Born: 1889. Died: 1945-01-01.
This was the first time he became acquainted with liquid rocket engine technology. 300 kgf and 1000 kgf engines were fired in his presence. A colour-coded cutaway model of the A3 rocket was presented and its systems explained. Hitler was quiet throughout the exhibits and asked no questions. Afterwards, while taking lunch at the mess hall, he asked only about the development schedule (clucking when told), the range of the missile, and the impact on the schedule if synthetic 'Eisenbled' was substituted for light metal alloys in the rocket frame. Hitler spoke of deceased rocket pioneer Max Valier - he had known him in Munich, but dismissed him as a dreamer. Dornberger countered by comparing the state of rocket development to the early days of the zeppelin, when Lillienthal made the first primitive experiments. Hitler in turn dismissed airships as dangerous, filled with explosive gas . The Fuehrer finally departed with handshakes and few words. His summary of the day: 'Es war doch gewaltig' (it was impressive, nevertheless). The rocket team was dismayed - it was the first time a visitor had exhibited no reaction to the power the rocket engines when fired for their benefit. But on the plus side, Von Brauchtisch said he was astounded at the progress made by the team in only a few years. Dornberger believed Hitler was enthralled with artillery and tanks, and was unimpressed with rocket technology. He thought Hitler didn't understand the possibilities and didn't believe the time had come yet for development of the rocket as a weapon.
After Hitler's visit, it finally it became clear to Dornberger that either support for the project would have to come from the highest level, or that Peenemuende should abandon rocket research and be devoted to more pressing war needs.
Meanwhile the results of the air war over London showed that the A4 could be an economic weapon. Bombers were averaging only 5 to 6 missions, dropping only 6 to 8 tonnes of bombs before being shot down. Once the loss of trained flying crews was considered, the bomber cost 30 times more than the A4 to deliver a tonne of explosives on London compared to the expendable A4 at its production price of 38,000 Marks. But time was being lost in convincing others in the German leadership that the missile should be put into production.
After the military success in Poland, Hitler believes development of expensive 'wonder weapons' are unnecessary to win the war. The A4 and other rocket projects are removed from the priority list, making acquisition of necessary materials and engineers difficult.
Speer meets with Von Braun and Dornberger. A 1:100 model of the planned bunker construction-launch facility for the rocket to be built by Organisation Todt on the British channel was exhibited. Speer reveals that Hitler could not decide about the rocket as a weapon. He did not believe the rocket team's plans could be made to work. But Speer did authorise them to proceed with construction on his own authority - he hoped Hitler could be brought around eventually. But he emphasised that Dornberger would have to use his personal connections to get industry moving on the project. But Dornberger was thwarted when the Army put Degenkolb in charge of organising production of the missile. Degenkolb was a sworn enemy of Dornberger's, and had been implicated in the 'suicide' of General Becker in early 1940. Degenkolb set up a Nazi-supported bureaucracy in parallel to that of Dornberger's, requiring the approval of the Army weapons bureau on any decisions. Degenkolb had the sponsorship of Todt and Saur, who in turn followed the party line - 'like the Fuehrer, we are not yet won over to the concept of a long range missile'.
In order to productionise the A4 design, Degenkolb began authorising many detailed changes. He didn't understand that every change had to be proven in test first, and only incremental steps could be taken. Stahlknecht had planned to produce 300 A4 missiles per month by January 1944, and 600 per month by July 1944. Degenkolb unrealistically decreed that 300 per month be achieved by October 1943, and 900 per month by December 1943.
Hitler dreamed that no A4 missile could ever reach England. The result was that the program lost its priority amidst other pressing armaments programs, and the necessary engineers and production rocket engines could not be obtained. While losing priority, the high security classification remained, so it was not possible to recruit non-German engineers and technicians for the work. The production schedule inevitably slid. Finally the government decided to competitively evaluate the Fi-103 cruise missile (V-1) against the A4 ballistic missile (V-2) leading to the selection of a single weapon for mass production by July of 1943.
The V-3 cannon was tested at Misdroy on Wollin Island (now Miedzyzdroje, Poland). The gun was a 60 m long constant-pressure cannon developed by Coenders of the Roechling firm in Saarbrucken. The gun was laid at a 45 degree angle in the dunes. Aiming was accomplished by arranging wood blocks under the concrete sections. The gun demonstrated a 15 km range with a sabot-launched, arrow-shaped warhead. The tests were conducted under Kammler, who was responsible for all V-weapons. Dornberger had been opposed to the concept, but everyone else was enthusiastic, due to Hitler's support and unending fascination with artillery.
Dornberger, Von Braun, and Steinhoff (at the controls) fly aboard a He-111 to the Fuehrer bunker in East Prussia. There they give Hitler a review of the V-2 program, the first since his visit to Kummersdorf in March 1939. The appointment was for 11:30, but then delayed to 17:00.
When they were finally ushered into his presence, Dornberger was shocked at the terrible and changed appearance of the Fuehrer. The team begins their briefing, in the presence of Hitler, Keitel, Jodl, Butale, and Speer. The presentation began with a film of preparations and launch of an A4 on the 3 October 1942. Von Braun narrated the film, which had proven a real crowd-pleaser in the past. It showed the A4 in production at the vast assembly hall at Peenemuende, the vertical roll-out, the huge launch complex, and finally launch. Von Braun then presented a model and plans for the hardened production/launch bunker that was being built on the English Channel.
Hitler loved the bunker model, and declared he wanted to build not one, but three such facilities. Dornberger argued that mobile launchers would be militarily less vulnerable and less costly, but Hitler was unconvinced. The 7 m thick bunker walls, he declared, would 'draw every allied bomber like flies to honey. Every bomb they drop there will be one that does not fall on Germany'. Hitler asks if the payload can be increased to 10 tonnes (in order to accommodate a nuclear warhead) or if a 2,000 per month production rate was possible (in order to make mass attacks on Britain with conventional explosive or chemical payloads). Dornberger replies that it would take four to five years to develop a missile with greater payload, and that production was limited by the German industrial capacity for alcohol (used as fuel in the missile).
Dornberger noted that they did not dream of the possibility of short-term availability of nuclear energy in 1936, when the specifications for the missile were set. In any case, after the loss of the heavy water plant in Norway, it would take years to develop nuclear weapons. Hitler was visibly upset that the V-2 would not turn out to be a war-deciding weapon. But Dornberger pointed out it was a great psychological weapon - unstoppable, something against their which there was no defence.
Hitler stated that 'I have only had to excuse myself to two men in my life - and one of them was von Brauchtisch, who always championed the importance of your work, and the other is you. If we had this weapon in 1939, Britain would have conceded, and there would have been no war.
Hitler finally ordered that the V-1 and V-2 missile programs be given the highest priority in the defence ministry. Immediately needed staff and material began flowing into the program. Saur immediately ordered a production goal of 2,000 missiles per month, despite the fact that there was no prospect of producing enough alcohol fuel or training enough launch crews to actual fire the missiles at such a rate. However, there was no disagreement, since any industry leader who did not commit to meeting this production goal was threatened with immediate replacement. German alcohol production would mean the maximum number that could ever be fired was 900 per month.
Ten days after the raid on Peenemuende, the British bomb the V-2 production/launch bunker under construction at Watten. Seven further bunkers (four in Pas-de-Calais, three at Cherbourg) continued to be built. Soon thereafter, V-2 production plants at Wiener Neustadt and Friedrichshafen are also bombed. Clearly the Allies had detected and targeted the infrastructure of the V-2 production program. In response to the raids, the decision was made that Organisation Todt would build an underground V-2 factory at a chalk mine in Witzen. The bunker at Watten would be used only as a liquid oxygen production plant. Hitler had mandated a 7 m thick protective roof there, which cannot be penetrated by Allied bombs. It was decided that the roof would be jacked up, the sides filled with concrete, and construction work would continue underground despite the perpetual bombing.
The cause of early detonation of the warhead during the engine burn time is understood, but the crashes at the end of the trajectory are still a mystery. Dornberger is ordered to report to Hitler at Berchtesgaden. The call is received at 7 pm in the evening, following a bomb raid and ice storm. Dornberger is told that on the following morning Von Braun, Riedel II, and Groettrup are to be arrested for sabotage of the A4 program. Groettrup selects Dr Steinhoff as his representative. The men are accused of not putting all their energy in development of the A4 as a weapon - instead only using the financing of the Reich to support their private plans for manned spaceflight. Dornberger know he cannot complete the program without these men - Von Braun and Riedel were the key leaders, and Groettrup was head of the electrical systems section. Dornberger finally achieves their release by demonstrating to the SS that the biggest impediment to the program was Hitler's dream that the A4 would never reach London. After a few days in detention, Von Braun was moved to Schwedt, and then freed. The others were allowed out a bit later.
Dornberger was relegated to command of the training batteries for the rocket troops. Von Braun spoke to Dornberger, telling him that he must accept the situation and assist Kammler. Following the July 1944 assassination and coup attempt against Hitler, Dornberger had no backing in the leadership for keeping the program in Army hands. Dornberger finally agreed to cooperate - rockets had been his life's work, and he could not bear not to be involved. Dornberger hoped to 'put my words in Kammler's mouth and make them appear to be his'. All Army commanders in the rocket program were dismissed and replaced by SS officers - Kammler was in complete control.
It was for them a depressing time. The V-2 came too late to affect the outcome of the war. The years 1939-1942, when Hitler had blocked development and production of the V-2, were lost years. By this time, the Peenemuende staff was allocated as follows: 135 were working on Taifun anti-aircraft barrage rocket; 1940 were working on the V-2; 1220 were working on the Wasserfall surface-to-air missile; 270 were working on the A4b winged V-2; and 660 were in administrative positions. Meanwhile Kammler was constantly underway, trying to deploy the wonder weapons he believed would save the Reich. He could only be met at one-hour meetings at autobahn intersections, on his way from one place to another.