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SpaceVidcast Daily 10.6.10

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Benjamin Higginbotham: Who is "The Rocket Team"? You wrote the book "The Rocket Team. Fred Ordway: Yes, I co-authored it with a colleague of mine who is no longer with us. Ben: Yup, and who is on the rocket team? Tell us a little bit about the Germans and ... Fred: Well the rocket team, I'll tell you how it got started. The book got started in England at the Garrett club with a friend of mine who was a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force in World War II and senior editor at a company called Heinemann, a very prestigious British publisher. And he was asking me about my work with Wernher von Braun and the rocket team in Huntsville, Alabama. I started working with him in the middle 50s at the army ballistic missile agency. That was the agency that put up the first American satellite, Explorer 1. Most people think it was NASA, but oh no, we weren't part of NASA then. We didn't join NASA until 1960 and I stayed on all through the Marshall Center and on and on. And he asked me more about the team and he said "would you be interested in writing a book on the team?" And we thought about it, but not right at that moment. Well I said yeah, well I guess it's an idea. But he said I don't want you to focus just on the team in the United States, we want to focus on what the team did in Germany, it's origins, and what went through the development of the V2 and then for our readers in England, there's a whole series of events of where the English heard rumors of German wonder-weapons, unknown weapons, weaponry being tested, they set up a talented committee looking into weapons and the whole story, and I said if you want me to do the book I'd like to cover that also. And so the book expanded as all books do. So the book starts out covering the genesis of the German rocket team back in the 1920s really at first. It culminated in the development of the V-2 rocket by Wernher von Braun and his team at Peenemünde. Then we switch to what happened towards the end of the war. The Russians were coming in. The heat closing in on Peenemünde. The allies, the British, the Americans, and the French, were coming in from the West. And that team felt squeezed so the story has always been that Wernher von Braun got his top lieutenants together and said "what are we going to do?" And they said to themselves, "Well, we're terrified of the Russians and we don't want to surrender to the Russians and we don't really like the French. So we don't want to surrender to them." And the French forces were there, the 3 French forces. The British can't afford us, so that leaves the Americans. (Chuckles) So anyway they headed their way South. They rounded up trucks, trains, and barges using the rumor system in Germany to get material out of the Peenemünde and down to southern Germany. They knew that the most likely way to be captured would be in Bavaria because they knew the American army was coming up through Italy with the left defenses. But they hadn't breached the Westwall yet, the Siegfried Line, and the Russians were still quite a ways. So they settled anyway in southern Bavaria very close to the Austrian frontier. And they took their documentation that they were really worried about and they brought truckloads of documentation and hid it in an abandoned mine and dynamited the entrance. So it wouldn't cause any particular suspicion, just a caved in mine. But they remembered where it was. So one day they knew these Americans were in the area. They had radios and they could pickup signals and so-forth. So they sent von Braun's bro ... Well, there was a man named Dornberger that was the Chief General. The General in charge of the Peenemünde group and some of his staff members and von Braun and some of his key people were holed up in a ski lodge and they knew the Americans were coming, so they sent the only man who spoke some decent English was Magnus von Braun, von Braun's younger brother. That was a wealthy family, a noble family, and they all had their nurses and von Braun's nurse was French, so his second language was French. Magnus had an English-speaking nurse. So anyway, he was sent and he was sent on bicycle. And he came upon an advance squad of Americans because they were moving into that area. But he put his hands up immediately because the Americans were suspicious of anybody. There was sabotage going on, people killing themselves, and had bombs and all kinds of things. So anyway, they did make the contact and it happened that the soldier was a corporal who had been brought up in Germany. He was a second generation German. He spoke some German, so between the two of them he reluctantly believed that this man here was the brother of Wernher von Braun and intelligence knew about it. So, they took him back to the line and interrogated him and then they believed him, more or less believed him. And they sent him back and said, "OK, you can bring your small group, about 4 or 5 of you the next day and we'll give you a white flag to wave to get through our line." And they took that advance group down to a place called Reutte back in northern Austria, just south of the German border. And there they were interrogated by a lieutenant named Charles Stewart, who became a good friend of mine later. And he was with Army Intelligence and the army was looking, they had a big staff of people in Europe waiting just behind the lines because there were all kinds of rocket secrets, submarine secrets, airplane secrets, they had jet airplanes and so forth. So they were hungry for information and so then they had their initial meetings and slowly the team was brought together and put into a camp in Bavaria. And eventually key members of those teams were given a consulting contract. They were considered Prisoners of Peace. They weren't military people. And so they volunteered to come to the United States and they were sent to the United States and it's a long story, but I'll say they ended up in Fort Bliss, Texas. More at

Video Details

Duration: 7 minutes and 9 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: Benjamin Higginbotham
Director: Benjamin Higginbotham
Views: 71
Posted by: spacevidcaster on Jun 10, 2010

Frederick I. Ordway III sat down with us at the 2010 International Space Development Conference to talk about his book, "The Rocket Team". Fred was highly passionate about the past and after asking only 1 question he was able to tell the story of The Rocket Team.The entire interview is 20 minutes long and has been cut in to 3 parts. This is the first of the thee part series.

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