Walter Dornberger

Walter Dornberger

Walter Dornberger was born in Giessen, Germany on 6th September, 1895. He joined the German Army in 1914 and during the First World War was captured by the French Army and was held as a prisoner-of-war until 1919.

Dornberger remained in the army and in 1925 was sent to the Charlottenberg Institute of Technology to study ballistics. While at Charlottenberg he met a young student, Wernher von Braun, and fellow member of the German Society for Space Travel.

In 1932 Dornberger was placed in charge of the solid-fuel rocket research and development in the Ordnance Department of the German Army. Dornberger recruited Wernher von Braun and in 1934 they successfully built two rockets that rose vertically for more the than 2.4 kilometres (1.5 miles).

In 1937 Dornberger was appointed military commander of rocket research station at Peenemunde. Braun became technical director of the establishment and he began to develop the long-range ballistic missile, the A4 (V2 Rocket) and the supersonic anti-aircraft missile Wasserfall.

During the Second World War Dornberger and Braun began working on a new secret weapon, the V2 Rocket. This 45 feet long, liquid-fuelled rocket carried a one ton warhead, and was capable of supersonic speed and could fly at an altitude of over 50 miles. As a result it could not be effectively stopped once launched.

The V2 Rocket was first used in September, 1944. Over 5,000 V-2s were fired on Britain. However, only 1,100 reached their target. These rockets killed 2,724 people and badly injured 6,000. After the D-Day landings, Allied troops were on mainland Europe and they were able to capture the launch sites and by March, 1945, the attacks came to an end.

With the Red Army advancing on the Peenemunde Research Station, Wernher von Braun surrendered to the US Army. Braun and 40 other scientists working on rocket technology were taken to the United States where they worked on the development of nuclear missiles.

Dornberger was arrested by Allied forces and spent two years in England as a prisoner. He emigrated to the United States in 1947 where he worked as an adviser on the development of guided missiles. He later worked for the Bell Aircraft Corporation and on the Air Force-NASA Dyna-Soar project. Walter Dornberger died in Baden-Wurttemburg, West Germany, on 27th June, 1980.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Walter Dornberger, speech to those working at Peenemunde on the V-2 Rocket (3rd October, 1942)

This is the first of a new era in transportation, that of space travel. So long as the war lasts, our most urgent task can only be the rapid perfection of the rocket as a weapon. The development of possibilities we cannot yet envisage will be a peacetime task.

(2) Albert Speer, Germany's Minister of Armaments in the Second World War, was a strong supporter of the rocket programme headed by Walter Dornberger and Wernher von Braun.

O n June 13, 1942, the armaments chiefs of the three branches of the armed forces, Field Marshal Milch, Admiral Witzell and General Fromm, flew to Peenemunde with me to witness the first firing of a remote-controlled rocket.

Wisps of vapour showed that the fuel tanks were being filled. At the predetermined second, at first with a faltering motion but then with the roar of an unleashed giant, the rocket rose slowly from its pad, seemed to stand upon its jet of flame for the fraction of a second, then vanished with a howl into the low clouds. Wernher von Braun was beaming. For my part, I was thunderstruck at this technical miracle, at its precision and at the way it seemed to abolish the laws of gravity, so that thirteen tons could be hurtled into the air without any mechanical guidance.

Approximately twenty-five feet long, the Wasserfall rocket was capable of carrying approximately six hundred and sixty pounds of explosives along a directional beam up to an altitude of fifty thousand feet.

(3) Albert Speer told Adolf Hitler about the A-4 rocket, on 14h October, 1942. Hitler was excited by the news as he was convinced that he now had a weapon that would win the war.

The A-4 is a measure that can decide the war. And what encouragement to the home front when we attack the English with it. This is the decisive weapon of the war, and what is more it can be produced with relatively small resources. Speer, you must push the A-4 as hard as you can! Whatever labour and materials they need must be supplied instantly. You know I was going to sign the decree for the tank program. But my conclusion now is: Change it around and phase it so that A-4 is put on a par with tank production. But in this project we can use only Germans. God help us if the enemy finds out about this business.

Last updated:8th June, 2001