The 1,000-rocket cache of an 18th-century Indian warrior king

The rocket cache of an 18th-century Indian warrior king: 1,000 missiles believed to be among the first ever used in battle are found in abandoned well

  • Excavation of abandoned well in Shimoga district led to unearthing of rockets 
  • These were stored by Tipu Sultan for use in wars, Indian archaeologists say
  • Tipu Sultan is credited with developing early rocket known as Mysorean rocket
  • He was killed in the fourth Anglo-Mysore war in 1799 after a string of battles
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Over a thousand rockets belonging to an 18th-century Muslim warrior king have been found by excavators in an abandoned well in India’s southern Karnataka state, an official said Friday.

The excavation of the open well in Shimoga district led to unearthing of rockets and shells that were stored by Tipu Sultan for use in wars, according to the state’s assistant director of archaeology.

The powerful ruler was killed in the fourth Anglo-Mysore war in 1799 after a string of victories in battle against the British East India Company.


Excavation of an open well in India’s southern Karnataka state led to unearthing of rockets and shells that were stored by 18th-century Muslim warrior king Tipu Sultan

He is credited with developing an early, indigenous rocket known as the Mysorean rocket, a prototype of British Congreve rockets used in the Napoleonic wars.

These were the first iron-cased rockets used in the military, and experts say they paved the way for rocket use around the world.

The British eventually adopted the technology as well after being exposed to it during the wars.

This later led to the development of the Congreve rocket.

‘Excavation of the open well led to unearthing of over 1,000 corroded rockets that were stored during Tipu’s times for use in wars,’ R. Shejeshwara Nayaka told AFP from the site, some 385 kilometres (240 miles) northwest of state capital Bangalore.

HOW DID THE FIRST MISSILES WORK?


The missiles were fastened to swords or bamboo poles to provide stability, that would, in turn, lead to better accuracy

Rockets were used in warfare since the 13th century, and the Chinese  used them to defend themselves against Mongol invaders. 

However, they were flimsy versions, often made of paper and card. 

Tipu Sultan is credited with developing an early, indigenous rocket known as the Mysorean rocket, a prototype of British Congreve rockets used in the Napoleonic wars.

Tipu planned, designed and crafted cylindrical iron tubes that would allow for great compression of the filled gunpowder and consequently, greater range (nearly 2 km).

Tipu then fastened them to swords or bamboo poles to provide stability, that would, in turn, lead to better accuracy (right). 

These missiles were fitted with swords and traveled several metres through the air before coming down with edges facing the enemy.    

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 4 ft (1 m) long. 

The iron tube acted as a combustion chamber and contained well-packed black powder propellant.  

Hyder Ali, the 18th century ruler of Mysore, and his son and successor Tipu Sultan used them 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.

These were the first iron-cased rockets used in the military, and experts say they paved the way for rocket use around the world.

The British eventually adopted the technology as well after being exposed to it during the wars. 


The English confrontation with Indian rockets came in 1780 at the Battle of Guntur. The closely massed, normally unflinching British troops broke and ran when the Indian Army laid down a rocket barrage in their midst.

 

 

‘Digging of the dry well where its mud was smelling like gunpowder led to the discovery of the rockets and shells in a pile.’

It took three days for the 15-member team of archaeologists, excavators and labourers to unearth the armoury and the ammunition. 

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The excavation of the open well in Shimoga district led to unearthing of rockets and shells that were stored by Tipu Sultan for use in wars, according to the state’s assistant director of archaeology

The rockets, measuring between 23 and 26 centimetres (12-14 inches), would be kept for public display at a museum in Shimoga.

According to archeological records, the fort area in Shimoga was a part of Tipu Sultan’s kingdom and the rockets were used in the wars that the ruler fought against the East India Company.

Tipu Sultan is credited with developing an early, indigenous rocket known as the Mysorean rocket, a prototype of British Congreve rockets used in the Napoleonic wars.

Tipu planned, designed and crafted cylindrical iron tubes that would allow for great compression of the filled gunpowder and consequently, greater range (nearly 2 km).

Tipu then fastened them to swords or bamboo poles to provide stability, that would, in turn, lead to better accuracy.

WHO WAS TIPU SULTAN?


Tipu, Sultan of Mysore, is pictured

Tipu Sultan came to power in Mysore, India in 1782 after the death of his father, Hyder Ali.

He became known as a powerful ruler that assisted in numerous wars over the course of his life, including the First and Second Mysore Wars.

Tipu saw a string of victories in battle against the British East India Company.

He is also credited with developing an early, indigenous rocket known as the Mysorean rocket, a prototype of British Congreve rockets used in the Napoleonic wars.

He died in 1799 leading his troops after the capital was stormed by British-led forces.

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. 

These were the first iron-cased rockets used in the military, and experts say they paved the way for rocket use around the world.

The British eventually adopted the technology as well after being exposed to it during the wars.

During the Anglo-Mysore wars of the late 1700s, Mysorean rockets were used by Tipu to great effect.

British soldiers described the iron tubes of gunpowder mounted on swords of Tipu’s army as ‘flying plagues’

After the fall of Srirangapattana in 1799, the British army found 600 launchers, 700 serviceable rockets and 9,000 empty rockets at Tipu’s fort. 

Many of these were sent to the Royal Artillery Museum in Woolwich (where two specimens are still preserved), inspiring it to start a a military rocket research and development program in 1801.

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