Battle of Islandlwana

Jersay

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Now I am doing a research project on the Anglo-Zulu war and just wanted you guys to know about.

The British presented an ultimatum on December 11th, 1878 to the Zulu king Cetshwayo. Cetshwayo did not accede, which led the British to declare war. Chelmsford moved his troops from where they were stationed in Pietermaritzburg to a forward camp at Helpmekaar, past Greytown. On January 9th, 1879 they moved to Rorke's Drift, and early on January 11th commenced crossing the Buffalo River into Zululand.

The British pitched camp at Isandlwana, but because of the size of the force (precluding a laager, or circling of the wagons), the hard ground, and lack of entrenching tools, did not fortify the camp. The British relied instead on their superior weapons and organization. Though the British posted lookout pickets, these did not have a full field of view so the British sent out reconnaissance parties as well. Although these parties skirmished with some Zulus and confiscated cattle, they did not discover the full magnitude of the Zulu force, which consisted of numerous impis (regiments).

The British army consisted of mounted regiments, infantry, and the Natal Native Contingent of local African auxiliaries. The support columns—oxen pulling wagon trains that needed prepared roads in order to progress—caused much delay.

Once he had established the camp at Isandlwana, Chelmsford divided his army and set out to find the Zulus. He left the 1st battalion of the 24th Regiment of Foot (later the South Wales Borderers) behind to guard the camp, under the command of Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pulleine. Pulleine was an administrator and had no experience of front line command on a campaign. Around 10:30 Colonel Anthony Durnford arrived from Rorke's Drift with 5 troops of the Natal Native horse. This put the issue of command to the fore because Durnford was senior and by tradition would have assumed command. However, he did not seem to have over-ruled Pulleine's dispositions and after lunch he moved off with his mounted troopers to reconnoitre in front of the British positions leaving Puelleine in command. When the attack started he retreated to the right of the British position and fought the battle on the right wing. At no time did Durnford take command of the main British position during the battle.

While Chelmsford was in the field seeking them, the entire Zulu army attacked the British camp. Pulleine's 1,400 soldiers fought bravely, but were totally overwhelmed. The Zulus took no prisoners and killed any they could including Pulleine and Durnford. Approximately 60 British regulars escaped, none of whom were wearing red coats -- Cetshwayo had specifically ordered his men to kill all the men wearing the red coats.

One of the survivors was Lieutenant Horace Smith-Dorrien, who would go on to command the British II Corps in Flanders more than 35 years later during the First World War. Two other officers, Lieutenants Teignmouth Melvill and Nevill Coghill, were killed after escaping across the Buffalo River 5 miles away back into Natal but subsequently awarded posthumous Victoria Crosses for their attempt to save the regiment's colours. Because the medal was not at that time awarded posthumously these awards were not made until 1907. A Victoria Cross was also awarded to another survivor, Private Samuel Wassall, for the rescue of a fellow soldier, and who received it the following September.

The traditional view [1] is that the British had difficulty unpacking their ammunition fast enough, causing a lull in the defense and a subsequent rout. Modern researchers [2] are of the opinion that South Wales Borderers retreated, and that the fleet-footed Zulu took advantage. Other recent research indicates that the British skirmish line was too long; instead of standing shoulder to shoulder, the British soldiers were separated from each other by a few metres. Also, weapons experts have discovered that the standard rifle employed by the British was prone to jamming after firing several volleys in hot weather. This could have resulted in a loss of firepower in an already overstretched line.

Either way, the Natal Native Contingent broke, and led the flight to Fugitive's Drift. After the battle, the Zulus, as was their tradition, ripped open the dead bodies of their casualties and those of their enemies to free the spirits.

Chelmsford, who was by now about 11km away had two indications that the camp was being attacked, but due to the hilly terrain had a poor view of the theatre of action. Unable to see anything amiss he apparently discounted both reports. One of the standard orders for the British when attacked in camp was to loosen the guy ropes on the tents so that soldiers would not get tangled up in them. This was not done and the upright tents were visible in the field glasses of the young officers with Chelmsford. Chelmsford took this to be an indication that the camp was not under attack and that the shots which could be heard in the distance was firing practice. Even when the Zulu main attack started it was assumed that the Zulu impi which could be seen chasing Durnford cavalry was the native contingent being drilled. Chelmsford returned on the night of January 22nd, and his troops were forced to bivouac amongst the battle dead. The troops also could hear the sounds of battle at Rorke's Drift.

Isandlwana was a Pyrrhic victory for the Zulus not only because of the heavy casualties suffered in the battle but also because, as King Cetshwayo feared, it forced the policy makers in London, who to this point had not supported the war, to rally to the support of the pro-war contingent in the Natal government and commit whatever resources were needed to defeat the Zulu nation.

The British government's reasoning was three fold. The first was jingoistic: the British did not like to be beaten by anyone, particularly by people they saw as half-dressed savages armed with spears, and national honour demanded that the enemy, victors in one battle, should lose the war. The second concerned the domestic political implications which could have ramifications at the next Parliamentary elections. Thirdly there were considerations affecting the Empire: Unless the British were seen to win a clear cut victory against the Zulus it would send a signal that the British Empire was not invulnerable and that the defeat of a British field army could alter policy. Until now one of the arguments against a war with the Zulu was that the costs could not be justified, but if the Zulu victory at Isandlwana encouraged rebellion elsewhere in the Empire, then committing the resources necessary to defeat the Zulu would in the long term would prove cheaper than suppressing other rebellions in other parts of the Empire.

The field army was reinforced and re-invaded Zululand defeating the Zulus in a number of engagements, the last of which was the Battle of Ulundi and the capture of King Cetshwayo. The subkings of the Zulus were encouraged by the British to rule their subkingdoms without acknowledging a central Zulu power and by the time King Cetshwayo was allowed to return home, the Zulu kingdom was no longer perceived to be a threat to the British Empire.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Isandlwana#The_fight

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Zulu_War#Defeat_of_the_Zulu
 

Jersay

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I think this battle in particular shows how Imperialistic tendencies tended to overlook the strategies that some people took to combat European colonialism.

To note, both the Zulu and the British were imperial powers. :D

Anyone else?
 

Jersay

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But the battle of Islandlwana is one of British worst defeats in its colonial history. :D

I think the Anglo-Zulu war was extremely interesting. But to note, the Boer War was interesting, but i did that last semester, in my University and I guess on all University campuses, I am not allowed to write about the Boer war again.
 

jimmoyer

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Yes I have seen it several times, and each time
found it spell-binding.


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However, I got to do a topic on British Colonialism...
-------------------------jersay------------------------------------

Here's another view of Imperialism and Colonialism.
It was an answer to the question of FAILED STATES.

The British have a peculiar distinction in that most of
their colonial possessions have done economically quite
better than any other nation's colonial possessions.
 

Colpy

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Nov 5, 2005
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#juan said:
Anybody watch the movie, "ZULU"?

Great Movie!

Also, Jersay, there was a eclipse of the sun on the day of battle, and combined with the smoke from British weapons, the Brits vision was so restricted they could not see the Zulu warriors until they were upon them.

Zulu units were very well disciplined, the agasi (stabbing spear) and shield were excellent close-quarters weapons, and the Zulus were encouraged in their ferocity by a night of dancing and drug use.
 

Jersay

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Thanks guys that is very helpful to know. i knew about the eclipse however, I only heard rumors from several articles about the late night drug use and dancing. I will have to look into that more,

however, it does not make less of the point that the Zulu units were extremely well trained in the Buffalo Pincer tactics that was a strategy of Shaka in the early 1800s.

Here's another view of Imperialism and Colonialism.
It was an answer to the question of FAILED STATES.

The British have a peculiar distinction in that most of
their colonial possessions have done economically quite
better than any other nation's colonial possessions.

Agree to a certain extent. There are many failed states as a result of British colonial policy as other European powers.

And finally, I watched both movies, Zulu and Zulu Dawn and they were both excellent movies. Because I brought up the topic of the Zulu's the teacher is actually going to choose one of the movies and show it to the class. :D