October 2011, marks the 261st birth
anniversary of Tipu Sultan, king of Mysore state (October 1750 -
May 1799). Tipu ruled Mysore for 17 years (1782-1799). Tipu Sultan
pioneered and perfected the use of rockets for military purposes,
very effectively using it in wars against the invading British
colonial armies. Tipu Sultan had 27 brigades called Kushoons; each
brigade had a company of rocket men called Jourks.
At the Battle of Seringapatam in 1792, Indian soldiers launched a
huge barrage of rockets against British troops, followed by an
assault of 36,000 men. Although the Indian rockets were primitive
by modern standards, their sheer numbers, noise and brilliance
were said to have been quite effective at disorienting British
soldiers. During the night, the rockets were often seen as blue
lights bursting in the air. Since Indian forces were able to
launch these bursting rockets in front and behind British lines,
they were a tremendous tool for throwing the British off guard.
The bursting rockets were usually followed by a deadly shower of
rockets aimed directly at the soldiers.
Some of these rockets passed from the front of the British columns
to the rear, inflicting injury and death as they passed. Sharp
bamboos were typically affixed to the rockets, which were designed
to bounce along the ground to produce maximum damage. Two of the
rockets fired by Tipu's troops in 1792 war are on display at the
Royal Artillery Museum in London.
Later at the battle of Srirangapattana (4th Anglo-Mysore war)
April 1799, British forces led by Col Arthur Wellesley (Duke of
Wellington) ran away from battlefield when attacked by rockets and
musket fire of Tipu Sultan's army. Unlike contemporary rockets
whose combustion chamber was made of wood (bamboo), Tipu's rockets
used iron cylinder casing that allowed greater pressure, thrust
The British were greatly impressed by the Mysorean rockets using
iron tubes. At the end of war, more then 700 rockets and
sub-systems of 900 rockets were captured and sent to England. Some
of these rockets are still kept in the Greenwich Museum. William
Congreve thoroughly examined the Indian specimens to reverse
engineer and make its copies that were later used successfully in
naval attack on Bologne, France, the siege of Copenhagen and also
against Fort Washington (New York) during the American
Kaleem Kawaja is a
Washington based activist.