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German unguided rocketry 1943-45

By Sakhal

Germany, very strong in the field of anti-aircraft cannons, did not have in much consideration the missilistic field until the late 1943, when it was considered that it was necessary another method of anti-aircraft defense. The reluctance to build rockets was strange in the Germans since they where the first ones that had thought about the utilization of rockets for the warlike scope.


In 1943 the first significative result was the 73-millimeter rocket Foehn, whose launcher had 35 sockets and could be either fixed to the ground or towed. This was a small rocket that at first glance could be mistaken for a normal projectile. The ogive contained 250 grams of high explosive and a percussion fuze, while the body contained a rocket engine fed with solid fuel capable of burning during 9-10 seconds, to impulse the projectile at a speed of 1360 kilometers/hour. The Foehn was a notable weapon but it had an inconvenience: it had to hit its target to explode because of its percussion fuze. Numerous rocket launchers of this type were used by the Germans and, near the end of the war, many were used against the enemy infantry; but regarding anti-aircraft defense, they were totally unsuccessful.

German unguided rocketry 1943-45

One of the few experiments carried by the Germans regarding the use of non-guided rockets for anti-aircraft defense was represented by the Foehn 73 millimeters. Developed near the end of the war, it would be finally used against the enemy land troops. The illustration shows as well a cutaway of the projectile Foehn and in detail one of the exhaust holes.

Taifun and Tornado

Despite lacking a guide system, this rocket is interesting because it was the last anti-aircraft system developed by the Nazi Germany, representing a reaction against the futility of the complex and immature missiles fitted with a guide system. The project Taifun (Typhoon) emerged from an evidently right standpoint from engineer Scheufeln, working at Peenemunde, who pointed that the program Wasserfall did not reach the minimum requirements of cost versus effectiveness. By his own initiative he started to work in the Taifun, a rocket stabilized by rotation which costed only 25 German marks, was fired in salvos and was fitted with the optimal weight of explosive required to destroy a bomber. Specifically, 500 grams to reach an altitude of 15000 meters. The rocket had a length of 1.93 meters, a diameter of 10 centimeters, a wingspan of 22 centimeters and a launching weight of 21 kilograms. Its rocket engine, fed by liquid fuel, provided a high directional precision, accelerating the rocket to a speed of up to 3600 kilometers/hour in only 2.5 seconds. The launcher, a modified mounting of an 88-millimeter cannon, fired groups of 30 rockets at once. In January 1945, the Taifun F - basic series missile - was already being produced in Peenemunde, but only 600 units had been built at the end of the war. Which remained as a mystery was how to arrange the launcher to be aimed with a precision that were at least so good as the one achieved by conventional anti-aircraft artillery, regarding very high altitudes. A parallel project was the Tornado, another unguided rocket similar to the Taifun but propelled by solid fuel; its prestations were also similar to the ones of the Taifun, but the absence of materials prevented to authorize its production.

German unguided rocketry 1943-45

The Tornado, an anti-aircraft rocket propelled by solid fuel, could have achieved optimal results if it had been available some years before; when it was perfected, it could not enter production because of lack of fuel.


German technicians had decided to build an anti-aircraft weapon suitable for being used by a single person by following the design of the typical personal anti-tank weapon of that time. This weapon was intended to give a hard life to any aircraft that overflew the battlefield at a low altitude. The Fliegerfaust, built with four tubes in the early version and nine tubes in the late version, fired 20-millimeter projectiles which had a rocket engine incorporated on them. Travelling at a speed of up to 350 meters/second, the projectiles should reach 500 meters afar and hit with extreme accuracy. The magazine, which consisted of an ensemble of nine rockets attached by two circular plates, was attached on the rear end of the weapon. The operator carried with him a cylindrical shoulder bag containing an additional magazine. The ignition was of electrical type and produced the instant launching of five of the rockets, while the remaining four would be automatically launched after a brief moment, up to one second later. This system should warrant the non-interference between rockets and a lesser recoil, increasing the precision of the shot. The weapon had a length of 1.50 meters and a weight of 6.5 kilograms when loaded. The rockets were based on the standard 20-millimeter anti-aircraft projectile; in the rear inner part they had a compressed-steel tube and a propellant bar; in the base of the tube there were four angled outlets and an ignition fuse. When the fuse ignited the propellant, the jet was channelled through the angled outlets, confering the rocket a rotatory movement during its flight. The projectiles weighed 90 grams of which 19 corresponded to the explosive. Equipped with a simple optical device, the Fliegerfaust, which had a maximum range of 1800 meters, should be theoretically effective at distances of up to 500 meters, but the truth is that the excessive dispersion of the rockets nullified this purpose in the practice. Approved in January 1945, the Fliegerfaust, like many other projects of the Nazi Germany, arrived too late to be helpful for the Wehrmacht.

German unguided rocketry 1943-45

RSK 1000

This one was another anti-aircraft system developed to defend the airfields against ground-strike aircraft flying at low altitude. Developed by Rheinmetall-Borsig, the RSK 1000 consisted of numerous 210-millimeter rockets that were housed in launching tubes, disseminated around the airfields. Each rocket had attached to it a parachute and a steel cable with a length of 1000 meters. When the attacking aircraft were approaching, the rockets, fired in a high angle, ascended to reach their maximum range of 1000 meters set by the cable. Then, the parachute was activated and the rockets along with their cables would start to descend slowly. By firing many rockets at once, it could be created, during a brief time, a barrier of steel cables in the air. If an enemy aircraft would crash against this barrier it would certainly be destroyed. Several aircraft were downed by this method and there are numerous testimonies from American pilots that describe how the Allied aviators, before attacking the German airfields at low altitude, would make sure that the RSK 1000 system was not installed in them. This was a cunning form of ensuring that a rocket would be destructive without the need to directly hit its target or being fitted with costly proximity fuzes. And however, the Germans, in general, would dedicate little time to research unguided rockets and a lot of time and resources in their investigations and experiments about guided missiles, which in the field on anti-aircraft defense gave practically no result.


In the field of air-to-air weaponry, the Germans showed more interest in cannons than in rockets; the only air-to-air rocket that reached production was the R4M, propelled by solid fuel and fitted with a high-explosive warhead, to be mounted in the turbojet fighters Messerschmitt Me 262 and Heinkel He 162. This rocket, weighing 3.4 kilograms - including the warhead -, was made with a simple steel tube fitted with directional fins. In March 1945 these rockets were used for the first time installed in the Me 262 in simple wooden pylons under the wings and they proved to be terribly deadly against the Allied bombers, more effective than cannon shells.

German unguided rocketry 1943-45

The standard R4M rocket was fitted with an ogive containing high explosive, but there was also an anti-tank version with shaped-charge warhead, the one depicted here with unfolded fins.

Panzerblitz and Foerstersonde

The idea of attacking enemy tanks with rockets from the air was probably suggested to the Germans by the Hawker Typhoon from the Royal Air Force which, roaming accross the French skies, attacked with rockets any German vehicle in sight. For this role the Germans developed two types of rockets. The first one was the Panzerblitz, with a speed of 300 meters/second and able to perforate the armor of a tank; its warhead, of caliber 88 millimeters, was in fact the same of the Panzerschreck. It was soon replaced by the Panzerblitz II, fitted with a more powerful engine, the same one used in the R4M rockets, being increased its speed to 370 meters/second. Both rockets were built by the Czech company Waffenwerke Bruenn; the Panzerblitz I, built to be mounted in the turbojet fighter-bomber Henschel Hs 132, was never used since this aircraft never entered service. The other anti-tank weapon in development was the Foerstersonde, a rocket similar to the aforementioned one but with a different launching system. It was installed vertically in the aircraft, behind the pilot, and for simplifying the aiming process it was fitted with a detector able to "sense" the magnetic field generated by a tank when the aircraft passed above it, being then automatically fired the rockets, so the pilot had only to maneuver the aircraft to pass above the target. Little is known about this project except that this system was experimented in the spring 1945.

Categories: Missiles - World War Two - 20th Century - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-01-24

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