Hwacha
Overview
 
Hwacha or Hwach'a is the world's first multiple rocket launcher
Multiple rocket launcher
A multiple rocket launcher is a type of unguided rocket artillery system. Like other rocket artillery, multiple rocket launchers are less accurate and have a much lower rate of fire than batteries of traditional artillery guns...

 developed and used in Joseon
Joseon
Joseon, Chosŏn, Choseon or Chosun are English spellings of the Korean *word for "Korea". It may refer to:*Korea*Gojoseon, the first Korean kingdom, from 2333 BC to 108 BC.*Joseon Dynasty of Korea, from AD 1392 to 1910....

 Korea
Korea
Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

. It had the ability to fire up to 100 steel-tipped rocket
Rocket
A rocket is a missile, spacecraft, aircraft or other vehicle which obtains thrust from a rocket engine. In all rockets, the exhaust is formed entirely from propellants carried within the rocket before use. Rocket engines work by action and reaction...

s, or 200 Singijeon
Singijeon
Singijeon or Shinkichon is a multi-launch rocket invented by Korean general Choe Mu-seon in 1377, during the Goryeo Dynasty under King U...

 ("divine weapon") flaming arrow projectiles from a range of 500 yards in multiple salvo
Salvo
A salvo is the simultaneous discharge of artillery or firearms including the firing of guns either to hit a target or to perform a salute.Troops armed with muzzleloaders required time in which to refill their arms with gun powder and shot...

s. Its prototypes were developed as a secret weapon in the 15th century under King Sejong the Great.

The weapon consisted of a two-wheeled cart carrying a board filled with holes into which the ammunition was inserted.
Encyclopedia
Hwacha or Hwach'a is the world's first multiple rocket launcher
Multiple rocket launcher
A multiple rocket launcher is a type of unguided rocket artillery system. Like other rocket artillery, multiple rocket launchers are less accurate and have a much lower rate of fire than batteries of traditional artillery guns...

 developed and used in Joseon
Joseon
Joseon, Chosŏn, Choseon or Chosun are English spellings of the Korean *word for "Korea". It may refer to:*Korea*Gojoseon, the first Korean kingdom, from 2333 BC to 108 BC.*Joseon Dynasty of Korea, from AD 1392 to 1910....

 Korea
Korea
Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

. It had the ability to fire up to 100 steel-tipped rocket
Rocket
A rocket is a missile, spacecraft, aircraft or other vehicle which obtains thrust from a rocket engine. In all rockets, the exhaust is formed entirely from propellants carried within the rocket before use. Rocket engines work by action and reaction...

s, or 200 Singijeon
Singijeon
Singijeon or Shinkichon is a multi-launch rocket invented by Korean general Choe Mu-seon in 1377, during the Goryeo Dynasty under King U...

 ("divine weapon") flaming arrow projectiles from a range of 500 yards in multiple salvo
Salvo
A salvo is the simultaneous discharge of artillery or firearms including the firing of guns either to hit a target or to perform a salute.Troops armed with muzzleloaders required time in which to refill their arms with gun powder and shot...

s. Its prototypes were developed as a secret weapon in the 15th century under King Sejong the Great.

The weapon consisted of a two-wheeled cart carrying a board filled with holes into which the ammunition was inserted. These small rockets were attached to the same sort of arrows as were used with Gungdo
Gungdo
The Korean Bow is a water buffalo horn-based composite reflex bow, standardized about 1900 AD from the variety of such weapons in earlier use...

bows. They could travel up to 500 yards.

Some East Asian historians believe this technological breakthrough alongside the turtle ship
Turtle ship
The Turtle ship, also known as Geobukseon or Kobukson , was a type of large warship belonging to the Panokseon class in Korea that was used intermittently by the Royal Korean Navy during the Joseon Dynasty from the early 15th century up until the 19th century.The first references to older, first...

 in the mid-16th century had a distinctive effect during the Imjin War; however, sources on both the turtle ship and hwacha are too scarce to really say much about this. Today, hwacha appear in Korean museums, national parks, and popular culture.

History

Long before the development of the hwacha, China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 imposed severe restrictions on exporting gunpowder
Gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...

 to Korea, fiercely guarding a military asset. Yet, gunpowder weapons were key to the Koreans in maintaining a predominant navy in the Sea of Japan
Sea of Japan
The Sea of Japan is a marginal sea of the western Pacific Ocean, between the Asian mainland, the Japanese archipelago and Sakhalin. It is bordered by Japan, North Korea, Russia and South Korea. Like the Mediterranean Sea, it has almost no tides due to its nearly complete enclosure from the Pacific...

 (East Sea) to protect fishermen and merchants against the increasing numbers of invading Japanese and Waegu pirates.

In response, there was an effort by Koreans to develop gunpowder on their own. Between the years of 1374 to 1376, Korea began its first productions of gunpowder. In 1377 a Korean scholar named Choe Mu-seon
Choe Mu-seon
Choe Mu-Seon was a medieval Korean scientist, inventor, and military commander during the late Goryeo Dynasty and early Joseon Dynasty...

, discovered a way to obtain gunpowder by extracting potassium nitrate
Potassium nitrate
Potassium nitrate is a chemical compound with the formula KNO3. It is an ionic salt of potassium ions K+ and nitrate ions NO3−.It occurs as a mineral niter and is a natural solid source of nitrogen. Its common names include saltpetre , from medieval Latin sal petræ: "stone salt" or possibly "Salt...

 from the soil and subsequently invented the Juhwa, Korea's very first rocket. Further developments led to the birth of the family of singijeon
Singijeon
Singijeon or Shinkichon is a multi-launch rocket invented by Korean general Choe Mu-seon in 1377, during the Goryeo Dynasty under King U...

s.

The hwacha was a brainchild of its predecessors, the Juhwa and the Singijeon. The first hwacha was made in 1409 during the Joseon Dynasty
Joseon Dynasty
Joseon , was a Korean state founded by Taejo Yi Seong-gye that lasted for approximately five centuries. It was founded in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Goryeo at what is today the city of Kaesong. Early on, Korea was retitled and the capital was relocated to modern-day Seoul...

 by several Korean scientists, including Yi Do (이도) and Choi Hae-san (최해산).

During the rule of Sejong the Great, hwachas were further developed and extensively made. Records show that during this time 90 hwachas were in use. King Sejong, famous for his contribution to Hangul
Hangul
Hangul,Pronounced or ; Korean: 한글 Hangeul/Han'gŭl or 조선글 Chosŏn'gŭl/Joseongeul the Korean alphabet, is the native alphabet of the Korean language. It is a separate script from Hanja, the logographic Chinese characters which are also sometimes used to write Korean...

, made efforts to improve the hwacha and by the end of his rule a single hwacha could fire 200 rocket arrows at one time.

Stronger and more effective hwachas were made in 1451 under the decree of King Munjong
Munjong of Joseon
King Munjong was the fifth King of the Joseon Dynasty, who ruled Korea from 1450 to 1452. He was the eldest son of King Sejong the Great, and succeeded him in 1450, but died of disease two years later. He was succeeded by his son, Danjong of Joseon.Most of Munjong's achievements were performed...

. At the time, 50 units were deployed in Hanseong (present-day Seoul), and another 80 on the northern border. By the end of 1451, hundreds of hwachas were deployed throughout the peninsula.

Imjin wars (1592–1598)

Hwachas saw action most extensively during the Japanese invasions of Korea against the Japanese soldiers. They were mostly placed in fortresses or citadels, and used in defensive manners. These proved to be powerful in many battles, and were most prominent in the Battle of Haengju
Battle of Haengju
The Battle of Haengju took place on February 12, 1593 during the Japanese invasions of Korea . Approximately 3,000 Korean defenders led by general Kwon Yul successfully repelled more than 30,000 Japanese forces...

, in which 3,400 Koreans repelled 30,000 Japanese with the help of 40 hwachas. The Japanese samurai
Samurai
is the term for the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan. According to translator William Scott Wilson: "In Chinese, the character 侍 was originally a verb meaning to wait upon or accompany a person in the upper ranks of society, and this is also true of the original term in Japanese, saburau...

 infantry, especially in the Battle of Haengju, typically advanced in dense formations, presenting ideal targets for the hwacha.

Hwachas were also used in panokseon
Panokseon
Panokseon was an oar- and sail-propelled ship that was the main class of warship used by the Korean Joseon Dynasty during the late 16th century. The first ship of this class was constructed in 1555...

s under the navy of Admiral Yi Sun-sin
Yi Sun-sin
Yi Sun-shin was a Korean naval commander, famed for his victories against the Japanese navy during the Imjin war in the Joseon Dynasty, and is well-respected for his exemplary conduct on and off the battlefield not only by Koreans, but by Japanese Admirals as well...

 to attack Japanese ships from a distance.

Components

The hwacha's structure was very similar to a hand cart with a mobile wooden launchpad on the top filled with 100 to 200 cylindrical holes, into which the ignitors like sajeonchongtong
Korean cannon
Cannon in Korea were first developed by Choe Mu-seon, for exclusive use by the Goryeo Army. Several types were made and saw successful action during the Mongol invasions of Japan...

 (사전총통) were placed.

The ammunition, similar to the Chinese fire arrow
Fire Arrow
Fire arrows are an early form of gun powder rocket which were attached to a stick. The Chinese are credited with the first use of fire arrows in a military application, they may have developed fire arrows from their use of fireworks.- Design :...

, consisted of a 1.1 m long arrow with the addition of a paper tube filled with gunpowder attached to the shaft just below the head. Approximately 100 projectiles were loaded and launched in one volley, and were effective up to a range of 500 meters.

One variant had 5 rows of 10 gun barrels in the launchpad, each of which could fire a bundle of four arrow-like projectiles.

The back side of the hwacha featured two parallel arms that allowed the operator to push and pull the machine, and a vertical strip designed for in-line attacks or stand ground-sentry positions.

The wagon-like wheels were usually fastened by wood pivots and iron axles. In order to reduce friction between the wheels and the axles, tar
Tar
Tar is modified pitch produced primarily from the wood and roots of pine by destructive distillation under pyrolysis. Production and trade in tar was a major contributor in the economies of Northern Europe and Colonial America. Its main use was in preserving wooden vessels against rot. The largest...

 oil was used.

Hwachas were usually made of pine wood, although there are some versions made of oak. Ropes used within were usually made of hemp.

The Korean army carried siege engineers and blacksmiths in order to make repairs to the Hwacha if poor road conditions, bad weather, or battle damaged the machinery.

Projectiles

Unlike cannon
Cannon
A cannon is any piece of artillery that uses gunpowder or other usually explosive-based propellents to launch a projectile. Cannon vary in caliber, range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire, and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees,...

s or mortar
Mortar (weapon)
A mortar is an indirect fire weapon that fires explosive projectiles known as bombs at low velocities, short ranges, and high-arcing ballistic trajectories. It is typically muzzle-loading and has a barrel length less than 15 times its caliber....

s used in Western warfare during the 16th century and the Middle Ages, which required heavy iron balls, Hwacha fired arrows which were thin and light, making it an easy-to-maneuver siege weapon.

The holes in the top of the launching pad in Hwacha ranged in diameter from an inch to an inch and a half, which allowed thin Gungdo bow-like arrows
Gungdo
The Korean Bow is a water buffalo horn-based composite reflex bow, standardized about 1900 AD from the variety of such weapons in earlier use...

 to be fired and also admit sajeonchongtong class ignitor to be placed in the back side of the shooting board.

Singijeon
Singijeon
Singijeon or Shinkichon is a multi-launch rocket invented by Korean general Choe Mu-seon in 1377, during the Goryeo Dynasty under King U...

-class projectiles were designed by Korean siege engineers specifically to be used in Hwacha. They were small arrows usually shot in multiples of 200. Called (so) (소) they possessed a pouch of black powder attached in the bottom near to the fletching
Fletching
Fletching is the aerodynamic stabilization of arrows or darts with materials such as feathers, each piece of which is referred to as a fletch. The word is related to the French word flèche, meaning "arrow," via Old French; the ultimate root is Frankish fliukka...

 section. Besides the singijeon-class projectiles, hwacha could also fire 100 steel-tipped rockets.

Because of the large numbers of arrows fired from Hwachas and the wide spread damage of its attack, a dense formation presented an ideal target for Hwachas.

Ballistics and range

The trajectory
Trajectory
A trajectory is the path that a moving object follows through space as a function of time. The object might be a projectile or a satellite, for example. It thus includes the meaning of orbit—the path of a planet, an asteroid or a comet as it travels around a central mass...

 of the so (소; "small") size singijeon projectiles was fairly flat and – like other spinning projectiles – experienced the Magnus effect
Magnus effect
The Magnus effect is the phenomenon whereby a spinning object flying in a fluid creates a whirlpool of fluid around itself, and experiences a force perpendicular to the line of motion...

. Operators used to fire the weapon with an angle nearly 45 degrees to maximise range. Adverse weather conditions (wind, humidity, rain) during a battle generally limited their striking distance to about 100 meters.

Hwachas' range could be extended if the siege weapon was situated in elevated places like hills. Singijeon arrows from that position had a range of about 500 yards (≈450 meters).

A 15th century account from the Annals of Joseon Dynasty
Annals of Joseon Dynasty
The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty are the annual records of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea, which were kept from 1413 to 1865. The annals, or sillok, comprise 1,893 volumes and are thought to cover the longest continual period of a single dynasty in the world...

 tells us of an experiment, in which the Singijeon fired from the Hwacha completely pierced a scarecrow armed with a suit of armour and shield, at the range of 80 paces (about 100 metres).

Usage

Hwachas were mostly used in defensive manners; however, some Western and East Asian historians have recently concluded that in some cases they had been used offensively in naval warfare, sea to surface attacks and in naval warfare
Naval warfare
Naval warfare is combat in and on seas, oceans, or any other major bodies of water such as large lakes and wide rivers.-History:Mankind has fought battles on the sea for more than 3,000 years. Land warfare would seem, initially, to be irrelevant and entirely removed from warfare on the open ocean,...

 as well, particularly in the Battle of Noryang Point
Battle of Noryang Point
The Battle of Noryang, the last major battle of the Japanese invasions of Korea , was fought between the Japanese navy and the combined fleets of the Joseon and Ming navies...

, during the Imjin wars in 1598.

Hwachas were usually carried to battle highly escorted. Once the army settled down in trenches or base camps, the operators would disassemble the siege weapon by placing the launching pad on the top. Transporting Hwachas were similar to European trebuchet
Trebuchet
A trebuchet is a siege engine that was employed in the Middle Ages. It is sometimes called a "counterweight trebuchet" or "counterpoise trebuchet" in order to distinguish it from an earlier weapon that has come to be called the "traction trebuchet", the original version with pulling men instead of...

s and required assembling before usage. All the pieces featured similar characteristics and the mobile launching pad could be unpacked and easily placed on the wood outlet on the top of cart.

Once a hwacha was set up for combat, the operators would use the gunpowder stored on a boot-like bag tied on each ignitor to be used for each hole on the machine. After that, the operators were able to load the Hwacha with arrows or iron spikes and be ready for shooting. To do so, the operators stepped back and covered their ears, pulling the ropes that contained each ignitor thus blasting fire on its opponent.

At sea, maneuvers were slightly different and complex because the operator would need to find a proper and stable place to fire. Usually some Hwacha operators preferred to be in the rowers deck where they were able to shoot from the windows, while others preferred to be in the main deck so they could shoot to the sails of the enemy ships. This kind of maneuvers was particularly seen in Korean Panokseon
Panokseon
Panokseon was an oar- and sail-propelled ship that was the main class of warship used by the Korean Joseon Dynasty during the late 16th century. The first ship of this class was constructed in 1555...

 warships.

In popular culture

The television program MythBusters built and tested a hwacha on the October 22, 2008 episode of the show. They tested three factors: whether or not it could fire arrows over 500 yards, whether or not the arrows would explode on impact and cause fatal damage, and whether or not it could fire 200 arrows simultaneously. They demonstrated that all three capabilities were confirmed. In their final test, the missiles overshot the target area, but still landed in a very tight group. They concluded that if the target were a large massed army, the attack would have done considerable damage. This corresponds with the historical reports of the hwacha's effectiveness against armies in tight formations.

The hwacha is featured in a number of real time and turn-based strategy games as well as a few historical and fictional films including The Divine Weapon
The Divine Weapon
- Plot :During the reign of King Sejong the Great, Joseon Korea faces increasing hostility from Ming China. Ming China, without restraint, mounts unrelenting demands against the Korean crown, further entrenching distrust and aversion to subservience. Ming China has especially been provoked by a...

.

See also

  • Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598)
  • Singijeon
    Singijeon
    Singijeon or Shinkichon is a multi-launch rocket invented by Korean general Choe Mu-seon in 1377, during the Goryeo Dynasty under King U...

  • Fire arrow
    Fire Arrow
    Fire arrows are an early form of gun powder rocket which were attached to a stick. The Chinese are credited with the first use of fire arrows in a military application, they may have developed fire arrows from their use of fireworks.- Design :...

  • Ribauldequin
    Ribauldequin
    A Ribauldequin, also known as a rabauld, ribault, ribaudkin, infernal machine or organ gun, was a late medieval volley gun with many small-caliber iron barrels set up parallel on a platform, in use during the 14th and 15th centuries. When the gun was fired in a volley, it created a shower of iron...

  • Huolongjing
    Huolongjing
    The Huolongjing is a 14th century military treatise that was compiled and edited by Jiao Yu and Liu Ji of the early Ming Dynasty in China...

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