier, the Soviet prisoners, usually Russians and Ukrainians, were the most rapacious of the various ethnic groups, stealing from, beating, and cheating their fellow prisoners. Poles formed a proletariat deprived of any national political or cultural framework. They did not have a good reputation; in fact, they were often detested by Western prisoners, particularly the French. Czechs, many of whom had German language ability and a certain level of organizational prowess, held many important positions, both in the camp and in the factory, and were respected by other inmates somewhat more than the Polish and Soviet prisoners. French prisoners were often given privileged positions in the camp hierarchy. Some were even able to reconstitute resistance groups and engage, with varying levels of success, in sabotage in the factory.
After the period of factory installation, many workers were sent to these camps, which sprang up in the region in mid-1944 and afterwards, when construction on the camp intended for factory workers was finishing and the last inhabitants of the tunnels were being transferred out. There was simply not enough room for all of the prisoners at Dora. New camps had to be built to house the excess captives. At the same time, the civilian workers needed to be housed. A great deal of construction still remained to be done outside the tunnel after the factory was completed, and labor in the satellite camps was free and plentiful. SS captors piled their victims into them with little regard for food, sanitary conditions, or the elements. These camps supplied the labor for digging out underground galleries, civil engineering projects on the surface, and generally enabling the outfitting and servicing of the vast industrial complex that was to be set up underground. With such a vast supply of prisoner labor and more pouring in almost daily, the SS did not give any regard to the needs of the prisoners who worked in these camps and on these construction projects. Their very numbers made the prisoners expendable.
The death rate at Dora and in the underground factory, where a degree of skill and training was necessary to carry out the work, steadied and even declined from May 1944 through January 1945. Conversely, at the sub-camps, where earth-moving and materials transport required little skill, the death rate remained murderously high. The end result, it seems, was a system that did not kill on the basis of Nazi racial values, but rather used the functional criteria of professional skill as a determinant of human worth.
Relations between the prisoners and civilian employees, most often skilled technical supervisors or engineers, were usually acceptable and sometimes cordial. Most of the civilians involved in setting up the factory came from Peenemünde or were sub-contracted employees of subsidiary firms. For the most part, they left the disciplining of prisoners to the Kapos and SS, and were, in fact, expressly forbidden by the SS to punish prisoners. Nevertheless, in the factory transport Kommando, where, incidentally, skilled labor was not required, civilians hit and abused prisoners. In general, however, the majority of civilians who worked with prisoners were indifferent.
How did the engineers and technicians justify using concentration camp labor to mass produce rockets? For those civilians who did intervene in the day to day life of the prisoners either in a positive or negative sense, did they do so out of humane considerations or economic and military necessity? There was the complicity of prisoner functionaries and the SS and political and national antagonisms between prisoners. The SS wardens were the central feature in the structure of abuse at Dora-Mittelbau. This was particularly true during the factory installation phase, when SS guards hunted down all those they considered layabouts from every nook, of which, at the time, there was no lack, in particular young Ukrainians. It was reign of terror" . Even after mass production began and the role of the SS in the factory itself partially gave way to civilian authority, the prisoners' dread of the ever-present SS did not abate.
It is estimated that of the 60,000+ detainees employed in and around the Mittelbau complex over a 20-month period, 26,500 did not survive. One author attributes 15,500 of these deaths to the camps or to "transports", and 11,000 to the period in April 1945 when the camps were evacuated by the SS in the face of the American advance. This evacuation was especially barbaric. The SS shot prisoners, herded them into barns and burned them alive, left them to die if they were too sick to walk, or made them part of walking or rail convoys headed to other concentration camps.
Each operational V2 to come off the Mittelwerk line cost about six terrible deaths.
Historians have largely ignored the important element of slave labor community in the historiography on forced and slave labor across Nazi dominated Europe. Dora-Mittelbau complex was not merely a site dedicated to building Germany's "wonder weapons." It it was a massive construction project in which the murderous dynamic of slave labor under the Nazis was fully realized. The cumulative radicalization of Hitler's Germany in the closing years of the war reached its crescendo in these projects at Dora-Mittelbau.
By February 1945, the Allied offensive in Europe was striking toward the heart of Germany
On January 27, 1945, with the Russian forces closing in on Berlin, the first refugee caravans had reached the outskirts of Berlin with stories of the brutal behavior of the Red Army, and a wave of terror swept through the city. Many citizens, however, still had faith in Göbbels' promise that wonder weapons would save Germany at the last moment. By then, V-2s, developed at the experimental rocket station in Peenemünde under the leadership of 34-year-old Dr. Wernher von Braun, were causing havoc in London, Antwerp and Liege.
One of the men responsible for creating these Wunderwaffen (miracle weapons), General-Major Walter Dornberger, was holding a conference in Berlin. He had just been entrusted with the job of producing a missile that would unerringly destroy and plane attempting to attack Germany. The 10 members of "Working Staff Dornberger," after reviewing the many experiments made in this field--from nonguided anti-aircraft rockets to remote-controlled missiles for launching from ground or air--concluded that their only chance for success was to concentrate on a few projects. They agreed to retain only four guided anti-aircraft rockets.
Meanwhile, in Peenemünde, at the mouth of the Oder, Dr. von Braun, the technical director of the rocket station, was holding a secret meeting with his chief assistants. Together they had developed the A-4, a rocket they regarded as the first step to space flight. But Hitler saw it as a long-range weapon, and Göbbels had renamed it the V-2, Vengeance Weapon-2.
Dr. von Braun explained to his assistants that he had called the meeting because of conflicting orders received that day--both from SS officials. SS-Obergruppenführer Dr. Hans Kammler, named special commissioner of the project by Himmler, had sent a teletype directing that the rocketeers be moved to central Germany, while Himmler himself, as commander of Army Group Vistula, had dispatched a message ordering all of Dr. von Braun's engineers to join the Vokssturm, the Peoples' Army, so that they could help defend the area from the approaching Red Army.
"Germany has lost the war," Dr. von Braun continued, "but let us not forget that it was our team that first succeeded in reaching outer space. . . . We have suffered many hardships because of our faith in the great peacetime future of the rocket. Now we have an obligation. Each of the conquering powers will want our knowledge. The question we must answer is: To what country shall we entrust our heritage?"
A suggestion that they stay and turn themselves over to the Russians was emphatically rejected; they finally voted unanimously to surrender to the United States Army. The first step was to obey Dr. Kammler's order and evacuate to the west. There was no time to lose; preparations for the move would take more than two weeks, and they could already hear the faint rumble of Zhukov's artillery to the south.
In mid-November 1944, American and British forces had entered Germany and were approaching the Rhine River. By March 9, 1945, American forces had succeeded in seizing the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen and had established a bridgehead on the east bank. Twelve supersonic V-2s were launched toward the bridge from Holland. They landed in a scattered pattern, with only one causing any appreciable damage when it hit a house 300 yards east of the bridge, killing three Americans.
Dr. von Braun, who was recovering at Nordhausen from a serious automobile accident--his torso and left arm were still encased in a huge cast--heard a report on Easter Sunday that American tanks were only a few miles to the south. He was afraid the SS would follow the Führer's "scorched earth" policy and destroy the tons of precious V-2 documents and blueprints. Dr. von Braun instructed his personal aide, Dieter Huzel, and Bernhard Tessmann, chief designer of the Peenemünde test facilities, to hide the documents in a safe place.
It took three Opel trucks to carry the 14 tons of papers. The little convoy headed north on April 3 toward the nearby Harz Mountains. By the end of the day Tessmann and Huzel found an abandoned iron mine in the isolated village of Dornten. Thirty-six hours later, all of the documents had been hauled by a small locomotive into the heart of the mine and hand-carried into the powder magazine.
On April 10, work in the underground V-2 factory at Nordhausen stopped. The rocket specialists, engineers and workers--4,500 of them--scattered to their homes, and the slave workers were returned to the nearby concentration camp.
The next morning, April 11, Task Force Welborn of the 3rd Armored Division approached Nordhausen from the north as Task Force Lovelady came in from the south. Both commanders had been alerted by Intelligence to "expect something a little unusual in the Nordhausen area." They thought at first this meant the town's concentration camp, containing about 5,000 decayed bodies. But several miles northwest of Nordhausen, in the foothills of the Harz, they ran into other prisoners in dirty striped pajamas who told them there was "something fantastic" inside the mountain.
The two commanders peered into a large tunnel and saw freight cars and trucks loaded with long, slender finned missiles. With Major William Castille, the combat command's intelligence officer, they walked into the bowels of the mountain, where they found a complex factory. V-1 and V-2 parts were laid out in orderly rows, and precision machinery stood in perfect working order.
When Colonel Holgar Toftoy, Chief of Ordnance Technical Intelligence in Paris, learned of the amazing find, he began organizing "Special Mission V-2." Its job was to evacuate 100 complete V-2s and ship them to White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico.
Dr. Wernher von Braun and his leading V-2 scientists voluntarily surrendered to the U.S. 44th Division. Almost as important was the recovery of the 14 tons of V-2 documents hidden by Tessman and Huzel in the Dornten iron mine.
Despite a slow start, Colonel Toftoy's "Special Mission V-2," led by Major James Hamill, also succeeded in its mission. One hundred complete V-2s were evacuated only hours before the Russians occupied the area. Major Hamill had been ordered to remove the rockets "without making it obvious that we had looted the place," yet, curiously, was not told that Nordhausen would be in the Soviet zone. Consequently, it never occurred to him to destroy the remaining rockets.
By April 19, 1945, the Russian high command announced that the Russian drive on Berlin had begun. By April 28, elements of the First United States Army had linked up with the Russians at Torgau. In Berlin, Hitler committed suicide on April 30 and Admiral Dönitz was placed in charge. German forces surrendered on May 7, and victory in Europe was declared.
Shortly after VE Day, Magnus von Braun, brother of Professor von Braun, was sent as an emissary to contact the American authorities and inform them that a large number of the Peenemünde scientists and technicians, who had scattered to the four winds after the collapse of the Nazi regime, were living in small villages throughout the Alps.
This was the beginning of "Operation Overcast" which was renamed Operation Paperclip. The American authorities, realizing the progress that had been made by German scientists in the field of guided missiles, saw a chance to gain from their experience and start not from scratch but from the Germans left off. Approximately 150 of the best scientists and technicians were rounded up and, after preliminary interrogation and background investigations by U.S. intelligence agencies, were offered five-year contracts to come to the United States and work for the U.S. Army. In turn, we promised to provide housing for their families, who had to remain Germany until arrangements could be made to bring them to the United States.
The first group of seven guided-missile scientists signed by contract under Operation Paperclip arrived at Fort Strong, New York, September 20, 1945, and from there were taken to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. Here, in the tightly guarded Industrial Area, in the midst of secret military developments of all kinds, but always with a GI escort, these scientists carried on the work began at Peenemünde.
The research at Aberdeen was concerned with the processing of German guided-missile documents captured by U.S. military forces. Here, these men scanned thousands of documents, all of them stamped "GEHEIM," the equivalent of "SECRET." It is impossible to estimate the amount of time and money saved by having these scientists and technicians available to assist us in segregating, cataloging, evaluating and translating more than 40 tons of documents.
The purpose of the project at Aberdeen was to provide Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Proving Ground, where an additional 120 German scientists and technicians were working of the development and testing of guided missiles, with documents or translations thereof.
Operation Paperclip came to a fitting conclusion with the naturalization of the first group of more than 50 German scientists and technicians on November 11, 1954, in Birmingham, Alabama.