Surface-to-Surface V-2 (A-4) Missile
This success, combined with Germany's rapidly deteriorating war situation, moved Adolf Hitler to order the weapon into mass production, drawing von Braun and his superiors even more deeply into the Nazi apparatus. Concentration camp workers helped assemble the missile, resulting in 10,000 to 20,000 prisoner deaths. After many delays and problems, the first V-2s were launched against London and Paris in September 1944; nearly 3,000 were fired by March 1945, causing about 5,000 deaths. As a weapons system, the V-2 proved to be a spectacular but highly inefficient way to drop a ton of high explosives — its only warhead — on enemy cities.
The real beneficiaries of Germany's investment in rocketry were the major Allied powers. The U.S., the USSR, Britain, and France all moved to grab technology and personnel because they saw the ballistic missile's military potential. The United States got Wernher von Braun and the core of the Peenemünde group, as well as parts for nearly a hundred V-2s. More than 70 were launched in the U.S., almost all in New Mexico, where they served as the first American rockets for exploring near space. The Soviets, meanwhile, began firing their own reconstructed V-2s and produced a copy, the R-1,which became the foundation for their strategic rocket forces.
The Museum's V-2 is actually a composite artifact, made from several captured rockets. Most of the fuselage comes from one the U.S. Air Force gave to the Smithsonian in 1949. Originally covered in spotted camouflage, it was repainted to resemble the October 3, 1942, vehicle before the new Museum building was opened in 1976.