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DateOriginal Topic
25th January 2005Col. Pulleine's letter.
By Derek C
It seems odd to me that a millitary man like Pulleine, in his 8:05 letter to Chelmsford, would use the words "left front of the camp", instead of North or North West. Surely this is open to faulty interpretation, esp. from Chelmsford's orientation to the camp?

I don't have my material handy, but I seem to recall reading a similar incident at Hlobane Mountain, where a confusing order to "decend by the right...." or words to that effect, were issued, and this was misunderstood?
25th January 2005Julian whybra
There was in fact nothing odd about it at all at the time. It was standard practice. One of the results of the Zulu war was that in future all movements/directions were to be described by points of the compass.
25th January 2005Mike Snook

You mean NE not NW. The report related to sightings by the vedettes on and beyond Qwabe Hill.

This is in part to do with the absence of serious structured staff training in the army. The Prussians were by now running with serious ideas about a General Staff but the Brits were still doing it on the back of a fag packet.

The Army Staff College at Camberley was by now up and running (I still wear the tie with pride!) by few officers had been trained there by 1879. Pulleine certainly had not. But in this case his directional indication is not in any way confusing - I don't know if you have been to Isandlwana, but there is no confusing what he meant in terms of direction.

Much more serious of course was the obvious 1854 example of poor staffwork 'Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance etc...'

27th January 2005derek C

Yup, I've been to Isandlawana and I agree that there is little doubt as to what Pulleine meant. I just stikes me as odd that a regiment that had travelled so extensively on foreign soil and refferinig to maps available at the time, possibly on a daily basis, used LEFT, RIGHT versus WEST, EAST. I'm not pointing a finger in criticism, I'm just surprised that the compass had been around for ??? years, yet using it as a millitary reference was novel in 1879 in a modern army?
30th January 2005Michael Boyle

Compass coordinates were of little tactical value until the advent of long range artillery. Camps and unit tactical dispositions were of course initially established and referenced to cardinal positions but once that was established further references have always been with respect to 'left flank','center' and 'right flank' with enemy dispositions related accordingly. This because combat communications need to be clear and succinct and reffering to enemy dispositions as 'north of us','south of us' etc. requires the recipient of said communication to make an additional mental calculation to sort out the spatial relationship which could in turn lead to error.

This of course is most effective while on defence or while attacking a static enemy ('attack the enemy's right flank and attempt to roll it') however when more complex manouvres are necessary they must be referenced to both cardinal points and distances (as well as topographical features when possible) and this requires all officers to be 'on the same page' something that was most difficult for the British Army of the time due the lack of proper staff training as pointed out by Mike above.Given the famous blunders of the age (by most armies) one wonders if the officers were even reading from the same book!