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27th February 2004How much Blame Pulleine?
By David Alan Gadrner
I must confess to previously attrinuting at least some portion of blame to Brevet Col Pulleine.He apperared to have had good admin skills , but little command experience.He appeared to be indecisive,and gave in to Durnford all too easily albeit the latter was senior.
A remark attributed to him In Mr Jacksons Hill Of The Sphinx mentions that "a fellows stupid for opening fire too soon on the Zulu", which was taken from Chelmfords field orders.
He berated himself for almost driving the Zulu away-having no idea of what he was about to come up against.
Yet Jackson makes the telling comment that no good house guard locks himself in the attic when faced with a burglar.
Of course this is a telling point.
So do I criticise him less, or should I believe that Pulleine should have been flexible enough to adapt to what was happening and compact his position to comply with Chelmsfords other field orders for defence?
I don't want to be wise after the event-I just wonder what would have happened had for example Glynn still been there?
Would the result have been the same?
27th February 2004Steven Etchells
I think it was a combination of a lot of small errors. The British got sucked in, making it easier for the Zulus to outflank them. There is also probably some truth in the theory that Durnford fell back because he had no ammunition, with the very likely probability that Quartermasters wanted a"bloody requisition" especially if the person requesting the ammunition was black, which was the case with Durnford's messenger.It seems to be true that British rifles did heat up & jam quickly (as a recent documentary showed) not very good when there are twenty-thousand Zulus in front of you.Finally I think that people discount the courage, discipline & determination of the Zulus too readily. It is unfair to blame one single thing or person for what happened that day.Not right to blame either Durnford or Pulleine who were overtaken by events which were much bigger than either of them.
27th February 2004David Alan Gardner
Can't disagree with anything you said-so it begs the question, could an exceptional commander been flexible enough on the day been quick witted enough to see what was happening?
You are of course right to give credit to the Zulu's for what they achieved, but I'm still left with the idea that an exceptional man might have made a difference.
27th February 2004Steven Etchells
I think if you suddenly found yourself facing twenty thousand Zulus you would have to be a quick & exceptional thinker to make the right decisions.I think it would be fair to say that by the time the British realised how serious their situation was, it was too late. It would be interesting to know what Buller or Wood would have done.
29th February 2004Julian whybra
Steven, first, the "bloody requisition" is an invention of yours, not a quotation. Forgive me, but it's worth mentioning now before it becomes accepted fact. There is evidence that suggests Durnford's 2 NNH trrops were running out of ammo towards the end but there is also evidence that they got some (from the Carbineers camp), delivered it, and then retreated from the donga because DURNFORD THOUGHT THE POSITION TOO EXTENDED AND WISH TO CONCENTRATE HIS FORCES. Secondly, the outcome would have been the same whoever was in command. Chelmsford's Instructions to column commanders were followed as to the British troop disposition. That determined the outcome of the battle. No, poor Pulleine is not to blame. Look in the direction of the A12.
1st March 2004David Alan Gardner
Julian, far be it for me to argue with an expert, but I don't see how you can say the defence positions at the camp were what encapsuled in The Instructions fo Column Commanders.
Durnford, brave as he was , had " let the horses out the corral" so to speak, based as we all know, a completely incorrect view of what he was up against.He bashed right in, like many great commanders, but the numbers were totally against him.

In many military confrontations failure has occured due to Commnaders not marching "to the sound of the guns", so Durnford's postion must be sympathetically met, but dare I say, some culpability attached?

What they ended up up with at the camp was a mish mash after Durnfords withdrawal from the camp front right?
Addionally,while of course we can say the line was extended-too extended,therefore still complying with the instructions there was no British infantry reserve, as correct me again, but Pulleine had commited what he had to the north firing line.
Pulleine was far too extended, caused in part of not being his own man, it would have neede an exceptional commander to have save the day.
Was he trying to concentrate
Clery was disingenous when he mentioned of a defence of the Sony Coppie, which may have actually worked but for a commander to have thought on his feet like that is too presumptious
No not Glynn I suppose, but I believe there were men who could have.Melville was by all accounts , an exceptionally gifted realtively young officer who given the chance, may have made the differece.
Major Wilsone Black , for my money, was another.
To me the fascination and irony of Isandlwana is that it needn't have ended that way.
Not being English, and not to familiar, I can imagine what lies "in the direction of the A12".

Yes by all means, blame him too, he undoubtedly contributed to the defeat for hazy command structures, being too inflexible, too narrow minded, and was blinded on the day to grip with the enemy as soon as possible.
Yes , he too could have been caught out and attacked on the plain on his way east.

However had he ignored Dartnell, he would have had the battle he longed for that day at Isandlwana, and I've no doubt defeated the Zulus.
He missed the battle he wanted by less than 4 hours, -the time between leaving the camp and the start of the activity north of the camp, and Isandlwana went down in history for a defeat which should have been a victory.
1st March 2004David Gardner
Sorry I was interuppted when wrote previous, so excuse the obvious errors typo in my previous post.
What I was endeavouring to mention also was the crucial point at the battles height, when a bugle call sounded, around the the time of the "lone voice, little branch" etc.

One Zulu mentions that then, "when the soldiers gor together, they fired at a "dreadful rate".
I now take this to mean a bad rate of fire?
The British were trying regroup and retire into a more concentrated position on the camp, perhaps where they should have been before.
This is where the Zulu made maximum effort and charged in.
I'm trying not to be too critical of brave dead men, just trying establish what might have, what could have been.
2nd March 2004Julian Whybra
Your first sentence was rather garbled so I'm not exactly sure what you meant. You also raise a number of other points which I'll try to answer. First, I don't want to follow the Durnford-Pulleine blame argument - I feel that's irrelevant. Forgive my facetiousness - the A12 leads to Chelmsford (a town in England). You write that numbers were against Durnford and that therefore Chelmsford's Instructions were irrelevant. But numbers were not against Durnford. Were they against Wardell at Centane the previous year? Were they against Wood at Kambula? Yes, they were, but the result was a real hammering for the Gaikas/Zulus at a low cost to the British. And what troop dispositions were adopted in those situations? Certainly nothing akin to Chelmsford's Instructions. Never again in the Zulu War would Chelmsford adopt his own Instructions or even make reference to them. Yes, the line was too extended, yes they were trying to concentrate - i would say that both Durnford and Pulleine realized the uselessness of the troop dispositions they had been instructed to adopt against a Zulu attack. The Zulus took advantage of their being momentarily on the wrong foot so to speak (if you'll forgive an English expression). P.S. - a dreadful rate does not mean a bad rate in English, it means a tremendous rate of fire.
2nd March 2004David Alan Gardner
Yes, I had to think about the "dreadful" bit as in "Dreadnought" but I was wondering in the context of the way it was written, that the Zulu may have meant that they had come together to retreat at that point in time, therefore this caused a low rate of fire, and the start of the rout .Sorry for being pedantic about this.

As regards the A12 , I did guess it was Chelmsford!-being in Teuchterland (I'll translate for you Julian, Scotland), I'm not too familiar with the road infrastructure down there, I fly most places I go these days, even just "down the road" to coin a phrase, to London.

I'm glad you clarified that it was in that specific moment, an instant, that the "implosion" of the British defences/ Zulu explosion took place started by a bugle call, perhaps ordered by Durnford-not that it matters who ordered it.
This was brought on by the Zulu flanking movement on the camp right

I think it's important to mention the intelligence failure which precipitated the attack.Had they known what they were agin, they would not have adopted the positons that they had.

It is interesting to note your confidence that a properly organised defence would have stopped the Zulu's, but I think one must mention that the whole camp "collective consciousness" if you will, was geared up to that of a group of men being left behind, while others advanced to the fight.
The surprise of numbers was total, and as I mentioned previously, the notion of the "camp defence" implied the supplies and equipment, -not the simple survival of the men itself as in fact it turned out.
To me, the battle was lost when the companies were sent north, I believe from then it was irretrievable as the companies were engaged all they way back to camp, and seemed to have no idea that a right flanking movement by the Zulus was taking place before their very eyes.

You quote Wood at Kambula, but critically this was after the lesson had already taken place months earlier.
I think it is safe for me to say that the Zulus were quite inderrated by Chelmsford, and it would appear, most of his staff.
By all means lets criticise him as is only his due.
However had he not left the camp when he did, and remeber we are only talking hours here-he too would have still been at the camp-and undoubtedly beaten the Zulus on the day.

Lady Luck can be a vicious mistress, but of course with the stakes involved, it shouldn't have come down to luck.
2nd March 2004Julian whybra
Well, a few points by way of reply. Durnford did want to concentrate the force and he did go over to speak with Pulleine. It was Pope's bugler that was heard to sound the retire.
I am not confident that the British could have stopped the Zulus in a different formation but it is possible. The coys originally sent north on to the plateau were not constantly engaged. The retreat down the spur was orderly and done whilst disengaging thus they were not engaged all the way back to camp. Pulleine was only too well aware that there was a right flanking movement - hence the movement of Wardell's, Pope's and Dyer's composite coys. Kambula worked, what difference does it make that this was later?
3rd March 2004Peter Quantrill
The original question was " How much blame Pulleine."
From a strategic viewpoint, as Julian points out, look no further than Chelmsford.
From a tactical viewpoint Pulleine is certainly not blameless. Consider all that happened prior to Durnford's arrival at plus/ minus 1030 hrs.
First: At approximately 0730 hrs the vidette of Barker and Hawkins were driven off Qwabe.They reported to Scott on Conical. Almost simultaneously Whitelaw's vidette driven off Nyeni by what Whitelaw described as "thousands." Whitelaw reports back to Pulleine. Action taken by Pulleine?----message to Chelmsford at 0805 hrs which did not indicate the seriousness of the situation. Nor did he strike the tents or laager.
Second: When both Chard and Pope saw "thousands" on Nqutu Ridge moving in a Westerly direction, it is logical to presume that Pulleine also saw them.The time approximately 0930 hrs. This represented about one third of the Zulu army in view. Pulleine again neither laagered nor dropped the tents.
Third: Brickhill the interpreter recorded:"On the morning of the 22nd.January, between six and seven o'clock the Zulu showed in considerable force at the southeast end of Ingutu.Shortly afterwards another force came into sight at about the middle of Ingutu and the intervening space was speedily filled in." What Brickhill saw, Pulleine must also have seen.Still no action by Pulleine to laager or drop the tents or prepare for action.
Fourth:A war office document of 1879 reads,"The facts are as follows.Col.Durnford was commanding an independent column and received his orders from the general.The column commanded by Col.Glyn was at Isandlwana and on the force marching out Col. Pulleine recd orders to take command during Col.Glyn's absence.It could never be intended to put an officer in command and doubtless was never intended to put an officer in command of another column over Col. Pulleine's head for a portion of the day.Col. Durnford's move up to join the general, " cooperate" in the general's own words was entirely in accord with his previous orders.Doubtless finding himself senior officer on the spot when the action had ALREADY commenced he, according to custom of the service,took command, BUT THIS WAS NOW TOO LATE A PERIOD TO REMEDY THE FATAL ERRORS OF POSITION SELECTED BEFORE HIS ARRIVAL."
Clearly the War Office were of the view that Pulleine should have laagered,dropped the tents and contracted the defence well before Durnford's arrival.
All this of course does not exonerate Dunford for his part in the subsequent tactical failure in the events which were to follow after his arrival.
4th March 2004Julian Whybra
The presence of 'large numbers of natives in the hills' was not particularly indicative of a threat (and hadn't been in the past). Had the NNH not blundered into the impi that morning, would the Zulus have attacked on the 23rd as planned? If so, then there was no danger on the 22nd and Pulleine was right not to be panicked. All the lessons learnt from the 9th Kaffir War were perhaps too well learnt by Pulleine. Certainly as far as he was concerned the main impi lay on the track ahead and NOT on the plateau. He was expecting to pack up the tents and move camp at any moment and he had neither the manpower nor the time to laager, nor sufficient waggons to encompass the camp in its entirety.
4th March 2004John Young

Time for the p.c.(political correctness, that this.) hat - aren't you referring to the 9th Cape Frontier War?

John Y.
5th March 2004Peter Quantrill
The question of deliberate Zulu intent to attack on the 22nd has been aired extensively on the forum and is perhaps best left as agree to disagree. However, of interest is that I have just finished discussing this subject with David Rattray. He is happy for me to quote his views which are, "Although the moon phase was wrong for the battle to be fought on the 22nd there was enough energy in the Zulu force to make the battle happen on the 22nd without Raw stumbling on the Impi."
Back to Pulleine. Perhaps the single most error of judgement on his part was not to drop the tents.It is common cause that in the event of an impending attack, they must be dropped. He was not in receipt of any orders to move the camp or portion thereof until midday or thereabouts.Let us examine his exact and much quoted message sent at 0805 hrs.
" Report just come in that Zulus are advancing IN FORCE from left front of camp."
This message was no doubt the result of Whitelaw's direct report that "Thousands" were moving towards the camp. If Pulleine was of the view, as evidenced in his note, that a considerable force of Zulus was advancing ON HIS CAMP, then he had every right to consider the possibility that perhaps the Impi had found him and not the general-----this is conjecture.What is not conjecture is that in accordance with standing military procedure, the tents should have been dropped as the enemy was advancing on his position.Had he done so Milne woul have seen this when on Silutshana at 1000 hrs or thereabouts.This may well have induced Chelmsford to return earlier. Whatever reasons may be argued for not dropping the tents, it must be accepted that this was an error of some magnitude.
5th March 2004Julian whybra
John, I was using the term in its historically-acceptable context (University of London Thesis Rules [OK?])
5th March 2004John Young
No excuse.

6th March 2004David Gardner
I write this from an internet cafe in Thessalonika, and I thank you for your detailed answer for which I entirely agree with.
Despite his previous experience, Zulus in such large numbers could not be ignored by a prudent commander with regard to all the circumstances.
I know Pulleines positon was, to say the least difficult for Pulleine
However my own feeling is he had no flexibility to adapt to the fast changing deadly situation that was developing around him.Sending those companies out of camp was the last thing he should have been doing.

The 9th Cape War was irrelevant to the circumstances of 1879 -again this points to a failure to adapt to the circumstances of the 1879 invasion.
hanks again Peter, appreciate it.
8th March 2004Julian whybra
David, I don't feel you can say that the 9th Kaffir (Cape Frontier) War was irrelevant to the circumstances of the Zulu War. Were not the experiences of the 1st Gulf War useful in the conduct of the 2nd Gulf War? 1877-8 was very much the trial run for 1879 for the 24th Regt regarding fighting in South African conditions. Enjoy your holiday or are you there for the election?
10th March 2004David Alan Gardner
Hi Julian,
Yes well on reflection my reply was too sweepingly general-but I still stand by the idea that any officer failing to take defensive action in terms of reinforcement of his quarters in the face of the mant unknowns and dangers of the day was definitely culpable.
Not an ideal answer but I'm too tired to write a better one.

10th March 2004David Alan Gardner
Hi Julian,

Yes well on reflection my reply was too sweepingly general-I was in a rush in a smoky internet cafe-but I still stand by the idea that any officer failing to take defensive action in terms of reinforcement of his quarters in the face of the mant unknowns and dangers of the day was definitely culpable.
Not an ideal answer but I'm too tired to write a better one.I again reiterate I was pleased to read Peter Quantrill's reply which I found mos tintereting and in line with my own thoughts.

The election Julian, you got it in one, and I'm returning next weekend!
Still , it was nice to see the Greatest Makednoian (Macedonian ) of them all, Alexandros,better known to us all as Alexander The Great on Bucephalus just up ftom the infamous White Tower there, which is steeped in history.
Will get picture of it, together with the Hoplite shields and spears nearby.

4th June 2004Mark Smith
If you look at the events leading up to the battle its a case of anything that could go wrong did go wrong.

Chelmsford splitting his column in two.
Durnford's forces being cut off from the camp
Being outnumbered 20-1
Trouble supplying the front line with fresh ammunition
Rifles supposedly jamming
Over stretched defence perimeter

The Zulus couldn't have staged their attack any better, totally outflanking the British lines on both sides and blocking their escape at the rear of the camp turning the battle into a rout.

The only thing Pulliene could have done better was to have a shorter perimeter keeping the companies closer together and enabling the the front lines quicker ammunition replinishments.