Papers of Rudi Berndt, WPAFB Engineer via Operation Paperclip, Now Open for Research

We are pleased to announce that MS-632: Rudi Berndt Papers is now open for research.

Rudi Julius Berndt (1921-2004) was a German engineer who came to the United States as part of Operation Paperclip (or Project Paperclip), a secret program of the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency to recruit leading German scientists, engineers, and technicians at the close of World War II (before the Russians did).

Berndt’s particular area of expertise was parachute development. From 1941 to 1946, he was a member of the parachute research and development team at the Graf Zeppelin Research Institute Stuttgart-Ruit, working alongside such leaders in the field as Helmut Heinrich and Theodor Knacke.

At age 25, Berndt was one of the youngest recruits for Operation Paperclip. He began his employment with the U.S. Army Air Services in the autumn of 1946, coming to Dayton to start his work at Wright Field in November. Berndt dedicated over 40 years of his life to civilian service at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, retiring in 1990.

The manuscript collection primarily documents Berndt’s work in parachute development, in both Germany and the United States, from the WWII era through the Cold War. Educational records, as well as a significant amount of material pertaining to Berndt’s arrival in the United States as part of Operation Paperclip, are also included. Of particular note are Berndt’s memoirs, which describe his early life in Germany through his retirement.

For more information about the collection, please view the complete MS-632 finding aidcontact Special Collections and Archives, or leave a comment on this post.

A selection of documents and photographs from the collection are included below. Click on an image to enlarge it.

Berndt's German identification card, 1941 (Box1, File 11)

Berndt’s German identification card, 1941 (Box1, File 11)

Berndt's Arbeitsbuch (Labor Book), listing places of employment (Box 1, File 8)

Berndt’s Arbeitsbuch (Labor Book), listing places of employment (Box 1, File 8)

Berndt's Wehrpass (Military Passport), open to the identification page (Box 1, File 8)

Berndt’s Wehrpass (Military Passport), open to the identification page (Box 1, File 8)

Landing brake parachute testing on Junker 88, circa 1941-1942 (Box 2, File 5, sheet D-18)

Landing brake parachute testing on Junker 88, circa 1941-1942 (Box 2, File 5, sheet D-18)

Parachute delivery system testing on a Monika bomb, 1943 (Box 2, File 8, sheet M-5)

Parachute delivery system testing on a Monika bomb, 1943 (Box 2, File 8, sheet M-5)

A group of Operation Paperclip recruits just before departure for the USA, 6 Sept 1946. (Box 4, File 1, photo S-86)

A group of Operation Paperclip recruits just before departure for the USA, 6 Sept 1946. (Box 4, File 1, photo S-86)

One of several memoranda to German and Austrian scientists at Wright Field, 1947 (Box 1, File 34)

One of several memoranda to German and Austrian scientists at Wright Field, 1947 (Box 1, File 34)

Berndt (right) and water tunnel used in parachute development, WPAFB, 1962 (Box 4, File 7)

Berndt (right) and water tunnel used in parachute development, WPAFB, 1962 (Box 4, File 7)

A note from Hans von Ohain to Berndt, congratulating him on retirement (Box 5, retirement album)

A note from Hans von Ohain to Berndt, congratulating him on retirement (Box 5, retirement album)

Just one of the more than 100 pages of the detailed autobiography Berndt completed in 2003 (Box 3, File 11)

Just one of the more than 100 pages of the detailed autobiography Berndt completed in 2003 (Box 3, File 11)

We hope you’ve enjoyed this window into the Rudi Berndt Papers, and please feel free to contact us with any questions!

 

This entry was posted in Aviation, Collections, Local History, SC&A and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Papers of Rudi Berndt, WPAFB Engineer via Operation Paperclip, Now Open for Research

  1. Ralph Speelman says:

    SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT WSU ARCHIVE DOCUMENT MS-632: RUDI BERNDT MEMOIR
    I worked with Mr. Rudi Berndt for over 30 years. We shared many conversations about planning and executing R&D projects. The discussions routinely included a sharing of family information including progress of our sons in their chosen careers
    After Rudi’s passing in 2004, his son George and I shared memorable tidbits about his father. During one such discussion (circa 2006-2007) George mentioned that Rudi had created an autobiography which included details about his experience in parachute design, development, and application and also details about his life experience before, during, and after his participation as a member of “Operation Paperclip” (OPC). George was curious if there was value in preserving the information other than for his own family heritage. I accepted George’s offer to share the portion related to Rudi’s post-OPC experience at Wright-Patterson (WP). The historical value was obvious and I obtained George’s permission to share it with others, who, like myself, had benefited from years of working within Rudi’s sphere of mentorship.
    Reviews by others also familiar with Rudi’s work at WP resulted in a similar assessment that the material was of historical value and should be preserved. These reviews also provided details which helped George identify some of the individuals in Rudi’s photographs.
    Subsequent discussions with George resulted in his sharing the complete memoir which included history and details about Rudi’s educational and early professional work experiences, his experiences during the period when the war was drawing to a close, his experiences in becoming a member of OPC, and his experiences with being an OPC member. It also helped appreciate his post-OPC experiences of continuing to be involved in the development of parachute design and application technology.
    Copies of the complete memoir were provided to WP members Andrew Kididis and Paul Woodruff for their professional assessment of the need for, and a process for, historical value preservation.
    Andrew had recently authored and published a book (The Art of Drag) on the WP role in development and application of parachute technology. In doing background research for the book Andrew had interviewed Rudi and Rudi had shared a personal copy of the memoir with Andrew. I had helped Andrew gather material for the book and was comfortable with his ability to judge historical significance of the memoir. Andrew was especially supportive of preserving the memoir for its contribution to parachute development and application history and felt it would be a valuable addition to the library of the Parachute Museum which was emerging as part of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. This museum is now recognized as the “Aviation Trail, Inc. Dave Gold Parachute Museum”. Andrew offered encouragement and an offer to help preserve the memoir.
    Paul is a member of the WP history preservation team. I met Paul at a Fairborn Historical Society meeting. At that time I had received comments from others endorsing preservation of the memoir. I shared an overview of the memoir with Paul and sought Paul’s advice on the archive process if we could obtain approval from the family to release the document. Paul provided encouragement and an offer to help preserve the document as an important piece of WP history. Paul was especially interested in preserving it for its potential contribution to a growing awareness of the need to create a historical picture of the OPC program.
    The portions which were of particular interest to Andrew pertained to how the OPC group, which included Rudi, became the nucleus of US parachute system R&D which would lead to applications including: manned space system recovery, satellite reentry recovery, gliding and steerable systems, aircraft landing deceleration systems, aerial delivery of supplies/equipment, weapons delivery stabilization systems, remotely piloted vehicle recovery systems, aircraft aircrew escape systems, and how these applications became practical through the ability to control the deployment, inflation, and retardation force development of parachutes which had been packed to a density of oak. The fingerprints of Rudi and his OPC teammates are clearly apparent in these applications.
    The portions which were of particular interest to Paul were the details (including copies of official documents) of how those in Rudi’s OPC group, as well as their families, struggled to be productive and survive as the war was drawing to its conclusion, and how they became aware of, were recruited for, lived with, and grew beyond their roles as members of OPC.
    It was with these thoughts in mind that I provided the following thoughts to Rudi’s son George and others who were weighing the decision of how best to protect, preserve, and make available, the memoir of a friend and fellow scientist/engineer, Mr. Rudi Berndt. (The reference to “additional pages” were the pages related to family history including pre-OPC experiences. Names in the first paragraph were OPC classmates of Rudi.)
    And now you know some of the background about how, and why, a treasured documentation of family history was entrusted to WP historians for archive preservation.
    Ralph Speelman 01-15-2019

    Hi George, 6-28-2018
    Thanks for the additional pages of your Dad’s memoirs.
    I really enjoyed reading about how Rudi was recruited to work with Dr. Heinrich and became an expert in parachute performance measurement instrumentation. Hs working relationships with Dr. Heinrich, Theo Knacke, Reinhold Gross, and Alfons Hegele were of special interest to me as I was on a first name working relationship with them. Alfons Hegele even loaned my wife and me a car top luggage rack for about 8 weeks when we and our two children traveled to a parachute test facility in the desert area of Southern California.
    I knew these individuals had all worked at the Research Institute in Stuttgart, but I never realized they had worked there at the same time, nor did I know their working relationships. My co-workers volunteered very little about the work these scientists did in Germany and I was reluctant to ask. Boy-0h-Boy do I wish I had known the details as I would have really appreciated the opportunity to discuss the circa 1940s’era instrumentation technologies they were creating and applying. I was always impressed with Rudi’s ingenuity when it came to his suggestions for parachute performance instrumentation in the 60s and 70s—now I know he spent a lifetime honing this skill. As I read and reread portions relating his working relationships with his peers, another picture emerged and that is his work ethic which I and so many others admired.
    I do remember discussions with Rudi about his later year visits to spend time with family members still living in East Germany. Two things I remember he always took to them were coffee and toothpaste.
    I appreciated reading about how well they were treated by the US armed forces in the time period when they were also being recruited by French and Russian representatives.
    I thought it interesting to read about how eligibility criteria kept decreasing to permit drafting citizens to fill roles needed to support Hitler’s failing war machine.
    Worked with Rudi for probably 30 years —and—I NEVER knew he was a piano player. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to learn more about co-workers that endured the journey with Rudi.
    Spent some time looking at maps for his town of “Stettin”. Kept thinking I needed a more up-to-date map. Couple tries at the book store and still no luck. Finally went to on-line and discovered that post-war boundaries had resulted in Stettin now being in Poland and the name was now “Szczecin”. Once I had this tidbit, many of the family history and co-worker travel details fell in place.
    In Summary. I believe these additional pages of Rudi’s memoirs (pg 13-101) are extremely valuable relative to documenting the history of “Operation Paperclip”. They provide a human interest perspective of how the scientists were educated, trained, and recruited; how they were able to maintain their focus on science without losing the importance of family life or commitments to their fellow scientists while enduring degraded living conditions during the war and especially as the war began drawing to an obvious close; and how they were professionally treated with respect as they were presented with recruitment options of working as a team of scientists in the US. Rudi mentioned about how a recruitment class ahead of his had included Werner von Braun, so this may add some timing perspective on “Paperclip” operations and also indicate an awareness of how they would receive similar professional treatment.
    Via my copy of this note to Paul Woodruff I am STRONGLY recommending: (1.) The original of Rudi’s memoirs (including these additional pages) should be electronically preserved. This recording should include the supplemental information that his son, George Berndt, has found concerning the scientist’s transportation to the US. The details and photographs are priceless. (2.) An oral history record should be created documenting George’s memories of Rudi, especially focusing on the war years and the journey from being highly qualified German Scientists to highly respected American Scientists. There may not be another chance to assemble such a complete and personalized record of Operation Paperclip.
    Ralph Speelman.

    • Lisa Rickey says:

      Dear Mr. Speelman, thank you so much for sharing your memories and for your suggestions regarding the collection. We are currently investigating digitization options for this collection. We do have the memoir in electronic format, and it is being preserved in that format, as well as a paper copy in the collection boxes (as another mode of access). -Lisa Rickey

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *