Germans launch birthday party for Nazi rocket

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IN A WEEK when Britain was still recovering from its bludgeoning by the Bundesbank and facing threats of relegation from the first division of European states, it would have been nice of the Germans not to mention the war.

But, oblivious to the sensibilities of the battered British, Germany's aerospace industry has decided to remind them of their previous darkest hour by organising celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the launching of the V-2 rocket, the world's first ballistic missile.

The row that has followed is threatening to turn into a replay of the Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris controversy in May when German officials protested against the unveiling of a statue to the Dresden area-bomber.

Next week's celebrations are to be held at Peenemunde, the base from which Hitler launched his rocket attacks against South-east England. Critics say the celebration on 3 October is in poor taste because the supersonic V-2 killed thousands of British civilians, while 20,000 concentration camp inmates died making it.

The organisers deny that they are trying to glorify wartime Germany's rocket programme and say the intention is to commemorate scientific breakthroughs which led to advances in future areas of space technology.

Folkhard Oelwein, from the German Aerospace Trade Association (BDLI), said: 'It is not a celebration of the V-2 but of its predecessor, the A-4, the technology of which not only became the basis for the V-2 but also for US and Soviet space missiles, as well as the contemporary Ariane space project, and the event will be celebrating the first missile launch into space.'

The organisers say there is no reason to feel ashamed of the achievements of Werner von Braun and other wartime Peenemunde scientists. After the war, Von Braun worked for the US space rocket development programme. But Peter Profe, who runs the V-2 museum in Peenemunde, said: 'One shouldn't poke around in these old wounds.' An RAF representative has been invited to represent Britain, but it is not known if he will attend.