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
22nd March 2004Rounds of the soldiers at Rorke's Drift
By Lukas
Hi There

is someone know how many rounds each soldier have at the beginning of the battle?

22nd March 2004John Young

The normal quota would have been 70 rounds per man.

John Y.
22nd March 2004Lukas
Thank you John!

23rd March 2004Peter Quantrill
I have aired this issue before, however the relevance may well have been overlooked.
Yes, the companies were issued with 70 rounds per man. Whether they started the action with 70 rounds is debatable.
The ball bags ( a satchel with straps over the shoulder extending to waist length) carried 30 rounds. There is primary source evidence contained in the" Precis of Information concerning Zululand" and prepared by the Intelligence Division of the War Office which clearly indicates that faulty ball bags caused loss of cartridges when the men doubled into battle positions. This is confirmed by Major- General Newdigate at Ulundi and Major Woodgate at Kambula. Newdigate was severly critical in saying, " Complaints were made about the ball bags: the weight of the cartridges makes the bag open, and when the men double the cartridges fall out." Woodgate was equally critical. " With ball bags much ammunition was lost."
The tactical positioning of the firing line at Isandlwana resulted in far more exertion for the companies than would have been the case at Ulundi or Kambula. On the balance of probability it is reasonable to conclude that a fair loss of ammunition from the ball bags occured.The quantum is debatable, but the conclusion drawn is that all six companies had less thal 70 rounds on the commencement of action---more so in the case of Cavaye and Mostyn.
23rd March 2004Julian Whybra
However it was not unknown for infantry to carry a further 30 rounds in an emergency as at Centane the previous year. There would have been plenty of time for this to be issued.
23rd March 2004Peter Quantrill
There may well have been plenty of time to issue an additional 30 rounds,but this, in all probability, never happened.
First: The 2/24th marched out with only 70 rounds and they were supposedly advancing to attack a large Zulu force. Why then should the supply to the camp force be any different?If additional rounds were ordered then someone like Essex would surely have mentioned this in his report.
Second: There is Primary source evidence which confirms the fact that Pulleine's companies were only issued with 70 rounds. Penn Symons wrote in March/April 1879 " In the first place then, the men had been firing hard and fast for nearly an hour, they commenced WITH 70 ROUNDS per man and these must have been pretty well expended."
As we know Penn Symons report was very detailed and sourced from many, if not most of the survivors and, pending primary source evidence to the contrary, would lead to the conclusion that 70 rounds, less ball bag lossage, would be the amount of ammo carried by the firing line on commencement of action.
23rd March 2004Alan Critchley
Note that the original question was about Rorke's Drift defenders.

23rd March 2004John Young

I think for Lukas' purposes the knowledge that the men carried 70 rounds is fine. We'll have to wait and see.

John Y.
23rd March 2004Adrian Whiting
I would be interested to know if any other references to losing rounds from the expense pouch have turned up prior to 1879, or if many have turned up following it.

Having tried to replicate the situation with MH cartridges and a repro pouch you can indeed cause the pouch strap to come open if you are pretty vigorous about it, but I don't think you would go on to lose the major proportion of the contents unless you went to a prone firing position - which would happen anyway with the pouch open, doubling or not.

The expense pouch straps were not worn over the shoulder. Rather, the straps were affixed to the right side brace ring for actual use when braces were worn.

I have a view that the pouch was not desirable in the view of those seeking smartness in the new valise equipment. Being a single item it imbalanced the appearance when worn from the brace ring. I am not surprised that the more common location for the pouch to be carried was centrally in the small of the back, suspended from the rear braces crossover, and tensioned by the waistbelt. I am left wondering if the expense pouch was a potentially convenient item to complain about, especially if those complaining didn't want it anyway !

In any event they were successful. The succeeding 1882 Valise Equipment dispensed with it. With that equipment the loose rounds were to be carried in the pocket. If loss of rounds were truly critical, then this could not have been a well developed or thought through option. To support this, I would add that the 1888 Valise equipment returned to loose rounds being carried in pouches, and the differing patterns of pouch with that equipment bear testimony to the same problem persisting.

My view is thus that cartridge loss was an issue that required rectification, but that the extent of it was manageable, and that other motives may have been at play.