Famous German Aerospace Engineers Who Emigrated to the US

famous german aerospace engineers wernher von braun

German Engineers Who Emigrated to the United States/ Operation Paperclip

Operation Paperclip or Operation Overcast was a secret military project of the United States of America after World War II. Many scientists and technicians had to emigrate to US to provide their knowledge for US projects such as NASA. According to a professor named John Gimbel, who published the book Science Technology and Reparations: Exploitation and Plunder in Postwar Germany, all German patents and industrial secrets were kept under requisition between 1945 and 1947. All plans had an estimated worth of around 10 billion USD. The name “Paperclip” derived from the office clamps embedded in the corresponding files, which marked the pages with relevant scientists who were to be transferred to the USA. 

What was the Peenemünde Army Research Center in Germany?

The Peenemünde Army Research Center was founded in 1936 as a development and experimental center of the German army, a partial force of the Wehrmacht ( = armed forces). The successful launch of the world’s first long range rocket in the Army Research Center Peenemünde on October 3, 1942, is considered as one of the most spectacular, but also the most dangerous technical breakthroughs of the 20th century.

Wernher von Braun

German skyrocket engineer Wernher von Braun, born in 1912, was the leading constructor of the first functioning, liquid rocket called A4 (V2). Later on, he became famous as one of the heads for contructing beams for missions of the NASA. The studied mechanical engineer and holder of a PhD (“Constructive, theoretical and experimental contributions to the problem of the liquid rocket”) started – financed by a scholarship – developing and testsing brown-liquid rockets at the rocket-testing station of the German Army in Kummersdorf, Brandenburg n 1932. In the following years, up to 80 people started working on the development of missiles. In 1943, ten years after the assumption of power by Adolf Hitler, Wernher von Braun’s A4 missile reached the quadruple sound speed as the first long-range rocket in the world. In April 1945, Braun surrendered to the American Army. Only two months later, he got stationed in Fort Bliss, Texas. He and other German aerospace engineers passed over their rocket science knowledge to the American military and tested some of the V2 missileswhich where brought from Germany in White Sands (New Mexico). 

Wernher von Braun became American citizen in 1955. In 1960, he became director of the Marshall Space Flight Center of newly founded NASA. When the first people landed on the moon in 1969, the used carrier rocket was the by Braun engineered V2. In 1977, he died in Alexandria (Virginia). 

Kurt Heinrich Debus

German aerospace pioneer Kurt Heinrich Debus was born in 1908. The studied electric engineer plus holder of a PhD was working together with Wernher von Braun. During Word War II, he was involved in the development of the “V2”-missiles and – in course of the Operation Paperclip – became first director of the Kennedy Space Center of the NASA in 1962. Kurt Heinrich Debus died in 1983 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. 

Konrad Dannenberg

Konrad Dannenberg, born in 1912, was a German mechanical engineer, who was working in the team of Walter Thiel (who died in 1943 due to an air strike) at the Army Research Institute in Peenemünde on the development of the A4 rocket. Together with Wernher von Braun and other famous German engineers, Konrd Dannenberg emigrated to the USA where he – as a deputy of von Braun  –  played a decisive role in the construction of the 111-meter-high Saturn V rocket with which the first American astronauts flew to the moon. Since the founding of NASA in 1958, he has been researching the Marshall Space Flight Center by the space agency in Huntsville. Konrad Dannenberg died in 2009 in Huntsville, Alabama. 

Walter Dornberger

German mechanical engineer Walter Dornberger was born in 1895. During World War I, he served at the front and was afterwards in French war captivity for 1 1/2 years. As part of the following Army of the Reich, he was detailed to a mechanical egineering degree course at the technical college in Berlin-Charlottenburg. In 1936, he was given responsibility for the rocket development of the army, which led to the development of unit 4 (A4, better known as V2). Same as many other German engineers, who were part of the responsible team for the development of the v2 rocket, Dornberger was awarded with the War Cross of Merit. In 1945, he was captured by US troops, but was allowed to emigrate to US in 1947 after two years of being detained in a camp in Wales. In the United States, Dornberger first worked for the US Air Force at the Wright Field in Ohio and then switched to the private sector. He died in 1980. 

Krafft Arnold Ehricke

Krafft Arnold Ehricke was a German rocket-propulsion engineer born in 1917. The son of two dentists and studied aeronautics was an important member of the rocket development program in Peenemünde. In 1947, he emigrated to the US and became part of the team, which development the successful Atlas rocket. From 1974 on, Krafft Arnold Ehrick was chief scientist at the North American Rockwell Space Systems Division, where he developed concepts of interplanetary and interstellar space travel and the production of raw materials on the moon and Mars. He died in 1984. 

Hans Fichtner

Hans Fitchner, born in 1917, was a German rocket engineer, who worked together with Wernher von Braun on the development of the A4 rocket in Peenemünde. After 1945, he emigrated to the US and worked in the Marshall Flight Center of NASA. Later on, Hans Fichtner became chief engineer at the High Energy Astronomy Observatory and worked as a consultant for ESA in the Netherlands in 1975/1976. He died in 2012. 

Ernst Geissler

German astronautic pioneer Ernst Geissler was born in 1915. Same as many other engineers in the list, he was working together with Wernher von Braun in the Peenemünde Army Research Center. Here, he was the head of a mathematician group, which was responsible for the calculation of trajectories and trajectories. After World War II, he had to emgrate to US and became director of the aeroballistic department of NASA‘s Marshall Flight Center. Ernst Geissler died in 1989. 

Dieter Grau

German aerospace engineer Dieter Grau was born in 1913. As part of Wernher von Braun’s team, Grau was responsible for the debugging of the V2 rocket and the launching preparations. In the meanwhile, he was also working for Mittelwerk GmbH, who assembled the V1 and V2 rockets with detainees from the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. It was Brauns task to find out, why it repeatedly precipitation and defects in the rockets in Peenemünde happened. Grau found out, that detainees sabotaged the rockets because they knew how to manipulate screws to cause missile missions. Later on, he reportd the incidents. 

In course of Opertion Paperclip, Grau emigrated to the US and became director of the “Quality and Reliability Laboratory” in 1960 of the NASA.

Hans Ziegler

German engineer Hans Ziegler was born in 1911. As part of the team around Wernher von Braun during the time of World War II, Ziegler emigrated to US in 1947. Ziegler’s work in the USA had a great influence on the development of military electronics and especially on the electronics in the early phases of the U.S. space program. Within the thirty years he was an engineer in electronics and electrical engineering at the Research and Development Department of the US Army in Fort Monmouth, N.J., USA, he was twelve years in the highest position as chief developer. He died in 1999. 

Featured imge (copped): Wernher von Braun – NASA Wikimedia – Public Domain


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