Germany’s Forerunner to the Polaris-type Missile
Germany had the capability to launch Polaris-type missiles from submerged U-boats as early as the summer of 1942.
The idea was conceived by Kapitanleutnant Fritz Steinhoff ofU-511 during the shakedown cruise of his new U-boat in the Baltic.
When he returned the vessel to Kiel for routine inspection and repairs, Steinhoff visited the top-secret rocket research center at Peenemunde on the Baltic Sea.
He discussed his innovative idea with his brother, Dr. Ernst Steinhoff, who was on Dr.
Wernhervon Braun’s staff. Dr. Steinhoff stated, “If a rocket can work in space, it can also work in water.
Interesting-I never thought of this. Let’s try and figure it out.”
Von Braun and his team designed a steel launching structure, with racks for four rockets.
Each rocket (Granatwerfer) was 16 inches in diameter and was powered by a solid propellant.
An electrical wire passed from the conning tower, through an existing watertight lead,
U-Boats and Rockets under the deck to the launching racks and into the rockets, where the entry was sealed with candle wax.
At the army experimental station at Peenemunde four launching racks with a total of 16 rockets were installed behind U-511 ‘s conning tower.
On 4 June 1942, Kapitanleutnant Steinhoff, with his brother, von Braun and 20 additional scientists on board, took the U-boatdown to 39 feet.
Von Braun later reported, “The general reaction from all of us aboard the experimental sub in our first attempt to launch a missile from a submarine was one of confidence.
We felt no apprehension; we did not fear explosion or launch damage to the ship. “
When Fritz Steinhoff pushed the launch button, all that was heard was a subdued “whoosh” as each missile left its rack, one at a time.
U-Boats and Rockets The effect on the U-boat was comparable to launching torpedoes.
The rockets’ range averaged just over three miles. Later tests with the U-boat submerged to 46 feet were just as successful.
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