Walter Dornberger Worked Tens of Thousands of Slave Laborers to Death
Walter Robert Dornberger (1895 – 1980) was a German artillery officer and WW2 Major General, who was in charge of the manufacture and deployment of the Nazis’ V-2 rockets. He also played a prominent role in other projects at the German rocket research center in Peenemunde. He used slave labor in his projects, and tens of thousands of his slaves were worked to death, perished of maltreatment, or were executed in Dornberger’s hellish factories and worksites.
Dornberger had enlisted in the German army at the outbreak of WWI, was captured late in the war, and spent two years in French POW camps. Upon his release, he remained in the army, which sent him to study ballistics and engineering, and he became one of Germany’s leading ballistics experts. He was put in charge of developing rockets, and in the 1930s he teamed up with the brilliant Wernher Von Braun, and began perfecting the rocket engine.
In 1937, the rocket program was relocated to Peenemunde, where the first V-2 was successfully tested in 1942. Dornberger was in charge of deploying the V-2s, and he directed the firing of roughly 3000 rockets at London, Amsterdam, and other urban areas during the war. About 2800 people were killed by the V-2s, most of them civilians. In a sad irony, more people died manufacturing the V-2s than were killed by the missiles. Dornberger, who was put in charge of V-2 production, had made ruthless use of slave labor, and tens of thousands of his workforce had died in atrocious working conditions.
After the war, Dornberger was arrested by the British and held for two years while being interrogated for war crimes. He got away with it, however, when Wernher Von Braun, the brilliant rocket expert who was one of the first Germans secretly sent to the US in Operation Paperclip personally requested Dornberger’s assistance. So the British released him into American custody, and Dornberger was secretly brought to the US. He became chief of the US Army’s Weapons Department, and was put in charge of America’s V-2 missile development program.
Afterwards, Dornberger spent 15 years as director of R&D at Bell Aircraft Corporation, helped develop the world’s first air-to-surface nuclear missile, and played a role in creating the Space Shuttle. Upon retirement, he lived in Mexico, then returned to Germany, where he died in 1980. All in all, he had a highly fulfilling postwar career, despite his war crimes – for which he had at least been detained for a couple years while being interrogated. As will be seen in the next entry, Wernher Von Braun, who sprung Dornberger from British custody and got him into the US, got away scot free with his war crimes.