Hitler gives the go ahead for the V-2 programme

Launch of a V2 in Peenemünde; photo taken four seconds after taking off from test stand, Summer 1943

Launch of a V2 in Peenemünde; photo taken four seconds after taking off from test stand, Summer 1943

Hitlers favourite architect and perhaps the closest person who might be called his ‘friend’, his Armaments Minister Albert Speer, was only too happy to gain favour by proposing new projects. The Nazi rocket research was now showing promising results and the scientists were now claiming that they could move into full production in the near future.

For Hitler this was a genuine new opportunity. He was already limiting the expectations as to what might be achieved with the new offensive in the east. Amongst Germans many people were drawing up realistic expectations of their own, about what the outcome of the war might be for Germany.

The prospect of ‘wonder weapons’ that would transform the war for Germany not only gave him hope, but could be used to bolster up morale. Soon the Nazi Party faithful would be asked to continue believing in Hitler despite all the evidence around them that the war was lost. The Fuhrer had ‘secret war winning weapons’ at his disposal:

On the moming of July 7, 1943, I invited Dornberger and von Braun to headquarters at Hitler’s request. The Fuehrer wanted to be informed on the details of the V-2 project.

After Hitler had finished with one of his conferences, we went together over to the movie hall, where some of Wernher von Braun’s assistants were ready. After a brief introduction the room was darkened and a color film shown. For the first time Hitler saw the majestic spectacle of a great rocket rising from its pad and disappearing into the stratosphere.

Without a trace of timidity and with a boyish sounding enthusiasm, von Braun explained his theory. There could be no question about it: From that moment on, Hitler had been totally won over. Dornberger explained a number of organizational questions, while I proposed to Hitler that von Braun be appointed a professor. “Yes, arrange that at once with Meissner,” Hitler said impulsively. “I’ll even sign the document in person.”

Hitler bade the Peenemunde men an exceedingly cordial good-bye. He was greatly impressed, and his imagination had been kindled. Back in his bunker he became quite ecstatic about the possibilities of this project.

“The A-4 is a measure that can decide the war. And what encouragement to the home front when we attack the English with it! This is the decisive weapon of the war, and what is more it can be produced with relatively small resources. Speer, you must push the A-4 as hard as you can! Whatever labor and materials they need must be supplied instantly. You know I was going to sign the decree for the tank program. But my conclusion now is: Change it around and phrase it so that A-4 is put on a par with tank production.

But,” Hitler added in conclusion, “in this project we can use only Germans. God help us if the enemy finds out about the business.”

There was only one point on which he pressed me, when we were alone again. “Weren’t you mistaken? You say this young man is thirty-one? I would have thought him even younger!” He thought it astonishing that so young a man could already have helped to bring about a technical breakthrough which would change the face of the future.

From then on he would sometimes expatiate on his thesis that in our century people squandered the best years of their lives on useless things. In past eras an Alexander the Great had conquered a vast empire at the age of twenty-three and Napoleon had won his brilliant victories at thirty. In connection with this he would often allude, as if casually, to Wernher von Braun, who at so young an age had created a technical marvel at Peenemunde.

The German missile testing site at Peenemunde: left to right: Colonel Walter Dornberger, General Friedrich Olbricht (with Knight's Cross), Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, in civilian clothes Wernher von Braun, spring 1941.

The German missile testing site at Peenemunde: left to right: Colonel Walter Dornberger, General Friedrich Olbricht (with Knight’s Cross), Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, in civilian clothes Wernher von Braun, spring 1941.

Wernher von Braun was young enough to go on the have a successful second career with the United States rocket programme after the war.

For Speer there was soon another factor to be taken into account. In his memoirs he glides over the contribution that slave labourers made to the project, claiming that this was entirely a matter imposed by Himmler.

After Hitler had become excited over the V-2 project, Himmler entered the picture. Six weeks later he came to Hitler to propose the simplest way to guarantee secrecy for this vital program. If the entire work force were concentration camp prisoners, all contact with the outside world would be eliminated. Such prisoners did not even have any mail, Himmler said. Along with this, he offered to provide all necessary technicians from the ranks of the prisoners. All industry would have to furnish would be the management and the engineers.

Hitler agreed to this plan. And Saur and I had no choice, especially since we could not offer a more persuasive arrangement.

The result was that we had to work out guidelines for a joint undertaking with the SS leadership — what was to be called the Central Works. My assistants went into it reluctantly, and their fears were soon confirmed. Formally speaking, we remained in charge of the manufacturing; but in cases of doubt we had to yield to the superior power of the SS leadership. Thus, Himmler had put a foot in our door, and we ourselves had helped him do it.

See Albert Speer: Inside the Third Reich

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: