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Home > German Rocket Development > Notes Regarding History of V-2 Operations at White Sands

Notes Regarding History of V-2 Operations at White Sands

Compiled from a Fact Sheet entitled "V-2 Story", Published by Information Office, White Sands Missile Range, June 1972 Captured German V-2 parts, components, scientists and specialists were transplanted to this New Mexico desert installation (White Sands Missile Range) in early 1946 where a development program was set up and given priority second only to atomic research.

Today, though the V-2 is obsolete as a missile, it remains an interest for the scientific minded and general public and holds a prominent place in the American missile family.

V-2's captured in the European theater of Operations and brought to America served as experimental vehicles at the nation's first missile testing center at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR).

A V-2, assembled and launched form WSMR, was America’s first rocket to carry a heavy payload to a high altitude. A V-2 set the first high altitude and velocity record for a single-stage missile, and a V-2 was the first large missile to be controlled in flight.

From a five-year experimental program conducted at WSMR under the supervision of Dr. Wernher von Braun and the group of German scientists brought to the states in late 1945 and 1946, emerged America’s large missiles including the Corporal, Redstone, Nikes, Aerobees and Atlas.

One sun-baked day in August 1945, several train loads of V-2 material and components captured in Europe during WWI were unloaded by military personnel and German specialists in Las Cruces and brought to the east side of the Organ Mountains.

Months later, on March 15, 1946, the first V-2 was static fired, and on April 16, 1946, the first V-2 was launched from the New Mexico missile range.
By June 30, 1951, a total of 67 metal monsters in V-2 fuselages had been sent aloft over the New Mexico desert in an experimental program.

There appears to be a fairly widespread impression that many German missiles were brought to America intact and ready for flight. This is completely erroneous. No missiles were received in flyable condition, and had an assembled missile been received, the first step would have been to disassemble them so that individual components and subassemblies could be tested properly -- German experience proved that a large increase in in flight failures resulted when assembled missiles were stored for extended periods. Therefore, all missiles launched from WSMR were assembled at the missile range from basic components and parts brought from Europe, and under supervision of the German scientists and specialists.

The standard V-2 measured 46 feet in length, 5 1/2 feet in diameter and had a fin span of 11 feet and 8 inches.

In launching the giant rocket was spectacular. With a roar it would inch from the launch pad, hover in space for a breath-taking instant, and then with a sudden lurch, climb into the sky at supersonic speed.

A turbo pump-feed rocket engine with oxygen-alcohol propellant gave the rocket a thrust of 52,000 pounds and carried it to an altitude of 116 miles at 3,500 miles an hour.

Major changes in configuration were made on 52 percent of the V-2's launched from WSMR, and 71 percent were above designed weight. Empty weight of the standard rocket was 8,800 pounds which included 2,200 pounds of payloads - warhead - and the average weight of all missiles launched was 9,218 pounds, an increase of 19 percent in terms of payload.

By 1951 all V-2's 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-2's 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.

At the launch site, one overall 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. In the entire experimental program, 68 percent of the V-2 flights were considered successfully. However, much valuable information was gained from flights with known malfunctions and classed as failures.

Failures were almost equally divided between steering malfunctions and propulsion. Extensive tests were made in these phases, and in late 1947 the calibration of propulsion units was started at WSMR. A comparison of some 19 missiles calibrated at WSMR with German test records showed that missiles calibrated at the missile range were able to carry an average of 700 pounds more weight than those calibrated in Germany while the average altitude remained essentially constant. WSMR calibrations also produced more consistent results.

The over-all results of the V-2 program cannot be visualized entirely by analyzing percentage figures and successful and unsuccessful flights. The contribution that the V-2 made to guided missile technology is immeasurable. In general, the program provided training for men in the handling and firing of large missiles, experiments directly concerned with design of future missiles, operational tests of future missile components, and experience in collecting upper atmosphere and ballistic data.

The experimental program soon gave rise to several offshoot programs including the Bumper, Pushover, Blossom and Sandy. In late 1946 Army Ordnance started a development program leading to a two-stage rocket test vehicle. A WAC Corporal was mounted in the nose of a V-2 to form the first two-stage missile, known as Bumper.

The first Bumper to be tested in the Western Hemisphere was launched May 13, 1948. Number 5, launched Feb. 24, 1949, set a flight record by attaining a speed of 5,150 miles an hour and an altitude of 244 miles, and Bumper 7, launched from Florida on Jul. 29, 1950, in a low angle trajectory, achieved the highest sustained speed - Mach 9 - ever reached in the earth's atmosphere. Operation Pushover concerned the deliberate explosion of a fully tanked V-2 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. And, on September 6, 1947, for the first time, a large rocket was launched from a ship at sea. As the V-2 programs progressed, it became necessary to procure American-made parts such as gyros, autopilot amplifiers, electrical wiring harness, control boxes and even tail structures, all of which had to meet established rigid specifications.

Due to weight and inaccessibility, few German-made warheads were used in the missile range program. American-made warheads were supplied through the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, and many of them were special made for specific tests.

The V-2s carried a large quantity of experimental equipment in the payload compartment. For research, it was essential that this equipment be recovered after impact in reasonably good condition, and for range safety, it was necessary to be able to alter the trajectory of in-flight missiles quickly and reliably. These two problems were solved by a separation of the payload compartment from the missile body.

After some experimenting, proper separation was accomplished and resulted in a surprisingly gentle impact. In fact, a sensitive spectroscope -- an instrument to determine the composition of sunlight -- survived two missile impacts and with only moderate repair was installed and flown a third time.

Then, on January 23, 1947, for the first time the telemetry system operated successfully and transmitted -- from rocket in flight back to ground receiving stations -- all performance data of a V-2's entire operating system.

Several V-2 flights were particularly outstanding. The record for velocity and altitude for a single stage rocket was recorded December 17, 1946, when the vehicle was fired to an altitude of 116 miles at 3,600 miles an hour.

The most spectacular flight in the annals of WSMR occurred May 29, 1947, when an experimental V-2, weighing four and a half tons, headed south after liftoff instead of north and landed, some five minutes later, a mile and a half south of Juarez, Mexico. Though no damage was done, the rocket narrowly missed an ammunition dump where Mexican mining companies stored powder and dynamite.

A faulty gyroscope was reported as responsible for the missile's wayward flight that literally shook two nations.
And, on February 6, 1948, for the first time in this country, a large rocket-powered vehicle was controlled in flight.

Gunther Hintze, the last German scientists at White Sands Missile Range who had participated in the V-2 program at Hitler's "Hide-away" at Pennemuende, and who came to Fort Bliss with the original group of German scientists in early 1946, retired from federal service in 1968. At the time of his retirement, he worked as Chief of the Analysis and Computation Directorate, National Range Operations.
Mr. Hintze recalls the days of Peenemuende and the early development and production of the German V-2.

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 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 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 at ground level.

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 sub-assembly lines which were 46 smaller tunnels, cross-connecting at strategic points, the two main missiles 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.

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