You can contact me at rogercdavies(atsquiggle)  If you have a comment and the system won't let you post it, ping me using the @ for (atsquiggle)

This blog has evolved into a review of historical and modern explosive devices, and responses to them. Links are drawn between historical activity and similar activity in the world today. Mostly I focus on what are now called IEDs but I have a loose personal definition of that and wilingly stray into discussions of more traditional munitions, the science and technology behind them, tactical employment and EOD responses. Sometimes it's just about interesting people in one form or another. Comment is welcome and encouraged but I do monitor it and reserve the right to delete inappropriate stuff. Guest posts are always welcome. Avoid any stuff that makes the enemy's job easier for them.

A note on moral perspectives. Throughout this blog there are descriptions of all sorts of people using IEDs, explosives, or suffering the consequences. Some of the people using IEDs are thought of as heroes by some and terrorists by others. One person's good guy fighting for a cause is another person's evil demon.  It's complicated, and history adds another series of filters too. All of us too live in a narrative made up around however we were brought up, what we were taught and what we learned along the way, rightly or wrongly. So if you sense moral ambivalence, one way or the other, well, I'm guilty and I'm not perfect.  By and large though, I have unapologetic sympathy for those dealing with the devices, whether they be soldiers, cops, or whatever, even those who are part of Nazi or other nasty regimes. That's the cool thing about EOD techs - we don't really care who the enemy is.

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Rockets - a reassessment, a mystery and a discovery.

In my recent posts about the Irish rebellion in 1803, I suggested that the crucial development seen at the end of the 1700s and early 1800s was the introduction of a metal rocket casing to increase the internal pressure and hence range of the rockets.   This assessment is stated as a fact in a number of sources, discussing the development of Congreve's rockets and their metal bodies. I also assumed that the reports suggesting that it was Emmet's rockets that were a new development and inspired Congreve were right.   There are many historical textbooks which suggest that the designs that emerged in the first few years of the 1800's were significant developments from the Indian rockets of Tipu Sultan the Indian leader of the Mysore wars. Well, it seems the textbooks, and I were wrong, but in finding this out I encountered something remarkable.  Bear with me as I tell the tale.

Firstly, read my last post about how Emmet in Dublin 1803 manufactured his newly invented rockets. Note that the rockets were described as being two and a half inches in diameter, how the maker, Johnstone “consulted a scientific work respecting the way such materials should be prepared” and that “An iron needle was placed in the centre of the tube around which the mortar was tempered, and when the needle was drawn out, the hole was filled with powder”. Also it describes Johnstone using the written instructions which gave the number of blows used to tap the rocket propellant into place with a mallet.

I then went searching for more historical documents relating to rocket development, and found a copy of this document, dated 1696, a hundred and seven years prior to the Dublin rebellion. This is a book written by Robert Anderson, a researcher in ordnance and artillery working for the Earl of Romney, then “Master General of his majesties Ordnance”. All of a sudden things got interesting very quickly.

On page A4 of the document, here, it says halfway down, “I have given easie, plain and ready Rules for making of Rockets to two Inches and half diameter."

I sat up. Two and a half inches? Could that be a coincidence? I dived deeper.

The book first describes how to make the rocket motor moulds.  Then on page B2 it describes “the bottom of the Rocket-Mould with the Needle to be put in and taken out:”


Then on page B3 it describes filling the rocket composition with charges and tapping the charges into place “and to every Charge  10, 12 or 14 blows with a Mallet”

So, it is very clear to me that Emmet and his rebels were not making newly developed rockets, learned from the experience of the East India Company’s battles against Tipu Sultan – they were making rockets to the specific design of a two and a half inch rocket design of Englishman Robert Anderson, written over a hundred years earlier in 1696, and using the same document I have in front of me now.  Remarkable.  I'm not aware of anyone realising that link before now.

I then went a couple of pages further on and found this diagram. The adjoining text clearly states that the rocket body (AFEB) is made from a piece of gun barrel, and is metal, not pasteboard. Thus the English (and Anderson specifically) had already designed metal rocket bodies over a hundred years before Emmet and subsequently Congreve used the same concept. Many references (incluidng Encyclopaedia Britannica and Wikipaedia) have this wrong ascribing such development to Tipu Sultan a hundred years later.

So, I think this changes our view of history. Emmets’s rockets were not his own development – they were explicitly built from instructions from an English developer over a hundred years old by 1803. Also, Congreve’s rockets were not new in using metal bodies to increase the internal pressure of the rocket motor – that too was achieved by the same developer, Anderson in 1696.

I find it fascinating that rebels today are making their own versions of these munitions, in hidden rooms in Syria, 300 years since Anderson, and 200 years since Emmet copied his designs, constructed them in hidden rooms in Dublin and first used them in a rebellion. Of course today's rockets have changes in design and in the rocket composition - but in effect, frankly, they are pretty darned similar.

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Reader Comments (2)


Nice paper as usual, May I have the reference or archival location of the Anderson text.



January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie Payne


My apologies, a simple net search gives more information once the critical piece of information is brought to the "simple" reader's attention (grovel) . than I have time to pursue, but please keep up the good work, It does rather go to show that any would be terrorist who makes a "pig's ear" of his/her device is even more of an incompetent than one would be led to believe by the government agencies !!

Leslie Payne

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie Payne

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