Kummersdorf is the name of an estate near Luckenwalde, around 25 km south of Berlin, in the Brandenburg region of Germany. Until 1945 Kummersdorf hosted the weapon office of the German Army which ran a development centre for future weapons as well as an artillery range.
In 1929 the Army Weapons Office in Berlin wanted rockets for military purposes: in 1931 the test range at Kummersdorf took over the development of liquid fuel rockets type A1, A2 and A3 under the direction of Walter Dornberger. Wernher von Braun was at Kummersdorf from 1932 and developed a liquid fuel rocket in which the propellant was a high percentage of alcohol and liquid oxygen. He used this in his first experimental firing. In 1934 he fired successfully his second rocket, the A2, from the Frisian island of Borkum. On 16 July 1934, Dr Kurt Wahmke and 2 assistants were killed and another assistant injured during a fuel test of a premixed hydrogen peroxide/alcohol propellant when the fuel tank exploded.
During 1936 von Braun's rocketry team working at Kummersdorf investigated installing liquid-fuelled rockets in aircraft. Ernst Heinkel enthusiastically supported their efforts, supplying a He 72 and later two He 112s for the experiments. Late in 1936 Erich Warsitz was seconded by the RLM to Wernher von Braun and Ernst Heinkel, because he had been recognized as one of the most experienced test-pilots of the time, and because he also had an extraordinary fund of technical knowledge.
The facility was too limited for advanced motor and flight testing, so in 1937 the group (now also supported by the Luftwaffe) moved to Neuhardenberg (a large field about 70 kilometres east of Berlin, listed as a reserve airfield in the event of war). On 3 June 1937 the Heinkel He 112 was flown with its piston engine shut down during flight by test pilot Erich Warsitz, at which time it was propelled by von Braun’s rocket power alone. Despite the wheels-up landing and having the fuselage on fire due to an unpredicted area of low aerodynamic pressure drawing alcohol fumes back into the airframe which then ignited, it proved to official circles that an aircraft could be flown satisfactorily with a rearwards-thrust system through the rear.
Armored Fighting Vehicle History
Kummersdorf was also the location for the analyses, studies and testing of various German-captured Allied tanks and armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs). Many tanks from all combat-fronts, from North Africa to the Eastern Front, were tested there, with American tanks being multiple variant-models of the M4 Sherman tank, the M3 Lee, the M10 tank destroyer, amongst several others, and Soviet tanks consisting of the T-34 (the mainstay of Soviet armoured forces) and the T-28 medium tanks, the SU-series of self-propelled artillery/guns (such as the SU-85) and the IS-2 heavy tank, just to list a few. There were also British tanks there, including a Churchill tank fitted with a Y-shaped exhaust outlet (an early variant-model of the Churchill) for deep-wading and amphibious operations which was used at the Dieppe Raid, along with many Matilda I and Matilda II infantry tanks (with the former being largely seized following the evacuation of Allied troops at Dunkirk and the latter from both Dunkirk as well as in North Africa). There were also many French tanks there as well, such as the Char B1 heavy tank. Also, an Italian Carro Armato P40 heavy tank was present at Kummersdorf.
The Wehrmacht also tested new German tanks there, including the VK 4501 (P) (the losing Porsche-hulled competitor for the Tiger I production contract), the Hetzer tank destroyer, the Panzer V Panther medium tank, the Tiger II heavy tank, possibly the VK 4502 (P), and the 188-tonne Panzerkampfwagen Maus super-heavy tank.
Albert Speer refers to the tanks testing station at Kummersdorf during the 1942 offensive against the Soviet Union. The station showed that the treads or motor of a heavy tank need repairs every 400-500 miles. This was a limiting factor in the offensive as supply lines became stretched and spare parts carried by the tanks were consumed.
In late 1944, a unit was formed, and at a meeting in the Fuhrer's headquarters it was referred to as tank company "Kummersdorf". This unit consisted of three tank platoons (mostly still mobile), one recon platoon of armored vehicles, an infantry (Grenadier) platoon and one tank platoon, consisting of a Tiger II, a single Jagdtiger heavy tank destroyer, two American Shermans, the Carro Armato P 40 Heavy Tank and several Borgward IVs armed with machine guns. According to a Telex on April 4, 1945, at least part of a tank company should have been transferred to the district of Dresden. Non-mobile equipment, including a VK 4501 (P) took part in combat south-east of Kummersdorf, where they and workers, civilians and other people at the facility were thrown together to make a makeshift grenadier unit. By the battles end, the VK 4501 (P) had destroyed a single T-34 and the Grenadiers had destroyed several others, a nearby 88 mm (8.8 cm) flak gun destroyed another advancing T-34. The entire unit failed in their mission and dispersed into the nearby woods.
Another tank unit was formed at Kummersdorf and participated in combat on April 21, 1945. The fighting took place to the south in the direction of Baruth, with the objective of stopping the 1st Ukrainian Front, coming from the direction of Golßen. Joining up with Battle Group Käther with 43 vehicles, including one Panzer V Panther. During the fighting near the settlement of Baruth, the entire unit was destroyed by the Russian forces.
The fate of the tanks left at the facility is unknown, though some information suggests that several American made tanks were sent to Panzer Brigade 150, being used in Operation Greif. A T-35 Heavy Tank became a member of Combat Group Ritter, who fought in the area of Zossen, it was quickly knocked out in combat. It is also believed that a Renault Char D2 saw combat in the Zossen area. There is also a photo of knocked out British Cruiser tanks sitting next to a knocked out Panther, which was taken on the outskirts of Berlin, these were believed to be from Kummersdorf. On March 9, 1945 the commander of Army Group Vistula signed the order for all tanks still at Kummersdorf to be sent away in parts to the occupying defences around Szczecin. What became of these tanks is still unknown.
- Neufeld, Michael J., "The Rocket and the Reich: Peenemünde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile," Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1996, Library of Congress card number 94-30088, ISBN 0-674-77650-X, pages 58-59.
- Speer, Albert (1995). Inside the Third Reich. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 331. ISBN 9781842127353.
- Lutz Warsitz: THE FIRST JET PILOT - The Story of German Test Pilot Erich Warsitz, Pen and Sword Books Ltd., England, 2009, ISBN 978-1-84415-818-8, 
- Kummersdorf entry in "The Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, Astronomy, and Spaceflight"
- The official Erich Warsitz Website, inclusive rare videos and audio commentaries
- Pictures from Kummersdorf