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DateOriginal Topic
By Mike McCabe
Time to get back onto a good old style free debate - good for both heart and lungs!
Before your groans deafen us all, let us return to the idea of whether Chelmsford might indeed have successfully repulsed a Zulu attack on Isandlwana with the whole of No 3 Column in such a way as to enable him to continue to manoeuvre towards Ulundi in pursuit of the original coercive strategy.

We must assume a reasonable (or at least rational) start state scenario which, for the sake of argument, includes:
- Zulu willingness to attack No3 Column in camp, and on 22 January (say), rather than significantly later or on the line of march.
- The camp having been laid out administratively.
- Dartnell still being deployed forward as a reconnaissance in strength, or lure.
- The pattern of picquets, vedettes, and patrols being the same on 22 January as it had routinely been since 19 January, plus any improvements made from experience.
- Durnford being called forward, or not, as a general reinforcement - primarily intended to provide more mounted infantry as a general source of improved tactical flexibility.
-At least the mounted portion of Wood's Column being within 1 or 2 day's forced march of No 3 Column, plus any time taken to alert them. Let's asume that the meeting between Wood and Chelmsford was partly designed to discuss how Wood's Column might assist No 3 Column if called upon to do so.
- There is still the same scope for the Zulu main force to get close (because the general lack of wider patrolling was a deficiency in the overall disposition at Isandlwana).
- The administrative camp layout, and the absence of a more structured defensive plan (as at Khambula) generates and protracts a lack of cohesion in the two Bns of 24th and leaves unexplored the extent to which mounted troops and the RA guns will need to cooperate tactically with them if attacked in camp. Some recently regained watercolour sketches suggest that the camp layout might have been even bigger than previously thought. No surprise in ground offering little purchase for tent pegs in many places.
- Picquets and outposts tire the men, and take the edge off them. Vedettes - althiugh they can be redelpoyed and recalled quickly - also occupy a significant proportion of the mounted troops
- Rallying points and more concentrated defensive layouts are left unexplored, and so is any necessary system for feeding, watering, or replenishing ammunition to infantry and mounted units in such circumstances.
- The NNC are not central to tactical thinking, and little thought goes into how they might best be employed in an emergency. They realise this.

Let's leap ahead a bit, with the 22nd (23rd if you like) unrolling pretty much as it actually did, less friend Durnford. Unless Chelmsford takes very rapid action to identify the strength and intentions of the Zulu force then he remains pretty much as vulnerable as Pulleine was to the overall envelopment.

As an experienced and (deep down) generally cautious and cnventional man, he would probably have made rapid attempts to concentrate his force as a coherent fire unit regardless.

But, this would have taken some time and deciding whether to strike tents and form up to defend a particular piece of ground would have been an extremely tough decision, and one (probably) delayed to an assessed last safe moment. Possibly though, 'officer clamour' might have expedited the decision being taken as a precaution.

Let's suppose he does so and, if not done already, sends orders for Durnford to close in on No 3 Column.

Then what? Well, he has to select a piece of ground on which he can either fight and destroy a large attacking force, or delay and neutralise them for long enough to enable decisive reinforcement to reach him. This can, actually, only come from Wood. Durnford's force can, at best, harry or delay.

Regardless, there is the logistic task of marshalling men, beasts, and combat supplies (including water and ammunition) in such a way that decisive firepower from a point or perimeter can impose delay or casualties, so as to pevent further attack and - ideally cause the Zulu force to withdraw.

Where to stand, what tactics to employ, how to preserve waggons and draught animals from loss. He knows enough about Zulu tactics to realise that they will not cooperate with him by attacking a frontal deployment head on, and he will have to improvise some form of all round defence. This will have the effect of diffusing his available firepower once an all round defence is adopted. He probably has too few infantry companies to risk mutually supporting separate positions. But, he will have to employ tactics sufficiently familiar to his officers and troops to give them heart and confidence.

So, what next? I believe that such a successful position is very difficult to site at Isandlwana, and that generating sufficient effective firepower from one for long enough to prevent the Zulus closing in is very difficult to achieve. Either, Chelmsford would have been beaten, or, his loss in waggons, stores and materiel would haveprevented further forward manoeuvre, and left the Zulus time to reconstitute their forces. The necessary Second Invasion would probably have gone a similar way, however.

Over to you Chaps (and Dawb!).

22nd August 2005Paul Cubbin
I can't help but think that, with the absense of laagered wagons, Chelmsford's only real chance would have been to form a battalion square. Doubtless this was still a drill exercise, but probably not one that received a lot of attention. In theory the exercise could have been completed within a minute or two, but on a battlefield? If Chelmsford realised his situation quickly enough then I think, yes, the battle would have been a British victory, but one that would have resulted in the loss of a great deal of kit, wagons, livestock etc.. So in that sense it would have been 'back to drawing board' as far as the invasion went. The extra troops would not have been as vital as a cohesive defense, not one split between two inexperienced field commanders.

I really do think that only a couple of companies as a reserve (ie, men in the RIGHT PLACE) would have saved the battle, but they were wasted in 'penny packets' and stretched too thin. Even so, the sheer volume of fire caused horrific casualties on the 'chest' and left 'horn' so perhaps a few more vollies from supporting companies would have snuffed out the attack before it really got going. Had the attacks to the front of the mountain and camp been unsuccessful there is always the outside chance that the demoralised right 'horn' could have been held or even defeated by the NNC stationed to the rear. Well, you never know...
22nd August 2005Michael Boyle
Well we certainly seem to have taken this show on the road, third venue in as many weeks! Mike seems to have laid out most of the cogent points for an 'educational' discussion. (Hopefully the search continues for 'The Lost Memoirs of Lord Chelmsford' to clear up a few of the finer points!)

Starting with the basics, why was the camp laid out the way it was and why was the recon so limited?

I'm tending to think that Chelmsford wasn't taking the Zulu War all that seriously. On paper his campaign preparations looked great, "All Sir Garnet". He, however, didn't seem to take any of his own precepts to heart. In spite of the contributions and warnings of those who had actually fought the Zulus he didn't seem to think that they would be any 'big deal' (an idea perhaps reinforced by his initial skirmish at Sihayo's). In fact it seems to me that he was stuck in a "European War" mindset in spite of his limited experience the previous year at end of the 9th CFW.

The camp at Isandlwana although laid out more as a 'base' camp rather than a 'forward' camp would seem to have proved at least adequate in a European style conflict where the approach of some 20,000 enemy infantry could not go unnoticed by the rudimentary scouting patrols that were employed. Chelmsford seemed unable to credit the speed and stealth for which the Zulus were renowned nor their ability to rapidly encircle their foe or even their determined ability to press home an attack. If this is true then there would seem little reason to suppose that he wouldn't have deployed his troops, upon attack, any differently than Col. Pulleine did (i.e.- "by the book" and I'm still unsure if 'form square' was still in the book) with the same result as he stood amazed at the speed with which the situation would deteriorate.

The unprecedented (to them) Zulu mobility would seem difficult to grasp and the only way to effectively counter that would have been to somehow have replaced their local 'weed' with Jamaican 'ganja' in order to slow them down. ("Far out man, look at all those pretty uniforms and shiny buttons... hey did you bring any munchies?")
22nd August 2005Peter Ewart
As no more than a "damned civvie" (my RAPC brother's frequent description of me, even though I served my time in the Wolf Cubs) I usually hesitate to offer thoughts on the finer strategic or tactical military points. However, it seems to me that:

1. Much would depend on how the Zulu dealt with the situation. Their tactics/strategy (I never know which is which) were just as likely to be either excellent or awful as were those of the British.

If they or their leaders performed as they did at Kambula, which reduced their king to tearing his hair out at their disobedience & lack of discipline, then the result would not be in doubt. But if they acted more in the way of their traditions and history, by concealing their approach from Ulundi to the Isandlwana district (which they did), surrounding the camp at night and at a distance (perfectly possible given the British scouting as it occurred), and attacking with complete surprise before dawn or before stand-to, it seems to me that victory for the attacking force would have been as complete and as rapid as it was at M(e)yer's Drift, the only instance in the AZW where this tried and tested method from the period of Shaka all the way to Cetshwayo was actually put into practice. Enemies - and recaltricant clans or homesteads - had long been eliminated by this method, right up to the 1870s. Chelmsford would have been caught with his long johns down and there would have been no survivors. No time for the piquets to give a decent alarm, no time to issue effective orders, no time to understand what was going on - Ntombe magnified, but this time, no river to cut off the attackers from part of the camp. I suppose a warning shot from an attacked vedette might have provided a few moments' warning.

2. If the battle was to take place by day, providing much less of a surprise but more of a set-piece, surely the Zulu still had concealment and mobility on their side? They surround the camp at a distance (could this have been prevented by vedettes or cavalry?) whether or not by their usual horns of the buffalo method, possibly not attacking until all is in place. The British force is surrounded and the "square" must succeed - or bust.

Why should the British firepower be too much for them? Even without the force split, there would still be far fewer rifles than at Ulundi, where the British chose the ground, were prepared & had cavalry ready for the coup-de-grace. The crunch had come at Isandlwana when the Zulu RUSHED. All right, other moves occurred at that moment which helped the Zulu - but there was a moment when the attackers RUSHED in numbers and attacked overwhelmingly. They were prepared to take losses that all the calculations relating to firepower presuming to overcome non-European foes failed to allow for.

They could have rushed a square - this was not the Ulundi square, remember - and, if necessary, pushed an overhwelming attack at one part of the square. If broken, which it would have been (again, this was not Ulundi), there would have been a merry dance inside - much worse than Abu Klea, but this time with no cricketing "schoolboy to rally the ranks"!!! (Sorry, couldn't resist that ...)

3. Where would this much vaunted square have been placed? Only one area was possible - further out on the plain (where there was plenty of dead ground and dongas for Zulu cover). No dout all the ammo and some food would have been protected in the middle but we seem to be presuming that the rest of the stuff - wagons, cattle and commissariat (which, in effect, WAS the column) would be abandoned. Even if the Zulu didn't come on to the Martini Henrys, they could have helped themselves to all the cattle, or at least driven it away, and even manhandled a wagon or two away - or used them as cover, whether turning them over (a la Stanley Baker) or not.

How foolish Chelmsford would have looked, standing on the Isandlwana plain, 2000 rifles at the ready, minus his food, shelter and transport for the next few weeks and with no method of returning to Natal other than by the way his chastened reconnaissance force eventually did - only this time with 25,000 Zulus holding their sides with laughter.

4. Talk of forming a square, or any other defensive formation of men, seems ridiculous to me. To avoid the disaster above, they'd have had to be very close to the wagons and cattle, which would have given the Zulu plenty of cover.

5. Chelmsford gets a bad press for ignoring his own standing instructions about laagering and entrenching every night, whereas it was really something he shouldn't have had inserted in the instructions without knowing that there would be places where it would be impossible to do quickly - Isandlwana? - and when he knew the wagons would be in constant use, such as between RD and Isandlwana. More so if it is true that each wagon needed the number of men often quoted to move a single one into position. I won't go into that any further as I think it is agreed that laagering with wagons was impossible at Isandlwana with the size of that camp, and also much of the soil there is rocky and, on the saddle, just shale.

If the Zulus had decided to eliminate the camp - which is it all it was; not a fortress in any way - and stuck to their plans on how it was to be done, I can't see how it could have been prevented, nor how a single man might have survived.

My only proviso is the possibility of the use of the various mounted forces, and whether an effective use might have been made of them. If they could have punched a whole through the enveloping ring and harassed the Zulu form the outside, perhaps?

Well, that's my two penn'orth. Now you can all tell me I'll never get to Sandhurst!

22nd August 2005Mike McCabe
A few further considerations:
- Unless the Zulus practiced open order skirmishing they would have come within range of the RA guns before they could have used their own firearms to much effect against the British infantry. The guns could have been used in bettery and remained in action until either they started taking casualties on the gun position, or the guns might be rushed, or they had to get out of the way so that the infantry could open fire. Once redeployed, presumably by sections to a flank or spaced in the infantry position, and using the 2-3 rocket troughs that N Bty probably also had, the ability to concentrate gunfire would reduce. And, the Zulus might not have presented target arrays that enabled common shell or case to be used to optimum effect within their achievable arcs of fire. Although the gunners would have been busily employed maintain supplies from the waggon lines to the guns they were not armed in any useful way to contribute to delivering rifle fire.
- The infantry would have needed to open fire as soon as effective fire could be delivered - probably employing the shock effect of volleys at ranges in excess of 600-800 yards. Possibly even further out if worthwhile targets presented themselves, and over some arcs of fire rifle fire might be superimposed on gunfire. However, the purpose would have been attrition of Zulu numbers and to try to break their nerve, and canalise them onto favourable arcs of fire so that they might be killed in greater numbers.
- A stage would have been reached where the Zulus were able to bring their own firearms to bear, probably achieving more casualties against the British as a concentrated target than they did at the real Isandlwana against the dispersed companies of 1st/24th.
- Then both sides would realise that there were approaches to the British infantry position(s) that were less well covered by fire than others, and these might create opportunities for the Zulus to rush the position.
- Zulu tactics would still be designed to envelop, occupy the defenders firing over their whole perimeter and identified the best axes of attack. If the Zulus were clever, they would protract their advance, keeping the British nervous and firing, and tiring them in the hot sun.
- Zulu lookouts would range far, watching out for any attempt to reinforce by Durnford or Wood. There would probably be enough spare capacity for the Zulus to attempt to block or divert Durnford, or try to ambush him - but this would depend on clever use of ground, achieving surprise, and so (to an extent) simply luck. Durnford's men were of unknown quality to the Zulus (and British) at this stage. Chelmsford would then need to decide whether to bring Durnford's men inside his position, or deploy them outside.
- We then sooner or later reach a stage where the Zulus perceive an advantage in attacking, or simply decide to surroiund and neutralise Chelmsford until conditions are more favourable.
- We are aware that Wood's force thought they could hear the guns firing at Isandlwana, and more protracted firing at greater intensity might well have inspired Wood to send a patrol, and start some scheme of manoeuvre intended to assist Chelmsford.
23rd August 2005Dawn
You must have too much time on your hands. I'm staying out of this one. Too many blonde moments lately. Never mind stepping on people's toes.
Except to say...(I can't help myself)...I cannot see any scenerio where the outcome would have been any different from the one on the day.
23rd August 2005Keith Smith

Wow, this is a big one! But there are a couple of things that I might mention.

1. It is unlikely that Chelmsford would have left Dartnell out on a limb. If he had not gone out to assist him, he would have almost certainly have ordered him and the NNC back to camp. He certainly needed the mounted men. That being so, he might then have ordered the reconnaissance of the plateau that he had promised.

2. It is likely that he would have received a Zulu attack in the form of the line defence that he set out in his orders. This was the same as that adopted by him on his return to Isandlwana. Whether or not this would have been under the hill or further out on the plain is uncertain. One wonders what his arrangements for ammunition supply might have been.

3. The question of a laager or redoubt may not have occurred to him but perhaps the best location for one might have been the summit of Black's Koppie, on the southern side of the 'Nek'

4. The defence of the camp was a nonsense. It should be remembered that the camp at Khambula was as large, if not larger, spreading much further than the laager and redoubt there. Wood had to accept, and did, that his camp was secondary to his men and it was abandoned. Chelmsford must have made the same decision in order to succeed.

On a general point on marching camps and the laager - the Romans set up a very complex marching camp every single day, with a ditch and wall surrounding it. Surely thay must have experienced a similar landscape to that at Isandlwana somewhere throughout the Empire, but you can bet your life that they would have made their camp regardless. If they could do it with such regularity, employing every man to do so, then surely Lord C. could have done so. I might point out that a Roman legion, with auxiliaries, was about the same number of men as in the 3rd Column.
23rd August 2005Paul Cubbin
Keith, that's a very good point. I can't help but think that conditions within the Roman army were a lot harder and the men would have had plenty of practice (not to mention plenty of tools) in order to get the job completed. Still, some form of defence could have been cobbled together. Plus, I can never understand why no form of laager was formed. Sure, a lot of the wagons were only there temporarily, so why not laager a few of the ones they knew were going nowhere for a while? This would, at least, have given a rally point and some protection.
23rd August 2005Rich
After Keith's point, it looks to me that in hindsight "laziness" had to be a contributing factor in the debacle. I believe it was practically law that a Roman legion on maneuver in enemy territory ALWAYS protected their camp with ditch, moat etc. No ifs ands or buts. Even if the camp was temporary, the army was playing with the odds of not being attacked. Now I'd have to agree with Michael B that his army had to have been amazed and faked out at the speed of Zulu maneuver. When you're moving around Zulu territory at a slow slogging pace with wagons and oxen holding you up, I'm sure it does something in assessing speeds when attackers are running at you through dongas and through a great expanse.
24th August 2005Coll
Can I just ask this in reaction to a suggestion made on a previous topic.

In the other topic a scenario was described, as in the deployment of the British forces available, (not all of Chelmsford' No.3 Column) but those that were there on the actual day.

I won't go into details of the above scenario, but the outcome, apparently, would have been a British victory.

The part of the posting mentioned above that makes me ask this question is -

The awarding of a V.C. to Pulleine and Durnford.

If the camp had been successfully defended, even with the British forces sustaining a large percentage of casualties, would both of these individuals have been considered for V.C.s ?


PS. I apologise if this has been covered before.
24th August 2005Michael Boyle
Apologias aside, there is no earthly reason that the camp at Isandlwana couldn't have been fortified. Humans have been making walls (and even homes) from dry stone for millennia. It's actually quicker and easier than digging trenches and felling trees. The stones used to build the cairns could have been used to better purpose. (That sounds familiar!)

The argument that the camp was 'temporary' I also find curious. It took the column ten days to (completely) get there. Given that the track improvements would subsequently enable the trip in less time, ten miles is still a goodly day's work for oxen as they seemed to require a few hours grazing at midday. That Lord Celmsford seemed to think that a further ten miles to his proposed new 'permanent' camp was a realistic endeavour seems inconsistant with his hard earned knowledge of ox drawn transport.

As for the artillery, six guns against 20,000 encircling enemy would seem a bit underwhelming. From what I understand thus far the Zulu 'chest' function was simply to fix the enemy's line (ala Frederic the Great) whilst the flanking horns came together enabling them all to rush in for the coup de grace. Rather than funnel, they seemed to have rather rapidly picked up on the body language of the gunners and minimized their losses.

(No need to discuss the rocket batteries as the post-war Zulu accounts seem to indicate that they [like so many others] were not particularly impressed by them, unlike the devastating wake-up call that the Martini-Henry's provided!)
24th August 2005Michael Boyle
Coll, I just realized that my first word in the above post could be mis-construed. The 'apologia' I'm referring to is to that of all those who have said that entrenchment would 'be too hard'.
24th August 2005Peter Quantrill
A contribution to the fantasy.
To speculate on the outcome of the battle had Chelmsford been present, one has to take cognisance of Chelmsford's attitude pertaining at the time. Following the scrap at Sihayo's and buoyed by both arrogance and an overwhelming superiority complex, coupled with a propensity to vacillate;( it was common cause amongst his staff that he was capable of changing his mind at a whim) this, coupled with his post-battle protestations that included the sentence ' I consider that there was never a position where a small force could have made a better defensive stand,' sets the scene for an analysis of his potential actions had he reversed a critical decison made with regard to Dartnell.
Had Dartnell been ordered back to camp on the afternoon of the 21st, instead of being granted permission to spend the night out near Mangeni Falls, a whole different chain of events would have followed.
1.Chelmsford, together with the entire Column, would have spent the night of the 21st at Isandlwana, uninterrupted by a 0130 hrs message from Dartnell.
2. Durnford would not have got the call to reinforce the Column on the 22nd and therefore would not have participated in the battle.
3.Chelmsford would have carried out his intention to recce to the north. This recce would, as at Mangeni, have probably comprised a strong mounted element accompanied by NNC.They would have set off at first light, thus precipitating the main attack, which in all probability would have commenced two hours earlier.
3.Chelmsford, in accordance with his post battle comments would have placed his force, compacted and backs to the eastern side of Isandlwana.He would now have double the rifles that were available to Pulleine, and no potential ammunition problem. There would not have been an extended firing line or companies being doubled up to Tahelane Ridge and back.
3.The 1/24th, camped below Black's Koppie, would have probably faced both north and south to prevent being outflanked and may well as Keith has speculated, occupied the Koppie itself with a company.
4. The weakness in the defence would be the area to the west of the hill, from which the right horn made their assault. In particular, the north-west which would nullify any fire support the Black's Koppie company may have provided.
Bearing in mind that Chelmsford would not have been able to believe his luck that the Zulus were about to launch an attack, thus saving him the trouble of looking for the Zulu Army, his mind-set at the time may have precluded a serious effort to defend the rear.
5.The course of the battle would have hinged to a degree on the timing of the Zulu right horn's arrival As at both Kambula, Gingindlovu and Isandlwana the Zulu attack was not altogether co-ordinated.
The Zulus would have swept around iThusu and Conical. Durnford's Donga would not have been occupied. Harness' Arty would have engaged both the Zulu chest and left horn. The murderous volley of the Martini Henry would have brought the chest and left to a halt, followed by retreat. Follow up by cavalry definite.The success from a Zulu viewpoint would have hinged on the right horn hitting the camp simultaneously to the advance of the chest and left. Something they did not achieve at the real battle, but got away with.The distance for the right horn to close with the 24th from the cover provided to the west of the hill was not great and had the timing been right, it would have been a close run thing.Possible hand to hand fighting. Otherwise the odds possibly on a quick end to the war.
Wood would not have been involved and Rorke's Drift not even a mention.
VC's galore distributed by Chelmsford and no sign of Sir Garnet except someone would have had to pin one on his Lordship, probably Sir Bartle.Hero's welcome in London and a possible command in the Boer War with Buller as 2 i/c.

24th August 2005Mike McCabe
Though I applied no systematic survey method, I spent the greater part of a day walking the area of the Isandlwana camp in early February last year, designed to form a better view of whether some system of defensive earthwork might have been sited and dug - anywhere, and somehow.
Though the site is much more eroded than in 1879, the soil erosion to the East of the crag does at least give some indication of where the deeper layers of earth are as, up to a point, does the siting of some of the more carefully dug graves in areas like the Colonial cemetery. Also, as several commentators indicate already, there are large tracts of ground where shale beds, some coal-bearing, are very near the surface and would probably have proved impenetrable whilst delivering very little in the way of 'winnable' earth.
Some of these visible surface signs, on which deductions on 'diggability' might now be formed would not have been exposed to view at the time the site was occupied on 19 January 1879. Also, a very rapid balance would have had to be struck between getting No 3 Column into camp together quickly, and in some way that enabled an improvised defence for what - we now know - was intended to be a temporary camp. There are mentions of the camp site used before Isandlwana having been at least partly laagered/entrenched and indicators of the probable intention of - or at least the improved prospects for - providing more deliberate defences at the new camp sited at Mangeni.

Only very elementary conclusions could be formed, but I took the view that:

- The areas where earth was obviously most 'diggable' (as far as one can tell from surface signs) was not very often coincidental with ground that might be held for tactical purposes.
- Some of the best or (generically) tactically most necessary 'vital' ground had little or no earth cover.
- The layout and extent of the tented camp was in itself a big determinant on what might have been possible to improvise as a defence layout after it had been erected. Once its layout became purely administrative, as it appears it was, then some tactical courses of action simply got blocked out by it.
- Ground in the surrounding area (say 3-4 miles radius of the crag) was extremely complex, with many areas of 'dead' ground, and associated covered approaches. Siting of infantry companies as fire units was therefore a difficult compromise, and in same areas (as on 22 January) companies had probably been drawn forward to get clear of the camp and, more importantly, to be able to fire into mass Zulu targets in dead ground.
- Because one could not generally predict how any attacking or raiding force might use ground, or move accross it to attack, then there were few reliable parameters enabling a defensive layout to be decided upon - especially one involving the huge effort likely to be required.
- There was an exception in that some sort of outpost was likely to be needed at the top of the 'land bridge' to the North of the crag, where an enemy might exploit a covered approach to get within a few hundred yards of the camp.
- That No3 Column were probably very short of the essential materiel. There was an Engineer Field Park (under Conductor David Nolan Senior) at Isandlwana, and this held explosives and various other engineer stores, but it would probably not have held much in the way of additional hand tools. There were hand tools with the Natal Native Pioneers, but their priority of work kept them occupied on road and track improvements. The 'Half Company' of 5th Coy RE was not to reach the Rorke's Drift area until well after the battle.
- Except for the 30 or so empty waggons apparently due to return to RD that morning under Smith Dorrien's supervision, we can assume that all others would probably still be loaded, and require strenuous manhandling into any position where their draught animals could not take them.
- Also, unlike as at RD, there were probably not easily exploited centralised stocks of mealie bags or boxes with which a series of walls or breast works might be improvised.
- That the extent to which the ground might easily be dug, could only be discovered by actually digging - in the absence of a methodical field survey. There was only one trained RE Officer at Isandlwana (Lt MacDowel), though any NNP officers from the Natal Colonial Engineers Department might have had an understanding of digging conditions.

So, I think it was probably much more difficult to site a defensive position than some of this site's contributors argue, and, the huge coordnated effort involved in basing a defence round laagers or earthworks might well have been wasted after half of the force then left from it. It would have been unlikely that Pulleine's half could hold a position sited for the whole of No 3 Column. There are also no indicators that I am aware of Chelmsford seeking to be attacked in position at Isandlwana.

- Also, there was the effect on the morale and energies/health, of the troops to consider.

So, not very feasible, probably not seen as a worthwhile investment of time and effort in costs gains terms, and, the risk of building defences that were simply not up to their job if and when attacked.

All that being, arguably, so - there was still no apparent attempt to practice No 3 Column in a more improvised and mobile tactical defence based upon the combined use of rifle and artillery fire. And, no indicationsof Durnford's Column having been required to practice fire and manoeuvre in relation to such tactics.
24th August 2005Dawn
I think you did it! And I thought it couldn't be done. I just have reservations about defending on the eastern side of Isandlwana as you can't get a force 'compacted' to the eastern side as it isn't a sheer cliff.
24th August 2005Julian whybra
Sorry Mike, 'what if' history is not really my cup of tea so no comment from me.
24th August 2005Mike McCabe
Ah, but what is 'certainty'?
24th August 2005Rich
Oh I can understand your feelings about the exercise but in any case I'd love to see you taking Pulliene's position as ultimate camp commander! You know that if you were in the position you'd certainly have your way to deal with the situation minute by minute and second by second. By gawd,I'd hope you'd think you can win it! Any commander worth his salt under battle conditions has to think he can win it all!...;-).....
24th August 2005Paul Bryant-Quinn

Having come fairly recently to all this, I get the distinct impression that Chelmsford appears to have assumed that an engagement with the Zulu would, in strictly tactical terms, be little more than a re-run of Centane. Larger scale, certainly; but essentially the same, and therefore presumably (in his view) entailing a similar type of troop disposition with which to meet the Zulu attack.

His subsequent admission that the fighting qualities of the Zulu Army had been underestimated would appear to be something of an understatement.

Paul B-Q
25th August 2005Michael Boyle
I'm still unsure how well Chelmsford would have handled the situation, given the stress. At Ulundi, where he had a considerably larger force and the inititiative, a correspondent (Forbes I believe) quoted him as saying something like "fire faster, can't you men fire faster?". If true that would seem to indicate a certain excitability that could cloud good judgement.

I'm still tending toward the belief that the twenty or so miles to Mangeni was asking too much of the transport corps for a days march, especially given the track and the weather then prevalent, the risk was too great (it wouldn't take a very large impi to take out a transport column). The Isandlwana area should have had a protected 'stop-over' point. The word 'entrenchment' does seem to imply digging and digging does require tools, but Lt. Chard managed a rather effective 'entrenchment' without them. From what I've seen of contemporary illustrations and modern photos there were nearly enough stones lying about to build a Norman castle! Judging by the size of the stones they would seem to be much lighter to haul around than mealie bags and biscuit boxes as well. The troops may have griped about the work but they would have had a more 'warm and fuzzy' feeling knowing fortifications were available (as was the case for the second invasion).

Given the observed Zulu movements that morning wouldn't have been any different with the entire column intact, what would Chelmsford have made of them? Relatively small groups of Zulus both moving to the west and retiring? Zulus who hadn't been there the day before? Chelmford's greatest concern seems to have been that an impi would bypass his columns and head for Natal, that seems to be what Chard (alone) thought that morning. Would he have been any less confused than Col. Pulliene? On the one hand he knew Durnford was at the Drift, although with only enough force to slow a large impi, it could have seemed to present an opportunity to take the Zulus in the rear. On the other hand the Zulus seemed to be retiring as well and his second greatest concern was he would have difficulty getting the Zulus to attack him. Tough decsision. Would he have then sent half his force after the Zulus who appeared to moving toward the Drift whilst the other half went after the 'retiring' Zulus? He wouldn't have known the perilous position he was in any more than Pulliene did until after his vedettes stumbled on the main force. The Zulus would have reacted with the same speed and it would have too late for him as well to implement much of a coordinated 'last ditch' defence.

The only change in outcome I can see is that none of the Zulus may then have had the energy to go ahead and attack Rorke's Drift.
25th August 2005Michael Boyle
Oh well, through a 'been' into the second to last sentence and a 'not' into the last!
25th August 2005Michael Boyle
And make that a 'throw' above... I'm going to bed!
26th August 2005Peter Quantrill
I don't think that Chelmsford's quote, " Men fire faster! Cannot you fire faster," can be construed as ' excitability.'
There was a severe crisis at that stage of the battle.The Zulus had emerged from the dead ground near Nodwengu ikhanda where they were grouping. They charged the south/west corner of the square, closing rapidly, whereupon Trench's 9 pounders immediately fired three rounds of case at point blank range. The 58th company, flanking Trench were not aligned to give fire support.At that stage this particular company was ordered partially out of the square and wheeled right to respond. " I ordered no.4 Section to cease fire and turned no.3 Section half right and fire volleys in that directon."
Newdigate rushed whatever reserves he could find, including the Colour Party of the 58th into the gap.Chelmsford meanwhile galloped up to the east face of the square and ordered Walter Jones' 5th Comany, Royal Engineers to double back two hundred yards and position themselves behind the 2/21st as reserve. It was touch and go when Chelmsford made that remark.No judgement was clouded, merely a crisis which needed to be resolved.
As a matter of interest, Zulu oral history records, contrary to British reports,state that at least some Zulus reached this point of the square.
" Matitshile charged the square, protected by the quickly put up zinc, (bayonets) and as he tried to enter he was bayoneted and killed. The same thing happened to Dumusa kaSidamba kaNtshona."
27th August 2005Michael Boyle
Thanks for your studied response. I'm still attempting to come up to speed on the second invasion and British officer's command and control in general during the 19th century. Was it considered normal for a General Commanding to directly address or command troops during a battle (other than in the attempt to rally when neccessary)? Forbes certainly found it peculiar enough to comment upon it unfavourably and I haven't yet come across any similiar anecodotes. I hadn't realized that the battle was such a 'near run thing'. I believe I've read those Zulu accounts you refer to but I was left with the impression that the 'zinc' alluded to some 'magical' shield that prevented the Zulu bullets from hitting the British, I hadn't realized it was Zulu slang for bayonets. (From Mitford's "Through the Zulu Country" I believe.)
27th August 2005Edward Bear
If we imagine Forbes as a sort of contemporary Max Hastings, does that help to evaluate his powers of judgement.
27th August 2005Paul Cubbin
I'm always a little confused about this one. For me, Ulundi was not a battle, it was a slaughter akin to Omdurman. When some quote that Zulus reached as close as 50 yards to the British firing line I think "Wow, 50 yards, optimum killing range." The square was not just a good way to fire in all directions, it was also perfect for repelling melee attacks as it presented its enemy with a hedge of bayonets. The front ranks kept the enemy busy, the rear ranks (and mounted troops within) shot them. I really don't see that scattered groups of warriors reaching the British bayonets would have made any difference except to slow things down a little.
29th August 2005Mike McCabe
Isn't 'zinc', as well as the explanation provided above, likely to be an oblique reference to a commonly known barrier even then - the galvanised corrugated iron (CGI) sheet.
Doing research some years ago, I was surprised to see CGI sheets of much heavier gauge in contemporary photographs of the Crimean WAr British depot at the port of Balaclava. In those early days it was heavy cast iron, becoming thinner and galvanised as the industrial process developed and could be applied at lower unit cost per sheet.
29th August 2005Peter Quantrill
Three of the recorded occasions that commanders directly addressed their troops in or before action were during the AZW were:
1.Chelmsford on 22 January prior to the final advance back from Mangeni to to Isandlwana.
2. and 3. Wood and Newdigate addressing the Flying Column and the 2nd Division respectively on the late afternoon of 3 July before the battle of Ulundi.
Mike McC.
The battle of Ulundi, or technically oNdini, was known to the Zulus as the battle of " Impi yaso Cwecweni" or Battle of the flashing or shining one.Another translation would be the battle of the "sheet iron."
In both instances this refers to the sun flashing on bayonets, swords and lances, thus giving the impression of being impenetrable.
My primary source quote referred to on 26 August (Zinc) was from The James Stuart Archives and a translation from an individual Zulu present at Ulundi.
Contemporary post Zulu reports always referred to the battle as "oNdini" or "Cwecweni." Some even refer to it as the battle of kwaNodwengu.
The ikhanda of Ulundi did not exist at the time of the battle, although the plain was referred to as the Mahlabatini or Ulundi plain.
30th August 2005Keith Smith

Just a point on linguisitcs for a moment. The nouns Ulundi (or more properly, uluNdi) and Ondini (oNdini) are forms of the same noun stem Ndi, or 'high pinnacle, range of hills'. A prefix (and occasionally a suffix) is used to complete the noun form. The prefix 'u(lu)-' indicates the nominative or name form of the noun. (uluNdi was often trucated to uNdi, which as you may know was the name of the military brigade based there.)

When the prefix 'o-' and the sufix "-ni" are used, they provide the locative form of the noun, o-Ndi-ni. This form is commonly used for the names of amakhanda; thus the ibutho isiKlebe becomes the ikhanda esiKlebeni, inDlondlo: enDlondweni, umBelebele: emBelebelini and so on. The same locative form reflects the names of clans and their homesteads: abaQulusi: ebaQulusini. I hope that helps!
30th August 2005Dawn
Can you answer this small point for me. The Zulu commander's name Ntshingwayo, should this not be spelt with a small n ie, nTshingwayo? This from a fellow Durbanite exiled to NZ.
30th August 2005Michael Boyle
That's exactly my point, thus far in my reading on Victorian campaigns I haven't come across any references to a General Commanding bypassing his staff and subordinate commanders in giving commands (if that instance could be called such) directly to his troops, other than in the AZW. Commanders did of course frequently address their troops prior to battle. (Actually the audacious opening scene of "Patton" just sprang into my head!)
30th August 2005Mike McCabe
There are numerous examples of direct tactical intervention by senior British commanders. Prominent examples include Wellington at Waterloo, on several occasions, including direct commands to the Guards Brigade (Now Maitland, now's your chance, up Guards and at them...(probably partly apocryphal)). Also, the order from Raglan, through Airy, that started the Chrge of the Light Brigade went to the Brigade Commander (Cardigan) and bypassed the Divisional Commander (Lucan), though Lucan saw and discussed the order before it was executed and did not question it up the chain of command.
In the absence of more formalised command and staff structures effecrtive tactical command was often improvised in a variety of ways.
There was also the tradition of 'leading from the front' and commanders would place themselves at key parts of the battlefield so that they might directly influence events, \and results.
And, permnent deployable brigades and divisions were a relatively late development in British practice.
Even by the Great Boer War of 1899, British field commanders were operating with pitifully small staffsand only very elementary tactical doctrine and standard procedures. Commanders at every level had to compensate for this and direct personal intervention was commonplace. A subordinate finding himself so directed had the understood duty to let his own direct commander know of it as soon as possible, as did any accompanying staff with the superior commander.
Semblances of modern command hierachies and staff structures were more evident in the Indian Army but were not so evident in British Army practice until the immediate run up to WW1 as the Army begab to organise itself for expeditionary warfare on the continent of Europe.
30th August 2005Keith Smith

Acording to the James Stuart Archive, which I use to ensure the correct modern spelling of Zulu words and names, it is spelled 'Ntshingwayo", presumably because it is not a usual noun but a formal name, if you see what I mean. Capitalisation as I used it in my note on isiZulu, is now only limited to proper nouns and not all nouns, although the habit persists sometimes to demonstrate the stem and the prefix/suffix.

By the by, I am not from Durban - just a frequent visitor.
30th August 2005Dawn
Sorry, when you said you met Ron Lock in Durban I just presumed. Your knowledge of Zulu linguistics seemed to indicate someone born and bred.
In some books I've read the 'N' is sometimes left off which made me think it should have been a small n and a capital T. However I think the accepted form is as you have it.
31st August 2005Michael Boyle

Tactical intervention is of course one of the primary duties of a General. However I read your examples as support ; Wellington through Maitland, Raglan through Airy. Chelmsford's directly telling his troops to fire faster, in spite of the well drilled 'fire discipline' doctrine, I still find rather telling. It leads me to believe that he'd never been that close to the 'business end' of a firing line and found the experience a little too intense, which it of course has always been, but well within the experience and ability of his battalion and company officers to handle.

(I have yet to read up on Chelmsford's subaltern and company or battalion commander combat experience.)

31st August 2005Mike McCabe
That there was a Bn drill for applying fire in various ways within a Brigade or Divisional square, and that there would have been very specific instructions on how fire was to be coordinated, is indicative of intentions and expectations rather than a gurantee of results.
C's injunction to 'fire faster' is more likely to be an entirely appropriate reaction to directly observing a battalion front firing too slowly to generate enough effective fire to slow, or halt, the attacking Zulus opposite its part of that face of the square.
Taking the 3rd/60th example at GinGindhlovu, and from information recorded by their own officrs, there is quite a lot of evidence of not particularly well trained, relative novice, soldiers in the reinforcing Bns - including understandable nervousness..
And, it was a very serious test of nerve to maintain fire discipline, including the optimum rates of fire in these relatively close engagements - which, in theory, were not supposed to occur if sufficient effective fire was generated to kill the attacking enemy further out. A very large square like that at Ulundi would have been very vulnerable indeed if penetrated. There were few reserves.
You have only to read the accounts of squares and zareebas being penetrated at battles in the Nile campaign a few years later to see the great problems that might be caused.
It's not much more than C finding himself having to 'grip' a unit directly for not performing as it should and is unlikely to have been lost on the (inevitably) attendant CO.
Chemsford had, I believe, been a Crimean veteran, and, had served in a number of proficient units, as well as commanding a battalion. He ould have known as much as any man of how to 'fight' a square in action, and (accepting the risks) was also prepared to stay mounted so as to keep a better vantage point over the whole battlefield as the action progressed.
Good for him.