Peenemünde Army Research Center
Located in Peenemünde, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Germany
Photo © 2007 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Peenemünde Army Research Center History
Peenemünde is a small German village located on Usedom island on the Northern coast of Germany, and was selected to become a rocket proving ground and research facility after a site at Kummersdorf proved to be too small. The Reich Air Ministry paid 750,000 reichsmarks to purchase the entire northern peninsula of Usedom island in 1936 to develop two major areas of a secret base - the Army Research Center and rocket site on the eastern side, and a Luftwaffe test site on the west.
The research center developed cutting-edge radar and night navigation systems, and most importantly, guided missile technology. The Luftwaffe ran V-1 cruise missile tests in the Werk West while new rocket technologies were developed at Peenemünde Ost. The first design developed at Peenemünde was the A3 rocket, which failed all test launches due to a faulty experimental inertial guidance system. After overhauling the design, the A4 was developed, and launched for the first time on October 3, 1942 with success. It was the first man-made object to achieve sub-orbital spaceflight, and was to become the model for all modern rockets. It was named Vergeltungswaffe 2 (Vengeance Weapon 2), or V-2 once production began in 1943. 5,200 rockets were produced after Hitler's order, with over 3,225 launches directed at London, Paris, Antwerp and Liege. An estimated 7,250 deaths have been attributed to the V2 destruction, and even more (an estimated 26,500 workers) have died during the production due to slave labor.
In 1943, an assembly line for V-2 production was planned and tested, however after an allied bombing attack known as Operation Hydra, production was moved to the Mittelwerk, an underground complex in the Harz mountains. Three more bombing attacks from the U.S. ensued that year, and the evacuation of the Peenemünde research center was coordinated. The last V-2 launch was performed in February 1942 and shortly thereafter the site was evacuated by March. The Russian army found the site in mostly ruins when they arrived in 1945, and the destruction of the remainder of the site took place between 1948 and 1961 using explosives. The only operational facilities left were the power station, airport, and rail line to Zinnowitz, and the liquid oxygen production plant stands in ruins at the entrance to the town.
In the early 1990s, a government backed project to create a "space-park" at the former base flopped due to lack of investment interests. In 1992, the Peenemünde Historical and Technical Information Centre opened in the old control room, and many relics are on display around the former site. Below is some color footage from V-2 launches at Peenemünde with original sound.