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Missiles of the A series


By Sakhal

The A-4 developed in the Nazi Germany was the foundation of the modern missiles and the Space Era, the first missile that abandoned the physiognomy of a rudimentary drone that was characteristic of other designs of that time, the first missile that reached the stratosphere and the first missile that reached supersonic speed.

Missiles of the A series


This large ballistic weapon, which was by far the biggest individual progression in the history of rockets and missiles, culminated the long years of effort that its creator Wernher von Braun and other scientifics of the Verein fur Raumschiffahrt (Society for Space Flights) had started in the 1920s. This effort, initially of a civilian nature, was closely watched by the military and eventually became founded and controlled by the German Army in 1934, who were specially interested in the development of rockets for long distance bombardment, since the Treaty of Versailles had forbid to Germany the construction of powerful long-range cannons. The team of scientifics commanded then by Captain Walter Dornberger, was stablished in Kummersdorf. In that year two exemplars of the model A-2 were tested in Borkun, in the Baltic; these two rockets, propelled by liquid fuel, gave promising results and the scientifics felt encouraged to continue their experiments with liquid fuels, until then considered of difficult management.

The facilities at Kummersdorf were originally built in 1870 as an artillery shooting range and were too small for housing a missile research center. For such reason, in 1937 the research program was reallocated in Peenemunde, in the Baltic coast next to the Polish border, remaining Dornberger as chief and Von Braun as technical director. These new facilities had wide space and were located afar from curious eyes. In that same year the prototype A-3 was ready for tests, being this one the first project that included a guide system, consisting of a gyroscope that actuated on the mobile surfaces to keep the rocket stabilized during flight. However, this time only very few of the tests had a positive outcome. Still it was a great progress, but it needed greater perfectioning. The A-3 was just an experimental rocket intended to open the gates to the A-4 project, which should be the definitive ballistic weapon in use by the German Army. This design should be able to send a warhead with one tonne of explosive to a target located at least 250 kilometers afar, being undetectable and too fast for being shot down by the enemy defenses.

It would be required a very powerful engine operating with liquid fuel to allow the rocket to travel large distances without problems; it would be required as well a system for controlling the missile from the land. It was built a cheaper, simpler missile named A-5, five meters long and propelled by hydrogen peroxide, in several versions that were launched from either land or air, to test diverse control systems that could be used in the A-4 and acquire valuable experience for the project. The first A-4 was tested without success the 13th June 1942; just after leaving the launching ramp, one of the fuel pumps broke, and the missile fell sideways and exploded. The second exemplar was more fortunate, when launched the 16th August of the same year; it reached the apogee of its trajectory, breaking the sound barrier and finally falling to the Baltic waters, which indicated the possible rupture of a fuel pump, as happened to the first prototype. This was however the first missile in History that surpassed the speed of sound (1225 km/h at sea level). The third exemplar, launched the 3th October, was a complete success, climbing to the atmosphere at incredible speed (120 kilometers in 296 seconds), reaching an altitude of about 190 kilometers and finally impacting in the coast of Pomerania. Hitler, enthusiastic, ordered the mass production of the A-4, renaming it as Vergeltungswaffe 2 (Weapon of Revenge 2); this missile was then intended to devastate London and make England to kneel down.

An A-4 launched from Peenemunde. The successful tests led to its immediate adoption by the German Army. Despite Hitler baptized it as V-2, the Army used A-4 as the official designation.

Missiles of the A series


The V-2 had been conceived as an extension of the artillery, and as such it was planned as a mobile weapon for being used in the battlefield. Its size was the largest one that could pass a railway tunnel when transported on its standard vehicle, a transportator/erector equipped with a hydraulic system that elevated the missile 90 degrees in a rotatory base. The full equipment required another 30 vehicles, that carried liquid oxygen, alcohol, command and control devices and electric generators, among other things. Reaction time after arrival to a non-prepared site was about four hours. The missile arrived fully assembled, with its warhead containing 975 kg of Amatol, a product chosen due to its absence of risk of premature explosion, even when the external hardened-steel cover reached 600 degrees of temperature at the reentry on the atmosphere, shortly before reaching the target. The V-2 had a length of 14 meters, a maximum diameter of 1.68 meters and a wingspan of 3.57 meters. Weight at launching reached 12870 kg and operational range was between 306 and 320 kilometers. Albeit the German Army was positively impressed about the performance of the V-2, they were not fond of the many elements that the missile needed on the deployment sites: special trucks, special fuel deposits, control platforms, launching platforms... While the launching ramp was relatively small and easy to camouflage, it was not the same with the rest of the equipment.

Missiles of the A series


V-2 on its launching ramp preparing for being launched against London.

Missiles of the A series


V-2 on its launching ramp preparing for being launched against London.

Missiles of the A series


One of the first V-2 is towed by a small locomotive outside of its camouflaged shelter towards the launching site.

Missiles of the A series


Three V-2 ready for being launched by the Mobile Artillery Section 485 in the 27th September 1944, near The Hague, in Holland.

The engine was fed with its high-pressure propellants, by turbopumps Walter of great capacity driven by turbines that operated with C-stoff (a fuel composed of methanol, with a 30 percent of hydrazine hydrate, a 13 percent of water and some additive) and T-stoff (hydrogen peroxide undissolved in water, with a bit of oxyquinoline) and gave a power of 730 HP. The combustion chamber was cooled by alcohol and there was a system for initial flight control by means of graphite blades acting on the reactor exhaust. Once high speed was reached, the rudders on the stabilizers started to be effective. The guide system was entirely contained on the missile. Once in the launching position, the complete ensemble of the guide system rotated until aligning in azimuth exactly with the heading of the great circle that constituted the target (the urban area of London). Later the guide was kept by a system of pendulums that provided a stable platform, two gyroscopes LEV-3 and an integrated accelerometer. The system directed the electro-hydraulic actuators to rotate the missile slightly over in the direction of the target, until the launching was made - with an increasing acceleration, as the fuel consumption would decrease the weight and the thrust would increase accordingly -, in an angle of about 40 degrees in respect of the vertical. Then the engine stopped in the right speed for the ballistic trajectory that would lead towards the target. The apogee of the trajectory was usually at 96 km, which was then the highest altitude reached by any human-made artifact.

Preliminary production started in a new factory south of Peenemunde in the late 1943, but the mass production was carried by a gigantic underground factory near Nordhausen, where 50000 slave workers produced 300 units of the missile in April 1944 and more than 1000 in October. Total production for the A-4 surpassed 5000 units before the end of the war. The German Army had about 1800 units stored when the Artillery Regiment 836 started the campaign of launchings the 6th September 1944, with two imprecise launchings over Paris. Two days later started a sustained offensive from three camouflaged sites located near Wassenaar, in Holland, from where 1120 missiles were launched against England. Of these, 1050 reached English land and the rest either exploded in any point along their trajectories or suffered from severe direction issues, falling some of them in the very German territory. About 1340 missiles were launched against Antwerp, which was a prime stronghold for the Allied invasion; 65 were launched against Brussels, 98 against Liege, 15 against Paris and 11 against the Remagen bridge in the Rheine, occupied by the Americans. The 27th March 1945 had been launched about 4320 missiles and other 600 were used for training, which took place mainly near Blizna, in Poland. The damage caused by the explosion of an V-2 was similar to the one caused by an V-1, but the overall destruction was superior due to the impossibility of detection and interception by the enemy. A network of coastal radar stations could alert the British about an incoming missile, but did not exist an effective defense against it, and its supersonic speed made its approximation silent.

Missiles of the A series


A member of the US Military Police observes the engine of an A-4 in the underground factory Mittel. These facilities produced up to 1100 units per month making use of slave workers.

Missiles of the A series


Launching of an A-4 from the US base for military experiments at White Sands, in New Mexico, effectuated probably the 13th June 1946. The US Army adopted for the missile the denomination V-2 formerly given by the Nazi Regime. No matter how useful Wernher von Braun and his team had been for that regime, they benefited from their valuable knowledge by being accepted in the United States as the masterminds of the future US space programs.

Missiles of the A series


An V-2 is launched from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Midway the 6th September 1947. It was the first launching of a large rocket effectuated from a ship.

Once the A-4 started to be produced, the research team at Peenemunde dedicated itself to new projects. The A-4b was a version equipped with wings developed with the purpose of increasing the operational range to 750 kilometers by means of gliding towards the target, which in return would make the missile slower and more vulnerable to the enemy defenses. Two exemplars were unsuccessfully launched in 1944-45. The next prototype flew the 24th January 1945, apparently pioneering a controlled supersonic flight of a winged rocket, reportedly reaching the speed of Mach 4; however during the reentry into atmosphere the rocket lost one of its wings and failed to reach its designed target.

The A-6, A-7 and A-8 were experimental rockets made with the purpose of gathering knowledge facing the future development of the most awesome project of the A series, the A-9/A-10. The A-9 was a second generation rocket, built with a very light structure and propelled by a new propellant containing sulfuric acid, that had already been employed in the A-6, which warranted an operational range of 650 kilometers. This idea was already in the air in 1942, and some scientifics preferred this propulsion system to the one applied in the A-4, which was chosen due to lower technical and economic requirements. The A-10, derived from the A-4, was much more potent, equipped with a formidable rocket engine; however the German Army had not accepted its production, because the A-4 was considered as fully satisfactory and hence priority was given to its production. The A-10 had the role of carrying the A-9 into the stratosphere, where the A-9 would separate from the A-10, heading towards the designed target, located about 5600 kilometers afar. The A-9/A-10 was a futuristic two-phase project that could have been the first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), since it was intended to reach United States. But this project did not reach a very advanced stage.

Missiles of the A series


This graphic depicts the colossal missile A-9/A-10, 30 meters tall; it can be seen how the A-9 module on top is attached into the larger A-10, having its own rocket engine. Both the A-9 and the A-10 were similar in conception to the A-4, as it was the very ensemble A-9/A-10.

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

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Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-10-04


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