Karl Otto Fleischer

 Von Braun Team Member

Born:Berlin, Germany
Died:January 1, 2005


•  Karl came to the United States on SS Argentina arriving on Nov. 16, 1945. He went to Fort Bliss and moved to Redstone Arsenal (Huntsville, AL) with von Braun's original team of 118 people. But he moved back to Germany at some point. - Woodard

•  "German engineer in WW2, member of the Rocket Team in the United States (after the war). German expert in guided missiles during World War II. Member of the German rocket team, arrived in America under Project Paperclip on 16 November 1945 aboard the Argentina from La Havre. Fluent in English prior to arrival in America. As of January 1947, working at Fort Bliss, Texas." - EA

•  "The race to discover an capture the secrets of the German missile began even before the hostilities in Europe ended." Allied teams "were equipped with cameras, radios, transport trucks, and qualified personnel whose job it was to ferret out interesting weapons technology and record it." Both Russia and the US were interested in acquiring the technical advantages associated with the people and Information for the missile program. Von Braun and many members of his team believed they would be better positioned it they too initiatives to connect the US, rather than Russian, interests. So they headed, in a caravan, to Bavaria. But Fleisher stayed behind."
     "Major Robert Staver from the Rocket Section of the Research and Development branch of the Ordinance Office was tasked in directing the effort to find and interrogate the German rocket specialists who had built the V-2. Since April 30 he had been in the Nordhausen area searching the smaller laboratories for V-2 technicians. On May 12, Staver located his first V-2 engineer, Karl Otto Fleisher, who began to put him in touch with other Mittelwerk engineers who had not been part of von Braun's caravan to Bavaria. On May 14, Staver found Walther Riedel, head of the Peenemünde rocket motor and structural design section, who urged the Americans to import perhaps 40 of the top V-2 engineers to America. After their surrender to U.S. forces in Bavaria, Wernher von Braun's V-2 specialists were moved to a prisoner enclosure in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where a variety of Allied interrogators questioned them. At this point the Americans had the missiles, they had the top scientists, but they were still missing the all-important Peenemünde documentation. Fourteen tons of Peenemünde documents had been hidden by Peenemünde engineer Dieter Huzel in an abandoned iron mine in the isolated village of Dornten in early April.
     Von Braun had ordered the documents hidden to prevent their destruction by SS General Kammler, and to also use them as a bargaining chip in negotiating their fate with the Allies. As it happened, Karl Otto Fleisher was the only person remaining in the Nordhausen area who was aware of the general location of the V-2 documents hidden by von Braun's group. Staver tricked him into revealing the location of the papers on May 20. In less than a week, the Dornten area was scheduled to fall into the hands of the British. A frantic scramble then ensued to transport the documents back to Nordhausen, where they were quickly shipped to Paris, and then to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland." - Backfire

•  The follow excerpt from Cadbury describes how Staver and Fleischer collected materials for the scientists headed to the USA:

     "Meanwhile, throughout May, Robert Staver and William Bromley were making progress in the race to seize anything of value from the rocket factor.- before the Soviets. Not satisfied just with securing the actual V-2S, Staver became convinced that documentation and blueprints must exist that would show how to construct the rockets. During his interviews with those who had been left in the area after Kammler had headed the five hundred senior staff south, he came across a former Peenemiinde engineer near Nordhausen, Karl Otto Fleischer, who aroused his suspicions. Staver thought he detected a hint of anxiety in Fleischers behaviour when he asked about blueprints. Fleischer had indeed been given an approximate idea of where the papers were hidden by Dieter Huzel and was put on the spot. He was prepared to introduce Staver to some of the leading scientists who were still living quietly in the area but would do no more. The whereabouts of any blueprints remained a mystery.
     As he gathered more information, Staver decided that the time had come to approach Fleischer again. Calling Fleischer's bluff, he told him that von Braun, Domberger - even Kammler - were interned at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and had confirmed that the blueprints were buried in a local mine and that Fleischer alone knew how to locate them. Staver watched carefully. Would his lie work? Again he detected nervousness in Fleischer, who played for time. Fleischer was a worried man. Overnight, he considered his dilemma. If he gave away crucially important information to Staver, against von Braun's wishes, he would be in deep trouble. And if he did not cooperate with Staver, apparently at von Braun's request, he was still in deep trouble. He alone would be the man who had betrayed his country and given valuable information to the enemy.
     Next morning there was a message for Staver. Would he meet Fleischer in a village called Haynrode? The directions led Staver through dark alleyways to a priest's house. Inside, Fleischer stood, dishevelled and unshaven, looking like a man under sentence of death. He admitted that he did know something. It was clear he was fearful of the implications of what he was doing and that he had been up most of night struggling with his conscience, helped by the priest.
     Slowly, he gave up the information he had. Staver listened, showing no sign of the excitement he was feeling. The papers were hidden in a mine - an old, disused mine near the village of Doren about thirty miles away. If Staver would supply petrol, he would try to locate the documents. They would find the mine more quickly, Fleischer claimed, if he was not accompanied by an American. Once Fleischer had set off, suitably equipped with the permissions, petrol and passes allowing him to be out after curfew, Staver looked at a map of the area only to discover that there was no such village called Doren. He wondered if he would ever see Fleischer again. He was called away for two days on a military inspection. During that time, Fleischer's mission was constantly on his mind.
      Fleischer, however, was now committed. Enquiring at even,' village, calling at every abandoned mine - often half-buried, with their entrances overgrown with foliage so as to refute all evidence of previous activity - Fleischer hunted for the documents. He could not find them, and, worse, like Staver, he discovered there was no village called Doren. There was one called Dornten, however, and he felt sure the mine would be there. The caretaker lived nearby, but could not help. He was an old man and obstinately insisted that there was nothing of value in the mine, certainly no important papers. Fleischer persisted. The old man looked blank. Fleischer threatened him, saving that he was acting for important generals: Dornberger and Kammler. Was one old man to defy the orders of those running Germany's rocket programme?
     Miraculously, the old man's memory returned as he started to describe how in early April lorries had trundled through the darkness delivering boxes. They had been stowed in the mine, then dynamite had been used to block the entrance to the gallery. Fleischer could see that removing the papers would not be easy. An enormous pile of stone and rubble 30 feet deep sealed off access to the gallery.
     Staver was delighted when he heard the news. The top German scientists were in the American zone. A hundred V-2S were seemingly in American hands and now he had discovered arguably the most wanted documents in Germany. However, his satisfaction at finding the papers was diminished considerably when he learned that a decision at highest levels had changed the boundaries of control between American and British zones. In less than a week, the mine with its hidden treasure would be under British administration. Suddenly, there was no time to lose. Because there was no way of communicating to Ordnance Headquarters Technical Division in the Champs-Elysees for the appropriate authorization, a short trip to Paris was unavoidable. Meanwhile, he instructed staff from the US Technical Intelligence Team to work with Fleischer at clearing the mine.
     Staver was back the next day having organized the men and lo-ton trucks he would need to remove the large containers. Unaccountably, progress had been slow in his absence; the gallery was still blocked and the British were due to take over administration of the region on 27 May. It then transpired that a small detachment of British officers had arrived at the mine while he was away and had organized an inspection. They had claimed to be looking for weapons that the retreating Germans might have hidden and began a meticulous search. Stayer's team had decided that the best way of dealing with the problem was to pose as geologists and precious time had been wasted while they pretended to look for iron ore samples, which were convincingly graded and packed by a team of miners until the British departed.
     With just three days left in which to clear the pile of rubble blocking the gallery, crate the documents and transport them to Nordhausen, Staver now devoted his energy to hurrying the project along. On the afternoon of 26 May, the 15 tons of documents were finally packed and awaiting transport, but there was no sign of the lo-ton lorries. Enquiries revealed that they were not even in the area. Working well into the night, Staver finally acquired six two-and-a-half ton trucks and early in the morning, with the British arrival just hours away, guided them to the mine. The boxes loaded, the convoy made the return journey back over the Harz Mountains into the new American zone just as the British moved in to claim their new area, which, unknown to them, was now a much less valuable one.
     By the end of May, Staver felt he had made real progress. Arrangements were made for the blueprints to be sent to the USA, to the evaluation centre in Maryland, and Bromley had crated up enough parts to assemble a hundred V-2 rockets, which were on their way to Antwerp for shipping to White Sands, New Mexico. Staver's prime concern now was to ensure that the team of top German rocket scientists would also reach American soil." - Cadbury

Related Links:

•  Backfire - V2Rocket.com "Operation Backfire"

•  Cadbury - Space Race: The Battle to Rule the Heavens (text only edition) by Deborah Cadbury, page 55-59. Nice telling of the story of Staver and Fleischer collecting the things needed for the scientists headed to the USA.

•  EA - Encyclopedia Astronautica

•  Piszkiewicz - The Nazi Rocketeers: Dreams of Space and Crimes of War by Dennis Piszkiewicz, pages 218 & 219.

•  Wikipedia - Photo of the Project Paperclip Team at Fort Bliss

•  Woodard - Names of the "Original 118 Team" at Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama. List found here at Lunarpedia.org. Page under "Pioneers, Schemers and Dreamers" submitted by Grady Woodard. List shows names after Ft. Bliss with their reference work location and building number, from Redstone-Army Missile Command Roster - June 1966, MSFC 1960-1967 Charts, Organization Roster - June 1967

"Group of 104 German rocket scientists in 1946, including Wernher von Braun,[1] Ludwig Roth and Arthur Rudolph, at Fort Bliss, Texas. The group had been subdivided into two sections: a smaller one at White Sands Proving Grounds for test launches and the larger at Fort Bliss for research.[2] Many had worked to develop the V-2 Rocket at Peenemünde Germany and came to the U.S. after World War II, subsequently working on various rockets including the Explorer 1 Space rocket and the Saturn (rocket) at NASA." Image and caption from Wikipedia.

"This is the key to identifying the Von Braun Team and his fellow German Rocket Experts before moving from Fort Bliss, Texas, to Huntsville, Alabama." Key from history.msfc.nasa.gov.