Encyclopedia Astronautica
Zucker Rocket



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Zucker Rocket
Zucker demonstrating rocket to Nazi government officials, winter 1933/1934
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Zucker Launch
Zucker Launch near London, 6 June 1934
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Zucker Launch
Zucker Launch near Scapa, Scotland, 31 July 1934
The Zucker Rocket was not an operational rocket at all, but a series of flashy-looking hulls powered by powder rockets like those used in fireworks. Zucker travelled through Germany in 1931-1933, displaying his rocket, selling tickets to launches, and then selling fraudulent postal covers carried aboard the 'flights'. The highest recorded altitude achieved in Germany was 15 m.

He moved on to Britain, where a smaller version was said to achieved an altitude of a 'half mile' in 1934. Zucker was deported from England for postal fraud, only to be detained by the government on return to Germany. Commitment to an asylum was avoided, but he pledged not to conduct further experiments. He emerged again in 1964, when the death of a boy during one of his experiments in Braunlage led to a general ban against rocket flights in West Germany. By the 1970's he was again selling fraudulent rocket post covers. He died in 1985.

Gerhard Zucker first came to public notice in 1931 when he began flying fireworks-type powder rockets on 'rocket post' flights in various villages in the region. In 1933 Zucker began touring Germany with his amazing 'operational rocket'. The recoverable cruise missile was 5 m long, had a thrust of 360 kg and a takeoff mass of 200 kg. Later versions were supposedly capable of cruising out 400 km from its launch point at an altitude of 1000 m and a speed of 1000 m/s. It could then return after having delivered a bomb payload or having taken reconnaissance photographs. In actuality the missile was only an enormous hull equipped with eight powder rockets.

Zucker showed up in Cuxhaven on the German North Sea coast in the winter of 1933, ready for a long-range demonstration (15 km, from the coast to Neuhaven Island). After being stuck in a ditch while being taken out to the field for a February launch attempt, the great day finally came in April 1933. A huge crowd of local folk and officials gathered to witness the event. After staggering 15 m into the air, the torpedo came crashing down. This did not prevent Zucker from touring other towns in Germany, attempting further rocket tests, and selling non-official 'rocket' postal covers supposedly carried by his rockets. In the winter of 1933/1934 he was said to have demonstrated his rocket to Nazi government officials. They later claimed that they wanted him to develop the rocket to carry bombs, which he claimed that he refused to do. He next appeared in England, where in May, 1934 he exhibited his rocket 'postal covers' at the London Air Post Exhibition. There he claimed that he wanted to interest the British government in his rocket. Photographer Robert Hartman agreed to be his publicist, and postage stamp dealer C H Dombrowski backed production of Zucker rockets in Britain. The group planned to make thousands of pounds on the sale of Zucker's 'rocket post'.

Zucker immediately began to claim there were many problems in replicating his 'successful' German flights. The Nazis had banned the export of proper rocket fuel. No one in England knew the secret of packing the powder cartridges. The runners of the launch ramp needed a special secret German lubricat. And so on. Mrs Dombrowski supposedly made an attempt to smuggle the secret rocket fuel out of Germany in her hat box, to know avail. It was said that Gestapo agents were watching every move of the trio. Using what he said was brilliant improvisation, Zucker built a (smaller) rocket using substitute materials (incuding butter for lubricants).

On the early morning of June 6,1934 Zucker, Dombrowski, a reporter and a photographer from the London Daily Express, a philatelic magazine editor, and Hartman met on a hilltop on Sussex Downs. After a first successful test launch without payload, two launches were made with postal covers. The observers guessed the rockets went as high as 400 to 800 m. Banner headlines the next day announced 'The First British Rocket Mail' and carried Zucker's claim that soon he would inaugrate regular one minute rocket post service between Dover and Calais.

The next step was to to impress the Royal Mail with the potential or rocket post. Zucker announced a demonstration firing of his rocket over 1600 m of water between the town of Harris and the Isle of Scarp. This smaller model airframe was 1.07 m long with a diameter of 18 cm. The solid fuel cartridge (a copper shell with asbestos lining) fixed inside was 55 cm long and 6 cm in diameter. The rest of the fuselage was packed with 1,200 pre-sold 'highly profitable mail covers'. Government officials watched on 31 July 1934 as the rocket exploded, blowing the burning payload all over the beach. Zucker diagnosed the cause as incorrect packing of the powder cartridges. The singed envelopes that were recovered only seemed to have a greater cache with collectors.

The British found Zucker to be a 'threat to the income of the post office and the security of the country'. He was deported to Germany, where he was immediately arrested by the Germans on suspicion of espionage or collaboration with Britain. He managed to avoid arrest and commitment to an asylum but was forbidden to make further rocket experiments. During World War II he served in the Luftwaffe, being invalided out in 1944. He returned to his home in Hasselfelde, which ended up being just within the Russian zone of occupation. He eventually moved a few kilometers onto the West German side of the border, became a furniture dealer, and resumed rocket experiments. A student was killed in Braunlage in 1964 during one such experiment. This led to a ban on non-military rocket launches in West Germany and the closure of the civilian spaceport in Cuxhaven. Nevertheless by the 1970's Zucker had resumed launching fraudulent 'rocket postal covers'. Having done a great deal to set back scientific rocketry in Germany, Zucker died at home in his bed in 1985. His widow and children returned to Hasselfelde after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

to a: 15 m to 300 m altitude. Launch data is: incomplete.

Status: Retired 1933.
First Launch: 1933.04.01.
Number: 1 .

More... - Chronology...


Associated Countries
See also
  • German Civilian Rocketry A German rocket craze seized the country from 1928 to 1933, inspiring a generation of young engineers and scientists that manned spaceflight could be a reality in their lifetime. The Nazi government put an end to this civilian effort, instead putting the engineers to work developing military rockets. After the war, an attempt was made to revive German civilian rocketry, but safety fears resulted in all further work being shut down in 1964. More...

Bibliography
  • McDowell, Jonathan, Jonathan's Space Home Page (launch records), Harvard University, 1997-present. Web Address when accessed: here.
  • Ley, Willy, Rockets Missiles and Men in Space, Viking Press, New York, 1968.
  • "Wolf, Sonja", Cuxhaven - Im Zeitalter der Raketen, Unpublished manuscript, Cuxhaven City Archives, August 1986. Provided by Harald Lutz..
  • Contemporary newspaper articles, 1952-1964, Collected and provided by Harald Lutz.
  • "Roales, Paul A", The Rocket Mail Page, Web Address when accessed: here.
  • "Hartman, Zucker, and Rockets", The Robert S Hartman Institute, Web Address when accessed: here.

Associated Launch Sites
  • Cuxhaven As the only site in Germany with an unrestricted over-water firing sector over the North Sea, Cuxhaven was once touted as 'the Cape Canaveral of Germany'. Primarily known to space historians for the three post-war V-2 launches under project Backfire, it played an important role in the nascent post-World War II German rocketry. A nearly completely unknown series of scientific sounding rocket launches were made from the area in 1957-1964 before the launch site was closed on (purportedly) safety and (actually) military grounds. More...

Zucker Rocket Chronology


1933 April - . Launch Site: Cuxhaven. Launch Vehicle: Zucker Rocket.
  • Zucker rocket launched at Cuxhaven - . Nation: Germany. Related Persons: Zucker. Apogee: 0.0150 km (0.0093 mi). Zucker's amazing 'operational rocket'. was supposedly a recoverable cruise missile, 5 m long, with a thrust of 360 kg and a takeoff mass of 200 kg. In actuality the missile was only an enormous hull equipped with eight powder rockets. Zucker showed up in Cuxhaven on the German North Sea coast in the winter of 1933, ready for a long-range demonstration (15 km, from the coast to Neuhaven Island). After being stuck in a ditch while being taken out to the field for a February launch attempt, the great day finally came in April 1933. A huge crowd of local folk and officials gathered to witness the event. After staggering 15 m into the air, the torpedo came crashing down.

1934 June 6 - . Launch Vehicle: Zucker Rocket.
  • Zucker mail rocket launch at Sussex Downs - . Nation: UK. Related Persons: Zucker. Apogee: 0.60 km (0.37 mi). Zucker, his backer, and selected press representatives met on a hilltop on Sussex Downs. After a first successful test launch without payload, two launches were made with postal covers. The observers guessed the rockets went as high as 400 to 800 m. Banner headlines the next day announced 'The First British Rocket Mail' and carried Zucker's claim that soon he would inaugrate regular one minute rocket post service between Dover and Calais.

1934 July 31 - . Launch Vehicle: Zucker Rocket.
  • Zucker mail rocket explosion at Harris - . Nation: UK. Related Persons: Zucker. Apogee: 0 km ( mi). Zucker announced a demonstration firing of his rocket over 1600 m of water between the town of Harris and the Isle of Scarp. Government officials watched as the rocket exploded, blowing the burning payload of postal covers all over the beach. The British found Zucker to be a 'threat to the income of the post office and the security of the country'. He was deported to Germany, where he was immediately arrested by the Germans on suspicion of espionage or collaboration with Britain.

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