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I've just seen Ian Knight on Sky talking about the Zulu's superior command and control (C2)ability during their attack on Isandhlwana.
As I understand it, once the Snr Induna had set his forces away during an attack, the only means of C2 was by runner. No side had radios, so comms was always some what basic. Am I missing something that Knight has seen that I have not? Thoughts?
21st March 2004AMB
Further to my last (above), I can understnad that the phased or pulsed attack, such as that at Rorke's Drift would be easier to control, but the massed 'rush' of Isandwhlana causes me to think it was 'fire & forget' as far as the C2 was concerned.

4th April 2004Jamie
I am inclined to believe that the Induna's briefed their troops on the general outline of their plan and that, once disptached, each impi acted acted more or less autonamously within that broad framework

This devolution of command to a small unit level was still evident during the "civil war" of the late 1980's and early 1990's

The Zulu benefit from a homogeneity that is hard to grasp by outisders - it enables them to act rapidly on even the most sketchy commands

The accounts that I have read of Isandlwhana seem to support this. The Zulu army was at rest and as soon as they spotted the British scouts they rose without further command and set off on a redetermined course
30th April 2004AMB

That must have been some O group!

But once the impis had been unleashed, it was up to those on the ground to determin the outcome - very little centralised comd.

A very clear case of a 'one shot' army. If things changed, the comd had very little ability to influence the battle.

2nd May 2004Melvin Hunt
I must admit that I thought there would have been more response to AMB on this.
It has been fashionable of late to call Isandlwana a "Zulu victory" rather than, usually, (for as long as I can recall) a "British defeat".
There have been books of late referring to the British as being out Generalled and out manoeuvred by the Impi.
Now I do not wish to detract at all from the bravery shown by both sides.
There has already been much debate about the "Game of Chess" and whether or not the Impi actually planned to lure Chelmsford away from the camp.
However, once the attack was launched the Impi attacked and fought their classic horns of the buffallo strategy. Further more, at one point it stalled and almost failed.
I have always considered that Isandlwana was lost due to the companys being too spread out over too large an area. (Surely if anyone has any doubts then they should try walking the firing line and seeing how big it is?)
So, like AMB, I have wondered how, once the attack was launched, the Zulu used their "superior command and control". Or am I too missing something?
3rd May 2004Keith Smith

You have finally touched a nerve!

1. There is no evidence to my knowledge that the Zulu whom Chelmsford was trying to bring to battle were leading him on as part of a preconceived plan of action. He was not drawn away under any pretext other than three messages from Dartnell which finally convinced him that the Zulu army was away to the east near isiPhezi.

2. On the other hand, there is evidence that the Zulu command system was in operation after the initial shock of discovery. The Zulu commanders, of whom there were a number, were posted overlooking the battlefield, close to the current position of the Isandlwana Lodge. The Zulu induna Mkhosana, who saw the men cowering in the grass, went down to the men and said "The little branch of leaves that extinguished the fire (i.e. the King) gave no order such as this". This was surely an example of how commands were passed down. (See for example David Jackson, "Hill of the Sphinx".)

3. The command structure of the Zulu army was quite sophisticated, there being indunas to a quite junior level in command of individual amaviyo. These men, and their superiors, would assume command of the actual tactics after the attack was launched.

3rd May 2004Melvin Hunt
"You have finally touched a nerve"?
To start a reply with such a patronising statement isn't exactly condusive to good natured debate is it? Which nerve is that then? Would it be the one which must be telling you that you know best?
Surely everyone is entitled to express an opinion or is that another point I am missing?
I am well aware of the command structure and of Mkhosana's brave example of leadership and motivation which resulted in his death.
I was merely asking if anyone had any opinions on any instances where the "superior command and control" of the Imp was decisive in winning the battle. It could make an interesting debate.
For the record I have never subscribed to the "lure Chelmsford" theory but, for me, it certainly makes interesting and worthwhile reading and debate.
Perhaps you would like to post your article "Discovery of the Impi" on the Pot Pourri page for future discussion? Much of your hypothesis on the run up to the launch of the attack are very relevant to this thread.
As you know, I certainly found the article thought provoking.
4th May 2004Keith Smith

I'm sorry if my first sentence gave the impression that I was being patronising and know best. When I read the many valuable contributions to this site, I am constantly reminded of how little I know.

My 'nerve' was touched simply because, by nature, I am somewhat indolent and your last input to the effect that you were surprised by the lack of responses spurred me to write what I did. Sorry if I offended you.

4th May 2004Melvin Hunt
Yes, I see now that what I took to be your "irritable" nerve was merely your starter button.
No need for apologies and thank you for replying.
4th May 2004James Garland
Once the Zulus were discovered at Isandhlwana there was no need for an "O" group or any briefing whatsoever. All they needed was the command to attack and the direction of the enemy. The Zulus would have practised their traditional tactics ad nauseum throughout their military careers. They would also have known where in the formation their regiment belonged.
The modern British Army have set tactics that are put into immediate effect if they come upon the enemy unexpectedly. These tactics are refferred to as "section attacks". All the unit commander has to do is shout to the gun group where he wants them positioned and then he shouts to the riflemen to either attack the left flank or the right. They then carry out the command and reform 50 yards beyond the enemy position if the attack is successful. This is all done automatically using two or three commands.
Of course if an enemy position is known in advance more elaborate briefings and more tailored tactics can be used.
The beauty of the Zulu attack at Isandhlwana is that it was conducted so efficiently.
So where does command and control come into all this? Well when the Zulu attack faltered in the face of overwhelming firepower the Zulus did two things. First they took cover as they saw the Royal Artillery guns being fired and moved forward as they were being reloaded and Secondly one of the Indunas (from a Zulu account) got up and charged the British and the rest of the Zulus followed. Real on the spot leadership that equals that of Officers in WW1 who led from the front.
Command and control was lost once the battle was won, as we know the Undi Corps continued on to Rorke's Drift against their orders.
5th May 2004AMB
Helvin, Keith and James,

Hey, I'm not alone! Thank you all for your commnets thus far. I thought for a few days there that this topic was going to die a death.
Whilst I fully understand the lower levels of command within the impis, the ability of the Zulu commanders to influence the battle at the higher and lower levels has always caused me to think.
I'm sure that Chelmsford had his runners/riders and indeed, bugles, but did the Zulus have much the same? Bar bugles? Did they use horns or other sound devices?
Of cause, Chelmsford always hoped to defeat the enemy at much closer quarters, but the zulu commanders, fighting their naturally offensive battles would have had a far greater trouble in actually imposing C2 - they [the Zulu Generals] being further away.
Any further thoughts?

6th May 2004Melvin Hunt
Imagine that you are Ntshingwayo standing on the iNyoni ridge and the attack has been launched. What direct orders (superior command and control) from you, if any, do you think would have been necessary to influence the various stages of the fight?
7th May 2004Bill Cainan

From where he (and his staff ?) were standing they would be able to clearly see the left horn. They would have seen it temporarily being stalled by Durnford, but moving on as Durnford withdrew from the donga. They probably could not see the right horn, but could deduce that it was advancing OK as all the British/Colonial troops seemed to have been pulled back off the ridge to line up with the base of the Isandlwana Mountain. How much Shepstone's men held up this horrn is debatable, but the action would have been out of site anyway (behind the mountain).

The horns were slowly closing (per plan), but the head was stalled in the dry dongas and dead ground in front of the Brittish "line". At this stage the obvious thing to do would be to send an influential induna to try and re-motivate the head to start moving again - which is what seemed to have happened.

I believe that there is evidence that the Zulus used mounted scouts, and if that were the case, I think it would be feasible to have some out on the flank of the left horn to give warning if any of Chelmsford's force were seen to be returning in strength. Though I doubt that much could have been done in terms of redeployment - except maybe commit the Reserve Corps to "keep them busy" ?

I would also like to think that Dabulamanzi would have consulted with "me" before taking the reserve corps off towards Rorke's Drift - but perhaps he did ?

Like AMB above, I believe that he would have runners to communicate with his Regimental commanders, but how much they would be able to influence their units once the attack is underway is debatable.

Once the attack was launched I would suggest that the main role of the Regimental commanders would be to keep the momentum up and try and restore morale for any unit seen to be faltering - probably a case of leading by example -"follow me, men !"

Superior command and control was probably best demonstrated in the disciplined approach marches.

Anyway, it's all conjecture - part of the great mystery of Isandlwana ?

7th May 2004Bill Cainan

Re above - first paragraph.

For "out of site" , substitute "out of sight". That's what happens when us Welsh try and use the English language !

7th May 2004Melvin Hunt
Thanks for that.
Yes, it's all conjecture but absolutely fascinating.

7th May 2004AMB
Bill, Melvin et al,

Indeed, fascinating stuff. Quite a good system as long all goes to plan. What perhaps would have happened if the attack did not go to plan?
We all know of the faultering af the initial advance and that a sny induna moved in to rally one of the regts, but what if this had happened right across the front? I suspect then that the individual regtl comd would have come to the fore to again rally their men. As for the General having any great influence, let alone good C2, I doubt it.