You may have guessed it, we’re back at Firepower. Continuing our journey down the History Gallery, this week we have reached the Napoleonic period, and one of the cleverest inventors ever to grace the Arsenal. His name was William Congreve, and he grew up surrounded by Artillery, as it was his father (also called William Congreve) that we have to thank that the collection exists in the first place, the result of a Royal order to establish a collection of guns.
The Chinese invented the idea of rockets, just as they invented Gunpowder, but as time passed and the British East India company spread its net ever further, British troops encountered forces armed with rockets, for example Tipu Sultan, and it became obvious that the great advantage of rockets was that they were light and easily portable over any kind of terrain. The one thing that was a problem was giving rockets stability in flight. Without this they were all too likely to turn into the original ‘friendly fire’ chasing friend and foe in equal measure, and it was this that Congreve was able to control. In some of the other galleries you can see the guided missile descendants, of Congreve’s rockets, everything from lightweight Rapier guided weapons to Honest John and Lance Tactical Nuclear Weapons.
Still on the theme of making weapons accessible in the most difficult of terrain, further along are the ‘screw guns’ made famous in the poem by Rudyard Kipling. These were guns that could be dismantled and loaded onto pack mules, which were able to scramble up mountain sides, making it possible to follow the enemy into formerly innacessible mountain lairs. There are several of these in the Gunnery Hall, as they were only replaced by the combination of helicopter and 25 pounder gun.
And now we come to a splendid piece of improvisation used at Mafeking in the Boer War. It is a gun manufactured in a local railway workshop, using a length of steel pipe for the gun barrel and part of a threshing machine for the carriage. They christened it the ‘Wolf’ gun after Lord Baden-Powell, leader of the British Expeditionary force, and the rest, of course, is history. Mobilty and improvisation have always been a key to success in the British army, and continue to be so even today.