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Bundesarchiv Bild 141-1898, Peenemünde, Start Fla-Rakete "Wasserfall".jpg
Type Surface-to-air missile
Production history
Manufacturer Flak-Versuchskommando Nord, EMW Peenemünde
Unit cost 7,000–10,000 Reichsmark
Produced March 1943
Weight 3,700 kilograms (8,200 lb)
Length 7.85 metres (25.8 ft)
Diameter 2.51 metres (8 ft 3 in)
Warhead 235 kilograms (518 lb)

Engine liquid-fueled rocket motor
25 kilometres (16 mi)
Speed 770 metres per second (1,700 mph)
MCLOS (Manual Command to Line Of Sight); operator used a radio command link to steer the missile along the optical line of sight from launch point to target.

The Wasserfall Ferngelenkte FlaRakete (Waterfall Remote-Controlled A-A Rocket),[1]:77 was a German guided surface-to-air missile project of World War II. The Wasserfall required considerable development work, which was not completed before the end of the war.

Technical characteristics[edit]

"Wasserfall" rocket displayed at National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

Wasserfall was essentially an anti-aircraft development of the V-2 rocket, sharing the same general layout and shaping. Since the missile had to fly only to the altitudes of the attacking bombers, and needed a far smaller warhead to destroy these, it could be much smaller than the V-2, about 1/4 the size. The Wasserfall design also included an additional set of fins located at the middle of the fuselage to provide extra maneuvering capability.

Unlike the V-2, Wasserfall was designed to stand ready for periods of up to a month and fire on command, therefore the volatile liquid oxygen used in the V-2 was inappropriate. A new engine design, developed by Dr. Walter Thiel, was based on Visol (vinyl isobutyl ether) and SV-Stoff, or 'red fuming nitric acid' (RFNA), (94% nitric acid, 6% dinitrogen tetroxide). This hypergolic mixture was forced into the combustion chamber by pressurizing the fuel tanks with nitrogen gas released from another tank. Wasserfall was to be launched from rocket bases (code-named Vesuvius) that could tolerate leaked hypergolic fuels in the event of a launch problem.[1]:77

Guidance was to be a simple radio control manual command to line of sight (MCLOS) system for use against daytime targets, but night-time use was considerably more complex because neither the target nor the missile would be easily visible. For this role a new system known as Rheinland was under development. Rheinland used a radar unit for tracking the target and a transponder in the missile for locating it in flight, read by a radio direction finder on the ground. A simple analog computer guided the missile into the tracking radar beam as soon as possible after launch, using the transponder to locate it, at which point the operator could see both "blips" on a single display, and guide the missile onto the target as during the day. Steering during the launch phase was accomplished by four graphite rudders placed in the exhaust stream of the combustion chamber, and (once high airspeeds had been attained) by the four air rudders mounted on the rocket tail. Commands were sent to the missile using a modified version of the "Kehl-Strassburg" (code name Burgund)[2] joy-stick system used to direct Henschel Hs 293 glide bomb, which had some significant successes against allied ships in the Mediterranean.[3]

The original design had called for a 100 kg warhead, but because of accuracy concerns it was replaced with a much larger one (306 kg) based on a liquid explosive. The idea was to create a large blast area effect amidst the enemy bomber stream, which would conceivably bring down several airplanes for each missile deployed. For daytime use the operator would detonate the warhead by remote control.


Conceptual work began in 1941, and final specifications were defined on November 2, 1942. The first models were being tested in March 1943, but a major setback[citation needed] occurred in August 1943 when Dr. Walter Thiel was killed during the Operation Hydra bombings, the start of the Operation Crossbow bombing campaign against V-2 production. After the first successful firing (the third prototype) on March 8, 1944,[2]:107 three Wasserfall trial launches were completed by the end of June 1944. A launch on January 8, 1945 was a failure, with the engine "fizzling" and launching the missile to only 7 km of altitude at subsonic speeds. The following February saw a successful launch which reached a speed of 770 m/s (2,800 km/h) in vertical flight.[1]:69 Thirty-five Wasserfall trial firings had been completed by the time Peenemünde was evacuated on February 17, 1945.[2]:107

The Bäckebo Rocket, a V-2 rocket using Wasserfall radio guidance, crashed in Sweden on June 13, 1944.


According to Albert Speer and Carl Krauch it could have devastated the Allied bomber fleets.[4] Speer, Nazi Germany Minister of Armaments and War Production later claimed:

To this day, I am convinced that substantial deployment of Wasserfall from the spring of 1944 onward, together with an uncompromising use of the jet fighters as air defense interceptors, would have essentially stalled the Allied strategic bombing offensive against our industry. We would have well been able to do that – after all, we managed to manufacture 900 V-2 rockets per month at a later time when resources were already much more limited.

— Albert Speer, Reichsminister für Bewaffnung und Munition (Reich Minister for Armaments and Munitions), from memoir[5][6]

In contrast, historian Michael J. Neufeld has argued that it would not have been possible for Germany to have fielded Wasserfall batteries before its defeat due to the extensive development work needed, and the project continued for too long due to bureaucratic inertia in the German military and the sense of desperation among the German leadership. He has also judged that the missiles would have probably proven ineffective in combat as they would not have been fitted with proximity fuses (which Germany never fielded) and their guidance system was impractical.[7] Similarly, the relevant volume of the series Germany and the Second World War notes that the Wasserfall was one of several competing missile systems which the Luftwaffe ordered to be developed despite lacking the resources needed to complete or field them during the war.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Klee, Ernst; Merk, Otto (English translation: 1965) [1963]. The Birth of the Missile:The Secrets of Peenemünde. Hamburg: Gerhard Stalling Verlag. pp. 69, 70, 77.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ a b c Pocock, Rowland F (1967). German Guided Missiles of the Second World War. New York: Arco Publishing Company, Inc. pp. 71,81,87,107. 
  3. ^ Neufeld, Michael J (1995). The Rocket and the Reich: Peenemünde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era. New York: The Free Press. p. 235. ISBN 0-02-922895-6. 
  4. ^ Speer, A (1970) Inside the Third Reich. Macmillan, New York P492
  5. ^ Speer, Albert (1969). Erinnerungen (in German). Propyläen Verlag. p. 375. ISBN 3-550-06074-2. 
  6. ^ Speer, Albert (1997 Simon & Schuster paperback) [1970]. Inside the Third Reich. New York and Toronto: Macmillan. ISBN 0-684-82949-5.  Check date values in: |date= (help) Translated from the German by Richard and Clara Winston.
  7. ^ Neufeld, Michael J. (1995). The rocket and the Reich : Peenemünde and the coming of the ballistic missile era. New York: Free Press. ISBN 1588344665. 
  8. ^ Boog, Horst; Krebs, Gerhard; Vogel, Detlef (2006). Germany and the Second World War : Volume VII: The Strategic Air War in Europe and the War in the West and East Asia, 1943-1944/5. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 319–320. ISBN 0198228899. 

External links[edit]