Jun 012011

For every technology developed since World War II, there is at least one claim that it was actually designed by the Germans during the war. One claim that almoststands up is for the satellite launching space rocket.

What is known is that the Germans developed and fielded the first sizable ballistic missile, the A-4 (a.k.a. the V-2). This liquid propellant missile was capable of hurling a one-ton warhead several hundred miles… enough to target London from France, but not enough to reach across the Atlantic. So early in WWII, design efforts were undertaken to develop the A-9/A-10 combination. The A-9 was to be a winged version of the A-4; the A-10 was a similar, but larger, vehicle that would serve as a booster for the A-9. While the A-10 was intended to splash down in the Atlantic with the aid of steel-mesh parachutes after a launch from French bases, the A-9 would glide to an impact somewhere in the vicinity of New York City… again with a one-ton warhead. This would have been a weapon of dubious reliability and even more dubious utility: an entire ICBM launched with only a one ton chemical explosive warhead, and with a circular error probability very likely measured in dozens of miles. And the first stage splashdown and recovery? Even if made practicable, the splashdown area would soon become infested with US Navy submarines, standing ready to sink and German vessels that attempt to approach. Soon, the A-10 boosters would be in US hands. Not unsurprisingly, the A-9/A-10 project was abandoned early on.

In the years after the war, stories came out that the Germans had gone beyond the A-10, to designs such as the A-11 and A-12. Thed A-11 was reported to be still another big stage, this time under the A-9/A-10 stack. The result would here be that the A-9 would now be put into orbit, with its one ton payload. The A-12 was a further larger stage under the A-11; the A-9 disappeared, and the A-10 was turned – somehow – into a manned, winged, recoverable “shuttle.”

The documentary evidence for the wartime development of the A-11 and A-12 designs has always been lean to the point of nonexistence. Simply put, it all depends on taking Werner von Braun at his word that such designs were indeed produced. But immediately after the war, he (and his team, and their data, and a number of A-4s)  was in the hands of the United States Army. This was by his choice… he knew the war was lost and that they would be captured and put to work by one of the allied nations… and Britain did not have the resources to fulfill von Braun’s dreams of spaceflight, and the Soviets were rightly seen as pure evil and horrible bosses. That left the US. But von Braun, as well as being a good manager and a good engineer, was a great pitch-man. He proved that in Germany when he convinced the German military to expend vast sums on his crazy rockets, and he proved that after the war when he convinced the US military to expend vaster sums on his less crazy rockets, and vaster still sums by NASA on his truly crazy moon rockets. In retrospect, he clearly knew what he could accomplish. At the time, his goals were often seen as unattainably nutty. But he was able to sell ’em nonetheless. Billy Mays eat your zombie heart out.

So, the A-11 and A-12. Other German rocketeers have claimed no knowledge of such projects. No wartime records of such designs have to date been produced. At the end of the war the A-10 project was three years dead; the team of rocketeers who had succeeded in putting the first man-made object into space were hard at work on rather small “flak rockets” to combat the swarms of American and British strategic bombers that were busily converting German industry into gravel. There is no way that a satellite launcher or a space shuttle would have been funded. So at best, they would have been von Brauns personal “ideas,” and not actual “projects.” So,how did the A-11 and A-12come about?

My own hypothesis is this: when von Braun was being interrogated by the US Army, he had to think on his feet. He wanted the US military to fund his work… but they proved that they already had his work. His carefully hidden stash of technical reports and drawings and such were quickly found by the US Army. They already had the V-2. So of what use was von Braun? Well… if he could promise Bigger And Better Things, he might have felt that that would improve his bargaining position. And so, the one, single, solitary illustration that can be tangentially linked to both von Braun and the A-11 concept was created at White Sands in 1946. This painting represents a satellite launcher that clearly resembles the A-11 concept, featuring a huge clunky first stage, an A-10-like second stage, and a V-2-like third stage. The painter, one “de Beek,” was the illustrator at Peenemunde. It is safe to say that it was painted under von Brauns direction.

Suddenly, so goes my hypothesis, von Braun claims to have designed vehicles capable of putting sizable payloads into orbit. In 1945, the US military could see the use for such things… especially after August 1945. A rocket that can put a satellite into orbit can drop a bomb anywhere on the planet. Once von Braun found out about the American atom bomb, he undoubtedly spent mere milliseconds putting the ideas together, and thus was able to claim that he had already laid the groundwork for an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Is the hypothesis the way it actually happened? Dunno, but to me it seems reasonable. If so, would it have been necessary to secure a place in American industry for von Braun and his team? Possibly. The United States had, at least by 1946, several companies actively working on space launch systems of their own; in several cases, much more advanced than the clunky “A-11.” But being able to claim to have  a several-year head start couldn’t have hurt. And if that was the story von Braun told to get himself in the door, he could hardly back out of it later. Interestingly, a few technical details about the A-11 and A-12 were revealed some years later, and proved to be remarkably similar to the weights and thrust data used for the von Braun “Ferry Rocket” made famous in the Collier’s magazine series. But which came first… the A-11/A-12 data, or the ferry rocket data? The ferry rockets were worked out in considerable detail. It would have been easy to simply claim after the fact that the A-11/A-12 had much the same features, now that such features were known.

For more on the A-9/10/11/12 and other German “space projects” from WWII, check out Aerospace Projects Review issue V5N6.

 Posted by at 10:21 am
  • It occurs to me that the Tory II reactor from the Vought SLAM “Pluto” missile would fit neatly inside a V-2. With suitable modifications…

    • Pat Flannery

      Well, they didn’t do a nuclear ramjet in one, but they tried to stick a ramjet missile on top of one:
      That’s the one that went to Mexico.
      The missile’s ramjet was odd design; the interior of the rectangular wings served as a ramjet, with a slit-like intake along the whole leading edge, and the whole wide trailing edge being the exhaust.
      This “lenticular ramjet engine” was also considered for installation on the X-3 Stiletto.
      The Germans were supposed to have been working on a V-2 boosted ramjet missile during the war called the “horse and rider” design, and it would be fun to know if this was some outgrowth of that concept.

  • Bruce

    If you wanted a paper version of this or other APR stuff would it be possible and what would be the
    price difference if any?

    • admin

      Possible? Yes. As I’ve recently posted, I’ve started putting up APR’s on MagCloud, where you can get ’em in print form. But the price is higher… high enough, it seems, to dissuade most people. Sales have been spectacularly unimpressive (Two. Yay.).

  • Michael Holt

    Von Braun was a true American.

    • admin

      Damned skippy. A true American has a dream, and won;t let piddling trifles like a war get in the way of ’em. A true American understands and *uses* the laws of supply and demand… and if you have the supply, you *create* the demand, if it doesn’t already exist.

  • Tim Kyger

    LOL! A true blue American!

    (Look, Scott, I’m adding to your comments…)

    So, von Braun was once, in the ’60s, addressing a bunch of businessmen visiting Huntsville. They were trying to get them to put businesses into Huntsville and/or Alabama. And who might these businessmen talk to about Huntsville? Why, the folks who’ve lived there a long time. “And you can tell them by, for example, my outrageous southern accent” he said.


  • Bruce

    I remember a DVD I was watching with Von Braun in it and he had in my opinoin better command
    of the english language than Arnold Schwartzenagger does.

    • Tim Kyger

      Absolutely von Braun did. AND he had a sense of humor, too — and of the absurd. I don’t think the former Governator has either.

      • Pat Flannery

        I’d like to see von Braun try and kick Thulsa Doom’s ass. 😀

  • Andrew Gorman

    It’s the Hawk Saturn Interplanetary Space Vehicle!

    • Pat Flannery

      It sure looks like the inspiration for that model, doesn’t it?
      I think there was an attempt to re-start work on the A9/A10 in the last few months of the war, to go with the flying wing bombers and sub-towed V-2s that were supposed to attack NYC.
      Hitler had pretty much lost it by then, as was quite willing to embrace the fantasy that dropping a few tons of explosives on NYC or Washington somehow would cause the American public to demand the US negotiate a separate peace with Germany.
      From what I’ve read, neither the A11 or A12 ever got to a stage past “Wouldn’t something like that be cool to make?” discussions among the Peenemunde engineers during the war. Even the A10 looks like it never got the point of anything beyond some fairly basic internal design… and there was the little problem that when it was designed the idea was to launch it from Portugal to attack the US.

  • Pat Flannery

    BTW, I found this photo of WvB standing next to a model A9/A10:
    Note two things:

    1.) The A9 has been moved quite a ways forward over the wartime design, so that there is a lot more internal room in the A10 for propellants.
    2.) The A9 appears to be piloted.

    That model is apparently the inspiration for this illustration:
    One thing designs like the A11/A12 did was allow WvB to claim he was only interested in space travel right from the beginning, and Hitler forced him to work on that awful V-2 missile thing.
    In The Wizard Of Oz book, those flying monkey explain they had to do the Witch’s bidding because she had seized their magic cap.
    In von Braun’s case, that magic cap had a silver SS skull on it.

  • Pat Flannery

    This is interesting about the Collier’s rockets origin and how the paintings don’t line up with the data given for them: http://www.astronautix.com/fam/vonbraun.htm

  • Michel Van

    the Bundesarchiv in Germany has very completely documation of A4 (V2) program
    no mention of A11/A10/A9 rocket there…
    some people claim those paper went lost during bombig of HVA Peenemunde in 1943
    also they show this picture in internet to claim the A9 project
    if you see it, note that right part of picture is missing ?
    there is the lettering “Gleitaggregat A4 V12 / c” launch by a “A18”
    only 750 km range with A4 on A18, sound not so sensational as ICBM A9/10 against the USA…
    the A10/A9 was brainchild of Dipl. Ing. Ludwig Roth team who present it on 1941

    IMHO so wat happend ?
    Von Braun was brilliant engineer AND salesmen
    He persuaded Minister of Armaments and War Production Albert Speer to take A4 program
    (maybe Von Braun used the A9/A10 concept as bait?)
    then in 1945 in the hand of US Armericans he had big Problems
    He becaim member of SS in order to ceep control about his rocket program in hand of Himmler
    the SS massproduce the rocket in deathcamps factory of Mittelwerk
    So Von Braun sell the A4 program to US Americans as part of bigger Nazi SPACE program !
    that A4 next as foundation stone for bigger rockets A12/A11/A10/A9 and Shuttle and Space Station
    and provided paperwork AFTER 1945…

    • admin

      also they show this picture in internet to claim the A9 project
      if you see it, note that right part of picture is missing ?
      there is the lettering “Gleitaggregat A4 V12 / c” launch by a “A18″
      only 750 km range with A4 on A18, sound not so sensational as ICBM A9/10 against the USA…

      The A-9 winged upper stage program survived the suspension of the A-10 effort, and re-emerged as the “A-4b.” This was a fairly simple modification of the V-2 with stubby swept wings; range woudl be extended by gliding, at the expense of terminal impact speed. This would allow the V-2 to reach further into Britain, not to reach the US. Two of them were launched; both failed.

      • Pat Flannery

        I always was amazed that they thought wooden wings were going to survive the reentry heating on the thing.
        I haven’t found video of the first A4b launch attempt on the web yet, but that was really something to see; the camera operator is diving for cover as the thing is flying around sideways right after it comes off of the pad.

        • Pat Flannery

          Found the video: http://www.v2rocket.com/start/others/a-4b_tests.wmv
          It’s the third launch shown, I assume the first two are differnt views of the second launch, where the wing broke off on the way back down.
          This raises an interesting question; is this A4b with enlarged tail surfaces a unlaunched third prototype?:
          What became of it at the war’s end? Did we get it, or did the Soviets get it?

    • Pat Flannery

      I never heard of a “A18” before, and A4 V18 would mean the 18th test prototype (Versuch) of the missile, which AFAIK was a stock A4 when launched.
      One thing that would be interesting to get some data on was a plan to strap solid fuel booster rockets around the tail of the V-2 to give it more range. This may have gotten tested right at the end of the war, but I’ve never seen photos or drawings of the concept.

  • Pat Flannery

    Why exactly does the upper stage have fins on it if it’s supposed to go into orbit?
    Looking at the drawing, it looks like there may be a crew capsule on its top, based on what may be a window near the nose, and fold-out petal air brakes to slow it down on the way back into the atmosphere before chute deployment. Are the fins so that it comes in pointy end first before the capsule get separated?

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  • Jeff Wright

    I guess this means that the design below was even more notional to say the least
    And then the simple tube design came along

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