White Sands Missile Range
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V-2 Rocket

NOTE: There is a link at the end of this page to V-2 firing tables summarizing all WSMR V-2 flights.

The German V-2 rocket, Hitler's "brain child" of World War II, is the grandfather of America's family of large missiles.

Based on findings made by America's Dr. Robert H. Goddard following World War I, the Germans hit a peak production of V-2's during 1944 and 1945 at Peenemunde, and terrorized Allied populations of Europe and England until the end of the war.

The German program started in early 1940, and the first V-2 was launched July 6, 1942. The third missile, launched in October 1942, flew 170 miles and was the first successful V-2 in flight.

Between August 1944 and February 1945, the Germans made some 3,000 rockets with a peak production of 30 missiles in one day. Hitler's production target was for 3,600 rockets in one year.

The Germans had an underground production plant in Nordhausen with a 900,000 square-foot production area. The plant was constructed in two parallel tunnels 500 feet apart, each a mile and a quarter long and cut completely through a mountain.

The main rocket assembly line started at one end of the first tunnel and missiles, moved along on rails, were finished and tested upon reaching the opposite end of the tunnel and were ready for delivery to launching sites.

The second tunnel was used for bringing in units and parts for subassembly lines which were 46 smaller tunnels cross-connecting at strategic points the two main missile arteries.

Subassemblies were channeled to tunnels and timed so that they reached the main assembly line at the time and place required. The total length of the entire tunnel-web was 18 miles.

United States Efforts Focus on White Sands
In the closing days of the war, America embarked upon its own rocket development program and established White Sands Proving Ground (now White Sands Missile Range) in New Mexico as its principal site for rocket testing and development.

In mid-August 1945, 300 railroad freight cars of V-2 components captured in the European Theater of Operations arrived in New Mexico. The Santa Fe Railroad spotted ten cars per day in Las Cruces, NM for unloading and transport by military and German personnel to the east side of the Organ Mountains.

To get an idea of the magnitude of the logistics problem, every railroad siding from El Paso, TX to Belen, NM, a distance of 210 miles, was full of cars. The Army hired every flatbed truck in Dona Ana County to move the material. The task was completed in 20 days.

Some of the components and material brought to White Sands included 215 combustion chambers, 180 sets of propellant tanks, 90 tail units, 100 sets of graphite jet vanes, and 200 turbopumps.

The Paperclip Crew
In addition to material, captured German scientists and missile experts were sent to the U.S. to assist in America's missile program. After careful screening, approximately 100 individuals were chosen to come to this country. A paperclip was placed on their folders and they became part of the program known as "Operation Paperclip."

The Paperclip crew, which was headed by the famous Dr. Wernher Von Braun, arrived in the U.S. on Nov. 17, 1945 and in January 1946 was moved to Fort Bliss, Texas. The group was divided and approximately 20 were assigned to White Sands Proving Ground (WSPG). At the end of a six-month period the Germans were returned to Fort Bliss for renewal of contracts and reassignment. A few of the original group were returned to WSPG to continue work there.

German personnel at WSPG reached its peak of 39 in March 1946. Thereafter, the German specialists and engineers were replaced by American contractor personnel in the spring of 1947.

The widespread impression that many German missiles were brought to America intact and ready for flight was erroneous. No V-2s were received in flyable condition. The General Electric Company was contracted by the U.S. Army Ordnance Department to assemble, test and fire the V-2s.

U.S. Rebuilds German Parts
Despite the abundance of V-2 material brought to White Sands certain components such as control compartment hardware were in short supply. For instance, only 50 control gyroscopes had been received from Germany, most of which were in poor condition. Each rocket required two gyroscopes. Another item which was found to be incomplete was a group of 70 electrical distribution panels with many of them missing wiring.

During the later stages of the firing program, General Electric provided gyros, mixer-computers, wiring, servo motors, and propellant piping to replace those German parts missing or which had deteriorated with age.

Major changes in configuration were made on 52 percent of the V-2s launched from White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), and 71 percent were above designed weight. Empty weight of the standard V-2 was 8,000 pounds which included 2,200 pounds of payload - warhead - and the average empty weight of all missiles launched was 9,218 pounds, an increase of 19 percent in terms of payload.

By 1951 all V-2s launched had major contour modifications and carried more than 47 percent added payload, bringing the maximum loaded weight to 28,400 pounds.

Assembling and testing V-2s were tedious jobs. Each rocket required days of preparation. All basic components were individually inspected for performance and condition prior to assembly. Repair and adjustments were made as required, and then they were tested again. Large subassemblies were completely tested before being installed and then the completely assembled missile was given two over-all tests before it left the assembly building.

color photo of V-2 being prepared for launch in May 1946After the V-2 was assembled and tested, a German-made trailer called the Meilerwagon towed it to the launch pad. An integral lift frame on the Meilerwagon elevated the rocket to a vertical position on a low portable steel "launch table". The table incorporated a blast deflector, a mast for electrical wiring, and fittings for liquid propellant hoses.

At the launching site, one over-all test was made prior to launching day, and the same test was repeated immediately prior to loading the propellant on firing day. No connection could be broken after the final test was made. Following a thorough check of all components, the rocket was fueled with alcohol and liquid oxygen.

V-2 Rocket Components
The launch procedure included a final test of the rocket motor. Alcohol and liquid oxygen were allowed to flow into the combustion chamber by the force of gravity, where they ignited on contact. This produced approximately 16,000 pounds of thrust, too little to move the rocket but enough to check that the motor was functioning properly. The propellent turbine was then activated, increasing thrust to 52,000 pounds, enough to immediately initiate a launch. The V-2 had an overall length of 46 feet, diameter of 5 feet 5 inches, and a fin span of 11 feet 8 inches, its motor developed 52,000 pounds of thrust for 68 seconds, and its launching weight was 28,413 pounds, including 19,575 pounds of liquid propellant. The rocket consisted of five major parts:

Nose Cone - During World War II, the nose cone held a German warhead containing almost a ton of explosives. At White Sands, the Army invited government agencies and universities to use the nose cone's 20 cubic feet of space for scientific research, up to 2,000 pounds of scientific equipment, such as cameras, sensors, and on-board experiments, were carried aloft on each flight.

Control Section - This section contained gyroscopes for guiding the rocket in flight and the bottles of nitrogen gas that powered them. The gyroscopes produced electrical signals in the form of voltage proportional to the amount of correction needed to maintain a preset trajectory. The corrective signals were transmitted through an integrating computing element to steering vanes in the tail assembly.

Midsection - The propellant used in the V-2 consisted of alcohol and liquid oxygen, propellant tanks and associated valves and piping were located in the rocket's midsection. Glass wool insulated the rocket from the extreme cold of the liquid oxygen.

Thrust Frame - The thrust frame held the propulsion unit, which consisted of a turbopump, steam-generating plant, heat exchanger, combustion unit, and associated piping. The turbopump was powered by steam generated from combining hydrogen peroxide and sodium permanganate, both of which were stored in tanks in this section and forced into the pump by compressed air.

Tail Assembly - The tail served to stabilize flight and steer the rocket, and consisted of the tail faring, four stabilizing fins with steering vanes, vane motors, and antennas.

In the entire experimental program, 68 percent of the V-2 flights were considered successful. However, much valuable information was gained from flights with known malfunctions and classified as failures.

color photo of V-2 just after launchIn all, 67 V-2 rockets were assembled and tested at White Sands between 1946 and 1952, providing the U.S. with valuable experience in the assembly, pre-flight testing, handling, fueling, launching, and tracking of large missiles. The scientific experiments conducted aboard the V-2 yielded significant information about the upper atmosphere, and one series of tests, the "Blossom Project," carried out the first biological experiments in space. Landmark tests included:

V-2 No. 1: First firing, static test for 57 seconds; March 15, 1946
V-2 No. 2: First flight test, altitude 18,000 feet; April 16, 1946
V-2 No. 3: First high altitude flight, altitude 70 miles; May 10, 1946
V-2 No. 9: First separation of nose cone; July 30, 1946
V-2 No. 13: Motion pictures showing Earth's curvature: October 24, 1946
V-2 No. 19: First auto pilot system used, forerunner of remote controlled rocket; Jan.23, 1947

V-2 No. 40: Photographs of 800,000 square miles of Earth's surface; July 26, 1948

Several offshoot programs developed from the V-2 experimental program. They were the Bumper, Pushover and Sandy.

In late 1946 Army Ordnance started a development program leading to a two-stage rocket test vehicle. A WAC Corporal was mounted on the nose of a V-2 to form the first two-stage missile, known as the Bumper. The first Bumper was launched May 13, 1948.

Operation Pushover concerned the deliberate explosion of a fully tanked V-2 on a dummy shipdeck at White Sands to determine its effect on shipboard launching.

Operation Sandy was the code name for launching a V-2 from the deck of the aircraft carrier Midway. Preliminary tests were made and the missile assembled at WSMR. On September 6, 1947, for the first time, a large rocket was launched from a ship at sea.

View V-2 Firing Tables summarizing all flights at White Sands