Hale 24-Pounder Rocket

A19680019000.jpg (17312 bytes)
Source: SI A1085


Hale 24-Pounder Rocket

The Hale gunpowder war rocket of the last century was invented by the Englishman William Hale (1797-1870) in 1844 as a way to eliminate the cumbersome wooden guidestick of the Congreve rocket. The Hale rocket was therefore called the stickless, or rotary rocket, since it obtained its stability in flight by part of the exhaust gases causing the rocket to rotate or spin on its axis.

The 24-pounder Hale rocket shown here, of ca. 1865-1870, is a typical example though is a practice round, donated by the Royal Artillery Institute, Woolwich, England, in 1967. It was one of the most popular calibers since it was light enough to carry in combat (in some British colonial wars, the rockets were carried in special sacks on the backs of mules). The 24-pounder had an explosive warhead and could be useful for both anti-personnel use and bombardments of small structures. Their average range was was about 1,200 yards, though depending upon firing angle and other factors could range up to 4,000 yards.

Dimensions:

L.: 23 in.
Dia.: 2.4 in.

Description:

Cyclindrical, of rolled sheet iron, with rounded sheet iron nose with wooden insert in its interior and threaded tail piece at bottom with three exhaust holes which are each surrounded by curved vanes for producing the rotation. Rivets around the rocket head and grooves along the side of the rocket for helping to hold in the powder so that it would not slip or shift during flight.

History:

Congreve war rockets, invented by the Englishman William (later Sir William) Congreve (1777-1828) and first used during the Napoleonic wars from 1805, were highly popular as a "new" form of artillery. They could be equipped with incendiary or explosive warheads and saw wide employment throughout the Napoleonic campaigns, the War of 1812 with the U.S., and many other engagements until the Crimean War of 1853-1856.

However, Congreve rockets were not always reliable, since they were largely made by hand, and their long guidesticks made them awkward to use. William Hale therefore devised his stickless, rotary rockets which he first patented in 1844, though it took several other patents to improve upon them and to get them officially adopted by the Royal Army. In the meantime, Hale sold the manufacturing rights to his rockets to the U.S. Government through an agent for the then not inconsiderable amount of $20,000 for use during the Mexican War of 1846-1848 where they had some success. This was the first battlefield use of Hale rockets. Later, Hale was able to sell rights to Austria who modified and adopted them as part of their regular artillery.

Besides its rotation means of achieving stability, Hale rockets were also a great improvement in the way they were manufactured. Hale used the hydraulic press to compress the powder whereas the earlier Congreve rockets relied upon a huge weight on a pulley that compressed the powder which was called the "monkey press." This method was also dangerous as sparks during the loaded process could cause explosions.

Hale war rockets were used experimentally during the Crimean War but were not officially adopted by the British Army until as late as 1867. From this time until about 1899, they were widely used in colonial engagements in Africa, India, and elsewhere. Due to the great advancement in conventional artillery in range, power, accuracy, and safety, the old Hale rockets were outmoded in the 1890's though did not become officially obsolete until 1919.

References:

Frank H. Winter, The First Golden Age of Rocketry - Congreve and Hale War Rockets of the Nineteenth Century (Smithsonian Institution Press: Washington, D.C., 1990), pp. 179-224.


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This page updated: 08/18/99
Author: Space History Division
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