Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
During World War II, Peenemünde was the location of the Heeresversuchsanstalt, an extensive rocket development and test site established in 1937. Prior to that date the team headed by Wernher von Braun and Walter Dornberger had worked in Kummersdorf, south of Berlin. However, Kummersdorf was too small for testing. Peenemünde, located on the coast, was chosen as rockets could be launched and monitored across about 200 miles of open water.
From 1937 until 1945, the Peenemünders developed many of the basics of rocket technology and two weapons, the V-1 and the V-2. Test firing of the first V-1 occurred in early 1942 and the first V-2 (then called the A-4) on October 3, 1942, from Prüfstand VII. The V-1 cruise missile experiments were run by the German Luftwaffe in Peenemünde west whereas the ballistic missile development (V-2) was a project run by the Heer (army).
Also other techniques were developed at Peenemünde: so was at Test stand VII the first close-in-television system in the world installed to track the launching rockets.
A number of heavy air-raids targeted the site, including an attack by almost 500 RAF heavy bombers on the night of 16-17 August, 1943 ("Operation Hydra"). This raid killed some 700 staff, including Walter Thiel, the head of engine development. This raid prompted production of the V rockets to be moved underground.
At the end of World War II, von Braun and most of the scientists fled to be captured by the Americans while the site and most of the technicians were captured by the Soviets and British, who they feared would try them for war crimes for the V-2 attacks on London. The actual site was, in accordance with an agreement, destroyed with explosives by the Red Army.
In spite of the raids many technical installations were not destroyed at end of World War II in Peenemuende, because most bombs were thrown on the housing areas and the camps for the foreign worker. Most destruction of the technical facilities of Peenemünde was done by the Soviet Army between 1948 and 1961. Only the power station, in which is now a museum, the airport and the railway link to Zinnowitz remained workable. The plant for production liquid oxygen is a ruin at the entrance of Peenemünde. Most other buildings and facilities are nearly completely destroyed.
There is much controversy about how the allies found out about Peenemünde. The official British version is that all information was collected by air reconnaissance. However there are witnesses and documents which state that Peenemunde was discovered thanks to Polish underground army (Armia Krajowa or AK) intelligence and some information from others (including Danish pilot who photographed something looking like a V rocket near Peenemünde). English intelligence for years denied that it received any information about Peenemünde from Poland. However copies of reports were found after the war in Poland. R. V. Jones contradicted himself, first denying that fact, and later in his book The Wizard War writing that many bombs fell on camps of foreign workers who gave the allies information (he failed to mention that these workers were Poles and were from AK). Within the last few years Polish politicians and historians have demanded access to British archives (since most if not all AK reports were stored in England). So far the British authorities have answered that all AK reports were destroyed.
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