You can contact me at rogercdavies(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.


Entries in Improvised Rockets (6)


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.


The mystery of the “the man with no history”, other spies and Emmet’s rockets and IEDs

I’ve been on the trail of a mystery and found some interesting descriptions of Emmet’s IEDs from (see earlier posts).   In the attempted uprising in Dublin in 1803, Emmet designed some “exploding beams” as referred to as “Emmet’s infernals”. Here’s a description of how they were made:

Mr. Emmet had several square beams, twelve feet long, sent to the depot at Thomas Street, which he intended to have got bored with a small pump auger, not in the centre but nearer one side, and the hole was to be perforated to within one foot of the end, and then filled with powder till it came to a foot from the mouth. The hole was then stopped with a plug a foot long, of the same diameter, well spiked to prevent it from coming out. A touch-hole was to be perforated in the middle of the beam on the side which the bore approached the nearest, and a pivot set on each end on which common car wheels were placed and turned. Two cases five feet long each, filled with small stones and combustibles were to be placed at the top of the beam. The explosion of this machine placed as an obstacle before the enemy must have a terrible effect.

I’ve also found a description of how the rockets were constructed in the concealed workshops behind false walls.  There is no mention of the exploding “warhead’ which I also assumed was present.  Perhaps I might reassess that assumption – at least some Rockets used by Tipu Sultan in the Mysore campaign a few years earlier relied on blades attached to the front of the rocket, and maybe didn’t have an exploding warhead.

Emmet assigned to a Mr Johnstone the task of preparing the rockets and left him very detailed instructions.  Mr Johnstone is described as being some sort of expert – crucially it is said that he had previously served with the East India Company and perhaps made rockets for them – this would have been about the time that The East India company was fighting the Mysore wars against Tipu Sultan, who were using rockets against the Company.  Perhaps Johnstone was involved in making copies for the East India Company and brought his expertise to Dublin.

Here’s the description from a primary source:

There was a man who went by the name of Johnstone who had spent several years in the East India service, where he had frequently been employed in preparing fire-works. Perhaps this man with Robert Emmet were the real inventors of those rockets, latterly universally known under the appellation of Congreve rockets — be that as it may, I think it only right to relate here all I know of the matter. At Mr. Emmet's request I called on Mr. M. the gunsmith, and showed him a strong piece of paper shaped in a certain way, which was to serve as a model to have tubes twenty inches long, two and a-half inches diameter, cut out of strong sheet iron; as soldering would be liable to melt with the fire, they were to be clasped and well hammered on the joints, which would render them quite solid. The sloped shape at one end formed a point like an arrow. The gunsmith soon brought me a tube made after the model with which both Mr. Emmet and Johnstone were well pleased. Consequently I had to tell him to have several hundreds of the same description made as soon as possible.

Johnstone set to work mixing the ingredients to fill those tubes, composed of powder, nitre, sulphur, etc., and when this stuff was prepared, it had the appearance of wet mortar. But everything was done according to Mr. Emmet's instructions; he consulted a scientific work respecting the way such materials should be prepared, and even the way the tubes were to be filled, the size of each portion to be put in at a time, the weight of the hammer, the plug to drive it down, the number of strokes to be given before another portion was put in.  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 then filled with powder. Thus prepared, they were to be fastened with strong wire to a slight pole about eight feet long at one end; and from the other end a cord prepared as a fuse would convey the fire to the mouth of the tube. A small trestle four feet high was provided on which the pole was to rest to be poised and sent off in the direction of the enemy.

Here’s a description of a trial firing

Johnstone, who was making the rockets, brought one of them ready prepared, so we all went into the fields; that is, Mr. Emmet, Russell, Dowdall, Hamilton, etc. The rocket was made fast to a pole with wire, and rested on a trestle ; the match being put to it, it went off like a thunderbolt, carrying the pole along with it, and throwing flames and fire behind, as it advanced, and when it fell, it went on tearing up the ground till the last of the matter with which it was filled was completely consumed. Mr. Emmet and Johnstone were quite satisfied with the effect it produced, and they decided that all the rockets or tubes should be prepared and filled in the same manner; the cord which was placed along the pole to serve as a train or match did not communicate the fire quick enough, but that was easily remedied at the depot by preparing others with stronger liquid, etc.

Now Johnston is an interesting character and aside from his supposed service with the East India Company is described as “a man with no past”. According to one report Johnstone was working in one of the rocket making workshops when an “accident” occurred and it blew up, blowing the roof off the building. This caused Emmet to launch his rebellion prematurely.  He then disappears from the scene.  Emmet’s associates accused him of being a British spy who blew up the workshop on the orders of British spymasters, citing his lack of history, his disappearance and the fact that the British did not investigate the explosion as significant factors.

Another, conflicting, report says that the explosion as caused by a Michael McDaniel – who was drinking at the time and accidentally initiated a fuze he was preparing. This report suggests that after the explosion he was tasked by Emmet with buying blunderbusses for the rebels. Emmet gave him “60 guineas” for the purchase, but McDaniel disappeared with the money never to be seen again.

Another of the rebels involved Pat Fenerty became a “super-grass” and gave evidence against the rebels, before ending up working Woolwich on the British Congreve rockets.   

Complicated, but certainly indicative of a disastrous rebellion riven with incompetence and British spies.


Woosh, Bang, Ohnasty!

This is just a follow up to my last post.  I’ve been searching for more details of Emmet’s rockets and other IEDs in Dublin in 1803 . The more I read about Emmet’s uprising the more I see strong similarities between the current Syrian revolution and Dublin. 

To get the current context, have a trawl through the “Brown Moses” blog here

Note the current context of home made rockets and “DIY” IEDs being produced in workshops.   Now, Dublin of 1803 wasn’t all that different:


  • Rebels were inspired by revolutions taking place elsewhere.   In Ireland it was the American revolution and the French revolution that inspired a group of Irish nationalists. Today the Syrian rebels are inspired by the other Arab spring revolutions.
  • Emmet established five improvised munition workshops across Dublin.  My instinct tells me that these looked very similar to some of the workshops seen producing improvised weaponry in Aleppo.  In Syria, here’s a range of home made weapons and IEDs 
  • In Dublin Emmet produced the IEDs and munitions with a team of 40 people across his five Dublin  workshops. Interestingly the workshops were well disguised behind false walls. I described the IEDs in my last post, below.


I’ve been trying to find more details of the design of rockets developed by Emmet. Rockets had become something of a flavour at the time – The French had been using rockets on the battlefield for the previous few decades, but with limited effect. Then in the Mysore wars in India the British found themselves attacked by effective rockets with explosive warheads, to their great consternation.

The British captured a number of  Mysorean rockets  in 1799 and examined them (another example of early technical intelligence activities).  Emmet would have been aware of their impact on the British military.

As mentioned in the earlier post Emmet met the American Robert Fulton in Paris at about this time, and Fulton too had expertise in rocketry which he may have passed on.

The key development here, which the Mysore rockets utilized, was to use a metal case for the rocket body. Until then the bodies where generally paste board (as in modern fireworks).  A pasteboard body limits the internal pressure possible and therefore the size and range fo the rocket.  But much higher internal pressures are possible with metal bodies. Both the Mysore rockets, Emmet’s rockets and the very slightly later British Congreve rockets all used a metal body.

How much the British Congreve Rocket system was influenced by Emmet’s rocket designs is unclear – but very interestingly there is a report that one of Emmet’s assistants, a Mr Pat Finerty, subsequently went to work at Woolwich where Congreve’s rockets were under development after the events in Dublin.  Congreve’s rocket was described as an improvement on, but similar in design to Emmet’s.   Here’s a diagram of an early Congreve rocket, which is therefore likely to have been broadly similar to Emmet’s rockets.

Note that there is a warhead at the front, and the warhead at the front is initiated by a burning fuze running the length of the outside of the rocket body. The rocket motor and the warhead fuse would have been lit simultaneously.   The stabilising "stick" is not shown in this diagram.  Congreve rockets would have been initiated by a flintlock mechanism, but Emmets probably with a simpler burning fuze. Here’s a picture of a Congreve flintlock mechanism. the string is a lanyard to the release spring , I think which relases the cock hammer.

Emmet’s rockets were intended to be deployed to be fired at cavalry, and also as signal rockets – I’m not sure if that entirely makes sense, given the fuzing mechanism – they would make much more effective indirect fire area weapons, perhaps fired into British garrisons.   Nonetheless horizontally fired munitions (although not technically rockets) aimed at the British Military were being used by Irish terrorists some 200 years later.  As such I think Emmet’s rockets have an important place in history.  I also think that although they had been used on the battlefield before, this was the first use of such technology by freedom fighters/ terrorists.

The truth is however that Emmet’s revolution was nothing short of a shambles, and the rockets and the explosives beams and the grenade IEDs barely got used, if at all. Emmet’s purported notes after the failed uprising gives a frank and candid account:


  • Emmet describes his detailed plan for the deployment of pikemen, “beam” IEDs and rockets across Dublin, in detail. He describes the plan for deploying caltrops and anti-cavalry boards with nails in them, chains across streets, deployment of grenades and stones to throw, and muskets.  But the deployment never actually occurred, because the United Irishman expected to man the positions, from Kildare and Wicklow failed to arrive.  There was evidence of confusion and poor communication between the revolutionary elements, and possible the spreading by British agents of incorrect information.  Emmet expected several thousand rebels supporting him, but eventually had less than a hundred, and even these he couldn't control, a good proportion of then being "with drink".
  • Due to a lack of funds, scarcely any of the expected blunderbusses were bought
  • The man designated as being responsible for preparing the fuzes for the “exploding beam” IEDs “forgot” to prepare them and went on an errand to Kildare.
  • An accidental explosion at one of the IED workshops prevented much of the material being stored there being available.
  • The slow matches used to initiate grenades and beam IEDs were prepared incorrectly and would not function.
  • The same person responsible for the slow matches then “lost” the grenade fuzes.
  • Other material such as scaling ladders and irons to chain up streets were not prepared in time.
  • Emmet describes the eventual disaster as “a failure in plan, preparation and men”


There is a strong suspicion that some of the failures were “helped along “ by British agents.

In a future post I’ll look at the evolutions of Congreve’s and later rockets.  Nowadays rockets are almost invariably fin stabilized – have a look at this one spotted recently by Brown Moses – but for some time the “stick method” was used by Congreve and subsequent rocket designs and of course remains in modern fireworks.  

I find it fascinating that rockets have returned to the revolutionaries arsenal.