What Are We Waiting For?
Stalin had calculated that his forces would reach Peenemünde before the Americans, but when they arrived the cupboard was bare. “There was hardly a German sufficiently competent to talk about the V-2 and other big stuff,” Grigory Tokady, a Russian rocket scientist sent to investigate immediately after the German defeat, later revealed. “Many, almost all, claim[ed] to be V-2 experts … [but they] displayed the typical characteristics of a second-rater.” Stalin could hardly contain his fury. “This is absolutely intolerable,” he spat. “We defeated Nazi armies; we occupied Berlin and Peenemünde, but the Americans got the rocket engineers. What could be more revolting and more inexcusable? How and why was this allowed to happen?”1
The Russians knew a bit about rockets. In the 1930s, Sergei Korolev had been at the forefront of Soviet experimentation. His Group for the Investigation of Reactive Motion was essentially a Russian version of the VfR, testing liquid-fuel devices. At the same time, Ivan Kleimenov and his deputy, Georgiy Langemak, made significant advances at the Scientific Research Institute Number 3, a government-sponsored effort. Progress was, however, threatened when Kleimenov and Langemak fell victim to a Stalinist purge in 1937 and were executed on trumped-up charges of spying for the Germans. In the following year, the secret police came for Korolev, who was thrown in the Kolyma gulag in eastern Siberia on charges of sabotage. “Our country doesn't need your fireworks,” his interrogator told him.2
War brought a more pragmatic attitude, with the result that in 1942 Korolev was allowed to conduct rocket research from within prison. Within two years his team had developed the RD-1, a liquid fuel rocket engine eventually incorporated into fighter and bomber production. Delighted with this success, Stalin pardoned Korolev and his team or, more precisely, announced that they had been “rehabilitated.”