Corporal M2: America's First Nuclear Guided Missiles (And It Can Still Kill Millions)

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U.S. Army [Public domain]

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Corporal M2: America's First Nuclear Guided Missiles (And It Can Still Kill Millions)

Six days after the Allies’ D-Day landings on the coast of Normandy in June 1944, Germany retaliated by launching its first Vergeltungswaffe, or Vengeance Weapon, at the city of London. The V-1 was actually a Fie-103 cruise missile designed by Robert Lusser of Fiesler Aircraft. Made from nonessential war materials and covered in sheet metal, the V-1 was powered by a revolutionary Argus As-14 pulse jet engine and carried a 1,870- pound warhead a distance of 150 miles. Although the Allies were never concerned that this buzz bomb could effectively turn the tide of war, they were disturbed that Germany could produce such an advanced weapon. They immediately considered countermeasures, with the American Army Air Force turning to a group of homegrown rocket enthusiasts for an answer.

The American rocketeers were led by Frank Malina, a graduate student at the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology (GALCIT), who in 1936 had convinced a group of friends to begin research into a high- altitude sounding rocket. Malina’s plans were based on the writings of Robert Goddard and funded by a private grant from Weld Arnold. He further appealed to Theodore von Karman, a distinguished Hungarian aerodynamicist on the staff at Caltech to support his research. With von Karman’s backing, the group was able to find room in a laboratory on the Pasadena campus, where they became known collectively as the “Rocket Research Project.”

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