Friday, 30 April 2010

Royal Artillery Hale Rocket team

Amazingly it is over a year since I started my "small Zulu Wars project" to get me painting some of the Empress Miniautres British.
This is well over due but here it is: a Royal Artillery bombardier and his assistant from the 24th Foot with their Machine Rocket, War (the trough) and a 9 pounder Hale rocket.

The British Army had first thought about developing military rockets when they had experienced them in Mysore India being fired by the army of Tipu Sultan. William Congreve (1772-1828) adopted from the Indians the metal casing for his rockets and used a stick for stability. By 1806 the British fired an amazing 25,000 rockets against Copenhagen. I was surprised, on my first visit to Copenhagen a few years ago, to discover that some of the residents still have quite a resentful attitude towards the British for this bombardment!

The Hale Rocket: showing details of the fins used to spin it in flight

Congreve's rockets were not very accurate but the accuracy was greatly improved in 1844 when Colchester-born William Hale (1797-1870) did away with the stick (which increased the range) and developed a vectored exhaust and fins which made the rocket spin in flight like a rifle bullet. Hale tried to sell his rocket to the British army but they clung to the old fashioned Congreve. Instead, he sold the rights to his rockets to the United States for the then enormous sum of $20,000. So it was the US expeditionary force to Veracruz in 1847, during the Mexican American War, who used Hale's rockets first. The Russian, Hungarian, Austrian and Italian armies all adopted the Hale rocket in the 1850s. The British army did experiment with Hale's rockets during the Crimean War but didn't officially adopt them until 1867, by which time they had seen much service in the American Civil War. Whilst other countries dropped black powder rockets by the early 1870s Britain, which was fighting a series of colonial wars, found that rockets were much more transportable than field artillery in the sort of wild places that they were fighting. The Hale rockets would remain in active service for another twenty years after the Zulu War and wouldn't officially be removed from the army's inventory until 1919.

Brevet-Major Russell

In the Zulu War each section of two field guns was allocated one rocket trough. At Isandlwana there were three rocket troughs under the command of Brevet-Major Russell of 11/7 battery. Under his command was a Royal Artillery bombardier, 2766 George Goff, 'N' Battery, 5th Brigade, and eight allocated soldiers from C company 1/24th foot.

A 24pdr Hale rocket showing the original colour

The black Royal Artillery rocket troughs fired 9 pounder rockets which were painted a dark red colour. The Navy used closed tubes for their larger 24 pounder rockets. At Isandlwana the rocket section only got off one rocket before they were overwhelmed by Zulus from the iNgobamakhosi regiment who formed the tip of the left hand horn. Major Russell was killed but bombardier Goff escaped on a mule with one of several of the rocket battery soldiers to survive.

On the whole, the Zulus treated the rockets with the contempt they deserved. It took some time in flight before the spinning effect stabilised the rocket and so a wayward initial part of the flight meant that the improved stability was largely worthless as regards overall accuracy.

9 pdr rocket trough and rocket, with a 24 pdr rocket below in the Natal Museum, Pietermaritzburg.


  1. I have a diary from a relative who was a rocketeer in the Zulu war was Gunner Carroll RMA off HMS Active you can download it from

  2. Amazingly it is over a year since I started my "small Zulu Wars project" ...