On April 11, 1945, American agents discovered the secret underground factory in Germany where thousands of V-2 missiles had been built. Because the region was in part of Germany that was to become Russian territory after the war, American forces removed what they could: hundreds of trainloads of V-2s and their parts, which were then shipped off to the United States along with Germany’s chief rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun, and more than one hundred of his engineers. The V-2s were used in rocket tests in the States; meanwhile, von Braun and his colleagues set about to design a new breed of missile. Over the next few decades, their efforts, building on the design of the V-2, produced the Redstone, Jupiter, Jupiter-C, Pershing, and Saturn rockets (which launched the Apollo spacecraft and Skylab into orbit).
The V-bomb factory, two miles northwest of Nordhausen, was two miles in length, with two large tunnels approximately fifty feet in width and height, connected laterally by forty-eight smaller tunnels. From 1943 until 1945, 60,000 prisoners had toiled here in production of V-1 and V-2 bombs. Of these, 20,000 had died from various causes including starvation, fatigue and execution. The SS was in charge of the factory and the camp, with German criminals as strawbosses. Workers were executed at the slightest suggestion of sabotage. No workers had ever been allowed to leave the camp and when they became too weak to work, they were abandoned to die and their bodies burned at the crematorium within the grounds. Reports indicated that approximately one hundred bodies were cremated per day, and there were about thirty corpses piled on the ground awaiting such treatment when the American 104th “Timberwolf” Army Infantry Division arrived. These bodies showed many signs of beating, starvation and torture. There were several camps in the area (Mittelbau Dora and Nordhausen Concentration Camps) that fed prisoners into the V2 production facility as required, as well as concentration camps for politcal prisoners.