The V2 rocket engine was developed in Germany in the early 1940s. The engine was far bigger than any other rocket engine built before, making the V2 rocket the first long range missile used in World War 2.
Propelled by an alcohol and liquid oxygen fuel, V2 had a range of over 320km and travelled at about 1,341m/sec. Incredibly, that’s three times faster than the speed of sound! The V2 offensive on the British lasted from September 1944 to March 1945 and close to 2,500 rockets were launched during that period. London alone was hit by over 500. On one particular day in 1944, a V2 carrying a tonne of high explosives was launched from its site in the Netherlands, detonating just five minutes later on homes in Chiswick,West London. The explosion that day killed three people.
The engine’s name alone (V2 standing for ‘vengeance weapon 2’) clearly indicates the idea of inflicting harm or injury through the power of this missile. After the war, work began in Russian larger missiles, based on extensions of V2 technology. However, although the V2 was used for military purposes first, it has also been a vital component in the evolution of space rocketry!
The V2 engine was in fact the forerunner of the booster rockets that launched space craft and astronauts, allowing humans to start exploring what lies beyond our planet. How so? After the war, the remaining V2 rockets were captured by Allied forces and taken to the US to be researched. The V2 rocket was the first vehicle in space! In fact, the first ever photo of the earth from space was taken in 1946 by a camera on a V2 rocket. This black & white image is on display with the V2 engine as part of our ’10 Climate Stories’ exhibition.
As well as space travel, we can’t escape the V2 is also the precursor of all modern guided missiles… But many technologies initially developed for military use have become incredibly important to everyday life (the internet, for example).
Is the V2 rocket an engine of discovery, or an engine of war?
Do the advantages of space travel and exploration enabled by the V2 outweigh the devastating military use?
What other applications of military technology can your students find in their lives?
The V2 engine is on display in Exploring Space Gallery, ground floor.
The V2 rocket is found in Making the modern world, on the ground floor.
- Denise Cook