Saturday, 25 October 2014

Mysorean rocket - precursor to modern rocketry

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipeida
In the annals of history of  human civilization  and wars between kingdoms, security of countries became an important issue and the rulers had to use various military warfares as deterrent to invasion by other countries. Since first century    several innovations had been made in the areas of military warfare and defense. One of the  important offensive military innovations in rocketry in the 18 th century introduced by Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan in the Carnatic wars against the British was  called ''Mysorean Rockets''which were the scourge of the mighty British. These missiles', fitted with swords, spears and sharp objects   upon controlled firing,  would  travel long distance, several meters above in air before coming down with  sharp swords edges facing the enemy line. The specialty about these rockets was they were iron cased. Heat resisting iron-tubes were used to hold the propellants which gave better thrust and long range more than 2 km.
The European rockets were not powerful  and  were not iron cased, and their range was far less than that of their oriental counterparts. While these Mysorian  soft iron rockets were crude, the bursting strength of the container of black powder was much higher than the earlier paper construction. One 0f the added feature is higher internal pressure essential for thrust in the air and range.

The Mysore rockets of this period were much more advanced than what the British had seen. They were successfully deployed for military use. Hyder Ali, the 18th century ruler of Mysore, and his son and successor, Tipu Sultan used them effectively against the British East India Company.
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 battles at Srirangapatam in 1792 and 1799 these rockets were used with considerable effect against the British which made them run helter skelter

Technology and deployment

Hyder Ali got this rocket technology from his father who was a Naik/constable with the Arcot of Nawab. He commanded 50 rocket men for the Nawab at Budicote. There was a separate regular rocket corps in the Mysore Army, beginning with about 1,200 men in Hyder Ali's time. At the Battle of Pollilur (1780), during the Second Anglo-Mysore War, the British force led by Colonel William Baillie faced humiliating defeat because  Hyder Ali's rockets  hit the ammunition depots  and detonated them.These fire powers of the Sultan sent Duke Wellington and Arthur Wellesley to the edge of the cliff leaving them at their wit's end.

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 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 inches (20 cm) long and 1.5 to 3 in (3.8 to 7.6 cm) in diameter, closed at one end and strapped to a shaft of bamboo about 4ft (1m) 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.

The Guntur Iron-cased rockets introduced by Hyder Ali in  1780 had devastating impact on the British during the  Mysore wars.
These were used in the wars against Napolean and the US in 1812. Thereafter, rocket technology saw a lull in development until it was revived by one Robert Goddard from the US who designed the first liquid fuel rockets in 1936 and in the 1950 and 1960s by Werner Von Braun.

The entire road alongside Jumma Masjid near City Market and Taramandalpet, Bangalore was the hub of Tipu's rocket project where he had set up a laboratory.