Rockets tipped with swords?

I was fascinated to read about some early rockets tipped with blades.

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 British took an active interest in the technology and developed it further during the 19th century. The Mysore rockets of this period were much more advanced than what the British had seen, chiefly because of the use of iron tubes for holding the propellant; this enabled higher thrust and longer range for the missile (up to 2 km range). Although rockets existed also in Europe, they were not iron cased, and their range was far less than that of their East Asian counterparts.

. . .

The rockets had a range of about 1,000 yards. Some burst in the air like shells. Others, called ground rockets, would rise again on striking the ground and bound along in a serpentine motion until their force was spent. According to one British observer, a young English officer named Bayly: “So pestered were we with the rocket boys that there was no moving without danger from the destructive missiles …”. He continued:

“The rockets and musketry from 20,000 of the enemy were incessant. No hail could be thicker. Every illumination of blue lights was accompanied by a shower of rockets, some of which entered the head of the column, passing through to the rear, causing death, wounds, and dreadful lacerations from the long bamboos of twenty or thirty feet, which are invariably attached to them.”

There’s more at the link.

Mysorean rockets captured in India were taken back to Britain for analysis and further study.  They were the basis of the later Congreve rocket, used in the Napoleonic Wars and against the USA in the War of 1812.



  1. Early rockets were terribly inaccurate. Some so much so that there was a real danger of them circling around and striking your own troops.
    The metal casings helped, but truly effective aimed missile fire waited on the development of rocket nozzle technology. A good deal of that was done in Germany between the two world wars as they were prohibited from engaging in artillery research.

  2. Interesting. It almost sounds like something I'd expect from a steampunk story or coming from a Japanese manga or anime. Know it was real reminds me that truth often really is stranger than fiction.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *