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The Capture of Werner Von Braun
Submitted by F.P. Field
Col. USA Ret.
714th Tank Battalion, 12th A.D.


Dr. Werner Von Braun (left) presents certificate of appreciation to
Dr. H. Freudenthal, a scientist. At right is Erle M. Constable.

Werner Von Braun, the German rocket scientist, who later played a most important part in United States successes in the space program, was one of the most illustrious German P.O.W.'s captured by the 12th Armored Division.

It was the morning of the 2nd of May, 1945 and we had our CP in a small Bavarian town called Benediktbueren, about ten kilometers north of Kockel, Germany. The morning dawned bright and clear with about a foot of snow on the ground. We were about to move out down the road when slipping and sliding in the snow down the road, came a U.S. Navy jeep. I asked myself, "What in the hell is Navy doing so far from the sea?" It pulled to a stop and out hops a Navy four striper and still on board the jeep was a tar all done up in a pea jacket and a white sailor cap. I could not believe my eyes.

This four striper comes up to my tank and explains that he is on a highly classified mission to find and secure a supersonic wind tunnel some place in the mountains behind us. He asked that I furnish him with a battalion of tanks and a battalion of infantry to seek and secure the tunnel and the scientists that were using it. He added that intelligence claimed that the installation was protected by a large force of SS troopers. Later this proved not to be the case or they had headed out when they heard us coming.

I told the four striper that he must be out of his skull because I did not have a force as large as he was requesting. He then dragged out his credentials that were very impressive to say the least. I hope that he retained them all since they were history in themselves. He presented letters headed by "To Whom It May Concern" above the signatures of F.D. Roosevelt, Admiral King, Gen. George Marshall, Gen. Eisenhower, and Gen. Patch, all saying in effect, "You are ordered to give Capt. (for the life of me I cannot remember his name) anything he asks for or requires to carryout his mission."

Well sir, I then told the good Captain that I could furnish him with a platoon of tanks and a platoon of infantry for a reconnaissance in force. I also told him that the balance of my force was about to move in the same direction and that we could support any action the small reconnaissance force could not handle. He requested that we delay our departure until he was either able to secure the mission target or determine what we were up against. This action was coordinated with CCB and they concurred. I do not recall the name of the A/714 platoon leader that I placed in command of the force but gave him very definite orders to report his every move. After they moved out we lost contact with them and I moved out with the balance of TF Fields.

Our objective was to move as rapidly as possible on Innsbruck, Austria. We moved through Kochel and started climbing the Alps heading for Weltensee when we were stopped by blown bridge over a deep gorge. We did not have engineer bridging with us so it became necessary to turn the entire command around, vehicle-by-vehicle, on that narrow mountain road and return to Kochel.

At Kochel I again met the Navy Captain, sitting on the veranda of the resort hotel talking to Von Braun. At this time I told him that I wanted to see this fabulous and important wind tunnel in opertion. He agreed to have it set up and operating the next morning. We went in billets for the night and set up our security.

The next morning I went to Kochel and picked up Von Braun, who did nothing but complain that someone had stolen his bicycle, and drove into a pine forest east of Kochel along a two rut road for about a mile. We came to a rather large but ramshackle building with an attacked leanto which housed twelve large diesel engines of about 300 HP each. The diesels powered suction pumps that were connected into a large metal sphere approximately 65 feet in diameter. My first impression of the wind tunnel was a great disappointment. I had envisioned a supersonic wind tunnel of tremendous proportions in which you could test full scale equipment and judge the aerodynamics of the mass. Nothing could have been farther from what I had imagined. The tunnel itself was constructed of heavy metal reinforced about every foot with cross bars and vertical adjustable bars. It was about 24 inches square and was built in a rectangle about 40 feet long on the long side and 20 feet on the short side or ends.

The object was to pump the air out of the 65-foot sphere and reduce it down to as near a vacuum as possible. (They were never able to achieve a 100% vacuum.) Then the vacuum would be released in the sphere, pulling the air through the wind tunnel to achieve an air speed of near 1.3 mach.

Their test vehicles were miniature, to exact scale, models of rockets which were photographed by arc light as the air passed over and around the model. This enabled the scientists to study the aerodynamic characteristics of the model. I was amazed; the whole operation boggled the mind.

I did not hear any more about the wind tunnel or Von Braun and his scientists (about thirty men and their families) until about 1949 when I was stationed at Edgewood Arsenal as the Armore Liason Officer. At this time I received an invitation from the Secretary of the Navy to attend a dedication ceremony of the Navy's new experimental test station at White Oaks, Maryland. It was then I learned that they had removed the entire Germany facility, including the scientists, to the U.S.A. and had re-established the whole operation at White Oaks. They had gone so far as to construct a new wind tunnel within which they could attain wind speeds of up to 4 mach. The sophistication of the wind test equipment developed at White Oaks accounts in great measure for a great deal of the success our space program had achieved in space exploration.