Alexander Dmitrievich Zasyadko
Alexander Dmitrievich Zasyadko (1779-1837) made an excellent military career, and also became famous for his work in the field of missile technology. In this area in Russia, Zasyadko was a real pioneer. Powder rockets, created by this officer-artilleryman, surpassed the British models in flight range, and the machine developed by him for the simultaneous salvo of six missiles was the prototype of all modern MLRS. Unfortunately, the prominent designer and master of rocketry passed away relatively early. Alexander Zasyadko, who received the rank of Lieutenant General in 1829, retired in 1834 for health reasons (injuries and hardships of military life affected) and quickly faded away, having died on May 27, 1837 in Kharkov at the age of 57.
The beginning of the military career of a missile master
Alexander Dmitrievich Zasyadko was born in 1779 (the exact date is unknown) in the village of Lyutenka on the banks of the Psel River (Gadyach district, Poltava province). Zasyadko came from a family of Little Russian nobles, his father worked as a county treasurer in Perekop and was even noted in the second part of the genealogy book of noblemen of the Poltava province. At the same time, the Zasyadko family itself came from ancestral Cossacks, inextricably linked with the Zaporozhye Sich.
Some sources indicate that among the closest relatives of Alexander Zasyadko were accordions. A specially trained category of Ukrainian Cossacks, who mastered the artillery business and ensured the proper functioning of the artillery, was called “Garmash”. In any case, it was Alexander Dmitrievich Zasyadko who became the most famous artilleryman in the family, who rose to the rank of lieutenant general and took part in all important wars for Russia at the beginning of the 19th century, including the Patriotic War of 1812.
Until the age of ten, Alexander lived in his father’s house, where he managed to get his primary education. At the age of 10, together with his brother Danila, he was sent to St. Petersburg, where he studied for eight years in the Artillery and Engineering Gentry Cadet Corps. It was in St. Petersburg that the foundation of Alexander Zasyadko’s knowledge in the field of artillery and fortification was laid. In 1797, both Zasyadko brothers graduated from the cadet corps with the rank of second lieutenants of artillery and were sent to serve in the Kherson province in the 10th infantry battalion.
Together, the brothers fought during the Italian campaign of the Russian army in 1799. For two months of fighting, Alexander Zasyadko had to take part in hand-to-hand combat several times, during the battle under him they killed a horse three times, and also shot a shako twice. At the same time, in battles, Alexander demonstrated not only courage, but also good management skills. For one successful battle, Zasyadko was personally noted by Suvorov, who praised the abilities of the young officer. And a little later, for the courage shown in the capture of the fortress of Mantua, the famous Russian field marshal personally promoted Alexander Zasyadko to the rank of captain.
Later, the brothers took part in the landing on the Ionian Islands (Corfu and Tenedos) in 1804-1806, as well as in the Russian-Turkish war of 1806-1812, the Patriotic War of 1812 and the overseas campaigns of the Russian army in 1813-1814. In all battles, Zasyadko showed courage and remarkable officer talent. In memory of past battles, Alexander Zasyadko received numerous orders, a golden sword with the inscription “For Bravery”, as well as a wound in his left leg. At the same time, Alexander took part in the Battle of Borodino, being in the epicenter of the battle on the Raevsky battery, giving the artillerymen an example of personal courage and daring.
Alexander Zasyadko also took part in the famous battle near Leipzig in October 1813 (“Battle of the Nations”). Colonel Alexander Zasyadko, who commanded the 15th Guards Brigade at that time, distinguished himself in battle and was presented to the Order of St. George of the third class for heroism. The award was all the more honorable considering that in the entire Russian army only two people were awarded this order before Zasyadko. For Zasyadko, the “Battle of the Nations” was marked by another important event. It was near Leipzig in 1813 that the British quite successfully used their powder rockets against Napoleon’s troops. The appearance of new weapons on the battlefield did not go unnoticed by the Russian command, especially artillery officers.
Creation of the first Russian missiles
The experience of using missiles in the battle of Leipzig was successful and made an impression on Zasyadko, who, after returning to Russia, set himself the goal of equipping the Russian army with new weapons. Alexander Zasyadko began work on the development of his own powder rockets, the production technology of which was kept secret by the British, in 1815 on his own initiative and at his own expense. Zasyadko rescued money for development and laboratory research by selling his father’s small estate near Odessa, which he inherited.
A versatilely educated officer, well versed in artillery, and also paying great attention to self-development and the study of various sciences, including chemistry and physics, Zasyadko realized early enough that combat missiles could be very useful for the army. More than a century remained before the massive use of rocket weapons on the battlefield. Zasyadko anticipated the time. At the same time, a good knowledge of mechanics, physics and chemistry, as well as familiarity with the experiments of various European inventors in Dresden and Paris, allowed Zasyadko to realize his plan.
Quickly enough, Alexander Zasyadko unraveled the secret of Colonel Congreve’s British missiles. At the same time, the Russian officer had to follow the same path as his British colleague. Quickly enough, Alexander realized that combat missiles are not much different from fireworks missiles, and there were no problems with the latter in the Russian Empire. In this area, the country had almost a century and a half of experience, pyrotechnics and fireworks art were at a very high level in Russia. Quickly enough, Alexander Zasyadko managed to surpass Kongreve’s missiles in firing range.
Combat missiles designed by A.D. Zasyadko: above – incendiary, below – grenade
It took a talented officer and inventor two years to present his combat missiles, created on the basis of fireworks. Changing their design and improving the production technology, Zasyadko presented a whole line of missile weapons with incendiary and high-explosive warheads. In total, the designer presented rockets of four calibers: 2, 2.5, 3 and 4 inches (51, 64, 76 and 102 mm, respectively). After a large number of experimental launches, the missile flight range was increased to 2300 meters, and during the official tests of the new weapon in St. Petersburg, the flight range of a 4-inch missile reached 3100 meters, which exceeded the flight range of the best foreign missiles of that time period.
Alexander Dmitrievich’s successes did not go unnoticed. In April 1818, Zasyadko received another promotion, becoming a major general. And in 1820, Alexander Zasyadko headed the newly established Artillery School, later, in the middle of the 19th century, the Mikhailovskaya Artillery Academy would be created on the basis of the school. Zasyadko also became the manager of the laboratory, the powder factory and the St. Petersburg arsenal. There, in St. Petersburg, with his direct participation, a pilot production of the first Russian combat missiles was organized.
To launch combat missiles, Alexander Zasyadko used a special machine, which initially did not differ much from those used to launch lighting and fireworks rockets. In the future, he improved the design of the rocket launcher, which already consisted of a wooden tripod, to which a special launch tube made of iron was attached. In this case, the pipe could be freely rotated in the vertical and horizontal plane. Later, Zasyadko presented a new machine with the ability to launch six missiles in a salvo at the same time.
The first combat use of Zasyadko missiles
Organized in 1826 in the vicinity of St. Petersburg, a small factory for the manufacture of military missiles (“Rocket Establishment”) from 1826 to 1850 produced more than 49 thousand missiles of the Zasyadko system of various calibers, including high-explosive, incendiary and canister. For the first time, a new Russian weapon was tested in combat conditions during the Russian-Turkish war in 1828. During the siege of the Turkish fortress of Varna, Russian troops first used a rocket company, commanded by Second Lieutenant Pyotr Kovalevsky (future lieutenant general of the Russian army). The company was formed back in 1827 on the initiative and with the direct participation of Major General Alexander Zasyadko. Organizationally, the new unit was part of the Guards Corps.
Missile attack on the Turkish fortress of Varna
The first rocket company in the Russian army included 6 officers, 17 fireworks, 300 privates, while 60 people from the company were non-combatants. The company was armed with three types of missiles and machine tools for them. Including 6 six-tube rigs for 20-pound rockets and 6 tripod rigs for launching 12-pound and 6-pound rockets. According to the state, the company was supposed to have at once three thousand combat missiles with both high-explosive and incendiary fillings. The combat missiles, which were designed by Zasyadko, were used during the siege of several Turkish fortresses: Varna, Shumla, Silistria, Brailov.
The first combat experience of using missiles by the Russian army falls on August 31, 1828. On this day, Zasyadko missiles were used to storm the Turkish redoubts located by the sea south of Varna. The shelling of new rocket weapons, as well as field and naval artillery, forced the Turks defending the redoubts to take refuge in holes dug in the ditches. When the Russian troops launched an attack on the redoubt, the enemy simply did not have time to take positions and provide organized resistance, as a result the redoubt was taken in a few minutes with heavy losses for the Turks.
Later, already in September 1828, rocket launchers as part of batteries (the battery usually consisted of two machine tools) were used during the siege and assault on Varna, which fell on September 29. In total, during the campaign of 1828, the first rocket company in the Russian army used up 811 combat and 380 incendiary missiles, most of which were spent near Varna.