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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.