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On Oct. 3, 1942 the first successful V-2 rocket was deployed from an island off of Germany’s Baltic coast. The rocket travelled 118 miles and marked a new era in warfare. Two years later the Germans began an offensive when two V-2s were fired at Paris on Sept 6, 1944 followed two days later by another two V-2s fired at England. Over the course of the next six months over 1,100 V-2 Rockets were launched killing more than 2,700 British in the process. While the rocket-to-kill ratio is poor in comparison to today’s standards, at the time this was an impressive demonstration of power and had dramatic psychological effects in it’s wake.
The V-2 upon launching, the missile rises six miles vertically; it then proceeds on an arced course, cutting off its own fuel according to the range desired. The missile then tips over and falls on its target-at a speed of almost 4,000 mph. It hits with such force that the missile burrows itself into the ground several feet before exploding. It had the potential of flying a distance of 200 miles, and the launch pads were portable, making them impossible to detect before firing. Also, very different than previous missiles, the V-2 did not have the traditional buzzing or whistling sound of many rockets or bombs of the era. Rather, the V-2 travelled faster than the speed of sound and was near impossible to detect.
At the end of the war a race between the United States and the USSR to retrieve as many V-2 rockets and staff as possible began. Under Operation Paperclip three hundred trainloads of V-2s and parts were captured and shipped to the United States, as well as 126 of the principal designers, including both Wernher von Braun and Walter Dornberger. Under British supervision, there were also three V-2 rocket launches to demonstrate the launch of V-2 rockets (operation Backfire) in October 1945. For several years afterward, the United States rocketry program made use of the supply of unused V-2 rockets left from the war. Some of these were equipped with a WAC-rocket as a second stage. These rockets were called Bumper. On 24 February 1949 such a rocket reached a then-record altitude of 400 km (250 miles) and a velocity of 5150 mph at its launch from White Sands Proving Grounds. The Bumper was also the first rocket launched from Cape Canaveral. Many of these rockets were used for peaceful purposes, including upper-atmosphere research.
Von Braun, the pioneer of the V-2, was recruited by the U.S. and became the father of most U.S. rocketry including the Saturn 5 rocket used for the Apollo missions. One can only speculate and wonder the changes of the world had the outcome of WW2 been radically different.