This is an example of the Congreve rocket, an artillery weapon used by the British Army at the Battle of Waterloo. The rocket case, made of sheet iron, was filled with gunpowder, which burned to make the rocket fly forward through the air. These missiles were a terrifying weapon, but so inaccurate that they rarely exploded over the intended target.
British forces fighting in India encountered rockets used by the army of the Tipu of Mysore. The capture of the Mysore iron rockets by the troops at the fall of Seringapatam (2 May 1799) influenced British rocket development and inspired the rockets of Colonel William Congreve.
Although Congreve was the son of the Comptroller at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, he still had to self-fund his experiments. He was also a friend of the Prince of Wales, however, and the Prince was an enthusiastic supporter of rocket development.
The first successful tests took place in 1804. By 1806 Congreve had developed 32-pounders that would travel 3000 yards.
The Navy was the first to take up the rockets, although an attack on Boulogne in 1805 under Sir Sidney Smith was not successful. When they were used against the same town a year later, however, they inflicted considerable damage. The following year they helped to reduce Copenhagen to ashes, 300 rockets being launched in the attack.
The Army was initially less impressed by the new weapon, but in 1813 2nd Captain Richard Bogue was appointed commanding officer of the 1st rocket brigade which was attached to the Army of North Germany at the Battle of Leipzig (18 October 1813). In September of the same year the Duke of Wellington had reluctantly accepted rockets into the Peninsular Army, although he continued to remain doubtful about their effectiveness.
At the Battle of Waterloo Captain Whinyates commanded the rocket brigade, but as a sign of his reservations Wellington insisted that in addition to 800 rockets Whinyates should also have five 6-pounder guns. Only 52 light rockets were fired during the battle and to little effect, whereas the five light 6-pdrs expended 560 rounds in support of the defence of La Haie Sainte.
As for the weapon itself, the rocket cases were made from sheet iron and filled with gunpowder as propellant. The warheads were attached to wooden sticks of differing lengths according to the size of rockets. They could be fired from frames, from specially constructed vehicles or, as at Waterloo, propelled along the ground. By 1813 the rockets were available in three classes:
• Heavy Siege Rockets with incendiary carcass weighing over 135kg and 7.6-8.2m sticks.
• Medium Siege Rockets had a 24-42 pdr (10.9-19.1kg) warhead of shot or shell, a 4.5-6.1m stick and a range of about 3000m.
• Light Rockets (6-18 pdr (2.7-8.2kg) of shot, case-shot or shell) had 2.4-4.3m stick and a range of about 1800m