- V-2: A Combat History of the First Ballistic Missile
The V-2's operational history is indeed a neglected topic. For sound reasons rooted in the long-run technological influence of the missile and its chief engineer, Dr. Wernher von Braun, historians have focused on the V-2's development at Peenemünde and its murderous production by concentration-camp laborers. But anyone seeking an account of the V-2 campaign, especially from the German side, would look hard and find little. Dieter Hölsken's pioneering dissertation, Die V-Waffen (1984), does have one chapter on V-1 and V-2 operations and another on Allied defenses, and the book was republished in a revised, illustrated form as V-Missiles of the Third Reich (1994), but neither edition is easy to find. Dungan's short study is thus valuable above all as an account of Germany's ballistic-missile troops and their attacks, one that is also more detailed than anything Hölsken produced.
For the general reader, Dungan begins with chapters on the origins of the German rocket program and V-2 development. He is not a trained historian, but rather an enthusiastic buff, and in these chapters especially, the lack of primary research into documents and the absence of a critical perspective on his secondary sources shows in the large number of factual errors. Most are of little consequence, but many are avoidable and they undercut the value of the book.
As I have not researched primary sources for V-2 operations, I am less able to judge the factual accuracy of the book's heart, but it is notable that Dungan has done some archival work here and has interviewed former rocket troops, as well as Dutch and Belgian civilians. His account is very readable and full of interesting details. In addition to laying out the shifting launch sites and targets of the various mobile V-2 batteries, he shows the often devastating impact of launches on the Dutch population in The Hague and other urban areas the Germans used to attack London and Antwerp. Dungan's chapter on Antwerp is especially valuable, as the literature in English is almost entirely Anglocentric, although more guided missiles fell on the Belgian port than on the British capital. Here he makes points of value to historians of the northwest European campaign—V-2 attacks on London helped motivate the ill-fated Market Garden assault and V-weapons hampered Antwerp's dock operations, with consequent impact on logistics. He also has included a number of excellent maps and diagrams, but their value is diminished by a lack of any reference to them in the text or in the table of contents. Under the circumstances, they would be better off grouped in the back of the book.
In the concluding chapter, Dungan gives a defense of the V-2's value as an operational weapon that I find unconvincing—it is not simply its inaccuracy that is an issue, but also the enormous expense that it took to convey a modest amount of high explosives to Allied cities, however much the effect was magnified by the missile's supersonic impact. Space does not allow me to argue this point further here, but suffice it to say that the book's shortcomings [End Page 548] in accuracy, research, organization, and argumentation do not fundamentally undermine its value. It is still the best account of the V-2 campaign that has yet been published.
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.