Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Congreve rocket

The Congreve Rocket was a British weapon designed by William Congreve in 1804.

The British had become interested in the concept following the use of rockets against their troops in India in the 1790s. Several inventors made attempts but the design of Congreve was accepted following a successful demonstration in 1805. They were first used against the French fleet at Boulogne in 1806, fired from specially designed boats. They were used throughout the Napoleonic Wars although a specialist 'Rocket Troop' was not formed until 1812, first seeing action at the Battle of Leipzig

The rocket was made up of a iron case of black powder for propulsion and either an explosive or incendiary "cylindro-conoidal" head. The warheads were attached to wooden guide poles 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. Congreve designed several different warhead sizes from 3 to 24 pounds. The 24 pound type with a fifteen foot guide pole was the most widely used variant.

The weapon remained in use until the 1850s, when it was superseded by the improved spinning design of William Hale. In the 1870s the rockets were adopted to carry rescue lines to vessels in distress.

It was the use of Congreves in 1812 which gave the line referring to the "rockets' red glare" in The Star Spangled Banner.