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The R-1 was the Soviet copy of the German A-4 missile. The R-1 was developed by OKB-1 led by Sergei Korolev and test-launched for the first time in 1948 in Kapustin Yar.

The Soviet leadership in 1944 had no Interest in creating a program for the development of ballistic missiles in support of the war effort. Despite this lack of enthusiasm for indigenous efforts, there was considerable interest in acquiring and studying concurrent German rocket technology. Without a doubt, the most technologically sophisticated and advanced rocketry program during the war existed in neither the United States nor the Soviet Union, but at Peenemünde in Germany under the administrative leadership of General Walter Dornberger. With the young Wernher von Braun as the technical head of operations, Dornberger’s group of highly talented Individuals had, by the end of the war, developed one of the most feared weapons of World War II, the A-4 ballistic missile. More commonly known as the V-2, or “vengeance weapon.” in German, the A-4 performed its first successful launch on October 3, 1942, after three failures in March, June, and August of the same year. With a maximum range of about 300 kilometers and a capability to reach altitudes of close to ninety kilometers, the A-4 was produced in the thousands by slave labor in the latter part of the war as almost a last-gasp attempt by the Nazis to turn the inevitable course of the war. A second weapon, the Fieseler Fi-103 “flying bomb.” also known as the V-1, was part of this intense German campaign to numb Great Britain into submission. Although casualties were relatively low compared to aerial bombing, the spectre of the two missiles produced an unimaginable sense of terror among the mostly civilian victims.

In a letter dated July 13. 1944, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill personally requested Stalin’s cooperation in locating and retrieving A-4 and Fi- 103 production materials that the Germans were leaving behind with their retreat.” Churchill’s prime concern was that British intelligence officers be allowed to inspect and examine any captured A-4 components from the experimental missile station at Debica near Krakow in Poland, which, by July 1944, was only about fifty kilometers from the Soviet frontlines. As they began their retreat in mid-1944, the Germans had, however, done a fairly good job of destroying all possible remnants of their research.

Stalin ordered the formation of a secret expeditionary group of Soviet specialists to investigate the remains at Debica. People’s Commissar of Aviation Industry Aleksey I. Shakhurin tapped the Nil- l organization to help set up an advance team. Under the watchful eye of the NKVD, on August 5, May, General Fedorov led a small group of NII- l engineers, including Korolev’s old RNll associates Tikhonravov and Pobedonostsev, to Debica. Initially, the Soviet team collected some interesting parts, such as an A-4 combustion chamber and parts of propellant tanks, before allowing British teams to enter a week later to conduct their own investigations. Highly accurate aerial maps prepared by the latter were instrumental in locating more fallen A-4 debris from test firings that the Germans had conducted. Recovered parts from the missile were soon loaded into Li-2 transport aircraft and returned to Moscow under tight NKVD security. Upon return to Moscow, with the exception of NII- I Director Fedorov and Deputy Director Bolkhovitinov, almost all the employees of NII- I were kept in the dark about the entire operation. Eventually, the NKVD loosened some of their restrictions, and Bolkhovitinov was ordered to establish a very small group of talented engineers to study the engineering aspects of the A-4. This section of A-4 researchers was given the top-secret designation Raketa. the Russian word for “missile,” and included RNll veterans Tikhonravov and Pobedonostsev. Plant No. 293 alumni Bereznyak, Bushuyev. Chertok. Isayev, and Mishin, and newcomers Nikolay A. Pilyugin and Leonid A. Voskresenskiy.

Possibly the youngest of the group was Vasiliy Pavlovich Mishin, a specialist in control systems who, twenty years later, would lead the Soviet program to land a cosmonaut on the Moon. He was born on January 5. 1917, in the village of Byualino not far from Moscow. His brother and sister died in childhood, and his family disintegrated soon after. The young Mishin was raised by his grandfather because his father had been jailed for several years for not informing on a person who had told a joke about Stalin. After his father’s release. Mishin moved to Moscow and qualified as one of the lucky entrants into the prestigious Moscow Aviation Institute in 1935. He was 18 at the time and apparently considered a very bright student. There, Mishin did his pre-diploma work under the aircraft designer Bolkhovitinov. Passionately in love with flying, Mishin was also well known as one of the first pilots in the Soviet Union to master a “self-starting” piloting technique without outside assistance. Later in 1940, he was called up for work at Bolkhovitinov’s Plant No. 293 and took part in the development of the one of the world’s first rocket-powered airplanes, the BI-1, which flew successfully in 1942. Mishin was one of many of Bolkhovitinov’s engineers transferred to NII- l in early 1944, and after the A-4 fragments were recovered in August, he became one of the leading members of the group. Equipped with a very assertive personality, he was instrumental in extracting important information on the workings of the German missile from the few scraps that were recovered. Because of his father’s “suspect” background. Mishin was apparently considered somewhat of a state risk and was not allowed to travel anywhere without permission.

The primary goals of the 1944 recovery operations were to determine whether the possibility existed of creating an analog of the A-4 weapon in Soviet industry. It seems that the evaluation team was actually organized on two different levels. While the Raketa group at NII- I was kept busy with a technical investigation of the recovered remains, a second group was tapped to advise Stalin and the Soviet leadership on the possible uses of such weapons-that is, their utility in wartime conditions. This process was the catalyst for introducing a second group of individuals, the artillery officers, who would play a very significant role in the future development and operation of the Soviet space program.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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