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Wernher von Braun's contribution to Nazi V-2 rocket questioned

The Local · 10 May 2011, 14:12

Published: 10 May 2011 14:12 GMT+02:00

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German academic Uta Mense has discovered a bitter rivalry between von Braun and colleagues at the Nazi rocket base Peenemünde, one of whom told the Americans von Braun had had nothing to do with the V-2. More than 3,000 Vergeltungswaffe 2 (Vengeance Weapon 2) ballistic missiles were launched in the final years of World War II.

Paul Schröder worked with von Braun at the Nazi military research facility on the Baltic Sea coast, testing and developing the Aggregat-4, which would become the V-2 rockets. They were two of the four section leaders at the huge facility.

Mense, a researcher at the Brandenburg Technical University in Cottbus, has found documents which Schröder wrote, criticising von Braun’s work, and even later warning the Americans he was making mistakes.

He said von Braun had been excluded from all decision-making in the Aggregate-4 rocket development after having disgraced himself with a series of failed experiments.

This would change the accepted notion of von Braun having been the genius physicist who had been working for the Nazis but was secretly spirited out of defeated Germany in Operation Paperclip, and taken to the United States.

There he was held as a prisoner of war, but by 1950 he was employed by the US Army at the Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, a crucial part of American attempts to get a head start against the Soviets in rocket, satellite and then space development.

Mense’s new evidence puts this into doubt – she has dug up previously-unseen papers from Schröder’s belongings.

Schröder was not taken from Germany as part of Operation Paperclip, but made his own way there in 1952 where he worked for the US Air Force. He later moved into the aerospace industry and returned to Germany in 1958.

Story continues below…

She found letters Schröder wrote warning American authorities of mistakes von Braun was making which he said could hinder the development of rocket technology. And his was not the only voice raised against von Braun – Mense has also found evidence that other Peenemünde colleagues were speaking out against him.

She is due to publicise further details from her research at Greifswald University on May 27 as part of a conference marking the 20th anniversary of the museum at Peenemünde.

The Local/hc

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

15:57 May 10, 2011 by FredFinger
Who cares now? Von Braun certainly had a lot to do with Americans landing on the moon. Oh, I forgot, the moon landing was faked.
16:35 May 10, 2011 by wpfaeffle
Who cares now is right. Besides, how do we know it wasn't envy that motivated Schröder?
17:25 May 10, 2011 by sebastian2010
America could not have done it with out Germany. most of their good scientist came from other nations to work for the USA
17:48 May 10, 2011 by EastPrussia
Obviously he was doing something right, since he was involved from the early 1930s up until the end, and then worked for the U.S. space program. He would not have receive all of this funding and support if his ideas were failures. Schroeder was probably motivated by jealousy as well.
18:12 May 10, 2011 by DOZ
Von Braun was not a Nazi, and he most likely tried to delay Hitler's Vengance Operation, which is lucky for the World.
18:57 May 10, 2011 by wxman
Three things:

1) I agree. At this point, who cares?

2) I also think this is "sour grapes" on the part of Schroder.

3) Everything "good" that happens to, for or by Americans came from somewhere else. That's because we ALL came from somewhere else. We're not special; America is special.
20:22 May 10, 2011 by ryhntyntyn
DOZ, he actually was a member of the party and a Sturmbahnführer in the SS to boot. This he fully admitted. In addition he did not try and delay the Velgetungswaffen program. I do not know where you got those ideas, if you have a source, I would love to read it.
21:25 May 10, 2011 by wpfaeffle
Let's not get side-tracked by arguing about who was a member of the Nazi party and who wasn't. The issue here is rocket science. I don't think there is any doubt in anybody's mind as to von Braun's important contributions in this field.
22:48 May 10, 2011 by DavidtheNorseman
Von Braun's rockets worked, Schroder sounds like a scorned woman. The entire Peenemünde crew were the best at what they did (that's why the US and Russians worked so hard to scoop them up after WWII).

Von Braun was an administrator-scientist like Robert Oppenheimer on the US A-Bomb program. It was their job to get the talent to produce.

Hadn't Von Braun still been secretly planning Moon rockets even during the war years (without permission)? Seems to be he was fixated with rockets from childhood well before old Adolf took power.........(I'm not excusing his joining the Nazi Party. IMHO Von Braun didn't think of much outside of building rockets....................
00:49 May 11, 2011 by JPaul
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
03:45 May 11, 2011 by OldMule
Von Braun had many important helpers at Peenemunde, and he also had plenty of help in Huntsville, Alabama. But there's no doubt he was a brilliant scientist. He was absolutely the force and the vision behind the Saturn V rocket that took the U.S. to the moon. If you haven't seen a Saturn V up close, I encourage you to visit the Kennedy Space Center in Florida one day. They have a Saturn V on display, laying on its side. It will take your breath away. It's enormous. Gargantuan. Thinking of 3 men sitting atop that machine, ready to be blasted into space, gives one spine chills. Each of its F-1 engines generated 1.5 million pounds of thrust (still the largest ever flown). It had five of them! It lifted 7 times more payload into low earth orbit than the current space shuttle. To grasp that such a magnificent (and operationally flawless) rocket could be designed, built and deployed to the moon, in less than a decade, is to realize that the scientists and engineers who built it were utterly brilliant. Von Braun was certainly one of them, and probably the most important of them.
06:11 May 11, 2011 by Ludwig von America
I've seen documentaries on Von Braun. When he joined the U.S. space program, many of his peers were angry about and rejected his presence. He was constantly held in disdain over his Nazi past and accused of contributing to Nazi atrocities, one of which was the V2 rocket. Though he denied working for Nazi ideals, he did not deny his contributions to German rocketry, including the V2. Doesn't it make sense that he would have, just to avoid problems with his peers and the American public? But, he didn't and that is why this claim now that he wasn't the inventor doesn't add up.
17:00 May 12, 2011 by JLP
Actually, there is room to doubt that Von Braun was the prime mover. The operation in Peenemunde was massive, but was led by Dornberger, not Von Braun. In addition, there were hundreds of engineers & scientists. Walter Thiel, for instance, was technically "under" Braun (Thiel was #3 or #4 in the hierarchy), but was almost exclusively - and almost independently - in charge of motor design. Later, many of those men (and women) were killed in a British raid on Peenemunde. Dornberger, Von Braun, and a few others were away during the attack.

Von Braun, though, was charismatic; something of a force of nature. He certainly had significant influence at Peenemunde and, after Peenemunde's destruction, at Nordhausen. And it helped that, of the men who developed the V2, Von Braun was the senior-most engineer to develop rockets for NACA and its successor, NASA, after WWII.

There is one irony to the V2 as well; at a time when Germany desperately needed aircraft and munitions and funds for the war effort, they were pouring it into V2 production; something like 600,000,000 Reich Marks went into the program that had no tactical or strategic effect whatsoever.
19:00 May 13, 2011 by rjones857
Wer kümmert sich jetzt? Von Braun hatte sicherlich viel mit Amerikanern Landung auf dem Mond zu tun. Oh, ich vergaß, die Mondlandung gefälscht wurde.
21:16 May 14, 2011 by MarjeHecht
To read more about von Braun, see the just released electronic version of:

How We Got to the Moon: The Story of the German Space Pioneers

by Marsha Freeman

available at http://www.21stcenturysciencetech.com or

20:54 May 17, 2011 by rgilfrd
von Braun considered himself a rocket ENGINEER not scientist.. he made things work.. where the "scientist" came from? who knows?
13:00 June 29, 2011 by deepsixsalvage
I'm sorry mam but you are ms informed about Wernher Von Brraun With out Him the Saturn F1 engines would have never been developed Those colleges of his only wanted the notoriety Dr. Von Braun had it's what happens when your a genius same thing happened to Einstein get a clue and stop bashing a dead man
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