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Peenemünde Army Research Center
Part of  Nazi Germany
Peenemunde test stand VII.jpg
1943 RAF photo-recon of Test Stand VII at the Peenemünde Army Research Center
Coordinates Latitude:
In use World War II
Battles/wars Operation Crossbow (Bombing of Peenemünde in World War II)

The Peenemünde Army Research Center (German language: Heeresversuchsanstalt Peenemünde, HVP) was founded in 1937 as one of five military proving grounds under the German Army Weapons Office (Heeres Waffenamt).[1]:85 It is widely regarded as the birthplace of modern rocketry and spaceflight.

On April 2, 1936, the Reich Air Ministry paid 750,000 reichsmarks to the town of Wolgast[1]:41 for the whole Northern peninsula of the Baltic island of Usedom.[2]:17 The site had been suggested by Wernher von Braun's mother as 'just the place for you and your friends'.[3] By the middle of 1938, the Army facility had been separated from the Luftwaffe facility and was nearly complete, with personnel moved from Kummersdorf.[4] The Army Research Center (Peenemünde Ost)[5] consisted of Werk Ost and Werk Süd, while Werk West (Peenemünde West) was the Luftwaffe Test Site (Erprobungsstelle der Luftwaffe).[6]:55

HVP Organization[]

Wernher von Braun was the HVP technical director (Dr Walter Thiel was deputy director) and there were nine major departments:[5]:38

  1. Technical Design Office (Walter J H "Papa" Riedel)
  2. Aeroballistics and Mathematics Laboratory (Dr Hermann Steuding)
  3. Wind Tunnel (Dr Rudolph Hermann)
  4. Materials Laboratory (Dr Mäder)
  5. Flight, Guidance, and Telemetering Devices (German: BSM) (Dr Ernst Steinhoff)[7]
  6. Development and Fabrication Laboratory (Arthur Rudolph)
  7. Test Laboratory (Klaus Riedel)
  8. Future Projects Office (Ludwig Roth)[8]
  9. Purchasing Office (Mr Genthe)

The Measurements Group (Gerhard Reisig) was part of the BSM,[9] and additional departments included the Production Planning Directorate (Detmar Stahlknecht),[6]:161 the Personnel Office (Richard Sundermeyer), and the Drawings Change Service.[10]

Guided missile and rocket development at Peenemünde[]

A launchpad at Peenemünde as depicted in a miniature at the Deutsches Museum

Several German guided missiles and rockets of World War II were developed by the HVP, including the V-2 rocket (A-4) (see test launches), and the Wasserfall (35 Peenemünde trial firings),[11] Schmetterling, Rheintochter, Taifun, and Enzian missiles. The HVP also performed preliminary design work on very-long-range missiles for use against the United States. That project was sometimes called the "V - 3", and its existence is well documented. The Peenemünde establishment also developed other techniques, such as the first closed-circuit television system in the world, installed at Test Stand VII to track the launching rockets.

Aerodynamic Institute

The supersonic wind tunnel at Peenemünde's "Aerodynamic Institute" eventually had nozzles for speeds up to the record speed of Mach 4.4 (in 1942 or 1943), as well as an innovative desiccant system to reduce the condensation clouding caused by the use of liquid oxygen, in 1940. Led by Rudolph Hermann who arrived in April 1937 from the University of Aachen, the number of technical staff members reached two hundred in 1943, and it also included Hermann Kurzweg of the (University of Leipzig) and Walter Haeussermann.[12]

Heimat-Artillerie-Park 11

Initially set up under the HVP as a rocket training battery (Number 444),[13] Heimat-Artillerie-Park 11 Karlshagen/Pomerania[13]:125 (HAP 11) also contained the A-A Research Command North[13]:65 for the testing of anti-aircraft rockets. The chemist Magnus von Braun, the youngest brother of Wernher von Braun, was employed in the attempted development at Peenemünde of anti-aircraft rockets.[13]:66 These were never very successful as weapons during World War II. Their development as practical weapons took another decade of development in the United States and in the U.S.S.R.

Peenemünde V-2 Production Plant[]

In November 1938, Walther von Brauchitsch ordered construction of an A-4 Production Plant at Peenemünde, and in January 1939, Walter Dornberger created a subsection of Wa Pruf 11 for planning the Peenemünde Production Plant project, headed by G. Schubert, a senior Army civil servant.[14] By midsummer 1943, the first trial runs of the assembly-line in the Production Works at Werke Süd were made, [15] but after the end of July 1943 when the enormous hangar Fertigungshalle 1 (F-1, Mass Production Plant No. 1) was just about to go into operation, Operation Hydra bombed Peenemünde. On August 26, 1943, Albert Speer called a meeting with Hans Kammler, Dornberger, Gerhard Degenkolb, and Karl Otto Saur to negotiate the move of A-4 main production to an underground factory in the Harz mountains.[2]:123[6]:202 In early September, Peenemünde machinery and personnel for production (including Alban Sawatzki, Arthur Rudolph, and about ten engineers)[5]:79 were moved to the Mittelwerk, which also received machinery and personnel from the two other planned A-4 assembly sites.[16] On October 13, 1943, the Peenemünde prisoners from the small F-1 concentration camp[17] boarded rail cars bound for Kohnstein mountain.[16]

Operation Crossbow[]

Two Polish slave janitors[18]:52 of Peenemünde's Camp Trassenheide in early 1943[18]:52 provided maps,[19] sketches and reports to Polish Home Army Intelligence, and in June 1943 British intelligence had received two such reports which identified the "rocket assembly hall', 'experimental pit', and 'launching tower'.[2]:139

V-2 launch in Peenemünde (1943)

V2 in the Peenemünde Museum

As the opening attack of the British Operation Crossbow, the Operation Hydra air-raid attacked the HVP's "Sleeping & Living Quarters" (to specifically target scientists), then the "Factory Workshops", and finally the "Experimental Station"[20] on the night of August 17/18, 1943.[21] The Polish janitors were given advance warning of the attack, but the workers could not leave due to SS security and the facility had no air raid shelters for the prisoners.[18]:82

A year later on July 18,[22] August 4,[7]:111 and August 25,[2]:273 the US Eighth Air Force[5]:141 conducted three additional Peenemünde raids to counter suspected hydrogen peroxide production.[23]


As with the move of the V-2 Production Works to the Mittelwerk, the complete withdrawal of the development of guided missiles was approved by the Army and SS in October 1943.[24] On August 26, 1943, at a meeting in Albert Speer's office, Hans Kammler suggested moving the A-4 Development Works to a proposed underground site in Austria.[25] After a site survey in September by Papa Riedel and Schubert, Kammler chose the code name Zement (cement) for it in December,[24] and work to blast an underground cavern into a cliff at Lake Traunsee near Gmunden commenced in January 1944.[13]:109 In early 1944, construction work started for the test stands and launching pads in the Austrian Alps (code name Salamander), with target areas planned for the Tatra Mountains, the Arlberg range, and the area of the Ortler mountain.[26] Other evacuation locations included:

  • Hans Lindenmayr's valve laboratory near Friedland moved to a castle near the village of Leutenberg, 10 km (6 mi) south of Saalfeld near the Bavarian border.[5]:293
  • the materials testing laboratory moved to an air base at Anklam
  • the wind tunnels moved to Kochel (then after the war, to White Oak, Maryland)[27]
  • Engine testing and calibration to Lehesten[citation needed]

For people being relocated from Peenemünde, the new organization was to be designated Entwicklungsgemeinschaft Mittelbau (English: Mittelbau Development Company)[5]:291 and Kammler's order to relocate to Thuringia arrived by teleprinter on January 31, 1945.[5]:288 On February 3, 1945, at the last meeting at Peenemünde held regarding the relocation, the HVP consisted of A-4 development/ modification (1940 people), A-4b development (27), Wasserfall and Taifun development (1455), support and administration (760).[5]:289 The first train departed on February 17 with 525 people en route to Thuringia (including Bleicherode, Sangerhausen (district), and Bad Sachsa) and the evacuation was complete in mid-March.[1]:247


Another reaction to the aerial bombing was the creation of a back-up research test range near Blizna, in southeastern Poland. Carefully camouflaged, this secret facility was built by 2000 prisoners from the Pustkow concentration camp, who were killed after the completion of the project.[28] The Polish resistance movement (Armia Krajowa) succeeded in capturing an intact V2 rocket here in 1943. It had been launched for a test flight, failed but didn't explode, and was retrieved intact from the Bug River and transferred secretly to London.[29]


The last V-2 launch at Peenemünde happened in February 1945, and on May 5, 1945, the soldiers of the Soviet 2nd Belorussian Front under General Konstantin Rokossovsky captured the seaport of Swinemünde and all of Usedom Island. Soviet infantrymen under the command of Major Anatole Vavilov stormed the installations at Peenemünde and found then "75 percent wreckage". All of the research buildings and rocket test stands had been demolished.[30]

More destruction of the technical facilities of Peenemünde took place between 1948 and 1961. Only the power station, the airport, and the railroad link to Zinnowitz remained functional. The gas plant for the production of liquid oxygen still lies in ruins at the entrance to Peenemünde. Very little remains of most of the other Nazi German facilities there.

The Peenemünde Historical and Technical Information Centre opened in 1992 in the shelter control room and the area of the former power station and is an anchor point of ERIH, the European Route of Industrial Heritage.

In popular culture[]

  • Peenemünde is a setting in the novels Fatherland, Gravity's Rainbow, Moonraker, The Rhinemann Exchange, The Way the Crow Flies, Space, and Vengeance 10.
  • In the novels of the Colonization Series, Peenemünde survived World War II and later became a major space exploration launch center.
  • The Nazi occupation of Poland and the Allied bombing of Peenemünde are depicted in the British feature film Battle of the V-1 (1958) (called Missiles From Hell in the United States and some other countries), which starred the actor Michael Rennie.
  • In the second book of the Danger Boy series of time travel tales, written by Mark London Williams, Dragon Sword, Peenemünde becomes a key setting in this and in the further novels.
  • In the movie The Cockpit, Peenemünde becomes a test site for atomic bombs.
  • In the film The Hindenburg (1975), the German countess played by Anne Bancroft leaves Germany because her estate in Peenemünde has been confiscated by the Nazi Germans.
  • In the comic book, Ministry of Space, by Warren Ellis, Peenemünde gets captured by the British Army.
  • In the game Battlefield 1942: Secret Weapons of WWII, Peenemünde is a playable level.
  • In the game Secret Weapons Over Normandy, Peenemünde is a playable level in the main campaign.
  • In the novelization of the film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, written by Peter George, an explanation is given that the title character, "Dr. Strangelove", had been wounded, and these wounds had left him with only one hand, and wheelchair-bound, because of the bombings of Peenemünde while he worked there for Nazi Germany.
  • In the television series, UFO Hunters, Episode 305, "Nazi UFOs",[31] the hunters visit Peenemünde to track down evidence and interview experts about a rumored Nazi space exploration program that took place there.

See also[]


^‡ A different spelling is Heeresversuchsstelle Peenemünde,[5]:36 and Heeresanstalt Peenemünde appears on a German document with Wasserfall velocity calculations.[13]:78

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Dornberger, Walter (1952: US translation V-2 Viking Press:New York, 1954). V2--Der Schuss ins Weltall. Esslingan: Bechtle Verlag. pp. 41,85,247. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Irving, David (1964). The Mare's Nest. London: William Kimber and Co. pp. 17,139,273. 
  3. Bar-Zohar, M (1967) The Hunt for German Scientists. Hawthorn Books, New York P21
  4. WGBH Educational Foundation. NOVA: Hitler's Secret Weapon (The V-2 Rocket at Peenemünde) motion picture documentary, released in 1988 by VESTRON Video as VHS video 5273, ISBN 0-8051-0631-6 (minutes 20:00-22:00)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 Ordway, Frederick I., III.; Sharpe, Mitchell R.. The Rocket Team. Apogee Books Space Series 36. pp. 36,38,79,117,141,285,288,289,291,293. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Neufeld, Michael J. (1995). The Rocket and the Reich: Peenemünde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era. New York: The Free Press. p. 55,88,161,202,204–6,222,247. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Huzel, Dieter K. (1960). Peenemünde to Canaveral. Prentice Hall. p. 37. 
  8. "Dahm, Werner Karl". Peenemünde Interviews. National Air and Space Museum. Retrieved 2008-10-23. 
  9. McCleskey, C.; D. Christensen. "Dr. Kurt H. Debus: Launching a Vision" (pdf). Retrieved 2008-10-23. 
  10. Huzel. 149,225
  11. Pocock, Rowland F. (1967). German Guided Missiles of the Second World War. New York: Arco Publishing Company, Inc.. p. 107. 
  12. Neufeld. 88
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 Klee, Ernst; Merk, Otto (1963, English translation 1965). The Birth of the Missile:The Secrets of Peenemünde'. Hamburg: Gerhard Stalling Verlag. pp. 44,65,66,78,109,117,125. 
  14. Neufeld. 119,114
  15. Middlebrook, Martin (1982). The Peenemünde Raid: The Night of 17–18 August 1943. New York: Bobs-Merrill. p. 23. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 Neufeld. 206
  17. Neufeld. 222
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Garliński, Józef (1978). Hitler's Last Weapons: The Underground War against the V1 and V2. New York: Times Books. pp. 52, 82. 
  19. "Poland's Contribution in the Field of Intelligence to the Victory in the Second World War". Retrieved 2008-11-09. 
  20. "Peenemünde - 1943". Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Retrieved 2006-11-15. 
  21. Warsitz, Lutz: THE FIRST JET PILOT - The Story of German Test Pilot Erich Warsitz (p. 63), Pen and Sword Books Ltd., England, 2009
  22. Neufeld. 247
  23. Irving. 273,309
  24. 24.0 24.1 Neufeld. 205
  25. Neufeld. 204
  26. Irving. 123,238,300; Klee & Merk. 109
  27. Hunt, Linda (1991). Secret Agenda: The United States Government, Nazi Scientists, and Project Paperclip, 1945 to 1990. New York: St.Martin's Press. p. 31. ISBN 0-312-05510-2. 
  28. Rockets and People, Boris Chertok
  29. Pustkow Concentration Camp (Poland) . retrieve 5.15.2013
  30. Ley, Willy (1951 - revised edition 1958) [1944]. Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel. New York: The Viking Press. p. 243. 
  31. Nazi UFOs. [Internet]. 2012. The History Channel website. Available from: [Accessed 1 Mar 2012].

External links[]

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