That is the non-question1 that can be easily answered by anyone in the U.K.(and Belgium, and France, and the Netherlands) from 1940-1945. That question was asked by Wernher von Braun of himself, semi-third person, wondering aloud to his interviewer about what he saw was the unintentional use of his A-4 rocket--renamed the V-2, or Vergeltungswaffe 2, Retaliation weapon 2, or Vengeance Weapon 2--in the rocket attack upon Britain (and to a lesser extent Belgium and then to a lesser extent as well on France and the Netherlands). He writes that the A-4 was intended for interplanetary flight--and at some distant point that was true, but not so much in the early 1940's, when the intention regarding the use of the rocket mattered most. Perhaps von Braun was hanging on to a distant memory, back to the early days when he dreamed along with Hermann Oberth and others about leaving the Earth.
"The A-4's subsequent career is no mystery" says von Braun, without irony and in high reportage.
Indeed not. The V-2 was huge compared to its older and slower brother, the V-1--it was 45' tall and weighed 28,000 pounds, delivering a 2,000lb Amatol warhead. The odiously-sound-of-death V-1 came in slowly, slow enough to be outrun by a Spitfire--the V-2 came in with a different awful sound, the crack and boom of the sound barrier as it braced for a Mach 2+ impact (which would cause the detonation of the weapon). 6,000 of these weapons were made (beginning in September 1943) and more than 5,000 were launched.
These weapons killed some 9,000 Earthlings, so the weapons didn't really get very close to another planet. Nor, really, was it ever intended to during the war. Von Braun et al used it very effectively as a bargaining too with Hitler to gain more money for the program--not for interplanetary exploration, but to kill as many people as possible. I don't know what von Braun was complaining about here in this brief semi-memoir about his A-4 becoming the V-2--it certainly could have come as a surprise.
And that 9,000 killed figure is misleading--it is actually more like 21,000. That figure would include the 12,000 human slaves from the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp who were killed or worked to death while building the rockets. So in a weird and horrible twist of sick ironies, the weapon actually consumed more lives than it caused in its use for death. How von Braun didn't know about the thousands of slave laborers at work on his non-Moon rocket is simply impossible to comprehend.
Von Braun was single-minded and determined--lives consumed and lost, plus an enormous amount of money (his project costing more than the Manhattan Project) and energy. The return on this particular investment was exceptionally poor in the long run--close to the point of the whole affair being created by the Allies to crush the Nazi economy.
1. The question is part of a sub-head in the von Braun interview that appeared in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, volume 15, no. 3, May-June 1956, pp 125-145, "Reminiscences of German Rocketry".
- The original is available for sale via our blog bookstore, here.
This is the horrible sound of the V-1: