Has lurid fiction like the movie Iron Sky any basis in fact?  Everyone knows that WW2 Germany developed rockets far in advance of the Allies, but some argue that in 1945 the Third Reich was on the verge of developing a space program!

Image of Silverbird in flight

Tomorrow the world! A Sanger Silverbird conquers space. (Image credit: illustration by Josha Hildwine via www.luft46.com)


Ever since Adolf Hitler’s ‘Thousand Year’ Third Reich was utterly defeated, this awful regime has held a horrid fascination in the popular imagination. One aspect that interests many is Nazi Germany’s frightening array of military hardware. Despite an astonishingly corrupt and incompetent procurement bureaucracy, the Nazis fielded some very technologically advanced weapons (and less often-mentioned, many disastrous flops too). Among the successes were the Tiger heavy tanks, assault rifles, IR nightsights, the excellent Focke Wulf fighter ‘planes, the Me262 jet fighter and the V-2 ballistic missile (of course the Allies had their own brilliant technological triumphs: such as ULTRA, centimetric radar, the B-29 and above all the atomic bomb, the things that actually did win the war) .

image of v-2

An A4 (alias V2) is prepared for launch. (Image credit: Missile Defense Agency)


In the past few years stories of other, more amazing schemes from the Third Reich have appeared, stories of intercontinental missiles and orbiting spaceplanes (all adorned with swastikas). These started on the internet (for example, a few years ago Wikipedia’s article on the Aggregate rocket family used to state that several Luftwaffe pilots made space flights in 1945 until saner editors prevailed) and since have spread to books and TV documentaries. Are there the slightest grains of truth in these tales of Nazis in space?

Of course, Germany was the first nation to field a ballistic missile in the sleek shape of Wernher von Braun’s V-2. The name V-2, for Vergeltungswaffe 2 (Vengeance Weapon 2), was an invention of Nazi propagandists, more correctly, this missile was designated A4, one of the A-series rockets developed by von Braun (1912-77) and his colleagues since the 1930s. The German army had begun sponsoring von Braun’s research even before Hitler came to power, seeing missile weapons as an alternative to the long-range artillery forbidden to post-WW1 Germany.

Built by a workforce of slaves labouring in hideous underground factories managed by sadistic murdering thugs (as many as 20 000 people died building A4s, and about 7250 more people were killed by the missiles, never forget this), the A4 was a staggeringly futuristic rocket. Rising from its launch pad under 25 tonnes of thrust from its alcohol and liquid oxygen-fuelled engine, it could carry a 975 kg (2150 lb) warhead at supersonic speed up to 314 km (195 miles) from its launching site. First successfully launched in 1942, it was fired against Allied cities, including London, Antwerp and Paris from 1944. Sometime in 1944, an A4 reached an altitude of 189 km (117 miles) making it the first man-made object to reach space. This would have been a propaganda triumph for the Third Reich, but the Kármán line, the boundary 100 km (62 miles) above our heads where space officially begins was not yet defined at that time.

Image of Wernher von Braun

Dedicated followers of Fascism: von Braun (centre) always claimed to have been an innocent designer of spaceships which those horrid Nazis turned into weapons. (Image credit: Bundesarchiv)


Yet impressive though it was, the A4 was not (except in Hitler’s dreams) a war-winning weapon, its range and destructiveness were adequate for a European war, but not for a global conflagration. Aware of this, von Braun and his team had investigated longer ranged A4 derivatives. One result was the A9, an improved, winged A4 (in 1944 a couple of A4s were lashed up with wings, a configuration called A4b, to test the A9’s aerodynamics), which was intended to glide up to 800km (497 miles) from its launch site, but von Braun was thinking on a yet more grandiose scale.

image of A9-10 in flight

In some nightmarish but unlikely alternate timeline the A9/10 was the first space launcher (Image credit: Josha Hildwine via www.luft46.com)


The A10 design was started in 1936, and resembled a giant A4 with a unique 100 tonne thrust engine formed from six of the A4’s engines feeding a single exhaust. Originally the aim was to carry a 4 tonne warhead 500km (310 miles). By 1941 the A10 had evolved into the lower stage of an intercontinental missile. Mounted on top of the A10 would be an A9, launched from western France this combination was hoped to be capable of launching 1 tonne warheads at New York city. Just like the Space Shuttle’s SRBs, the A10 was meant to be reuseable, being designed to descend under a parachute into the Atlantic Ocean for recovery (in wartime, with the Royal Navy and USN on alert, the Germans would have needed some good luck to pull that off). The combined A9/10 would have been comparable in size to the 1950s US Atlas missile, later used to launch Mercury project astronauts into orbit.

This concept sounds impressive but it was a fantasy. The whole staging configuration of the A9/10 is primitive and would not have worked as designed. (I have no doubt at all that German engineers were capable of producing a workable ICBM, but I cannot see them achieving this before 1955 in peacetime conditions. Under wartime conditions with the pressure of round the clock allied air raids and the advancing Red Army approaching they could not have done this.)

No A10 component was ever built and the project was officially abandoned in 1943 (anything you may read to the contrary is a modern invention). The A9/10 was never referred to as the V3, V10 or any other V-designation.

The Germans planned a piloted craft based on this research. Among the engineering drawings of the A9 discovered after the war were a set of sketches (not blueprints, anyone can draw a sketch but aircraft are built from blueprints) showing a piloted craft derived from the rocket but with a pressurised cockpit and a tricycle undercarriage. Capable of a maximum speed of Mach 3.4 at an altitude of 20km, its performance would have been astonishing for the 1940s.

The purpose of this hypothetical vehicle is unclear; many sources claim that this was meant as a suicide bomber, imagining a fanatical Nazi pilot steering his craft into the Empire State Building or the White House. Ignoring the infeasibility of this scenario, the craft had no space for a warhead and was meant to land on a runway for reuse, presumably it was intended for high speed research or just possibly reconnaissance missions. Combined with an A10 booster, this manned craft could cross the Atlantic in 40 minutes, or fly above the Kármán line making a Nazi pilot the first human in space (assuming it all worked as planned, an  extremely unlikely prospect). This never happened and the piloted A9 vehicle was never built and was never anywhere close to being built. No Nazi astronauts flew into space on it and no CGI images, however pretty, will ever make this true. Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space, and the first German in space was Sigmund Jähn who visited Salyut 6 in 1978.


Image of A9 rocketplane

Artist’s concept of the A9. I doubt it would have been painted in a Luftwaffe day fighter camouflage scheme in reality, a natural metal finish seems much more likely. (Image credit: Josha Hildwine via www.luft46.com)


Further decrying the modern myths, the combined A9/10 vehicles were not meant to launch payloads into orbit. However during his internment by the American military von Braun did claim that during the war he had designed a reusable orbital space vehicle to assemble and service a wheel-shaped space station. This seems to have been a lie aimed to promote his abilities to his US Army captors, perhaps to help sell his services to them. He called the conceptual spacecraft and its launch vehicle the A11/12 and they appear to have actually been designed while he was in detention in 1946. Again this project was never built and was far beyond 1940s technology, designed without later knowledge of high-speed aerodynamics and atmospheric heating, the craft as planned would have disintegrated in flight had it been launched.

The other great Nazi “space project” was Eugene Sänger’s Silbervogel (Silverbird) or “Antipodal Bomber”, a fully-fledged spaceplane. Sänger (1905-64), Nazi “Germany’s other rocket genius“,  was a gifted engineer who had been investigating supersonic flight and rocket engines since the early 1930s, he continued this sort of forward-thinking throughout his career; by the 1950s he was designing starships. In the 1930s he sketched plans for a rocket-powered supersonic passenger aircraft (note that contemporary airliners were mainly biplanes which cruised at 160 km/h or so). Offered a post by the Luftwaffe (the Nazi armed forces jealously guarded their pet projects from each other; von Braun was employed by the army and later the SS, he and Sanger were kept largely ignorant of each other’s work- the pair only met twice), Sänger remodeled this civilian vehicle into an extraordinary bomber.


Image of SangerSilverbird

The Silverbird (seen in model form) was an astonishingly audacious scheme for the 1930s (Image credit: Allen B. Ury/www.fantasticplastic.com)


A flattened metal cigar 28m long with stubby wings and a pressurized cockpit in its pointed nose , a Silverbird would have begun its mission pushed along a 3 km (2 mile) long monorail track somewhere in Germany by a large rocket-powered sled. Once airborne, the craft’s pilot would ignite its large rocket motor accelerating it to ten times the speed of sound. Gliding over the Atlantic, the Silverbird would drop up to eight tonnes of bombs (once again claims that it was meant to carry a nuclear device have been made up recently) on targets in the eastern US, before traversing the whole American continent. As it flew it would make a series of hops, soaring high out of the atmosphere, then diving back in a rollercoaster-like flightpath. Each time it skipped into space it would lose velocity and radiate some of the heat generated by its hypersonic flight, avoiding the need for a heatshield. Finally it would land on a runway somewhere in the Pacific (presumably on some Japanese-occupied island) where a second track would launch it back to the Fatherland.

It is an amazing scheme but completely unworkable with WW2-era technology and the Luftwaffe agreed, closing the project down in 1942 and putting Sänger to work on more conventional projects. Even today we would have difficultly building such a vehicle, only the Space Shuttle and X-37B have higher performance. In fact the Silverbird’s predicted performance was based on a completely unrealistic empty weight of 10 tonnes plus 90 tonnes  of propellent. By contemporary standards this empty weight seems a ludicrous underestimate, using WW2 era technology building so lightweight a vehicle would have been impossible. The planned craft contained many elegant technical solutions, the self-cooling engine for example, but despite all the modern computer-generated movies and images of the Silverbird in flight, it would never have worked as designed.  The Silverbird could have never attained its fantastic  speed and range.

Even if it had succeeded in reaching the proposed speed and altitude, the proposed ‘hopping’ flight path to shed heat was hopelessly inefficient; at high speed a Silverbird would catastrophically turn itself into a shower of aluminium meteors. Although Sänger tested wind tunnel models of this project, it never came anywhere near construction. Some websites feature an indistinct photograph claimed to be of a partly assembled Silverbird but this is incorrect. The Silverbird (itself a nickname) also never received a V-designation.

I should also mention, but only briefly as they are nonsense, the wilder still ideas that the Teutonic supermen were planning an orbiting battle station (das Todesstern?) to focus intense beams of sunlight onto terrestrial targets or even  invented anti-gravity devices and installed them in a fleet of flying saucers. Apart from the sheer foolishness of this latter theory, some of its promoters are deeply sinister apologists for Hitler’s regime who deserve only to be ignored. Parodying this nonsense seems to the aim of the Iron Sky movie.

In reality, Nazi Germany never had a space program in the sense of a plan to explore and exploit Earth orbit and beyond. I would argue that it is a pity that it didn’t. The world today might even be a better place if Hitler had taken a personal interest in these proposals. An ignoramus on technical matters, the Führer often overruled his less fantasy-prone advisors, deciding to throw resources at projects that appealed to him, no matter how ludicrous such as the impressive-looking, hugely expensive yet militarily pointless 188 tonne Maus tank and Dora superguns. As a result millions of Reichmarks were squandered and Allied victory crept a little nearer. According to historian Steven J Zaloga, the A4 missile project “achieved nothing of significant military value” but cost Germany the equivalent of $2 billion (1945 values, and roughly the same as the Allies spent on the Manhattan Project). That was $2 billion not spent on the tens of thousands of tanks or fighter planes which could have slowed the Allies’ advances, building transatlantic rockets, spaceplanes or other space vehicles would have strained the Nazi economy even more.

Just think, if Germany in 1940 had started to seriously develop von Braun and Sanger’s creations, how much more money would have been wasted, speeding the Third Reich’s inevitable fall? The war might have ended in Allied victory years earlier! Had Hitler sponsored a space program, any surviving Silverbird or A9 prototypes would today be just be popular exhibits to intrigue the crowds at the Smithsonian and Imperial War Museums and just possibly millions of innocent lives could have been spared by their development.

Further reading

Lowther, Scott, “Raumwaffe 1946”, Aerospace Projects Review, September-October 2003, p3-57

Parsons, Zack, My tank is fight: deranged inventions of WWII, Citadel Press, New York, 2006 (NB: this is an interesting read but the author has included some historically dubious material.)

Rose, Bill, Secret Projects: Military Space Technology, Midland Counties Publications, Hersham, 2008 (Again the author has accepted as fact some material I believe to be post-war inventions.)

Zaloga, Steven, J,  V-2 ballistic missile 1942-52, Osprey, Oxford, 2003

Sänger-Bredt Silbervogel: The Nazi Space Plane

A Brief Criticism of “A Rocket Drive For Long Range Bombers”

World War 2 Space Nazis in fiction

Despite the popularity of Nazi victory tales in alternate history fiction, semi-realistic depictions of German rocketry are rare. A Silverbird attack on the US is thwarted in Allen Steele’s short alternate history tale Goddard’s People (1991), Steele’s novel V-S Day (2014) seems to be an expanded version of this story but I have not go to read it yet. The 1965 movie Operation Crossbow (starring George Peppard and Sophia Loren) is an entertaining but historically dubious yarn about the Allied response to the development of the V-weapons; at the film’s climax a giant intercontinental rocket is being prepared for launch from an underground silo but it is destroyed by RAF bombers.  Vengeance 10 (1982) by Joe Poyer goes a step beyond this, being both an epic “Boys Own” adventure of a British agent investigating Nazi rocketry research and a parallel story of German preparations for a lunar mission in WW2 (I’m not sure it this is meant as an Alternate History’ or a ‘Secret History’), it is an interesting read but whitewashes von Braun’s character to a remarkable extent.

My own interest in this kind of thing dates back to March 1975 when I spent my pocket money on an issue of Commando (a long-running series of  UK war story comics) which featured the amazing sight of a swastika-bedecked orbiting satellite on the cover (this was issue No 920, republished in the 1980s as No 2212) The story Project Doomsday was as far as I remember was a remarkably restrained yarn about a British scientist teamed with a tough commando to sabotage a mystery Nazi project. This turned out not to be an actual weapon but rather a plan to launch a satellite to transmit navigational data to Luftwaffe bombers – kudos to the writer for a forward-looking idea.

(Article by Colin Johnston, Science Education Director)



Kevin · May 23, 2020 at 09:34

This website is just one piece of the puzzle towards my research. Apollo 15 had recovered a dead body from Space, also known as the Mona Lisa from the Apollo 20 hoax. According to AHC channel Hitler shot rockets to the moon, and this information was classified for the rest of the century. Now what was recovered from space must have been human, but what if it were a forensic scene plotted by Hitler? This would explain why the Mona Lisa appears to have a third eye and some type of wax covering her body, she was mummified. The third eye could have easily been a bullet.

Evan · January 14, 2019 at 02:13

I’ve read “V-S Day” and it’s a well-done expansion with a few changes. The tech is realistic and plausible. A rather more implausible use of Sanger’s designs is the novel “Hell’s Gate” with Germany and Japan working together to build a Sanger launch site on a plateau deep in the Amazon jungle; but it would make for a heck of a good retro-technothriller movie if you could find suitable action stars in today’s Hollywood and the plot would be acceptable to today’s “woke” Hollywood..

Michael Rasinski · December 16, 2018 at 23:53

While a was intrigued by the subject of the article I found the repeated insults toward the Nazis to be unnecessary and made me question the qualification of the author more than once. This article is written as if it were 1946 and the propaganda of the time was still fresh in the minds of everyone. Any good writer, historian, or scientist is entitled to their own opinion, but shouldn’t allow that opinion into their work if their writing is to be considered factual. This, I do not factual. It feels more propaganda driven than anything, but perhaps that is the plan of the author, to ride the wave of stating the opinions of its reader to further increase its popularity. I for one, disapprove of such writing.

    admin · December 17, 2018 at 10:28

    Hi Michael, thank you for your comment. Please note that the author of this particular article no longer works at our facility. I do agree that it is important for historians and scientists to tackle topics from a non-biased point of view. I will review this article and make sure it talks about fact only, and not embellish any opinion one way or the other.

    t · February 12, 2019 at 14:13

    you can never insult nazi scum too much

    John Hayes · December 29, 2020 at 23:57

    This article is factual, and certainly puts todays NAZI glorifiers in their place. I, myself, do not worry about “insulting” Nazis, they’ve earned our perpetual castigation. Alternate histories aside, those who spread ‘amazing tales’ regarding NAZI technological prowess and how lucky the Allies were to end the war in Europe in May 1945 before the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine got their “wonder weapons” deployed miss the point. Part of NAZI war doctrine was always having a technical weapons advantage over their opponents. Development was continuous, as was the Allies. Squandering what little they had left in 1944 to launch the various weapons programs we read about, and indulging Hitler’s and Himmler’s whims regarding what was ultimately prototyped hastened the end, thank God! One of my uncles captained a B-24 in over 133 combat missions over the Reich. In late 1944, during a raid over Germany, he saw a Messerschmidt Komet tear through a formation and knock six crews out of the sky in its’ one pass. He then saw a wing of ME-262s sweep in to attempt to finish off more. P-51 Mustangs with wing mounted rocket pods swooped down to the rescue. Had these wretches]d brutes actually managed material and human resources intelligently, there would have been replacements for what they lost that day, and maybe the worst yet to come aloft.

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Harald watten · December 25, 2017 at 09:04

How can you have this garbage up for people to read??? 20 years later they walked on the moon, the Germans made that happen, it’s Just fact. This is just rewriten history to fit some agenda…shame on you..

    admin · January 3, 2018 at 12:27

    Hi Harald,

    This article is looking at the technology that was developed by the Nazi’s during the war, and the types of things they were looking to design. It tried to answer some of the myths, it explains what capacity the things developed could do, and it looks at what could have been developed had there not been a war and it had been peaceful times rather than a horrid regime trying to dominate.

    By no means is this article trying to rewrite history to fit an agenda.

Anonymous Storyteller · December 2, 2017 at 07:53

Listen, I stopped reading once I skimmed the part where you deny the realism of the nazi space programs and call Von Braun a liar.

Okay…So another History buff following in the footsteps of black hearted algae…

Listen…One, Historians, not all, but most today are all scum. Second, most spend their days like you doubting and denying history that is well recorded from the original sources, like you. Third, many of them start with biases to disbelieve the records because they have some distaste, like a misguided belief about modern propaganda and nazi tech fans, or because Hollywood showed a realistic medieval sword fight so the original sources that agree with them must be wrong, or the few painted greek statues mean that we can finally end the racist belief in white beauty even thought the Greeks were apparently very white at the time.

You are accusing people of lies, and I cannot trust you because you werent there, are not them, do not know their hearts and minds, and have no proof other than you dont like the idea of nazi help with our space program. Unfortunately it is well known that Von Braun was captured because, like others said, he was useful and desired by the Americans. To at that point say he was nothing is a lie. And we used him and he became useful. Denying him as a scientist is factually incorrect, to say he did no work is also false, and the only proof you have is that we have a famous American who you simply evaluate better and didnt build our space program.

Yes….Former Nazis built the space program…Yes…They dreamed and tested advanced things, and probably stealth planes. Jets and space travel were ideas back then, so why do you think they couldnt exist? Physics are the same as back then. And gjys have imagined the scuba diver in the 1400s, so why do you imagine history a linear evolution which says because stealth was in the seventies therefore it could not have been done in the forties? Was there really something so special or game changing about the 70s? Or are you merely insinuating, you and others, that charcoal glue isnt simple enough to work?

First bomber drone was wwi.

Experimental history says no charcoal in glue?

Experiments say no steel helmet could be cut apart too, but all records in medieval history say it was common. Nobody could get tArchimedes mirror to work until recently. They thought greek statues painted, even though White-Armed Hera was a common expression, Homer speaks of Blonde Greeks, and so divine white also found reprasenting gods and statues of gods on pottery while everyone else is in black cheap paint, show more likely marble was left white for statues. The modern white statues have spectroscopy that shows dyes…but that is it. And likely this data is not true simply because the records tell us they did in fact have white statues, and if they had one, were white normally, and considered it beautiful and divine, then why waste the white marble. Most of the statues were never painted.

Modern historians deny the evidence. Ceaser says a mound of bodies so high…he is a liar! Exagerrating!

Multiple accounts say piles like that happened.

The list goes on…Stop lying like your current predecessors who need taught a lesson today. Ther is no evidence for denying the contributions of the Germans, just your disfavor of the idea and the fact it is modern conception and well known. Most scum historians are trying to prove common knowledge is wrong always…and the historian are almost always wrong and contradict history for doing so.

    admin · December 4, 2017 at 18:38

    Hi Anonymous Storyteller. Let me state this immediately. The person who wrote this article is no longer the admin of this site, but had a long history of working in the aerospace industry before they came to work for us. Therefore they are not the person replying to your comment.

    First of all, I do not understand why you call historians (not all but most) scum? It is in a historians nature, not to deny and doubt history, but to investigate and try and come up with some form of understanding around it. Everyone is guilty of bias at some point in their lives, whether they are historians or not, but again it is in a historians nature to try and over come their bias in order to perform their research.

    You really should read the article in depth and not just skim over it and jump to conclusions (for the life of me I’ve read the article several times and I cannot find the words Von Braun and liar together). This article is looking at the technology that was developed by the Nazi’s during the war, and the types of things they were looking to design. It tried to answer some of the myths, it explains what capacity the things developed could do, and it looks at what could have been developed had there not been a war and it had been peaceful times rather than a horrid regime trying to dominate.

    If you are interested in drones during WWI then please look up the Kettering Bug 🙂

Codex Regius · January 24, 2017 at 08:46

Just a note: it is “der Todesstern” in my native language, not “das …”.

Maybelle Mcclelland · January 21, 2017 at 07:48

Very interesting info!Perfect just what I was searching for!

Savannah · February 18, 2016 at 15:35

For a History project, I am creating a documentary about Von Braun and I need an interview. Is there anyone who I could interview, Skype, or even email? Thank you for this website, it is very helpful.

Austin · February 7, 2016 at 01:53

If the Germans would of made it and slightly augmented the shielding it would of worked but the set back would of been a slightly smaller payload.

    admin · February 10, 2016 at 09:58

    Dear Austin, thanks for your question but no, neither the Sanger project or the A-9 could have been made into practical spaceplanes by adding heat shielding. They would have needed complete redesign and this would have required knowledge that did not exist in the 1940s.

Lori Mar · December 11, 2015 at 17:39

Anyone have any comments on the Nazi UFO’s that were seen by the Allies in flight..They were the Foo Fighters?
They were not officially classified.?

    admin · December 14, 2015 at 10:14

    Dear Lori, I cannot say what every such sighting was of, but I can say that they were not some weird Nazi secret weapon, there’s zero evidence for that idea.

Moisés · July 23, 2015 at 18:54

23 juli 2015 Kepler data reveals Another eart-like planet nasa says

Richard Edwards · October 5, 2013 at 19:19

I actually have an original armband that I was told was used to identify those involved in the secret space program. It is black with stitched lettering in tan that says Nordwest and then on both sides of the word are 2 crossed swords. Any idea what exactly it is and who might be interested in this memorabilia?

    admin · October 6, 2013 at 19:48

    You do understand that there was no secret Nazi space programme, don’t you?

      rudolf · April 10, 2014 at 15:27

      It was not an agency but there were applications that would have brought about space exploration if the war had gone the other way. I don’t think you have to convince everybody of the ugly side of the National Socialists; however, I think you may be losing credibility by not recognizing the fact that the adminstrative abilities of the regime were impressive given the scientific and military accomplishments demonstrated by the organisation behind these efforts.
      These people continued to work not only for the allies after the war but where instramental in making the two Germanys the most valued Cold War assets for their respective liberators. Good article – thanks.

        Lori Mar · December 12, 2015 at 17:38

        It existed but not a secret.
        If it was secret no one would even be debating it…lol

Axel Sander · August 13, 2012 at 21:45

A nice straightforward article with an excellent finale. A point well made.

I am one of those drawn into fascination with these matters but I am also concerned as to why it is that such popular ruminations of the “what if” variety fixate uniquely upon the Third Reich. Is it that “The Devil has the best tunes” or the fact that the Third Reich ended absolutely, thereby making greater leeway for fantasy. Like a Rock star dying young, its destruction at the hands of the Allies saved it from the failures that it was undoubtedly destined to exhibit otherwise. I for one take the supposed superiority of German engineering with a few buckets of salt. They certainly cant keep the trains running reliably in Berlin.

In any case, I think these ruminations are about to be boosted by Ridley Scott’s movie version of Philip Dick’s “The Man in The High Castle” (if it is produced). Set in a world where Germany won WW2, the novel starts with the protagonist crossing the USA in a German rocket plane. I cannot help visualising the title sequence showing a Sanger styled sub-orbital airliner skimming through the edge of space (set to the opening of Pink Floyds “Wish You Were Here”) and baring a flash of Swastika on a tail-fin before it descends into the atmosphere (cue interior cabin scene ironically harking back to “2001 A Space Odyssey”, going down instead of going up, German metallic Gothik-Dekor instead of the white nylon techno-interior of Kubrick’s Space Clipper).

All this aside there is another way of regarding the German rocket program entirely. Effectively, it was Von Braun’s puppy: all he was interested in was spaceflight and going to the moon. NAZIsm, WW2, slave labour and everything else were in his mind merely the opportunities he needed to edge his dreams nearer to reality. Though the Wehrmacht thought they were getting a weapon ( a “self propelled bomb”) they were in fact footing the bill for Von Braun’s one man space programme. Moreover, the A4 was utterly critical in making the prospect of large rockets and spaceflight credible. It seems natural now but totally incredible then. R.V.Jones in “Most Secret War” recounts how British scientists refused to believe that what they were shown in aerial photos was a rocket. Too big to be a rocket they said. It must be a 46ft long torpedo. This was the mindset of the time, when one exalted physicist “proved” by arithmetical argument that space-flight was physically impossible.

My view is that without Von Braun (single minded, self serving and obsessively uncaring about the fate of those he trod down on his climb to realising a dream) and without his weapon (phallic pun intended) the USSR and USA would have continued to develop bombers instead of missiles and there would never have been a space programme. Even today.

Viewed from that perspective, it could be said that the Third Reich did indeed conquer space!

    rudulf wagner · November 10, 2015 at 22:47

    In my opinion, the geman culture has a natural tendency towards theory and theoretical achievements, while the american culture tends to be more practically ingenius. The first one can lead to rediculus technical faliurs such as the one you described (which i’m not sure is true) while the second can lead sometimes to a lack of vision. There is no reason to diminish the glory of the V1/V2 developement and to describe it as a continuation of goddard developement, since he only outlined the basic principles of rocketry and there huge loops in theory and machinery needed to be made to get a v2. On the other way, i see as a complete exegerration the assumption the germany was on the verge of a space program. As for stealth vehicles, a more interesting subject than the horten plane is the U480 stealth submarine, which incorporated both unechoic tiles and radar absorbant materials, both of wich worked unprecedently

Phil · May 20, 2012 at 22:27

Great article and spot-on! I have done a lot of research on the German ‘Space Program’ and although my family originated in Germany and I am biased when it comes to ‘thinking’ the Germans are super smart LOL! Von Braun was an avid admirer of the American rocket pioneer Robert Goddard and wanted (before WW2) to work with him but Goddard was a loner and was always afraid of someone stealing his ideas but he did (Von Braun) learn enough to start work on the German rocket program long before the Nazis took power. It’s a shame Goddard (in my opinion) didn’t throw in with Von Braun as I believe Von Braun wanted to stay in the USA and work on rockets away from the politics that was sweeping Europe.
After the war when we ‘acquired’ Von Braun and his team, other than projects like ‘operation bumper’ etc. our rocket program was terrible! We couldn’t seem to get a rocket off the pad let alone get into space with any of our new projects!
It was good old American ingenuity along with what the Germans had learned that eventually got us ahead of the ‘Space Race’ also, to Von Braun’s credit he did develop the Saturn V , but all the rest of the hardware (lunar lander, etc.) was a team effort from the collective minds of scientists here in the USA.
Best regards,
Sr Engineer

Futuro · March 8, 2012 at 07:56

An interesting article despite the politically correct invective.According to the best boigrahies of Adolf Hitler and diaries published by his own staff.Army Adjuctnet Gerhard Engel,and his Luftwaffe counterpart Von Below, Adolf Hitler was greatly interested in technology,and belived in innovation and trying new things.Nor did he personally endorse the MAUS Super Tank,or huge rail guns.The Maus was an experiment conducted by Dr.Porsche,and the rail guns a request of the very traditional artillery department.Germany and her Allies were fighting with limited resources, the most powerful Empires on earth in a bid to make Germany a world superpower.It is not being a so-called’evil’YAWN,Nazi apologist in saying so.The best books on the German atomic programme is THE VIRUS HOUSE by David Irving.The Mare’s Nest by Irving as well.(He actually interviewed the scientists, and found the records-no hearsay or politicaly correct self rightious propaganda)If the victories allies,which included Stalin’s Soviet Union,(Von Ardenne went East) were so ahead.Why were they so eager to employ German Scientists,and capture prototypes,Operation Paperclip, after the Third Reich’s defeat?

    admin · March 8, 2012 at 21:21

    Hi, thanks for your comments. Thanks for the compliment, I do love pointing out much the Nazis sucked!

    I totally agree that Hitler was very interested in technology (far more so than any other WW2 leader) but he was also a doofus who surrounded himself with idiots. He and his entourage meddled in research and procurement planning to a ridiculous extent leading inevitably to a cyanide capsule for tea in 1945. Result!

    I don’t believe building the Maus was Porsche’s personal project; every reference I have read says Porsche lobbied Hitler to be allowed to develop the Maus as the Germany army was very lukewarm about the idea. Hitler loved it and as a result the Russian army got a really cool exhibit for their tank museum.

    The superguns were indeed developed to a German army requirement (to bombard Paris in a repeat of WW1 I believe) but Hitler did push their actual construction. Was it worth for the German war effort? No.

    I have read both the Irving books (they’re both about 50 years old, I’d be interested to see what more recent works with less emotional investment in their subjects would say) but I don’t really see your point. And yes, I do agree that Irving is a nasty old bore (I assume that is what you are trying to say).

    I find it completely understandable that the victorious allies wanted to exploit the talentsof German technicians, I’m not saying that the Nazi engineers were incompetent, not at all, it was their leaders who were drooling imbeciles!

    Dairokkan · August 30, 2014 at 23:47

    Have you ever heard about aircraft gotha 229? That’s why, that plane was undetectable by radars of that time. And well, it was jet plane as well, both were advantages but only few were made.

      admin · September 2, 2014 at 10:12

      Yes, I’m well aware of the Horten Ho229, it was a lovely-looking aircraft. But it is another of those Nazi projects which is grossly overpraised by its modern fans. You read its impressive speed and range performance specifications in books but these are pure estimates. The sole jet-powered prototype (which I believe lacked armour, guns and other operational equipment) made three flights in total (it crashed) and never achieved the hoped for speed and range. I utterly disbelieve it was undetectable by radar, designing a stealth airframe was tricky even in the 1970s, I do not believe modern authors who claim the Ho229 was a deliberate stealth design.

      It is not impossible that the Ho229 could have been eventually developed into a useful combat aircraft, but not in Nazi Germany under wartime conditions.

        Hunter M. · November 27, 2014 at 04:14

        It was actually meant to be a stealth bomber. The design would only leave the engine intakes and cockpit detectable and with the radar the British had it would have been dismissed as a large bird due to the fact that that the radar used waves to find location and size not speed. In the original design it was supposed to be armed with 2 30 mm cannons and 4 5.62 mm machine guns. it was expected to carry 1 1000kg bomb in its cargo bay as well so it had a good load out. I agree that it wouldn’t be used in combat due to the high price to build and arm it but it was successful in the stealth part.(it was made solely to go to Britain undetected drop the bomb destroying power,radio and radar lines then return before the British could react.

          admin · November 27, 2014 at 09:39

          Hi, thanks for your comment. I’m sorry but I’m going to have to question your statement.

          It was actually meant to be a stealth bomber.

          Are you sure about both parts of this? Is there any contemporary documentation confirming the Ho 229 was designed for a low radar signature? I’ve been aware of this aircraft since the 1970s and books back then never claimed this at all. I doubt it was meant as a “stealth” aircraft not only because modelling an aircraft’s radar signature requires theory and computers that no one had in the 1940s, but also because it is clearly following the same design philosophy as the Horten’s earlier gliders yet none of them were meant to be operational military aircraft. The Horten H.III is very similar yet was designed as a civil sporting aircraft and flew in 1937 (before the Germans were aware of British radar developments). Also I never seen any reference to the Ho229 being intended as a bomber (there was no bomb bay or provision for a bombsight).

          I regret that several modern authors on Nazi rocket and aviation technology appear for what reason to make stuff up to make the German technologists appear to be intellectual supermen rather than competent engineers led by murderous buffoons. Unfortunately this modern propaganda has been widely accepted.

            Daithi · December 6, 2015 at 15:44

            The Ho9/Go229 was designed as a fighter bomber and would probably have carried the bomb load externally. However, there does seem to be a ‘bay’ aft of the nosewheel in the V3 prototype in the Smithsonian. As the surviving example is a V3 (Versuchs – research/prototype) it wouldn’t have had any armament or bombsights fitted

            Regarding the ‘stealth’ technology, it didn’t have full stealth, Reimar Horten did state after the war that he mixed charcoal dust in with the wood glue to absorb electromagnetic waves (radar), which he believed could shield the aircraft from detection by British early-warning ground-based radar that operated at 20 to 30 MHz (top end of the HF band), known as Chain Home.

            While not ‘stealth’ as we know it, tests by Grumman Northrop in 2008 on a full size mockup did show that it reduced the radar signature to 40% that of a Bf109 fighter and, at the projected speed, it would only have given about 2 1/2 minutes warning for a scramble

              admin · December 8, 2015 at 11:48

              Dear Daithi, thank you for your comments but I will repeat that a lot of material on the web, TV or even books about amazing technology made in Nazi Germany has been either extremely exaggerated or even wholly invented over the last 30 years. Horten only declared the Ho229 to be intended to be a stealth aircraft in the 1980s when stealth was a new and exciting idea. I do not believe him.

              The staff at the Smithsonian facility where the remains of the the Ho229 are kept have found no conclusive evidence of charcoal dust in the glue. See Is It Stealthly? (link)

Paul Evans · July 5, 2011 at 16:44

A very interesting article Colin. Of course the US Space Programme was born out of the work of the Nazis and the Americans actually built a 2-stage version of the “V-2” called “Bumper” launched in 1950, though the second stage was a smaller rocket on top of the original design, not a bigger one underneath it which might have made more sense.


    admin · July 5, 2011 at 17:55

    Hi Paul, I’m sort of half in agreement with you. Von Braun is a really important figure in the early history of the US space program, but I’d argue that he was more important as a organiser and propagandist than an engineer. He wasn’t essential to actually building spacecraft and rockets as both his admirers and detractors would have us believe. If the US had never taken him and his colleagues into custody (say if the RAF had been luckier when they bombed Peenemunde), I’m pretty sure that the USA would have began launching satellites and spacemen on a similar schedule as they did historically.

    I think Bumper was the best that could be done at the time, the USSR did some pretty similar stuff with their R-1 and 2, both A4 knock-offs.

    Thanks for the kind words!

      rudolf · April 10, 2014 at 15:12

      What a unique view – perhaps we would have been on the USSR schedule.

      RICHARD · September 13, 2015 at 12:09

      USA owe their spaceships to GERMANY, their language to UK, and their land to INDIANS.
      They shall be forever grateful.

        admin · September 14, 2015 at 09:08

        Dear Richard,

        USA owe their spaceships to GERMANY

        Robert Goddard would disagree with you! Seriously, the influence of German engineers on the US space programme is grossly exaggerated!

        GDS · February 22, 2016 at 23:16

        Except that Robert Goddard is recognized as the man who made space flight possible. When asked about their V-2 program, one of the scientists said “why are you asking us? We learned everything from Robert Goddard.”

    g.r.r. · October 14, 2012 at 12:00

    Actually, no. Everybody seems to miss the fact that America developed the liquid rockets. Namely Robert Goddard was the start of all viable space programs. In fact, the NAZIs used his work to get to where they were.

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