Indian military rocket, late 18th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Replica. The first military use of rockets is thought to have been by the Chinese in the 13th century. In the late 18th century, rockets such as this were used against the British in India. They consisted of heavy metal tubes guided by bamboo, and had a range of about a mile (1.6 km). This experience prompted the British Army to become interested in their use. Sir William Congreve (1772-1828) succesfully demonstrated a solid fuel rocket in 1805, and the following year his rockets were used in action for the first time, fired from special boats against the French fleet off Boulogne. Congreve's rockets had a range of up to about 2.5 km. They were effective, despite being somewhat inaccurate and prone to explode prematurely.