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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made

Icon:V2 rocket, 1945

related ingenious images © Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

The missile age began when the first V2 fell on London on 8 September 1944. Over the next six months some 1100 V2 missiles hit England killing 2700 people, before the launching areas in northern Europe were overrun by the Allied armies. The Belgian city of Antwerp was also subjected to a heavy bombardment.

The V2 had its roots in the enthusiastic amateur German rocket societies which nurtured emerging specialists such as Wernher von Braun. However, from 1932 the rocket movement was increasingly taken over by the German army which began building the Peenemünde research station on the Baltic coast in 1936.

The V2 was extremely expensive to develop and build. The warhead carried 1000 kg (2204 lb) of the high explosive amatol. It compared badly, in economic terms, with a conventional bomber such as the Lancaster, which could carry seven tons of bombs on repeated missions. However Hitler's fascination with 'wonder weapons' secured its development.

Although the V2 was strategically insignificant during the Second World War it led to enormous changes in the world. The Saturn rockets, which first took two men to the moon in 1969, were the direct descendants of the V2 and were engineered by Wernher von Braun and many members of the same rocket team. V2 technology also led to the nuclear-armed missiles that have changed our view of the world, and of war, for ever.

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