Peenemunde Power Plant and Museum

Category Exploration Date Status Province / State Country
Industrial Public Germany

History: 

V-1

Design of the V-1 began as an exercise to build a remote-controlled aircraft that could carry a payload of 1,000 kg for a distance of 500 km. After several design and staffing changes, the Fieseler Aircraft Company, in association with Argus Motoren, proposed the final design of the "flying bomb", or "buzz bomb" as it was sometimes known. On June 19, 1942, the concept was approved, production was given a high priority, and development began at Peenemunde West.

By this point, development of the V-2 was already nearing completion.

The V-1's iconic jet engine was a gasoline-powered pulse jet. The small wings made for a very high stall speed so take-off was generally around 580 km/h. This was mostly accomplished using a catapult, but was sometimes done by launching from another aircraft. Once launched, it flew between 600 and 900m putting a bit too high for effective use of the light anti-aircraft guns of the day, and slightly too low for the heavier guns. Eventually, however, radar-guided guns were deployed by mid 1944 accounting for the failure of almost 82% of the bombs launched.

Generally, the V-1 attacks on Great Britain ended by September, 1944 as the effectiveness of the bombs was becoming very limited, and as the launch facilities in France were being overrun. The last V-1 to strike British soil was launched on March, 29, 1945, hitting Datchworth.

V-2 (A-4)

Early experiments into rockets began at a weapons testing range near Kummersdorf, Germany. As the rockets increased in size and power, it wasn't long before these facilities were no longer suitable and a search began for another location.

Werner von Braun's mother suggested Peenemunde, and he decided to check it out. It met all of the requirements including being flat, having a lengthy coastline and being remote enough for security to be easier to maintain. In the spring of 1936, construction began on two new facilities, the Luftwaffe's facility, Peenemunde West, and the Army's facility, Peenemunde East.

Operations were moved to the partially completed site the following year. The A-3 prototype proved to have aerodynamic issues and a faulty 3-axis gyroscope. Four launch attempts of this design all resulted in the rockets crashing. To overcome this, the world's most sophisticated wind tunnel was constructed capable of simulating speeds over Mach 4. After many improvements and further testing, a more promising prototype emerged.

In the spring of 1939, Hitler and his entourage toured the old facility at Kummersdorf to avoid calling attention to Peenemunde. Von Braun carried out several demonstrations, but Hitler seemed barely interested.

The Army facility was completed in the fall of 1939, and work began on the highly successful A-5 prototype using the modified airframe, and new guidance system from Siemens. By the end of that year, work on the final production version of the rocket was ready. By this point, however, the war was already consuming the available materials and labour required for the project. The officer in charge, General von Brauchitsch ordered that the Army maintain necessary supplies, but that was countermanded by Hitler.

By May, 1940, the project had attracted the attention of Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS. Von Braun was offered an officer's rank of Lieutenant in the SS and was encouraged to accept. This association served to help ensure the resources required. While many of those working on the project in the initial stages were paid, skilled workers, a growing percentage were brought in to the Karlhagen Labour Camp just south of the testing facilities.

Despite all of the challenges, the A-4, final version first launched on October 3, 1942, and was renamed the V-2. Production began in 1943, but by this point the Allies had heard about the work being carried out at Peenemunde, and set out to destroy it in Operation Hydra.

The Beginning of the End

A bombing raid was carried out on the night of August 17, 1943 and was conducted in three waves. The first wave targeted the sleeping and living quarters of the scientists and skilled employees. The second wave targeted the workshops building components. The third wave targeted the experimental station, damaging labs and offices. While it was estimated that the raid caused a delay of two months, it is generally considered to have been ineffective as most of the development work of the two weapons was already complete.

Facilities were decentralized to other locations in the hopes of avoid this happening again. In addition, the Germans also fabricated additional damage to the facility by creating craters near critical areas, and painting damage to the roofs of buildings to throw off damage assessments. Despite these precautions, there were three more Allied bombing attacks on the facility, and by the time the Soviets invaded in 1945, they found mostly ruins.

Aftermath
Several countries continued to make use of the V-1 design, including France, using them as target drones, the Soviet Union continued to improve the weapon into the 1950's, and the United States quickly adapted them for potential use in Japan, but saw little use for them after the use of atomic weapons. The V-2 was snatched up by both the United States and the USSR, as were the scientists involved in their development. Werner von Braun was brought to the United States and played a pivotal role in NASA's space race.

It is interesting to note that the first photograph taken from space was taken from a V-2 launched in 1946 by the US.


Personal Commentary: 

Arriving in Germany in the midst of a heat wave, we decided the first place to check out should be close to the Baltic Sea where, we hoped, things would be slightly cooler. This is a location I've wanted to check out for quite a long time and I was quite eager.

The power plant has been converted for use as the primary display area of the museum, but parts of it remain out of bounds.

I really only have one negative thing to say about it.

Ruins of this facility can be found spread out over a large area. However, aside from the power plant, everything is fenced off and inaccessible.

That aside, the information and artifacts in the museum are actually quite impressive.


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