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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Peenemünde Raid

17/18 August 1943

Theatre: Western Europe
Location: Peenemünde, eastern Germany
Players: Britain: Air Marshal Arthur Harris's RAF Bomber Command.
Outcome: The destruction of much of Germany's V-weapon facilities.

An A-4 rocket rises from the launching pad at Peenemünde
An A-4 rocket rises from the launching pad at Peenemünde©
Since 1937, scientists led by Wernher von Braun had been developing a German rocket programme. By 1943 a combination of human intelligence, decrypted German communication intercepts and aerial photography had identified von Braun's base as Peenemünde on Germany's Baltic coast.

Three 'vengeance weapons' were under development: the V1, a flying bomb which would fall and detonate when its fuel ran out; the V2, a true rocket which could reach targets hundreds of miles away; and an abortive supergun, which was to be dug into the cliffs of northern France and bombard England.

Arthur Harris was reluctant to be diverted from attacking German morale - sceptical of claims that any particular sector was the key to the German war effort, he dismissed precision targets as 'panaceas'.

After receiving a direct order to destroy the Peenemünde facility, Harris launched an operation combining precision and area bombing: the entire area was to be bombed, with the experimental centre, the V2 production works and the accommodation areas singled out for special attention.

On 17 August, 560 aircraft dropped 1,800 tons of bombs on the area, effectively destroying the facility. At Peenemünde itself, 170 people were killed, and a further 500 lost their lives at its dedicated labour camp, which had been bombed in error.

Unknown to the Allies, in 1942 an initially sceptical Hitler had become a rocket enthusiast and demanded the immediate production of 5,000 V2s. Peenemünde was duly rebuilt, but the bombing had delayed the programme by an estimated three months. The first V1 fell on England on 13 June 1944, the first V2 on 8 September.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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