Updated 29 June 2021
Research and story by Clarence Simonsen
All rights reserved
The 1899, Operetta “Frau Luna” captured the attention of all Germany in regards to space travel to the Moon, while the original score march “Berliner Luft” became the unofficial anthem of the capital Berlin. Thirty years later, another form of the arts took over when the movie “Die Frau im Monde” premiered in the Universum Film AG Cinema in Berlin. This movie historically changed the imagination of countless German youth, including Wernher von Braun. More importantly, the movie helped raise funds to build and test a new German liquid fueled rocket which was launched 23 July 1930. From this date on, German liquid-fuel rocket research enjoyed fifteen amazing years of world superiority, the last five years devoted to the A/4 rocket at Peenemünde test facility. The above history has been well documented in book publications, film, and many internet websites. Lost and hidden in this vast collection of rocket history is a small but important art form which was painted and glued onto each A/4 test rocket before launch. This German tail art was created by Gerd de Beek and seen by a select few, and possibly only viewed for minutes before launch. This art was secret and has remained mostly unknown until this publication. This historical lost art research is based on interviews with the de Beek family members, and the copies of original 35 mm German film taken before rocket launch in 1942-44. No records other than the photo images are known to exist and all the persons involved are deceased. This research is based on the interpretation of the author, Clarence Simonsen.
Beginning with the launch of V2 on 13 June 1942, Gerd de Beek created 39 A/4 rocket tail art paintings and all were destroyed seconds after launch or upon the duration of the rocket flight and crash. A large number of 35 mm photos recorded technical data on each launch, including the black and white tail art image painted by de Beek. These photo images were contained in large photo albums which contained 5,178 images in 1,458 pages. These large photo albums were officially named HAP-11 BILD photo albums on 1 June 1943. On the night 17/18 August 1943, the RAF bombed Peenemünde and soon after de Beek was ordered to stop painting tail art.
Wernher von Braun’s first secretary lives today in Huntsville, Alabama, and she came to American with the German “Paperclip” scientists. Dorette Schlidt is 90 years of age and recalls the night of the attack. “As soon as the raid began von Braun was out shouting for everyone to get into the assigned shelters. When it was over there was complete darkness, only the sound of fires burning. I went into the engineering building, 2nd floor to locate all the important engineering documents, which I shoved out the 2nd floor window to von Braun”. This possibly included the test photo albums, with the tail art images, but she cannot recall. These documents were all placed in a safe location until the end of the war neared.
As the Allied Armies crossed the Rhine River, the last V-2’s were fired in anger against Antwerp and London on 27 March. In early April, von Braun and 500 scientists began their move to meet the American Forces for surrender. As a bargaining tool, von Braun ordered 14 tons of Peenemünde rocket research material to be trucked to a safe hidden location. [Only the central research records were selected and all other files and secondary material was burned]. These files contained the secret rocket launch records, along with the 5,178 photos in the HAP-11 Bild photo albums, including 35 photo images of the special tail art. Rocket engineer Dieter Huzel was placed in charge and on 3 May, a convoy of trucks began the move to an abandoned iron mine in the remote village of Dornten. Following the transfer, the roof of the mine entrance was dynamited. On 2 May 1945, two days after Hitler committed suicide, Wernher von Braun’s English speaking brother, Magnus, made contact with American Forces, and the German V-2 program came to an official end.
With the discovery of the V-2 rockets, the Americans needed to move with speed before the British and Soviet zones of occupation were officially turned over. By mid-May, the Americans had the top German rocket scientists, and they were in the process of removing 431 train loads of V-2 components, including 100 V-2 rockets from the soon to be Soviet zone of occupation. However, they were still missing the technical Peenemünde research documentation. On 20 May, an American officer tricked Karl Otto Fleisher into believing von Braun had authorized him to reveal the location of the 14 tons of documents. By the 27 May, the documents had been secretly trucked to Paris, [under the nose of the British] and then shipped to Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, USA. When the British Government learned of this theft, they protested the American act of smuggling the Peenemünde documents from under their eyes, in their zone, but this was at first ignored. This caused some American-British Allied conflict, until the Americans wisely agreed to loan some of the U.S. bound German scientists to the British V-2 operation titled “Backfire.”
The British located enough components to rebuild eight complete V-2 German rockets, and in five test firings, three rockets were launched into space. The death of the Peenemünde rocket research was suddenly reborn on the North German coast of Cuxhaven on 2 October 1945, and along with it came a German painted rocket tail art. Four cartoon style art paintings, approx. 28” high by 20”wide, were placed on the tail section of these V-2 rockets just before launch. These tail art paintings were recorded on film and photo images, however for the past 72 years have been over looked by historians, and like aircraft nose art, discarded in having any historical value. I feel this is a major error as the tail art images contain a living history of that period for each launch, 1 October 1945 to 15 October 1945.
The American authorities in Germany, July 1945, made von Braun chiefly responsible for selecting and persuading his fellow specialists for the new American V-2 rocket team. Before these rocket scientists and engineers were loaned to the British at Cuxhaven, they were extensively interviewed by both American and British Intelligence teams. In post-war interviews in the United States, the German scientists revealed that the American and British Intelligent team questions were so ill-informed, in regards to the V-2 rocket, it was laughable. I believe some of this German humor appears in the V-2 tail art, under the very nose of the British Officers? The British were still the enemy and for the most part hated by many of the German scientists. This anger could not be displayed openly, so they used the tail art images as a form of secret anti-British tail art. The rockets were launched and the tail art was forgotten.
At Peenemünde in July 1939, Wernher von Braun had first assembled a group of sixty top German scientists, and almost everyone had been were handpicked by their boss. Soon after, others followed through personal connections and word of mouth, which reached two hundred top scientists by 1943.
The working environment at Peenemünde was contrary to all rules of German Military, and at times an enlisted man would supervise officers. This system worked due to von Braun, who never allowed his scientists to have direct contact with Nazi Army officers at work or socially. He understood a strong scientific team required a strong sense of belonging, team pride and achievement as a group. In 1945, many of these same dependable Germans were again picked by von Braun and came to America to form another honest, trusting, rocket-building team.
The rebirth of this coherent Nazi German rocket team in Huntsville, Alabama, is very unique in space history. Lost in this transfer of Peenemünde rocket technology is a small fact, A/4 [V-2] German tail art also came to White Sands, New Mexico, U.S.A. and was launched into space on a captured rocket 10 May 1946. This tail art was very important to the German team and I believe was somehow connected to Frau Luna on her trip to the Moon in the 1929 movie “Die frau im Monde”.
I obtained the White Sands V-2 image “Frau im Monde” in my teens and for many years believed it was just a German form of nose [tail] art. In the next 50 years I interviewed over one thousand American, British, Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian WW II aircrew, including 83 nose artists. As my nose art experience grew, I could never answer one simple question – “why did the von Braun A/4 scientific rocket team in Peenemünde never use a badge, emblem, insignia, or motto?”
The answer [which came to me in 2010] was very simple – security regulations guarding the super-secret rocket research base governed all aspects of human behavior, even segregating all employees from the real war in Nazi Germany. Secrecy was the central fact of life on the rocket base and they became a secret rocket society. Between 1937 and August 1943, these Germans developed missile technology and achieved the Twentieth Century’s most impossible challenge, sending a rocket into space. Secrecy forbids the use of any motto, crest, insignia, or use of the rocket image. They found another way to express pride, and group achievement by painting a tail art on the A/4 rocket before launch.
In less than two minutes the rocket has crashed to earth or the Baltic Sea and the art is gone forever. However, in the human mind the memory of the art will last long after the event, and it posed no risk to security contained tail art.
Original A/4 launch film had been saved by von Braun in the 14 tons of research material that was taken to the United States in 1945. Some of these German test rocket launches contain small images of the German tail art but this has never been researched due to the simple fact it was not important. The original 14 tons of German rocket material was transported to Fort Eustis, Maryland, and copied on microfilm over the next few years. During this time, mid-1950’s, the Cold War is on full alert in West Germany and the test rocket base at Cuxhaven, Northern Germany has become an important test base for America and West Germany.
Both Wernher von Braun and artist Gerd de Beek knew some of the Peenemünde tail art images were directed against the Soviets, British, and yes, even the United States of America, their new homeland. This was not the image the U.S. Government wanted the world to see, and the German scientists wanted an image of ‘space flight’ and not a weapon of mass destruction to be used against the allies. In 1958, NASA was formed and von Braun and de Beek would soon be in charge of their respective American Space Departments. In that same year, the original HAP-11 BILD photo albums with all photos were returned to the Deutsches Museum in Munich. They remain there under new classification and are most difficult to find. One man who has conducted research at Munich, [wishes to remain nameless] however he reports the original HAP-11 photo albums have been totally separated, 5,178 images have been reclassified and in fact a number of original Peenemünde rocket tail art photos are just missing. The Germans in charge of these WWII Peenemünde archives are described as very difficult to work with and very arrogant to the Nazi era Peenemünde research material.
In July 2004, I was invited to give a two hour PowerPoint presentation on ‘Nose Art’ at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. I spent four days in a hotel next to the White House and was given VIP treatment by the Smithsonian Institution. In the last two days, I was driven to various museums in the Washington area and enjoyed a once in a life time tour of American Military and Space History. This included my very first look at an A/4 [V-2] rocket at the National Air and Space Museum. This missile is a space artifact which was constructed in the infamous tunnels at Mittelwerk/Mittelbau Dora, yet, I observed that major historical content was missing from the rocket exhibit. The rocket was painted in the correct colors of the Peenumunde test A/4 launches, however contained no information or tail art images. The expert on the workings at Peenemünde was the historian who interviewed all of the “Paperclip” German scientists a Dr. Michael J. Neufeld, NASM History Division, Smithsonian Institution. I obtained his email and twice in the following years attempted to make contact. No answer.
The answers to some of my questions would be answered in an August 2011 online article by Dr. David H. De Vorkin and Dr. Michael J. Neufeld, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C. Title – SPACE ARTIFACT OR NAZI WEAPON? Displaying Smithsonian’s V-2 Missile, 1976-2001. Endeavor Vol. 35, No. 4.
The most important reading for me jumped out of page 190, –
“indeed little came of this appeal from NASA. NASM did follow up Stine’s suggestion to repaint the V-2 in test colors and not in its operational camouflage. Durant and Flint queried their contacts among the former Germans. Gerd W. de Beek and Konrad Dannenberg, among the American members of von Braun’s scientist’s, who then worked in Huntsville, provided insignia used on Peenemünde test vehicles.”
When the NASM display opened to the public on 1 July 1976, no tail art was ever painted on the V-2 rocket which was now painted in the new paint scheme for the famous Peenemünde A4 launch on 3 October 1942. This black and white test rocket paint scheme erased the fact this rocket was constructed in the hellish tunnels of Mittelwerk underground V-2 assembly plant, and was in fact originally painted in operational camouflage colors. Even Mr. Neufeld and DeVorkin admit in their 2011 article this was and remains somewhat of an American Smithsonian cover-up.
In 2013, I was doing serious A/4 tail art research at my winter home in Northern Mexico. I made email contact with Mr. Ed Stewart, Director of Exhibits & Curation, U.S. Space & Rocket Center, 1 Tranquility Base, Huntsville, Alabama. In learning he worked closely with Dr. Michael J. Neufeld in Washington, D.C., I ask it he would make contact and answer some questions in regards to the German tail art. Contact was made with Dr. Neufeld, however my request for an interview was denied, with one answer. Answered – “He [Dr. Neufeld] had no knowledge of any German rocket art at Peenemünde and had no images.” I then knew there was some form of ‘cover-up’ in regards to this Peenemünde Nazi German tail art. Many copies made from the original German images in the HAP-11 photo albums are today contained in National Archives at Maryland, the USSRC archives in Huntsville, Alabama, and even in NASA archives.
This first test rocket art form has been hidden, forgotten, and over-looked for the past 74 years, [3 October 1942 to 3 October 2016]. My aim is very simple, to publish what I have learned and give forgotten history to the lost tail art. I also wish to give credit to the unknown German A/4 [V-2] artist – Gerd Wilhelm de Beek. It is time the American public and German public saw his art and learned some truth.
Gerd Wilhelm de Beek