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6th January 2005Attacking and defending ratios
By Peter Weedon
I am curious as to what would have been considered by the British to have been the acceptable attacking and defending ratios during the Zulu war.

Irrespective of what actually happened, what ratio of attakers to defenders should have been adequate to overcome the defenders of RD? 5:1? 10:1? Any offers?

Similarly, what ratio would have been employed by a European army attacking a native force? 1:5? 1:10?

Peter Weedon
7th January 2005Paul Cubbin
Interesting point, Peter. Did they even bother? Perhaps 'colonial policing' was deemed to be outside the arena of statisticians and numerical strategists as most of the ratios of Imperial Troops vs. Natives seem to be be ludicrously large.
7th January 2005Joseph
Well let's see the odds were:
Isandlwhana -roughly 20:1
Rorke's Drift -roughly 40:1
What would be the desired ratio... who knows?
7th January 2005Coll
I don't think that they even considered any native force a threat to the extent of working out exactly what would be needed to defeat them, having fought other well-armed european armies in campaigns before the zulu war.
The confidence they had in their firearms of the time and the thought of fighting an enemy armed with spears and shields, just the idea of the natives getting close enough to use such weapons seemed ridiculous.
Was there not an officer during the indian wars, before Little Bighorn, who said he could beat all the indians in the whole country with just a company of men ?.
I think the british thought along the same lines with regards the zulus which led to them underestimating them as a worthy opponent.
7th January 2005Adrian Whiting
Hello Peter,

Doctrine at the time emphasised the importance of supply arrangements as determining the size of the force that could be employed. This was coupled with the exhartation to exhibit boldness and vigour, and to assume the offensive generally, though defensive actions were recognised as valuable if they created opportunities to significantly weaken the foe's effort.

It was readily acknowledged that tactics favoured Regular armies, and that Irregular ones had a strategic advantage - this meant that the apporach was to fight in preference to manouvre.

I guess this is all pretty familiar stuff, but it led to the accepted view that there were no rules to govern " desired ratios", save in European warfare. Here it was generally held that attackers required a ration of 3:1 in thei favour - but even this saw exceptions.

Colonel CE Callwell's "Small Wars" and Gall's "Modern Tactics" are good works covering this side of things.


8th January 2005Peter Weedon

Many thanks. Two more books to be added to my "wants" list.