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In the meantime:

1919 June 28: The Versailles Treaty concluding World War I is signed.

1933: Hitler comes to power in Germany.

1935 March 16: Hitler formally repudiates the The Versailles Treaty.

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The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, France, where a treaty concluding World War I was signed in 1919. Despite scenes of heavens adoring its magnificent ceiling, the authors of the Versailles Treaty did not think of including rockets into the list of weapons prohibited for development in the defeated Germany. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak


Captain Walter Dornberger took charge of the first rocket development establishment of the German army in Kummersdorf in 1930.


The Repulsor rocket is being picked up after a test launch, apparently made in Kummersdorf on June 22, 1934. Its parachute, enabling soft-landing, can be seen on the right. Click to enlarge.


During 1933, a newly-formed team of engineers led by Wernher von Braun experimented with a multitude of combustion chamber shapes, in a trial-and-error effort to find an optimal design of the rocket engine. Various materials, such as steel and aluminum were also tested. Click to enlarge.

A1 stand

A photo likely showing one of the earliest test stand assemblies for liquid-propellant rocket engines in Kummersdorf. Click to enlarge. Credit: (295)


Soon after the Nazi takeover of power in Germany, Adolf Hitler watched a rocket engine demonstration in Kummersdorf on Sept. 21, 1933.


The A-3 rocket at the static test stand in Kummersdorf. Click to enlarge.

A3 stand

Click to enlarge Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

A3 stand

A scaled reconstruction of the test facility in Kummersdorf for the A-3 rocket. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

Proof stand

Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak


Ruins of "Prufstand Ost," the original rocket-testing facility in Kummersdorf. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

Proofstand Ost

"...Three concrete walls, 18 feet long and 12 feet high were arranged in the form of a U, the place of fourth wall being taken by folding metal doors. There was a sliding wooden roof covered with tarpaper, which could be moved on rollers by means of small winch..." (296) Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak


"...In the back wall were a number of holes leading to an observation or measurement chamber. This mysterious room contained an incredible chaos of blue, red, green, and yellow pipes for measuring, feeding and testing propellants and high-pressure nitrogen, in addition to valves, meters, and recording apparatus..." (296) Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak


Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

test room

"...At the corners of the back wall there were two openings at eye level, fitted with mirrors to enable the testing staff to observe the rocket motor..." (296) Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

Proofstand Ost

The interior views of "Prufstand Ost." Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

Control room

A semi-buried bunker next to the Prufstand Ost probably served as a control and firing room for the facility. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

Kummersdorf West

Remnants of "Prufstand West" in Kummersdorf, as it looked in the post-Soviet period. Apparently, it was constructed in 1934. Click to enlarge. Credit: (294)


Historic map of Kummersdorf. Click to enlarge.


Above: Kummersdorf area

Between 1930 and 1932, a proving grounds near the town of Kummersdorf, south of Berlin, became a cradle of the Space Age, when the German army initiated here the world's first large-scale rocket development program, leading to the infamous V-2 rocket of World War II. Also here, Wernher von Braun and other key members of the German "rocket team" started their professional careers in rocketry, which culminated almost four decades later with the first Moon landing.

Origin of Kummersdorf test range

Most English-language space history books repeat the same abbreviated description of Kummersdorf as the army's proving grounds south of Berlin. Depending on the source, it is placed from 17 miles (213) to 25 miles (10) to 60 miles (174) from the city. However the history of the site starts in Berlin itself. The 1798 map of the Prussian capital shows "Exercier Platz der Artillerie" (artillery training range) some half way between Berlin's northern boundary and the village of Reinickendorf. Not far from that original site, near the town of Tegel, the facilities of the Artillery Test Commission, APK, were located in the second half of the 19th century. However as suburbs of Berlin sprawled further north, it was no longer possible to maintain either secrecy or safety during testing of big guns.

On June 28, 1875, the German government signed a contract with the forest service of Prussia on the transfer of the land near the village of Kummersdorf for a future test range. It was also decided to build a special military railway, KME, to connect the site with Berlin-Schöneberg. It was to be maintained by special railway troops. The 45.5-kilometer (or 33 English miles) line was officially opened on Oct. 15, 1875, with two trains running daily between the range and the city. Not restricted to military operations, the service was opened to the general public. (307)

With the departure of the APK to Kummersdorf, the organization's former home near Tegel was apparently turned into an ammunition dump and left largely unused after World War I. In an ironic twist of history, decades later Germany's rocket pioneers from the Society for Space Travel, VfR, would found their "Raketenflugplatz," (Rocket port) at that very spot near Tegel, and later, a number of them would follow big artillery to Kummersdorf.

In the meantime, the artillery test range near Kummersdorf grew during the 1880s, extending around 13 kilometers through an uninhabited pine forest. The site was further expanded at the beginning of the 20th century to accommodate testing of the newest weapons in the run up to World War I, among them the infamous Big Berta gun and bomb-carrying airships. By the end of the 1920s, the German military eyed Kummersdorf as proving grounds for yet another type of promising technology -- the rocket.

German military and rocket science

Many historians and veterans of the early German rocket program (174) distill the reasons for the interest of the German military in rocketry to a scheme to bypass the Versailles Treaty. Signed in the wake of the German defeat in World War I, the document severely limited the number of troops and the caliber of weapons of post-war Germany. The existing military industry was also restricted. (296) The Treaty, however, said nothing about rockets, reflecting their military insignificance at the time. Yet, on the same page, historians have to mention that the German army wrapped its rocket program, as well as other weapons projects, into a thick veil of secrecy. Thus brings up a question that if both legal and illegal weapons projects could be successfully concealed from the outside world for many years, what difference would it make whether they were allowed by treaties? Let alone the fact that the international community had few mechanisms to enforce the Versailles Treaty, leaving it essentially toothless in the first place. Perhaps there were other more complex reasons why German military decided to invest heavily into the then novel field of rocketry.

Clearly, by 1930, the time of rocketry had come, thanks to many recent advances in various fields, such as electronics, chemistry, metallurgy and so on. By 1925, the phototheodolite, a device for measuring precise distances and elevation angles, was developed. The pulse-duration method, enabling long-range measurements, appeared in 1928, and a year later, the technique of wind tunnel droplet photography came along, helping to perfect the aerodynamic shape of high-speed vehicles. The same year, gyroscope-based control, perhaps the most critical invention for the future of rocketry, entered realm of aviation technology. (294) In its lust to re-arm and to close its technological and numerical gap with other European powers, the German military needed every new technology it could find, legal or illegal in the eyes of the Versailles Treaty.

Organizing for rocket research

In the 1920s, the Army Weapons Department (or Heereswaffenamt in German) was responsible for the development of new military technologies in the Weimar Republic. (In the English-language literature, the organization is also referred to as Ordnance Department (174) or Weapons Agency (294)). Within the organization, Professor Karl Becker, with the rank of Colonel (as of 1929), led Ballistics and Munitions Branch No. 1, (or Waffenamt Prufwesen, Abteilung 1, Wa Prw 1 in German). (315) Apparently, it was one of 12 divisions responsible for various types of weaponry, including aviation. (174, 296, 213) According to some sources, a more specialized subsection, known as Wa Prw 1/I, also existed and, possibly, it was led by Becker's deputy Major von Horstig. (315)

As a theorist and author of scientific research on various aspects of artillery, including the ballistics of rockets, Becker got interested in military applications of rocketry at the end of the 1920s. A report on the subject was submitted to the Reichwehr, the War Ministry. (296) As a result, at the end of 1929, the Minister of Reichswehr, Wilhelm Groener, authorized rocket research for military purposes. (294)

The immediate goal of the project was to develop a battlefield solid-propellant missile with a range from three to five miles which could be manufactured cheaply and easily, so it could become the base for a rapid-fire system. Its lack of accuracy could be compensated by the use of chemical warhead. The same program apparently authorized preliminary research into fundamentals of the much more complex but more promising liquid-propellant rockets. The program initially aimed for the development of an experimental vehicle. (296, 314)

In the spring of 1930, Captain Walter Dornberger was assigned to the Ballistics and Munitions Branch as a deputy to Captain von Horstig. Dornberger was a veteran of artillery in World War I and had a doctorate in engineering. (213) (According to other sources, Dornberger joined the organization on April 1, 1931. (314))

As early as the fall of 1930, Dornberger proposed to Becker the establishment of a rocket-testing facility at Kummersdorf. (301) Apparently, at this juncture, the site was intended for solid-propellant missiles only.

Rocketry comes to Kummersdorf

Beginning in the spring of 1930, the Army Weapons Department started documenting rocket research and looking for a cadre of specialists in the field. (294)

Becker and his associates would soon find out that ongoing work in the field of liquid-propellant rockets was mostly relegated to competing groups of secretive enthusiasts, who supported themselves with private donations, space journalism work and fees for viewing rocket launches. High-tech industry and educational institutions mostly shunned these activities, and the extensive international liaisons maintained by German industrial firms and universities seemed a potential threat to the secrecy of any military research program. Upon exhausting attempts to find legitimate scientific studies on the potential of rockets within the industry and academia, Becker reluctantly decided to evaluate the work of private enthusiasts. In the process, he had to sort out the real inventors for the charlatans.

One of the first military subsidies, amounting to 5,000 marks, went in the spring of 1930 to the Society for Space Travel, VfR, based in Berlin and led by Rudolph Nebel. (314) As many other similar groups, the VfR was getting by with modest funds from private donors. Apparently not without help from Karl Becker, Nebel was able to negotiate with the Berlin city government a virtually free lease on the disused ammunition storage in the northern suburb of Reinickendorf. However, army officials were dismayed by continuing public activities of VfR, including Nebel's sensationalist articles in the press. Becker and his associates were afraid such behavior would leak the military support for the organization, thus exposing its interest in rocketry. When Nebel refused to change his ways, Becker made steps to disassociate himself from VfR. He did not respond to Nebel's "Confidential Memo on Long Range Artillery," written sometimes in 1930-1931, which proposed further cooperation with the military. (10) In May 1931, as VfR was finally on the verge of success with launches of its liquid-propellant Repulsor rockets, Becker wrote a negative assessment of the society's work in a memo to the Weapons Department's aviation section. (314)

Army, Heylandt Works and others

While relations between VfR and the military remained on ice, in October 1931, Becker contacted Paul Heylandt, whose company had made headlines previously with its rocket-powered cars. Heylandt Works' latest rocket-powered car had been conceived at the end of 1930 and was tested in the spring of 1931. The vehicle apparently sported a liquid-propellant engine cooled by its own fuel and was capable of reaching 160 kilograms of thrust. During negotiations between Heylandt and the military, the direct purchase of the engine for testing in Kummersdorf was apparently considered, however Becker ultimately limited the agreement to military-funded research into the optimal design of the combustion chamber and its nozzle. The formal contract was issued in December 1931 and the company delivered its findings by the end of April 1932. (315)

In the meantime, officers at Weapons Department continued looking at other enthusiasts, real and self-proclaimed. One was Wilhelm Belz, about whom Dornberger learned from screaming newspaper headlines and letters of recommendation, apparently endorsed by big wigs in the growing Nazi movement. (315) After some investigation, Dornberger found out that Belz "...knew nothing whatever about liquid-propellant rockets. He had been leading a large following of "experts," up the garden (path) for months on end by means of an ordinary black powder rocket built into a gigantic dummy of sheet metal." (296) Dornberger also met with Albert Püllenberg who "...was working in Hanover in the most miserable circumstances, with an enthusiasm exceeded only by his lack of resources." (296) Although Dornberger could obtain little data in Hanover, he extended Püllenberg an invitation to join his team upon earning a formal engineering degree. Püllenberg took the offer and eventually was hired by Dornberger.

Rocket enthusiast groups in Germany in 1920-1930s:

Organization Primary location Time period Key individuals Technology
Society for Space Travel, VfR, Raketenflugplatz, Berlin 1930-Jan. 1934 Rudolph Nebel, Klaus Riedel, Willy Ley, Wernher von Braun, Mirak I and II
Heylandt Works Brietz 1929-1931 Max Valier, Walter Riedel Rocket-powered cars
Pietsch - May 1933 Alfons Pietsch, Arthur Rudolph Liquid-propellant engine
Society for Rocket Research, GfR Hanover, Vahrenwalder Heide 1931 Sept. 20-1939 Allen Püllenberg, Albert Löw (10)(296)  
Rocket Study Society Frankfurt am Main 1928    
Society for Space Research Breslau 1937 Hans K. Kaiser  
Raketenforschungsinstitute Dessau, Rocket Research Institute - Dessau Dessau 1933? Winkler, Rolf Engel  
Tiling group Northern Germany -1933 Reinhold Tiling "Six-foot rocket"
- Cologne Winter 1931-1932 (314) Wilhelm Belz Solid-propellant rocket (296)

Repulsor test in Kummersdorf

Despite the skepticism of the military, the first and by all accounts the only liquid-propellant rocket which actually took off from Kummersdorf, was the Repulsor developed by VfR. By mid-April 1932, as the society's rockets flew routinely, Rudolph Nebel succeeded in convincing Karl Becker, to take another look at the achievements of his organization. Dressed as civilians, Dornberger, his boss Captain Ritter von Horstig, and Karl Becker made at least one, (but possibly more visits) to Raketenflugplatz (Rocket Port), as the society grandiosely called its base in Reinickendorf. Soon thereafter, on April 23, Becker offered a 1,367-marks grant to Nebel, contingent upon the successful test of the society's brand-new Mirak II rocket in Kummersdorf. According to the conditions, the rocket had to release a red flare at the zenith of its trajectory, apparently to facilitate the measurement of its range and altitude by ground instruments. (213, 314)

The demonstration took place in the middle of 1932. Nebel drove to Kummersdorf with the Mirak II rocket (the so-called "one-stick" Repulsor series, as opposed to the version of the rocket which had two bodies). During the launch from a remote corner of the test range, the rocket reached an altitude of around 600 meters; it however then strayed from a vertical path and hit the ground before its parachute could be deployed. Military officials declared the launch a failure, clearly as an excuse for not providing funds to the organization. Becker apparently left the door open for the society members to work under army's leadership.

Despite all the financial struggles, Nebel had enough of military control in his past career to submit to the army. Another leading member of VfR, Klaus Reidel shared that attitude. However, much younger, ambitious and pragmatic Wernher von Braun argued for a compromise. With his connections in the government of the Weimar Republic, where his father served as a cabinet member, Von Braun took the role of a liaison between the Weapons Department and Nebel. In that capacity, Von Braun went to see Becker. "He was by no means such an ogre as had been represented by Nebel. Despite his uniform, Becker seemed to be broadminded, warm-hearted and a scientist through and through," Von Braun later remembered. Although Von Braun defended VfR's publicity campaigns as essential for the organization's financial survival, he agreed with Becker that the next step in rocket development could only take place under auspices of the military. "I was sure that Reinickendorf was utterly inadequate even to commence the vast experimental program, which must be the precursor of success," Von Braun wrote later. (174)

Dr. Faust of Rocketry: Wernher von Braun in Kummersdorf

As relations between the military and the VfR soured, in mid 1932 (10) the army made the decision to expand its internal experimental facility with the goal of demonstrating the viability of liquid-propellant rockets as a prospective weapon. Captain Walter Dornberger was assigned to lead the effort. "We wanted to be done once and for all with theory, unproved claims, and boastful fantasy and to arrive at conclusions based on a sound scientific foundation," Dornberger later wrote in his memoirs. (296)

To Nebel's dismay, Becker offered Wernher von Braun a job at Kummersdorf. Probably with good reason, Nebel feared that it could be the army's way to steal the hard-earned experience of Raketenflugplatz. (294) Still, according to Von Braun's post-war memoirs, his friends and colleagues ultimately agreed with the Faustian deal with the army, which seemed to be the only way to advance rocket development:

"With considerable reluctance we agreed that we could not ignore Colonel's Becker's offer. Nebel and Riedel rather unwillingly permitted me to depart to become a member of the Army's rocketry section. From such a position, I hoped to assist Reinickendorf and, in case of dissolution of the Raketenflugplatz, to offer economic shelter under the Army aegis to my friends." (174)

This backdated prophecy came true several years later for some members of VfR who eventually lost all opportunities to design rockets except if they followed Von Braun to Kummersdorf, to Peenemünde and ultimately to America. As Hitler dismantled the democratic institutions of the Weimar Republic in 1933, German rocket societies started disappearing. Apparently, the German army, and Becker personally, played a role in the demise of independent rocket groups.

According to his own recollections, Wernher von Braun formally joined the Kummersdorf team on November 1, 1932. "The team" was actually Von Braun himself and a single but talented mechanic Heinrich Grünow, also from VfR. Soon thereafter, Dornberger also hired Walter "Papa" Riedel (not to be confused with Klaus Riedel from VfR). Walter Riedel's resumé included Heylandt Works in Brietz near Berlin, the same company which had helped another rocket pioneer, Max Valier, develop a liquid-propellant rocket engine for a passenger car, and which had already had rocket-related contracts from the army. (296)

Around the same time, another former engineer from Heylandt, Alfons Pietsch, approached the army with a proposal for a 650-pound motor, burning alcohol and liquid oxygen. Its combustion chamber was located inside the fuel tank. The army provided modest funding for the project in May 1933, after which Piestch disappeared. (315, 213) Dornberger, however, did locate Piestch's assistant, Arthur Rudolph, who claimed to be the actual developer of the rocket engine. Rudolph eventually joined the Kummersdorf team in 1935. (257)

Rocket development in Kummersdorf

Some sources claim that as many as 15 different test facilities existed at Kummersdorf. (295) Rocket development was apparently centered around four engine static firing facilities, two of which were known as Raketenprüfstände Ost (Rocket test stand East), which was built first, and Raketenprüfstände West, built later.

An early (and initially rejected) bid to approve the design of the liquid-propellant test stand was prepared on June 24, 1932, and circulated by Becker a day later. (315) The new facility would become known as Kummersdorf West experimental station (or Versuchsstelle West in German).

Describing the events of 1932, Dornberger says that " the already existing test stand for powder rockets we added the first two buildings for the new venture and then the first test stand ever established in Germany for liquid-propellant rocket development, which was fully equipped with all available resources of measurement technique." (296) According to Dornberger, offices, a designing room, measurement room, darkrooms and a tiny workshop were all improvised.

The first test stand completed in December 1932 consisted of three walls 18 feet long and 12 feet high, forming a U-shape, while the fourth wall was occupied by folding metal doors. The facility also had a sliding wooden roof covered with tar paper, which could be moved on rollers. With roof and doors closed, the building became weatherproof, enabling all the preparatory work. For engine firing, the main doors and the sliding roof would open. In the back wall were a number of holes leading to an observation or measurement chamber. At the corners of the back wall there were two openings at eye level fitted with mirrors to enable the testing staff to observe the rocket motor.

The first rocket stand was occupied with the tests of three variations of the engine in the W (water-cooled) series. Dornberger claimed that the first attempt of live firing on Dec. 21, 1932, ended with a major explosion and severe damage to the facility. (296) However according to Von Braun, the first small water-cooled engine successfully developed a thrust of 140 kilograms for 60 seconds during its initial firing in January 1933. (174) Von Braun agrees that endless troubles, including ignition explosions, frozen valves, fires and cable ducts had followed.

To advance the design further, the Kummersdorf team ventured to use the engine's own fuel as a coolant, instead of water, thus starting a B-series of experimental engines, where "B" stands for Brennstoff, or fuel in German. Surviving documents show a total of seven variations of the 2B series under development, all capable of nominal thrust of 300 kilograms. In the course of endless experimentation with the shape of the combustion chamber, an intermediate configuration of the engine -- dubbed 2B.2 -- was apparently adopted as a propulsion system for the first rocket of the Kummersdorf team: the A-1.

Next, a larger 2,200-pound engine was ready. The second test facility for that engine was constructed in 1934. Also at the same time, a third test facility was conceived for static tests of the entire A-3 rocket. (296)

At the beginning of 1935, on the heels of the successful tests of the A-2 rockets, the budget of the rocket research establishment in Kummersdorf went up and personnel was increased. In 1935, the rocket team reportedly numbered 80 people. (10) According to other sources as many as 60 (295) or 77 people worked for rocket development in 1936. (294) Finally, one source quoted 80 people by late 1935 and 300 by the time of the move to Peenemünde. (305)

The budget increases of 1935 afforded the construction of a third and fourth test stands in Kummersdorf. The new facilities featured mobile test structures, which could be moved from the enclosed assembly area to the test-firing pad by locomotives along with the engine or the entire rocket. (314)

End of rocket development in Kummersdorf

The various authors name few reasons for the discontinuing of rocket development at Kummersdorf. According to one source, the increasing noise of larger rocket engines made the secrecy of tests impossible. (302) Another book quotes Von Braun as saying that "he simply could not concentrate on a calculation, if a bunch of soldiers were testing machine guns behind his back." (213) However the real reason for abandoning Kummersdorf was the impossibility of flying long-range rockets without overflying and impacting populated areas. It is clear from Dornberger's memoirs that even launches of solid-propellant projectiles, which did take place at Kummersdorf, were posing the danger of straying into populated areas, let alone those of liquid-propellant rockets. Even more importantly with the success of the A-2 and the re-armament frenzy in Nazi Germany, the rocket development budget skyrocketed as well and its creators could now afford much more luxurious accommodations.

As early as the end of 1934 - beginning of 1935, plans for a dedicated rocket development site were hatched. (296) It was the origin of the expansive rocket development center in Peenemünde. In mid-1937, the bulk of rocket personnel moved from Kummersdorf to Peenemünde. The propulsion development team led by Dr. Thiel was the last to leave Kummersdorf in the summer of 1940.

After rocketry

With the departure of rocket scientists, Kummersdorf continued to serve as a test site for the military. Radar technology and poison gases were tested there, among other weapons of war. A nearby facility was also the home for a group of physicists involved in the German nuclear research. Fortunately for the civilized world, the project lagged behind a similar Western effort.

Along with the rest of East Germany, Kummersdorf was overrun by the Soviet Army in 1945. The Soviet military apparently maintained its installations here until the end of the Cold War.

Kummersdorf proving grounds: the chronology

1875 June 28: The German government signs a contract with the forest service of Prussia on the transfer of the land near the village of Kummersdorf for the future test range.

1875 Oct. 15: The 45.5-kilometer military railway connecting Berlin with Kummersdorf officially opens.

1877 June 18: A special test unit is formed within the Artillery Test Commission, APK; it is deployed at Kummersdorf on the same year.

1882: An additional shooting range known as Kummersdorf East, extending 12,780 meters, is established.

1888: The so-called Schiebplatzbahn on the left side from the shooting range is opened.

1909: The German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II makes several visits to the site, inspecting a number of weapons under development, including the giant 42-cm caliber Big Berta gun, which is capable of launching one-ton shells.

1910: Further expansion of the Kummersdorf test range.

1913: Tests of bombs dropped from aircraft and airships take place at the site.

1915 November: The German army tests steel helmets in Kummersdorf.

1917: An additional 7,800 meters are added to the western portion of the range.

1925: An army dog school is established at Kummersdorf.

Rocket development period

1929 end of year: The German Defense Ministry authorizes research into military applications of rocketry. A test facility for short-range solid-propellant rockets is established in Kummersdorf. (296)

1930 Spring: Walter Dornberger joins the Ballistics and Munitions Branch of the Weapons Department within the German Army. (296)

1930 Spring: The German Army secretly provides a 5,000-mark grant to the Society for Space Travel, VfR for liquid-rocket development. (314)

1930 May 17: German rocket pioneer, Max Valier, who worked in association with Heylandt Works on rocket-powered car dies during the explosion of a rocket engine.

1930 Sept. 27: Raketenflugplatz, the first rocket test range, is declared operational near Berlin, Germany.

1930 Fall: Dornberger proposes Becker to establish a rocket-testing facility at Kummersdorf.

1930 Dec. 17: Karl Becker makes a presentation to the German army's Ordnance Department on the prospects of rocketry. (314)

1931 May: In a confidential memo to the aviation section of the Ordnance Department, Karl Becker makes a negative assessment of the work conducted by the Society for Space Travel, VfR. (314)

1931 Oct. 16: Karl Becker contacts German industrialist Paul Heylandt to inquire about his rocket engine tested in the spring of 1931 on a car. (315)

1931 December: The weapons department issues a contract to Heylandt Works for research into the optimal design ofa rocket engine.

1932 May (294), June 22 (309, 314), July (174, 10), or August (296): Members of the Society for Space Travel, VfR based in Berlin, launch the Mirak II rocket, in a demonstration for the army in Kummersdorf.

1932: Rocket test facilities are constructed at Kummersdorf. (294)

1932 Oct. 1 (296) Nov. 1: Wernher von Braun officially starts working for the German army on the rocket development program.

1932 Nov. 1: Dornberger hires Walter Riedel from Heylandt company to work in Kummersdorf. (296)

1932 Dec. 21: The first liquid-propellant engine test at Kummersdorf ends with an explosion.

1933 January: The first water-cooled rocket engine, 1W.1, (with the thrust of 140 kilograms) is tested in Kummersdorf. (174)

1933 May: Weapons Department awards a small contract for the development of the rocket engine to former employee of Heylandt Works, Alfons Pietsch.

1933 middle or the end of the year: The A-1 rocket powered by a 300-kilogram oxygen/alcohol engine is tested and fails in Kummersdorf.

1933 Sept. 21: Nazi chief Adolph Hitler, Head of Luftwaffe (Air Force) Goering and Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick tour Kummersdorf for a demonstration of rocket technology. (314, 315)

1934 Feb. 8: Nazi Deputy Chief Hess and high-ranking members of the Nazi SA organization tour rocket facilities in Kummersdorf. (315)

1934 March (296) or (July 16 (311): An explosion at the second test stand, (Prufstand West?) kills three people, including Dr. Engineer Karl Wahmke.

1934 Aug. 18: The rocket engine developed by Arthur Rudolph is successfully demonstrated in Kummersdorf. According to one source, he developed the first engine for the army in 1931. (10)

1934 Oct. 1: Static testing of the A-2 rocket is completed in Kummersdorf.

1934 December 19-20: Two A-2 rockets with gyro stabilization are tested on the Island of Borkum on the North Sea. (174)

1935 January: Major Wolfram von Richtofen, a leading aircraft development official for Luftwaffe visits Kummersdorf to evaluate the use of rocket propulsion for the aircraft.

1935 summer: Tests of the Heinkel 112 aircraft equipped with a rocket engine.

1935 December: The German military initiate the search for a new rocket test site to replace Kummersdorf.

1936 March: General Werner von Fritsch, Army's Commander-in-Chief visits Kummersdorf. Demo firings of the 650-pound, 2,200-pound and 3,500-pound motors are conducted.

1936 spring: A static testing of the A-3 rocket is conducted at Kummersdorf. (308)

1936 August: Construction of the rocket development center at Peenemünde starts. (297)

1936 Fall: Walter Thiel, a propulsion expert, joins the Kummersdorf team.(296)

1937: Walter Thiel tests a small liquid hydrogen engine at Kummersdorf. According to von Braun the results were poor. (306)

1936-1937: The army worker settlement which would later become the center of the town of Kummersdorf-Gut is built.

1937 April-May: The majority of the von Braun team moves to Peenemünde. (304) At the time, the rocket team at Kummersdorf exceeded 90 (296) or 300 people. (305)

1938: The construction of the tank test site for the Motor Vehicles Research Station begins.

By 1939, the population of the town reached 1477, compared to the current 470.

1939 March 23: Hitler visits Kummersdorf to see live rocket engine firings. He is also shown the A-5 rocket. (305)

1939 end of March: Goering, the Nazi chief of Luftwaffe, tours Kummersdorf on the heels of Hitler's visit.

1940 summer: Thiel, his five immediate assistants and several mechanics are among the last rocket specialists to leave Kummersdorf for Peenemünde, since the large static test stands at Peenemünde had been completed later than the rest of infrastructure. (296)(303)

Rockets of Kummersdorf

The A-1 rocket

The A-1 was the first liquid-propellant rocket developed in Kummersdorf. Both propellant components with a total mass of 85 pounds were forced into the combustion chamber by pressure from a liquid-nitrogen tank. The rocket had a 85-pound rotating nose, to stabilize it in flight. (296)

Although the developers succeeded in ground testing of the rocket engine after several failed attempts, the A-1 never flew. In the course of development, designers determined that the rocket was "too nose heavy" in the words of Dornberger. Its center of gravity turned out to be very far in front, making stabilization unreliable. The problem could be resolved by moving the gyroscope into the center of its body, paving the way for the design of the A-2 rocket.

The A-2 rocket

The A-2 rocket was essentially a copy of the A-1, but with the gyroscope moved to the center. The rockets used the same engine employed as the A-1 and developing 300 kilograms of thrust. In accordance with artillery tradition, it was known as 4.5-caliber long rocket. (296)

The static testing of the new configuration was completed in Kummersdorf by Oct. 1, 1934. (296)

Two copies of the A-2 rocket nicknamed Max and Morits after a comic-book characters were launched successfully to an altitude of 6,000 feet, (6,500 feet (213)) from the island of Borkum in the Baltic Sea near the mouth of the River Ems.

The A-3 rocket

The A-3 experimental rocket with an estimated range of 50 kilometers was the last vehicle developed in Kummersdorf, as the construction of a much larger rocket center had been going on in Peenemünde.

The A-4 rocket

Although developed in Peenemünde, the project was conceived and formed its initial shape in Kummersdorf.

The A-5 rocket

The A-5 rocket would borrow the engine from the A-3, but its diameter would be increased by four inches. The length would remain the same. It would serve as the last precursor to A-4.

Overview of German rocket engines of the 1930s (draft):

Organization Thrust Year Developer Notes
Heylandt (army contract) 45 pounds (296) 1931 Dr. Wahmke Double-walled for cooling, cylindrical shape, steel (296)
VfR 130 pounds (296) 1932 R. Nebel, K. Riedel Used in a one-stick repulsor. (296)
VfR 250-750 kilograms (10) 1933 March R. Nebel, K. Riedel -
Kummersdorf 120-140 kilograms (314 (174) 1933, January (174) March 4 Von Braun 1W.1 engine, burning for 60 seconds. (314)
Kummersdorf ? 1933 spring-summer Von Braun 1B engine, alcohol cooled engine (314)
Heylandt 650 pounds (296) 1932? Pietsch, Rudolph 60-second burn. Copper, alcohol/oxygen. Cooling combustion chamber. Spherical tanks. (296)
Kummersdorf 2,200 pounds (296) 1934 - - (296)
Kummersdorf 1.5 tons (296) 1935-1936 - A-3? (296)
Kummersdorf 4.5 tons (296) 1936? Dr. Thiel, Pohlmann - (296)
Peenemünde 25 tons (296) 1939 Spring Dr. Thiel - (296)

A-series technical overview:

A-1 A-2 A-3 A-5 A-4
First launch
1934 Dec.
1937 December
1939 October
1.4 meters (10) (294)
1.4 meters
6.74 meters (169) 21.3 feet (296)
45 feet (296)
Maximum diameter:
0.314 meters (312)
0.314 meters (312)
0.76 meters (169)
5 feet (296)
Dry mass:
~72 kilograms ?
72 kilograms (312)
740 kilograms (169) 1,650 pounds (296)
Launch mass:
150 kilograms (10, 297);

107 kilograms (312)
500 kilograms (297)

740 kilograms (169) 750 kilograms (297) 1,650 pounds (296)

900 kilograms (297) 13,500 kilograms (297)
Maximum altitude reached:
Did not fly
2.2 kilometers (297)
400 meters (297) - 900 meters (296)
8.8 kilometers (297)
90 kilometers (297)
Engine thrust on the surface:
300 kilograms (295)(213)(10)
300 kg (213) originally planned for 2 tons (297)
1,500 kilograms (297)
1,500 kilograms (297)
25 tons (297)
Engine burn time:
16 seconds (296)
16 seconds (296)
45 seconds (169)

Next chapter: A-1

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Writing, photography, maps: Anatoly Zak; Last update: December 10, 2009

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: October 5, 2008

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