On August 17th 1943, acting on aerial photography,
600 British bombers attacked the secret rocket base at Peenemünde.
Their mission was to destroy the threat of Hitler's new vengeance
weapons. As a result of the raid, the Nazis moved the testing
and production of these weapons out of the reach of allied air
The new production site of the V2 was established
in the Harz mountains, near Nordhausen, in an underground factory
called the Mittelwerk. A disused mine that needed to be expanded
to cope with the production needs of the V2 rocket.
8,000 POW's were used as slave labour to excavate
new tunnels for the disused mine, which would allow the Nazis
to go into mass production of the V2 rocket. It took five long
months to complete the Mittelwerk factory and make it operational.
The workers had to endure hideous conditions under the watchful
eye of the brutal SS.
After the British air raid on Peenemünde
the SS took over the production of the V2 rocket. The SS were
also in total control over the concentration camps. To supply
the Mittelwerk with a labour force the SS took POW's from Buchenwald,
a network of concentration camps. The largest camp of the network
was known as "Dora".
SS Colonel Hans Kammler was in charge of the
slave labour force used in the production of the V2 rocket. Kammler
had been part of the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, and also
later responsible for the designing and building of the crematorium
at Auschwitz concentration camp.
Although "Dora" was not an extermination
camp the SS did make examples of the workers. Anybody suspected
of sabotage were hanged. Prisoners would walk under the dead bodies
that were hanging over the entrance, and this was to act as a
terrible reminder to all.
Later "Dora" would receive its own
crematorium, which allowed the Nazis to burn the corpses of the
dead slave labourers, of which there were many on a daily basis.
All in all 30,000 POW's were used to produce this terror weapon,
20,000 died in such a short period of time. Some survived to tell
their story. When the camp was liberated its full horror was realized.
Kammler escaped justice at the end of the war
by having his adjutant shoot him. A fate better than being captured
by the allies.
Von Braun, although not directly involved with
the Mittelwerk, almost certainly knew what was going on, and the
surviving prisoners would always hold him morally responsible
for their treatment and their fate.