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9th January 2005Time Commanders - A Zulu War special ?
By Coll
Forgive me if this subject has already been covered previously.
I watched a programme a while ago, called Time Commanders, which was a computer simulation of an actual battle during the roman times, pretty close to being 3D, it had people controlling each army, and discussions from historians who were viewing the events on the monitors.
Apparently, there has been other battles covered in previous programmes that I missed.
Although it seems to be mainly medieval or roman conflicts, what would you think of it covering the battles of the zulu war, with, I'll say, professional wargamers, again being monitored by experts, of this campaign ?.
9th January 2005Paul Cubbin
I for one would enjoy it, but the battles covered appeared to be involved with more maneuver and less basic 'load and fire' tactics. Isandlwana would be interesting, though as I imagine the Zulu loss of surprise would change the result completely.
9th January 2005Coll

I'm thinking along the lines of the ' What if ?'
For example :- if Rorke's Drift hadn't been informed about the impending attack as soon and had less time to form as good a defensive barricade, what way would such a small force deploy their troops ?
Or, regarding Isandlwana, while the british were out on the firing line awaiting an attack from the plateau, but the main zulu army actually approaches from the west of the mountain, enveloping both north and south of it, pushing the british forces out into the open plain, would they position themselves in the dongas, would Durnford use his mounted force wisely against such an alternative scenario ?
The outcome of the various approaches to these battles, would maybe give an insight, roughly, of what could have been.
As with most wargames, you could change some aspects of what really happened, but stay, in part, faithful to the specific events of that day, with regards to forces available, their abilities and their reaction to different types of situations that may arise.

All pie-in-the-sky stuff I know, but I find very interesting nevertheless.
11th January 2005Chris
Basic thought, and I'm sure one that's been mentioned a thousand times, but what if the British had simply formed a square...or laagered their wagons into a defence?
And wasn't digging a trench in an emeies territory standard practice?
Although arrogance or over-confidence and underestimating the enemy on the British part I can understand would take care of some of the above...
11th January 2005Coll
As forming a defence with wagons would have taken too long and digging a trench in the hard ground would have been almost impossible, Chelmsford decided not to bother as the camp at Isandlwana was temporary.

In ideal circumstances forming a square may have worked, which individual companies tried to do after retreating to the camp, but events at Isandlwana were far from ideal, units too far apart, the full strength of the zulu army wasn't really known, lack of communication, etc.

This programme could demonstrate the different ways the battle could have went if companies had stayed closer to the camp and formed a square, or Col. Durnford and his mounted troops headed straight back to the camp without holding the donga, etc.

The whole idea was just to give us a visual image of how things might have turned out had alternate decisions and troop deployments been made by the senior officers, not only in the case of Isandlwana, but with other battles of the Zulu War 1879.
12th January 2005Michael Boyle
Playing 'what if...' with Isandlawana is an excercise many of us have indulged in.(And quite possibly engaged in by Lord Chelmsford from time to time in his later years!)(Although that would have required him to admit some culpability in the first place.)

However through the reading of this forum and the many fine books helpfully reccomended I have been forced to re-think my original uninformed suppositions on altering the outcome.

A fortified position would of course have been ideal, as witnessed later that day at Rorke's Drift and by King Cetshwayo's command not to attack one. From what I have gathered thus far the Zulu tactical doctrine seems to have been to hit them on the march or besiege their fortifications and starve them into submission,both of which were tried unsuccessfully at Eshowe. However although the Zulu warriors were well trained and adept at lightning strikes they seem to have been totally unfamiliar with siege warfare and thus made a hash of the attempt.(An excersise at Zulu 'what if...' for Eshowe I've found rather compelling, as if they had managed to reduce it and thus inflict another column defeat they may have found themselves in a negotiating position not to mention freeing their entire army to concentrate on the northern column.)

As for a wagon laager I have been forced to agree with the current consesus that it was not an option because Isandlwana(gee I miss the 'H' I think I may go back to it later) was in fact a transient camp and the sheer magnitude of the effort involved in laagering so many wagons would in fact take the 'trans' out of transient. It should be remembered that it had taken the column ten days to go ten miles due to the attrocious condition of the track and they had only started out with seventeen days supply.Thus all avaiable transport would have to be used in a sort of "Red Ball"( or maybe "Red Line") express in order to keep the column supplied on it's unanticipatedly long haul.In fact I believe half the wagons there were scheduled to go back to the Drift that day for more supplies and the other half were called up by Chelmsford (in an order, if I remember correctly, addressed to Pulleine rather than Durnford if that indicates whom he considered in charge of the camp?) at a rather inopportune time.

I agree with Coll (and others) that entrenching was not an option because even if that terrain had been condusive to it none of the troops had embarked with entrenching equipment and there were barely enough engineers to see to the transportation requirements. No one was anticipating that kind of war(nor did eventually it turn out to be). There were however more than enough rocks around to build dry stone walls that would have offered some protection to a transit depot if that had been desired.

A battalion square with ammunition and other supplies within, coupled with two artillery pieces, racket (sorry I meant rocket) tubes and a fair contingent of mounted troops available for sortie could certainly have made all the difference. However a square is a defencive deployment and only used when the initiative is lost. The act of invasion ensures the initiative and I doubt that anyone from Chelmsford on down gave any serious thought that the Zulus could wrest it from them.Both Pulliene's and Durnford's troop deployments that day seem to indicate that they had no idea that in fact it was already lost.It should be remembered that both Durnford and Pulliene (see previous thread with "Pulleine's Rangers") were experienced "Injun Fighters"(in no way meant derogatorily only as a reflection of the respective antagonists attitudes toward the native populations) and had never experienced a reversal of initiative .(Athough it could be argued that Durnford relinquished it at Bushman's Pass by strict adherence to his orders not to shoot first.)

Having said that what would have happened if they had indeed formed that square and held all those un-washed Zulu spears at bay with Chelmsford's command only a short Zulu march away spread out all over hell and creation?


12th January 2005Paul Cubbin
Michael - I don't agree that a square is a formation used when the initiative has been lost. After all, isn't that exactly how the Battle of Ulundi was won? I think a square is adopted when rapid movement is not required and the enemy is not equipped or positioned to slaughter your tightly packed soldiers. In colonial wars the square was the standard formation used against poorly armed opposition. But I do heartily agree that Pulleine and Durnford were confused and their troop dispositions reflected this. The very fact that we have to constantly refer to 'Pulleine and Durnford' rather than just one of them reflects the fatal split in command and lack of overall cohesion. As soon as Durnford's mounted force became available, the infantry should have maintained defensive lines close to the camp, other than a few picquets on higher ground. The mounted troops and NNC would then have been available for scouting duties to give the commander(s) a clear picture of the surrounding area, whilst the camp would have been strongly defended. This is all very basic stuff, any Lieutenant would have been able to recite the proceedures from the manual, but the higher ranks do not appear to have taken the whole thing too seriously and were slapdash in the extreme. Written orders or not, the senior officer on site needed to make a decision one way or the other - either take command or maintain the status quo.
As for the possible danger to Chelmsford's command - well, not so sure. The Zulus didn't seem too quick to take the hint about firearms. It required an awful lot of casualties for them to rethink their options. I suspect a successful British defense of Isandlwana would have crippled the Zulu army and left it limping for home. Ironically, maybe this would have been better for the Zulu nation, as public sympathy for the 'noble savage' may have forced a more humane end to the war. The loss of Chelmsford's column in such a brutal manner turned many of the previously sympathetic British public into vengeance-seekers who demanded retribution.
12th January 2005Keith Smith

At the risk of being tedious, I must repeat that Durnford was the commanding officer of the separate No. 2 Column, and the equivalent of Glyn, commanding No. 3. He was never ordered to take command of the camp and retained his separate command until the end, whatever thoughts to the contrary Pulleine might (or might not) have entertained.

He was therefore perfectly in order to make what dispositions of his troops he thought best, even though we now know that they were not the correct ones. I'm sure it will be mentioned that Durnford also made dispositions of Pulleine' s 24th, but he was, after all, senior to Pulleine and entitled to do so, even though his wisdom was later seen to be flawed.

Sorry to be a pain. :-)
13th January 2005Michael Boyle

I believe the square was originally employed as a short term hedge against cavalry attack thus a formation for defence requiring surrendering the initiative at least for the duration of the attack.Ulundi I feel was a rare instance of using the square as an attack formation (with combined arms it is a bit unwieldly!) but it still required the Zulus to try and achieve the initiative by attacking it in order for it to have been successful. Initiative is frequently traded in most battles and the wise commander willingly surrenders it when necessary to regroup rather than trying to push home an unsuccessful attack (something Pulleine seems to have tried to do when he sounded the recall and that Durnford was trying unsuccessfully to do thus precipitating it).Forming a square at the start of the battle would,I feel, have been akin to one team at the start of a football match simply falling back to protect their goal, which may prove effective but you can only win games (and battles) by scoring points and you can rarely do that from your own goal!

Of course the argument is just that, Chelmsford had directed Pulleine to defend the goal (camp).However the camp was quite large and it's most valuable asset was the transport (which Chelmsford had assembled only through Herculean effort and expense) some of which was already strung out ready for the march.( In fact one of Pulleine's first orders was drawing the oxen back in, one of the few things that the observers to the east noticed and reacted to with only mild curiousity, and may have superceded striking the tents due to the limited manpower available.) It should be remembered that both Pulleine and Durnford were 'working without a script' here (no pre-concieved defencive battle plan being the result of rather shoddy or arrogant staff lapses!) other than the pre-invasion instructions to laager and entrench nightly which of course were not taken seriously by anyone (except some junior officers apparently).

Had Pulleine any sort of defencive structures in place he may well have altered his troop dispositions to incorporate them. In lieu of that he was left to his own devices. He knew only two things at the start of the battle; he was being attacked and he had no real idea of the size of the attacking force. Knowing that he didn't have sufficient troops to provide an effective static defence of the camp he (and Durnford) seem to have elected to attempt the next best defence by trying to break up the Zulu attack long enough for Chelmsford's command to return and blunt the days offencive.(Less "L'audace,L'audace Toujour L'audace! " than " I'd best do something here!") Truly a forlorn hope as it turned out but perhaps, without the intervention of a legendary InDuna and with Chelmsford realizing the threat (had Pulleine's forwarded dispatches been a little less understated) it could have been do-able.

The only reason Chelmsford didn't meet the attacking force on his return was that they had already won the battle,stripped the field and were returning home for their purification. If however they were still being held at bay upon his return I do feel things could have gotten a bit dicey!

The 'what if...' for Rorke's Drift not having advance warning would I think have entailed the defenders availing themselve's of the only standing defencive structures there ; occupying the hospital,storehouse and stone corral. (a latter day Hougemont perhaps) and the unlikelyhood of Lt. Chard being able to return there prior to the start.

I enjoy the imaginative speculation but fully expect to trounced shortly by the cold hard facts offered by our esteemed resident experts.(Honestly.)(That is why we post here.)



14th January 2005Paul Cubbin
Keith - yes, but at the moment he brought his troops to Isandlwana it doesn't take a military genius to decide that combine forces makes for a better defence (he was, after all, summoned for defence). No2 column, No3 column, they're all just organisational structures that could have, and should have, been altered accordingly to changes in circumstance. It may be a case of 'Hitler Syndrome' where everyone was so used to Chelmsford keeping a stranglehold on orders and denying anyone the chance to make decisions, that in his absense they simply felt unable to. I don't think too much hindsight is required on this point, and it was only the death of the two officers that prevented a court-martial for the pair of them (how Chelmsford got through relatively unscathed is a bit of a mystery to me).
15th January 2005Coll
Time Commanders covering the Zulu War 1879 is probably a non-starter, but just to let anyone who has not seen this programme know that it is on BBC2 at 7.15p.m. Sunday 16th January, to give you an idea of what I was meaning.
15th January 2005Peter Ewart

But WAS he "summoned for defence"? Or, more to the point, was it perfectly - or even remotely - made clear to Durnford that he was summoned for defence?

15th January 2005Keith Smith
The last order issued to Durnford, on 22nd January, is quoted by Crealock (who signed the order, on Chelmsford's instructions) :

"You are to march to this camp [Isandlwana] at once with all the force you have with you of No. 2 Column. Major Bengough's [2nd] battalion [NNC] is to move to Rorke's Drift as ordered yesterday.
"2/24. artillery & mounted men with the General & Colonel Glyn move off at once to attack a Zulu force about 10 miles distant."
[P.S.] "If Bengough's battalion has crossed the River at Ilands kraal it is to move up here (Ngwane [Mangeni] Valley.)"

What was Durnford expected to make of that?

17th January 2005Coll
Did anyone watch TimeCommanders on Sunday ?.

Although this programme would probably never cover the Zulu War 1879, but following this kind of idea, another could.

Even if the battles were not replayed as a type of ' What if ? ' scenario, but a computer simulation demonstrated in the detailed graphics shown on this show, actually covering the battles the way they did happen, not as a wargame, but as a visual image of the events, almost like a film, the only dialogue being the narration describing the scenes and actions being shown on screen.
17th January 2005Coll
I have sent a letter to the BBC about this programme asking if they would consider covering battles of the Anglo-Zulu War 1879, in this show or one similar to it.

However, I don't hold out much hope but I will notify you about any reply that I receive.