The A-4 (V-2) ballistic missile

During World War II, the Nazi regime in Germany funded an unprecedented effort to build rocket weapons. Capitalizing on the experience accumulated by German rocket enthusiasts since the second half of the 1920s, a group of engineers at a secret center in Peenemünde developed a ballistic missile of incomparable size and range. Officially dubbed Vergeltungswaffe-2, or "vengeance weapon-2," the cigar-shaped rocket could reach targets some 300 kilometers away. (169)



Known specifications of the A-4 (V-2) rocket:

14.03 meters
Maximum diameter: 1.68 meters
Launch weight: 12,870 kilograms
Engine burn time: 70 seconds
Maximum speed: 5,760 kilometers per hour
Maximum speed at impact on target: 800 meters per second
Maximum range: 330 kilometers
Maximum altitude: 96 kilometers
Engine thrust on the surface: 26 tons
Engine thrust at high altitude: 30 tons
Warhead mass: 900 - 1,000 kilograms
Fuel mass (alcohol): 3.6 tons
Oxidizer mass (liquid oxygen): 5 tons


The V-2 rocket, originally named A-4, grew out of several previous projects conducted in Kummersdorf and later in Peenemünde, including the A-3 experimental rocket with an estimated range of 50 kilometers.

The first (unsuccessful) test launch of the A-4 rocket took place at June 13, 1942, at 10:52 GMT in Peenemünde. It was followed by another aborted flight on August 16 and a largely successful flight to an altitude of 85 kilometers on Oct. 3, 1942.

Starting on Sept. 5, 1944, the missile was used by the German Army to attack England and a number of allied targets in Europe. The last German A-4 rocket was launched from Peenemünde on Feb. 19, 1945. Despite all the terror and devastation the A-4 had brought to the civilian population, its effect on the outcome of the war was minimal. It became a historical cliche that more people died producing V-2s under terrible conditions of the Nazi slave-labor system than from explosions of their warheads. Some even claimed that had Nazis invested the resources and talent dedicated to the A-4 project into conventional weapons, World War II would last longer.

Still, the allies looked carefully at the German rocket program. After the war, the British military with the help of German specialists launched three A-4 rockets from Germany in an effort to learn about the weapon and better estimate its capabilities. Apparently, most surviving A-4 rockets were captured by the US forces and were transported to the United States where they were launched from a test range near White Sands, New Mexico.


A total of 11 A-4s, mostly fashioned from spare parts and newly produced components were also launched from Kapustin Yar by a Soviet-German team in the Fall of 1947. Finally, the A-4 became a basis for a Soviet-built copy, designated R-1 and the subsequent long-range ballistic missile development program in the USSR.

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Writing and photography: Anatoly Zak; Last update: June 21, 2022

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: October 12, 2008

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The A-4 rocket on its transporter/erector. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak


The A-4 rocket on the launch pad. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak


An A-4 rocket on the pad in Peenemunde.


The A-4 (V-2) rocket is being erected into vertical position for launch.

The A-4 rocket. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak

The combustion chamber of the A-4 rocket. Click to enlarge Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak


Click to enlarge

A-4 engine

A-4 engine

The combustion chamber of the A-4 rocket with the remnants of the turbopump recovered at the Dora underground plant. Copyright © 2007 Anatoly Zak


Various paint schemes of the A-4 rockets. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak


Scale model showing main components of the A-4 mobile complex deployed on a city street. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak