A Selection of major German ICBMs and other missiles during the alternate Cold War.
A Brief History of German Cold War Missiles
Germany’s first successful ICBM, the A-12 was a continued development of the A-4 missile. Although the war ended before the A-4 was ready for deployment, much of the work on the shorter range missile paved the way for the larger A-12. A two stage chemical rocket the A-12 could deliver a three megaton nuclear warhead to America. The discovery of this fact coupled with Germany’s successful manned space flight struck fear into the American public.
Despite the shock of the A-12 there were weaknesses in the design. The missile was difficult to maintain and had to be fired from a launch site and tower. They could not be fired at a moment’s notice either. Each A-12 required at least six hours preparation for a launch. High altitude American reconnaissance flights in the early days of the Cold War discovered this. The Wehrmacht was quite concerned about the ability of American bombers, especially new super-sonic models to swoop in and destroy the missile sites with nuclear or even conventional weapons.
Even with these problems the A-12 enjoyed a decade service life. Many were then used as test platforms and modified A-12s served as the launch systems for the German space program.
The A-17 corrected some of the problems found with the A-12. Unlike the older missile, the A-17 could be fired from a concrete silo. These hardened places would protect the ICBMs from American surprise attacks and the elements. Prep time for launch was dramatically reduced. Thanks to storable propellants and years of hard work, the launch of an A-17 could be conducted in a minute.
Like the A-12 the 17 was two stages. The first model carried a single nine megaton nuclear warhead. Further development and refinements were made to the B model of the missile. This version could carry a single twenty-five megaton warhead. These heavy models were designed to destroy hardened American facilities such as NORAD or the Presidential bunker at Mount Weather. Refinements to the guidance system of these models gave the A-17B a circular error probable (CEP) of impact of less than a mile.
Following agreements between the German Reich and United States to reduce the number of strategic missiles between the powers, the A-17 underwent a third and final version. The C model held three, Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles (MIRV), each a nuclear warhead with either a 300 or 1.5 megaton warhead. These missiles remained the longest lasting A-17s eventually being replaced by the A-21.
The modern German ICBM, the A-21 was the first solid fuel ICBM in the world. The solid fuel provided far fewer problems to the German missile forces. Corrosion caused by some of the earlier chemical fuels was eliminated. Plus the solid fueled A-21 could be launched in less than sixty seconds. Guidance was also improved with the A-21, the first model having a CEP of 700 meters. The United States feared that the A-21 was the first ICBM the Germans had that could truly deliver a devastating first strike against its bomber and missile fields.
With a heavy ‘throw weight’, the A-21 could carry eight MIRV warheads. Such a successful missile, the decision was made by the Wehrmacht to continue production of the model with continued refinements. The A-21B entered service in the mid 1970s. These had improved electronics and guidance systems, reducing the CEP to between 500 and 300 meters. The last produced C model had the best guidance, provided by a new on board computer. It further shrank the CEP to 250 meters.
A-12C missiles were the last to be used by the German Reich’s armed forces. Following the collapse of Nazi Germany, the weapons were inherited by the new Federal Republic. SETI II signed by the FRG in 1991 agreed to reduce the number of A-12Cs to a mere 50 weapons. All of these remaining ICBMs retain their MIRV warheads and penetration aids, developed in response to the American ABM program.
Today the remaining A-12Cs are a critical part of European security.