you are currently viewing: Discussion Forum


The Rorke's Drift VC Discussion Forum
(View Discussion Rules)


PLEASE NOTE: This forum is now inactive and is provided for reference purposes only. The live forum is available at

(Back To Topic List)

DateOriginal Topic
15th May 2005Ulundi - 17th Lancers
By Peter Weedon
Towards the end of the battle of Ulundi, the 17th Lancers, along with the King's Dragoon Guards and the irregular horsemen, charged out of the square to pursue the fleeing Zulus.

Unless I am mistaken, the battle appeared won by that stage. Did the action of the 17th Lancers therefore have any significance - military or psychological?

16th May 2005Michael Boyle

The battle was in fact won by that stage (one could argue that it was 'won' a long time before that stage). Although the Imperial horses were not in too good a shape by then, having suffered the ravages of the South African environment, they and the sturdy 'Basuto' ponies would no doubt have been called upon to engage earlier had the need arisen.

As it was they were engaged because nothing spells "decisive victory" like a large body count and the total destruction of the enemy's capital.(Not to mention Lord Chelmsford's vested interest in seeing paid put to the entire unfortunate exercize before Sir Garnet Wolesy took over command.)

To be fair though one has to appreciate the western (and eastern for the most part) psychological need for retribution after suffering a humiliating defeat. In this case,of course, Isandhlwana (but historically speaking one could cite ,ad infinitum, many similar occurrences right up to the present day and beyond).

Militarily the greatest fear at that point seems to have been that whatever remnants of the Zulu army that survived would escape to 'the hills' and continue a guerilla war that would carry on for years. Although there was a short 'consolidation' phase after Ulundi subsequent visitors to Zululand were amazed at the equanimity evidenced by the amaZulu towards the British. (Even if they did put their defeat down to 'magical' shields used by the Imperial troops they seemed to hold no hard feelings.)

To be more than fair the actions of the British at Ulundi (and prior battles) seem to pale in significance when compared to King Shaka's treatment of his fallen foes that led to the predominance of the Zulu people originally and King Cetswayo's 'fast track' approach to the throne. The fact that the Zulu people didn't seem to share these attributes as a whole speaks volumes toward their civility and humanity.


16th May 2005Graham Alexander
I think that Lord Chelmsford acted like most victorious commanders have done, by attempting to drive his defeated enemy from the field in disarray to order to compound their defeat.The psychological victory is as important as the moral one.
Haig (a cavalry man) tried to hold his cavalry well forward, just waiting for the breakthrough to occur and the golden opportunity to exploit it.
Lord Raglan failed to use his cavalry against the retreating Russians at the Alma, which probably cost him the chance of a decisive victory against them in the field. Many present at the battle knew that he had blundered by not attempting it.
If Lord Chelmsford had not been seen to actively pursue his retreating adversary, then he too would have faced censure for not seizing the opportunity. The Zulus would probably not have reformed again to face his forces, but to leave the battlefield in fear of your life certainly helped aid that decision.
16th May 2005Neil Raaff
Hi all,

I know this is a bit off this topic but what was the 17th's charge actually like? I've heard it described as an 'embarrasment' and totally shambolic with men and horses falling all over the where near as dramatic nor as glorious as some accounts and paintings suggest.

I would be intrigued to hear your views on this.


16th May 2005Peter Weedon

I've never seen the word "embarrassment" used so would be grateful if you could post the source for this.

Here's a couple of sources quoted by Frank Emery in "The Red Soldier."

Bandsman Joseph Banks, 90th Light Infantry
"They (the Zulus) retreated in much the same way as at Kambula, the mounted men following. This was the time for the 17th Lancers, so at it they went, charging the Kaffirs and killing lots of them."

Natal Colonist's correspondent
"The wing of Lancers were let loose, as also the brave volunteers, who chased them out of sight. The Lancers were riding pell-mell through the long grass by themselves, the Zulus hiding themselves in dongas, thinking they were volunteers, so as to entrap them; this was an assegai regiment. On perceiving them to be Lancers, who were up in line with the assegai regiment, a portion of the Zulu army armed with rifles let a volley into them, and emptied three saddles ie, Captain, Farrier-Sergeant and a Trooper. The Lancers, enraged to see their comrades fall, immediately put their lances into use. The Zulus put up their shields to parry the thrust of the lances, the latter sticking in the shields, which was a great hindrance to the cavalry using their lances freely; consequently they had to adopt the sword in the place of the lance; but the cunning Zulus buried themselves in the ground, rendering the sword completely useless, as the cavalry horses were going at too great a speed. The lances were again taken into use, and this time with excellent effect. To use the Lancers' phrase, it was just like tent-pegging at Aldershot. I believe the Lancers killed very nearly a whole regiment."

16th May 2005Peter Ewart

I haven't got a copy of "Running the Gauntlet" but doesn't Mossop give a wide-eyed description of the charge, awe-struck by the sight of the machine-like co-ordination, timing and power of their charge?

17th May 2005Coll

On a previous topic I happened to mention that the terrain in Zululand is quite often rough and has dongas, etc., that might have affected the Lancers charge when using lances, as apparently there has to be a significant speed built up by the horses in order to use the lances to the full effect.

It has been mentioned that the Lancers didn't really have much difficulty when riding on the terrain, but I'm wondering if that was nearer to the square, but maybe the Lancers encountered more difficult ground further away, making the use of the lances impossible, so they could then have started using their sabres.

Accounts of horses stumbling or riders being dismounted, considering there may have been dips or obstacles on the ground, as well as making contact with the fleeing Zulus, still could have happened.

But whether the whole charge was an absolute shambles, I doubt it, as they were very much expert horsemen, and even though one or two may have fallen, I'm sure the main body of the mounted force followed through the charge with great dignity.

18th May 2005Keith Smith

The terrain at Ulundi was pretty good for horsemen, unlike many parts of Zululand. However, the greatest obstacle, even there, were the numerous ant-bear holes into which a galloping horse could step and end up with a broken leg. These were also used by the Zulu to escape the pursuit.

18th May 2005Neil Raaff
Hi all,

Thanks for your responses. Peter, as to the source it was a discussion a researcher in SA had with me. He didn't tell me where he got his information from.

On the back of that discussion I was keen to hear to views of the forum.