By Clement V. Kelly
Within hours of narrowly escaping assassination, Adolf Hitler met with Benito Mussolini at the Wolfschanze on 20 July 1944. Hitler attempted to buoy the spirits of his fellow dictator who was depressed by being the head of a non-governing government in Italy.
During the meeting, Hitler spoke of his new “wonder weapon,” the V-2 rocket. He bragged how this brainchild of rocket scientist Werner von Braun was going to win the war for Germany. He stressed that London could be bombarded until the whole city was utterly destroyed. As the new weapon was four to six times as powerful in its effects as the V-1, the destructive effect of the V-2 on the British capital would, of course, be greatly increased.
Hitler was not far from wrong, as the destructive power of von Braun’s rocket was awesome The first fell on London on 8 September 1944. Having this menace appear from nowhere—without warning—seriously damaged the morale of the British people
Lucky for England, the R.A.F. had mounted a formidable air attack on the Peenemünde facility (where manufacture of the V-2 occurred) on 17 August 1943. 433 bombers dropped 281 tons of incendiaries and 1,595 tons of high explosives.
Work on the V-2 at Peenemünde was hindered, and some facilities were moved to the interior of Germany to be beyond the range of the Royal Air Force. Camp Dora—a satellite of the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp—was set up for the manufacture of the V-2, while the test firing range was moved to Blizna in Poland. Deployment of the V-2 was delayed and the massive number of rockets hoped for by Hitler to destroy London was never attained.
Eight years earlier, in 1935, von Braun requested a more suitable location for his rocket testing facility than the army firing ranges in the interior of Germany, which his work had outgrown. The Luftwaffe established a testing on the northwestern side of an island of Usedom at the mouth of the Peene River near the small fishing village of Peenemünde. The island was secluded and allowed unobserved and unlimited test firing out into the Baltic. Here, the first “retaliation weapon,”—the V-1 rocket flying bomb—was developed.
On the northeastern side of the Island, the army located their experimental station for developing the V-2 rocket, using German technicians, prisoners of war, and slave laborers.
The rare badge illustrated here is an entrance badge for those employed at the Army Test Center. It reads “HEERESVERSUCHSSTELLE” (“Army Experimental Station”) at the top and “PEENEMÜNDE a./U.” (“Peenemünde on Usedom” ) at the bottom in raised letters. The badge number “18110” is incised in the center above an Army-style Nazi eagle. A pin on the back provided a method of attaching the badge to the wearer’s clothing.