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'Hitler's Rocket Soldiers' is also available ine-book format
The Men who fired the V2s against England
Murray R. Barber and Michael Keuer
Also available globally in e-book format from Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Overdrive, Sony & Google and other international e-tailers.
Printed book ISBN: 978-0-9555977-5-6
Ebook digital ISBN: 978-0-9555977-8-7
'Truly an invaluable contribution to the operational history of the V2 rocket...'
'We V2 soldiers fulfilled our tasks with the knowledge that every firing meant innocent people lost their lives...'
‘This fascinating and historically significant book fills a void in the story of the ‘Vergeltungswaffe-Zwei’ by showing how the troops in the field used the rocket weapon developed at Peenemünde by Wernher von Braun’s technical team... The amount and quality of information in Hitler’s Rocket Soldiers is remarkable. To my knowledge, this story has never before been told, and certainly not to the depth and breadth that authors Barber and Keuer do in this volume… Hitler’s Rocket Soldiers is one of the most fascinating, best-produced and interesting books I've read in many years. I enthusiastically give it my highest recommendation…’
Terry Sunday, Digital Space Art
This substantial book provides an invaluable contribution to the operational history of the A4 (V2) rocket. Little has been written about the secret activities of the special troops whose role was to protect and fire the operational A4 (V2) rocket under field conditions in World War Two. Carefully researched, the book goes a long way to filling this void. As the result of many years tracking down the few remaining veterans the authors have complied eleven individual biographies of rocket troops whose pre-combat occupations included a scientist, chemist, engineer, toolmaker and builder. The text is written clearly and concisely and is well referenced.
The book provides a fascinating insight into the day-to-day lives of the rocket troops including their personal combat experiences, attitudes, humour and interpersonal relations. Particularly intriguing are their interactions with such Peenemünde notables as Dr. Wernher von Braun and Major General Walter Dornberger. Light is also thrown on the establishment of the field units and the training of the troops. The fact that several of the veterans interviewed have subsequently passed away highlights the urgency and importance of collecting such historical material. The scholarly work is highly recommended to any one with an interest in the history of Hitler's rocket troops and the field deployment of the world's first long-range rocket.
Brett Gooden author of Projekt Natter - Last of the Wonder Weapons and Spaceport Australia
In the final, desperate months of World War Two, at a time when the German war machine was considered by the Allies to be an almost spent force, Adolf Hitler unleashed a new weapon against England and western Europe that fell from the silence of the Earths upper atmosphere and the edge of space. It was a weapon that struck fear into the hearts and minds of wartime civilians; it came without warning and defence was impossible. This was an unseen threat that fell at supersonic speeds, levelling suburban streets to dust in seconds, terrorising the residents of London and Antwerp this was the V2 Rocket.
The V2 Vergeltungswaffen Zwei (Vengeance Weapon 2), designed by the rocket scientist and engineer, Wernher von Braun, and his colleagues at the secret Nazi research centre at Peenemünde, was the most sophisticated weapon developed in Europe during the war. Following the end of hostilities, von Braun and many in his team transferred their allegiance to the United States and subsequently went on to design the mighty Saturn V that took the Americans to the moon. The experiences of von Braun's rocket team are well documented, but somewhat surprisingly, some aspects of the V2 story remain largely uncovered. This is especially true from the German perspective and more specifically, the view of the men who formed the firing teams for this formidable weapon that embraced supersonic technology. From September 1944 to early 1945, V2 launch teams fired more than 3,000 rockets, each with a high-explosive one-ton warhead, at targets in England, France, Belgium, Holland and even within Germany itself. Many rockets were fired from mobile launch sites in The Hague and from concealed wooded areas hidden from Allied aircraft, using fleets of modern, purpose-built transporters and trailers with sophisticated ancillary and support vehicles.
For the first time, this book tells the story of the V2 through the eyes and experiences not only of the men who fired the missiles at targets such as London, Norwich, Antwerp and Paris, but also of some of the military scientists and technicians involved in its development. The authors have spent many years tracking down and interviewing the few surviving veterans of these little-known and secretive units and have unearthed new and rare information from first-hand accounts. These are the unique recollections of the Rocket Soldiers who have spoken candidly to the authors about their wartime duties.
The accounts show that, mostly, they were not stereotypical and ideologically indoctrinated Aryan warriors, but very ordinary soldiers and technicians living through extraordinary times, handling the most sophisticated weapon ever developed in pre-nuclear Europe. The book also describes the development of German rocketry following the end of the First World War and the technology embodied within the V2. The veterans tell of their first encounters with the awesome new rocket and how, having survived the devastating RAF raid on Peenemünde, training was dispersed to test sites in Poland. They recall the move to forward firing positions, gun battles with the Resistance and the start of the rocket offensive. In truth, the more battle-experienced veterans knew that the V2 was a waste of valuable human and materiel resources, a last-ditch hope to save a desperate regime. Conversely, the book illustrates how inexperienced troops drafted directly to the V2 units from basic training, vainly hoped and believed that the fortunes of war would turn in Germany's favour. The veterans tell of their desperate experiences when the inevitable defeat came, as they were rushed to the east to defend Berlin where so many Rocket Soldiers lost their lives. Yet while some V2 troops ended the war with tears of regret for a robbed youth, others shed tears of frustration, knowing that they would never live through such extraordinary times again.
Hitler's Rocket Soldiers forms an important new contribution to our understanding of the German war machine and its technology. Using never-before tapped resources, this book will be a revelation and valuable resource to all military historians and those with an interest in rocket development.
Murray R. Barber F.R.A.S., was born in 1956 and is married with two children. He lives in Devon, England where he pursues several business interests that are related to astronomy. He has developed and written curriculum support information for the teaching of astronomy as well as the history of ancient Egypt, which is in use in planetariums worldwide. Since his schooldays he has always been interested in the history of World War Two and in particular its aviation. The V2 rocket represents a cross-over of his two main interests, the V2 being the very first man-made object to enter space and which was to lead, ultimately, to vehicles travelling beyond Pluto. Through the International V2 Research Group he met Michael Keuer and, following visits to see the remains of the former Peenemünde research and development establishment on the Baltic coast, they decided to study, together, the history of the V2 rocket. It was to fill the void of first-hand accounts of the operational use of the weapon, that the idea for this book was born. Murray is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Michael Keuer was born in 1959 in Hannover, Germany and is a senior software developer in a veterinarian pharmaceutical supply company. He has always held a keen interest in historical technical developments and the personalities behind scientific advancement. Following the reunification of Germany, he was able to visit the previously restricted area of Peenemünde to see the remains of the development works from where the V2 rocket was created and launched. During World War Two his grandfather worked as a technical skilled worker at Peenemünde and, indeed, Michael's father was born just 32 kilometres away from the cradle of modern space science. As his interest grew, he met Murray Barber and the two decided to research the reminiscences of the last few surviving men involved in the military development and employment of this extraordinary weapon of war.
A five-minute interview with authors Murray R. Barber and Michael Keuer
Michael Keuer (left) and Murray R. Barber
Peripatetic science and history lecturer, Murray R. Barber, and business software specialist, Michael Keuer, share an interest in science, technology and rocketry. Their interest has culminated in the publication of their first book, Hitler’s Rocket Soldiers. Dr. Brett A. Gooden, a specialist in human space and rocket flight and a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society, comments: ‘The authors are to be congratulated on their perseverance in finding [V2 rocket] veterans, as no doubt very few survive… To their credit the authors did not shy away from the more sensitive questions. Did the rocket soldiers think about the strategic and moral aspects of the rocket? Did they know about von Braun’s dreams for future spaceflight and if so did they have any empathy for such ideas? The answers to these and many other intriguing questions make fascinating reading… The importance of this historical research becomes patently clear when we note that several of the veterans interviewed have subsequently passed away. This important work has gone a long way to filling the void about Hitler’s rocket soldiers.’
The Tattered Flag asked Murray and Michael more about their work:
The Tattered Flag: Murray and Michael – thanks. We appreciate your time. Perhaps you can tell us how you met?
Murray Barber: Michael and I first became acquainted via a fledgling Internet forum that would eventually become known as the International V2 Research Group. In the early days a ‘round robin’ system existed for the exchange of information about the V2 but most of the interaction would take place during regular Sunday afternoon ‘chat’ using the Internet forum. We discovered that we had many common interests and it was not long before Michael kindly invited my wife and I to travel to Germany and visit Peenemünde. As we shared information, we decided to seek out any first hand accounts of the V2 as experienced by the men who fired the weapon. From this we decided to co-operate with the hope of perhaps publishing our findings.
The authors during a visit to Peenemünde
TTF: What made you decide to embark on this project?
Murray Barber: We felt that a gap exisisted in the knowledge of the V2. In addition to the technical details of the V2, a great deal of information is readily available concerning the German scientists and their peacetime activities in the United States. However, the experiences of the men who operated this extraordinary technology were, by and large, unknown. Michael and I wanted to address this shortfall.
TTF: In what ways do you think the book is important?
Murray Barber: Certainly the reminiscences of the veterans we spoke to are now saved for posterity and we hope that the omissions in the first-hand accounts of the deployment of the V2 have been filled. Michael and I became aware that for some of the veterans, the book was of great personal importance. They had a tale to tell and, for some, it was a cathartic experience. Michael and I will, in the future, be delighted to see if our work appears in the footnotes or acknowledgments page of future publications on the subject.
TTF: When did you start work on it and, briefly, how did you go about your research?
Michael Keuer: We started in 2001. We pooled our copied paper documents from archives in the United Kingdom, Germany and elsewhere. But the most important information came from the veterans who kindly responded to adverts that we placed in the German press.
TTF: Did this process prove challenging?
Murray Barber:Very! The response to the adverts produced a mixed effect. Some of the veterans who contacted us initially would decline to meet with us ‘face to face’. This was very frustrating and a huge disappointment. From a practical point of view, I was seriously handicapped by not being able to converse in German. Fortunately, Michael’s command of English is excellent and he was able to translate throughout the entire process. Travelling the length and breadth of Germany was fairly exhausting. I think in total I travelled to Germany six times in order to conduct the interviews.
TTF: Did you find the former rocket troop veterans generally cooperative?
A V2 rocket is prepared during Operation Backfire
Murray Barber:The co-operation from most of the veterans was very good. Often the flow of information would increase after the first meeting and the interviewee was more at ease. I should mention that some of the veterans were a little wary of myself being an Englishman whose country was attacked by the V-weapons. Some of the more cautious veterans feared that we would demonise them in some way. Consequently, we had to explain very quickly that the book would be ‘non-political’ and with a neutral balance.
TTF: If there was one major or memorable thing that you learned during the research and writing of the book, what was it?
Murray Barber: That’s a difficult question because so much of what we learnt was memorable. If I was pressed really hard I think I would cite the glimpses of good humour and camaraderie especially within the higher ranks of the Lehr- und Versuchsbatterie 444 we discovered.
Michael Keuer: I too find this a difficult question to answer! The experiences of Dr. Helmuth Frenk at Peenemünde watching the test-firing so dangerously close to the launch site and his terrifying encounter withHeinrich Himmler, are for me, very memorable.
TTF: Was there anything that surprised you?
Murray Barber:We were very surprised how chaotic the initial first deployment of the V2 was in September 1944 and how the V2 troops were harried by the Resistance as they moved to their firing positions.
TTF: How do you think the A4/V2 rates in terms of technology for its time and in its importance to future technologies?
Murray Barber:The V2 was the very first man-made object to enter space and so has to be considered as one of the greatest technological marvels of its time. That said, it was also a terror weapon that was constructed by slave workers who suffered in appalling conditions. Although all weapons can be prefixed with the word ‘terror’, the V2 can never share the same pantheon of the great inventions, as it will always be associated with the Nazis.
From a military point of view, the V2 led to the development of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. The ability of an ICBM delivery system twinned with nuclear bombs led to the arms race of the Cold War period. It could be argued that the destructive effect of these weapons brought an uneasy period of peace between the super powers. The technology is both a blessing and a curse.
The linkage with the V2 and the fantastic achievements in space from Yuri Gargarin’s first orbital flight in 1957 to the present day is an indisputable, albeit uncomfortable, fact. Chemical rockets will surely be replaced, but whatever future developments occur, the V2’s technological place in history is assured.
TTF: How do you rate the V2 as a weapon of war? Was there an alternative?
Lt. Walter Klein at his desk. Note the model of an A4 rocket
Michael Keuer: Not very highly! Forgetting the morality of warfare, the alternative would have been the development of a four-engine, long-range heavy bomber. Interestingly, even during the development of the V2, many scientists at Peenemünde felt that more effort should have been expended on the development of the Wasserfall anti-aircraft missile. To voice such an opinion would have been very dangerous however.
Murray Barber: Without wishing to denigrate the lives lost by the V2, in some respects the Rocket was the best weapon the Allies never had! Nazi Germany expended a huge amount of money, employing the finest brains to produce a weapon that was deployed with significant teething problems far too late to be significant. If the manpower and financial commitment had been employed elsewhere then perhaps the duration and, possibly, the outcome of the war may have been very different. This is of course very hypothetical but my feeling is that the ideologies of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were destined to clash, irrespective of technology. I should add that the talk of nuclear-tipped V2s is fanciful.
TTF: Has the process of writing the book made you re-evaluate the A4/V2 in any way?
Murray Barber:The V2 was essentially a seriously flawed weapon that had been rushed into service. Certainly, if the V2 as a fully functioning weapon had become operational in early 1944, it would have affected the D-Day landings of June 1944 but without changing the inevitable conclusion. Many of the Rocket soldiers were very determined and dedicated men who earnestly believed they were defending their country and taking the war directly to the enemy. We should perhaps be grateful that Nazi Germany had not entrusted a significantly more effective and practical weapon system to these men.
TTF: What next? Do you have any other projects planned?
Murray Barber: At present, we have no future plans for any further World War Two research projects. Regrettably, the generation that went to war so long ago is disappearing and so the first-hand accounts that gave the impetous for ‘Hitler’s Rocket Soldiers’ would be hard to match.
TTF: Many thanks for your time.
Murray Barber and Michael Keuer: Thank you. A pleasure!
Murray R. Barber signs copies of Hitler's Rocket Soldiers