It is far better to live like a lion for a day then to live like a jackal for hundred years.

Tipu Sultan

Tipu Sultan, also known as Tipu Sahab or the Tiger of Mysore, was the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore based in South India and a pioneer of rocket artillery. Tippu was instructed in military tactics by French officers in the employ of his father, Hyder Ali, who was the Muslim ruler of Mysore. In 1767 Tippu commanded a corps of cavalry against the Marathas in the Carnatic (Karnataka) region of western India, and he fought against the Marathas on several occasions between 1775 and 1779.

Photo of Tipu Sultan Credits: Religion World
Photo of Tipu Sultan Credits: Religion World

Mysorean Rockets

He is considered to be the pioneer of Mysorean rockets which were an Indian military weapon, the first iron-cased rockets successfully deployed for military use. The Mysorean army, under Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, used the rockets effectively against the British East India Company during the 1780s and 1790s. Their conflicts with the company exposed the British to this technology, which was then used to advance European rocketry with the development of the Congreve rocket in 1805.

Rocket being lighted by Mysorean soldier (Illustration by Robert Home)
Rocket being lighted by Mysorean soldier (Illustration by Robert Home)

The Mysore rockets of this period were much more advanced than what the British had previously seen, chiefly because of the use of iron tubes for holding the propellant; this enabled higher thrust and longer range for the missile (up to 2 km range). Rockets also existed in Europe, but they were not iron-cased and their range was far less than their South Asian counterparts. These hammered soft iron rockets were crude, but the bursting strength of the container of black powder was much higher than the earlier paper construction, and a greater internal pressure was possible. These rockets were used with considerable effect against the British East India Company in battles at Srirangapatam in 1792 and 1799.

A painting showing the British forces confronted with Mysorean rockets
A painting showing the British forces confronted with Mysorean rockets

Tipu Sultan wrote a military manual called Fathul Mujahidin in which 200 rocket men were assigned to each Mysorean cushoon (brigade). Mysore had 16 to 24 cushoons of infantry. The rocket men were trained to launch their rockets at an angle calculated from the diameter of the cylinder and the distance to the target. In addition, wheeled rocket launchers were used in war that were capable of launching five to ten rockets almost simultaneously.

Rockets could be of various sizes but usually consisted of a tube of soft hammered iron about 20 cm long and 3.8 to 7.6 cm in diameter, closed at one end and strapped to a shaft of bamboo about 1 m long. The iron tube acted as a combustion chamber and contained well-packed black powder propellant. A rocket carrying about 500 gm of powder could travel almost 1,000 900 m. In contrast, rockets in Europe could not take large chamber pressures, not being iron cased, and were consequently not capable of reaching such distances.

British adoption of the technology — Congreve Rockets

A Russian soldier depicted using the Congreve rocket
A Russian soldier depicted using the Congreve rocket

The experience with Mysorean rockets eventually led the Royal Woolwich Arsenal to start a military rocket research and development program in 1801, based on the Mysorean technology. Several rocket cases were collected from Mysore and sent to Britain for analysis. Their first demonstration of solid-fuel rockets came in 1805 and was followed by the publication of A Concise Account of the Origin and Progress of the Rocket System in 1807 by William Congreve, son of the arsenal’s commandant. Congreve rockets were systematically used by the British during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. They were also used in the 1814 Battle of Baltimore, and are mentioned in “The Star-Spangled Banner”, the national anthem of the United States: And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air.

His famous quotes

“Save me from friends, I will defend against my enemies”

“The real joy of life is to combat difficulties and miseries with firm determination.”

“It is better to die before you bend your knees before your enemy”

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