The Peenemünde Research Centre

In 1936 they began with the construction of a huge modern research centre on an island off the Baltic coast (Usedom): Peenemünde.

A rocket taking off

Two teams would soon be working there:

  • The Luftwaffe (Air Force) developed jet aircrafts and, from 1942, the Fi 103 (V1) flying bomb.
  • The Heer (land forces) under the technical direction of Von Braun, dedicated to the development of a large strategic rocket, the A4 (V2).

The latter was designed as a terrorist weapon - in the etymological sense - destined to strike civilian populations, particularly those of London. From 1942, as the war was starting to reverse, the A4 (V2) rocket became a "miracle weapon" in the eyes of the Nazi leaders. A first, and perfectly successful prototype shot took place on 3 October at Peenemünde, after which mass production was launched. At this stage, the engine was far from perfect and failures would follow in successive trials. The programme benefited from enormous manpower and capital. A parallel can be drawn with the "Manhattan Programme" for atomic bombs undertaken in the United States. The Luftwaffe rapidly developed its Fi 103 (V1) flying bomb, which was much simpler and especially less expensive to manufacture than the A4 (V2). Also in this case, mass production began before the development was completed...

In France, the Todt Organisation was responsible for the implementation of a vast series of constructions along the Channel coast, from Cotentin to Pas-de-Calais. These were designed to launch flying bombs and rockets against England:

  •   Giant bunkers for rockets.
  •   Large-scale bunkers.
  •   Standardised launching pads for the flying bomb. 

These were the Sonderbauten (special constructions). In the spring of 1943, the managers of the Peenemünde rocket programme appealed to the SS to alleviate the shortage of manpower: a first group of prisoners, taken from concentration camps, arrived in June. The British intelligence services were slow to understand the nature of the threat coming from the new weapons developed in Peenemünde. The most lucid of them was Dr. R. V. Jones who identified a rocket on an aerial photograph of Peenemünde on 16 June 1943. On 18 August, the RAF heavily bombed the Research Centre; a few days later, the Allies attacked the launching sites that were being built in France.

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