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Race to the Moon: America's Duel with the Soviets

Race to the Moon: America's Duel with the Soviets

by William B. Breuer

Race to the Moon is a suspenseful thriller about the 30-year clash between the United States and the Soviet Union to be the first to put a man on the moon. This true account is heavy with intrigue, espionage, and controversy. Beginning with a 1961 pledge by President John F. Kennedy to plant the Stars and Stripes on the lunar surface by the end of the decade


Race to the Moon is a suspenseful thriller about the 30-year clash between the United States and the Soviet Union to be the first to put a man on the moon. This true account is heavy with intrigue, espionage, and controversy. Beginning with a 1961 pledge by President John F. Kennedy to plant the Stars and Stripes on the lunar surface by the end of the decade, the story flashes back to the first days of World War II. At that time, England was tipped off by a high Nazi official that the Third Reich was developing revolutionary long-range rockets.

This same source clandestinely provided documents that shocked British scientists: The Germans were 25 years ahead of England and the United States in rocket development! And then, in September 1944, 60-foot-long V-2 rockets, for which there was no defense, began raining down on London, causing enormous destruction and loss of life. Even while the fighting was still raging in Germany in the spring of 1945, a handful of young U.S. Army officers scored a colossal coup: They connived to steal 100 of the huge V-2s that had been found in an underground factory. They were dismantled and slipped by train out of Germany, destination White Sands, New Mexico. Then began a no-holds-barred search for German rocket scientists in the chaos of a defeated Third Reich, with the Americans and British on one side and the Russians on the other. Within weeks of the close of the war, Wernher von Braun and 126 of his rocket team members were corraled, shipped to the United States, and began working secretly on missile development. At the same time, the Soviets literally kidnapped other German rocket scientists and sent them to Russia to continue their space work. In the years ahead, Wernher von Braun and his German rocket team, nearly all of whom became naturalized citizens of the United States, collaborated with American scientists to overcome enormous space achievements by the Soviets—and bungling by Washington politicians—to send Neil Armstrong scampering about on the moon in 1969.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
On May 25, 1961, President John Kennedy declared, ``I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon.'' Thus began our intense contest with the Russians to ``conquer'' space. Focusing largely on the U.S., Breuer traces NASA's early failures and the ultimate success of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, culminating in the historic moment when astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969. This informative account flashes back to the American recruitment of German rocketeers, most notably Wernher von Braun, during the final months of WW II and the simultaneous abduction of German missile experts such as von Braun's rival, Helmut Grotrupp, by the Russians. As to the practical applications of space exploration, Breuer ( Hitler's Undercover War ) dilates convincingly on the ``extremely broad range of benefits enhancing the lives of virtually every American.'' Photos. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Breuer, a writer of military books, here tells the story of Werner von Braun and his team of German rocket scientists who developed the infamous V-2 rocket that bombarded London and Antwerp during World War II. His military perspective serves him well in the chapters tracing the V-2's development history, the Allies' undercover espionage and overt military efforts to neutralize the weapon, and the fateful decision by von Braun's team to seek out and surrender to the Allies to avoid capture by the Soviets in the waning days of the war. The title is somewhat misleading, as three-quarters of the book deals with the events leading up to the 1960s Apollo program in which von Braun's team developed the Saturn V moon rocket. Unfortunately, the final chapters are riddled with numerous inaccuracies, including misnamed astronauts, incorrect launch dates, and other technical errors. The definitive history of von Braun and his group remains Frederick Ordway and Mitchell Sharpe's The Rocket Team ( LJ 8/79). Not recommended.-- Thomas J. Frieling, Bainbridge Coll., Ga.
Breuer writes a dramatic narrative about the people, politics, and events connected with missile development and the space race, beginning with John F. Kennedy's pledge in 1961 to land on the moon by the end of that decade. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Roland Green
The latest of Breuer's well-written books is more like his espionage histories--"Hoodwinking Hitler" , for instance--than like his more numerous battle and campaign narratives. It tells the story of the U.S.-Soviet space competition through the first moon landing, emphasizing the early years, when the focus of the competition was upon acquiring the lion's share of equipment and personnel from Nazi Germany's rocket program. Using abundant primary and secondary sources, many recently declassified, Breuer unfolds an engrossing narrative that will make space advocates weep with frustration when they see how much faster and farther we could have gone in laying the foundations of a permanent American space effort.
Kirkus Reviews
Another smasher by Breuer, who specializes in thrilling reports of WW II spycraft and warfare (Geronimo!, Sea Wolf, Hitler's Undercover War—all 1989, etc.). World War II? What does that have to do with the moon? Quite a lot, especially in Breuer's version: Fully half of his text is a dramatic account of German rocketry in 1939-45, when Nazi scientists, led by the young and brilliant Wernher von Braun, developed the V-1 buzz bombs and V-2 rockets that rained terror in the skies of England. Plots and counterplots abound as the Nazis set up their missile shop in Peenemnde and the Allies try to knock it down (at one point launching 4000 airmen and nearly the entire British air force in a massive raid), while von Braun, who dreams of extraterrestrial travel, complains that his rockets are landing "on the wrong planet." Himmler arrests von Braun; Speer frees him; Hitler goofs by aiming V-2s at London instead of port cities; as the Third Reich collapses, von Braun and 150 engineers surrender to bewildered GIs, explaining that they want to help America land on the moon. Meanwhile, Stalin's troops pull off "the most far-reaching and bizarre mass kidnapping in 20th century Europe," sealing entire cities and combing them for rocket experts (20,000 fall into the net) to ship to Mother Russia. The space race is on. Breuer runs professionally through the postwar decades, from early White Sands testing to Armstrong's boots in the lunar dust, but this part of the story has been told before (although Breuer confirms that von Braun was ready to launch a satellite months before Sputnik put egg on our face, but was blocked by military squabbling). Crackerjack war adventures—and, in thiscase, the moon's the limit. (Twenty-nine photographs—not seen)

Product Details

ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.63(d)

Meet the Author

WILLIAM B. BREUER landed with the first assault waves in Normandy on D-Day, then fought across Europe. Later, he founded a daily newspaper in Rolla, Missouri, and after that, a highly successful public relations firm in St. Louis. He has been writing books full time since 1982, twelve of which are now in paperback, and eight of which have become main selections of the Military Book Club.

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