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6th April 2002Zulu generalship
By Matt
The Zulu's obviously had a very efficient military system which enabled them to put large numbers of well disciplined warriors in the field at any one time. But what of Zulu generalship?
After Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift it must have been obvious that even their best efforts were going to result in very heavy casulties. They had also been roughly handled by the Boer's in earlier engagements. Surely more prudent commanders would have tried to be more flexible with their tactics after such actions. Why keep throwing thousands of warriors against the disciplined volley fire of the massed British infantry? In fact, why engage the British at all? You can't defeat an army that won't fight. That would have denied the British one of their main objectives which was to crush the Zulu army. If they had been content to raid supply lines and smaller outposts who knows what the results could have been.
Does anyone else feel that these brave warriors were let down by bad generalship?
6th April 2002Gary Laliberty
Hi Matt,
Sorry to have to say this but, you are thinking like a European. The Zulu's tactics were ones that worked for some 50 years. From the time of King Shaka. You need to remember that the British-Zulu War lasted some 6 months... from January 11,1879 to July 4,1879. In that time, of the 8 battles of the war, 3 were spectacular British defeats---Isandlwana, Ntombe, and Hlobane--- and at least 2, Nyezane, and Khambula, were 'close run things'. Unlike the British, the Zulu army was highly mobile, and required no baggage or supply train. It normally could march 20 miles in a day, and twice that distance was not unknown. For the first few days it would be accompanied by civilians---usually boys too young to fight---who drove the cattle and carried the corn and beer. After that, the army was expected to live by foraging. In King Shaka's time, this was usually enough to see the army beyond the kingdom's borders, but in 1879 the army was fighting on home territory, which led to problems with provisions and tension within the civilian population, whose crops were likely to suffer on the army's approach. So, the Zulus generals had no knowledge of supply trains or of supply lines. Their 'army' ate on the march. And for the Zulus to change their 'basic tactics' would be very difficult.
Well, this is only my opinion---from an amateur historian, of the British-Zulu War.
Thanks, Gary
6th April 2002Barry Iacoppi
I can not comment on Zulu generals throwing their troops at the disciplined volley fire of the British but note that in WW1 it was not uncommon for then modern generals to send masses of their own troops over open ground against a highly trained enemy in fixed positions armed with machine guns and rifles. Some will tell you that the end justified the means. Chances are that those people were not there and never heard the whistle.
I think that the real question is what motivated those African and European to follow the suicidal commands of their officers. There is a fine line between brave and foolish.