Sunday, 27 April 2014

Die Raketen Batterie von Braun- Part 1

And now for something completely different...

Born in 1785, Karl Werner Magnus Maximilian, Freiherr von Braun, was the youngest son in an old family of minor nobility living in the town of Posen in Prussia. 
Freiherr von Braun as a young man
Karl had always been rather serious boy, one born with a curious turn of mind.  He was noted for his keen interest in science; as a young lad he had spent many an hour in the sandy wetlands of the family estate.  Here, fascinated and inspired by the combustive properties of the local marsh gas, he would try to capture samples of the gas in various containers, and to set them alight.  

Eventually, upon having fashioned a primitive gun tube and successfully harnessing it to a bottle of marsh gas, he gleaned his earliest understanding of the principles of propulsion.  This earned him severe corporal punishment for having only narrowly missed taking out his sister's right eye.  However, he manfully suffered for his science, and the heavy hand of parental authority did not deter him from further investigation and experimentation.

He soon branched out into creating his own miniature explosives, specializing in observing the pyrotechnic interactions between various home-made firecrackers and local amphibious life.

His interest in chemistry developed over the years.  He was fortunate to have the support and assistance of an older cousin, owner of the local apothecary.  This man was touched by young Karl's interest in scientific matters, and provided much encouragement and sound advice as well as the necessary materials.  

Being thus supplied with a constant supply of volatile chemicals, the boy was able to carry out increasingly more ambitious projects, which only whetted his appetite for more learning.  Despite frequent scorched eyebrows- and the occasional caning for property damage- Karl took to his new-found passion with increasingly single-minded devotion, and under his cousin's tutelage conducted his experiments with an appreciation of rigorous scientific methodology well in advance of his tender years.

Soon after his thirteenth birthday, Karl's uncle had taken him along on a visit to the university at Heidelberg, where he chanced to attend a lecture on the mathematics of ballistics and parabolic theory.  

He sat entranced during the talk, taking copious notes on Newtonian mechanics, and there he determined upon developing an understanding of both mathematics and physics as well as of chemistry.  He became a voracious reader of the leading scientific papers of the time, and demonstrated considerable aptitude in all these areas.

Being of the impoverished Prussian nobility, it was expected as a matter of course that young Karl would in due time enter the service of his King. Unlike his two older brothers, who entered the Prussian service in the cavalry and infantry respectively, Karl was instead naturally inclined towards serving in the less prestigious artillery.  The year 1803 saw him receive his commission as a lieutenant in the Horse Artillery.  

The young von Braun proved a dedicated officer, diligent in his duties.  He took a great interest in his new profession, and voraciously read all the manuals on artillery- and particularly on ballistic science- available to him at the time.

In 1806, Prussia declared its ill-fated war against Napoleon, and von Braun had his first taste of combat with the army of Prince Hohenlohe.  In the disastrous Jena-Aeurstadt campaign, he took part in some minor skirmishes, but never witnessed a major engagement.  Most of the time his battery found itself exhausted by long retreat and frequent, if futile, changes of marching orders which never seemed to have achieved any result beyond exhausting both men and horses.  

In a fate that would be similarly suffered by much of the Prussian army, the battery was finally forced to undergo the humiliation of surrendering to the victorious French.  The anger and shame felt upon the capitulation of the fortress of Magdeburg, along with that of his battery, was to have a lasting effect upon a proud Prussian officer like the young Leutnant von Braun. 

Despite the evident promise of his career in the artillery, with the subsequent disbandment of most of the Prussian army- and having no connections with persons of influence at the court- the despondent young officer now found himself unemployed.

Returning to civilian life with neither land nor prospects, von Braun sought a career in academia.  He obtained a glowing letter of reference from his former battery commander- himself an alumnus of the University of Heidelberg.  With this letter, and the force of his own determination, he got himself noticed.  After a number of successful interviews where he impressed the faculty with his depth of knowledge, his intellectual discipline, and his passion for his field, he was offered a position as a Lecturer of Chemistry and Physics at the University of Magdeburg.

To be continued...



Johnny Rosbif said...

He sounds very much like a later rocket scientist with a very similar name:

"Once the rockets are up, who cares vhere zey come down?
That's not my department!" said Wernher von Braun


Robert said...

Well spotted, that man!

You probably know where this is going...

NW Crew said...

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Best regards, Mattias