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ince the end of World War I, Germany was always looking into innovation in order to become the most technologically advanced country in the world. An important player in this story is Wernher Von Braun who, at the time, was a German aerospace engineer that, in 1912, started doing his research on the use of rockets not only as weapons but also as a means of transportation.

Hitler was always on the look for bigger and better things. This was not an obsession that started during World War 2, but one that had its inception before he came to power. In his craziness, he did see the big picture and the true potential Germany had, not only with its resourceful and efficient country but also with the brilliant minds within the nation. This isn’t just about the minds like the one of Albert Einstein, but many great engineers that were better than the ones most nations had access to, specialized not only in building but also in innovating old technology.

A4/V2 Rocket

The launch of a German A4 rocket, later to be renamed V-2, at Peenmünde, Germany, 1940 (Source the German Federal Archives)

Many people think that the famous V2 German ballistic missile was invented during World War 2, however that a wrong assumption. Braun started working on different prototypes of rockets after World War 1 as he knew that this would end up being the future of warfare. At the time, this missile was not the V2, but it was named A4 and its sole purpose was to potentially fly into space.

With the A4 rocket, Braun did not have a specific goal, he only aimed to perfect the technology of a rocket booster as well as the thrust-to-weight ratio. As he went along with his design he saw the potential and efficiency of rockets if they were to be used as weapons, especially by Germany since they had been banned from using any long-range artillery after World War 1.

The first few prototypes were only able to fly a distance of 100 Km due to inefficient fuel consumption, since the thrust was too powerful. By 1942 the V2 rocket was perfected, hitting London from its launching location in France, 315 Km away, numerous times which resulted in thousands of deaths.

However, since Hitler came into power in 1933, he invested heavily in a top-secret program called the Nazi Space Program. This is where Braun was really able to push his abilities since he had adequate financial support. At first, he demanded by Hitler to build a rocket more powerful than the A4/V2 that could reach New York in the potential case of a war.

Different type of modules prototyped by Braun (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

This was meant to be the A-10 rocket, a ballistic missile with a unique 100-tonne thrust engine (or the combination of four A4/V2 engines) which would allow the missile to hit targets at 900Km distance, in other words, a small intercontinental warhead. Even with how advanced the Germans were at the time, the systems they were using were primitive at best, which never allowed them to make the rocket efficient enough to reach US land.

Hitler’s Plan B

As I have mentioned before, Hitler had big plans and even bigger dreams. His ideology of the Aryan race made him think that the Nazis were above anyone else, believing that their minds were ahead of other races, therefore they had to be the first to reach the moon. This would be a statement that would have probably scared the whole world if it were to happen.

So Hitler had a discussion with Braun, asking him what possibility there was of actually reaching the moon. Braun told Hitler that designing such a rocket would take years, not to speak about building it, even with all the resources they had at hand. Hitler was not the type of man to take no for an answer so he suggested using the design of the A10 and upscaling it.

First rank, from left to right, General Dr Walter Dornberger (partially hidden), General Friedrich Olbricht (with Knight’s Cross), Major Heinz Brandt, and Wernher von Braun (in civilian dress) at Peenemünde, in March 1941. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

He knew that if the A10 rocket were to be finalized, the Germans could have potentially been the first to reach space as the Earth’s atmosphere is only 500Km from the Earth’s surface.

What Hitler had in mind was to actually colonize the Moon in order to have a base where the Third Reich could retreat in case they lost World War 2. I cannot even discuss how impossible this was at the time, the technology simply wasn’t there. In the hypothetical event that the Third Reich would have won the war, I reckon it would have taken them at least another ten years to develop their current technology, and even then, there would be one million things that could go wrong.

Interestingly enough Braun did start to work on a side project that was a combination between the A10 rocket and the Me 262 German fighter jet. He knew that traveling in space would rely significantly more on an aerodynamic spacecraft with very efficient fuel consumption rather than an extremely powerful thruster that could take you somewhere in seconds and weigh about one million tonnes.

In this photo, probably taken in 1962, Dr. Von Braun is shown in his office at Marshall Space Flight Center with a display of rocket models. (Source: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center)

It is true that the V2 rockets made a difference as it definitely lowered the morale of the British, however, once again even with this superior technology they could not beat the large numbers of the combined Allied forces.

After the end of the war, Braun was taken by the Americans to work for NASA. Braun told the Americans that he never wanted to weaponize his creations, but he was forced by the Nazis just as every other scientist or professional was. He went on to become a pioneer in rocket designs as with many calling him the “father of rockets”.

Braun was also the main designer of the Apollo 11 rocket which was the spacecraft that took Neil Armstrong to the Moon and back — a first in the history of humanity — accomplishing the life-long dream Braun had ever since he first approached aerospace engineering.

Eugene Sänger’s Silbervogel

Euge e Sanger (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

You probably were thinking that the first picture of the article is there to attract attention but no, that is an actual design that was made by a man named Eugene Sänger, who was another aerospace engineer working on Hitler’s wish/dream of reaching space. The model you can see, which has been redesigned from its blueprint version, is called Sänger’s Silbervogel (Silverbird). This spacecraft was designed to travel through our Solar System with the help of Braun’s A10, which would get the Silverbird to outer space.

Sanger’s specialty was supersonic engines and high-power rocket boosters. His design initially started with the idea of an airliner that could transport people from one end of the world to another in a matter of hours. However, upon seeing how promising supersonic technology really is. With only a small cockpit for two pilots and a simple frame, the Silverbird was designed, from an aerodynamic point of view, to resist speeds up to ten times the speed of sound (around 3,4 Km per second).

A Sanger Silverbird conquers space. (Source: illustration by Joshua Hildwine via www.luft46.com)

Even if any of these aircraft were to make it into space, something would definitely go wrong, as proven in nearer historical events we had to learn from defeat in order to succeed. It is said that Sänger did actually make a small-scale version of the Silverbird to test in a wind tunnel, but the prototype (if it ever existed) was most probably destroyed by the Germans so that the Allies would not get their hands on the technology.

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