Historical-Technical Museum Peenemünde
Art and Weapons. The military ritual of rocket decoration
Exhibition at the Historisch-Technisches Museum Peenemünde
10 June 2021 to 31 March 2022
From 10 June 2021, on the occasion of the reopening of the Historisch-Technisches Museum Peenemünde (HTM), the special exhibition “Art and Weapons. The Military Ritual of Rocket Ornamentation” will be presented.
In October 1942, the world’s first large rocket was successfully launched at the Peenemünde Army Experimental Station. A woman sitting in a crescent moon and the schematised rocket were painted on its fuselage. The picture was created by Gerd de Beek, the senior graphic designer at the army research station. In addition to this illustration, there is evidence of 34 others with which rockets were decorated during their test launches in Peenemünde, and at least five on rockets in the post-war period.
Why de Beek did this and what the senior engineers and military officers expected from it cannot be proven with sources. Statements can only be made by placing the works in the context of other images from military culture: “Tail art” was part of the tradition of decorating and individualising aircraft and other war equipment by painting them. Especially in the Anglo-Saxon countries, it was common since the First World War to paint “nose art” on control towers of submarines and even more so on tips of aircraft. Through erotic motifs or symbols of luck, the crews established a personal relationship with the technology on whose functioning their lives depended. There were also many motifs with which the crews wanted to express their power or mock the enemy.
On the one hand, the motifs and the aesthetics of the pictures reveal the imprinting of the engineers and officers in a male-dominated, militaristic and nationalistic culture, which National Socialism pushed to the extreme and through which the regime was highly attractive to many contemporaries. On the other hand, the Peenemünder wanted to express a certain distance from National Socialism and the destructive reality of the Second World War. In this way, the pictures symbolise the tense character of the experimental facilities.
The Canadian Clarence Simonsen researched the rocket decorations for years. He searched archives for the black-and-white photos that still exist and repainted all the surviving motifs, sometimes adding his own interpretations. His collection, which he donated to the HTM, is the core of this exhibition, alongside historical photos of Gerd de Beek’s originals. The motifs are historically contextualised as far as possible. With the exhibition of these pictures, a cultural-historical aspect of Peenemünde’s rocket history that has received much attention but has never been seriously researched is presented in a well-founded way for the first time.
On display are 51 photos with Gerd de Beek’s motifs and the corresponding paintings by Simonsen. In addition, further photos and objects present the work of de Beek and his graphic office and place the paintings in the history of the Second World War and today’s culture of remembrance.
Some fragments of Peenemünde rockets are also shown, to which the paintings can be clearly assigned. The exhibition of the paintings gives the visitor a new approach to Peenemünde’s history. Is it appropriate that a historical motif has virtually become the logo of a National Socialist armament centre to this day? What do lucky charms on weapons, naked women on great technology tell us?
The exhibition can be seen in Peenemünde until 31 March 2022. The museum’s regular opening hours and admission prices apply.
Historisch-Technisches Museum Peenemünde
Kunst und Waffen. Das militärische Ritual der Raketenverzierung
Ausstellung im Historisch-Technischen Museum Peenemünde
10. Juni 2021 bis 31. März 2022
Ab 10. Juni 2021 wird anlässlich der Wiedereröffnung des Historisch-Technischen Museum Peenemünde (HTM) die Sonderausstellung „Kunst und Waffen. Das militärische Ritual der Raketenverzierung“ präsentiert.
Im Oktober 1942 gelang in der Heeresversuchsanstalt Peenemünde der weltweit erste Start einer Großrakete. Auf ihren Rumpf war eine in der Mondsichel sitzende Frau und die schematisierte Rakete gemalt. Angefertigt hatte das Bild der leitende Grafikdesigner der Heeresversuchsanstalt Gerd de Beek. Neben dieser Illustration sind 34 weitere nachweisbar, mit denen Raketen bei ihren Teststarts in Peenemünde verziert waren, und mindestens fünf auf Raketen in der Nachkriegszeit.
Warum de Beek dies tat und was sich die leitenden Ingenieure und Militärs davon versprachen, lässt sich mit Quellen nicht belegen. Aussagen können nur getroffen werden, indem man die Werke in den Zusammenhang mit anderen Bildern aus der Militärkultur stellt: Die „Tail Art“ (Kunst auf dem Heck) stand in der Tradition, Flugzeuge und anderes Kriegsgerät durch Bemalungen zu schmücken und zu individualisieren. Besonders in den angelsächsischen Ländern war es seit dem Ersten Weltkrieg verbreitet, auf Kontrolltürme von U-Booten und noch stärker auf Spitzen von Flugzeugen „Nose Art“ zu malen. Über erotische Motive oder Glückssymbole stellten die Mannschaften eine persönliche Beziehung zur Technik her, von deren Funktionieren ihr Leben abhing. Außerdem gab es viele Motive, mit denen die Besatzungen ihre Macht ausdrücken oder den Kriegsgegner verhöhnen wollten.
Die Motive und die Ästhetik der Bilder verraten einerseits die Prägung der Ingenieure und Offiziere in einer männlich dominierten, militaristischen und nationalistischen Kultur, die der Nationalsozialismus ins Extreme trieb und durch die das Regime auf viele Zeitgenossen hoch attraktiv wirkte. Andererseits wollten die Peenemünder eine gewisse Distanz zum Nationalsozialismus und der zerstörerischen Realität des Zweiten Weltkriegs ausdrücken. Damit symbolisieren die Bilder den spannungsreichen Charakter der Versuchsanstalten.
Der Kanadier Clarence Simonsen hat jahrelang zu den Raketenverzierungen geforscht. Er suchte in Archiven nach den noch vorhandenen Schwarz-Weiß-Fotos und malte alle überlieferten Motive nach, wobei er sie teilweise mit eigenen Interpretationen versah. Seine Sammlung, die er dem HTM geschenkt hat, ist neben historischen Fotos von Gerd de Beeks Originalen der Kern dieser Ausstellung. Die Motive werden, soweit möglich, historisch kontextualisiert. Mit der Ausstellung dieser Bilder wird ein vielfach beachteter, aber noch nie ernsthaft erforschter kulturhistorischer Aspekt der Peenemünder Raketengeschichte erstmals fundiert vorgestellt.
Zu sehen sind 51 Fotos mit den Motiven Gerd de Beeks und die entsprechenden Gemälde Simonsens. Daneben stellen weitere Fotos und Objekte die Arbeit de Beeks und seines Graphischen Büros vor und ordnen die Malereien in die Geschichte des Zweiten Weltkriegs und die heutige Erinnerungskultur ein. Auch einige Bruchstücke Peenemünder Raketen werden gezeigt, denen die Gemälde eindeutig zuzuordnen sind. Die Ausstellung der Bilder ermöglicht dem Besucher einen neuen Zugang zur Peenemünder Geschichte. Ist es angemessen, dass ein historisches Motiv bis heute geradezu zum Logo eines nationalsozialistischen Rüstungszentrums geworden ist? Was sagen uns Glücksbringer auf Waffen, nackte Frauen auf großer Technik?
Die Ausstellung ist bis 31. März 2022 in Peenemünde zu sehen. Es gelten die regulären Öffnungszeiten und Eintrittspreise des Museums.
Original research done in 2016
Research and story by Clarence Simonsen
All rights reserved
I became interested in WW II aviation before I can recall, possibly in the first few years of my life. I entered this world at 3:15 am on a very cold [-20 C] Alberta spring morning 24 March 1944, which must have been a shock. Spring mornings in Alberta are still a shock. My new world was involved in a total war, which captured the headlines every single day. My birth place and upbringing became a small farm house located six miles east of the village of Acme, or 50 miles N.E. of the city of Calgary, Alberta. The house had no electricity, no in-door plumbing and my only entertainment was a large radio which was operated by a car battery. The evening began with the 6 pm news, followed by programs – Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, plus adventures of – Hopalong Cassidy and Rin Tin Tin.
Saturday became a special day as we were off to Acme, my father drank beer with farmer friends, and mom and I shopped, which included a small treat of candy. My father always purchased the Saturday edition of the “Toronto Star” newspaper, which included a center section with color comics and photo illustrated stories on Canadian and world events. These two forms of entertainment played a major role in my future life and introduced me to the world of WW II aviation and art.
In 1947, in a newspaper, I saw a pattern for making a child’s uniform based on the airmen of the WW II RCAF, and I wanted it. In those days my mother made most of our clothing on the Singer sewing machine, and my request was soon fulfilled. On a train trip to Vancouver, B.C., I proudly wore my new RCAF uniform. On the return trip to Calgary I met a new friend by the name of Patsy Gibson.
I had no idea pretty girls, aviation, and the Royal Canadian Air Force would soon become part of my future adult life.
As soon as I learned to read, American aviation comic books became my obsession, and from these I was first introduced to a nude lady painted on the side of a B-17 Flying Fortress. Born with a self-talent for drawing, I was soon doing sketches of aircraft with ladies on the nose, which presented me with many unanswered questions. This sparked the very beginning of my fifty years of research and painting of aviation nose art. In 1952, at age eight, I purchased a comic book titled “The American Air Forces” and this introduced me to the world of the German V-2 rocket and American space era.
It is amazing how true this 1952 comic drawing became the present day era. As a pre-teen in late-1956, I was drawn into the American-Russian Cold War and fight for the conquest of space. I began to purchase book material and learn as much as I could about rockets and who was who in the back and forth space wars. I began to slowly understand that WW II Peenemünde German rocket technology was at work against each other.
This marked my first introduction to the history of the German Army Rocket program, Wernher von Braun, Peenemünde, and the A4 [V-2] rocket. I can recall my early mixed feelings of excitement and shock to learn that the technical achievements in rocketry at Fort Bliss, Texas, was not American but in fact that of the German rocket scientists who surrendered to the American Army in 1945. Having grown up reading American comic books, this young Canadian believed the United States had won WW II and were also the rocket experts in the world. Boy was I wrong, on both accounts. This proved to be a very important learning curve for my upcoming research into aviation WW II nose art. One of the space publications I purchased featured a photo of a captured V-2 rocket at White Sands, New Mexico, launched on 10 May 1946. The rocket tail contained art of a fully nude lady astride a V-2 rocket.
The questions surrounding this A/4 [V-2] tail art would not become clear until 2010, when I learned it was painted by a German/American named Gerd de Beek.
In 1957, we received electric power on the farm, and our first 10 inch black and white television set. From this date on my life changed, and I would live and breathe the American Space program. I was thrilled to watch a televised space rocket launch, and believe the first I witnessed came on 31 January 1958, America’s first orbiting satellite. On 29 June 1962, I joined the Canadian Army [Canadian Provost Corps] Military Police, and recruit training began at Camp Borden, Ontario, 7 July. By the middle of October we were reaching the end of our five month basic army training, when the “Missile Crisis in Cuba” began. Suddenly, we were all confined to quarters and told World War Three was about to begin. On 22 October we gathered in a Mess hall to watch President John F. Kennedy address the American public. Five days later a Russian surface-to-air missile shot down a U.S. [U-2] spy plane, over the eastern part of Cuba. I remember explaining to our platoon members how the Americans received the best of the German V-2 rocket scientists, but it seemed the Russian Germans were not only leading in the space race, they seemed to also have the edge in surface-to-air missiles. Tensions cooled on 28 October and I began my new military career in December 1963.
On 21 December 1963, serious violence [with death] erupted on the island of Cyprus, between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots. In early 1964, the United Nations was asked to intervene and prevent total civil war. The first U.N. troops arrived in March 1964, with a rotation period of three months, which was later expanded to six months in 1965. In late October 1965, I arrived on the island of Cyprus as a corporal in the U.N. Military Police, stationed at Nicosia. The Military Police section came under control of the British Contingent, with headquarters and living quarters situated at UNFICYP – sector 2 at Wolseley Barracks. The camp had been in the Turkish sector of Nicosia and had been abandoned for at least a year. After a huge cleanup, which including painting all the walls, I began to decorate our living quarters with my very first large wall art. The art included the Canadian flag, Calgary Stampede, NHL hockey, CFL football, and pin-up girls. My art produced a surprising response from all ranks in our unit and for our 1965 Christmas the C.O. requested I do a head table mural style painting. I painted a Santa Claus wearing a Military Police helmet, surrounded by the country emblems of the six contingents, and a Merry Christmas 1965.
This simple painting spurred the beginnings of my research into WW II aviation ‘nose art’, which would last for the next 45 years. This also included WWII German Nazi era Peenemunde tail rocket art research and the history of the forgotten artist Gerd de Beek.
Copyright Clarence Simonsen 2016