Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The rocketman of India

A British scientist is credited with the invention of the modern day rocket. Text books in India of science and books on general knowledge point out to William Congreve as father of modern rocketry. How wrong they are.
Rocketry, as we see today, originated in the Bangalore-Mysore area and the credit for inventing the rocket goes to none other than Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore.
Tiu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore, was so enamored of the rocket that he even wrote a book on it. He refined and fine tuned his father Hyder Ali’s rough artillery pieces and called them rockets. Tipu was so sure of the range and destructive power of the rockets that he raised a separate unit of 6,000 people and called then the artillery brigade.
Tipu stored his artillery in Bamboo Bazar area in Bangalore and also on the present lanes and by lanes of City Market. Some of the long range rockets, which could cover upto 1,000 yards, were stored at his armoury behind the Bangalore Medical College in Bangalore.
Tipu is believed to have a laboratory dedicated to refine rockets in Taradamandelpet in Bangalore. However, it is generally accepted by historians and Tipu scholars  that the birthplace of modern rocketry is Srirangapatna.
There is a small elevated structure in Srirangapatna which is called Rocket Court, It is here that Tipu is believed to have tested his rockets which spread fear among his opponents, including the British.
When the British defeated Tipu by deceit on May 4, 1799, they also came across this rocket court. They found, counted and either dismantled, destroyed and shipped to England 600 rocket launchers, 700 rockets which were primed to fire  and 9,000 empty rockets.     
and the Over 200 years later, the Ministry of Defence has finally decided to give Tipu and Srirangapatna their due when it announced it would mark the Rocket Court, the laboratory where Tipu tested his mini-missiles at the birthplace of rocket technology.
The Ministry of Defence, India, too has acknowledged the contribution of Tipu to rocket technology. The missile man of India, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, has also written about it in his book Wings of Fire.
The world’s first rocket in wars was fired by Tipu in the late 1790 s during the last two wars of Mysore with the British. Records available with the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), Bangalore, indicate that four British soldiers were killed in rocket fire during the battle of Bangalore in April 1799. This battle took place a few weeks before the fall of Srirangapatna.
The Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO), which is developing indigenous rockets for our country, has taken interest in the rocket court.
Now coming back to the rocket court and the British, I saw two of the rockets from Srirangapatna in Royal Artillery Museum in London.
Congreve dismantled the rockets of Tipu and rebuilt then. Meanwhile, the Royal Woolwich Arsenal, London, also studied these Indian rockets and launched a rocket development programme. This was sometime in late 1800.
A few years later, the British claimed they invented the rocket. Their first demonstration of  these solid fuel rockets was in 1805. William Congreve then wrote in 1807 the book “A Concise Account of the Origin and Progress of the Rocket System.
The Congreve rockets were used by England in the wars against Napolean of France. Interestingly, they were also used against the Confederate Army of the United States during 1812-1814 in the US.   
The former Chairman of Indian Space research Organisation, Prof. U.R. Rao, credits Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan with developing the world’s first  iron-cased and metal-cylinder rocket artillery.
Historians say that the rockets fired at the British during the Battle of Pollilur (1780)  were much more advanced than those of  the British East India Company. This was because Tipu had used iron tubes for holding the propellant, leading to higher thrust and longer range for the missiles.
The British accounts details the use of rockets during the third and fourth wars. Researchers believed that Tipu could not use the full complement of rockets in 1799 as a British shell accidently struck the armoury holding rockets., The armoury exploded and the rockets lay waste.
Tipu did not depend on rocketry alone in his endeavour to throw the British out of India. He knew the British ruled the high seas and  that they had a monopoly over sea trade.
Tipu then set about building  a Navy. His Navy in 1799 comprised 20 battleships of 72 cannons and 20 frigates of 62 cannons. In 1790 Tipu asked Kamaluddin to take over as his Mir Bahar. He also set up dockyards at Jamalabad and Majidabad.
Tipu set up an Admiralty Board. It had eleven members There were eleven commanders. Tipu also experimented in the design of ships. He ordered that copper be used to protect the ships against water corrosion.
Tipu write a military manual called Fathul Mujahidin in which 200 rocket men were assigned to each Mysorean "cushoon"  or brigade. The Mysore Army generally comprised 16 to 24 cushoons of infantry. These rocket men were trained to launch  rockets at an angle calculated from the diameter of the cylinder and the distance to the target.
In 1792, during the Third Mysore War, Tipu deployed two rocket units comprising 120 and 131 men respectively. A British soldier, Lt, Col, Knox recalls how he was attacked by rockets when he was at the gates of Srirangapatna in February 1792.
It is time that Indians gave Tipu his due and remembered him as the real rocket man and not Congreve.

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