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Walter Dornberger

Major-General Dr Walter Robert Dornberger (September 6 1895 - June 27 1980) was a German army officer whose career spanned World Wars I and II. During the 1930s and 40s, he directed Germany's rocket and missile programmes, which culminated in the V-2.

Dornberger was born in Gießen and joined an artillery regiment just prior to the outbreak of war in 1914. A month before the armistice, he was captured by French forces, and was repatriated to Germany in 1920, where he returned to the army.

Between 1926 and 1931, he was detached to the Technical University of Charlottenberg, where he studied physics. In 1932, Dornberger was approached by members of the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR) ("Spaceflight Society") amateur rocketry group, who were looking for funding. The German army at the time was interested in developing rocket weapons, since these had not been specifically restricted by the Treaty of Versailles, so Dornberger agreed to attend a demonstration. The launch of a liquid-fuelled rocket designed by the group was a failure, the device exploding on its launch pad. Even so, Dornberger was impressed with the group and with his contact, Wernher von Braun and offered them a contract to work on secret rocket weapons for the army. The group declined the offer, but von Braun himself agreed to work for Dornberger.

Dornberger and von Braun worked together on a series of ever more powerful rockets at the Krummersdorf artillery base. By 1937, this facility was too small for the experiments they were carrying out, and Dornberger requested and was granted a larger site, which became the research station at Peenemünde. There, the ballistic missile development programme resulted in the first flight of a V-2 in March 1942.

Dornberger remained head of the V-2 project until August 1944 when it came under direct control of the SS, and Heinrich Himmler replaced him with Hans Kammler. Dornberger resented being placed under Kammler's authority and did not believe him to be competent to lead the project. Sympathetic to Dornberger's plight, Albert Speer transferred him and his staff to work on anti-bomber defences in January 1945. Working now for the Luftwaffe, Dornberger's team adapted the technology of the V-2 to the Wasserfall SAM, but this project was hampered by Kammler (with the authority of Hermann Göring) transferring most of Dornberger's technicians back to the V-2 in February.

With the war now clearly reaching its final stages, Dornberger and von Braun led their staff in evacuating Peenemünde. He then surrendered to US troops in May. He was imprisoned in the UK for two years. During interrogation, he maintained that he had never intended the V-2 to be directed at civilian targets, and that this had only happened when the SS took control of the project. Because of this, he was not required to stand trial as a war criminal and was allowed to go free.

He emigrated to the United States soon after his release, and worked for the USAF on guided missiles for three years. From 1950 to 1965 he worked for the Bell Aircraft Corporation and was a key consultant for the X-20 Dyna-Soar project. During this time, he also wrote an account of his time on the V-2 project, simply titled V-2.

Following retirement, Dornberger returned to Germany, where he died in 1980 in Baden-Württemberg.