Released in March 1920, Dornberger remained in the Reichswehr and was promoted to first lieutenant in 1925. He held various duties related to artillery and artillery testing during the early 1920s and studied mechanical engineering at the Technical University in Berlin, where he received his engineering degree in 1930. Dornberger was promoted to captain in March 1930 and in April 1931 was appointed to the Ballistics and Munitions Branch of the Army Weapons Department, which oversaw development of liquid-fuel rockets for military use.
Dornberger received an honorary doctorate in engineering in 1935. Promoted to major in November 1935, he then commanded the army experimental facilities at Kummersdorf. In July 1936, he became department chief in the Army Weapons Department with responsibility for special experiments at the Army Experimental Station at Peenemünde. Dornberger was promoted to lieutenant colonel in June 1938 and colonel in August 1940.
At Peenemünde, work on the A-Series of rocket missiles resulted in the V-2 (A-4), which made its first successful test flight on 3 October 1942. Dornberger was promoted to generalmajor (U.S. equiv. brigadier general) in June 1943. A British air raid on the night of 17–18 August 1943 destroyed part of Peenemünde and forced dispersal of the project, which Dornberger estimated set back production six months. The first V-2 hit London on 8 September 1944.
By early February 1945, the Schutzstaffel (SS) controlled the entire V-2 program. The SS evacuated Dornberger and some 450 others from Peenemünde on 6 April 1945. Dornberger was taken prisoner by U.S. forces in May 1945 and turned over to the British, who imprisoned him at Island Farm Prisoner-of-War Camp in Wales until 1947. Dornberger was charged as a war criminal for launching the V-2s against London, but he was never brought to trial. Following his release in 1947, he emigrated to the United States and became a U.S. citizen. He first worked for the Air Force Air Material Command as a consultant on rocket programs. He joined Bell Aircraft Corporation in 1950 as a missile-design consultant and participated in work on the Rascal air-to-surface guided missile and the Dyna-Soar project, which evolved into the space shuttle program. Dornberger's wartime memoirs, V-2, were published in 1954. Dornberger never wavered from his belief that the V-2 program was a more effective use of scant resources than jet aircraft. Albert Speer, on the other hand, maintained that production of the Me-262 and the "Waterfall" ground-to-air antiaircraft rocket would have given Germany a better chance.
Dornberger became vice president of Bell Aircraft in 1959, and in 1960 he held the same office with Bell Aerosystems Company. He retired in 1965. Dornberger died in Obersasbach, Baden-Württemberg, West Germany, on 27 June 1980.
Jon D. Berlin
Dornberger, Walter. V-2. Trans. James Cleugh and Geoffrey Halliday. New York: Viking Press, 1954.; Neufeld, Michael J. The Rocket and the Reich: Peenemunde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.; Pocock, Rowland F. German Guided Missiles of the Second World War. New York: Arco Publishing, 1967.; Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Trans. Richard and Clara Winston. New York: Macmillan, 1970.