We can thank God that the Nazi’s never protected these vengeance weapons.
What would have followed the V-2?
War buffs are familiar with Nazi Germany’s so-called vengeance weapons: the V-1 and V-2 rockets and the V-3 supergun. This article will look at Nazi designs that might have been intended as future V weapons, but never actually got built.
The V-2’s technical name was A4, as it was part, and the first combat-ready member, of the Aggregat rocket family. With a range of 200 miles, it could hit Britain but only when launched from German-occupied France and parts of Belgium. The next step in development had to be an increase to the weapon’s range.
In late 1943, the A4-SLBM was designed under the name Projekt Schwimmweste (Project Life Jacket). A watertight container was designed to hold a V-2 rocket while being towed underwater by a U-boat. Once it was towed in range of the target, the container would turn into a vertical position and the rocket would launch from the water. A single container was built during the war but was never tested. In the same year, a proposal called for a V-1 rocket and its launch rail to be mounted on a submarine for long-range use. The project floundered due to interservice rivalry between the Luftwaffe, who had the V-1, and the Kriegsmarine.
Another attempt was to increase the range of the A4 rocket itself by giving it wings, which would reduce speed and cruising altitude but improve lift and range. The result was the A4b. Test flights had mixed results: on one occasion, the wing broke off but the rocket still became the first winged guided missile to break the sound barrier. Wind tunnel tests revealed that the wings weren’t ideal for supersonic speeds, so they were replaced by strakes, control surfaces running along the length of the rocket that, unlike wings, were longer than they were wide. The result was named the A9.
The A9, and several earlier projects, never left the design table but became part of the ambitious Nazi project of attacking America from across the Atlantic. As early as 1940, design work started on the A10, a massive booster rocket that would carry an A9 at the top. Powered by six V-2 engines with a single common combustion chamber and nozzle, it would fly across the ocean, launch the A9, drop into the ocean and maybe, hopefully, get retrieved by a U-boat. Guidance systems of the time weren’t up to the task of navigating such distances, so the weapon was designed to have a pilot who would make final course alterations on the detached A9 then bail.
Later ideas called for a third stage, the A11, which would carry the A10 carrying the A9, and eventually a fourth “A12” stage carrying all that. This would have been a true orbital rocket, 108ft high, weighing 3,500 tons when fueled and capable of placing a 10-ton payload in low Earth orbit.
An entirely different approach to vengeance weapons was the Silbervogel (Silver Bird) by Austrian aerospace engineering pioneer Eugen Sänger and his wife Irene Bredt. In the 1930s, when most passenger aircraft were still biplanes, Sänger already sketched up plans for a supersonic passenger plane. During the war, he dusted off the plans and turned them into an intercontinental bomber. The Silbervogel was to be a 90-foot-long depressed cigar with short, stubbly wings, mainly relying on the shape of the fuselage itself, the “lifting body,” to produce lift.
The plane was to be launched from a rocket-powered sled running along a 2-mile-long rail. Once in the air, it would ignite its own engine, climbing to an altitude of 90 miles, well above the official boundary of 62 miles. From here, it would start “jumping” forward like a skipping stone: every time it reached the atmosphere, the resulting lift would elevate it again. It would eventually reach America, drop an 8,800 pound bomb, then continue gliding towards its landing site, some (presumably Japanese-held) island in the Pacific. There it would be refueled for takeoff from another launch rail and return to Germany.
The plan was ambitious and pioneering but it would never have worked with 1940s technology. After the war, analysis of the plans revealed a calculation error about heat dissipation. Even if the plane could have been built, it would have been destroyed by heat mid-flight.