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DateOriginal Topic
23rd January 2005"Stop throwin' them bloody spears at me!"
By Paul Cubbin
We are told of the prowess of the Zulu warrior in hand to hand combat with knobkerrie and stabbing assegai. We also know they were proficient with the throwing assegai (and presumably throwing stick as well) as were many of the African tribes. Indeed the Zulus are so famous for their use of the stabbing assegai that we often overlook the fact that a huge amount of spears were thrown during battle, both with other tribes and the Imperial forces.
So, what puzzles me is this, how come we hear of so few wounds caused by throwing spears in the AZW? I have heard theories that Rorkes Drift defenders were protected by a high wall and thus were poor targets, but surely some must have hit home. All the accounts (from other actions) I have read seem to focus on a lot of spears being thrown, but none hitting home; was this simply because a successful hit would have negated the possibility of an account?Presumably the throwing assegai was much lighter and, because of the more erratic nature of aim with thrown weapons, was less likely to cause a mortal or even serious wound; is this the reason? Is it simply that the Zulus decided the best chance of survival against rifle armed opponents was to close quickly and thus scorned the throwing assegai as counter productive? Or have I simply been reading the wrong books and plenty of people were taken down by thrown spears? As Michael might say, "What gives?"
23rd January 2005Coll

I don't know if this incident is true but was it not a throwing spear that hit either Lt. Pope or Lt. Godwin-Austen and as they struggled to remove it from their chest a Zulu rushed forward and finished him ?.

24th January 2005Paul Cubbin
Coll - my point exactly, the fella was in in the act of removing the thing and was clearly not dead or incapacitated. There are several accounts of men caught in the open actually pulling the spears from their body's to defend themselves with. Was this the point (no pun intended), was the throwing assegai just a tool for slowing down victims?
24th January 2005Coll

The vision we have of soldiers standing tall bracing themselves for an attack rifles at the ready, or closer actions bayonets fixed on the rifles and units in a good cohesive formation pretty much would seem untouchable with the shorter assegais.

However, the idea of any kind of spears flying through the air towards you, whether the damage they inflicted was minimal or not, it is human nature to react by trying to avoid the incoming weapon by moving quite significantly, maybe not much, but enough to wrong foot you and as your concentration may be looking upwards, all the time the Zulus are moving, at speed towards you.

It could have been to injure your victim enough to make it easier to overpower him, but I think a throwing spear, especially many of them being used at the same time, would be enough to unnerve anybody.

So I think, only my opinion, this aspect of the throwing spear being used in such a way that it gives the Zulus 'an edge' , even of just a few seconds of their enemy being distracted or their ranks breaking slightly, is enough for them to rush forward taking the opportunity to close in for the kill.