Born: 6 September 1895, Gießen, Germany.
Died: 27 June 1980, Obersasbach, Germany.
Major-General Dr Walter Robert Dornberger was a German Army artillery officer whose career spanned World Wars I and II. He was a leader of Germany's V-2 rocket program and other projects at the Peenemünde Army Research Center.
Dornberger was born in Gießen and enlisted in 1914. In October 1918, as an artillery lieutenant Dornberger was captured by US Marines and spent two years in a French prisoner-of-war camp (mostly in solitary confinement because of repeated escape attempts).In the late 1920s, Dornberger completed an engineering course with distinction at the Berlin Technical Institute, and in the Spring of 1930, Dornberger graduated after five years with an MS degree in mechanical engineering from the Technische Hochschule Charlottenburg in Berlin. In 1935 Dornberger received an honorary doctorate, which Col Karl Emil Becker arranged as Dean of the new Faculty of Military Technology at the TH Berlin.
In April 1930, Dornberger was appointed to the Ballistics Council of the German Army (Reichswehr) Weapons Department as Assistant Examiner to secretly develop a military liquid-fuel rocket suitable for mass-production that would surpass the range of artillery. In the Spring of 1932, Dornberger, his commander (Captain Ritter von Horstig), and Col Karl Emil Becker visited the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR)'s leased Raketenflugplatz (English: Rocket Flight Field ) and subsequently issued a contract for a demonstration launch. On 21 December 1932, Captain Dornberger watched a rocket motor explode at Kummersdorf while Wernher von Braun tried to light it with a flaming gasoline can at the end of a four meter long pole.
In 1933, Waffenamt Prüfwesen (Wa Prüf, English: Weapons Testing ) 1/1, under the Heereswaffenamt (Army Weapons Department), commenced work under the direction of Colonel/Dr. Ing. h. c. Dornberger. Dornberger also took over his last military command on 1 October 1934 a powder-rocket training battery at Königsbrück. In May 1937, Dornberger and his ninety-man organization were transferred from Kummersdorf to Peenemünde. In September 1942, Dornberger was given two posts: coordinating the V-1 flying bomb and V-2 rocket development programmes and directing active operations. The first successful test launch of a V-2 rocket was the third test launch on 3 October 1942. In the early morning of 7 July 1943, Dr Ernst Steinhoff flew Wernher von Braun and Major-General Dornberger in his Heinkel He-111 to Adolf Hitler's Führerhauptquartier Wolfsschanze headquarters and the next day Adolf Hitler's viewed the film of the successful V-2 rocket test launch (narrated by Wernher von Braun) and the scale models of the Watten bunker and launching-troop vehicles:
This third day of October, 1942, is the first of a new era in transportation, that of space travel...
Walter Dornberger, speech at Peenemünde 3 October 1942
I have had to apologize only to two men in my whole life. The first was Field Marshal von Brauchitsch. I did not listen to him when he told me again and again how important your research was. The second man is yourself. I never believed that your work would be successful.
Adolf Hitler's, Apology to Major-General Dornberger, 8 July 1944
In January 1944, Dornberger was named Senior Artillery Commander 191 and was headquartered at Maisons-Lafitte near Saint Germain, and in December 1944, Dornberger was given complete authority for anti-aircraft rocket development (Flak E Flugabwehrkanonenentwicklung). On 12 January 1945 on Dornberger's proposal, Albert Speer replaced the Long-Range Weapons Commission with Working Staff Dornberger. In February 1945, Dornberger and staff relocated his headquarters from Schwedt-an-der-Oder to Bad Sachsa, then on 6 April 1945, from Bad Sachsa to Haus Ingeborg in Oberjoch near Hindelang in the Allgäu mountains of Bavaria. Before going to the Alps, General Dornberger had hidden his own papers near Bad Sachsa, which were recovered by the 332nd Engineer Regiment.
At an internment camp after the war known as CSDIC Camp 11 the British bugged Dornberger, who in conversation with Generalmajor Bassenge (GOC Air Defences, Tunis & Biserta) said that he and Wernher von Braun had realised in late 1944 that things were going wrong and consequently was in touch with the General Electric Corporation through the German Embassy in Portugal, with a view to coming to some arrangement.
On 2 May 1945, Dornberger, Wernher von Braun, and five other men departed from Haus Ingeborg and travelled through Adolf Hitler Pass and towards the little Austrian village of Schattwald. They met American soldiers who convoyed the group to the Tyrolean town of Reutte for the night. Other sources place them being arrested by Patton's Third Army on May 3, 1945 near Prague, Czechoslovakia.
Post World War II
In mid-August 1945, after taking part in Operation Backfire, Dornberger was escorted from Cuxhaven to London for interrogation by the British War Crimes Investigation Unit in connection with the use of slave labor in the production of V-2 rocket he was subsequently transferred and detained for two years at Bridgend in South Wales.
Along with other National Socialist rocket scientists, Dornberger was released and brought to the United States under the auspices of Operation Paperclip, and worked for the United States Air Force for three years developing guided missiles. From 1950 to 1965 he worked for the Bell Aircraft Corporation, and was a key consultant for the X-20 Dyna-Soar project. Dornberger also developed Bell's Rascal, a nuclear air-to-surface guided missile developed for the Strategic Air Command but not put into production. Following retirement, Dornberger returned to Germany, where he died in 1980 in Baden-Württemberg.
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