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Crusader1307

The Zulu War - Isandlhwana

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Switching ''Time'' now....Tell me why you think The Zulu Empire of South Africa was so successful in their complete destruction of The British Expeditionary Force at The Battle of Isandlhwana in 1879?

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Now this is one of my favourites! In my opinion one of the biggest blunders they made was by splitting their forces, despite not knowing where the Zulus actually were. BUT... I don't think that this alone necessarily was the sole cause of the disaster. They also massively underestimated their enemy because they only fought with Spears... it was more arrogance and complacency by Chelmsford than anything else.

They went into enemy territory and thought it would be an easy victory, but there were far more Zulus than British soldiers and the British didn't even have a proper place to defend themselves.


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Exactly. The British High Command (Chelmsford) saw The Zulu as quite inferior to British Tactics and Military Technology. Despite the fact that many of His Volunteer Command (Men who had lived in Colonial Africa for many years), had warned Him of The Zulu's overwhelming and effective battle tactics. By splitting his Force and establishing arrogance rather than prudence, the entirety of The 24th Regiment and it's supporting Units were decimated.

 

I often compare Isandlhwana to The Little Big Horn and Custer. There too is another classical example of arrogance and over confidence in Military Technology. Unfortunately, the large cost of British Soldiers in 1879 would forever place The Battle as the worst defeat of a Modern Army at the hands of a Native Force. But now we move To Roarke's Drift and the following question........

How could so few a British Force using limited emplacements and defensive cover, hold off roughly 3,000 Zulu Warriors?

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I believe this is a great example how Europeans back in 19th century, and even Europeans now when when thinking about colonizing almost entire world... It's not that advanced tactics and superior technology guarantee victory. It might do if one use it wisely, but not on its own. When reading history books in elementary school we only see how Europeans conquered Americas and Africa just like that, but people who managed to do that were also clever. Almost always we used diplomacy, and often treachery to achieve our goals.

So, how to defeat Zulu? Don't go directly on them, especially not when they are at their prime. Patience, and don't make them too angry if you don't have enough strength yet. That's the best way I think.

But, beside everything already said, it looks like somebody wanted to earn some glory, beside underestimating Zulu warrior moral.

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To a point, Prince....by the time after Rourke's Drift, thousands of Troops were poured into South Africa as well as the conscription of Colonial Forces (even The Boers). Sheer numbers would eventually erode The Zulu. This plus the fact that The Zulu never embraced firearms or Cavalry (firearms being seen more un-Warrior-like to the more ''manly'' Zulu and having a superstition against The Horse in general) - would find them surrendering at Ulundi scarcely a year after The War began.

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21 hours ago, Crusader1307 said:

How could so few a British Force using limited emplacements and defensive cover, hold off roughly 3,000 Zulu Warriors?

This is an incredible question. You know I still quite can't explain it or understand it myself. The only "real" explanation I can think of is simply because it was a defensive position and as we all know, the British were historically phenomenal in defending positions. It was also a single army and not split. But we know how tiny the British force actually was.

But other than this....... I await the truth M'Lord.


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Well, without too much fanfare, it was Luck and The Lord (to paraphrase). The Zulu (after Isandlhwana), split their Force into three sections (each being massive in their own right). Their Mission was to seek out and kill any British Soldiers. The Force which was detached to fight at The Drift were actually Reserves (including their Leaders). Half had actually fought at Isandlhwana the previous day, the other were held back as ''The Loins'' – in Zulu parlance).

 

The 24ths Detachment at The Drift, were in a somewhat unusual position of not being in the open as the Main Column was at Isandlhwana. This meant that The Zulu couldn't really deploy their trademark ''Bull Buffalo'' Formation, but had to rely on Frontal assaults only (in waves no less). This in it's own right was daunting, nonetheless.

 

The Brits had but two ''saviors'' as it were. A ''visiting'' Royal Engineering Officer – Lt. John Royce Marion Chard and a capable Infantry Officer in command of The Detachment, Lt. Gronvile Bromhead. And while Bormhead may have commanded The Infantry, it was the engineering feats of reinforcing The Drift and developing the tried and true Infantry Tactic of The Volley Fire. And while by sheer numbers The Zulu still should of overwhelmed them, they stalled (although at least three breakthroughs did happen – with hand to hand combat the order of the day.

 

The final master stroke, was Chard's creation of a Redoubt made from sandbags (called Mealies), and rising to a incredible 12-feet (in three levels). A fallback, the remaining Brits were able to create a three level Volley Fire Platform. This allowed the otherwise unreliable Henry-Martini .303 Rifle to be maximized for fire. In other words, 150 round every 10 seconds were poured into the advancing Zulu's that had broken through during the final assault of The Drift. This caused The Zulu's to simply leave The Drift as a mere annoyance by this time. Perhaps no one War Chief wanted to tell King Cetswayo that ''they'' could not reduce The Drift.

 

It short it was one of those few rare happenings in Military History which showed that sometimes courage and determination can far outweigh numbers and Technology.

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16 hours ago, Crusader1307 said:

The 24ths Detachment at The Drift, were in a somewhat unusual position of not being in the open as the Main Column was at Isandlhwana. This meant that The Zulu couldn't really deploy their trademark ''Bull Buffalo'' Formation, but had to rely on Frontal assaults only (in waves no less). This in it's own right was daunting, nonetheless.

The main question I have is why the Zulus didn't just encircle Rorkes Drift and charge on mass with all their army. Surely attacking in waves is a bad strategy when you're far numerically superior?

We obviously all know films are made into match "Hollywood" perceptions and in this case to glorify the British, but how accurate would you say the film was in portraying the Battle of Rorkes Drift?

Edited by Lord_Chris

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Simply put, to answer your query....Terrain. The Drift – a Missionary Post as you recall, was constructed on an open plain (more or less), but was bracketed by foothills and several mid-sized Plateaus. The application of The Horns of The Bull Formation (encirclement by extended flanks), simply would not have worked. The Frontal wave assault was actually how The Zulu originally fought (as did many other Tribes). It was King Shaka in the early 19th Century, that incorporated The Fighting Bull Formation.

 

As for The Films, as you know – there are (sadly) just 3 since 1964. The Classic ''Zulu'' (which is your fav about The Battle of Rourke's Drift), the later prequel 1979s ''Zulu Dawn'' and 1986s ''Shaka Zulu''. I've given you a break down on accuracy.

 

''Zulu''

While several points are correct, ''Zulu'' is very much NOT how The Battle happened – but was as close as one could achieve then. Filmed actually in Natal, South Africa – ''real'' Zulu where recruited to play Cetswayo's Impis. The Costumer did an excellent job on The 24ths Uniforms, as well as the weapons, hair styles, etc. But.......the perceived leadership friction between Chard and Bromhead did not exist (at least not as palpable as in The Film). Many of the principle characters were actually composites of several actual men. That being said, the Battle and overall feel were very good. It wasn't bad for what it was, and I often recommend the film to watch (if nothing but for the battle). The final ''pop your bubble'' is that The Zulu did not salute their brave Enemy at the end of The Film. They simply retired from the Field without fanfare.

 

 

''Zulu Dawn''

By far, a much more accurate portrayal of The Battle of Isandlhwana – How it began, the failure of several key and critical deployments, etc. The Uniforms are very good as well. Although ''Zulu'' was made in 1964, one can watch ''Zulu Dawn'' first and then watch ''Zulu'' quite seamlessly. The staging of the actual Battle was fairly spot on. Highly recommend this one. Good cast with Peter O'Toole, Burt Lancaster and a LOT of other well known British Actors of the time. Obviously the personal relationships of some of the characters are ''pressed'' but once you get into The Battle, it is worth it.

 

 

''Shaka Zulu''

While not about The Zulu War, Henry Cele as ''Shaka'' is perhaps the best version of just How The Zulus came into being and rose to be a Force. This is based on several actual early 19th Century Expeditions to South Africa by British Military and Civilian Explorers. I would recommend this as well.

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You indeed "popped my bubble" with that "not a salute". 🙂

Yes, indeed good movies, although I could watch Shaka Zulu again. By the way, about the first two, as I mentioned it before, I also like those details. I remember even how they stored explosive (if I'm not mistaken) in the movie. In was in something like large can. Which does make sense, this way it wouldn't become wet, and if I'm not wrong, cans were invented during Napoleonic Wars for storing food. But it surprised me a lot, I would have taken it for granted that they would store it in some barrels, or wooden boxes. 😄 Instead, I still remember how one of soldiers was opening it as a can of sardines. 😄 

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Actually the .303 Ammo ''boxes'', but yes. The ''sealed'' tins (which were also lined in canvas as well - were absorbents meant to help keep moisture out (which was clever for the day). And yes, ''Shaka Zulu'' is rather good. Still findable on a variety of Media. Bit long though (it was a Mini-Series), but shortened versions exist.

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Sorry for the slow reply, I got swamped over the weekend.

I loved that overview, I thought it was so interesting. I'm stunned to hear the leadership friction didn't exist. But...then again, I'm sure they changed Hook's character massively as well. So it shouldn't come as such a surprise really. I'm sure someone once told me something about Hook's family taking legal action because of the way they portrayed his character as a drunk and thief, but I might not have remembered that correctly. Sounds like "Hollywood" remade it to glorify things again.

Zulu Dawn is a great film too. I'm fortunate enough to have both on DVD which were very difficult to source. I think Peter O'Toole played his role VERY well. Most of the actors did to be honest.

I never heard of Shaka Zulu, but I think it'll have a look at it. It sounds like it might be interesting.


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The fields have eyes, and the woods have ears.

⁠— Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales: The Knight's Tale

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Correct. Private Henry Hook was neither, but that's Hollywood. As for ''Shaka Zulu'', you will really like it. In The US, it was a 5-part (1 week long) Mini-Series. When I got a copy on VHS (no really) - back in 1987 (yes, really again) - it was a somewhat cut down version - but still good. On DVD, it is a 2-disc set, with extras.  O'Toole as Chelmsford was a master stroke. He really portrayed the  a typical British General of The Era very well ( He was such a great Actor).

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