WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby Deans » 21 Nov 2009 16:44

Evaluating technologies on the basis of:
- Overall Impact on the war.
- Usability (ease of use and ability to mass produce).
- Usage today & influence on today's technology.

My choices are:

1. The T-34 (adapting a lot of existing & proven concepts into a very user friendly,
easy to mass produce and decisive weapon).
2. Mass production of Penicillin
3. Proximity Fuse
4. Radar
5. Mass Production of Liberty ships
6. Computers (specifically their usage in code breaking).
7. Submachine gun.
8. German Missile program culminating in the V2 Rocket
9. Jet engines

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby govardhanks » 03 Dec 2009 16:50

yes usability and mass production are important point for us to look into.. for next few weeks i am looking to put jet engines..

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby Johann » 04 Dec 2009 03:53

I thought I'd list some of the key technological advantages of the major combatants. When I say advantage, I mean an area where one country developed a lead and held it throughout the war

German:
aeronautics (every wing type imaginable!)
rocketry (V2, V1)

UK:
computer technology (Colossus, which decrypted German radio communications)
stay behind weaponry & covert communications (Welrod, Sten, radios, secret writing, etc)
electronic warfare
air delivered ordnance

Anglo-American:
nuclear fission (Tube Alloys/Manhattan Project)
Sonar

American:
mass manufacture (spam, aircraft, tanks, ammunition)
transport design (Dakota, Jeep, Liberty Ship)
Strategic bomber design (B-17, B-29)
Aircraft Carrier design

Soviet:
tank design
artillery (including unguided rocket Katyushas)
audio intelligence collection

The great 'what-if' of the war was the German nuclear programme - even after the departure of brilliant minds with Jewish heritage like Einstein they did have access to nobel prize winning scientists like Otto Hahn, Walter Brothe, and Werner Heisenberg.

The biggest factor appears to have been:
a) the German Army and the Nazi Party's lack of recognition that a crash, all-out programme could produce a usable weapon. This may have something to do with the fact that most of the biggest proponents of building the Bomb in the UK and US were physicists who fled the Nazis, while the remaining great minds in Germany were far from committed to Nazi triumph.

b) the lack of German strategic depth. The Allied programme was relocated to Canada and the US, which were out of range of German air power. The German programme on the other hand got more than its fair share of Allied attention in the form of special forces raids and strategic bombing which caused major set backs.

c) the Allied intelligence advantage. The Allies not only recognised the importance of the Bomb earlier, they kept close tabs on German nuclear research, while the Germans knew next to nothing about the Allied bomb project, or its progress.

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby jamwal » 03 Jan 2010 01:52

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpwV0OYg1J4

The Goliath tracked mine (complete name: Leichter Ladungsträger Goliath (Sd.Kfz. 302/303a/303b)) was a remote controlled German-engineered demolition vehicle, also known as the beetle tank to Allies. Employed by the Wehrmacht during World War II, this caterpillar-tracked vehicle was approximately four feet long, two wide, and one tall. It carried 75–100 kg (165–220 lb) of high explosives and was intended to be used for multiple purposes, such as destroying tanks, disrupting dense infantry formations, and demolition of buildings and bridges.

Image

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby govardhanks » 29 Jan 2010 20:08

I have found an excellent website describing few of weapons development and its history. It is Finnish army weaponry development history.
http://www.jaegerplatoon.net/OTHER_AT_WEAPONS1.htm
Starting from Molotov cocktails I went all the way through anti-tank weapons, the author describes evenly the winter war and Russian tanks. The anti-tank and Tanks machinery evolved parallel like Predator and prey Darwinian evolution concept, the force driving them being war. Content here can be misused :P

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby Sanjay M » 03 May 2010 08:43

There is new conjecture around Hitler's surprise offensive against the Soviets in 1941, and why Stalin was caught off guard:

http://nextbigfuture.com/2010/05/revisi ... .html#more

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby Philip » 06 May 2010 11:30

Japanaese "super-subs" that never saw action,which could've drastically alterd the course of the Pacific War.

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainmen ... ersub.html

EXcerpt:
"Secrets of the Dead: Japanese SuperSub," Wednesday night at 8 on PBS

In the early 1940s, when World War II was still up for grabs, the Japanese Navy made a bet that didn't quite pay off. This new "Secrets of the Dead" production offers some chilling details of what might have happened if it did.

The bet was on a "supersub," a submarine that could deliver bombers to within striking distance of cities on America's West Coast.

Timing, luck and the fortunes of war delayed production and launch until it was too late for the subs to make a difference, and the few that were manufactured were never deployed.

Had they been produced when Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto ordered them in 1942, before the U.S. Navy established control of the Pacific, the experts in "Japanese SuperSub" warn that they could have altered the course of the war.

Putting aside the psychological impact of an attack on Los Angeles or San Francisco, submarine-borne bombers could have shut down the Panama Canal or crippled what remained of the U.S. war fleet after Pearl Harbor.

At one time, some Japanese officers proposed using the subs to rain germ and biological warfare on U.S. cities - a tactic the Japanese had been testing on Chinese prisoners, killing an estimated 200,000 in the process.

But along the way, two things happened. First Yamamoto was killed, which back-burnered his pet project. Then the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb, which brought a sudden end to the war even as the supersubs were being positioned for attack.

The commander of the supersubs, by the way, when ordered by Japanese headquarters to surrender, chose to shoot himself instead.

All this makes "Japanese SuperSub" a big what-if, and in that sense it's more abstract than the World War II "Secrets of the Dead" episodes that will air the following two Wednesdays - Winston Churchill attacking his French allies to make a point about his toughness and an intriguing reevaluation of the Battle of Stalingrad.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainmen ... z0n7yRfvZT

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby govardhanks » 03 Nov 2011 19:16

http://www.popularmechanics.com/technol ... d#fbIndex4

This is an excellent review of history wherein special rescue and attack operations were done in history.
A perfect special should have all three elements of surprise-
1. Timing
2. Deception and
3. Exploiting weak point in defense

Please read


Report this post

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby Victor » 04 Nov 2011 02:10

MG-42/MG-3 machine gun used by Germans is still in use today, notably by pakis.
Image

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby govardhanks » 07 Nov 2011 11:45

The American Economy during World War IIhttp://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/tassava.WWII

short notes is also there :D http://www.johndclare.net/wwii1_economic_effects.htm

Please do read this very informative web page, I feel that a strong economy is the most important before war and after war.
The web page is in detail, there looks like global balance in flow of richness or money or whatever it is, when this balance is erupted war breaks out, and it will happen only with enough industry and people support. USA and Britain both had faced huge industrial loss and unemployment as competition grew and their goods became out dated. Of course this should also lead to natural selection of those industries which would be resistant for such a face shift... This indeed happened and only few industries got favored!! I don't want to list them, but I think we need learn a bit from the His--story.

Anyways I think Something like War deposit or a Reserve fund could be used, in case war breaks out ?

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby govardhanks » 07 Nov 2011 12:39

Just read a interview by Thames television,1972 http://warchronicle.com/16th_infantry/soldierstories_wwii/finke.htm
A soldier tells his experience in one of the battle-

There are few aspects covered in this page which sound a valid reason
1. Transportation of munitions and people.
2. Communication both inter and intra.
Would change the convenience faced my military personnel in a battle.

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby anjan » 07 Nov 2011 14:09

Jagan wrote:The description is close but not quite accurate. the bomb had steel tripods that had one pointy end straight up which ever way they fell nd these were stuck to the runway using an adhesive. glue bomb, araldite bomb, steel tripod bomb. I havent found whats its official designation was.

but yes, it was an indian invention. never found an equivalent WW2 concept.
The metal thing is called a caltrop.

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby ramana » 04 Dec 2011 22:20

Rohitvats for you!

Dr. Christopher R. Gabel -
Seek, Strike, and Destroy: U.S. Army Tank Destroyer Doctrine in World War II
Combat Studies Institute | 1985 | ISBN: 0001953451 | English | 98 pages
Leavenworth Papers No. 12

After the collapse of the French army in 1940, the U.S. Army quickly moved to develop a doctrine, organization, and weaponry to deal with a large-scale mechanized attack such as the German Blitzkrieg. The result was the development of a "tank destroyer" concept that combined an aggressive doctrine, an elite spirit, and highly mobile, heavily gunned weapons - and which proved to be seriously flawed in practice. "Seek, Strike, and Destroy: U.S. Army Tank Destroyer Doctrine in World War II" provides a case study of how General Lesley J. McNair, at the direction of Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, developed the tank destroyer doctrine and its resultant antitank quasi-arm, and how the program's flawed once it was implemented. Even aside from the failure of the Germans to use massed armor in the latter part of the war, the rapid evolution of armor technology as the war went on, and the piecemeal use of tank destroyer battalions by field commanders, "Seek, Strike, and Destroy" shows that, given the largely offensive nature of the Army's mission, an strong anti-tank program assumed a defensive strategy which, if implemented, conceded that mission's failure. The misunderstanding of the mission, threat, and technology, combined with branch rivalries and obstruction within the Army, produced a tank destroyer hamstrung by tactical misuse and a technology woefully inadequate in the face of rapidly improving German armor technology. "Seek, Strike, and Destroy" not only explains the failure of a particular doctrine, but illuminates the more general problem of doctrinal development based on an inadequate understanding of technical and strategic realities. Strategists and scholars alike will find much to ponder in this valuable book.


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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby jimmy_moh » 31 Jan 2012 13:15

while reading the WW2 details through wiki... am wondering like.. how these countries are able to sustain such a big war for 4-5 years....
even how they are able to train soldiers in masses .. considerding the casulaties that faced in each battles..

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby Lalmohan » 31 Jan 2012 13:32

there was massive mobilisation of all resources to fight the war. the eventual winners (US and USSR) had the most resources to be deployed - men and materials. the british, french and germans, japanese were bankrupted and dismantled by the process - despite the former relying heavily on their colonies for men and materials, and the latter forcibly taking resources from the lands they conquered

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby jimmy_moh » 31 Jan 2012 13:51

am just trying to compare .. are we able to sustain such big wars.... we do have the man power but do we have the sufficient capacity to produce tanks,rifles,fighters in masses..?

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby Lalmohan » 31 Jan 2012 14:04

the nature of warfare has changed significantly since ww2 although it looks about the same
the intensity in terms of tempo and pace has increased massively, and the cost of munitions is several orders of magnitude higher
very few militaries can maintain a full-on combat activities for more than a few weeks without running out of materials and money

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby govardhanks » 07 Mar 2012 15:22

The rare earth elements and Ames laboratory in world war II:

The Ames lab is a chemical research and development program built for assisting the World War II Manhattan project. After WWII the lab started research in specialized rare metals and methods associated with it.
I believe that many of these rare elements posses lot of unique characteristics which are to be studied and Ames lab played a pivotal role in modernization of US military after world war II.

Here is a small review of rare earth metals..
http://www.eenews.net/public/Greenwire/2012/02/13/27

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby govardhanks » 12 Apr 2012 13:00

Magnetometers and submarines detection- During world war II the fluxgate magnetometers were developed for detection of submarines, further development even allowed earth surface to be surveyed from air and even entire earth by satellites. Navies use arrays of magnetometers laid across sea floors in strategic locations for detection of any submarine activity. The Russian Goldfish( http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/russia/661.htm )made with titanium (non-magnetic), project 661 anchar(papa) was designed to go undetected by magnetometers, but did not enter into service due to high cost and noise.

Here are few links which discuss the magnetometer and its further advancements,
http://istp.gsfc.nasa.gov/earthmag/magmeter.htm
http://www.subsearesearch.com/usnaval.htm

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby jamwal » 12 Mar 2013 13:12

Found some interesting images plus some propaganda posters recently. Posting some of them here

Image


Image


Image

Image

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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby Neshant » 30 Apr 2013 10:06

An excellent documentary on the Rise of Hitler.

Amazing color.


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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby Neshant » 17 Jun 2013 11:47

Just before Germany invaded the USSR, the USSR faught a war with tiny Finland in 1939.

The USSR had demanded Finland hand over portions of its territory to the USSR. The USSR thought it could easily over-power Finland - a country with a tiny population and poorly equipped military. The Finns refused and braced to be invaded by their much larger neighbour. They appealed for international help but none came. They had to fight alone.

The amazing story of how this brave little country (Finland) with its small army managed to give the Soviets as ass whipping. The Finns inflicted huge casualties on the Soviets and successfully defended their land & independence despite the unbelievable odds they faced.

Check out the documentary - well worth watching.


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Re: WW2 Military Technologies: Successes and Failures

Postby ricky_v » 17 Nov 2016 13:15

reviving this old thread with this longish read of the rocket development of rodina after ww2
http://www.airspacemag.com/space/the-rest-of-the-rocket-scientists-4376617/?no-ist=&page=1
N THE CLOSING WEEKS OF WORLD WAR II, AS ALLIED TROOPS RUMBLED INTO GERMAN TOWNS and the victors jockeyed to divide the spoils, one prize stood out: the people and machinery that had produced the V-2 rocket, one of the war’s most exotic weapons. To the delight of U.S. intelligence, Wernher von Braun and most of his top associates on the V-2 development team chose to surrender to the Americans, shrewdly calculating where they might be allowed to continue their pioneering research after the war. One German rocket engineer, quoted by historians Frederick Ordway and Mitchell R. Sharpe in their book The Rocket Team, sized up his options in April 1945: “We despise the French, we are mortally afraid of the Soviets, we do not believe the British can afford us. So that leaves the Americans.”
On June 20, 1945, von Braun and about 1,000 other German engineers and family members made the exodus from east Germany into the U.S.-held western zone, just ahead of the advancing Red Army. When the Soviets arrived, they found the V-2 underground production center at Mittelwerk mostly abandoned, its top personnel gone and key documents missing.
Among the disappointed Russians was 33-year-old Boris Chertok, an aerospace engineer who had arrived in Germany two months earlier with a broad assignment to search for and evaluate Nazi technology, particularly the V-2. Today a consultant at RKK Energia, the company that built the Mir station and other Russian spacecraft, Chertok’s career in the space industry goes back 65 years, including work on the Soviet attempt to send a man to the moon. In the mid-1990s he wrote Rakety i Lyudi (Rockets and People), a monumental four-volume memoir that became a bible for space historians around the world.
When I met Chertok in Moscow last year, his health was declining, which slowed his movements and forced him to talk loudly to overcome deteriorating hearing. Yet his memory of events that took place half a century earlier was still vivid. He recalled the scramble in 1945 as he and his colleagues tried, with little success, to lure top German talent to the Soviet side. His emissaries made risky dashes into the American zone, approaching the rocket specialists with offers of hefty salaries, food rations, and—most importantly—the opportunity to stay in Germany. That was one of the few battles von Braun and his colleagues had lost in negotiating with the Americans, and the Soviet recruiting campaign appealed to the Germans’ longing to remain in their homeland.
Few took the bait. One who did was Helmut Gröttrup, a physicist by training and a top expert on the V-2’s flight control system. Historians have debated why Gröttrup turned down the offer to work in the United States, suggesting that it was a combination of his leftist views and his refusal to become a bit player on von Braun’s team. Chertok thinks the primary reason was Gröttrup’s wish—and the even stronger desire of his wife Irmgard—to stay in Germany. He doesn’t discount, however, the scientist’s left-wing politics. “He was what we would call a social democrat—definitely anti-fascist,” Chertok recalls.
For whatever combination of reasons, Gröttrup signed up with the Soviets, who established a rocket research institute in the town of Bleicherode, not far from the Mittelwerk plant, and set him up with a $1,250 per month salary and a spacious house (the owner, an affluent merchant, was rudely turned out, according to Ordway and Sharpe). Gröttrup’s first task was to compile a detailed report about the rocket research he and his colleagues had been engaged in at the Peenemünde center on the Baltic coast. He also was placed in charge of hundreds of Germans, whose main job was to produce a full set of drawings for the V-2 and re-start production. Irmgard volunteered to search for food and other provisions for institute personnel in the midst of devastated Germany.
It wasn’t long before the other shoe dropped, however. As flightworthy V-2 missiles started rolling off the restored production line in 1946, the Soviet government made a secret decision, signed by Josef Stalin on May 13, to transfer all ballistic missile work, along with the German rocket experts, to Russia by year’s end. Ivan Serov, the head of the Soviet secret police in Germany, devised a plan, code-named “Osoaviakhim” after a Soviet aeronautical organization, to accomplish the deportation in just five days, with no advance notice. As Serov bluntly put it, moving quickly and relying on the element of surprise would “prevent Germans from running away when they learn that Soviet organizations deport their German employees.” Some 2,500 security officers were assigned to the operation, along with regular army units.
Chertok, who had tried hard to build good relations with his new recruits, favored the decision. “I believed it was a useful step,” he says. “We worked with Germans almost a year and a half, achieved a lot, and I considered it necessary to continue in Russia for some period of time.”
Not everyone agreed. Chertok’s friend and colleague, Sergei Korolev, who would go on to lead the stunning Soviet space achievements of the 1950s and 1960s, despised the move. In 1946, the man who would later become the Soviets’ chief designer for space nurtured ambitions of building his own rocket team. “Korolev had a negative attitude toward German participation in our work from the very beginning,” says Chertok, “and he did see them as potential competitors.”
The German engineers had little warning of what was coming. Early in the morning of October 22, 1946, Soviet soldiers showed up at the homes of top technical workers and informed them that they would be deported to work at various Soviet industrial ministries. It was the same story at each house: A Soviet security officer, accompanied by an interpreter, shocked half-asleep families by ordering them to pack up personal belongings and prepare to board trains for Russia. A promise of a five-year contract in the Soviet Union and an offer of assistance with packing and moving were little consolation. According to recently published Soviet accounts, as many as 7,000 workers and family members were rounded up. Only 500 or so were rocket engineers and their families—the rest worked primarily for the aircraft and nuclear industries.
hen an angry Helmut Gröttrup asked when he and his colleagues might return to Germany, Dmitry Ustinov, the head of the ministry responsible for missile development, joked, “As soon as you can fly around the world in a rocket!” Gröttrup boarded one of the 92 trains transporting the deportees and immediately dictated a letter of protest to his secretary, but it was to no avail. He arrived in Russia a few days later.

Growing up in Moscow in the 1970s, I spent my summer vacations at a dacha in Valentinovka, in the city’s northeastern suburbs. It was a place of magnificent pine and birch trees, gravel roads, and unpaved trails, twisting between ageless wooden cottages with brick chimneys and glass-covered porches. Back then, the hemorrhaging Soviet economy left local food stores largely empty, prompting my mother, in her never-ending quest for groceries, to make frequent trips to nearby Podlipki, where the shelves always seemed well stocked.

Official Soviet encyclopedias listed timber production as Podlipki’s main industry, but even then we knew it was home to the rocket industry, whose privileged workers could find cheese and milk even during the worst shortages. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the town’s true mission was made public, and it was renamed Korolev to honor the luminary of the Soviet space program, who spent the most productive years of his life there. It was here that Helmut Gröttrup was sent, to work at the newly established NII-88 scientific research institute, the first Soviet industrial facility dedicated to rocket development.
Boris Yezhov, a Korolev town historian, says that about half the Germans were accommodated in vacation houses in the northeastern suburbs. Most of the residences no longer exist, but at least one, in Bolshevo, is still standing. On the way to see it, Yezhov showed me an old black-and-white photo of a majestic stone mansion, sitting oddly in the middle of a forest. Today it’s a vacation house for Russian movie executives. But when Germans lived there it was nicknamed the “Fascist Palace,” and it housed “I don’t know how many tenants,” according to Irmgard Gröttrup. She and Helmut moved into a six-room villa more befitting his status, and were given a chauffeur-driven BMW. Later, though, when Helmut was transferred out of Moscow, Irmgard would spend a few months in the Fascist Palace. During her first night in the crowded building, her Russian hosts asked when she and her fellow Germans were going to bed. She recalled, “We looked at the 10 bottles of vodka on the table and laughed out loud: We hadn’t the slightest intention of going to sleep.”
Other Germans were housed according to their jobs. Specialists in guidance and radio systems, perhaps the most challenging task in the Soviet missile development program, settled in the town of Monino, farther east on the Yaroslavskaya Railroad. Another group, led by V-2 propulsion specialist Erich Putze, was attached to the collective of Valentin Glushko, the other principal figure in Russian rocketry at that time. Glushko worked on rocket propulsion systems at the OKB-456 design bureau, now known as NPO Energomash, the company that builds engines for almost every Russian rocket as well as the U.S. Atlas booster. Like Korolev, Glushko was not enthusiastic about German participation in his work. “He distanced himself from the Germans,” says Vladimir Sudakov, a historian at NPO Energomash.

Without support from above, Gröttrup struggled with badly equipped laboratories and a lack of tools. The Germans working for Glushko were taken off work on a more advanced engine for the V-2, designated RD-102, and given secondary and often humiliating jobs, such as designing the foundation for industrial buildings.

For the Russian rocket pioneers, it was partly a matter of pride. Korolev and Glushko had been at this business for years, and believed they could improve on the already outdated V-2 with no outside help. But Stalin himself was keen to have his scientists launch German missiles before moving on to their own. He believed that by copying Western designs, like that of the American B-29 bomber (see “Made in the USSR,” Feb./Mar. 2001), Soviet engineers could quickly absorb foreign innovations. Decades later, veterans of the Soviet aerospace industry publicly admitted they had done just that.

So in August 1947, Gröttrup and several other Germans boarded a train to a new launch range at Kapustin Yar, near the border with Kazakhstan, to assist with the first launches of V-2s. Out here, Irmgard wrote in her diary, the camels outnumbered the cars. Still, the engineers were excited to be launching rockets again. The atmosphere, she noted, was “just like Peenemünde when we made our first experiments.”

Upon returning to Moscow in December, the Germans continued to be shut out of important work. Gröttrup and his associates presented to their Russian hosts a concept for a new guided missile, the G-1, partially based on work done in Germany during the war. Also designated the R-10, it featured a number of improvements over the V-2, including a longer range. But despite positive Russian reviews of the concept, it went nowhere. Soon German engineers began losing their positions at NII-88 and were reassigned to a research facility on Gorodomlya Island, 200 miles northwest of Moscow, where half their fellow Germans had already been living since arriving in Russia.

Helmut Gröttrup had few regrets about leaving the frustration of NII-88, but his wife felt a pang of nostalgia: “Farewell Moscow!” she wrote. “In spite of everything, you meant a great deal to me—a host of good friends—a city, in which I quarreled, laughed, wept, and pondered much.”
n the Upper Volga region of Russia, surrounded by swamps and evergreen forest, lies magnificent Lake Seliger, and at its center, Gorodomlya Island. In 1629 a rich landowner donated the island to a Russian Orthodox monastery, and for most of the three centuries that followed, Gorodomlya remained virtually uninhabited. Mid-19th-century maps of the island show the lone house of a forester. In 1928 the Soviet government evicted the monks and established a biological research laboratory. According to local legend, one of the defiant monks drowned himself in the lake, and his ghost has wandered the island ever since.

The region around Lake Seliger saw heavy fighting during World War II, and the laboratory was evacuated in the face of the German advance. By the war’s end, Gorodomlya had become home to numerous Soviet military hospitals, and was connected with the outside world by an underwater telephone cable. But its real claim to fame was the rocket research conducted there in the years immediately following the war.

It took Gröttrup and his fellow Germans days to reach the island from Moscow, but I made the trip in five hours by car. From the shores of Lake Seliger, I boarded a ferry that takes a half-hour to reach Gorodomlya. Not far from the pier is a gated entrance and a guardhouse. By the time I reached the gate, it was already under siege by a group of teens from our ferry, who were quarreling loudly with a female guard. Apparently they were here for a dance party at a nearby club, and some of them did not have permits to be on the restricted island.

As I climbed the road past the security fence, I could appreciate Irmgard Gröttrup’s feelings when she arrived here a half-century earlier: “So great was our curiosity about the island that we hardly noticed the dreaded barbed wire once we had landed. I think we were all too anxious to know what went on behind it.” At the top of the hill, the asphalt road took me around a white stone building marked “LIBRARY.” It used to be a café, which doubled as a social club for the Germans. The newcomers, it seems, tried to make it feel like home.
“The camp looks like an outsize toy village transplanted from Germany,” Irmgard wrote. “There are flowers in the touchingly well-tended gardens, and on the balconies, the windows are curtained and the washing on the lines is spotless.” More than 50 years later, a visitor can still find many houses at Gorodomlya surrounded by rose bushes, their bright flowers striking a dissonant note in that harsh landscape.

The German engineers and their family members could obtain permits to leave the island, but only for limited periods, and only with a Soviet escort. According to Valery Bukreev, a Russian engineer who has lived on Gorodomlya since the 1960s, the weekly trips German housewives made across the lake drove up prices at the local produce market. During winter the lake iced over, and the wives pulled sleds loaded with provisions. During spring thaws the trip became more dangerous, and Irmgard Gröttrup remembered watching Russians hop from one piece of floating ice to another.

Compared to Moscow, life on the island was primitive. The first German families to arrive had been given apartments with no bathtubs but plenty of bugs. (I learned on my first morning there that the descendants of these bloodsucking insects remain.) Eventually, after much bickering with the Soviet authorities and their own efforts on the weekends, things improved. In the summer of 1948, the Germans built a tennis court. “Even today,” Bukreev says, “the surface of this court gets dry in minutes after the rain, so well was it laid out.” The Soviets provided schools, which had 150 German students at one point, some of whom went on to college in St. Petersburg.

The real problem, though, was not the living conditions or even the lack of freedom, but disillusionment with the work. Gröttrup was pleased with the caliber of his German colleagues, who were well equipped and had more cohesiveness as a unit than he had seen back in Moscow. Although only a few had worked at Peenemünde, he quickly discovered a number of brilliant specialists on his new team: Joachim Umpfenbach, responsible for propulsion systems; Waldemar Wollf, a ballistics expert; aerodynamicist Werner Albring; Johannes Hoch, who led the team developing flight control systems; Alois Yasper, in charge of production; and Heinz Jaffke, who headed construction of launch facilities.

But politics worked against them. “There was a suspicion toward any foreigner in the U.S.S.R,” says Alexander Eremenko, a historian of NII-88, and the Germans at Gorodomlya were physically and intellectually isolated. Back in Moscow, Korolev was building a vast industrial network for rocket development, but the Germans were unable to test their concepts or even collaborate with anyone off the island.

Korolev was trying to push his own rocket design through the bureaucracy at NII-88. In many ways his R-2 paralleled the Germans’ G-1 concept. Both rockets minimized weight and added range. And both featured a separable warhead, so the rest of the missile wouldn’t have to survive the scorching heat of atmospheric reentry.
hree days after Christmas 1948, a delegation from NII-88 arrived at Gorodomlya to review progress on the G-1 project. Gröttrup bluntly told his bosses that further development of the rocket made no sense unless he and his co-workers were allowed to do experimental work. The review ended on a positive note, but there was no further discussion of building the G-1 rocket. Soviet officials continued visiting the island over the following year, seeking proposals for various rocket concepts, but nothing came of any of them.

By the end of 1950, with no prospect of returning home and no hope of creative engineering work, Gröttrup asked visiting Soviet officials to relieve him of his duties as head of the German collective. He hoped that as a show of solidarity, none of his German colleagues would agree to fill his position. He was wrong. Johannes Hoch, the flight control system expert, was appointed to take his place. But only four days later, possibly due to negative reactions from other members of the team, Hoch and five of his supporters were transferred to Moscow to join a team developing anti-aircraft missiles; it was led by Sergei Beriya, the son of Lavrenty Beriya, Stalin’s infamous secret police chief. Boris Chertok agrees with Irmgard Gröttrup’s perhaps biased characterization of Hoch as a “crypto-Communist.” According to Chertok, Hoch applied for Soviet citizenship and even tried to join the Communist party. “He also was an extraordinary talented engineer,” says Chertok, “and if not for his premature death could have been one of our chief designers.”

By the time Helmut Gröttrup walked away from his job, the Soviets had gotten about all they wanted from their foreign experts. As more newly trained Russian engineers took over key jobs on the island, the Ministry of Armaments decided to discontinue the German collective’s missile development project, and the secret work at Gorodomlya ceased. Around the same time, back at the OKB-456 design bureau, Glushko authored a document essentially asking the government to send the Germans back home. Meanwhile, the German scientists were assigned such tasks as designing aerodynamic weighting mechanisms or boat engines. Depression, heavy drinking, and even suicide attempts plagued the team and their families.

In 1951, the first group of Germans was allowed to return to East Germany. The Gröttrups remained until November 1953, when all but a few of the remaining Germans were sent home. The rest, mostly guidance experts, eventually were transferred to Moscow. Helmut and Irmgard returned to Germany and even succeeded in moving back to the western sector. Again Helmut was offered a job in the United States, and again he opted to stay in his home country. He went on to a successful career in the electronics industry, and turned his back on the past.
On August 21, 1957, the Soviet newspaper Pravda boasted that the U.S.S.R. was in possession of intercontinental ballistic missiles. As Western intelligence confirmed the Soviet claim, one high-ranking official at NATO’s European headquarters reportedly exclaimed, “We captured the wrong Germans.”

His comment was based on a rather common belief in the West: that Soviet breakthroughs in rocketry, including the triumphant launch of Sputnik 1 a few weeks later, were due to the contributions of German rocket scientists. When Wernher von Braun and his team answered Sputnik the next winter with the first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1, a popular joke was that the two orbiters exchanged greetings in their common language—German.

Historians, however, disagree about the impact of German rocket scientists on the Soviet program. “In reality, the Germans did not build anything for the Russians, did not ‘supervise’ the firings, and did not introduce innovations,” wrote German-born rocket historian (and von Braun colleague) Willy Ley in 1968. Nearly three decades later, Boris Chertok echoed the opinion in his memoirs. The R-7, the Soviets’ first ICBM and the vehicle that launched Sputnik, bore no German “birth marks,” he wrote.

However, Olaf Przybilski, an historian at the Technical University of Dresden, disagrees. His analysis, published in Germany in 1997, points out a striking resemblance between a cone-like aerodynamic shape the Gröttrup team had proposed for several rockets and the conical shape of Korolev’s largest designs—the R-7 and the ill-fated N1 moon rocket.

The truth lies somewhere in between. Germans did not design the Sputnik or its rocket, but the ideas developed by Gröttrup’s team on Gorodomlya did influence Soviet designers and accelerate their efforts. On her last day on Gorodomlya Island, Irmgard Gröttrup wrote in her diary: “Once more we had a meal with our friends, draining glass after glass and taking stock of the past years. We came to the conclusion that they had not been wasted, as we had so often believed. The men agreed that…the long-range rocket has made the conquest of space a definite possibility in the foreseeable future.”

Whether or not their work ultimately mattered, there is no question that the Germans who went east after the war had a markedly different experience from those who headed west. Wernher von Braun would eventually supervise construction of NASA’s Saturn V moon rocket, rise to the top levels of agency management, and win the National Medal of Science. Kurt Debus, another Peenemünde alumnus, headed launch operations at Cape Canaveral during the Apollo program. Helmut Gröttrup was happy just to make it back home to Germany.
After the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, some of the surviving “Russian Germans,” as the rocket scientists had came to be known in their homeland, returned to Russia for a reunion with former friends and colleagues. Among them was Ursula Gröttrup, the daughter of Helmut and Irmgard and now a woman in her late 50s living in Hamburg. Back on the island, she found her childhood home still standing, and learned that shortly after her family left, a new organization began producing gyroscope technology for Soviet rockets and spacecraft. Some of that hardware eventually flew on the Buran space shuttle and the Mir space station in the 1980s. Finally, something made on Gorodomlya made it to the launch pad.


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