World War II Day by Day World War II was the single most devastating and horrific event in the history of the world, causing the death of some 70 million people, reshaping the political map of the twentieth century and ushering in a new era of world history. Every day The Daily Chronicles brings you a new story from the annals of World War II with a vision to preserve the memory of those who suffered in the greatest military conflict the world has ever seen.


London, England August 17, 1943

In mid-June 1943 a Royal Air Force reconnais­sance mission flew over the top-secret Peene­muende Army Research Center and V‑2 rocket launch site on the German Baltic coast. Images con­firmed the pre­sence of long-range bal­listic missiles at the site. A month later British Prime Minister Winston Chur­chill ordered an attack at the ear­liest opportunity based on moon and meteorological conditions.

The attack on Peene­muende began Opera­tion Cross­bow, the 22-month-long Anglo-American bombing cam­paign against Germany’s V‑2 program. (V‑2 was short for Vergel­tungs­waffe 2; English, “Retali­atory Wea­pon 2” or “Repri­sal Wea­pon 2.”) Among the Ger­man rocket scien­tists affected by the RAF cam­paign was Dr. Wernher von Braun (1912–1977). Begin­ning at mid­night on this date, August 17, 1943, three waves of RAF heavy bombers (596 mostly Lan­casters and Hali­faxes) damaged test rigs and labo­ra­tories (leaving other im­por­tant instal­la­tions un­touched) at a cost of 215 Brit­ish air­crew mem­bers, 40 bombers, and hun­dreds of civil­ians in a nearby con­cen­tra­tion camp. Joseph Goeb­bels, Nazi Minis­ter of Public Enlighten­ment and Pro­pa­ganda, claimed that the RAF attack set the rocket program back six to eight weeks.

V-2 development and test firing shifted from Peene­muende to an SS training base near Blizna in a remote area of South­eastern Poland, which was less vulner­able to Allied air raids, while the nearly opera­tional V‑2 pro­duc­tion plant for the most part shifted to gypsum mines in the Harz Moun­tains in East­ern Germany. In under­ground tunnels slave laborers from the Mittel­bau-Dora con­cen­tra­tion camp (initially a sub­camp of Buchen­wald) con­structed, by war’s end, 5,200 V‑2 rockets. An esti­mated 20,000 pri­soners died at Mittel­bau-Dora, 9,000 from exhaus­tion. The majority, how­ever, died from dis­ease, star­va­tion, or exe­cu­tion, including 200 accused of sab­o­tage. (Von Braun admitted visiting the sub­ter­ranean facili­ties on many occasions.) Bodies of V‑2 pro­duc­tion workers were con­veyed to Buchen­wald for burning at the rate of about 1,000 a month.

On September 8, 1944, the first suc­cess­ful launch of the super­sonic V‑2 missile targeted newly liberated Paris, then England. From Septem­ber to the following March, Germans launched over 3,000 V‑2s against Allied targets on the con­tin­ent and the British Isles. The deadly rockets, falling without warning, killed fewer people than those who died manufacturing them.

Dr. Wernher von Braun and the German V-2 Rocket Program

Operation Crossbow: RAF reconnaissance photo, Peenemuende, 1943 Wernher von Braun, Peenemuende, 1941

Left: Royal Air Force reconnaissance photograph of V‑2 rockets at Peene­muende Test Stands I and VII, June 12, 1943. The August 17–18, 1943, air raid dropped roughly 1,800 tons of mostly high-ex­plo­sive bombs, which killed two V‑2 rocket scien­tists. Bombs with delay fuses ham­pered sal­vage efforts. The island of Use­dom, where Peene­muende is located, is a tourist destination today.

Right: Dr. Wernher von Braun, Technical Director at the Army Rocket Center at Peene­muende, March 21, 1941. The bril­liant pio­neer of modern rocketry (and the father of the Amer­i­can space program), von Braun and his team of engi­neers post­poned their ini­tial dreams of space travel to create wea­pons of terror and mass destruc­tion for Hitler’s Germany. Not only were they ambi­tious mem­bers of the Nazi move­ment (von Braun was issued Nazi Party mem­ber­ship num­ber 5,738,692), but they col­lab­o­rated with the SS, the Party’s depraved special police force, in exploiting slave labor to build V‑2 rockets.

Peenemuende V-2 launch pad, March 1942 V-2 rocket launch at Peenemuende, March 1942

Left: Peenemuende launch pad with V-2, March 1942. The ances­tor of modern-day bal­listic mis­siles, the V‑2 (technical name Aggre­gat 4, or A‑4) could not win the war for Germany—it was too expen­sive, too com­plicated, too inaccurate, and its warhead too small.

Right: Seconds after a V-2 rocket launch at Peenemuende, March 1942.

Underground V-2 manufacturing facility Von Braun shortly after his capture, May 1945

Left: Underground tunnel in the Harz Moun­tains at Kohn­stein where the V‑2 rockets were manu­factured. Photo taken after the Allies had captured the area.

Right: The unprecedented invulner­ability and influ­ence on Allied plan­ning made the V‑2 and the advance­ments it repre­sented the ulti­mate war prize, and Amer­i­can, Brit­ish, and Soviet forces scrambled to seize German rocket tech­no­logy along with its scientists and engi­neers. This photo from May 3, 1945, shows von Braun in an arm cast with several of his scientists shortly after their surrender to U.S. soldiers.

German V-2 Rocket Program