Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Peenemünde Raid (17–18 August 1943)

Information about German operations to build the V-2, a single-stage rocket, at Peenemünde first reached the British in November 1939. In 1943, further information came to light, and reconnaissance missions were flown that produced photographic evidence of a rocket on a trailer. The Allies decided that Peenemünde had to be destroyed, and the task was assigned to the Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command. The raid was launched on the night of 17–18 August 1943 and occurred only a few hours after the U.S. Army Air Forces had begun raids against Regensburg and Schweinfurt. There was also a diversionary raid against Berlin.

The British hoped as a result of the raid to delay German rocket research by many months. This would entail destroying the facility and killing as many people working there as possible, especially the scientists. Head of Bomber Command Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris decided on a mix of precision and area bombing, and to achieve the maximum results he decided to employ the entire strength of Bomber Command. He would also use Pathfinder aircraft.

Peenemünde was 500 miles from the British bases, and the British would come under full German attack. The RAF strike on the night of 17–18 August used 596 bombers (324 Lancasters, 218 Halifaxes, and 54 Stirlings), of which 560 reached the target area. British losses were heavy, with 40 bombers shot down. The Germans lost 12 fighters.

The raid destroyed several facilities and killed between 120 and 178 people working in the facility, along with 600 inmates of a nearby forced-labor camp. Although it is impossible to judge this with any certainty, the raid probably retarded German V-2 production by up to six months. The first V-2s did not fall on London until 8 September 1944, three months after the Allied invasion of Normandy. The raid is also notable as the first time the Germans used their Schrage Musik cannon, upward-firing 20 mm guns that were mounted on Me-110 aircraft and that claimed six British bombers. Peenemünde would continue to take a heavy toll of Allied bombers the remainder of the war.

The U.S. Army Air Forces also raided Peenemünde later, and the Germans moved much of their development work elsewhere. At the end of the war, the Americans secured most of the German rocket scientists as well as Peenemünde itself, from which they gathered V-2s and related equipment, filling 300 railroad cars before destorying the site.

Elizabeth D. Schafer and Spencer C. Tucker


Further Reading
Huzel, Dieter K. Peenemünde to Canaveral. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1962.; Middlebrook, Martin. The Peenemünde Raid, 17–18 August 1943. London: Cassell, 2000.; Neufeld, Michael J. The Rocket and the Reich: Peenemunde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.; Ordway, Frederick I., III, and Mitchell R. Sharpe. The Rocket Team. New York: Crowell, 1979.; Wegener, Peter P. The Peenemünde Wind Tunnels: A Memoir. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.
 

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