Tipu: Pioneer of Rocket Technology

A tribute on Tipu Sultan's 261st birth anniversary
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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) in 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 and range.

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 independence war.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 October 2011 on page no. 12

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