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Development of rocket science in Poland by Kazimierz Siemionowicz

Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski|Sunday, October 16, 2011

Kazimierz Siemionowicz was a Polish-Lithuanian artillery general as well as a military engineer and a gunsmith. He was artillery specialist and pioneer of rocketry. He was born in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and he served the armies of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth which since 1569 became a Nobless Democracy in which by 1634 lived over one million of free citizens. General Siemionowicz spent a few years in the Netherlands where he published in Latin his pioneering book on rocketry. No portrait or detailed biography of him has survived and much of his life is a subject of dispute. He was educated at the Jesuit University of Vilno and was fascinated by artillery since childhood, and he studied many sciences to increase his knowledge (mathematics, mechanics, hydraulics, architecture, optics, tactics). In 1632-1634 he took part in the war against Muscovy in the siege of Biała under general Mikołaj Abromowicz and in 1644 he took part in the Battle of Ochmatów.  During the Spanish-Dutch war; he participated in the Siege of Hulst in 1645. In 1646 he returned to Poland, when King Wladyslaw IV created the Polish artillery corps and gathered specialists from Western Europe, planning a war against Turkey and its vassal the Crimean Tartars. He served as an engineering expert in the field of artillery and rocketry in the royal artillery forces. From 1648 he served as Second in Command of Polish Royal Artillery. In late 1648 the newly elected king John Casimir Vaza who gave up plans for the war with Ottomans advised him to return to the Netherlands and publish his studies there. In 1649 Siemienowicz decided to work on his book and publish it in Amsterdam.

  Kazimierz Siemienowicz, coat of arms Ostoja used Latin version: Casimirus Siemienowicz, and was known in Lithuanian as: Kazimieras Simonavičius, and in Belorussian Казімір Семяновіч, born c. 1600 – c. 1651). The official language of all the state documents of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was Belorussian – language used in Lithuania by the Jagiellonian Dynasty. Kazimierz Siemionowicz was a Polish-Lithuanian artillery general as well as a military engineer and a gunsmith. He was artillery specialist and pioneer of rocketry. He was born in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and he served the armies of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth which since 1569 became a Nobless Democracy in which by 1634 lived over one million of free citizens. General Siemionowicz spent a few years in the Netherlands where he published in Latin his pioneering book on rocketry. No portrait or detailed biography of him has survived and much of his life is a subject of dispute. He was educated at the Jesuit University of Vilno and was fascinated by artillery since childhood, and he studied many sciences to increase his knowledge (mathematics, mechanics, hydraulics, architecture, optics, tactics). In 1632-1634 he took part in the war against Muscovy in the siege of Biała under general Mikołaj Abromowicz and in 1644 he took part in the Battle of Ochmatów.  During the Spanish-Dutch war; he participated in the Siege of Hulst in 1645. In 1646 he returned to Poland, when King Wladyslaw IV created the Polish artillery corps and gathered specialists from Western Europe, planning a war against Turkey and its vassal the Crimean Tartars. He served as an engineering expert in the field of artillery and rocketry in the royal artillery forces. From 1648 he served as Second in Command of Polish Royal Artillery. In late 1648 the newly elected king John Casimir Vaza who gave up plans for the war with Ottomans advised him to return to the Netherlands and publish his studies there. In 1649 Siemienowicz decided to work on his book and publish it in Amsterdam. Siemienowicz condemned the use of poison gas or any poisoned globules as immoral. He would not introduce “any poison whatsoever, besides which, they shall never employ them for the ruin and destruction of men, because the first inventors of our art thought such actions as unjust among themselves as unworthy of a man of heart and a real soldier .” However, in a historically early instance of biowarfare, Siemienowicz ordered the firing of artillery containing the saliva of rabid dogs during a 1650 battle. He made an educated guess about the disease’s communicability that was not confirmed until hundred years later. The inventions of general Siemionowicz were used in many battles such as the Battle of Chocim on November 11, 1673, where the forces of the Commonwealth defeated the Ottoman army When in1650 Siemienowicz published his pioneering book, Artis Magnae Artilleriae pars prima (Great Art of Artillery, the First Part). The title implies a second part, and it is rumored that he wrote its manuscript before his death. It is possible that he was murdered in Holland by members of the guild of metallurgy/gunsmith/pyrotechnics, who were opposed to him publishing a book about their secrets, and that they destroyed the manuscript of the second part of his book. Siemienowicz ridiculed what he saw as a culture of secrecy based on alchemist’s ethics of the times when they “arrogantly took upon them to be Professors of so noble and excellent an art as Chemistry.” Artis Magnae Artilleriae pars prima was first printed in Amsterdam in 1650,. It was translated into French in 1651, German in 1676, English and Dutch in 1729 and Polish as late as in 1963. The reason for the late date of the Polish translation resided in the fact that the masses of Polish noble citizens were fluent in Latin. The mystery of the murder of General Kazimierz Ostoja Siemionowicz in 1651 never was solved. Siemionowicz promised in the first part of his work that the second one would contain “the universal pyrotechnic invention, and would contain all of our current knowledge.” According to his short description, this invention was supposed to greatly ease all measurements and calculations – possibly his version of a slide rule, which was first discussed by English astronomer Edmund Gunter in 1620. Gunter drew a 2 foot long line with the whole numbers spaced at intervals proportionate to their respective log values. For over two centuries the book on rocket science written and published by Kazimierz Siemionowicz was used in Europe as a basic artillery manual. The book provided the standard designs for creating rockets, fireballs and other pyrotechnic devices. It discussed for the first time the idea of applying a reactive technique to artillery. It contains a large chapter on caliber, construction, production and properties of rockets (for both military and civil purposes), including multistage and multiple warhead rockets, batteries of rockets, and rockets with fins or delta wing stabilizers. General Siemionowicz made great and original contribution to rocket technology. Instead of the long stabilizing rods used first by the Chinese inventors of rockets by the end of the IX cebtury, who later used them in service of the Mongol Empire during the invasion of Poland in 1241 in the siege of Legnica. The memory of this incendiary rockets is preserved in a painting hanging over the altar. A copy of this painting illustrates the use of incendiary rockets as well as a copy of his pioneering book, Artis Magnae Artilleriae pars prima (Great Art of Artillery, the First Part) are exhibited in Houston in N.A.S.A. Space Museum.
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