Today I learned: Rocket-propelled swords used in 18th Century Indian warfare


A soldier of Tipu Sultan with an inverted rocket being used as a flagstaff

While the article is focused more on the subject of early rocket-use in conflicts between the Indian forces of Tipu Sultan and the British than it is on sword artillery in particular, I was unaware said weapon system even existed. I was familiar with the later British use of the Congreve rocket in the Napoleonic wars, and hardly surprised that they were used in a location closer to the actual invention of gunpowder and rocketry at an earlier date.

Apparently the Sultan’s forces used iron-encased rockets with a longer range and explosive payload than their British counterparts which were encased in cardboard. The Congreve rocket would adopt similar technology.

From The Vintage News:

Hyder Ali’s father, the naik or chief constable at Budikote, commanded 50 rocketmen for the Nawab of Arcot. Tipu Sultan brought the concept of using sword and blade thrust rockets in their military force to fight the advancing British army. There was a 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, Colonel William Baillie’s ammunition stores are thought to have been detonated by a hit from one of Hyder Ali’s rockets, contributing to a humiliating British defeat.

Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan deployed them effectively against the larger British East India Company forces during the Anglo-Mysore Wars. These ‘missiles’ were fitted with swords and traveled several meters through the air before coming down with edges facing the enemy.

The article goes on to describe the action of these rockets further.

After the fall of Srirangapattana, 600 launchers, 700 serviceable rockets and 9,000 empty rockets were found. Some of the rockets had pierced cylinders, to allow them to act like incendiaries, while some had iron points or steel blades bound to the bamboo.

By attaching these blades to rockets they became very unstable towards the end of their flight causing the blades to spin around like flying scythes, cutting down all in their path.

Sounds like it would be a terrifying weapon to encounter, even if the technology was destined for obsolescence in the face of improved explosive ordinance.

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Today I learned: Rocket-propelled swords used in 18th Century Indian warfare

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