back to article Pentagon looks to revive Nazi space-bomber plan

The US military appears to have temporarily given up on exotic scramjet powered hyper-plane and -missile notions for the purpose of suddenly blowing things up at short notice anywhere in the world. Rather, Pentagon boffins are now re-examining a plan once considered by the Nazis for the purpose of bombing America. Antipodean …


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  1. Luther Blissett

    The madness of metaphors

    So it's got to move like a rocket, and drop 'em like a B52. Doesn't Hollywood pr0n do that already?

    When the concept of metaphor dies, every metaphor lives, because there is no recognition of the dead metaphors out there, nor any criterion to distinguish between the Naked and the Dead ones, the Good 'Uns, the Bad 'Uns and the Ugly 'Uns.

    Perhaps GM will do it... Faster pussycat, kill-vehicle! kill-vehicle!

  2. Anonymous Coward

    "Nazi rocketeer"

    If you are referring to Wernher von Braun as a Nazi rocketeer, it would be rather unfair.

    Yes, he was responsible for the rockets, but was not in any sense a Nazi. Hitler's funding was only a means to the ends of developing a rocket to achieve his real purpose - to get into space, and especially the moon.

    von Braun found himself jailed for a period for talking too openly about his real desires for his rockets.

    Sure, my gran probably will never forgive him for the V2s, but I feel his reputation shouldn't be unfairly tarnished by grouping him with people who thought genocide was a good idea. von Braun was entirely apolitical.

    Nazi grammar....

    1. sandman

      Not really apolitical

      Von Braun in fact held a senior SS rank and was a member of the Nazi party. Despite his claims to be apolitical and only joining up because he had to, there is a large body of evidence suggesting he was rather more enthusiastic Nazi then he later admitted. He was a great and visionary engineer, but also a master of reinvention.

    2. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

      Let me correct that for you....

      " gran will probably never forfgive him for the V2s, but I feel his reputation shouldn't be unfairly tarnished by grouping him with people who thought genocide was a good idea. von Braun was entirely apolitical.."

      Um. Is it worse to indulge in genocide because you think that it is a correct and justifiable thing for you to do (as the Nazis presumably did), or to arm the purveyors of genocide because you don't actually care whether large numbers of people get horribly killed or not so long as you get money for your rockets?

      von Braun was not apolitical. He was amoral. There is a difference. If anything, I think that makes him worse than the Nazis....

    3. No, I will not fix your computer

      Well... let's not rewrite history shall we?

      Wernher von Braun was a commissioned SS officer and a member of the Nazi party, so when you say "but was not in any sense a Nazi" then you're just plain wrong.

      Whether he believed in the SS or Nazi party aims is a different matter, even if he didn't believe in the politicts at the very least he colaborated, he didn't just "go along", his work or the V2 was critical to it's success, when the bombs slamed into the cities of London and Paris did he cheer or hold his head in his hands and cry "what have I done?", his work is no more morally sound than the bombing of Dresden (tartgetting civillian targets).

      >>von Braun found himself jailed for a period for talking too openly about his real desires for his rockets.

      As I said, lets not rewrite history, in March 1944 von Braun was arrested by the Gestapo with the "alleged" crime that his main interest was space travel, the second accusation was that he was going to escape with the plans for the A4 (became the V2), in "The Rocket and the Reich" Michael Neufeld implies that the accusations were made up by Himler because von Braun refused to leave the german army rocket program and work for the SS instead, von Braun in fact had no plans to defect and had an opportunity to stop working on these weapons of destruction targetted at civilians (which he didn't take).

      Remember (please do not ignore the fact) that he used slave labour at Mittelwerk (the Nazi underground rocket facility), Arthur Rudolph (who also worked on Saturn V) had to leave the US, and in fact gave up his US citizenship rather than face war crimes for similar actions, hundreds of people died there.

      The V2 rocket program was built on suffering, to cause suffering

      The US space program was built on the V2 rocket program

      You can't really blame the man for doing what he did, he was very smart and made huge technical advantages, I'm sure that building killing machines and then changing sides to work for the US is all about following his dreams and staying alive in comfort, however, if he tried to keep people alive from concentration camps (Dora?) and sabotaged the killing machines then he would be a hero, Schindler had the same choice, but Schindler chose a much braver path and was a hero, von Braun only cared about the technology and himself. Oppenheimer struggled with the fact that he was building killing machines ("I am become death, the destroyer of worlds") what did von Braun ever do or say? if he is guilty of anything it's inaction and no remorse.

  3. Mike Powers

    Important that the payload be kept low

    Unlike missile defense, in-atmosphere hypersonic gliders ARE a destabilizing first-strike weapon. Current nuclear-arsenal infrastructure assumes that the attack will come from big ballistic missiles; these are easy to see coming, and you know right from the start where they're heading. Something like the BGRV is a lot harder to track, and even if you spot one it can change targets so you don't know where it's going.

  4. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    Of Course...

    ...all the actual space launches will have to be outsourced to China, since the USA finds all the rocket stuff to expensive and too confusing to the population.

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Skipping flight is tricky

    IIRC *one* of the reasons that this idea fell out of fashion was the discovery of the Van Allan radiation belts starting at 1000km, the skip would take any vehicle into the belt for a good cooking before it descended.

    However with the massive improvements in CFD and upper atmosphere modeling and observations things might be a bit more defined and less hit and miss.

    Note an object hitting the ground at near M12 would not really need an explosive to do some serious damage. If a M2 jet at 40 000 ft could shatter windows the shock waves from an object at *ground* level would be unbelievable.

    It's not quite the discrete assassination weapon some people might think.

  6. Graham Wilson

    What a remarkably sophisticated engineering proposal that 1944 document is.

    Well, all I can say is that when I heard of the Silbervogel / Silver Bird years ago there was little more to it than just noise. Then, the popular understanding was that it was just another one of Adolph's rants about some fanciful far-off pie-in-the-sky 'greater and more destructive' replacement' for the then exiting Vergeltungswaffen / vengeance weapons, the V1 and V2, and that the closest it'd had ever come to reality would have been little more than a conceptual freehand drawing on a paper serviette. In fact, the PDF shows it's remarkably sophisticated, none less than a complete high-level proposal for a completely new weapons system.

    From our present perspective of some 65+ years on, it's easy to be dismissive of WWII technology as we now think everything is much more advanced. It is, but for the early 1940s, the sophistication of that 'green paper' proposal (PDF) is simply breathtaking, moreover the experimental work was underway.

    Having used, pulled apart or modified much WWII surplus stuff when I was a kid, I thought I had a reasonable handle on where the development of technology was up to by the end of the war, but the sheer boldness and engineering rigour of the document marks a new high-water point for me. What immediately strikes one is that the document was produced by the cream of a highly organised industrial society. Even today, its development would pose major development challenges.

    The similarity between the proposal and parts of the space shuttle is quite remarkable. I'll bet Allied top brass were a little more than surprised when the document first lobbed on their desks. If you haven’t already downloaded it, then engineers and nerds you'll find it fascinating.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Thumb Up

      @Graham wilson

      "In fact, the PDF shows it's remarkably sophisticated"

      Yes it's very impressive. Peenemunde was a major target of Allied interest but Sangers site seems at least as technically advanced. Picture quality is very poor but from the descriptions it was a major facility. it's briefly mentioned in "Frontiers of Space as having the largest LOX tank in Germany at the time."

      The engine design is AFAIK unique. Its use of a water cooled combustion chamber and steam (rather than gas) turbine driven pumps sidesteps the whole seal problem, which has been a problem for *every* pumped engine ever built (AFAIK no one has gone for a stoichiometric gas generator as the temperature is just too high).

      The only other design with a separate cooling loop driven turbine is the Reaction Engines SABRE.

      BTW for comparison a 1500Psi (100 Atm) LOX turbo pump with modern materials would be a 1 stage machine, rather than the 6 they needed. the uninsulated LOX tank (boiloff pressurized) looks a very chancy proposition by modern standards. The team seems *very* strong on practical combustion design, less so on re-entry (but then no one was at the time) and a bit more conceptual in the airframe design side of things.

    2. SynnerCal

      Neat engineering stands the test of time

      Yep, put me down as another admirer of the audacity of the Sanger "Silver Bird". Although I find it interesting that the "Luftwaffe '46" documentary that's shown on the various Discovery channels implies that Dr Sanger knew that his proposal wasn't feasible at the time, but was willing to grossly "upsell" it to get the research funding.

      Still with the way that the current US administration are treating space research, all the "Silver Bird II" would have to drop as payload is a big hunk of pig iron (imported of course!)

  7. David Pickering
    Thumb Down


    thought we'd got past comparing dick sizes ;/

  8. ZenCoder

    Sonic booms breaking glass at 40,000 feet?

    On Mythbusters they had they failed to shatter glass at 8,000 and 2,000 feet and eventually had to drop down to 200 feet before a supersonic jet would shatter a window.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      Reports of supersonic aircraft cracking window panes seem fairly common throughout the 1950's. I did not see the program but they seem pretty good at ferreting out the real from the UL.s.

      I'd still say that even without a warhead, 100lbs of *anything* impacting the ground at near M12 will create substantial air movement which *will* be noticeable and its impact will also cause a commotion. Like incoming ICBM warheads I would expect it to be ablative coated (after nearly 6 decades its pretty well understood technology) but only thickly enough to survive well enough to get to the ground, *not* to substantially decellerate it.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Aways wondered about Sonic Booms..

      My intuition tells me that a sonic boom is a variable beast. surely accelerating past Mach 1 rapidly would only load a small (passing) amount of energy into the boom wave. however prolonged flight at exactly the right speed could load heaps of (sustained) energy into the boom wave.

  9. BlueGreen

    @Graham Wilson

    On your recommendation I'll read it but I'd long been building up a chilling impression of how competent the buggers were in so many ways and how it could have turned out so very different but for a little reach-exceeds-grasp that came from the top, so just for once raise a glass to incompetent management.

    It was a close thing. Frighteningly close.

    1. bexley

      they would have won....

      ...if Adolf had not been a *bit crazy. If the other Nazi's had offed him earlier on in the war, say, before comiting to fighting Russia as well as pretty much everyone else then that would have been it.

      I still dont understand why he chose to open the second front.

      Could have crushed us too at Dunkirk but chose not to by holding the panza's back.

      History favours the winners and all but when you look into it, your right, it was frighteningly close

      * i say a 'bit' crazy, while obviously rather unsavoury i wonder if he was actually clinically insane or not?

    2. John Blagden

      Only a few months...

      Every time I hear the phrase "it shortened the war by x months/years" a shiver runs up my spine. German rocket and aircraft technology was so far advanced we could have had REAL problems dealing with the ground-to-air and air-to-air missiles against our bomber fleets, which until D-Day was the only realistic way of striking back. Very, very close-run thing

      If RAF Bomber Command and the USAF had not created huge logistical and militarily intensive problems for Germany by their aggressive bombing campaigns, simultaneously keeping a large proportion of the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe away from the Russians on the Eastern front, then that German research and engineering almost certainly would have given them the ability to completely change the course of the war. Remember that next time someone says 'War Crime'.

      Without full air-superiority the D-Day landings might have evolved into the slogging war of attrition that Churchill and his WWI experienced Generals most feared. It nearly happened in Normandy! How much longer would the war have taken? What weapons would Germany been able to bring to bear or develop in the meantime? Remember they had several projects that were aimed at bombing America. A winged A4 (V2) on top of a larger first stage and Horten HO 229 Flying Wing were only the start.

      Perhaps an unconditional surrender of Germany might not have been possible, a brokered peace or cease-fire being the probable alternative. Many American Generals would then have been quite happy to ally with Germany against who they saw as the 'real' problem, Soviet Russia.

      Only a few months.....

      1. Ejl


        Allied jet technology was no more than 2-3 years behind Germany (Gloster Meteor &c.). Also note that the Allies had an entire industrialised country available to produce munitions, thousands of miles away from any enemy threat, thereby practically guaranteeing an eventual Allied victory from the start.

        German discipline/technological superiority was not *so* far removed from the level of the Allies. In the weeks up to Dunkirk, there was much more of a fight than people tend to realise.

  10. dr_forrester

    Why not...?

    Just take the ICBMs and SLBMs and replace the nuclear warheads with simple, large weights. This, of course, turns them into KEW platforms, but a KEW will do a lot less lasting damage than a nuke-and at escape velocity delivers a far-from-negligible kilotonnage.

    Grenade because there's no mushroom-cloud.

    1. SkippyBing


      There's no way for anyone but the person launching it to know it's not a nuclear warhead. Unfortunately the standard response plan for someone chucking ICBMs around is to fire yours before theirs land, rather than wait around to find out what it is as by then it'll be too late. Plus as part of any first strike plan involves taking out their ICBM silos with yours, if you wait around you may not have anything to fire back.

      Mutually Assured Destruction, not as straight forward as you'd think.

  11. moonface
    Black Helicopters

    Scarey Tech!

    With the yanks reputation for bombing mistakes at sub sonic speeds. God only knows what they will hit, at these hypersonic ones!

    Seems, I will have to upgrade my tin foil hat to something sturdier.

  12. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    Wikipedia says von Braun was a Nazi Party member.

    But at minimum that was kind of like joining the Freemasons or the Chamber of Commerce - to get a leg up in your career and tread on the people who didn't. It also says he was an officer of the S.S. but perhaps that was a matter of getting a security clearance, or the "closed shop" - if you wanted to make other people's lives hell on a massive scale then you had to join. Imagine if you were individually responsible for the S.S. declaring a work-to-rule. And of course the robotic death rockets that he commanded his slave army to build for him knocked the hell out of London, but I'm from Scotland so who cares? If he had not done all that he would have been UNEMPLOYED, or else doing something else that didn't give him the same job satisffaction as his work in the Nazi death industry. And of all human rights, the most important is job satisfaction. Imagine how pissed off he was that they lost.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    The Perfect Name

    And they should call it "Dominoes." If you don't get your missile in 30 minutes or less, it's free!

  14. Tom Fleming

    The German thingie ran on a boiler...

    Geez. If the USAF is catapaulting a boiler into space to do some 50,000 mile mission then we should fire those Generals.

    The WWII stuff was trying to do the same stuff as the NASA stuff, but is isn't anywhere near the same technology.

    There was a move a few years ago called Wild Wild West (from the 60s TV show) where they show how one could have done modern things with the steam-engine technology of the mid-1800s. The WWII stuff compares similarly to the USAF stuff.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      @Tom Fleming

      "If the USAF is catapaulting a boiler into space to do some 50,000 mile mission then we should fire those Generals."

      Saengers design was *highly* pragmatic. Using a water loop to drive a common shaft turbo pump arrangement (popular with Soviet rocket engines BTW) gave 2 advantages.

      1) The 4 decades or so of *steam* turbine development that existed at the time. Gas Trubines are jet engines and were *just* in development.2)Putting the steam turbine and water pump *between* the LOX and Fuel turbopumps *grossly* eases the seal problem. Modern rocket engine turbopumps (which do use gas turbines) typically need multiple gas purged seals. Turbing drive gas is usually *heavily* fuel rich. If the oxidiser gets through the seals you get at best an engine fire, at worst an explosion.

      However the steam turbine route needs an additional heat exchanger to cool the water back down.

      "The WWII stuff compares similarly to the USAF stuff."

      You might be surprised to find how little *genuinely* new rocket elements have been developed since WWII. What has changed a *lot* is the knowledge of the re-entry environment and quality of mfg processes.

  15. asdf

    Note to Robert C

    Lol avoid putting wikipedia in your title especially if it regards historical political fact. I believe von Braun was not so much an ideologist Nazi ala Himmler (not on moral grounds but because following crazy cults is always a lot of work and takes precious little imagination) but has always been nasty opportunist looking out for number one first. Still without Von Braun who knows if man would have ever gone to the Moon. Still when it comes to Nazi superweapons my favorite was the idea of putting a 1 mile wide mirror into space that could reflect enough sunlight to boil the oceans (though even the Nazis knew this wouldn't be possible for a century so never made it out of concept phase). I shiver at mans creativity when it comes to thinking up ways to destroy his neighbor and takes his sh_t.

  16. Don Mitchell

    Eugene Saenger

    Thanks for posting the pdf to that famous report. The Russians also studied it carefully, their rocket engine genius A.M. Isaev found a copy of it Peenemunde in 1945. The giant rocket engine he draws would never have worked -- the Germans didn't understand the problem of combustion instability back then, and in fact they were just plain lucky that the V-2 engine worked without high-frequency oscillations. But many ideas in the report were very forward looking.

  17. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    Wikipedia is how interested I am in the point.

    You'd still have to refute it. Or rewrite it, I suppose.

  18. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    forgotten combustion instability.

    It's a biggie, and tends to get more serious as the combustion chamber gets bigger. The bigger the chamber the wider the range of frequencies due to wavelength (which varies as the speed of sound, which in turn varies depending on the properties of the combustion gases)

    This is partly why the Soviet systems tend to have single sets of pumps driving multiple (but smaller) combustion chambers.

    Note that CI is not impossible in *smaller* engines. The US got this IIRC during development of the Shuttle RCS thrusters. Small thrust, low pressure but still got CI.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Find a better name....

    Than "Arc Light"! :)

    I've got to agree that a name that equates this weapon with Vietnam-era carpetbombing is probably not good PR. :)

    While we are at it--other names that should be taken off the list...

    -Rolling thunder

    -The Manhattan Project


    -Project Strangelove

    -Burning (George W.) Bush

    -"Blown Unknowns"

    -the Obama Slamma'! or "Barack Kablammo!"

  20. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    @Marketing Hack

    Most of those have negative associations* in the target market. Then again that might be the point. Like the old Vietnam era slogan "Let me win your hearts and minds, or a I'll burn your mud huts down."

    *Although I quite like Burning Bush. ...

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