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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.


Entries in Improvised Rockets (8)


The First Metal Cased Rockets

Over the past few months I have been in conversation with a new Indian friend, Mr Nidhin Olikara.   He has done some tremendous work with archaeological colleagues on some ancient rockets recently discovered from the time of Tipu Sultan, in the late 1700s in India.  These metal cased rockets predate any European metal cased rockets, and were, I believe a source of technology for Congreve’s rockets, developed at Woolwich in England in the early 19th century.  Congreve gave little or no credit to the Indian technology which he exploited, and no credit at all to the Dublin rebels' rockets, which I believe were also inspired by the Indian rocket technology.
This is a complex story of industrial history, archaeology, munitions exploitation, technical intelligence, metallurgy and ordnance design.   For context, I have written before about European rocket development here: 
 and Robert Emmet's rockets in Dublin in 1803 here:
Mr Olikara and his colleagues came across many rockets which appear to have been disposed of down a well. They have been able to recover these and examine them scientifically and the results are fascinating. They have written a paper recently published in the Journal of Arms and Armour Society, Volume 22, No 6, dated September 2018. It is not yet available on-line.  
Rockets were developed in India by the forces of Haider Ali and then his son Tipu Sultan in the late 1700s. They were used extensively against their enemies, including the British. Amongst Tipu Sultan’s allies, were the French, which may be relevant for later parts of this story. It appears that the British recovered some of these metal cased rockets to Woolwich Arsenal. 
Some of the 160 rockets that Mr Olikara recovered have now been analysed and the results are fascinating. A quick summary:
  • a. The rockets are largely of a similar dimension to the (later) first of Congreve's rockets, varying in diameter between about 35mm and 65mm
  • b. They appear to be made of what we would call today “mild steel”. ie relatively low carbon content. This would make the metal relatively malleable.
  • c. The assessment is that the cylinder components of the rocket were hot or cold forged on a cylindrical die or anvil, with two end caps (one with a vent) forged onto the ends. To be clear, the base material is a rectangle of sheet mild steel, hammered on a cylindrical anvil into a tube shape and two flat circles then attached to the ends, by hammering. One of these ends has a central vent acting as a venturi choke.
  • d. Remarkably the contents of the rocket were still largely present and chemical analysis gives results consitstent with gunpowder/blackpowder.  In some rockets there is still a clear suggestion of a formed central combustion chamber formed in the propellant.
  • e. Perhaps most interesting of all, from a munition design perspective is that the rockets appear to have been lined with a refractory element such as clay, providing a layer between the explosive/propellant fill and the steel wall of the rocket. Most intriguing. I can find no reference of a similar fabrication in later Western rockets
What is still unclear is the filling process in relation to the fixing of the end caps. What came first?  Fixing the end caps first makes sense from a safety perspective but makes the filling process tricky. I expect it will depend on the nature of the filling and how easy it was to load it in the cylinder. I suspect that the front end cap was fixed first, and the rear closing cap fitted “snugly" then removed, the rocket then lined with clay, dried, and the powder fill put into place. The combustion chamber would then be bored, the rear cap affixed in some manner (carefully) so as to not ignite the charge, and a fuse made of some sort of cloth inserted in the nozzle/venturi. 
What is also is unclear is how the longitudinal seam of the rockets metal cylinder body was formed. I suspect it was “folded” in a “finger lock seam”. To do this, (and speaking as a very amateur blacksmith), the two sides of the rectangle to be joined would be first turned and folded back a few mm on the edge of an anvil into a lip. When the sheet is then formed into a cylinder these folded turns would interlock.  I will experiment in my own forge in coming days and try to post pictures. 
I think the implications of these findings might be as follows:
  1. The Armies of Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan had an industrial level production firstly of mild steel in sheet form.  I doubt this was “ rolled” steel but was probably very skilfully hammered. what is most significant,  I think, is that the steel was being produced for a “ disposable”, one-time-use system. That indicates that sheet mild steel which heretofore was perhaps an expensive luxury for body armour of the rich and wealthy was available in such quantities in its sheet condition to be economic to make into one-time-use discardable munitions. I think that’s quite significant.          
  2. This was proper industrial scale production of steel components, albeit the rocket diameters seem to vary.  The skills in hot and cold forging mild steel are not dissimilar to the making of protective armour.   The history of technology of India in a broader sense has often been ignored or discounted by the West. India’s metallurgical developments of such things as pure wrought iron, mild steel, carbon steel and Wootz steel is fascinating and the technological processes associated with manufacture of items from these materials seems to have been often ignored in history.  This book published originally in the middle of the 19th century gives some insights into the broad range of military metallurgy in India over a number of centuries.
  3. The technology is well in advance of European rocketry which did not use metal cases (apart from the Emmet rebellion in Dublin in 1803), until 1805. Congreve, a man of his time, was disinclined to give credit to India, Emmet the Irish Rebel or indeed others (a Scotsman also claimed to have sent him the idea of metal cased rockets.)  Congreve was driven of course by the opportunity to make a considerable fortune and reputation. Also, perhaps the role of technical intelligence from one's enemies was, as it still is, always understated.
This development, like all good historical stroies, prompts further questions:
  1. How did the French alliance with Tipu Sultan allow them to obtain metal cased rocket technology and pass such technology down to manufacturing instructions to Emmet in 1802/1803?
  2. Why did the French (at the time renowned for their scientific expertise in military matters) not develop rockets themselves until after Congreve had? French interest approved by Napoleon seems to have started in about 1809. 
  3. What was the level of input into Congreve’s development from Irish rebel Pat Finnerty, Emmet’s rocket maker who ended up working for Congreve at Woolwich in 1804?
  4. What earlier (non-metal cased) rocket experiments at Woolwich by the British artillery general, General Desaguliers was Congreve able to draw on. He would have been aware of these experiments I’m sure, which had occurred some years earlier but were deemed a failure. But much would perhaps have been learned about propellant. 
  5. Was there any technology transfer in the other direction?  Mr Olikara and his team found what I am certain is a rocket boring tool in their investigation, used to bore a combustion chamber in the packed rocket body - it is remarkably similar to tools used in European rocket making in the 1600s…also,   steel rolling mills were developed in Europe in the latter part of the 1700s… is it possible that this technology transferred to India, enabling the production of quantities of sheet steel for the rocket bodies? Or did Tipu Sultan simply reply on a large number of people involved in the manufacture, hammering out sheet steel with such skill?
Mr Olikara has also, interestingly and separately from the paper, found records of what I take to be a British military EOD operation in 1871. The operation involved the disposal (by an Ordnance officer) of cannon from the time of Tipu Sultan (70 years earlier) and mentions finding rockets that were still filled with propellant  from this time. One of the cannon exploded (still loaded from 70 years earlier) while it was being prepared for destruction, killing one man.  So in 1871, Ordnance EOD operations were dealing with dangerous munitions from earlier wars… Plus ca change!
The development of military rockets by Congreve and subsequently by quite a number of European and American nations continued throughout the 19th century, slowing when artillery systems improved, but there was certainly some sort of rocket arms race as Congreve, then Hale developed British rockets systems and the Europeans raced to get ahead.  Even today it is possible to see in very real terms the evolution from Mysorean rockets to Congreve, to Hale and all the way through to say a modern Russian 107mm rocket system - and such systems are being adapted for improvised systems in Syria  and Iraq today with much effect. Military metal-cased rockets are a staple of modern warfare, but now the nature of its origins in India is somewhat clearer. Those wishing more detail should obtain Mr Olikhara’s paper (I may be able to help), and also a book “The First Golden Age of Rocketry by F H Winter is a useful reference.

The history of metal-cased military rockets - an investigation

A couple of years ago a wrote a few posts about the emergence of metal cased military rockets as a weapon system in the early 1800s. In retrospect I made some hurried assessments, and after a while digging I’d like to revisit. The links to my older posts are below but I’ll repeat some of the story here for coherence. This is a story of terrorism, weapons technical intelligence, politics, subterfuge, tall tales and obfuscation, leading to financial success for one individual (William Congreve) that perhaps wasn't entirely deserved.  The traditional, commonly accepted wisdom was that Congreve “invented” rockets in about 1804, introducing “new” metal-bodied rockets, and also introducing larger calibre and longer range variants. He was supposedly "inspired” by the use rockets by Tipu Sultan in the Mysorean wars in India in the late 1700s.  I think that is a misrepresentation (mostly by Congreve himself), of a much more interesting story which I’ll try to make here.  I’ll also try to give credit for what I think Congreve deserved . I have been encouraged by a new colleague, a keen historian from India, Nidhin Olikara from Karnataka in India. Nidhin is involved in some exciting research in this area which I cannot reveal yet. Mr Olikara’s blog is here:  


I’ll lay the story out chronologically as best I can:
  1. After being “invented" in China, rockets appeared first in Europe in the late 1300s and early 1400s. Rocketry was discussed in the book “Bellefortis” written in about 1405. However I think there is a red herring - the picture below, from Bellefortis, is quoted often as an image of a rocket. But I think it is not - to me it is simply a spear head, and the “rocket vent” is simply the socket for a spear. Some people quote the size of the man holding the rocket/spear but the other images within Bellefortis are massively inconsistent in scale too.  I do accept however that Bellefortis does apparently discuss rockets elsewhere in text.

Rocket or spearhead with socket? I think the latter.

2. Throughout the 1500s and 1600s rockets were well known in Europe, mainly as a component of massively complex fireworks displays which became very popular in the late 1500s onwards. Leonardo da Vinci discussed rockets and a number of books about “pyrotechnics" were published. Some of the books clearly made the jump from rockets as a form of pyrotechnic entertainment, to rockets as a military weapon.  In the 1500s rockets were clearly being developed by Conrad Haas (1529 -1569) in Austria/Hungary. Haas’s technology was surprisingly advanced, and included bell shaped nozzles and multi-stage systems.

Note the venturis on the rockets and the engineer creating a combustion chamber with a spike  

3. Haas probably influenced a German, Johann Schmidlap who developed further the staged rockets in about 1561.

Double and triple stage rocket motors4.  In the late 1500s and early 1600s there were a number of experts publishing instructions on rocketry, these include the aforementioned Haas and Schmidlap, and others referred to by later authors as “Brechteltus”, Diagus Ulfanus, Adrian Roman, James Valhouse, Furtenbach and Frontsbergue. Many of thse authors/experts developed their own formulae for the best dimensions of rockets in terms of diameter and length. Many also describe a very specific number of taps with a mallet of a specific weight for driving a needle into the packed rocket for the purposes of optimisng the rocket motor ignition surface/chamber. This may seem an obscure instruction but is important.  As far as I can tell these rockets were not metal cased but made from paper or card.   In these early years of rocketry I understand that the propellant was standard blackpowder (gunpowder). As firearms developed over this period improvements were made to gunpowder to speed up its reaction.  This made it rather too powerful for rockets with the pressure from the product gases being very high and the cardboard and paste cylinders could not contain the pressure so the tube ruptured.  So rocket gunpowder was made by adding additional carbon (charcoal) which reduced its burn rate.  This issue is fundamental to the development of rockets over the period - having a slow enough burn rate to not rupture the body of the rocket, but enough to project the rocket forward. Much trial and error went in to the development of effective geometry and hence design and production of the rocket motors.  I have found some vague references to the military use of rockets against cavalry in 1600 but so far I have no detail.



5.  A book was written by Jean Appier in about 1620, called La Pyrotechnie de Hanzelet Lorrain.  Here’s an image of a simple rocket design from that book. Note the “warhead” with a fuse that is initiated as the rocket motor finally competes burning. Still there is no sign as yet of metal cased rockets. Note the combustion surface in the rear, created by tapping a mallet into the packed propellant.

Note warhead initiation when motor finishes burn

6.  In 1635, and English book called Pyrotechnica by Robert Babington detailed rocket manufacture. These were not metal cased. Here’s a diagram of the mould used to create the rocket motor. Note the “needle” used to create the correct combustion geometry within the rocket’s gunpowder. Many of the documents and books discussed here recount how the needle is inserted into the packed gunpowder and gently knocked into place with a number of blows from a hammer. Basically the mould former on the left is lined with paper and card, filled with damp gunpowder, then the needle inserted and tapped into place and then dried. The needle is removed and the vent/nozzle formed (“choked”) with a twist of card held in place with string. This rocket is two and a half inches in diameter (which is a dimension that will be repeated in the future. Babington’s book is remarkably detailed. Babbington describes that the best paper to use for the body (“coffin”) of the rocket should be “old law books”!  He then describes a range of explosive compositions and how to make them. The thrust of Babington’s book is entertaining firework displays - but it is fascinating how some of his more exotic pieces presage the use of sub-munitions. He also describes a range of test apparatus to allow the testing of gunpowder.


Rocket mold, cross section and needle for making combustion chamber.


7.  Another book  “The Great Art of Artillery" by Kazimierz Siemienowicz published in 1650 also described a number of rocket systems.  Again I can see no detail referencing metal cased rockets but there is considerable discussion about the variants of propellant mixes needed for various sizes of rockets.   This document provides extremely detailed manufacturing instructions.  (I am using an English translation published in 1729.)  it is interesting to note that Siemienowicz comments about the habit of “pyrobolists” (those making rockets) to keep the methods of manufacturing very secret - but who let the secret out while drunk…  Siemienowics describes rocket cases made from paper, pasteboard in some cases reinfoces with wound thread and in some cases made from wood, with conical noses.  The paper ones are described in some cases as being reinforced with iron wire, “for fear the powder would split it".  He does describe however a range of quite large rockets.  Here’s a diagram of some of a range of Siemienowicz’s rockets.  Note the Multiple rocket using 7 smaller rockets (unlike Elon Musk’s 9). Note also the range of payloads and multi staging. Siemienowcz is extremely detailed on various aspects of quality control.

Siemienowicz's advanced designs

Siemienowicz appears to be an admirable chemist, physicist and engineer. He spends pages decrying his predecessors who were closer to alchemists, who described their rocket making art in mystical forms hiding the secrets of their craft through pseudo-science. Siemienowicz developed some rules for rocket making and explains the science behind these rules:
    First Rule: The larger the rocket the weaker and slower should the rocket propellant be (and vice versa, the smaller the rocket the faster birning propellant is required. This, he explains relates to the available surface area of the combusting propelllant’s hollow cone.
The second and third rules relate to the compostion of the propellant in certain circumstances, adjusting the carbon, sulphur and saltpetre comparative quantities.
Siemienowicz describes rockets that are stabilised in flight with sticks and others stabilised by fins. He also describes a stabilisation method I have not come across before using a lead ball fastened to a piece of wire that trails to the rear of the rocket, which he says acts like a stick. Another technique he describes is to add lead filings at various points in the rocket motor - very sophisticated in concept, altering the movement of centres of gravity and thrust in a complex manner.
8. In 1696 Robert Anderson, and Englishman wrote a book with a clear rocket design, two and a half inches in diameter and about 18 inches long.  In my earlier blogs I had misinterpreted some of the instructions from this book, assuming them to describe a metal cased rocket. After careful research and examination of this book I now no longer believe this to be the case, and my earlier assessment was an error.  I think Anderson was using paper and pasteboard and not a metal cased body.
9.   In the late 1700s , in the Mysorean wars in India with the British, the Army of Tipu Sultan used rockets extensively. Some of these were metal cased rockets (I think the first) and some of these rockets were recovered to England for analyis, at Woolwich Arsenal laboratory.   The laboratory was under the control of William Congreve’s father. At the time William Congreve (junior) was not employed at Woolwich, he was busy as a publisher of a political magazine. So there were military metal-cased rockets in Woolwich some 20 years or so before Congreve is credited with their invention. I believe two of these metal cased Mysorean rockets are in a museum in the UK and I’ll be checking on this in coming weeks.  My Indian friend Nidhin is investigating his excellent sources in India. I suspect that the crucial key here is the advanced metalsmithing available in Mysore at the time - often underestimated by Western historians - able to create a closed end lightweight metal cylinder, strong enough to contain the pressures of a rocket motor but light enough to not interfere significantly with flight.
10.  In 1803 Robert Emmet’s uprising in Dublin used metal cased rockets (two and a half inches in diameter) against British forces, it is possible using the specific design and dimensions of Anderson's rockets from 1696, or even Babbington's from 1645. However rather than use paper or pasteboard, Emmet used a metal cased rocket.  I’m not sure yet where this idea came from but it is possible it came from Robert Fulton, the American inventor whom he met in Paris in 1802. There is also a French connection to Mysore, and the French could also have recovered metal cased rockets from Mysore to Paris, and hence to Emmet.  Certainly, reports suggest that Emmet came back from Paris with specific instructions on on how to construct rockets.   Another possibility is that one of his workmen, Johnstone, had previously worked in India for the East India Company and had encountered the earlier metal cased rockets.  There is a possibility that Emmet was using manufacturing instruction from one of a number of pyrotechnic books - many had similar instructions and statements suggest those intrstuctions included tapping the rockets with needles to create combustion chambers.  I believe some of Emmet's rockets were recovered to the Ordnance laboratory at Woolwich, still under the control of Congreve’s father, in 1803.  Again, this is just a few months before Congreve junior became employed by his father at Woolwich. So we know that there had been two sources of metal-cased rockets in Woolwich laboratory before William Congreve (Junior) even began his employment there, and it is very likely tyhat Weapons technical intelligence activities and exploitation were undertaken by the laboratory..    There is also a very strong suggestion that one of Robert Emmet’s men, Pat Finerty, who had been employed by Emmet to make rockets for the Irish uprising was now taking the Kings shilling and was working in the laboratory at Woolwich, perhaps prpoviding insight and experience. Perhaps he was a British spy in the first place.
11.  In 1804, Congreve junior was struggling. His political publishing venture had gone bust and he needed work. But his father was a senior admninstrator for Woolwich Arsenal,  and all of a sudden he had employment at Woolwich, and he also had potential access to political patronage - vitally important for raising money.   The next few years saw Congreve develop and deploy military rockets. As a former editor of a political publication, Congreve knew the power of media and in parallel campaigned vigorously for funding and patronage to further develop military rockets. He even got himself awarded a commission as a Colonel and took charge of the rocket attack on Copenhagen and elsewhere, distrusting the military to deploy "his" invention. (In return they distrusted him and his lack of military experience).  The development of Congreve’s rockets needs a whole different blog post (or book). But the point I am making here is this:
a. Congreve was a canny political operator, seeking patronage and funding.
b. Within the politics of the time, he understood that he would optimise his chances of patronage if he could take the entire credit for the development of militarily useful rockets.
c.  Diluting the credit for the development with tales of Haider Ali or Tipu Sultan did not fit the politics of the time.
d. Nor indeed would giving the credit in any way to Irish rebels.


I also note that Congreve was an ardent patent producer - except when it came to rockets. was he concerned he might have been challenged?


So, Congreve has gone down in history as the “inventor” of military metal-cased rockets. but we can see that this was incorrect.  We can also see that a wide variety of rocketry principles were developed by scientists and engineers in the two or three hundred years before 1804.  What Congreve did do was this:
    a. Management of a secret technical intelligence exploitation operation which reverse engineered both the Mysorean rockets and rockets from the Irish uprising.
    b. Modern quality control and the development of robust and repeatable industrial processes- therefore enabling predictability of range etc.
    c. The development of larger rockets with greater ranges and payloads, utilisng the scientific knowledge of propellent technology at Woolwich.
    d. The development (albeit by trial and error) of improved deployment and use operationally to improve effectiveness.
Congreve made much of the fact that an enemy capturing a Congreve rocket couldn't reverse engineer it, and my assessment  is that this could only be because of the chemistry of the propellant, which by the technology of the day could have been tested but not analysed chemically very well. I think the techncial knowledge of the Woolwich Laboratory with regard to propellant science was crucial to the development of Congreve's rockets.   
In the future I hope that the work of Nidhin Olikara and his colleagues will shed more light on Mysorean rocket technology, and the pre-eminent role they had in the development of metal cased rockets, well before 1804.




Intriguingly Similar Designs of Improvised Munitions Over Decades

One of the most notable improvised weapons in the last 15 years has perhaps been the “IRAM”.  This “Improvised Rocket Assisted Munition” appeared in 2004 in Iraq, using the rocket motor of a 107mm rocket with a “bolted on” over-calibre warhead. This is a relatively short-range munition with more target effect than a standard 107mm, but quite difficult to range and target.  The IRAM munition came in various designs. Here’s one variant:
IRAMs 2004


Such munitions appear to be being used now by Syrian government forces and others in Syria. See this report from the excellent Brown Moses/Bellingcat website from 2013:  Sometimes the users seem to have not fired these from 107mm tubes (with the overcalibre warhead “left out the front”) but from tubes with a greater diameter. See: .  In this variant the rocket motor is "under-calibre", in effect.
When the IRAM appeared in 2004 it was commonly thought to be a new type of improvised munition. But as readers of this blog might already suspect, it wasn't new at all - the concept was used in the early part of the Vietnam war. Here's the image of Viet Cong overcaliber warhead that was fitted to a 107mm rocket, just as they are today. The image provider suggests that the warhead was cast iron, but the welds in what is probably rolled mild steel are clearly present.  These early Viet Cong "IRAMs" were fitted with what were described as WW2 Japanese impact fuzes. 
Viet Cong over-calibre warhead for 107mm rocketJapanese WW2 impact fuze on Viet Cong warhead
Now here’s another interesting thing - probably coincidental. The design of the Viet Cong over-calibre warhead is remarkably similar to a Provsional IRA mortar bomb warhead. This image is from a de-fuzed Mk 12 mortar bomb taken in 1991.  The IRA warhead was of course not on a rocket but on a mortar, but the design structure of the mild steel welded warhead looks remarkably similar to the Viet Cong warhead, does it not and is of an almost identical construction. The Mk 12 mortar of course is a horzontally fired anti-armour weapon with a copper cone liner, but the outer form of the warhead is remarkably similar.  
PIRA Mk 12 Mortar bomb with identical shaped warhead
Keen readers of this blog will recall too that Irish revolutionaries were firing rockets horizontally at the British Military as early as 1803, using a rocket designed in 1696. 




Rockets, again

This week the police in the Republic of Ireland held a press conference where they displayed a range of weaponry seized from Republican terrorists. Included in the display were rockets which were described as similar to “kassam” rockets used by Palestinian militants in Gaza.  Here’s a picture of one of the rockets.
And here’s some Kassam rockets for comparison
Now of course there is some alarm at this, and understandably so, but regular readers of this blog will know that a recurring theme of mine is that terrorist weaponry, well, has a recurring theme. And this is a great example. One might think from the press coverage that the occurrence of terrorist rockets is new in Ireland, and that these terrorists might have been exchanging technology with Palestinians. I’m not going to comment on that, but let me highlight something - rockets used by revolutionaries in Ireland aren’t new at all. A couple of years back I ran a series of posts about Irish rebel improvised rockets used in Dublin in 1803. That's 216 years ago. And frankly they weren't that dissimilar, a little smaller, but not much so.  And I made the point that the designs used by Emmett’s rebels in Dublin in 1803, were actually built on instructions from an English rocket designer, Robert Anderson, from over a hundred years earlier, in 1696. Here's two pages of those three-hundred-year-old build instructions:
By the way, I still believe that Congreve, who claimed to have invented military rockets in about 1805 was copying Emmet's designs and inadvertently copying the even older design by Robert Anderson.  
Here's the links to the posts about the Dublin rockets of 1803 and their links to the 1696 design.

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.