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New Details Emerge on Post-WWII Activities of German Rocket Scientist


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#1 cleaningthenationsattic

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Posted 19 December 2008 - 05:32 PM

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Within the small community of those knowledgeable on WWII-era German scientists, the name Helmut Groettrup is probably familiar. Groettrup was a rocket scientist who had worked at the Peenemunde research facility prior to and during WWII. As the allies moved into Germany, a frantic effort ensued to snatch German weapons scientists. Numerous books have been written on Operation Paperclip—the code name given to U.S. efforts to capture German scientists and bring them to America.

I’ve been fascinated by this moment in history, but particularly so in the story of Groettrup. Groettrup was among the German scientists who worked for the Russians after the war. In October 1946 (roughly a year and a half after Germany’s surrender), Russian soldiers arrived at the Groettrup home in the middle of the night. Helmut, his wife Irmgard, and his two children were told they were being taken to Russia, where Helmut would continue his rocket research. The Groettrup family would be forced to spend seven years in Russia.

Irmgard Groettrup kept a journal documenting her years in Russia, when Helmut was secretly working for the Russians. The journal was later published (“Rocket Wife”) and just a few months ago I was able to obtain a copy of it. I highly recommend this book—you can order a copy by visiting: www.scientistsandfriends.com.

I will not bother summarizing Rocket Wife here. Rather, I wanted to post information that I was able to find on Groettrup during a recent visit to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. I must tell you that it is a thrilling experience to sit down in the archives and open a box of documents that haven’t been looked at in decades. Many of the documents I reviewed on Groettrup were marked CONFIDENTIAL and I had to have them declassified prior to leaving (the documents were declassified by the authority of NND007027 on 7 October 2008). As far as I have been able to tell, much of what follows on Groettrup has not ever been reported before.

The 66th CIC Group published a report on Helmut Groettrup on 2 June 1959. The report states that Helmut married one Irmgard Rohe (born 25 March 1920) on 18 December 1940. The report states that Helmut divorced Irmgard on 23 June 1950 (remarrying her later), although Irmgard makes no mention of it in her journal. Irmgard’s journal does highlight the strain placed on her marriage by Helmut’s obsession with rocket research. It also suggests that she had a very close relationship with a Russian intelligence official named Alexander Petrovitch. It is ultimately unclear however, if Irmgard and Helmut ever did separate. Interestingly, the 66th CIC Group report states that the divorce proceedings took place at Ostachkow, USSR—the location in the report is at least consistent with Irmgard’s journal.

The report claims that during WWII, the German Gestapo arrested Helmut, believing that he was a Soviet spy. He apparently escaped custody and remained hidden until the end of hostilities, at which point he identified himself to the Soviets. A second account suggests that shortly before the fall of Germany, Helmut was loaded on a “death train” where the German High Command planned to kill a number of rocket specialists to prevent their capture by the allies. This account suggests that Groettrup was able to escape, at which point he approached the Soviets who “welcomed him enthusiastically.”

The 66th CIC Group report states that in 1954, Groettrup fled to West Berlin, where he eventually was able to gain access to West Germany. Apparently, a fellow rocket expert named BAUM (not further identified) accompanied Groettrup on his escape to West Germany.

Another document, dated 8 August 1954, to the Assistant Chief of Staff, G2, Intelligence contains additional information. Apparently, Groettrup contacted one Dr. Alfred Lotze, instructing Lotze to deliver a message to the wife of Ernest Stuhlinger (a German scientist working in the U.S.). The message given to Lotze was that Groettrup was willing to provide information on Soviet rocket development. It is unclear if the U.S. ever followed up on this information, but clearly Groettrup was in an excellent position to provide details on the Soviet program.

Another report suggests that Groettrup planned to attend the Fifth International Astronautical Congress in Innsbruck, Austria from1-7 August 1954. Ernest Stuhlinger apparently attended this conference as well, although there is no documentation to suggest that they met each other at this conference. Of course, this also raises the possibility that U.S. rocket research efforts could have been disclosed by Stuhlinger to Groettrup and that this information could have eventually been relayed back to the Soviets. There is no way to know what happened at this conference, but it does raise some interesting questions…

The purpose of this post is to share information that was previously unavailable.
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#2 brndirt1

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Posted 19 December 2008 - 05:50 PM

Thanks for the post, most interesting. I shall look forward to more being provided. Thanks again!
Happy Trails,
Clint.

#3 Kai-Petri

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Posted 20 December 2008 - 09:55 AM

Thanx for the post, interesting info there.
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#4 Skipper

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Posted 20 December 2008 - 05:49 PM

Yes, it is interesting. Funny he divorced, only to remarry the same woman later again.

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#5 texson66

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Posted 20 December 2008 - 06:04 PM

Yes, it is interesting. Funny he divorced, only to remarry the same woman later again.

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#6 Za Rodinu

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Posted 20 December 2008 - 07:30 PM

Count me out! :D

Off topic enough. The initial post was very interesting!

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#7 brndirt1

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Posted 20 December 2008 - 10:35 PM

Yes, it is interesting. Funny he divorced, only to remarry the same woman later again.


Sounds strange for the divorce, and re-marry business, but then again I knew of a couple about my parents age (in their twenties in the forties) who divorced, re-married, and then divorced again.

The first divorce was for tax purposes somehow, to separate their incomes and possessions and save on tax levels (don't ask me). They never moved away from each other,remained speaking to each other and going out together for a couple of years. Then they re-married for about five years, then divorced the second time for good.

Must have figured that they both liked the separated freedom or something. They didn't have any kids, which made it less complex of course.
Happy Trails,
Clint.

#8 bigfun

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Posted 21 December 2008 - 04:56 PM

Yes, a very interesting post!
Scott :flag_USA_ww2: :flag_netherlands:

#9 cleaningthenationsattic

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 12:13 AM

Thank you all for the nice feedback. I'll be routinely posting additional information on this topic at my website (WWII German scientists are a hobby of mine). I'd be pleased if you would visit my website:

www.cleaningthenationsattic.com

Best,

Bill




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