Duke Wellington’s victory at “the Battle of Waterloo’’ — backed by his war experience in India and Mysorean rocket technique

Duke Wellington’ s long war experience in India coupled with his war strategies backed by the use of Congreve rockets redesigned after Mysorean rocketry helped him emerge victorious at the Battle of Waterloo (1815)

Arthur Wellesley (Duke of Wellington) commons.wikimedia.org

Britain in 2015 celebrated the 200th anniversary of the “Battle of Waterloo” (June 1815), a big and decisive one fought by the French forces on one side led by none other than Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. a shrewd and experienced commander against what is referred to as the Anglo-allied army or Wellington’s army, commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley (Duke of Wellington). The venue was on the reverse slope of Mont. Saint Jean, SE of Brussels. As the power struggle had been going on in Europe between the French and the British, it happened to be a crucial war involving 170,000 soldiers. The outcome would decide the supremacy of either of the two who would dictate terms over other countries in Europe. The fate of Europe literally hung on the victor for the next several decades.

Having returned from Elba (Mediterranean island in Tuscany, Italy) well rejuvenated, Napoleon took on the English and allied forces with brimming confidence. As for Arthur Wellesley, brother of former Gov. General of India and commander of the troop that first sneaked into the formidable fort of Tipu Sultan at Srirangapatna (now in the state of Karnataka. S. India) and saw the fall of Tipu, he was on the war front with rich experience he had gained in the Indian subcontinent.

During the early colonial period under the East India company’s rule, Wellesley successfully tackled Tipu Sultan, a sworn enemy of the English, who had a military alliance with the French. Col. Wellesley was the first one to be on the scene in the final war to check whether Tipu was dead on 4 May 1799. It was the 4th and final Angelo-Mysore war and the British successfully captured the Mysore kingdom. When facing mighty Napoleon, Commander Duke Wellington had an advantage over his French counter part. The British army was armed with Congreve rockets that were made more efficient using the Mysorean rocketry as a model. Both Tipu Sultan and his father Hyder Ali used the rockets against the English army and terrorized them. In the 18th century India used the earliest systematized, rockets with heat-resistant iron cased cylinder weighing 2.2 to 5.5 kg for military purpose, unknown to the British army then. These rockets launched from special launching platforms could travel between 1.5 to 2 km depending on the amount of gun powder being used in them. They would inflict heavy damage on the enemy and destroy the ammunition depot. The British forces fighting in Mysore, India encountered rockets used by the army of Tipu. For the foot soldiers it was a nightmare to see a hail of incendiary rockets descending on them with intense heat, speed, direction and destructive force. This made the British troops run for their lives. In the second Angelo-Mysore war (1870 at Pollilur) diligent use of rockets by the Mysore army finally contributed to a British defeat.

Srirangapatna, Karnataka state, South India coorg.xyz

The field of rocketry saw gradual evolution after the 13th century. World-wide many developments took place in the use of rockets in the war. Some countries in Asia, Germany, England, etc., were experimenting on them. An English man Roger Bacon came up with better gun powder that increased the range of rockets. A French man by the name of Jean Froissart introduced a pipe system to propel the rockets with controlled flight path In Germany in the 16th century, two-stage rocket was introduced by a fireworks maker Johann Schmidlap and this type of rocket could reach higher altitudes. Rocketry was well used by the Indians in the 14th century, but they were made from wood and bamboo. Hyder Ali, ruler of Mysore and father of Tipu, being innovative, used heat resistant forged iron to make rockets for military purpose. Though crude, they were far more powerful and destructive than others because of better gun powder in the canister and the pointed stuff like spears blades, sword, etc., were tied to them. The pointed weapons in flight made the rockets very unstable towards the end of their flights making the blades spin around like flying scythes; anything blocking the flight path would face destruction.

Tipu Sultan (1750–1799) bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com

The British found 600 launchers, 700 serviceable rockets and 9,000 empty rockets in the Mysorean arsenal at Srirangapatna fort after the fall of Tipu Sultan in May 1799 and they gave inspiration to rocket expert Colonel William Congreve in England as the British armory included a new type of weaponry hitherto unknown to them then. An eye-witness told Congreve, “ a single rocket had killed three men and badly wounded others. “ Sir William Congreve in 1806 developed 32 pounders (after initial success in 1804 with better propellant mixture, rocket-motor. and better heat-resistant iron cased chamber. By 1813 the rockets were available in three classes:

Sir William Congreve .greenwichheritage.org

Above image: The son of the first Sir William (a professional soldier who had done much to develop the Royal Artillery’s capabilities both in Woolwich and beyond), Congreve was a great scientist and inventor. In 1804, he began experimenting with rockets at the Royal Laboratory. William was inspired by the rockets he had seen in India in the Anglo-Mysore Wars (1767–1799). He used his own money to fund his experiments and develop his inventions. (https://wwwgreenwichheritage.org/blog/post/making-woolwich-their-stories-sir-william-congreve-).

32-pounder Congreve rocket, 1813. en.wikipedia.org

01. Heavy Siege Rockets with incendiary carcass weighing over 135kg and 7.6–8.2m sticks.

02. Medium Siege Rockets had a 24–42 pdr (10.9–19.1kg) warhead of shot or shell, a 4.5–6.1m stick and a range of about 3000m..

03. Light Rockets (6–18 pdr (2.7–8.2kg) of shot, case-shot or shell) had 2.4–4.3m stick and a range of about 1800mthe earliest system

These descendants were used in the 1814 Battle of Baltimore, and are mentioned in the Star Spangled Banner.

Congreve rocket, Alamy.com

Above image: “This image could have imperfections as it’s either historical or reportage. Congreve rocket, may be used by the English at the bombardment of Flushing, 1809 British fire-missile (title object).’’ (https://www.alamy.com/congreve-rocket)

Tipu Sultan in the late 1700s had a manufacturing unit in Taramandal pet, Bengaluru (now an important IT world center) assembling rockets of different sizes and ranges. His separate rocketry division had about 5000 men trained to launch the rockets, covering various distances and ranges. At Waterloo the outcome of the war surprised the historians and Napoleon suffered his final defeat because of three reasons 01. Col. Wellesley diligently made some military maneuvers and checked on enemy’s advancement by kept changing their positions. 02. Though initially hesitating, Wellesley carefully used lots of Congreve rockets of various sizes (modeled after Mysorean rockets) redesigned using Indian expertise. The five light 6-pdrs expended 560 rounds in support of the defense of La Haie Sainte. 03. Above all, the prince of Wales (later King George IV) whom Wellesley personally knew well, encouraged him to use rockets against the enemy line and, accordingly, instructed the army to allow Wellesley to use them in the war.

Congreve Rockets acted as a trump card — a sort of bargaining chip for the British military whose supremacy and prowess went a few scales up in the 1800s. These remodeled rockets of various ranges were introduced to frighten the French army that was a major threat to British imperialistic ambition.

According to Wellesley’s biographer, Rory Muir when much of the time his brother held the highest post as the Governor-General,. Wellesley’s (Duke wellington) eight years in India “ were crucial years in which he developed his skills as a commander of men, a tactician, a strategic planner and a civil governor. It was in India that the future victor of Waterloo and future prime minister of Great Britain gained first hand experience in governance related to war and peace and civil administration. Muir further stated, ‘’Colonel Wesley as “an unusually ambitious, intelligent and well-read officer who looked far beyond the horizons of his regiment . . . and who was already comfortable assembling his thoughts into coherent arguments . . ..”. Wellesley landed in Calcutta (Kolkata) on 28 Feb. 1797 to join the EIC’s 33rd regiment; he was just 28 years old.

Wellington in India, wrote biographer Elizabeth Longford, was “ a great commander in embryo” Before Waterloo, Wellington had brilliantly commanded armies on the Iberian Peninsular (1808–14), where they wore down and drained French forces, causing Napoleon to refer to it as “the Spanish ulcer.

Wellington’s generalship was decisive. His Horse Artillery commander Sir Alexander Frazer described Wellington as “[c] old and indifferent . . . in the beginning of battles, when the moment of difficulty comes intelligence flashes from the eyes of this wonderful man; and he rises superior to all that can be imagined”.

“All the successful qualities he later exhibited on European battlefields were developed in India: decision, common sense, and attention to detail; care of his soldiers and their supplies; and good relations with the civilian population.’’(Britanica com /biography/Arthur-Wellesley )

Emerging victorious at Waterloo by defeating Napoleon, Duke Wellington became the conqueror of the world’s conqueror.


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Originally published at https://navrangindia.blogspot.com.