the V-2 in the USSR after WWII

The US Army’s tests of captured V-2 missiles after WWII in New Mexico is fairly well-known. Much less famous is the Soviet Union’s involvement with the world’s first ballistic missile after WWII.


(Left: A German V-2 missile being readied for launch during WWII. Right: It’s postwar Soviet copy, the SS-1 “Scunner”.)

The USA had no intention of using the V-2 as an actual weapon, no intention of directly copying it, no intention of producing it themselves, and only saw it as a useful research aid. The Soviets on the other hand, put no such restrictions on themselves.

the V-2 at a glance

The V-2 weighed 13¾ tons and was 45’11” long. Gyroscopically guided, it carried a 2,200 lbs HE warhead. It’s maximum range was 220 – 234 miles. The liquid-fueled missile used a volatile chemical called B-Stoff (a hydrazine-like compound of 75% ethanol and 25% H²O) oxidized by liquid oxygen (LOX) which was called A-Stoff by the Germans. Both were dangerous to begin with and reacted extremely violently together. To push the necessary fuel / oxidizer quantities into the motor, a turbine (sort of an engine-within-an-engine) was used; it was powered by the reaction of H²O² with sodium permanganate. The engine only burned for about the first 65 seconds of flight.


The apogee of the missile was at 264,000′ or less, depending on the target’s range. Flight control was via graphite vanes in the exhaust plume at launch, until sufficient airspeed was attained for the control fins to take over. The V-2 used a spinning drum to maintain course; this had to be aligned precisely 90° off-axis of the target at the moment of launch.


(Launch of a V-2 during WWII, showing three of the four vanes in the exhaust.)


(The V-2 performing it’s pitch towards target, during which the fins took over.)

The missile impacted ahead of it’s own sound; although from the perspective of somebody “behind” it, a sonic boom could be heard before the explosion. The warhead was immensely destructive, leveling an area half the size of a football field and leaving a crater 20 yards in diameter.

The financial cost of one V-2 was RM119,000 which was about equivalent to two PzKw IV tanks. But near the end of WWII, the cost in raw materials was more important to Germany than the price tag. A German PoW after WWII told the British that building each V-2 consumed as much critical materials and energy as two Me-410 Hornisse twin-engine fighters; the difference of course being that the plane was reusable and could be tasked with any variety of missions.

A total of 6,117 V-2s were ordered and started, of which about 5,200 were actually completed. Of these 631 were used for tests and training launches.

Of those allotted to combat units, 3,172 V-2s hit targets during WWII; with 1,402 hitting the UK and the rest spread around western Europe. Despite being associated with London in popular culture, the Belgian city of Antwerp was the hardest hit, receiving 1,610 V-2s.


(A pair of V-2s depart occupied Holland on their way to England during WWII.)

The V-2 was of little actual value. It could barely hit a target city, let alone a specific factory or headquarters. The total ordnance delivered was relatively low; for example in one 48-hour span during October 1944 Allied bombers dropped more ordnance on just one German city (Duisburg) than the total of all V-2 warheads at all targets in all of WWII.

The V-2’s main “value” was terror. Unlike the V-1 buzz bomb, there was no warning and  absolutely no defense against ballistic missiles during WWII. The only recourse was slowly advancing the front lines to push launch sites out of range.

Most of Germany’s exotic WWII weapons came either too little or too late to make any difference in the war. With the V-2, it was neither, even if Germany had built 7,000, or 14,000 or 20,000; it would not have made much difference. The V-2 was a technologically remarkable, but extravagantly expensive weapon that had more propaganda value than military use.

Soviet missile research during WWII

The Soviets had their own small missile effort before WWII. Had it not been for Stalin’s purges, the USSR might have entered WWII with a missile program second only to Germany’s. To catch back up, in May 1944 the NII-1 Institute was founded, evaluating general concepts. Two months later, Valentin Glushko’s design team was elevated to the status of an OKB (main design bureau) specifically concentrating on rocket engines, but at that time, primarily as a future propulsion method for fighter planes.


(Objekt 217-II was a 1939 project to develop the first Soviet surface-to-air missile (SAM). It was to be optically guided by the operator using an infrared searchlight and special goggles. It did not enter production.)

1933GIRD-X missile

(GIRD-X was an early Soviet attempt at a ballistic missile, which also ended in cancellation.)

The effort overall failed to produce a ballistic missile during WWII but at least laid the groundwork for postwar missile projects.

first Soviet encounters with the V-2: Poland

Germany did not fire any V-2s at the USSR; all were directed towards the west. None the less, the Soviets were obviously aware that Germany had perfected a ballistic missile. In August 1944, the Red Army’s 1st Ukrainian Front neared the Waffen-SS’s Heidelager test range near Blizna in occupied Poland. The Soviets had been informed of this facility’s existence by the British on 13 July 1944. The Soviets sent a “aeronautical specialist team” to follow infantry units seizing the Heidelager base. Included in this team was Maj. Gen. Pyotr I. Federov, the head of NII-1.

Heidelager was overran on 6 August 1944, ten days after the Waffen-SS evacuated. The missile specialist team used soldiers recuperating from combat wounds to walk the grounds and search for V-2 components. Initially only insignificant fragments were found. However one of the wounded soldiers, a Katushya artillery rocket operator, talked with local people and was tipped off to a “large item” in a river near Blizna. He quickly recognized it as a liquid-fueled rocket. Federov identified it as a V-2 engine and it was shipped to Moscow.



The Soviets calculated the impact zone of training V-2s launched from Heidelager. The missiles came down around Sarnaki, far to the north of Blizna in Poland, now under Soviet control. In late August and early September 1945, a variety of items were found including graphite vanes, crumpled fuel tanks, some of the guidance package, and more engine components.


(The V-2’s impact fuze had to withstand tremendous acceleration during launch, then immense heat during the descent. It would have been difficult and time-consuming for the Soviets to develop this alone.)

By agreement with the UK, the Soviets were supposed to hand this material over to the RAF. By most accounts the Soviets eventually did, after first photographing, measuring, and studying each piece in Moscow. However one British veteran claimed in 1979 that all that arrived in the UK in 1945 was a crate of parts from crashed Luftwaffe aircraft; and that the British government chose not to press the issue.

The Polish mission ended in tragedy for the Soviets. A plane carrying General Federov and other senior members of NII-1 crashed after takeoff near Kiev, killing all aboard and setting the effort back somewhat.

the end of WWII and finds in Germany

As the Red Army advanced into Germany itself, so-called “Trade Union Officers” were attached to frontline units. These were engineers and scientists given bare-basic infantry training and assigned to instantly recognize any German technology of value.


This town on Germany’s Baltic coast was the birthplace of the Third Reich’s missile effort. Heavily bombed during WWII, the Germans had already evacuated all of the scientists (including von Braun himself), all V-2s, and all of the technical documents at Peenemunde in early 1945. Soviet troops seized the facility on 5 May 1945, two days before WWII in Europe ended.


(Left: The bombed-out V-2 LOX production plant at Peenemunde. It produced tons of oxygen at greater than 99% purity, a fairly remarkable achievement for the 1940s. The ruins were, for whatever reason, never demolished by the East Germans and are still standing as of 2017. Right: The 30mW coal-fired power plant for the Peenemunde missile base. It survived WWII, but was looted by the Soviets during their occupation. Later the East German navy partially restored it to power their new naval base at Peenemunde. The reunified German government shut the power plant down in 1990 and converted it to a museum.)

The Soviets were disappointed with what was recovered at Peenemunde. The only value was studying the ruined LOX plant to determine how the Germans produced vast quantities of liquid oxygen.


This city in central Germany was the home of the Mittelwerk, a massive underground factory building jet engines, V-1 buzz bombs, and V-2 ballistic missiles. It was overrun by the US Army’s 3rd Armored Division on 11 April 1945, but was inside what was slated to be the future Soviet occupation zone.


(Never-completed V-1 buzz bombs inside the Mittelwerk. The USA already had a comparable weapon, the JB-2 Loon, and these were of little interest.)


(A US Army MP guards an incomplete V-2 ballistic missile inside the Mittelwerk. The USA was definitely interested in these.)

In operation “Paperclip”, the Mittelwerk was a very high-priority item for the USA. As part of “Paperclip”, an entire department called “Special Mission V-2” was established to extract as many missiles, blueprints, spare parts, and engineers as quickly as possible. Under Major James Hamill, the US Army’s 144th Motor Vehicle Company collected and moved 341 railroad boxcars of equipment out of Nordhausen to the American occupation zone in just 13 weeks. Included were eighty V-2 missiles and parts of another twenty, hundreds of blueprints and technical drawings, and some actual production tooling. The USA was in a race against the clock as the four victorious Allies had to be out of each other’s occupation zones as soon as possible, with an absolute deadline of 1 July 1945.


(US Army soldiers prepare a V-2 for evacuation days before Nordhausen was turned over to the Soviet military.)


(A train load of spare V-2 parts, here rear fuselages, on their way to the USA.)


(This V-2 was allocated to Australia after WWII and is shown here being loaded on a freighter in Antwerp for it’s long voyage.)

When the Soviets relieved the Americans on 21 June, all of the “low-hanging fruit”, the best technology, was gone. However there was some value to be found. The Soviets meticulously examined every single object remaining in the Mittelwerk and found incomplete V-2 components which the US Army had not been able to move before it ran out of time. Additionally, some of the Mittelwerk management was identified in Nordhausen and interrogated to provide more details as to how the V-2 was manufactured.


This “minor” V-2 facility turned out to be the biggest success of the Soviet V-2 search. In the southern part of the Soviet occupation zone, the Lehesten missile factory was partially underground in a disused slate quarry. Administered by the Waffen-SS, the facility had a V-2 fuel facility which could make both propellant and LOX at the rate of 8 tons per hour. There were limited assembly machines as well. The crown jewel was a completely undamaged rocket test stand, with all it’s technical documentation.


(Incomplete V-2 engines found by the Soviets under camouflage netting at Lehesten. The “bumps” are capped-off injector ports for the engine’s burner cups.)


(The most important item found at Lehesten was this test stand and it’s documentation.)

Lehesten, like Nordhausen, had originally been captured by the US Army at the end of WWII. Due to it’s poor rail access and deepness in the Soviet zone, the “Paperclip” team had made the decision to concentrate on the Mittlewerk and only extract from Lehesten what could be moved in jeeps as the clock ticked down. The Soviets found almost everything still intact, and also captured Dr. Karl-Joachim Umpfenbach (a designer of the V-2’s turbine pump) nearby.

By luck one of the first Soviet troops at the site was Alexi Isaev, a “Trade Union Officer” who had an interest in the V-2. He immediately recognized the importance of the site, especially the test stand, and relayed this to Moscow on 11 July 1945. Valentin Glushko flew there and was impressed enough that he received permission from Stalin to temporarily move his OKB’s office there. The Soviet occupation authorities moved any V-2 related scientists they had identified at Peenemunde and Nordhausen to Lehesten as well.

other sites

Bits and pieces of the V-2 program were located throughout the Soviet occupation sector. Additionally, several volumes of rocketry research were found in the former Wehrmacht Military-Technical Archives in Prague, Czechoslovakia.


(The Abschuβplattform weighed 1¾ tons and consisted of the Brennstand launch table with it’s conical blast deflector, and the arm holding the umbilical cables. The Soviets directly copied this design for the SS-1 “Scunner”.)

Another stroke of luck came on 15 October 1945, when Great Britain foolishly invited a Soviet team to watch operation “Backfire”, the launch of a captured V-2 from Cuxhaven in their occupation zone. Intended as goodwill to their wartime ally, this didn’t soften the new political rift with the USSR but it did give the Soviets an up-close, detailed look at the V-2’s proper launch procedure. “Backfire” was more of a publicity stunt than serious research, and the Soviets gained more from watching it than the British.



A Russian acronym for “brigade of special purpose”, BON was established shortly after Germany’s May 1945 surrender. Whereas the main part of the Soviet effort was handled by bureaus in Moscow, BON was an in-house effort of the Soviet army itself. The brigade was manned by Katushya artillery rocket crewmen from the war. Although the little Katushya had almost nothing in common with a V-2, the Soviets reasoned that it was the only existing Russian hardware even remotely similar.

Headquartered in Berka, 12 miles south of Erfurt, the men of BON worked seven days a week, both scouring defeated Germany for anything V-2 related, and, taking a crash course in rocketry, metallurgy, and aerodynamics. The brigade was helped by having a “grunt’s eye” that the bureaucrats lacked and yielded some surprising results.


(The Feuerleitpanzer as used by Germany during WWII.) (Bundesarchiv photo)

The Thuringia region was one of the areas which had been overrun by the US Army but was slated for handover to the Soviets. Here, an alert BON member noticed that a passing US Army unit had an intact Feuerleitpanzer (fire leader tank), the specialist V-2 launch-control version of the SdKfz-7/3 half-track. Not knowing what they had, the Americans agreed to a trade for other war trophies. These trophy swaps were common and accepted in occupied Germany in 1945, when enlisted Soviet and American soldiers still had a friendly view of each other. The vehicle was quickly moved to Lehesten. By similar trophy swaps, BON secured a V-2 service manual and a classroom training model of the V-2.

It’s service complete, BON disbanded in August 1947.

“employed” German scientists

The USA’s operation “Paperclip” was a success in securing von Braun and the other top V-2 designers. Part of the effort was also securing the ‘second-tier’, any scientist who had worked with von Braun and had secondhand knowledge.


(Professor Wernher von Braun, who nominally held a rank of major in the Waffen-SS, at his 1945 surrender to the US Army. His arm injury was from a non-combat auto accident. His knowledge was a gold mine to the USA, both military and civilian, culminating in the Apollo moon landings.)

Other than Umpfenbach, the scientists that the Soviets secured in 1945 were not top-rung. For certain they were gifted men, but the core of the V-2 team went entirely to the USA. The Soviets attempted to entice many of them (including von Braun himself) by offering to have them lead a rebuilding of the Peenemunde plant and a duplicate inside the USSR; plus offering double whatever salary the USA offered. Not surprisingly, none took the Soviets up.

There was one exception. Helmut Gröttrup, one of von Braun’s deputies in charge of the V-2’s guidance system, was angered by an initial US Army refusal to evacuate his family. During WWII he had also had a personality conflict with von Braun. In October 1945, Gröttrup crossed over to the Soviet occupation zone. At least at first, Gröttrup was fairly enthusiastic about his new employer and convinced several other low-tier V-2 personnel to join him including Friz Fibach, a specialist in launch vehicles, and Anton Narr, a production specialist. This greatly aided the Soviet effort.


(Helmut Gröttrup in the USSR after WWII.)

Towards the end of 1945, all V-2-related machinery, parts, and blueprints which the Soviets managed to find in their occupation zone were moved to Lehesten.

While Stalin had great interest in capitalizing on captured German jet, radar, and submarine technology; he was lukewarm towards ballistic missiles. On 16 April 1946, the US Army successfully launched a V-2 from White Sands, NM. Soviet intelligence reported to Stalin that the American ballistic missile project, which had a huge head start from “Paperclip”, was quite serious and making rapid progress.

Now Stalin changed his mind and on 13 May 1946 a Soviet ballistic missile program was formally established.


(The American V-2 successes in New Mexico were a rude surprise to Stalin.)

Operation “Osoaviakhim”

Similar to the USA’s operation “Paperclip” in 1945, operation “Osoaviakhim” was the collection of German aerospace scientists to the USSR. The operation took place in one day, 22 October 1946. The operation was code-named after Osoaviakhim, a WWII Soviet organization which demonstrated military hardware to civilians, most likely to obscure it from American intelligence. Agents of the NKVD (predecessor of the KGB) rounded up about 2,000 aircraft, missile, and technical specialists in the Soviet occupation zone and presented an “offer” to move the men and their families to the USSR. The scientists involved later said that while the offer was presented as a salaried employment contract, there was an unwritten understanding that saying no was not an option. The scientists selected had been on a list made by Ivan Serov, the head of internal security in the Soviet occupation zone.

The actual evacuation took place in November and ran concurrent with another round of Soviet mass looting of German industry. A total of 92 trains were involved and in addition to endless industrial machinery, about 7,000 Germans (scientists and families) went to the USSR. Despite the coercive nature of the operation, the families were allowed to move household effects and were treated at least relatively decently, especially in comparison to the harsh fate the rest of the German population in the Soviet zone experienced in 1945 and 1946.

Inside the Soviet Union, the Germans were split up between NII-88 (the missile bureau) and OKB-456 (an advanced propulsion bureau). The NII-88 personnel went to work on the USSR’s first ballistic missile projects.

In 1951, Stalin decreed that use of ex-nazi scientists should end. For NII-88, the Germans remained “employed” for an additional 18 months, doing absolutely nothing rocket-related, before boarding a train to East Germany. The Soviets had two purposes for this “cooling off time”: It was assumed that even after a taste of marxist utopia, they might defect to West Germany, and any intelligence they might betray to NATO would be a year and a half out of date. To a lesser degree, it was hoped that the lapse would cause their math and science skills to go rusty.

the initial post-WWII Soviet V-2 effort

the “H” Series

These were actual German V-2s. The Soviets captured 29 V-2s of which only 5 were flight-worthy. These were at Lehesten and it was originally intended to test-fire them from there. However at the last minute, it was decided not to proceed from the Soviet occupation zone, due to the difficulty of concealing the test results from American intelligence in the USA’s zone. They were instead shipped to the USSR.

Tests began in October 1947. None of the “H” test-firings was logged as a success, but it’s likely some were intentional incompletions just to study the V-2.

the “T” Series

These were V-2s made of WWII-manufactured German parts but assembled at the Zavod-3 factory in the USSR by Korolev’s team. The “T” series ran concurrent with the “H” and was partially intended to examine the feasibility of producing a ballistic missile in the Soviet Union. Ten “T” series V-2s were made. Assembly was aided by former personnel of BON, who were by then self-made rocketry experts.

The first “T” series test-firing was on 18 October 1947. The missile flew 128 miles, missing it’s intended impact point by about 16 miles. None the less it was judged a success.


(The Meilerwagen was the German V-2 transport & erector trailer during WWII. Both the Americans and Soviets after WWII considered it of high-quality and used them without modification.)

Even though there were only ten “T” V-2s, there were eleven tests, as one was a dry-run walkthrough stopped at the last moment. Of the ten flight tests, three failed including one which blew up on the launcher and another which took a rotation after liftoff and crashed a mile away. Normally a 70% success rate would be insufficient to proceed, but the last three launches in November 1947 had no issues and in any case, the Soviet army had now run out of WWII-production V-2s, so the ballistic missile effort continued.

The R-1 / SS-1 “Scunner”

The USSR’s first ballistic missile, the R-1 was a direct copy of the V-2.


The decision to directly copy the V-2 was not straight forward. Georgy Malenkov, a high-ranking Politburo member, was adamantly against it. He felt that copying foreign WWII-era weapons as a “crutch” would stunt Soviet arms development as the country moved towards the 1950s. He also felt the V-2 in particular was militarily useless. On the other hand, Marshall Dmitri Ustinov, who oversaw the USSR’s weapons development during WWII, was strongly in favor of the idea. Ustinov wanted to get some sort of Soviet ballistic missile in production as soon as possible, whatever it’s background or limitations. Ustinov told the Politburo that copying the V-2 would cut two years off the time needed to get a missile into service. He also felt it would serve as a help, not hindrance, to later arms development.


(Reverse-engineering is neither simple or fast as it is sometimes portrayed in military literature. This elaborate Soviet test rig was needed just to perfect how the V-2’s fins flexed in flight.)

Both sides had merit to their arguments. On 9 August 1946, the Soviet government finally made a decision and gave the go-ahead to reverse-engineer and produce a Soviet copy of the V-2. Sergei Korolev was the overall head of the project.


(Sergei Korolev)

The V-2 used 82 kinds of special alloys, of which only 32 existed in Soviet industry in 1947. Likewise there were only 21 of 59 base metals available, and only 48 of the 87 required plastics, synthetic rubbers, and fiberglass. Before the V-2’s parts could be reverse-engineered, the raw materials they were made out of either also had to be, or a suitable substitute found.


(The RD-100 was a nearly exact copy of the WWII German engine.)

On 31 March 1947, Glushko’s team completed reverse-engineering the V-2’s engine, now designated RD-100. Glushko informed Stalin that the RD-100 would be ready for mass production by the end of 1947. However the raw materials difficulties had yet been overcome, and permission was granted to dip into the stockpile of looted German raw materials (specifically synthetic rubber) as Soviet copies were still not yet successful.


(Close-up of a RD-100’s B-Stoff feed pipes.)

The final go-ahead to begin production was given on 14 April 1948. Stalin instructed that the V-2 copy be ready for service in 90 days. The missile was designated R-1. It never received a nickname, but was often called the “Victory” by Soviet troops. In the west, it received the NATO reporting name SS-1 “Scunner”.


The first R-1 production lot was twelve missiles. The first “Scunner” was listed as ‘complete’ exactly 90 days later, however a set of paperwork trickery (common during Stalin’s era to avoid his tantrums) bought the factory another eight weeks. The first missile was designated as a proof-firing example (as in a firearm), but failed on 17 September 1948. The first successful launch was on 10 October 1948.


(The propulsive components of a “Scunner” being tested. The stand’s design was influenced by the German one at Lehesten.)


(A complete prototype missile inside the test stand.)

The whole first production lot had serious problems, mostly due to manufacturing standards. It quickly became clear to the Soviets that the V-2 was on a whole different level of quality control compared to say, a tank or a torpedo boat.


(Delivery of a R-1 lower fuselage section.)

In 1949, a second production lot of 20 missiles was delivered. A full 50% of these had problems as well. During this timeframe, the Soviets completed a full Russian-language technical manual for the missile. Previously ad hoc translations of captured German documents had been used. By the end of the year, most of the bugs had been worked out, at least as much as the basic WWII design allowed for.


(R-1 / SS-1 “Scunner” launch.)

The R-1 had an effective range of 168 miles with an absolute maximum of 200 miles. At the apogee of it’s flight, it’s altitude was 262,500′. A full-range shot took about 5 minutes of flight time, of which only the first quarter was under power.


(SS-1 “Scunner” in flight. For test shots, the checkerboard paint scheme made it easier to see any unwanted rotation.)

Just like the V-2 during WWII, the “Scunner”s accuracy was atrocious. While modern ICBMs have what is called a CEP (circular error probability, or a radius 360° from the target), the V-2 and the “Scunner” had a probable impact area shaped like an oval, with the expected error in bearing different than the distance error. The Soviets estimated a likely error of 12½ miles up/downrange and ±4 miles in bearing from the target; anything in this zone was a “success” in a liberal use of the term. Clearly with a non-nuclear warhead, this was insufficient for any military value. Some “Scunner”s test-fired failed to achieve even this poor level of accuracy.



(The R-1, alone and on it’s Meilerwagen clone.)

Most of the actual missile itself was identical to a V-2. The warhead was designated 8V11 and nearly identical to the WWII German design. There was no chance of fitting a nuclear warhead; the RDS-1 was far too large and bulky.


(The RDS-1 was the USSR’s first atomic bomb.)


(Just like the original V-2, the HE warhead of the “Scunner” would likely miss it’s target but cause extensive destruction wherever it did end up. An R-1 left this crater, 60′ in diameter and 20′ deep, in the Kazakh desert.)

The launch trailer for the “Scunner” was a Soviet-designed model designated 8U24 but essentially similar to the WWII German design. The portable gantry crane was designated 8T21. The launch pad was designated 8U23, and again was very similar to the WWII German design.


(An 8U24 with R-1 aboard.)


(An 8T21 unloading a R-1 from a railroad car.)


(A narrow-gauge railway at the Kapustin Yar range led from the main train to the test stand. Two 8T21s are visible in the background.)

Just like the V-2 in WWII, the “Scunner” was certainly not a rapid-reaction weapon. It took the Soviets about 2 hours to transition the battery from travel to combat mode, and then another 3-4 hours to fuel, prepare, aim, and fire the missile once it was erected. Once fully fueled, it had to be fired within 4 hours. If not fired, a difficult unfueling was needed followed by repairs (or scrapping) of the missile.


(For frontline units, the Soviets decided to fit the Feuerleitpanzer’s kit on a postwar BTR-152 chassis instead of the German SdKfz-7/3. In either case, the armor was not for combat but to protect the launch team from a V-2 / R-1 blowing up on it’s launch pad, which happened with some regularity.)

The Soviet army had never operated anything like this and was, quite honestly, unsure of how exactly Stalin expected them to use the weapon. The Soviet army eventually developed something of an official doctrine for using the R-1.

It was at first considered to adapt the WWII heavy howitzer brigade structure to the ballistic missiles, which was too cumbersome. Eventually, an organization called the RVGK (“rocket brigade”) was developed. This was a brigade of three firing units, each with two actual batteries, for a total of six full launch set-ups per brigade. The brigade itself also had a HQ unit, security and logistics services, a ground security detail, and reload “Scunner” missiles. The first RVGK, the 22nd, was formed in 1946 even before the missile was ready. The second was formed in 1950. Eventually there were nine RVGKs using the R-1. In paperwork they were subordinated to tank divisions, probably because they fit in there as good or bad as anywhere else.

In wartime, the RVGK’s personnel would be augmented so the batteries could continue operations around the clock. Soviet doctrine called for each individual launch set-up to fire 4 – 6 missiles every 24 hours in a high-intensity war against NATO, or a total of 24 – 30 missiles per day per brigade.

The missiles were to be targeted against industrial areas. The RVGK would locate about 22 miles behind the front lines, and fire from there. This arrangement was not really practical. The R-1 units were based inside the USSR during peacetime, and would travel by rail through Poland into East Germany or Czechoslovakia to begin war operations. There was limited bandwidth in the Polish railroad network, and every train moving a “Scunner” brigade, meant something else had to wait. To keep pace with the mandated firing tempo, additional rail and truck assets would be needed to move reload missiles, LOX, and fuel. The LOX and B-Stoff were particularly problematic. B-Stoff was caustic and reacted violently to anything organic, including cotton, leather, or people. Meanwhile LOX boils off at -297°F. Both would need special rail cars and trained loaders.


(During WWII, Germany used these heavy shielded rail cars to move LOX around, then the smaller “eggs” to distribute and load them onto V-2s. With “Scunner” brigades, the Soviets would have probably had a similar arrangement. It’s unclear how seriously the Soviet army took possible active war use requirements of the SS-1.)

Roughly 700 “Scunner” missiles were built, of which 296 were expended in training and tests. Looking back now, this Soviet copy of the V-2 was an operational weapon more in name than in practice. In 1956, brigades operating the “Scunner” started to convert to the “Sibling” missile. The “Scunner” left Soviet service completely in 1960. None was ever fired in actual combat.



(This is from a 1966 CIA assessment of Soviet ballistic missiles. It’s unknown if the CIA knew at the time that the “Scunner” was already a half-decade out of active service by then. This page was only declassified in 2006.)


the R-2 / SS-2 “Sibling”

The R-2, designated SS-2 “Sibling” in NATO, was a follow-on to the “Scunner” and the final offshoot of the V-2. It was also the final Soviet missile designed by Germans. The SS-2 corrected many of the basic V-2’s shortcomings. It was 2½’ longer but outwardly, very similar. The structural load was borne by the fuel and oxidizer tanks, eliminating the weight of the internal framework and increasing the range to 358 miles, which was covered in 7 ½ minutes.


The most important development was a detachable warhead. During WWII, the V-2 was hampered by lugging the dead weight of the expended rocket, which both decreased range and eroded accuracy. The “Sibling” eliminated this issue. The last four “Scunner” missiles were fitted with the detachable design, which cut their range in half, but the “Sibling” was designed around it from the start.

The R-2’s engine was the Glushko RD-101, which was largely the same as the WWII German design but with some improvements. It used 96% methyl alcohol instead of B-Stoff as the propellant, delivering increased thrust. The improved engine burned for 85 seconds. Once fueled, the missile could be left in launch-ready posture for up to a day.


(The “Sibling” tail structure was only marginally different than that of the V-2 / R-1.)


(Vibration proof-testing of a R-2 under construction.)

The SS-2 still could not carry a nuclear warhead however there was a horrifying device known as “Geran” (geranium flower) designed for it. Instead of the standard HE warhead, a tank of highly-radioactive liquid with a small bursting charge might be carried. It was intended to detonate an very high altitude, raining severe radiation below. It was, in today’s terms, a “dirty bomb”.

In 1956, tests were done to fit a RDS-4 atomic bomb onto a “Sibling”. It was decided not to proceed as better nuclear-ready missiles were already under design. Thus, just like the “Scunner”, the “Sibling” remained a conventional-only missile.


(The RDS-4 atomic bomb.)

The SS-2 was deployed in the same way as the SS-1. They were based entirely inside the USSR at Zhitomir and Kolomiya in what is today Ukraine, Medved in the Crimea, Novgorod north of Moscow, Kamyshin in southwest Russia, Šiauliai in what is today Lithuania, and Dzhambul in what is today Kazakhstan. After the Sino-Soviet split, at least one battery was moved to Ordzhonikdze in the Soviet Far East. Even with the increased range compared to the V-2, the SS-2 still was too short-legged to be any sort of threat to NATO at the unit’s bases. Redeployment to eastern Europe would have been required for wartime use.


(This photo of R-2s on the march is highly optimistic. The weapons were fragile and top-heavy, and off-road could only move at a snail’s pace. The trailers are AU23s, simply AU24s/Meilerwagens adjusted to the new dimensions. The tow vehicles are AT-T multirole vehicles, which replaced WWII-vintage artillery tractors in the 1950s.)


(The R-2’s launch pad was modified from the V-2 / R-1’s. The legs were lowered due to the missile’s heightened centre-of-gravity. The missile could be traversed (spun) faster which enabled quicker retargeting. Just like the V-2 and R-1, the R-2 had to be precisely 90° off-axis of the target’s bearing at launch.)

During test firings, the “Sibling” had a 95% success rate. Considering the poor accuracy (still only little better than the V-2) a “success” likely meant the missile not malfunctioning and coming down reasonably close to the target.

Tactical use of the R-2 was just as unwieldly as the R-1. A two-launcher fire unit took a total of 20 vehicles and had all the problems as the earlier missile, except for not having the headache of B-Stoff.

The R-2 was the end of the road as far as the original V-2 technology tree went. Later Soviet missiles had vestigal bits and pieces of V-2 concepts, but were all Soviet in design. The “Sibling” was unpopular in use and had a very short Soviet career; starting in 1956 and ending in early 1961.


WWII Germany’s V-2 design still had one last appearance to make.

Centuries previous, it was China that had invented rocketry to begin with. However little to no research into missiles was done during WWII. By the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, the field was grossly neglected in the country. Chinese missile research was roughly at the same point as Mexico’s at the time and light years behind the USA, France, or Soviet Union.

Two SS-1 “Scunner” missiles, less warheads, were provided to Mao’s communists in China in the 1950s. These were intended to be a basic (non-flightworthy) introduction to ballistic missiles. China had other plans, and disassembled one for reverse-engineering in 1957. The challenges the Chinese faced were as great as the Soviets in 1945, probably worse, as they had no German engineers, and instead of a copy were trying to make a copy of a copy. The reverse-engineering plan was abandoned several months later.

the DF-1

On 6 December 1957, the USSR granted a production license for the SS-2 “Sibling” to China. A team of Soviet rocketry specialists was sent to China along with blueprints. The project was also aided by Qian Xue-sen, who at the end of WWII had worked in the USA with operation “Lusty”, the exploitation of captured Luftwaffe technology and was later deported as a suspected communist spy.


(Qian Xue-sen)

Originally designated Project 1059, the Dong Feng (Long March) 1 effort was a tremendously difficult program for the Chinese, even with Soviet blueprints. Actual production of the DF-1 did not begin until about 1960, the same time the Sino-Soviet split was happening and the Soviet technicians were leaving. One of the main successes of the DF-1 was not the missile itself, but the establishment of the Jiuquan Test Range in the Gobi desert which served later Chinese missile projects.


(DF-1 ballistic missile being prepared for a test firing.) (photo via

In Chinese use, the DF-1 was limited by the same issues as the “Sibling” in the Soviet Union. It’s range was too short to threaten India or American bases in Japan, and the cumbersome set-up was judged too risky to place near the Straits of Formosa opposite the nationalists in Taiwan. The DF-1 could not carry the Pr.596, China’s first nuclear warhead.


(Everything about the DF-1 was identical to the SS-2, and most of it was similar to the WWII V-2.) (photo from sinodefense website)

Only a small number of DF-1s were built. Operated by the PLA’s 2nd Artillery Corps, they were retired at the end of the 1960s.



The SS-2 “Sibling” / DF-1 were the ends of the road for the V-2 project which started in Germany during WWII. Rocketry advanced very rapidly worldwide in the early 1950s, and the basic technology level of the V-2 had been left behind.

In the Soviet military, ballistic missiles diverged down two paths in the 1950s: tactical, medium-range conventional / nuclear weapons like the “Scud” of Desert Storm fame, and long-range nuclear-only strategic missiles like the 1950s SS-6 “Sapwood” or today’s SS-25 “Sickle”. The WWII-vintage layout of the V-2 meant the R-1 and R-2 really didn’t fit either niche, nor could it be developed further.

The American success of the “Paperclip” effort at WWII’s end is undeniable and well-known. The Soviet missile effort of the same early postwar timeframe is equally notable and in certain ways even more remarkable, as the USSR did not get von Braun or the big haul of captured V-2s, yet managed to close the technology gap with the USA relatively quickly.

In the USA, participation of German scientists in American rocketry; both military missiles and NASA rockets, is common knowledge. Readers of a certain age might remember classroom filmstrips about NASA featuring von Braun himself. In the USSR, no mention whatsoever was made of the use of the Third Reich’s technology or personnel, and it was not until the early 1990s that all the details were made public.


(SS-1 “Scunner” being fired.)





5 thoughts on “the V-2 in the USSR after WWII

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