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Rocketry

  ROCKETS IN WORLD WAR II

At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

5.40 Discuss and describe the various rockets and missiles used during World War II.


In the late 1930s, with the threat of another world war looming on the horizon, many governments took a new interest in rocket development.

During World War II, every major power had a rocket program. Some, like the Japanese, had a limited program while that of the Germans was major and even included plans for spaceflight.

To the general public, the German V-1 and V-2 are the best known of the rockets and missiles used in the war. However, rockets and missiles were used in great quantities, for many purposes, in different shapes and sizes, and in most theaters of operations.

"Corsair fighter looses its load of rocket projectiles on a run against a Jap stronghold on Okinawa. In the lower background is the smoke of battle as Marine units move in to follow up with a Sunday punch." Lt. David D. Duncan, ca. 1945. (NARA 127-GR-97-126420)

The Soviet Union used the six-foot-long Katyashu barrage rocket. It had a three-mile range and was launched from a mobile launcher that held from 30 to 48 of the rockets.

The U.S. Navy also used barrage rockets. The most common one was the 2.75 feet long and weighed 38.2 pounds and was 4.5 inches in diameter. The Navy outfitted special landing craft that could launch 300 of these rockets a minute.

Another rocket weapon was the bazooka. this was an American weapon designed for the infantry to destroy tanks and fortifications.

During the last 12 months of World War II, Germany used two new weapons in an attempt to win the war. The first was a small, jet-powered flying bomb called the V-1. It was launched from Northern France and flew about 400 mph across the English Channel to England. After flying for about 150 miles, the fuel supply would run out and the V-1 would crash exploding the bomb in its nose. The weapon did limited damage to England as it was vulnerable to fighter aircraft, and many were also shot down by antiaircraft fire.

Life in London during the war. View of a V-1 rocket in flight, ca. 1944. (NARA 306-NT-3157V)

The V-2 was a rocket­propelled missile and, unlike the V­l, was impossible to defend against. It carried a 2,000­pound warhead at speeds of about 3,600 mph and had a range of about 220 miles. The high, arching flight of the V­2 carried it to an altitude of about 100 miles. From this altitude, it fell faster than the speed of sound and landed before any warning could be given. The V­2 did a considerable amount of damage to English cities and killed or wounded several thousand people.

A V-2 (A-4) on a test stand at Peenemunde, Germany during the war.

 

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Updated: 12 March, 2004