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The world's first operational ballistic missile, Nazi Germany launched large numbers of V-2 (short for "Vengeance Weapon 2" (German: Vergeltungswaffe 2)) against targets in Western Europe, especially London. Launched by Nazi Germany in 1944-45, it was designed as one of Hitler's secret weapons to win World War II, along with the V-1 cruise missile, but it had no significant direct military effect. However it did kill several thousand civilians and did divert Allied bombers to attack its installations. While it demonstrated many advances in technology, and indeed was conceived as a space launch vehicle by its designer, Wernher von Braun, it was too inaccurate, with a high-explosive warhead, to be more than a psychological weapon.

In modern terminology, it was a short-range ballistic missile, with a warhead of 1 metric ton and a range of 240 kilometers/150 miles. It could send 1,000 kilograms (1 ton) of explosives more than 240 kilometers (150 miles) down range in five minutes.

Its liquid-fueled rocket engine powered it for approximately a minute, with stabilization and some control from aerodynamic fins. Once the engine stopped, the missile followed a parabolic trajectory, entering the edge of space, and then turning earthwards and falling due to gravity.


Internally, the V-2 was designated A-4, as the fourth version of an "aggregate" weapons system. It was developed at the test center at Peenemunde, in the Baltic. Its advances over earlier experimental version included an improved gyroscope to control its azimuth (i.e., compass heading), with carbon vanes in the exhaust to provide steering. It also contained accelerometers that sensed the distance it had flown and shut down the engine at that point; the missile continued its ballistic coasting, and its range was determined by time of engine shutdown.

Its first test flight was in October 1942. [1] Two bombing raids on Peenemunde, in August 1943, killed a large number of forced laborers and part of the technical force, but the design had been completed and production of the missiles moved elsewhere.


Each V-2 weighed thirteen tons; Hitler wanted 900 produced each month. Each missile delivered about one ton of explosive. With 30 per day, they would have delivered approximately the same payload of twelve Allied heavy bombers attacking Germany — sometimes in thousand-plane raids. While most of the bombers were not terribly accurate — U.S. bombers could hit a large factory and British night bombers a city — V-2's had even worse accuracy. A one-ton warhead with an accuracy of a mile is a serious concern if it has a nuclear warhead, but, while terrifying and lethal if you were in the target area, they were simply not militarily effective, and an immense diversion of resources. In a perverse way, they were lifesaving for some slave laborers, who were saved from gassing at Auschwitz to be used in the terrible underground working conditions at the Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp factory..[2] Since the workers needed significant training, Albert Speer writes that he complained to the SS to get better treatment of, and thus better productivity from, the worker.

Speer agreed with Hitler, and considered it one of his worst mistakes. He would have built guided missiles, but very different ones: the Wasserfall or Typhoon surface-to-air missiles. Thousands of these smaller weapons, which were ready for initial production, could have been produced by January 1945, and might have had a devastating effect on Allied bomber forces. The effect would have been even greater had the Me-262 fighter been available in quantity;[3] bombers defend differently against missiles and fighters.

Tactical aspects

The V-2 had advantages and disadvantages in comparison with the jet-propelled V-1 cruise missiles. It was mobile, and did not need the fixed launching ramps required by the V-2, which could be detected and bombed by the Alies. On the other hand, it required liquid oxygen and alcohol, which were much harder to supply than the simple petroleum-based fuel of the V-1.

Neither had sufficiently accurate guidance to hit a target smaller than a metropolitan area. The V-2, as opposed to the V-1, could not be intercepted once fired.

Since the Germans had no effective post-strike photography, they depended on spy reports to tell them where the weapons were striking, so they could correct their guidance settings. Since all German spies in Britain had been compromised by the Double-Cross System, [4] the British were able to introduce gradual errors into the information sent to the Germans, so many of the V-2's were eventually falling into farmland.


One of Germany's surface-to-air missile programs, the Wasserfall missile, was based on a smaller V-2. [5]

The widely deployed Soviet SS-1 SCUD is, in most respects, a copy of the V-2, but was a more credible weapon with a nuclear warhead. Conventionally armed SCUDs and SCUD variants used by Iraq were largely ineffective in the Iran-Iraq War, Gulf War, and Iraq War.


  1. Globalsecurity.org (John Pike), Peenemunde, 1943
  2. Dora - Mittelbau/Nordhausen Concentration Camp, Holocaust Research Project
  3. Albert Speer (1970), Inside the Third Reich, Macmillan, pp. 364-372
  4. Masterman, J. C. (1972.). The Double-Cross System in the War of 1939–1945. Yale University Press. 
  5. "The Wasserfall missile", Century of Flight