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Operation BACKFIRE - British test launches of the A4 (V2)

D

Deleted 60082

Guest
I found this fascinating - at least to me - film on the preparations to launch a V2 rocket. At the end of the war, the British obtained a large number of components for the A4 - V2 - and using German detainees, assembled a number of them and conducted test launches near Cuxhaven, under Operation BACKFIRE. Some years ago at the Air Historical Branch I read the Secret report on the launches, which covered some five volumes. Open sources (below) indicate that there were only three launches; I'm sure I read that there were more, including one from the deck of an aircraft carrier in the North Sea. Nonetheless, trying to assemble complete rockets was problematic due to the vast majority being seized by the Americans, and the chippy little Nazi, Colonel Werhner von Braun became rather uncooperative with British interrogators; furthermore, the components were poorly manufactured and suffered in storage and handling. I've found this slightly Nazi fanboi account; it seems rather well researched but a little bit saccharine (SWIDT?).

Edited to add: There were 30 planned launches; only 5 took place, according to the official report.

One of the most telling conclusions of the War Office study was along the lines of 'Yes, it's loud and colourful, but only worth pursing if a (nuclear) warhead can be made small enough to be carried" thus dooming post war rocket development in Britain.

Anyway, here's the film - the Germans are in their uniforms or British Army cast-offs; there is a lot of British personnel wisely keeping out of the way. The detail on the launch procedure is fascinating.


And here is a bit more on BACKFIRE. If I get chance, I'll dig out my old notes from AHB and write a bit more about this Operation.

V2ROCKET.COM - Operation Backfire at Altenwalde/Cuxhaven

PPS: Sorry for so many edits. My memory is sadly not as good as it used to be. <sigh>
 
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maguire

LE
Book Reviewer
do you know, I fancy myself as something of a space race aficionado and I didn't know we'd fired off a few V-2s. thank you.
 

Helm

MIA
Moderator
Book Reviewer
I love this quote from Dornberger in your link
"Afterward, in the town Witzenhausen, they tried to kidnap our leading men such as Dr. Wernher von Braun. They appeared at night as British soldiers in uniforms; I guess they didn’t realize it was the American zone. Somehow they had obtained a proper pass, but the Americans quickly realized what was happening and sent them away. That’s how those Russians operated, real kidnapping, they had no scruples at all.”
Unlike us loveable German scamps no doubt.
 
D

Deleted 60082

Guest
I love this quote from Dornberger in your link
"Afterward, in the town Witzenhausen, they tried to kidnap our leading men such as Dr. Wernher von Braun. They appeared at night as British soldiers in uniforms; I guess they didn’t realize it was the American zone. Somehow they had obtained a proper pass, but the Americans quickly realized what was happening and sent them away. That’s how those Russians operated, real kidnapping, they had no scruples at all.”
Unlike us loveable German scamps no doubt.
I'm not sure that happened. Gen Dornberger had been in secret negotiations with the OSS from about October 1944 but was rather miffed to be sent to a senior officers' POW camp at Wilton Park, in the UK. He was released in 1947. There are secret recordings of conversations he had whilst detained.

And here is an account of the impact of the V2 in the UK, from my unpub MSS:

‘There is no siren warning now. No time to take shelter, For this is the most indiscriminate weapon of this or any other war. It is a sinister, eerie form of war.’

Daily Herald, London, January 1945.



[picture of V-2 in launch position]

The A-4 was a 46 feet (14 m) high, vertically launched liquid-fuelled rocket, with the production variant weighing 12.65 tons (12.85 tonne), with a 1 ton/tonne (nominal) warhead, although this was later reduced to 1650 lbs (750 kg). Maximum range of its ballistic trajectory was 207 miles (330 km). Monthly production was 300 in May 1944 rising to 616 between September 1944 and March 1945, with a total of c 6000 launch bodies produced. Apogee (top of trajectory) was 38 miles (60 km) and impact speed was 3000 mph (1400 m/s; 5040 km/h); winged variants of the A-4b (A-9) achieved 2,700 mph (4,320 km/h) during the boost phase. The missiles used an early 3-dirmensional gyroscopic stabilised inertial navigation system. Fuel cut-off, and therefore trajectory and range, could be controlled by radio signal and the rocket incorporated most of the design features that are seen in ballistic missiles of today.

German records note up until 7 April 1945, 1,190 were launched against Britain (with a further 169 failures) with 501 of those falling on Greater London. Antwerp was the target for 1610 V-2s.[1] Casualty figures vary but according to British Ministry of Home Security reports, 2,754 civilians were killed in Britain by V-2 attacks with another 6,523 injured. The single largest event saw 160 were killed, with a further 108 seriously interested when a Woolworth’s department store in south London was hit on 25 November 1944. In greater Antwerp, weapon attacks between October 1944 and March 1945, left 1,736 dead and 4,500 injured. Thousands of buildings were damaged or destroyed as the city was struck by 590 direct hits. The largest loss of life in a single attack came on 16 December 1944, when the roof of a crowded cinema was struck, leaving 567 dead and 291 injured.

Although the V-2 was a technical triumph over Allied developments (who, because of air superiority, didn’t have the need for a ballistic missile), and in spite of the terror imparted and the casualties inflicted, the V-2 had no demonstrable impact on the outcome of the war. Indeed, the expense and scope of the programme diverted resources from conventional weapons production, such as fighter aircraft and surface to air missile systems. Furthermore, the synthetic fuel for the rocket required 30 tons of potatoes to distil one ton of alcohol, at a time of chronic food shortages. The relatively small warhead and a lack of a proximity fuse (to permit a more effective ‘air burst’) compared unfavourably with the mass effect of conventional bombing. The V-2, delivering a one tonne/ton warhead per missile was set against the Allied Combined Bomber Offensive that was capable of delivering thousands of tons of bombs every day. Even during the London Blitz (October 1940 – May 1941), the Luftwaffe dropped over 35,000 tons of bombs in 70 separate attacks, equating to some 35,000 V-2 attacks. However, contemporary accounts of the V-2 ‘Blitz’ in London graphically illustrate the fear, horror and destruction these weapons engendered. There was no warning of their approach thus many casualties were civilians in the open who were unable to seek shelter, and a 1 tonne warhead, travelling at 3000 mph created massive destruction, albeit localised (because of the deep crater), with the attendant shockwaves creating widespread structural and splinter damage. By the end of the war, the RAF could identify V-2s on radar during the boost phase, giving approximately a 4 minute warning of their impact and likely target areas.[2]
[1] Jones, p 459.
[2] For harrowing contemporary accounts of the V-2 ‘blitz’ against London, see Maureen Walker (2004): London 1945, John Murray Ltd, London, pp 17-71.

[sorry about the weird formatting issue]
 
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Awol

LE
Was it the V1 or the V2 that had it's efficiency compromised by the Intelligence bods publicly putting the actual damage in London down to gas leaks, whilst reporting publicly that the things had impacted north of London. This led to the Hun adjusting his range southwards, so that in fact they began splattering over unoccupied bits of Kentish farmland.

I don't know who thought of it, but it was brilliant.

Makes you proud to be British etc. etc.
 

Pisseduppardre

Old-Salt
I believe it was the V1 Rockets that were affected this way. The Double Cross system was very successful and all of the agents that the Germans thought they had in the UK were under the control of British Intelligence. Reports sent back by agents such as Garbo were made to sound like the rockets were overshooting London when they were not. The Germans adjusted things so most of them fell short.

Bit of a bummer if you lived in Kent though....
 

Awol

LE
I believe it was the V1 Rockets that were affected this way. The Double Cross system was very successful and all of the agents that the Germans thought they had in the UK were under the control of British Intelligence. Reports sent back by agents such as Garbo were made to sound like the rockets were overshooting London when they were not. The Germans adjusted things so most of them fell short.

Bit of a bummer if you lived in Kent though....

Very true, but total war is total war and the authorities obviously had to play the numbers game and do whatever minimised casualties. At least with a V1 you heard it coming....

Edit..... The strategy seemed to be remarkably successful...

WW2 1944 Flying Bomb Census
 
D

Deleted 60082

Guest
Was it the V1 or the V2 that had it's efficiency compromised by the Intelligence bods publicly putting the actual damage in London down to gas leaks, whilst reporting publicly that the things had impacted north of London. This led to the Hun adjusting his range southwards, so that in fact they began splattering over unoccupied bits of Kentish farmland.

I don't know who thought of it, but it was brilliant.

Makes you proud to be British etc. etc.

The mastermind of the Twenty Committee was the quiet, but rather ruthless, Cambridge academic, J C Masterman. I have a copy of his official history of the Double Cross System (XX = 20 in Latin). The system was expertly crafted, and allied with utterly inept German agents, it was probably the greatest HUMINT success in modern times. Masterman held little pity for the captured agents; his history notes that several agents were executed when they ceased to be of use.

Both weapons systems were duped, but the V1 was the only one with a modicum of accuracy. Von Braun - who always distanced himself from the operational deployment of the the V2 - did let slip that the burn rate was altered in receipt of intelligence from London. That was undoubtedly from the XX Committee, as by 1943 all German agents in Britain were either executed, in prison or working for the British.

I've dragged this little bit out. He was also interviewed by Flt Lt Patrick Moore ('Sky at Night' fame); his fiancee was killed in a raid and he never married, and had a life-long hatred of von Braun.

In recent years, more evidence – including witness statements from survivors - of his [von Braun] complicity in the use slave labour at Mittelbau has come to light and in spite of his excellence as a spaceflight engineer, his reputation has been compromised by his complicity with the Nazi war machine, at best being seen as an opportunist. Von Braun was clearly in a difficult position: in a 1947 statement defending the civilian director of Mittelbau facing war crimes charges, von Braun solely blamed the SS for the atrocities, conveniently forgetting, it seems, that he was an SS-Sturmbannfuehrer at the time that the offences were committed.[1] Furthermore, claims by the US Army at the time of his capture that he was not involved in the operational deployment and targeting of the weapon do not bear scrutiny. In a 1951 interview in the New Yorker magazine, he described his unexpectedly pleasant treatment by the British during his two-week visit to London in September 1945.[2] When confronted by the carnage caused in parts of London by the V-2, his only concern was the fate of the German agents who radioed damage reports back to the battery commanders and to von Braun. What he did not know is that the agent network had been thoroughly compromised by the British security services (MI5 and MI6[3]). Under the jointly-run XX Committee, captured and ‘turned’ agents broadcast false reports on the impact points and exaggerating the accuracy of the attacks, resulting in the mean point of impact being shifted away from central London, by altering the burn rate and fuel cut-off of the engines, directly under the guidance of von Braun and his team.[4] Von Braun’s loyalty was also investigated by the FBI several times – the latest being in October 1970 - and the FBI Director, J Edgar Hoover, stated ‘he is a phony’, but in the febrile anti-Soviet atmosphere in the Cold War, as well as the prestige associated with the space race, wartime atrocities were quietly forgotten.[5]

General Dornberger emigrated to the US in 1947 after his release from POW camp to work as a guided missile designer and eventually ended up as the vice-President of the Bell Aerosystems Corporation in the 1960s – coincidentally the same company that exploited much of the Messerschmitt technology discovered in Oberammergau in 1945. He eventually returned to Germany and died in 1980.



[1] Piszkiewicz, pp 50-54.
[2] Biddle, pp 142-143.[3] Correctly entitled the (British) Security Service and Secret Intelligence Service, respectively.
[4] Perhaps the greatest intelligence coup in WW II after breaking the ENIGMA codes was the complete penetration of the German spy network in Britain by the ‘Twenty (XX) Committee’. For accounts of the deception associated with the V-2 programme, see John Masterman’s official report released in 1972: The Double Cross System, Reed, Wellington, pp 180-183; Keith Jeffrey’s official history (2010) MI6 – the History of the Secret Intelligence Service, Bloomsbury, pp 571-572; Christopher Andrew’s (2009) The Defence of the Realm – the Authorized History of MI5, Allen Lane, London, pp 310-316. For technical intelligence on the V-2, see Jones, pp 430-460.
[5] Piszkiewicz, p 187.



Operation Overcast. At the end of July 1945 approval was given by the US War Department under Operation Overcast (later renamed Operation Paperclip) for von Braun and 350 other scientists, engineers and technicians to be moved to the US and recommence the development of V weapons for use against Japan. It appears that about 125 of his team in Oberammergau were selected, probably on von Braun’s advice, to travel to the US.[1] Von Braun and several of his colleagues were also taken to London for further technical questioning by the Ministry of Home Security and the Secret Intelligence Service, (SIS or MI6). For the first time he was confronted with the damage that the V-2s had caused. His observations were of a technical nature and he expressed frustration that debris had been cleared from one site and thus he could not get an accurate impression of the damage the warhead had caused. Furthermore he seemed to demonstrate little remorse or emotion; this lack of emotion was also noted by von Braun’s interrogators in Garmisch.[2]

Although not mentioned in biographies of von Braun, during this time it appears that he was also taken to Kiel, near Hamburg, where he demonstrated the potency of A-4 fuel (‘X-Stoff and Y-Stoff’) to British ‘T Force’ technical intelligence staff, who subsequently reported on this meeting.[3] This was related to the British plan – authorised by General Eisenhower - to test-launch captured A-4s. Under Operation Backfire, between July and October 1945, 30 launches were planned to take place at Cuxhaven, although only 5 took place, as many of the rocket components had suffered from many months of open storage.[4] General Dornberger also assisted in the test launches, but instead of being welcomed to the UK, he was held as a Prisoner of War (POW). He was transferred from Garmisch as a POW and detained at Farm Hall and Wilton Park detention centres in England, both special camps for senior German officers and scientists, and released in 1947. British and US investigators were particularly concerned that the Nazi regime had hidden nuclear material and had developed nuclear warheads for the V-2 and went to great lengths to find out whether this was the case.[5]


[1] Biddle, p 142. This group did not include the ‘father’ of the V-2 programme, General Dornberger, but did include the much less experienced brother of Wernher, Magnus von Braun.
[2] Biddle, pp 142 – 143.
[3] T Force was set up by Commander Ian Fleming RNR (1908 – 1964), the creator of the James Bond genre.
[4] Longen, pp 271-274. The Operation Backfire reports noted that the V-2 heralded a new type of warfare, but only if the rocket was able to deliver a nuclear warhead.
[5] Much of what was said by the POWs and captured nuclear and missile scientists at Wilton Park and Farm Hall camps was secretly recorded under Operation Epsilon, and some of the recordings and transcriptions were declassified in the 1990s. Wilton Park in Surrey remains the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s conference centre.
 
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I found this fascinating - at least to me - film on the preparations to launch a V2 rocket. At the end of the war, the British obtained a large number of components for the A4 - V2 - and using German detainees, assembled a number of them and conducted test launches near Cuxhaven, under Operation BACKFIRE. Some years ago at the Air Historical Branch I read the Secret report on the launches, which covered some five volumes. Open sources (below) indicate that there were only three launches; I'm sure I read that there were more, including one from the deck of an aircraft carrier in the North Sea. Nonetheless, trying to assemble complete rockets was problematic due to the vast majority being seized by the Americans, and the chippy little Nazi, Colonel Werhner von Braun became rather uncooperative with British interrogators; furthermore, the components were poorly manufactured and suffered in storage and handling. I've found this slightly Nazi fanboi account; it seems rather well researched but a little bit saccharine (SWIDT?).

One of the most telling conclusions of the War Office study was along the lines of 'Yes, it's loud and colourful, but only worth pursing if a (nuclear) warhead can be made small enough to be carried" thus dooming post war rocket development in Britain.

Anyway, here's the film - the Germans are in their uniforms or British Army cast-offs; there is a lot of British personnel wisely keeping out of the way. The detail on the launch procedure is fascinating.


And here is a bit more on BACKFIRE. If I get chance, I'll dig out my old notes from AHB and write a bit more about this Operation.

V2ROCKET.COM - Operation Backfire at Altenwalde/Cuxhaven
The Americans were nicer to them than the Brits as no V1's n 2's had dropped on granny's house in Iowa, unlike blitzed Britain.

Conversely, the septics were terribly nice to Otozo Yamada, commanding Unit 371, Japans biological warfare research station, who was responsible for bubonic plague being administered to captured US airmen from the Doolittle Raid, among others. It does not make pleasant reading, experiments in weaponising syphilis, typhoid, cholera, and vivisection of victims, including children and infants, kidnapped white Russians, in an effort to make a whites only killer strain.
Bugout Doug MacArthur gave the Unit 731 scientists immunity while at the same time denouncing the survivors as spreaders of communist propaganda.
 

Awol

LE
Bugger the space race. I'd have much preferred to see a photograph of Von Braun swinging from a rope, than a picture of footsteps in moondust.
 
Was it the V1 or the V2 that had it's efficiency compromised by the Intelligence bods publicly putting the actual damage in London down to gas leaks, whilst reporting publicly that the things had impacted north of London. This led to the Hun adjusting his range southwards, so that in fact they began splattering over unoccupied bits of Kentish farmland.

I don't know who thought of it, but it was brilliant.

Makes you proud to be British etc. etc.


The British noticed that, during the V-1 flying bomb attacks of 1944, the weapons were falling 2–3 mi (3.2–4.8 km) short of Trafalgar Square, the actual Luftwaffe aiming points such as Tower Bridge being unknown to the British.[10][11] Duncan Sandys was told to get MI5-controlled German agents such as Zig Zag and Tate to report the V-1 impacts back to Germany.[10] To make the Germans aim short, the British used the double agents to exaggerate the number of V-1s falling in the north and west of London and to under-report those falling in the south and east.[1] [9]: ch 44 Around 22 June, only one of seven impacts was reported south of the Thames, when 3⁄4 of the V-1s had fallen there. Although the Germans plotted a sample of V-1s which had radio transmitters, showing that they had fallen short, the telemetry was ignored in favour of the human intelligence.[11]

When the Germans received a false double cross V-1 report that there was considerable damage in Southampton—which had not been a target—the V-1s were temporarily aimed at the south coast ports. The double cross deception had caused a re-targeting from London, not just inaccurate aiming. When V-1s launched from Heinkel He 111s at Southampton on 7 July, were inaccurate, British advisor Frederick Lindemann recommended that the agents report heavy losses, to save hundreds of Londoners each week at the expense of only a few lives in the ports. When the Cabinet learned of the deception on 15 August, Herbert Morrison ruled against it, saying that they had no right to decide that one man should die while another should survive.[11] However R V Jones refused to call off the plan absent written orders, which never came, and the deception continued.[9]:p. 422

When the V-2 rocket blitz began with only a few minutes from launch to impact, the deception was enhanced by providing locations damaged by bombing, verifiable by aerial reconnaissance, for impacts in central London but each time-tagged with an earlier impact that had fallen 5–8 mi (8.0–12.9 km) short of central London.[10] From mid-January to mid-February 1945, the mean point of V-2 impacts edged eastward at the rate of a couple of miles a week, with more and more V-2s falling short of central London.[1] Of the V-2s aimed at London, more than half landed outside the London Civil Defence Region.[9]:p. 459


Double-Cross System - Wikipedia
 
D

Deleted 60082

Guest
Bugger the space race. I'd have much preferred to see a photograph of Von Braun swinging from a rope, than a picture of footsteps in moondust.
Couldn't agree more. Excluding those who were killed in V2 attacks, he was directly responsible for over 20,000 slave worker deaths at Mittelbau (Nordhausen).
 

Awol

LE
Couldn't agree more. Excluding those who were killed in V2 attacks, he was directly responsible for over 20,000 slave worker deaths at Mittelbau (Nordhausen).
And Pinamunde, Wizernes etc. I wouldn't be surprised if the slave worker death toll was easily north of 100,000.
 

Yokel

LE
Were any V2/A4 rockets fired from launch sites in the UK? Was it ever planned to do so? Or maybe from a ship?

Did it influence any of Britain's Cold War projects?
 
I was told that Saddams Scud missiles were basically the V2 design.
Is that true?
 

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