|The Bombardment of Fort McHenry|
Britain has given America some great gifts: democracy, the English language and Catherine Zeta Jones come immediately to mind. All three may have been well and truly ****ed by the Yanks since, but at least they acknowledge where they came from.
However I feel we never really get the credit we deserve for giving them the most famous line in their national anthem.
The rocket's being referred to are not those that are currently illuminating the night sky here, but those being fired at Fort McHenry by the Royal Navy at the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812. Britain's military was at that time in the middle of a love affair with rockets that had started with a bang 34 years previously in India, and was to eventually fizzle out over South Africa 79 years later.
Gunpowder appears to have reached India from China in the Fourteenth century, although references in Vedic literature to "weapons of fire" may indicate the previous use of some other type of fiery missile. They had first been fired at the British in 1755, but had been dismissed as a fairly useless gimmick.
|The Battle of Pollilur|
Thanks to the rockets the reverse was not seen as being the result of Indian, or Moslem, pluck, but fiendish oriental ingenuity. It helped that Tipu Sultan, who ascended to the throne of Mysore two years after Pollilur, was a bit of a gadget-man. A mechanical tiger of his, powered by bellows and depicted savaging a East India Company soldier, who moans realistically, is on display in the V&A museum. His reputation carried on past his eventual defeat into the nineteenth century, and Jules Verne even made him the uncle of that ultimate gadget-man, Captain Nemo.
This didn't put the military off and indeed they clung to their Congreve rockets even after a (slightly) improved version, the Hale's spin-stabilised War Rocket, was invented. Mr Hale was unable to sell them to his own country and it was actually the Americans who debuted the new missile, against the Mexicans in 1847.
|The Assault on Magdala|
In 1879 an unfortunate Major Russell found himself in charge of a rocket battery at the Battle of Isandhlwana. As a Zulu Impi descended on him he managed to fire off just one rocket - which missed, before having to resort to his sword. This just about summed up the performance of the war rocket. Two years later when a battery of Navy rockets went off to fight the Boers where they were similarly ineffective.
That was pretty much it for the gunpowder war rocket. They remained on the official inventory until 1919, before finally being pensioned off along with the cavalry lance and other relics of the previous century.
It was not the end for rockets. Twenty five years later chemical fueled V2s were falling on London. This time though nobody felt like turning the result into poetry.