|German Diaspora||home |
Between 1933 and 1942 Wernher von Braun built up what was called the 'Rocket Team' - German engineers, recruited from universities all over Germany, to participate in development of the V-2, the world's first ballistic missile. At the end of the war, those who had experience in this new technology were eagerly sought after by the winning Allied powers. The United States, the Soviet Union, and France moved over 400 of these 'Peenemuende Germans' and their families to new research facilities in the powers' respective countries. The work the Germans did at Huntsville, Vernon, and Gorodomlya led directly to the rockets that would take all three nations to outer space. Indirectly, the Germans also provided the underpinnings of rocketry development in Great Britain and China in the 1960's. In modern terms, this was the single greatest example of technology transfer in history.
This article provides a complete list and biographies of all known German engineers who worked in Allied countries after World War II. What follows should not be taken to mean that these Germans worked in each country alone, without the contributions of hundreds of talented and original engineers of other nationalities. In all cases, the V-2 technology, once assimilated, was improved on and developed further by other engineers and at other companies and government departments. But the Germans provided the groundwork. And in all cases their first post-war rocket designs proved superior and were adopted in preference to designs by 'national' design teams…
In October 1944 France formed GOPA, the Operational Group for Guided Missiles, with the objective of obtaining information on advanced German weapons. Under GOPA's auspices Henri Moreau was made the head of CEPA, the Centre for the Study of Guidance Missiles, with the specific objective of putting the V-2 into production in France. With American co-operation France obtained tonnes of technical materials, drawings, and four complete V-1 cruise missiles from Mittelwerk in June 1945. However the Americans, advised by the British, began to be wary of French intentions. The promise to provide ten complete V-2's was withdrawn on 27 February 1946. The V-2 launch bunker at Wizernes had been dynamited by British commandos on 9 May 1945 in order to keep the French from ever being able to put it to use. The French began to recruit German experts then working for the British at Project Backfire at Cuxhaven. By 15 May 1946, Herbert Weiss had convinced 35 German engineers at Cuxhaven to 'defect' to the French. Others soon followed, signing contracts to work in France. By October 1946 the French employed nearly 90 German experts, working in groups at Emmendingen and Puteaux in the French zone. By March 1947 a new purpose-built rocket development center was completed - LRBA (the Laboratory for Ballistic and Aerodynamic Research) at Vernon, France. All the German experts were moved there by May.
The German groups at LRBA worked from 1947-1952. Although the plans for a Super V-2 were shelved on economic grounds, the group successfully developed the Veronique research rocket (chosen for further development in preference to Jean-Jacques Barre's 'pure French' Eole rocket. Evolution of this design led later to the Diamant A satellite launcher and the Ariane European space launcher. Although many of the German team were laid off in 1952 and returned to Germany, others, notably Bringer, continued to work for LRBA and its successor organisations, developing the Viking 2 engine that would power the Ariane.
The Soviet Union overran Peenemuende on 5 May 1945. Work to obtain German industrial and military technology had already been ordered the previous year. Russian rocket engineers were able to locate and persuade hundreds of German engineers to work for the Soviet Union. Some had ideological grounds. Some were attracted by the ability to remain working in Germany (albeit in the Russian zone). Most desperately needed the employment in the collapsed post-war economy. Led by Hermann Groettrup, they were put to work at resurrected design offices, test centres, and factories in the Russian zone from 1945-1947. On Stalin's order they and their families were forcibly removed to the Soviet Union on the night of 22 October 1946. There is no complete documentation, but at least 234 rocket engineers and technicians went to the Soviet Union
The largest contingent, over 129, worked in Filial 1 of NII-88, creating rocket designs in competition with those of institute leader Korolev. They also provided advice to the Russian engineers ordered to copy the V-2 rocket. 23 others worked within Glushko's OKB-456, transferring V-2 propulsion technology and building a subscale prototype of the advanced engine that would later power Soviet ICBM's. Small groups of others were working in other design bureaux and offices of the Aircraft Ministry, transferring technology related to other specific missiles or rocket aircraft.
The Groettrup team was gradually moved away from daily direct contact with Korolev's designers and finally concentrated on Gorodomlya Island. Due to the Soviet obsession with secrecy, they were kept in the dark as to what the Russian missile plans and designs were after the first few years. They were finally left to complete competing designs to Korolev's in isolation, or asked questions on specific issues. Once the Russian engineers had mastered the technology, and the German's own expertise had become stale and outdated, they were allowed to go home in three groups between 1951 and 1953. Baum's team at OKB-456 stayed somewhat longer, the last member not going back to East Germany until 1957. On return the 'Russian Germans' were debriefed by American intelligence wherever possible, but they gave intentionally misleading information as ordered by the Russians.
Baum and Groettrup's engine and rocket designs led directly to the Soviet R-7 ICBM. This awesome rocket started the space race, and is still in use today as the Soyuz 11A511U space launcher. A fuller account of the German team's accomplishments in the Soviet Union is at Early Russian Ballistic Missiles.
Von Braun led a group of 108 leading engineers who chose to surrender to the Americans. They moved the length of Germany to Oberammergau, and made contact with American forces on 2 May 1945. By 27 May they had directed the Americans to 14 tonnes of primary V-2 technical documentation they had hidden in the Harz Mountains as a bargaining chip. On 20 June Secretary of State Cordell Hull agreed they were to be brought to America and work for the US Army. By the end of the year the entire team was in Fort Bliss, Texas, preparing to fire 60 V-2's seized by the Americans on science and research flights. Post-war budget cuts meant ambitious plans to proceed with long-range missiles and orbital launchers were shelved. Some were disappointed - 29 of the team moved to private industry in the United States, 21 returned to Germany. A few new engineers were recruited from Germany, having stayed behind to complete war-interrupted education. But the Army kept the rest of the team together, moving them to Huntsville, Alabama, to work on development of the Redstone ballistic missile.
As the Cold War, and then the Space Race with the Soviet took off, the Americans found themselves on the losing side. The 'all American' Vanguard satellite launcher had blown up. The government reluctantly turned to the German rocket team. Von Braun's Redstone rocket put the first American satellite into orbit and then the first American astronaut into space. They were then charged with developing, in six years, the immense Saturn V booster to take the first American to the moon. After having won the moon race for the Americans, Von Braun found his usefulness at an end. There was no American interest in his lifelong dream of mounting a manned expedition to Mars. It is alleged that President Nixon secretly ordered a purge of the Germans from NASA, and the Peenemuende veterans found themselves sidelined into other jobs or pressured into early retirement.
The British staged an enormous effort in firing three V-2 rockets from Cuxhaven in Cuxhaven in 1946, then lost all interest in pursuing ballistic missiles until the mid-1950's. By late summer 1945 some two hundred Peenemuende scientists, 200 V-2 firing troops, and 600 ordinary POWs were transported to Cuxhaven. Upon arrival, they were split into two groups and interrogated. The information given by each group was then compared to ensure inaccuracies and deceptions were eliminated. However finding the test rockets proved difficult. The Americans had already raided the V-2 factory at Nordhausen and shipped everything usable to New Mexico. The British were able to only come up with enough parts to assemble 8 rockets for testing.
However several key perishable components and firing vehicles were still missing. In a huge enterprise search teams fanned out over the occupied territories, trying to beat American and Russian competitors. 400 railway cars and 70 Lancaster bomber flights brought to Cuxhaven 250,000 parts and 60 specialised vehicles. The hardest items to locate were usable batteries to operate the guidance gyro platforms. Tail units could not be located anywhere and the Americans finally agreed to bring back a few from the United States. A new concrete launch pad was poured and an enormous tower built from prefabricated military bridge elements. 2,500 British troops assisted in completing site construction. Three launches were finally made on October 2 through 15, 1945. On the last launch, observers from the United States, France, and Russia were invited. At this crucial moment in history, unknowingly, many of the leaders of the future space programs were together.
After this event, the British government lost all interest in ballistic missiles. Some of the leading experts they had detained were employed by the French. It was only in the late 1950's that Britain decided to pursue a ballistic missile, the Blue Streak. This used engine technology licensed from Rocketdyne, which in turn had been developed from V-2 technology in consultation with Von Braun's team. This in turn was abandoned after serving as the first stage of the abortive Europa 1 space launcher.
China had an indirect debt to the Peenemuende Germans. From the American side, the father of the Chinese space and missile programmes, Tsien Hsue-shen, was a member of Project Lusty - a team of top scientists that entered Germany just behind the American lines, locating and returning to the United States key documents and personnel of the advanced German aircraft and rocketry programs. On May 5, 1945 Tsien found himself interviewing Wernher von Braun and other members of the V-2 Rocket Team in Kochl. Von Braun prepared for Tsien a seminal report, ‘Survey of Development of Liquid Rockets in Germany and Their Future Prospects’, which provided the road map for future space vehicle development in the United States. On returning from Germany, Tsien edited the leading findings of the project in the 800-page Jet Propulsion, which would become the classified technical Bible for post-war aircraft and rocket technical research in the post-war United States. Tsien's loyalty to the United States was questioned after American and Chinese troops came into direct combat during the Korean War. After a series of murky and still-controversial events, Tsien was traded to Mao's China in exchange for release of American prisoners of war in September 1955. Once in China, Tsien led the vigorous Chinese effort to develop missile and space rockets.
As part of this effort, the Russians transferred the complete technology and manufacturing processes for the R-2 to China in the late 1950's. The R-2 had been primarily designed by Groettrup's and Baum's teams in Germany in 1946-1947. So from this direction the Peenemuende Germans provided the underpinning for a nation's rocketry. The Long March series of rockets still in use in China derive from the technology brought to the country by Tsien and the R-2.
Here is the list of all known German rocket experts recruited by the Americans, Soviets, and French after World War II. The lists are reasonably complete except for that for the Soviet Union. Links at each name take the reader to fuller biographies on particular individuals.
Contact us with any corrections, additions, or comments.
Conditions for use of drawings, pictures, or other materials from this site..
To contact astronauts or cosmonauts.
© Mark Wade, 1997 - 2008 except where otherwise noted.