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Students examining an A4 rocket engine
The original A4 rocket engine is a permanent loan of the Mittelbau-Dora memorial. (Photo: A. Kreher)

Slave work for the A4 rocket (later named V2 by Nazi propaganda)

Aggregate 4, or A4 in short, was the designation of the first fully functional long distance rocket world wide. The rocked had been developed in the army research centre in Peenemünde by a group of scientists under the lead of Wernher von Braun. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels later named it Vergeltungswaffe 2 or V2 (vengeance weapon 2). The production was allocated to various sites. Thousands of concentration camp prisoners were used for the production. In the armament plant Vorwerk Mitte in Schmiedebach near Lehesten, rocket engines were tested and rocket fuel produced.

Antecedents of the A4 production

From 1936

The army research centre in Peenemünde on the island of Usedom is established as the centre for German research for a military ballistic missile.

3rd October 1942

First successful launch of a long distance rocket type A4 in Peenemünde.

April 1943

Decision to use detainees for the mass production of the rocket. In Summer 1943 more than 4000 POWs and civil forced labourers as well as 600 concentration camp prisoners have to work for the Germans.

June and August 1943

Heavy Allied air attacks on the production sites and on Peenemünde (17th and 18th August).

26th August 1943

Decision to move the A4 production underground into the Kohnstein Mountain near Nordhausen, where a tunnel system is already in existence. On the 28th August the first 107 detainees arrive in the newly established subcamp Mittelbau-Dora.

Establishment of the war plant Vorwerk Mitte Lehesten

Early September 1943

The management of the Karl Oertel Schieferbrüche Lehesten G.m.b.H. (Karl Oertel Quarries Lehesten ltd) is ordered to take preparations for the establishment of a war plant in the Oertelsbruch quarry (code name Rotbutt).

15th September 1943

Lease of the main production site of the Oertel company for strategic special purposes for 168.750 Reichsmark per annum. The lease contract is signed in January 1944. Leaseholder is the newly founded Steinbruch-Verwertungs G.m.b.H., Lehesten. Inventory, buildings and the entire staff is taken over, including forced labourers that had been used by the Oertel company. The code name is Vorwerk Mitte or Vorwerk Mitte Lehesten (VM/VML or Vorwerk Lee). The site is established for the testing of A4 rocket engines and the production of liquid oxygen and nitrogen.