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The Schermuly

William Schermuly

The word ‘Schermuly’ is synonymous with an illumination parachute flare but where does it come from?

William Schermuly was born in 1857 going to sea on HMS Warspite and a succession of other ships after. After leaving his career as a seamen in 1880 he set about saving the lives of seamen, he was often quoted as saying;

Lost ships can be replaced but lives are gone forever

Many ships were lost within sight of the coast because a line could not be secured, existing methods of tying lines to cannonballs or using complicated and difficult to use rockets were completely unsatisfactory. Schermuly invented a simple and easy to use system that even included a new way to coil the line so that is payed out smoothly.

Despite being given a stiff ignoring by the Admiralty, by 1922 the Schermuly Line Throwing device was in widespread use in the shipping industry with the first sales coming in 1912.

Early Schermuly Line Thrower
Early Schermuly Line Thrower

In WWI the Canadian Army used them for projecting telegraph cables from trench to trench whilst under fire and a rocket that fired a grappling hook to enable barbed wire entanglements to be quietly pulled away also found some use.

Schermuly Line Thrower for Trench Use
Schermuly Line Thrower for Trench Use

Despite achieving some success with the apparatus Schermuly wanted further improvements, especially in the ease of use department. The Schermuly Rocket Pistol Apparatus (SPRA) fired a short blank cartridge which ejected the rocket, the rocket then ignited and propelled the line to the target ship, shore or person in distress. The compact system could project a half inch line up to three quarters of a mile away.

His third son, Conrad David, a man who at the age of 21 had become the youngest RSM in the British Army, helped to bring the SPRA to fruition. Schermuly was a family business.

Schermuly Line Throwing Apparatus 3

Schermuly Line Throwing Apparatus 2

Schermuly Line Throwing Apparatus 4

Schermuly Line Throwing Apparatus 1

The Merchant Shipping Act of 1929 enforced a requirement for all ships to carry a line throwing apparatus, 19 days later, William Schermuly dies, his life’s work of saving sailors lives complete.

William Schermuly
William Schermuly

WWII saw the Schermuly company providing all manner of rocket equipment for the war effort, from the PAC Rocket to the Grapnel Rocket used to great effect by the US Rangers on D Day. The PAC Rocket used a 6 pound rocket motor to propel a steel line held aloft by a parachute to protect airfields and ships against dive bombers. This might sound a bit Heath Robinson but apparently, there were successes when used from ships.

Flares and distress signals were also made in many versions.

Schermuly were purchased by Pain Wessex

Looping back to the green suited use of the Schermuly…

Rocket Parachute Illuminating L5A4
Rocket Parachute Illuminating L5A4
Rocket Hand Fired Para Illuminating L12A2
Rocket Hand Fired Para Illuminating L12A2

Available from Chemring

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12 Responses

  1. Poor Sir Thomas Crapper… How exemplary work lives on in people’s mind(shaped by language):

    “The origins of the word “crap” is not entirely known, but it is known that it was commonly used in England to refer to rubbish or chaff, but fell out of use in the 16th century, long before Thomas Crapper and his company came along.

    The term “crap” was still used somewhat in America though, coming over pre-16th century from England, and it is thought that one of the reasons American soldiers seemed to universally take to calling the toilet “The Crapper” is they found it funny with “crap” meaning something to the effect of “refuse” and that most of the cisterns and toilets in England were stamped with “T. Crapper & Co Ltd”. It was ironical to them, though the joke was lost on the English who had long stopped using the term “crap”/”/

  2. I always thought it was just one of those foreign words the British Army had picked up on its travels, until I I saw a Schermuly branded rocket in a museum.

    Fun bit of kit, best not to fire them when wearing synthetic gloves though, as I discovered the hard way! (low melting point) And on one memorable occasion I came within a few steps of being brained by the metal sleeve for the rocket dropping out of the sky

  3. Don’t forget the early webley/schermuly riot guns too http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30032636

    Occasionally the twecky household received stocks of shelf expired schermuly marine products to be (illegally, I am sure) disposed of on bonfire night. The lifeboat maroon was particularly impressive. My old man has a couple of the line throwing guns too – beauties

  4. “Despite being given a stiff ignoring by the Admiralty…..”

    Where have we heard this before ?.

  5. Having used the line throwing gun in anger from a heaving R.A.F launch . He has saved many lives at sea.

  6. Thankyou for the article. Conrad was the business brains, but his younger brother Alfred my grandfather was the company pyrotechnical expert. So only fair I give him a mention especially as he went on to invent items that have saved so many lives over the years.

  7. “…your connection to Schermuly” – as they have been wondering for years about their stock control position :-)

    GNB

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