Operation Penguin I

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Operation Penguin I

On May 18–20, 1944, there was a V-2 demonstration at Heidelager. General Metz was present, and at the conclusion, it was apparent that another few months would be necessary before V-2 operations could begin. LXV Corps drew up plans for the V-2 opening attack, which would be code-named “Operation Penguin,” tentatively scheduled for September of 1944, while the V-1 opening offensive was planned for mid-June. The mobile strategy was agreed upon, involving only one battalion, as it was doubtful that all units would be ready by September. This gave General Metz another excuse to request his relief from such a small command. He believed it was ludicrous that a general officer should be required to coordinate between corps headquarters and a single battalion. However, he was persuaded to withdraw his request by General Buhle, who was Chief of Armaments for the Army, after Buhle promised that in time there would be a total of four complete V-2 battalions under two regimental staffs.

After the fall of Paris, the office of HARKO 191 under General Metz was ordered to withdraw from France. All V-2 related personnel and equipment was evacuated by way of Ypres to Turnhout, then to Dongen near Tilburg en route to Germany. On August 29, 1944, there was a conference between General Jodl, General Buhle, and SS General Kammler at which tactical command of all troops was given to HARKO 191. Hitler had ordered the start of Operation Penguin to commence as soon as possible. When detailing the plans for the operation, Hitler decreed that half of the rockets should be aimed at Paris and half at London. On August 30, the General Staff issued orders to LXV Corps to begin the preparation of launch sites near Ghent for an impending rocket attack against Paris. The following day, LXV Corps requested proof of the Führer’s order and asked General Keitel, because of Kammler’s involvement, for confirmation of the current chain of command. Kammler assumed the confusion had been laid to rest when he informed commanders in the west that he had been given provisional supervision of the rocket project. Per Himmler’s orders, the opening V-2 attacks would commence on September 5. He ended by stating that if anyone needed to get in touch with him, he was traveling to Brussels.

A few days later, on August 31, 1944, the important players gathered in Brussels for what was believed to be the final planning meeting for the rocket offensive. SS General Kammler had called the meeting, but General Heinemann presided. Present were various Chiefs of Staff, including Colonel Walter, General Metz, and General Dornberger. In an attempt to subdue those present into concession, Kammler boldly announced that he was taking control of not only rocket production and administration but also tactical deployment, a move that did not sit well with LXV Corps commanders. Kammler began issuing commands for units in the field and detailing the operational strategy. A heated argument ensued, after which General Heinemann demanded to see his papers from the Armed Forces High Command. The SS general could produce no such papers. Then, Colonel Walter, LXV Corps Chief of Staff, proceeded to read a communiqué from the High Command that confirmed the authority of LXV Corps over tactical deployment of the rocket. The message went on to stress Kammler’s complete irrelevance. The legitimacy of Kammler’s claim collapsed and his power grab was averted, but not for long.

Two days later, Himmler confirmed General Kammler’s complete authority. The Armed Forces High Command instructed LXV Corps to brief Kammler on the preparations for the offensive. At this point, LXV Corps would still conduct the operation, although Kammler would be in command. Himmler’s appointment gave Kammler total control of the program, including operational deployment. He would be subservient to only Himmler and to SS General Jüttner, the head of the SS leadership office, which acted as general staff for the Waffen SS. To solidify his control, Kammler immediately launched a campaign to isolate Dornberger. He asserted the right to issue direct orders to Dornberger’s Chief of Staff, Colonel Thom. No doubt Kammler’s intentions were meant to cut the legs out from under his rival and force Dornberger out of the program completely.

Even before Kammler’s ascendancy, Dornberger was struggling to retain what little influence he still processed. He was no longer commander of Peenemünde, the Army Ordnance Department saw him now as an outsider, and LXV Corps had replaced him as commander of the rocket batteries. Kammler’s ruthless acquisition of power over the rocket project left Dornberger in complete despair. It seemed he had lost everything. On August 29, 1944, he drafted his resignation only to be convinced by his Peenemünde colleagues to change his mind. Ironically, it was SS General Jüttner who ultimately rescued Dornberger from Kammler’s malevolence. When Colonel Thom, on Kammler’s orders, reported to Jüttner in Berlin to complain about Dornberger and request his removal and transfer of his staff, the reaction from Jüttner was probably not what Kammler expected. Jüttner was outraged at Kammler’s treatment of Dornberger. He felt it was insufferable that Kammler had threatened to have Dornberger shot if he dared approach Jüttner himself. Considering Dornberger’s background and knowledge of the rocket, Jüttner refused to expel him. He ordered the two men to work together for the good of the program. Dornberger would soon become General Kammler’s representative on the home front, responsible for training the rocket troops, weapon improvements, and coordinating supply of materials to the firing areas.

The opening of the rocket offensive was set for September 5, 1944, and per Kammler’s request, the Armed Forces High Command issued the necessary orders to start the movement of the rocket battalions to the firing areas on September 2. Kammler put Dornberger in charge for getting the movement organized and underway. The next day, more than 5,000 personnel and approximately 1,500 vehicles were moving to the firing areas. General Dornberger had promised to have the V-2 batteries ready for action by September 15, 1944. These included the first and second batteries of Battalion 485, the second and third batteries of Battalion 836, and Training and Experimental Battery 444. The third battery of Battalion 485, along with the first battery of Battalion 836 and the SS Werfer Battery 500, were still in training and would not be ready for the start of the campaign.

On September 6, 1944, General Kammler issued his first command order. After reaffirming his authorization from Reichsführer SS Himmler, he ordered the troops divided into two groups: Gruppe Nord (Group North) and Gruppe Süd (Group South). Kammler dictated that the operational commanders for each group would answer to him personally and that no important decisions would be made without first gaining his approval. Group South, consisting of about 2,000 troops, was under the command of Major Weber, who had been in charge of Battery 444 since the beginning. His units consisted of Battalion 836 and Battery 444. Group North—about 3,000 troops—consisted of Battalion 485 (which was later joined by SS Werfer Battery 500), and was initially under the command of Major von Ploetz, although he would be replaced several weeks later by Major Schulz. Each of the firing batteries was appointed a designated technical battery and support groups. All units associated with the deployment of the rocket, over 8,000 men, were under direct command of SS Gruppenführer Hans Kammler, who had come up with his own name for his command: Division zur Vergeltung (the vengeance division) or Division z.V., which stood for Special Employment for Retaliation.

The missile, dressed in its ragged camouflage scheme, stood motionless on its sturdy firing table, hidden completely by the dense trees of the Ardennes. About 40 feet away, the measurement platoon had situated two optical aiming collimators that established the vertical positioning of the device. After the power supply vehicle had run a series of preliminary tests, the firing crew electricians had climbed the rungs of the Meillerwagen arm to install the 50-volt flight control battery, along with the two 27-volt batteries for the gyros. The fins of the rocket were situated in four pedestal slots attached to the rotating ring of the firing table. The crew used a hand crank to rotate the rocket on the table so that fin number one was aligned with the pitch axis toward Paris. The protective jet covers had been removed from the venturi in the combustion chamber, and the fragile carbon-graphite exhaust rudders were carefully bolted in place. It was a few minutes past 8 o’clock in the morning; the convoy of fueling vehicles would soon approach.

As a result of the two launch failures and because of the partisan attacks of a few days earlier, the firing crews of Battery 444 had moved from the launching position at Petites Tailles to a new position six miles to the east, near the tiny village of Sterpigny. On Friday, September 8, 1944, the first V-2 of the German rocket campaign lifted off at 8:40 AM heading toward Paris. While the firing crews must have been elated to finally get operations underway, indications are that the rocket exploded at high altitude, breaking up before hitting the target. However, two hours later, a second rocket fired by Battery 444 came down southeast of Paris, at Charentonneau à Maisons-Alfort, killing six people and injuring 36 others. It was the first ballistic missile attack in history, but it caused little commotion.

Because of the sweeping Allied advances just weeks earlier, many Dutch people in the province of South Holland were betting the war would be over by the end of the year. On September 5, 1944, there were many rumors about the fast-approaching Allied armies. However, the citizens of Holland were unaware of the overextended supply lines slowing the advance, which would soon become a crawl. The suffering for the Dutch was far from over. After several years of occupation by German forces, residents of The Hague (Den Haag, or officially, ‘s-Gravenhage), the administrative capital of the Netherlands, had become accustomed to the various sounds of war: the drone of aircraft, the blast of falling bombs, and the thud of antiaircraft guns; but now they were about to be introduced to a new sound, one that would soon bring trepidation.

Following an early morning storm, it was a warm, sunny afternoon in the affluent suburb of Wassenaar, just northeast of The Hague. On that day, September 8, 1944, the local residents heard a strange sound. A tremendous roar filled the air, furniture and windowpanes shook, and the ground began vibrating. Dutch civilians exited their homes in time to witness two pointed projectiles, about 50 feet long, rising slowly above the treetops. A cloud of smoke rolled through the streets after the rockets had cleared the trees. They gained speed rapidly with flames emerging at the rear extending to more than half their lengths. As the rockets moved higher and higher into the heavens, a white trail appeared in the form of a spiral. The smoke disappeared at a height of about 12 miles, and the projectiles accelerated rapidly, their trajectory flattening out somewhat. They finally disappeared traveling at a terrific speed. Under the command of Colonel Hohmann, the second battery of Battalion 485 had launched two rockets simultaneously at 6:36 PM from the picturesque neighborhood streets: one from the intersection of Lijsterlaan, Konijnenlaan, and Koekoekslaan; the other, about 150 feet away, from the intersection of Lijsterlaan and Schouwweg.

The firing crews had hoped to get an earlier start in the day, however, the strong winds from the passing storm had knocked down a tree, which fell on one of the radio tents in a position several miles away where the signal to shut down the rocket’s engine in flight would be broadcast. Finally, late in the afternoon, German trucks and odd-looking vehicles were seen driving up to the Wassenaar sites from different directions. One of the vehicles was described by eyewitnesses as a long trailer having 16 wheels with some sort of lifting apparatus. Others included tanker trucks and trailers, which were filled from a railway wagon at Wassenaar Station, and an armored halftrack, which had been left about 1,000 feet away from the launching positions. Occupants of the nearby houses had been evicted the day before by German military guards who ordered them to leave their doors and windows unlocked; no one was allowed within half a mile of the area, but the noises and flurry of activity prompted a few daring souls to venture closer for a peek. The launching crews consisted of about 20 soldiers who, when fueling the missiles, were completely clad from head to toe with asbestos-like protective overalls and helmets. It was later discovered that the projectiles were fired using a power cable brought out from a nearby electrical supply point. The Germans had installed a number of these electrical cables, connected to normal power mains, which were laid in the neighborhood via the roads Rijksstraatweg and Rust En Vreugdlaan.

Less than 200 miles away, in the West London suburb of Chiswick, people had already arrived home from their jobs. London was on double summer time, while Holland was on daylight savings, so the hour was the same in both cities. Those who were still on the streets were in a hurry because of the increasing drizzle that threatened to become a steady downpour. Sixty-four-year-old Robert Stubbs was one who was running late. Stubbs had taken care of some last-minute chores before leaving his job as caretaker of the Staveley Road School. Crossing the school playing field, he noticed a serviceman moving briskly down the street past several houses. At 6:41 PM, without any warning, Stubbs was flung 20 feet across the field by a terrific blast. One of the rockets launched from Wassenaar had ended its five-minute journey traveling three times the speed of sound; it slammed into English soil at Staveley Road in Chiswick.

A description of a V-2 impact would be as follows: first, a “whip cracking” sound of the blast wave was heard, created by the rocket moving faster than the speed of sound, which bounces off of the point of impact split seconds before the flash of impact; this was followed by the chaos of the explosion with debris and earth churned skyward. Immediately afterward, as if in reverse order, the whine and rush of whistling air was heard as the sound of the rocket descending through the heavens caught up with the rocket, followed by the roar of the incoming rocket, which tapered off to silence. There could be no warning.

After coming to his senses, Stubbs was shocked to see the devastation all around him. The bomb, which landed at the Burlington Lane end of Staveley Road, had demolished houses on both sides of the cherry-tree-lined street and left a 30-foot crater in the road. A 65-year-old woman, Mrs. Harrison, came crawling out of the shattered home at No. 3, covered in dust. Stubbs tottered over to help her, but there was little he could do; by the time help arrived, Mrs. Harrison had died. The explosion had killed three people, including Private Frank Browning, who was in a hurry that payday to visit his girlfriend’s house. Seventeen other people had been seriously injured in the blast, covered by the debris of their wrecked homes until rescue workers pulled them free.

Newspapers in Britain for September 8, 1944, came out with headlines proclaiming the end of the (V-1) assault on London. The articles featured photographs of Duncan Sandys from his news conference the day before. Over at the Air Ministry Scientific Intelligence Office, Dr. R. V. Jones and his colleague Charles Frank had been discussing the validity of these optimistic calculations. During their conversation, there was a double bang in the distance; the two men looked at each other knowingly and then exclaimed almost simultaneously, “That’s the first one!” The V-2, as if to scoff at the day’s headlines, had finally made its appearance. Moments later, another sonic boom was felt; it was the second rocket from Wassenaar, which fell harmlessly in a field at Parndon Wood, some 16 miles north near Epping. The world had entered into a new type of warfare: the age of the ballistic missile.

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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