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Special Mission V-2

Col. Holger Toftoy and the Operation That Brought German Rocket Technology to America

 

 

In the spring of 1945, Nazi Germany was in its death throes. While advancing combat troops sought destruction of Germany’s ability to wage and prolong the war, within the ranks of the Allied armies were a plethora of specialized teams tasked with sifting through the chaotic detritus of destroyed factories, facilities, and cities, defeated troops and displaced people, and restrain, avert, and retrieve from destruction (and each other) the advanced technology elements of German industry and science as well as the men who had designed and unleashed some of the world’s most awesome weapons. Whoever won this high technology scavenger hunt through Germany would have a major lead in the opening round of the next generation of advanced weaponry.

It was a race the United States military was determined to win. The U.S. Army Air Force had Operation Lusty, headed by Col. Harold E. Watson; the U.S. Navy had its Naval Technical Mission, led by Commodore Henry A. Schade. And the U.S. Army had Col. Holger Toftoy, chief of the Army Ordnance Technical Intelligence (AOTI) in Europe. He was the commander of a force tasked with finding and evaluating captured enemy ordnance, weapons, and equipment. Its initial intent was to put the advanced German military technology to use against the Japanese. But Toftoy saw a more important long-term use for the technology and experts he was ordered to obtain. As it turned out, he was the right man in the right place at the right time.

“By using German V-2 missiles … our designers will save years of research and millions of dollars. We profit by the 12 years of intensive German research and gain practical knowledge of what not to do as well as what to do in developing the weapons which are revolutionizing the art of war.” – Col. Holger N. Toftoy

Holger Nelson “Ludy” Toftoy was born in Marseilles, Illinois, in 1902. In 1926, he graduated from West Point. During the interwar years he served in the Coast Artillery Corps in Hawaii, as an instructor at West Point, and as Mine Battery Commander on the Pacific Ocean side of the Panama Canal (then under U.S. jurisdiction). In 1938, he was stationed at the Submarine Mine Depot, Fort Monroe, Virginia, where he served for six years as chief of the Industrial and the Research and Development divisions. In that capacity, he oversaw the development of the controlled submarine mine system used in World War II that allowed for the transit of friendly ships, but was triggered when a hostile vessel passed.

His extensive knowledge of underwater mines caused him to be transferred to Europe in June 1944 to clear French ports of German booby-traps, starting with Cherbourg. In October 1944, Toftoy was appointed AOTI chief and based in the five-star Plaza Athénée Hotel in Paris. There, in the fashionable 8th Arrondissement and with a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower, Toftoy was one of the American commanders participating in Project Overcast, the umbrella Anglo-American plan to “make full use of established German technical facilities and personnel before they were destroyed or disorganized.” AOTI was the European extension of the Army Ordnance Department’s missile program, begun in 1943, that coordinated work conducted by its own facilities, university think tanks, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (the predecessor to NASA), and corporations, the most important of which was General Electric (GE).

engineers-and-scientists

Hermann Oberth (front) with officials of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency at Huntsville, Alabama, in 1956. Clockwise around Oberth: 1) Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger (seated). 2) Maj. Gen. H.N. Toftoy, commanding officer and person responsible for “Special Mission V-2” and “Project Paperclip,” which took scientists and engineers out of Germany after World War II to design rockets for American military use. Many of the scientists later helped to design the Saturn V rocket that took the Apollo 11 astronauts to the moon. 3) Dr. Robert Lusser, a Project Paperclip engineer who returned to Germany in 1959. 4) Dr. Wernher von Braun, director, Development Operations Division. NASA/ Marshall Space Flight Center

Toftoy’s superior at the Pentagon was Col. Gervais Trichel. Trichel instructed Toftoy to acquire 100 operational V-2s, along with as many relevant technical documents, manuals, machine tools, and spare parts as possible and ship them to White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico for further study, an operation Toftoy called Special Mission V-2. (The roundup of German scientists, engineers, and other technicians and their families was separately conducted, initially through Overcast and later in Operation Paperclip.)

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DWIGHT JON ZIMMERMAN is a bestselling and award-winning author, radio host, and president of the...