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.
1.1 Early history
1.2 Metal-cylinder rocket artillery
1.3 Congreve rockets
1.4 World War II
1.4.1 Post-World War II
Rocket artillery vs gun artillery
3 See also
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
The use of war-rockets is well documented in Medieval Europe. In 1408
Duke John the Fearless of Burgundy used 300 incendiary rockets in the
siege of Liège. The city dwellers coped with this tactic by covering
their roofs with dirt.
Metal-cylinder rocket artillery
The earliest successful utilization of metal-cylinder 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
Tipu Sultan used them 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
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
Seringapatam in 1792 and 1799 these rockets were used with
considerable effect against the British.
Congreve rockets from Congreve's original work; these weapons were
successively employed during the
Napoleonic Wars and the War of
The Indian rocket experiences, including Munro's book of 1789,
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". "In at
least one instance", an eye-witness told Congreve, "a single rocket
had killed three men and badly wounded others".
Battle of Pollilur
Battle of Pollilur (1780) and in the battles at
1792 and 1799 these rockets were used with considerable effect against
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. 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
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. By 1805 he was able to
introduce a comprehensive weapons system to the British Army.
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.
They were manufactured at a special facility near the Waltham Abbey
Gunpowder Mills beside the
River Lea in Essex.
"Use of rockets from boats" - An illustration from William Congreve's
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 Napoleon's defeat at
the Battle of Waterloo, various countries were quick to adopt the
weapon and establish special rocket brigades. The British created the
Rocket Brigade in 1818, followed by the
Austrian Army and
the Russian Army.
One persistent problem with the rockets was 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
Main article: Multiple rocket launcher
Rocket artillery on the
US Navy LSM(R)-188 warship of World War II
Modern rocket artillery was first employed during World War II, in the
form of the German
Nebelwerfer family of rocket ordnance designs, 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
ordnance pieces 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
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
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 turret-mounted
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 on their LSM(R) transports, 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.
Japanese Imperial Army
Japanese Imperial Army deployed the naval Type 4 20 cm
Rocket Launcher and army Type 4 40 cm (16 in)
Rocket Launcher against the
United States Marines and Army troops at
Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and
United States Army troops during the Battle
of Luzon. Their deployment was limited relative to other mortar types
and the projectiles on the 40 cm launcher were so large and heavy
that they had to be loaded using small hand-operated cranes, but they
were extremely accurate and had a pronounced psychological effect on
opposing troops, who called them "Screaming Mimis", a nickname
originally applied to the German
Nebelwerfer tube-launched rocket
mortar series in the European Theater of Operations. They were often
used at night to conceal their launching sites and increase their
disruptiveness and psychological effectiveness. The Japanese
20 cm rockets were launched from tubes or launching troughs,
while the larger rockets were launched from steel ramps reinforced
with wooden monopods.
The Japanese also deployed a limited number of 447mm rocket launchers,
termed 45 cm
Rocket Mortars by
United States personnel who
test-fired them at the close of the war. Their projectiles consisted
of a 1,500 lb cylinder filled with propellant and ballistite
sticks detonated by black powder, which produced a blast crater
approximately the size of an American 1,000 lb bomb. In effect,
this made the 447mm projectile a type of surface-to-surface barrel
bomb. While these latter weapons were captured at Luzon and proved
effective in subsequent testing, it is not clear that they were ever
used against American troops, in contrast to the more common 20 and
40 cm types, which clearly contributed to the 37,870 American
casualties sustained at Luzon.
Post-World War II
Pinaka Multi Barrel
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
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 forces. 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.
Rocket artillery vs gun artillery
F-84E launching rockets.
Rockets use fuel which can instead be used in warships, warplanes,
tanks and other military vehicles.
Rockets produce no or little 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
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 to execute, 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
Gun artillery shells are typically cheaper and less bulky than
rockets, so they can deliver a larger amount of explosives at the
enemy positions per fired weight of ammunition or per money
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
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 or
entering prepared fortifications such as trenches and bunkers.
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 gun artillery more suitable
than rocket artillery for defensive fire.
The accuracy of gun artillery and its ability to be rapidly laid to
engage targets makes it the system of choice for the engagement of
moving targets and to deliver counter-battery fire.
Many multiple rocket launcher vehicles now have the capability to fire
guided rockets, eliminating the accuracy disadvantage.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Tactical ballistic missile
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^ British Rockets
^ Lewis, Jim (2009) From
Gunpowder to Guns: the story of the two Lea
Valley armouries, Hendon: Middlesex University Press,
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^ ARDE’s Pinaka rocket system generates Rs 2,500 crore business