Rocket Artillary in War

A military tactic developed by Tippu Sultan and his father, Haidar Ali was the use of mass attacks with rocket brigades on infantry formations. Tippu Sultan wrote a military manual called Fathul Mujahidin in which 200 rocket men were prescribed to each Mysorean "cushoon" (brigade). Mysore had 16 to 24 cushoons of infantry. The areas of town where rockets and fireworks were manufactured were known as Taramandal Pet ("Galaxy Market").

The rocket men were trained to launch their rockets at an angle calculated from the diameter of the cylinder and the distance of the target. In addition, wheeled rocket launchers capable of launching five to ten rockets almost simultaneously were used in war. Rockets could be of various sizes, but usually consisted of a tube of soft hammered iron about 8" long and 1½ - 3" diameter, closed at one end and strapped to a shaft of bamboo about 4ft. long. The iron tube acted as a combustion chamber and contained well packed black powder propellant. A rocket carrying about one pound of powder could travel almost 1,000 yards. In contrast, rockets in Europe not being iron cased, could not take large chamber pressures and as a consequence, were not capable of reaching distances anywhere near as great. The rockets' range was typically 2.4 kilometres, an outstanding performance for the time, attributable chiefly to the iron employed for the casing. Indian iron and steel had long been about the best in the world, and permitted increased bursting pressures and hence higher propellant packing density. (European rockets still used some kind of pasteboard.)

Haidar Ali's father, the Naik or chief constable at Budikote, commanded 50 rocketmen for the Nawab of Arcot. There was a regular Rocket Corps in the Mysore Army, beginning with about 1200 men in Haidar Ali's time. At the Battle of Pollilur (1780), during the Second Anglo-Mysore War, Colonel William Braille's ammunition stores are thought to have been detonated by a hit from one of Haidar Ali's Mysore rockets resulting in a humiliating British defeat.

In the Third Anglo-Mysore War of 1792, there is mention of two rocket units fielded by Tipu Sultan, 120 men and 131 men respectively. Lt. Col. Knox was attacked by rockets near Srirangapatna on the night of 6 February 1792, while advancing towards the Kaveri river from the north. The Rocket Corps ultimately reached a strength of about 5000 in Tipu Sultan's army. Mysore rockets were also used for ceremonial purposes. When the Jacobin Club of Mysore sent a delegation to Tippu Sultan, 500 rockets were launched as part of the gun salute.

During the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War, rockets were again used on several occasions. One of these involved Colonel Arthur Wellesley, later famous as the First Duke of Wellington and the hero of the Battle of Waterloo. Arthur Wellesley was defeated by Tipu's Diwan, Purnaiya at the Battle of Sultanpet Tope.

"At this point (near the village of Sultanpet) there was a large tope, or grove, which gave shelter to Tipu's rocketmen and had obviously to be cleaned out before the siege could be pressed closer to Seringapatam island. The commander chosen for this operation was Col. Wellesley, but advancing towards the tope after dark on the 5 April 1799, he was set upon with rockets and musket-fires, lost his way and, as Beatson politely puts it, had to "postpone the attack" until a more favourable opportunity should offer. Wellesley's failure was glossed over by Beatson and other chroniclers, but the next morning he failed to report when a force was being paraded to renew the attack.

"On 22 April [1799], twelve days before the main battle, rocketeers worked their way around to the rear of the British encampment, then 'threw a great number of rockets at the same instant' to signal the beginning of an assault by 6,000 Indian infantry and a corps of Frenchmen, all directed by Mir Golam Hussain and Mohomed Hulleen Mir Mirans. The rockets had a range of about 1,000 yards. Some burst in the air like shells. Others called ground rockets, on striking the ground, would rise again and bound along in a serpentine motion until their force was spent."

The British were so impressed by these rockets that they soon began a vigourous technology programme led by Colonel William Congreve. Several Indian rocket cases were sent to Britain for analysis. In 1801-02, Congreve confirmed with tests that the biggest sky-rockets then available in London had a range less than half that of the Mysore rockets. At the Royal Laboratory a Woolwich Arsenal, he tested various combinations for propellant, and developed a series of rockets with a stout iron case, and iron hoops on one side making it easier to fix the stabilizing stick.

In 1804, he published A Concise Account of the Origin and Progress of the Rocket System. Reasoning on the basis of the Newton's third law of motion, he recognised that the rocket did not suffer from the recoil that made cannons so difficult to use on ships. In 1806, a rocket attacked on Boulogne, where Napoleon had assembled forces to take war to British soil, set the town on fire, and ended French plans for a cross-Channel expedition. This success was followed by the use of rockets in various other wars in Europe, and in the United States in the War of 1812, when rockets were responsible for the fall of the city of Washington.

One major reason for interest in this episode is that it occurred during a time of global transition in geopolitics, economics and technology. Clearly, even in the late eighteenth century there were several Indian products technologically superior to Western equivalents, and this was recognised by both sides. But the British effort that followed had the sophistication of research and development today. Scientific principles were applieJPEG Imaged, designs made, products developed and tested, and all of this was carefully documented - a process alien to Indians of that time. The Indian rockets were well-made but not standardized, being the creation of traditional artisans. 

In August 1974, a highly researched paper presented by Frank H.Winter of National Air and Space Museum Washington USA, titled "The Rocket in India from ancient times to the 19th century", presented the `Agni Astra' from Vedik hymns to Tipu's war rocket with eighteen classic references.


Date Satellite Launcher
November 21, 1963 - Nike-Apache
February 21, 1969 - Pencil Rocket
    (India-made: 10 kg)
April 19, 1975 Aryabhata Cosmos (USSR)
June 7, 1979 Bhaskara Cosmos (USSR)
August 10, 1979 Rohini SLV-3
July 18, 1980 Rohini SLV-3
May 31, 1981 Rohini SLV-3
June 19, 1981 APPLE Ariane (ESA)
November 20, 1981 Bhaskara-II Cosmos
April 10, 1982 INSAT 1A Delta (U.S.)
April 17, 1983 Rohini SLV-3
August 30, 1983 INSAT 1B U.S. space shuttle
March 24, 1987 SROSS A ASLV-D1
March 17, 1988 IRS-1A Vostok (USSR)
July 13, 1988 SROSS B ASLV-D2
July 22, 1988 INSAT-1C Ariane
June 12, 1990 INSAT-ID Delta
August 29, 1991 IRS-1B Vostok
May 20, 1992 SROSS C ASLV-D3
July 10, 1992 INSAT-2A Ariane
July 23, 1993 INSAT-2B Ariane
September 20, 1993 IRS-1E PSLV-D1
May 4, 1994 SROSS ASLV-D4
October 15, 1994 IRS-P2 PSLV-D2
December 7, 1995 INSAT-2C Ariane
December 28, 1995 IRS-1C Molniya (Russia)
March 21, 1996 IRS-P3 PSLV-D3
June 4, 1997 INSAT-2D Ariane
September 29, 1997 IRS-1D PSLV-C1
April 2, 1999 INSAT-2E Ariane
May 26, 1999 IRS-P4,  
  Tubsat Kitsat PSLV-C2
March 22, 2000 INSAT-3B Ariane 5
April 18, 2001 GSAT GSLV