At the close of World War II the Americans "liberated" sufficient components to
assemble 200 to 300 V-2's from the underground factory, the Mittelwerk, near
Nordhausen, Germany. These materials, body sections, tail assemblies, engines,
controls, etc. were brought to WSPG with many of the less sensitive items simply
stored out in the arid desert. The main danger in this came from sand abrasion
and infiltration. There were cases where some items were either not available in
sufficient numbers or not compatible with American launch interface facilities, in
which case domestic sources and materials had to be substituted. One example was
tail fin assemblies that were built by Douglas Aircraft, as there were not enough
of the German version available.
The purpose behind all of this was to use these V-2's as upper atmosphere research
vehicles carrying scientific experiments from JPL, Johns Hopkins and other such
organizations. This currently was the responsibility of General Electric Corp., but
their contract was expiring and the Army was taking over the operation themselves.
The V-2 Section worked alongside the GE personnel for several months in an effort
to transfer knowledge that the GE people had acquired. There were few tech manuals
or the like available. During this period several of the Section members, including
myself, were in the blockhouse with the GE crew for the launch of GE's V-2 #55 (the
55th rocket to be launched by them).
The explosion was tremendous when the missile blew up on the pad as the Main Stage
or "GO" sequence of the launch was initiated!
OOPS! V-2 #55, June 14,1951
Imagine your reaction at having 4 1/2 tons of alcohol and 5 1/2 tons of LOX (liquid
oxygen) exploding just 50 yards away from you. The blockhouse felt like it was bouncing
up and down, even though it had 8 to 10 foot thick concrete walls and a 12-foot deep
pyramidal concrete roof. We knew we were safe from the explosion, however our immediate
concern was the possibility of being fried alive if the burning liquid oxygen and alcohol
mixture from the missile's ruptured fuel tanks should flow thru the tunnel used to carry
control wiring from the blockhouse to the missile. It was some time later that we
learned the tunnel had been constructed with a vertical labyrinth pattern to prevent
just such an occurrence from happening.
This particular event was touched on briefly in both picture and story in the article
"Pushing the Button" in the March 1988 issue of AIR & SPACE magazine.