Operation Paperclip at Fort Bliss: 1945-1950

By Susan I. Enscore, Cultural Resources Research Center, US Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratories, and written for the Conservation Division, Directorate of Environment, Army Air Defense Artillery Center at Fort Bliss, Texas. Originally published April 1998.
Collected and digitized by the Environmental Division, White Sands Missile Range.
Edited for this website by Jenn Jett, Museum Specialist.

Introduction

Germany’s use of its V-1 jet-powered flying bombs and V-2 rockets during the latter stages of World War II ushered in the era of guided missiles. After the war, as tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union increased, both countries sought to develop their own arsenal of guided missiles. In the ensuing arms race, both moved to first exploit and then improve upon Germany’s advanced rocket technology. Lieutenant Colonel Harold R. Turner, first Commander of White Sands Proving Ground, plainly stated the rationale behind this effort. “We must support and actively engage in a program of research and development that will provide us with weapons of greater power and greater range than any other nation can produce, and maintain for years to come a superiority in this field which is unquestionable and which is known to our potential enemies.” In the years right after World War II, the U.S. Army capitalized on the German progress to research and develop their own series of rockets and long-range missiles. The U.S. Army post of Fort Bliss, Texas had an important role in this exciting early American rocketry period.

German Rocket Research

The German military was prohibited from developing conventional artillery weapons by the World War I Treaty of Versailles. As a result, the rocket began to look like a good candidate for providing defense for the country. The capabilities of a rocket would provide a good substitute for heavy artillery. When the German military decided to invest in the development and testing of rocket weaponry in the early 1930s, they could take advantage of an existing group of experienced scientists and technicians. The scientific principles of modem rocketry had been developed early in the twentieth century, primarily by three men: Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in Russia, Robert Goddard in America, and Hermann Oberth in Germany. Each of these three pioneers worked in relative isolation from the others. Tsiolkovsky was the first to develop a theory of rocket propulsion. Unfortunately, his publications were in obscure journals and hard to obtain outside of Russia. Goddard was among the first to achieve significant empirical results, with the first successful launch of a liquid-fueled rocket on March 16, 1926. He went on to conduct an independent research program and developed many rocket systems that became essential components of all modem rockets. Goddard, however, was a loner who rarely published his results and largely declined to correspond with his colleagues. Meanwhile, in Germany, Oberth independently developed a theoretical foundation for liquid propellant rockets and published The Rocket into Planetary Space in 1923.

A popular enthusiasm for rocketry developed based on these scientists limited but influential publications and other reports of their work. Amateur rocketry societies appeared in the United States and the major western European nations during the 1920s and 1930s. The German group, the Society for Space Travel (Verein für Raumschiffahrt), was founded in 1927. It was the only society lucky enough to have a rocket pioneer, Hermann Oberth, as its president. The Society’s members conducted empirical tests on Oberth’s liquid-fueled rockets, and they assisted him in developing and testing rocket components. In 1930, they leased an abandoned World War I ammunition storage facility at Reinickendorf near Berlin and within a year had a record of eighty-seven launches. Top-ranking officers from the German Army Weapons Department visited the facility in 1932 and later requested a demonstration launch at the Army’s Kummersdorf proving ground. These meetings also acquainted Walter Dornberger, military commander of the rocket program, with Wernher von Braun, a brilliant young Society member. Dornberger hired von Braun as a technical assistant at Kummersdorf in 1932, when von Braun was a twenty-year old student. Many other Society members also became civil service employees at the Army facility in the next few years, setting up the nucleus of Germany’s rocket program.

“Hermann Oberth (center, in profile) demonstrated a liquid-fuel rocket engine in Berlin in 1930. Second from the right is Wernher von Braun.” Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

The task of creating a liquid-fueled rocket with a greater range than any conventional artillery fell to the scientists and engineers at Kummersdorf. Working largely under von Braun’s supervision, the team progressed through a series of increasingly complex rocket designs, designated the “A” series for “Aggregat,” meaning aggregate or assembly. The A-1 was four and one-half feet long, one foot in diameter, and generated 660 pounds of thrust. Although it was never launched, the A-1 led to the redesigned A-2, with a better motor and increased stability. The A-2 was launched successfully in December 1934. The much-advanced A-3 was 25 feet in height and incorporated technological improvements in pressurization, control systems, and fuel valves. Problems with the guidance system necessitated changes that were incorporated into the A-5. The production of an A-5 rocket was not originally envisioned, but became necessary to resolve unforeseen problems with the A-3 before the team could progress to the already planned, much larger A-4. Although they were unaware of it at the time, many of the technical solutions developed by the German team mirrored those discovered earlier by Goddard.

Successful firings brought increased military support, and increasingly longer flights required a larger testing range. In 1937, the team moved to a large new facility at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast. With von Braun in place as their technical director, they continued development work throughout the late 1930s, and the basic systems were slowly improved. Events were unfolding, however, that would change the focus of work at Peenemünde. On September 1, 1939, the German army invaded Poland. Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany, and World War II began. At first, the German military did not think that the rocket could be made into an effective weapon quickly enough to be of much use during the war. The rocket team continued their work, however, and progress was made. Their achievements paved the way for the successful development of the A-4 rocket, later known as the V-2.

A comparison of the different rockets envisioned in the Aggregat program. The A-4 is fourth from the left. Wikimedia photo.

In its design, the A-4 long range ballistic missile was a great advance in missile technology. It was huge, measuring 46 feet in length and 65 inches in diameter, and produced 56,000 pounds of thrust. Weighing 28,500 pounds at lift-off, its liquid oxygen and alcohol fuels were fed by a turbine-driven pump powered by hydrogen peroxide steam. The A-4 used an inertial guidance system. Capable of carrying a one-ton warhead, the missile operated at a range of 180 to 210 miles, flew at supersonic speeds approaching 3,600 mph, and reached an altitude of 60 miles. The first two launches were unsuccessful, although the second A-4 became the first guided missile to break the sound barrier. The third attempt, on October 3, 1942, was a complete success. The A-4 traveled 120 miles and achieved an altitude of 50 miles, becoming the first man-made object to reach the atmosphere’s outer layer.

Over the next year, the A-4 missile went into production for use against Britain and other European targets. The German Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, renamed the missile the V-2 (Vengeance Weapon 2). It was meant as retaliation for Allied bombing attacks on Germany. The newly christened V-2 was first fired against Allied targets in early September 1944, with missiles launched toward Paris and London. Falling silently out of the sky at 1,750 mph, the V-2 was literally a terror weapon. By war’s end, the German military had fired nearly 3,600 V-2s, with approximately 1,100 reaching Britain and 1,800 reaching European targets, primarily Antwerp, Belgium.

“Interior Mittelwerk photos of V-2 combustion chambers in a cross tunnel.” V2Rocket.com

During the latter years of the war, the Peenemünde team began developing several other missiles. They designed the Taifun as a liquid-fueled anti-aircraft missile. The missile reached the testing stage but never reached production. The Wasserfall was a supersonic surface-to-air missile that had four short wings. It tested the concepts of radio control and radar guidance, and was nearly ready for production when the program collapsed near the end of the war. The “A-series” continued with the addition of wings to V-2s, in an attempt to increase the rocket’s range. The later A-9 and A-10 were particularly important as they represented the first serious attempt at designing a multi-stage rocket. The A-10 was to be a much larger rocket than the V-2. It would boost the A-9 (a V-2 with wings) which could then attain a range of more than 3,000 miles. The team even considered using a pilot in a pressurized cabin, and a vehicle with a vertical takeoff and horizontal landing capability. Also on the drawing board was an attempt to create a waterproof V-2 launcher container that would be towed by a submarine. In these designs lay the seeds that would eventually flower into intercontinental ballistic missiles, underground launchers, the Saturn space booster, and the space shuttle.

As the war in Europe drew to a close in the early months of 1945, the von Braun rocket team at Peenemünde began to plan for their future. They knew the Russians were getting close to Peenemünde. Having received conflicting orders both to stay put and to evacuate southward into the German interior, they decided to leave. During the month of February, thousands of the Peenemünde employees and their families moved south to Bleicherode. In April, von Braun and Dornberger received orders to hide their technical data, select the 450 most crucial people to the program, and move to Bavaria. This core group lived in Bavaria for the remainder of the war. In late April, the German war effort was near total collapse, and the Allies were advancing rapidly across German territory. The rocket team decided to cast their lot with the Americans rather than the Russians, thinking this might give them a better chance to continue their rocket research. Because he spoke the best English, Magnus von Braun, Wernher’s brother, was sent out to contact American troops on May 2, 1945. Most of the rocket group was in American custody when the war ended for Germany on May 8, 1945.

Operation Paperclip

During these same spring months, the U.S. military began to develop and implement plans for utilizing not only captured German technology, but the brains behind it as well. The Army and the Navy dispatched several teams of American experts and officers to quietly locate and acquire information, hardware, and people as the American troops advanced. Colonel Holger N. Toftoy, chief of U.S. Army Ordnance Technical Intelligence in Europe, set up a program to find and ship back components for 100 V-2 missiles. The V-2s were to be fired from the newly created White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico. These firings were part of the U.S. Army Ordnance Department’s Project Hermes that began in 1944. Under this project, the Army contracted with General Electric to develop surface-to-surface missiles. Fort Bliss, Texas was contiguous to White Sands and served as the sub-office headquarters for Army rocket research under the Ordnance Department.

Wernher von Braun and several of his staff surrender to the 44th Infantry Division, 7th Army. In the center is von Braun, with his arm in a cast due to an automobile accident, 03 May 1945. V2Rocket.com

Toftoy assigned Major James P. Hamill to coordinate the V-2 transportation from Germany to the United States, and Hamill rushed to complete this assignment before the Russian army reached the V-2 production sites. American troops gathered components during the last half of May. Sixteen Liberty ships were loaded and dispatched to bring the components to the United States. In addition, the Americans located several other key Peenemünde scientists who had not been captured with the initial group. These newly found Germans provided information that enabled the Americans to find fourteen tons of Peenemünde documents hidden in an abandoned mine.

Thousands of German scientists and engineers were interviewed by the Americans during the immediate aftermath of the war. As the rocket team was undergoing several weeks of interrogation, the Americans were developing plans for offering the German scientists short-term contracts for employment in the United States. The code name given to the project to bring the rocket specialists to America was “Operation Overcast.” Both this name and project were later incorporated into “Operation Paperclip,” a much broader program that brought 642 German and Austrian technical specialists in many fields to America between May 1945 and December 1952. The code name resulted from the technique used by some of the agencies involved to identify specialists accepted for participation – their folders were marked with a paperclip. Through this concurrent acquisition of hardware, documentation, and personnel, the United States’ rocket program could begin where Germany’s had ended. This saved the U. S. military and defense industries time and money, both of which would shortly become essential elements of the ensuing arms race with the Soviet Union.

Major James P. Hamill, Commander of the Rocket Branch, Ordnance Department, Fort Bliss with Dr. Wernher von Braun, November 1946. Deutsche Welle photo.

As the new Chief of the Rocket Division in the Office of Research and Development Service of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance, Toftoy was responsible for deciding which team members to hire. It was important to select people with the very specific kinds of knowledge necessary to create an effective and self-sufficient team. With Wernher von Braun’s assistance, Toftoy made his selections, and eventually about 127 people accepted contracts. They were transported to the United States in groups, with von Braun and a handful of other top specialists arriving first. After making stops for debriefing in the eastern United States, the groups of specialists moved to Fort Bliss over the next several months. Their families were housed together in Germany, and the Americans promised to keep them well fed and comfortable.

These specialists had contracted to provide three services: to give information to Army, Navy, and Air Force contractors to save time in missile development; to assist with firing V-2s shipped from Germany; and to work on a new weapon, the Hermes II experimental missile. Concerned that the American people would not be sympathetic to hiring defeated enemies and providing them a home in the United States, the existence of the “Paperclip specialists” was kept secret. For many of them, an entirely new life was about to begin.

Operation Paperclip at Fort Bliss

The Army placed Major Hamill in command of the Rocket Branch, Research and Development Sub-Office of the Ordnance Department, located at Fort Bliss. Preliminary rocket research began at Fort Bliss during World War II. A program for research and development of long-range ballistic missiles had been initiated in 1944 between the Army Ordnance Department and scientists at the California Institute of Technology. The ORDCIT project designed and produced a series of both solid (Private A and F) and liquid-fueled missiles (Corporal E and F). The team fired 17 Private F missiles between April 1 and 13, 1945, at Hueco Range, Fort Bliss.

The three hundred freight-car loads of V-2 components arrived at White Sands by August 1945, and preparations began for assembling, testing, and firing the giant rockets. By February 1946, the 118 German specialists sent to Fort Bliss had arrived, and the rocket program began in earnest. Over the next few years, additional arrivals brought the group to about 127. These new arrivals were either original specialists slow in coming, or new additions to the Paperclip project. At first, the specialists were confined to a six-acre ordnance area. They lived and worked in World War II-era barracks and workshops.

V-2 tail sections being moved by train to the port at Antwerp with a final destination at White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico.

After only a brief period of time, thirty team members were sent to White Sands for full-time work assembling and launching the V-2s. The majority remained at Fort Bliss, and undertook research, design, and limited material fabrication in their barracks and workshops area. Facilities for research and development were primitive, and military funding for missile research fell prey to post-war budget restrictions. With few funds available for new facilities to support the V-2 program, the German specialists often had to set up the necessary laboratories and shops.

They were originally in military custody at Fort Bliss and were not allowed off post on their own. Also, their presence at the installation was initially a secret, so they were dependent on each other for social activities. To this end, one of their first off-duty efforts was to transform an old set of Officers Quarters into a social club where they could relax, read, and have a drink. Described by von Braun in a letter to some German colleagues as “a masterpiece of homey atmosphere,” the very popular club had a bar, a reading room, and a game room. Behind the clubhouse, a trellis provided a shady spot. Nearby they planted a garden and several big sunflowers. They ate in their own mess hall, staffed initially by German prisoners of war. The abundance of food in America was a pleasure after Germany’s wartime restrictions. Texas steaks quickly gained pride of place in the specialists’ diets. Denied any social contact with Americans, they practiced their English on each other, resulting in life-long retention of German accents. Evenings often featured soccer games, and they were given access to the Fort Bliss bowling alley and movie theater. Once a week, the post swimming pool was made available for their exclusive use.

Being cooped up with each other in a small area naturally created tensions. Several specialists found relief when they discovered a hole in the fence between their camp and the desert. Slipping through the opening, they would take long walks in the desert night. Unknown to the Germans, Major Hamill was aware of this forbidden activity, but allowed it to continue as a psychological safety valve. Officially sanctioned activities included Sunday bus trips to local scenic and cultural sites, and shopping trips to El Paso. The shopping trips involved groups of four specialists who were accompanied by a sergeant. The group would make their purchases, then have dinner in a restaurant, see a movie, and return to Fort Bliss. Denied access to technical journals and contact with American experts, the team members sharpened their intellectual skills through study and by lecturing each other on their technical specialties. This forced isolation proved an impediment for them socially and professionally, but things were about to change. As the Army missile program gained steam, it became clear the specialists would be needed for some time. Their original six-month contracts were extended another six months, after which they were offered five-year contracts.

The original team of Paperclip Specialists at Fort Bliss, November 1946.

Anticipating the need for more space, Major Hamill spent the fall of 1946 looking for suitable facilities for the German specialists and the rocket program. One day, he drove past the William Beaumont General Hospital Annex, a WWII temporary compound on the Main Cantonment of Fort Bliss. It struck him as the perfect site, as it had “… a security fence around it, it has all connecting wards, its own fire department, even a swimming pool.” Shortly thereafter, negotiations were completed and the Army transferred the property to the Ordnance Department. Major Hamill and his personnel quickly began the moving process. On October 23, 1946, the group officially occupied the Annex.

The move provided each member with a private room, and also resulted in much better office and laboratory spaces. Several weeks later another big change occurred, as the secrecy surrounding the Germans was lifted. A series of press releases and newspaper articles appeared in early December 1946. The articles informed the public about the rocket team’s presence, their history, their expertise, and some idea of the work they were doing for America. Publicity photos showed them in their rooms and at work. The V-2’s existence was not a secret, so the press received information about the rockets and their launchings. With their presence now common knowledge, some of the social restrictions placed on the specialists were relaxed. They were also granted more freedom of movement, with their accessible area enlarged to include all of El Paso.

As had long been promised, plans were initiated about this time for bringing the specialists’ wives and children from Germany to Fort Bliss. The first group of dependents arrived on December 8, 1946, and periodic arrivals of more family groups continued until mid-1947. The order in which the families left Germany for America and Fort Bliss was determined by drawing lots. To accommodate the families, several former hospital ward buildings were remodeled into four-apartment structures, while single men retained their individual rooms.

Before long, the new arrivals were adjusting well to their adopted country, and El Paso school teachers became accustomed to children with German names. During 1947, travel became even less restrictive, and many of the group purchased their own cars. The specialists and their families could travel on their own, although if they left the El Paso area, they had to submit exact, very detailed itineraries of their trips. They carried special permit papers created for that specific trip. If stopped by local authorities, these papers were examined to make sure the Germans were not deviating from their official itineraries.

Their new quarters in the Annex, the arrival of their families, and the lessening of restrictions represented a vast improvement in living conditions for the Paperclip specialists. Budgetary realities, however, resulted in a continuing lack of proper research facilities. This situation remained static for the five years of Paperclip research at Fort Bliss. Despite this handicap, the period remains one of unprecedented achievement in missile research and development. This success speaks loudly of the abilities, dedication, and ingenuity of all those involved.

The Rocket Business

The first order of business for the German specialists was the testing and firing of the captured V-2s. As they did this, they trained American personnel to test and fire the rockets. Since the Germans could assemble only two rockets from originally matched components, others had to be assembled from the tons of material collected. They sometimes constructed experimental parts, or replacements for missing or defective ones, in their shops at White Sands. American industries also often constructed necessary missile parts. After testing the V-2 components, they would assemble the rockets just prior to their launch.

WSPG personnel assemble a V-2 in the Missile Assembly Building. Spare parts, such as the three rocket tail sections in the back, sit around the assembly line.

The main participants in the V-2 program were the Army Ordnance Sub-Office, General Electric, the German specialists, and the 1st Anti-Aircraft Guided Missile Battalion. General Electric, under the Project Hermes contract, was responsible for readying rockets for launch. Dr. Richard Porter, head of the Hermes project for General Electric, had been among the first Americans the German specialists met. He had been sent by Army Ordnance to Germany in May 1945 to assist in selecting scientists and technicians for Operation Paperclip.

Organized at Fort Bliss in October 1945, the 1st Anti-Aircraft Guided Missile Battalion provided support for the program. The Army enlarged the 1st Anti-Aircraft Guided Missile Battalion into the 1st Guided Missile Regiment on May 31, 1948. From its inception, its personnel served at both Fort Bliss and White Sands. The White Sands assignments were considered temporary duty until 1948 when it became an independent installation. Mirroring the expansion of guided missile training at Fort Bliss, the Regiment became the 1st Guided Missile Group in April 1950, and expanded again in November 1952 to form the 1st Guided Missile Brigade.

Officers stand outside of the Headquarters Building for the 1st Guided Missile Battalion, 1st Guided Missile Group.

Along with the V-2, Fort Bliss and Army Ordnance controlled launches of the WAC Corporal. A project of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, it was a liquid-fueled rocket designed to reach an altitude of around 100,000 feet, and to carry a recoverable payload. Work on the project began in January 1945, and a series of successful test firings occurred at White Sands Proving Ground from late September through October 25, 1945. In addition, Fort Bliss and U.S. Army Ordnance Department personnel-controlled launches of the Corporal, a descendant of the WAC Corporal; the Lark, an early Air Force surface-to-air missile; the Loki, a solid propellant anti-aircraft missile based on the German Taifun; and other early systems.

The V-2 launch site at White Sands Proving Ground was constructed in 1945-46. The blockhouse was ready by September 1945. A V-2 launch platform and gantry tower (for rocket assembly and preparation) were in place by 1946. A static test stand for the V-2 was also completed in 1946. Known originally as the Army Launch Area, the site was later redesignated Launch Complex 33. It is now a National Historic Landmark.

This wide-angled view of Launch Complex 33 shows the Army Blockhouse on the left, the WAC Corporal tower in the center, and the Gantry Crane, with a V-2 being prepped for launch, on the right.

The first V-2 firing was a static test on March 15, 1946. From April 16, 1946, through September 19, 1952, the Army fired 73 V-2s from Launch Complex 33. Of this number, six did not leave the launch pad, so only 67 V-2s were actually launched into the atmosphere. Before the first launch, the specialists created a radio-controlled fuel cutoff as an emergency abort measure. This proved to be useful, as the first launch on April 16 did not go according to plan. The V-2 lost a steering vane, veered off course, and was shut off 19 seconds into the flight. Success was achieved with the next launch, May 10, 1946, as the V-2 reached an altitude of approximately 71 miles.

Personnel operate a lift on the V-2 trailer, called a Meillerwagen, to set the rocket into the 100K Static Test Sand near WSPG Main Post.

Through 1949, V-2 launches occurred at an average rate of fifteen a year. A much-reduced launch schedule provided only thirteen flights between 1950 and late 1952.

Many of the V-2 flights supported scientific research programs to gain knowledge of the upper atmosphere. The V-2 warhead compartment was modified to hold instruments often retrieved following launch by using a specially designed parachute system. This series of tests gathered previously unavailable data on upper atmosphere chemistry and physics, solar spectroscopy, solar x-rays, cosmic radiation, biology, and Earth photography. As the V-2 was by far the largest missile of its time, many launches set altitude, speed, and range records. Some of the more notable early launches included: July 30, 1946, when the 100-mile altitude record was broken; January 10, 1947, when new telemetering and gyro-steering equipment began the drive to master radio-controlled missiles; a flight on January 23, 1947, that successfully tested an early automatic pilot; and May 29, 1947, when a gyroscope malfunction and a decision against fuel cut-off sent a V-2 crashing into Mexico near the city of Juarez. This failure resulted in the development of redundant safety systems that became standard equipment for missiles.

With the experience of the Paperclippers, the V-2 program led to many lessons learned, especially when things didn’t go according to plan.

Highlighted by improved target control devices, V-2 launches conducted in 1948 included more sophisticated instrumentation for atmospheric research and one of the first American launches of mammals into space (a Rhesus monkey). In that same year, several V-2s became part of the Bumper series of experimental flights.

Characterized by the use of a two-stage vehicle, Bumper consisted of a V-2 booster and a WAC-Corporal missile second stage. The first Bumper flight went up on May 13, 1948, and three more followed that year. The firing of Bumper Number 5, on February 24, 1949, was a spectacular success. The V-2 reached an altitude of about seventy miles, at which the WAC Corporal separated and ignited. Rising another 180 miles at a top speed of 5,150 miles per hour, this shot set an unprecedented altitude record of 250 miles. The Bumper program proved that a multi-stage rocket was possible, and that very high altitude radio communication worked.

Bumper No. 5 lifting through the air in what would prove to be a spectacular success.

The German specialists had the V-2 program up and running by April 1947. After the 13th launch, General Electric took over from the Germans, who returned to Fort Bliss. The Army assigned some of the reunited group to another part of the Hermes project, known as Hermes II. They were tasked to design and develop a small supersonic ramjet research vehicle boosted by a V-2. This would provide a cruise missile trajectory at Mach-3, assisted by six ram jets placed inside stub wings. They fabricated and tested components, particularly nosecones, on several V-2 launches between 1947 and 1950. Although most of the work at Fort Bliss was design and theory, some parts of the Hermes II were built at Bliss and some at White Sands. Battery B of the 1st Anti-Aircraft Guided Missile Battalion moved to the Ordnance Research and Development Division Sub-Office (Rocket) area at Fort Bliss on April 14, 1947, to support the Hermes II program.

Technological innovations were produced in the areas of guidance and propulsion. The Army later reduced this program to engine development only, and finally canceled it in 1952 as the Army’s Redstone project superseded it. Much of the design work was eventually applied to the Redstone and other rockets such as the Air Force’s Navaho. Other experimental V-2 firings continued throughout 1949, but by 1950, these were slowing as the rocket supply dwindled and the Army stepped up development of other types of missiles. High altitude research through rocket vehicles would continue with the Navy Viking program. General Electric transferred its V-2 responsibilities to Army Ordnance in July 1951, and the program was completed under this organization. A launch on August 22, 1951, set a new altitude record of 132 miles, and the final V-2 was launched September 19, 1952.

The Redstone, along with other larger and more complex programs, would supersede the V-2 program as the United States sought to put astronauts into Earth orbit and, eventually, the moon.

As the record-setting Bumper flight illustrated, advancements in missile design soon required a much larger testing ground. Additionally, as training needs at Fort Bliss increased, missile research and development facilities had less room for expansion. Finally, building permanent facilities at Fort Bliss was too expensive compared with moving into existing buildings. As a result, the Army established the Guided Missile Center at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama in April 1950. The Ordnance Research and Development Sub-Office, (Rocket) was transferred, as were the German specialists at Fort Bliss. In 1950, von Braun was named Chief of the Redstone Arsenal Guided Missile Development Division. Once in place at Huntsville, the von Braun rocket team subsequently helped develop the Redstone and Jupiter missiles for the Army, and sent the Free World’s first satellite into space on January 31, 1958.

During the following decade, the former “Paperclip Specialists” played a prominent role in the space program. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established in August 1958, and the specialists were transferred to the new organization in 1960. As part of the transfer, von Braun was named as the first director of NASA’s George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. For the most part, the specialists managed to stay together as a team through many NASA programs. Their rocket development work boosted astronauts into space and to a landing on the moon. In 1970, von Braun transferred to Washington and served as NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Planning from 1970 until 1972. As the Apollo program was winding down, many of the team reached retirement age. Often, they remained professionally active through new jobs, consultant work, or academics.

President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Wernher von Braun conducting an inspection at Cape Canaveral, Florida. In front of them is a model of a Saturn IV and a service structure tower.

In retrospect, the V-2 program at Fort Bliss provided the United States’ military and civilian rocket community with critical experience in assembling, repairing, firing, tracking, and controlling large liquid-fueled missiles. It also yielded invaluable scientific data on the upper atmosphere, and indicated new missile design elements. Incorporated into future efforts, this wealth of information provided the foundation for many later American missile and manned space programs, including the Redstone, Nike, Mercury, Jupiter, Thor, Atlas, Gemini, Titan, Polaris, Minuteman, Pershing, Saturn, and Apollo.

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