9. The V2 Rocket Was a Technological Breakthrough That Ended Up Hurting Rather than Helping Germany
Germany’s V2 rocket, the world’s first ballistic missile, carried a ton of explosives to the edge of space, then descended at unstoppable supersonic speeds to detonate on its target. It was a revolutionary feat of technology – and one of history’s most wastefully expensive weapons, inflicting relatively small damage that did not justify the vast expenditure of resources that went into its production. From its first operational launch against enemy targets in September, 1944, to Germany’s surrender 9 months later, roughly 3000 V2s were fired. They did not all reach their targets, but even if they had, at 1 ton of explosives per V2 warhead, that would have been 3000 tons of explosives dropped on enemy cities over 9 months. By contrast, during the same period the RAF routinely dropped more than 3000 tons of explosives on a German city in a single nighttime bombing raid.
The US Air Force also frequently exceeded that 3000 ton total in single bombing raids during the daytime. Moreover, Allied bombers returned to base, reloaded, and returned the next day or night to again drop more than 3000 tons of explosives on German cities, and repeated the process dozens of times. Also, during its 9 months of firing, the 3000 tons of explosives dropped by the V2 killed 2754 people – most of them not soldiers, but civilians whose deaths, while tragic, did not impede the Allied war effort by much. By contrast, it is estimated that over 20,000 workers, mostly slave laborers, died while manufacturing the V2, giving the rocket the tragic distinction of being perhaps the only weapons system in history whose production cost more lives than did its actual use. Thus, when contrasting the cost with the results, the V2 literally produced little bang for the buck.