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DateOriginal Topic
10th February 2005Zulu shields
By Paul Cubbin
I know the Zulu shield was made from rawhide and attached to a wooden upright to make it rigid. I also know that the primary function of the shield was to obscure your opponent's vision and batter him in such a way that he leaves himself open for a quick jab with the assegai. What I would like to know is, just how effective was it in the Anglo - Zulu War against Imperial troops? Obviously a bullet wouldn't even be slowed down (much) but was it able to resist sword or bayonet thrusts with any regularity? I have read accounts of people piercing the shield with a bayonet and have seen an illustration of a mounted soldier poking his sword through a shield with apparent ease. Was this accurate? Obviously a bayonet is more likely to go through due to the greater force (and guts) behind it - presumably less likely to get stuck too. Were the shields vulnerable to a good 'chop' with a sabre too?
10th February 2005Mike Snook

You're the historian!!


13th February 2005Michael Boyle

It's curious how the words 'historical' and 'hysterical' share so many letters yet the latter has never evolved into 'hysterian'!


I don't recall any accounts where cavalry were used against Zulus who had 'formed up', most of the cavalry attacks in the AZW were in pursuit of a fleeing foe where the shield would have been on the wrong side for defence.(Although there seem to have been some instances where the Zulu warriors turned and offered themselves for execution.)

Despite the drama of cinematic sword play the 'chop' was more often than not either an attempt to lop off a foes appendage or to prevent same. The thrust has always been the preferred method of dispatch. (Claymores,Samurai and modern sabre fencing excluded.)

Whacking away at a sheild wastes too much energy, that could be why Shaka developed his tactic of quickly 'hooking' the opponents shield aside and enabling a clean thrust.

That said, a well maintained Wilkinson should have found a stiffened rawhide shield little impediment!