The German army developed the V-2, known also as the A4 missile, as an alternative to super-long-range artillery, which the Treaty of Versailles prohibited after World War I. Designed by rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun, the V-2 was a breakthrough in missile technology but failed to prevent Germany's defeat in World War II. The rocket was inaccurate, which made it a poor military weapon but an effective terror device. Though the rocket was destructive, killing almost 3,000 people in England and probably even more in Belgium in the last year of the war, the German forced-labor system could not produce enough V-2s to affect the outcome of the war. In any case, the comparatively small power of V-2 attacks could not match the massive effect of Allied strategic bombing. After the war, the German rocket team and many captured missiles were brought to the United States, where V-2 technology helped to build the technological base for human spaceflight and advanced strategic missiles.
V-2 Missile Operations
The V-2 was the first practical modern ballistic missile. Its operation was complex and involved specialized transport and launching equipment. Unlike the V-1 flying bomb operated by the Luftwaffe, the German army operated the V-2 rocket. Erecting, servicing and launching a V-2 took from four to six hours and required some 32 different trailers and vehicles carrying fuel, batteries, pumps, spare parts, radios and other equipment. The entire operation required hundreds of soldiers, with the launch team alone needing more than 100 people to service and test the rocket, survey the site, run the support equipment and command the process. In all, more than 10,000 people and 3,000 vehicles were devoted to V-2 activities.
After rail transport to the launching vicinity, large mobile cranes loaded rockets onto trailers, which took them to the actual launch site. The V-2 on display is on such a trailer, called a Meillerwagen.
The best launch sites were flat, wooded areas with clearings big enough to operate the missile and with ground or pavement firm enough to hold it. At the launch site, crews raised the rocket vertically with the Meillerwagen, then fueled it with alcohol and liquid oxygen. After several tests and adjustments, the rocket could be fired from the safety of an armored control car some distance away. The V-2's rocket engine burned for about a minute. The missile then continued in a ballistic unpowered trajectory to its target. During its flight, the V-2 reached an altitude of 50-60 miles, and its top speed was around 3,400 mph.
The V-2, once launched, could not be stopped -- it was too fast and flew too high. Since the V-2 arrived at several times the speed of sound, there could be no warning to its approach. The missiles impacted before the sonic boom they created was heard. Allied efforts to prevent rocket attacks depended on bombing production facilities and attacking rail transit with fighters. Allied air power destroyed many V-2s before they reached launch sites; the V-2 on display was damaged in an air attack.
Germany produced nearly 6,000 V-2s in 1944-1945. Like the V-1, the V-2 was inaccurate. It could only be aimed at a large area, like a city. Together, the V-1 and V-2 missed their aim points by an average of more than nine miles. The first operational V-2 launch took place on Sept. 8, 1944, and the last on March 30, 1945. During this seven-month period, 1,115 V-2s hit England, and 1,524 fell on continental Europe. Many V-2s broke up or exploded in the air, and around 15 percent were never launched due to ground malfunctions. The total damage done in England by the rockets included 2,754 killed and 6,523 severely wounded. Some of the worst V-2 attacks included the destruction of a cinema in Antwerp (561 killed), and an impact on a crowded Antwerp street the killed 128 people.
Warhead: 2,152 or 2,205 lbs. Amatol 39A explosive Maximum speed: 3,400 mph Range: 180-220 miles Maximum altitude: 50-60 miles Weight: 28,000 lbs. fueled