Rocket artillery

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Rocket artillery is a type of artillery equipped with rocket launchers instead of conventional guns or mortars.

Types of rocket artillery pieces include multiple rocket launchers.

History[edit]

Illustration of a Korean rocket launcher of the 1500s

The use of rockets as some form of artillery dates back to medieval China where devices such as fire arrows were used (albeit mostly as a psychological weapon). Fire arrows were also used in multiple launch systems and transported via carts. Devices such as the Korean Hwacha were able to fire hundreds of fire arrows simultaneously. The use of medieval rocket artillery was picked up by the invading Mongols and spread to the Ottoman Turks who in turn used them on the European battlefield.

Metal-cylinder rocket artillery[edit]

The earliest successful utilization of rocket artillery is associated with Tipu Sultan of Mysore. Tipu Sultan's father Hyder Ali successfully established the powerful Sultanate of Mysore and introduced the first iron-cased metal-cylinder rocket. The Mysorean rockets of this period were innovative, chiefly because of the use of iron tubes that tightly packed the gunpowder propellant; this enabled higher thrust and longer range for the missile (up to 2 km range). They were used by Hyder Ali's son Tipu Sultan against the larger forces of the British East India Company during the Anglo-Mysore Wars especially during the Battle of Pollilur. Although the rockets were quite primitive, they had a demoralizing effect on the enemy due to the noise and bursting light.

According to Stephen Oliver Fought and John F. Guilmartin, Jr. in Encyclopædia Britannica (2008): "Hyder Ali, prince of Mysore, developed war rockets with an important change: the use of metal cylinders to contain the combustion powder. Although the hammered soft iron he used was crude, the bursting strength of the container of black powder was much higher than the earlier paper construction. Thus a greater internal pressure was possible, with a resultant greater thrust of the propulsive jet. The rocket body was lashed with leather thongs to a long bamboo stick. Range was perhaps up to three-quarters of a mile (more than a kilometre). Although individually these rockets were not accurate, dispersion error became less important when large numbers were fired rapidly in mass attacks. They were particularly effective against cavalry and were hurled into the air, after lighting, or skimmed along the hard dry ground. Hyder Ali's son, Tipu Sultan, continued to develop and expand the use of rocket weapons, reportedly increasing the number of rocket troops from 1,200 to a corps of 5,000. In battles at Seringapatam in 1792 and 1799 these rockets were used with considerable effect against the British."[1]

Congreve Rockets[edit]

Congreve rockets from Congreve's original work; these weapons were successively employed during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812.[2]

The Indian rocket experiences, including Munro's book of 1789,[3] eventually led to the Royal Arsenal beginning a military rocket R&D program in 1801. Several rocket cases were collected from Mysore and sent to Britain for analysis. The development was chiefly the work of Col. (later Sir) William Congreve, son of the Comptroller of the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, London, who set on a vigorous research and development programme at the Arsenal's laboratory; after development work was complete, the rockets were manufactured in quantity further north, near Waltham Abbey, Essex. He was told that "the British at Seringapatam had suffered more from the rockets than from the shells or any other weapon used by the enemy".[4] "In at least one instance", an eye-witness told Congreve, "a single rocket had killed three men and badly wounded others".[5]

In the Battle of Pollilur (1780) and in the battles at Seringapatam in 1792 and 1799 these rockets were used with considerable effect against the British."[1]

It has been suggested that Congreve may have adapted iron-cased gunpowder rockets for use by the British military from prototypes created by the Irish nationalist Robert Emmet during Emmet's Rebellion in 1803.[6] But this seems far less likely given the fact that the British had been exposed to Indian rockets since 1780 at the latest, and that a vast quantity of unused rockets and their construction equipment fell into British hands at the end of the Anglo-Mysore Wars in 1799 , at least 4 years before Emmet's rockets.

Congreve introduced a standardised formula for the making of gunpowder at Woolwich and introduced mechanical grinding mills to produce powder of uniform size and consistency. Machines were also employed to ensure the packing of the powder was perfectly uniform. His rockets were more elongated had a much larger payload and were mounted on sticks; this allowed them to be launched from the sea at a greater range. He also introduced shot into the payload that added shrapnel damage to the incendiary capability of the rocket.[7] By 1805 he was able to introduce a comprehensive weapons system to the British Army.[8]

The rocket had a "cylindro-conoidal" warhead and were launched in pairs from half troughs on simple metal A-frames. The original rocket design had the guide pole side-mounted on the warhead, this was improved in 1815 with a base plate with a threaded hole. They could be fired up to two miles, the range being set by the degree of elevation of the launching frame, although at any range they were fairly inaccurate and had a tendency for premature explosion. They were as much a psychological weapon as a physical one, and they were rarely or never used except alongside other types of artillery. Congreve designed several different warhead sizes from 3 to 24 pounds (1.4 to 10.9 kg). The 24 pounds (11 kg) type with a 15 foot (4.6 m) guide pole was the most widely used variant. Different warheads were used, including explosive, shrapnel and incendiary.[9] They were manufactured at a special facility near the Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills beside the River Lea in Essex.[10]

"Use of rockets from boats" - An illustration from William Congreve's book.

These rockets were used during the Napoleonic Wars against the city of Boulogne, and during the naval bombardment of Copenhagen, where over 25,000 rockets were launched causing severe incendiary damage to the city. The rockets were also adapted for the purpose of flares for signalling and battlefield illumination. Henry Trengrouse utilized the rocket in his life-saving apparatus, in which the rocket was launched at a shipwreck with an attached line to help rescue the victims.

The Congreve rockets are also famous for inspiring the lawyer Francis Scott Key to pen the words the "rockets' red glare" in what became the US National Anthem during the War of 1812.

Tip of a Congreve rocket, on display at Paris naval museum

After the rockets were successfully used during the Battle of Waterloo at Napoleon's defeat, various countries were quick to adopt the weapon and establish special rocket brigades. The British created the British Army Rocket Brigade in 1818, followed by the Austrian Army and the Russian Army.

One persistent problem with the rockets were their lack of aerodynamic stability. The British engineer, William Hale designed a rocket with a combination of tail fins and directed nozzles for the exhaust. This imparted a spin to the rocket during flight, which stabilized its trajectory and greatly improved its' accuracy, although it did sacrifice somewhat of the maximum range. Hale rockets were enthusiastically adopted by the United States, and during the Mexican War in 1846 a volunteer brigade of rocketeers was pivotal in the surrender of Mexican forces at the Siege of Veracruz.

By the late nineteenth century, due to improvements in the power and range of conventional artillery, the use of military rockets declined; they were finally used on a small scale by both sides during the American Civil War.

World War II[edit]

Rocket artillery used by the US Navy in World War II

Modern rocket artillery was first employed during World War II, in the form of the German Nebelwerfer and Soviet Katyusha-series. The Soviet Katyushas, nicknamed by German troops Stalin's Organ because of their visual resemblance to a church musical organ and alluding to the sound of the weapon's rockets, were mounted on trucks or light tanks, while the early German Nebelwerfer were mounted on a small wheeled carriage which was light enough to be moved by several men and could easily be deployed nearly anywhere, while also being towed by most vehicles. The Germans also had self-propelled rocket artillery in the form of the Panzerwerfer and Wurfrahmen 40 which equipped half-track armoured fighting vehicles. An oddity in the subject of rocket artillery during this time was the German "Sturmtiger", a vehicle based on the Tiger I heavy tank chassis that was armed with a 380 mm rocket mortar.

The Western Allies of World War II employed little rocket artillery. During later periods of the war, British and Canadian troops used the Land Mattress, a towed rocket launcher. The United States Army built and deployed a small number of T34 Calliope and T40 Whizbang rocket artillery tanks (converted from M4 Sherman medium tanks) in France and Italy. In 1945, the British Army also fitted some M4 Shermans with two 60 lb RP3 rockets, the same as used on ground attack aircraft and known as Tulip.

In the Pacific, however, the US Navy made heavy use of rocket artillery, adding to the already intense bombardment by the guns of heavy warships to soften up Japanese-held islands before the US Marines would land. On Iwo Jima, the Marines made use of rocket artillery trucks in a similar fashion as the Soviet Katyusha, but on a smaller scale.

Post-World War II[edit]

Israel fitted some of their Sherman tanks with different rocket artillery. An unconventional Sherman conversion was the turretless Kilshon ("Trident") that launched an AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missile.

The Soviet Union continued its development of the Katyusha during the Cold War, and also exported them widely.

Modern rocket artillery such as the US M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System is highly mobile and are used in similar fashion to other self-propelled artillery. Global Positioning and Inertial Navigation terminal guidance systems have been introduced.

During the Kargil war of 1999, Indian army pressed into service the Pinaka MBRL against Pakistani intruders. The system was under development and still was able to successfully perform after which the Indian Army showed interest in inducting the system into service.[11]

Rocket artillery vs gun artillery[edit]

F-84E launching rockets.
  • Rockets produce no recoil, while conventional gun artillery systems produce significant recoil. Unless firing within a very small arc with the possibility of wrecking a self-propelled artillery system's vehicle suspension, gun artillery must usually be braced against recoil. In this state they are immobile, and can not change position easily. Rocket artillery is much more mobile and can change position easily. This "shoot-and-scoot" ability makes the platform difficult to target. A rocket artillery piece could, conceivably, fire on the move. Rocket systems produce a significant amount of backblast, however, which imposes its own restrictions. Launchers may be sighted by the firing arcs of the rockets, and their fire can damage themselves or neighbouring vehicles.
  • Rocket artillery cannot usually match the accuracy and sustained rate of fire of conventional gun artillery. They may be capable of very destructive strikes by delivering a large mass of explosives simultaneously, thus increasing the shock effect and giving the target less time to take cover. Modern computer-controlled conventional artillery have recently begun to acquire the possibility to do something similar through MRSI but it is an open question if MRSI is really practical in a combat situation. On the other hand, precision-guided rocket artillery demonstrates extreme accuracy, comparable with the best guided gun artillery systems.
  • Rocket artillery typically has a very large fire signature, leaving a clear smoke-trail showing exactly where the barrage came from. Since the barrage does not take much time, however, the rocket artillery can move away quickly.
  • Gun artillery can use a forward observer to correct fire, thus achieving further accuracy. This is usually not practical with rocket artillery.
  • Gun artillery shells are typically cheaper and less bulky than rockets, so they can deliver a larger amount of explosive at the enemy per weight of ammunition or per money spent.
  • While gun artillery shells are smaller than rockets, the gun itself must be very large to match the range of rockets. Therefore rockets typically have longer range while the rocket launchers remain small enough to mount on mobile vehicles. Extremely large guns like the Paris Gun and the Schwerer Gustav have been rendered obsolete by long range missiles.
  • Rate of fire: If the artillery barrage was intended as a preparation for an attack, and it usually is, a short but intense barrage will give the enemy less time to prepare by, for instance, dispersing.
  • The higher accuracy of gun artillery means that it can be used to attack an enemy close to a friendly force. This combined with the higher capacity for sustained fire makes cannon artillery more suitable than rocket artillery for defensive fire.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Frederick C. Durant III, Stephen Oliver Fought, John F. Guilmartin, Jr. "Rocket and missile system". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 19 December 2011. 
  2. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-Ygz9VbiE0
  3. ^ Baker D (1978) The Rocket, New Cavendish Books, London
  4. ^ Von Braun W, Ordway III F. I. History of rocketry and space travel, Nelson
  5. ^ Ley E (1958) Rockets, missiles, and space travel, Chapman & Hall, London
  6. ^ Patrick M. Geoghegan(2003) Robert Emmet: a life, p.107, McGill-Queens University Press, Canada
  7. ^ RODDAM NARASIMHA (2 April 1985). "Rockets in Mysore and Britain, 1750-1850 A.D.". National Aerospace Laboratories, India. Retrieved 19 December 2011. 
  8. ^ Van Riper, A. Bowdoin (2007). Rockets and Missiles: The Life Story of a Technology. JHU Press. Retrieved 2013-02-07. 
  9. ^ British Rockets
  10. ^ Lewis, Jim (2009) From Gunpowder to Guns: the story of the two Lea Valley armouries, Hendon: Middlesex University Press, ISBN 978-1-904750-85-7, page 68
  11. ^ ARDE’s Pinaka rocket system generates Rs 2,500 crore business