In the summer of 1945, with the war in Europe over, Allied forces rushed to unravel the secrets of Nazi V2 rockets. These terror weapons, built by slave labourers, did little to affect the outcome of the war – but they had the potential to change the world.
“There was an unseemly scramble to get hold of V2 missile technology,” says John Becklake, former head of engineering at London’s Science Museum. “The Americans, the Russians, the French and us.”
The leader of Hitler’s Vengeance weapon program, Wernher von Braun, surrendered to American forces in May 1945 and was quietly spirited away to the United States. In the same month the Russians captured Von Braun’s research and test facilities at Peenemunde on the Baltic coast. The French, meanwhile, gathered some 40 German rocket scientists and engineers and the British assembled rockets for a series of test flights.