Uncovering the V-2 rocket

Developed by Germany towards the end of the Second World War, the V-2 rocket was a world first; a long range rocket able to be guided towards a particular target. It’s potential as a weapon of war was significant.

The desire to try and prevent the development and impact of what became the V-2 rocket became an operational priority for the Allies.

Frank Ewart Smith

Born in 1897, Frank Ewart Smith studied Mechanical Sciences at Cambridge University after having served in the First World War where he gained what he referred to in his 1936 application to become a Member of the IMechE as, “considerable practical experience”.

Smith spent his civilian career working for Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). ICI were the major producer of chemicals and explosives of the time and Smith was involved in the research, design and creation of plant for fuel and explosives.

Smith and the Second World War

At the outbreak of the Second World War Smith was working as the Chief Engineer at the Bellingham complex of ICI. As Chief Engineer Smith was responsible for advising on all engineering matters across the company as well as for all design work, control of the Engineering Department workshops (totalling 1,700 employees) and executing all construction work.

Ministry of Supply

In 1942, Smith was released from ICI to work for the Ministry of Supply as their Chief Engineer and Superintendent of Armament Design.

Created in 1939, the Ministry of Supply existed to ensure that the armed forces were supplied with the necessary equipment to effectively participate in war. The Ministry also took over the responsibility for ongoing military research recognising the benefits of a close link between military requirements during the Second World War and the research capabilities of civilian engineers and academics.


In his role with the Ministry of Supply Smith was most notably able to provide valuable information about the German development of the V-2 rocket.

Drawing showing the British approximation of the V-2 rocket from the collection of Frank Ewart Smith.
Allied approximation of the V-2 Rocket highlighting its ability to be transported to different launch locations [IMechE Archive]

During 1943, Smith’s industry knowledge of explosives from his career at ICI combined with his ability to read between the lines of intelligence reports led him to conclude that Germany was working towards the development of a long-range rocket capable of firing at Britain from well within mainland Europe. This rocket was the V-2.

Smith’s connections to Churchill prompted dedicated intelligence work on the subject which led to the identification of the V-2’s vertical launch method and the identity of its designer, German engineer Wernher von Braun. This information enabled the allies to direct their efforts towards targeting V-2 launch sites with a view to reducing and preventing V-2 strikes.

A V-2 rocket in its launch position. The people standing nearby allow a reference for the rocket’s height [IMechE Archive FES/2/1/2]
Aerial reconnaissance imagery showing a potential V-2 site [IMechE Archive FES/2/1/2]