At the end of the eighteenth ^jaDpSEg century, Great Britain was well into its efforts to colonize India. The Indian population resisted the invading British forces. In at least one battle, this resistance took an entirely unexpected form. ^^^R Prince Hydar Ali of Mysore was one of jH^Hrne Indian rulers who most actively resisted ■ J^Sthe British invasion. In addition to his regular
Harmy, the prince formed a company of 1,200 rocket gunners. The rockets these men l^Elaunched toward their enemy were not the h^Kcardboard rockets the British were accustomed to seeing at royal fireworks displays. They were iron tubes weighing 6 to 12 pounds (2.7 to 5.4 kg), guided by 10-foot (3-meter) ^^Rbamboo sticks. These could carry a warhead made from the end of a sword or sharpened l^Estake anywhere from 1 to 1.5 miles (1.6 to 2.4 UlHkilometers). They were not too accurate, but ^when hundreds were launched at once, accuracy didn't matter.
Encouraged by the success of his father's rocket corps, Hyder Ali's son Sultan Fateh Ali Tipu increased the number of men to five thousand. The British suffered severe defeats in m
1792 and 1799. The British army began to reconsider its low opinion of the rocket's value as a weapon.
British colonel William Congreve immediately purchased the largest skyrockets he could find in London, paying for them himself. He began a series of tests to see just how far an existing British rocket could travel. This turned out to be about 600 yards (550 m), only half the distance of an Indian war rocket. He took this information to the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich and obtained permission to use the laboratory and its firing ranges.
Congreve soon developed a rocket capable of flying 2,000 yards (1,830 m). He demonstrated this new rocket for the prince regent. The government quickly approved rockets for the navy. The navy used them in devastating attacks against Boulogne, France, and Copenhagen, Denmark. Most of Copenhagen was burned to the ground after a barrage of hundreds of rockets.
Congreve's first military rockets were intended only as incendiary devices. Their sole purpose was to set fires wherever they landed. They were made of cast iron and were 3.5 inches (8.9 centimeters) wide and 40.5 inches (103 cm) long, with a 16-foot (4.8 m) guide stick attached. (In 1813 he changed the design so that instead of the guide stick being attached to the side of the rocket, the guide stick was inserted into the center of the base. The rockets were better balanced and more accurate.) By 1817 Congreve had increased the types of rockets he was producing. This included all sorts of
explosive bombs and other devices, such as flare rockets equipped with parachutes.
Congreve was convinced that his rockets would soon replace artillery on the battlefield. They were inexpensive to manufacture, relatively easy to use, and light and easily movable. They were neither more nor less accurate than the artillery of the time. The biggest advantage of the rocket, however, was its lack of recoil.
When a gun is fired, it becomes a kind of rocket. A blast of gas is ejected from the muzzle, along with a heavy bullet. This pushes the gun in the opposite direction. Isaac Newton's third law of motion explains this phenomenon: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This backward movement of the gun is called recoil. This is merely a nuisance on land, where a cannon can be attached to a heavy carriage to absorb the shock of recoil. But on a ship at sea, it is entirely different.
The bigger and heavier a gun is, the larger the ship must be. The recoil from a big gun causes a navy ship to lurch uncontrollably.
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