The primary designer of the V-2 rocket engine.
Walter Thiel was born on March 3, 1910, in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland). After primary school, he attended Brender High School in Breslau. He then enrolled in the technical high school for Stoffwirtschaft (material industry) in Breslau, graduating in 1935. Thiel specialized in hyperbolic combinations of rocket propellants and in the design of combustion chambers. When he joined the German government’s rocket plant at Kummersdorf in 1936, the liquid propellant rocket motors of the time could produce only about 3,000 pounds of thrust and required the propellant tanks be pressurized to force the propellants into the rocket motor. Although Peenemünde became Germany’s principal rocket base in 1936, Thiel and his team remained at Kummersdorf until the summer of 1940, when the test stands at Peenemünde were finally completed. Working in Peenemünde with fellow engineer Klaus Riedel, Thiel soon designed, developed, tested, and perfected a rocket motor that produced 56,000 pounds of thrust, which was necessary if the A-4 rockets were to reach London, their intended target. He devised turbine-driven pumps that forced the propellants into the rocket motor at rates in excess of 50 gallons per second. Although a part of the Nazi war machine, Thiel dreamed of such peaceful possibilities such as a rocket capable of manned flight to the Moon. He drew plans for testing rockets larger than any yet dreamed of, with engines capable of up to one to three million pounds of thrust. On October 3, 1942, an A-4 rocket powered by Thiel’s engines flew over 50 miles above the Earth, becoming the first ballistic missile and the first man-made object to leave the atmosphere. In 1943, in response to Allied bombing of Germany, the A-4 was renamed the V-2 (Vengeance, or Reprisal Weapon-2) by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. Thiel continued to refine the A-4/V-2 rocket engine until August 17, 1943. That night Walter Thiel and his family were among the 735 people killed during a massive British air raid on Peenemünde (most of the casualties were among the Nazi’s slave laborers). Thiel Crater on the Moon is named after him.