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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.


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

Tipu Sultan organized his Rocket artillery brigades known as Cushoons, Tipu Sultan expanded the number of servicemen in the various Cushoons from 1500 to almost 6000. The Mysorean rockets used by Tipu Sultan were later updated by the British and successively employed during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812.[1]

The earliest successful utilization of modern-style 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.

Hyder Ali's son Tipu Sultan successfully used these metal-cylinder rockets against the larger forces of the British East India Company during the Anglo-Mysore Wars especially during the Battle of Pollilur. The Mysorean rockets of this period were much more advanced than what the British had seen, 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).

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."[2]

After Tipu's eventual defeat in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War, the Mysore iron rockets were captured by the British. These rockets were influential in British rocket development, inspiring the Congreve rocket, which were soon put into use in the Napoleonic Wars,[3] including at the Battle of Waterloo. Ironically, the technology of metal-cylinder missiles developed by Tipu Sultan contributed to the defeat of his ally Napoleon at Waterloo.

Modern era

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.

Rocket artillery used by the US Navy in World War II

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

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.

Rocket artillery vs gun artillery

  • 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.

F-84E launching rockets.

  • 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


  2. Frederick C. Durant III, Stephen Oliver Fought, John F. Guilmartin, Jr.. "Rocket and missile system". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 19 December 2011. 
  3. RODDAM NARASIMHA (2 April 1985). "Rockets in Mysore and Britain, 1750-1850 A.D.". National Aerospace Laboratories, India. Retrieved 19 December 2011. 

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