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DateOriginal Topic
6th April 2004Rockets at Isandlwana
By Neil Aspinshaw
After the recent very interesting thread about the Hale rocket, It has left me with a couple of interesting thoughs as to the tactical deployment of the rocket battery at Isandlwana.
If the hale rocket had no offensive , or indeed defensive capabilities, what conclusions do the RD site contibutors draw from the fact that its proposed position at the notch was nothing short of suicide in such an exposed location. Also, if the intention had been to catch up with Durnford, what use wold this have been in a fast moving mounted skirmish?
over to you


6th April 2004Mike McCabe
The mal-deployment of Durnford's rocket battery was very unfortunate - even by foresight, rather than hindsight. Let's suppose that the intention was that it would somehow meet up with the two troops of Native Horse under Shepstone, along the Nqutu Ridges/Upper Ngwebini valley, and join them, and therefore provide some sort of flank screen to Durnford's left as he changed the axis of march of his Column to converge onto Chelmsford's estimated position. There were still a few miles of flat ridge with open ground to its left along the axis being followed by Roberts and Raw; which might have made this a sensible move had everything been synchronised propoerly. The Rocket Bty could well have been able to fire to their left flank across this open ground - dispersing, deflecting or channelling any large mass targets of Zulus that might present themselves there.
But, events happened much faster than expected, and the Zulus rolled unexpectedly onto the Rocket Bty achieving complete tactical surprise and overwhelming them. Was it a sensible deployment of the Rocket Bty,given what Durnford might know (or could have surmised) at the time that they set off to climb the SE slopes of the Conical Koppie. Probably not. If caught in the open, they could not hold ground as an unescorted unit - being unable to generate enough volume of fire. Also, they could not support the right flank of Raw and Roberts (they could see neither) nor could they reach out to support Durnford's left flank. Moreover, the troops with Raw and Robertson could move faster than the Rocket Bty, and would have been slowed down by them. It would have been better had Durnford kept them with him, at least to safeguard them as an effective fire unit for later use.

6th April 2004Keith Smith

The rocket battery left at the same time as Durnford, but was left behind, the horsemen "going at a canter". The hill up which they toiled was Ithusi, with the object of reaching the plateau to support Raw/Roberts. They were not climbing the Conical Koppie, they merely passed around it. They were given directions to the top of the escarpment by Trooper Barker, Natal Carbineers, himself returning to Lt. Scott, after delivering a message to the camp.

You are quite right, however, about their lack of use: they would have been better left in the camp.

6th April 2004Bill Cainan
I think you have to remember the "big" picture here. Was not the belief of most people in the Camp that the main Zulu Army was off to the South East, with Chelmsford trying to engagethem ?

If Durnford had realised this was not the case and believed that the main Zulu Army was in fact moving to cut off Chelmsford then his attempt to disrupt/intercept this movement could be assisted by the only "artillery" he had available. It was unfortunate that the battery was unable to keep up with any of Durnford's horsemen and looked for the proverbial "short cut". Who would have guessed what was really up on the plateau ?

Also, with what regard did Durnford look on his Rocket Battery (a bit like Custer and the Gatlings, maybe ?). I don't think he was over concerned with either its presence or its deployment - he had, at that time, "more important" things to think about !

And so, the gallant little Rocket Battery rode on to secure its place in the story of this battle, quite oblivious of the "big" picture !

6th April 2004RonClayton
Evening All, As PC George Dixon would say.Now while you learned chaps pack you DJ's for Zululand[I'll carry your bags] heres a thought,viz the rocket was probably the most unless piece of equipment ever issued to the British Army[including the Boyes Anti Rifle] Islandwahana was lost, if not before the invasion,but certainly when Chelmsford rode out.What if Chelmsford had walked into the main force? Faulty intelligence and underestimating the Zulus,insuffcient troops ofthe right calibre.Sorry chaps but the rocket battery was totally irrevalent.I 'm sure this has been discussed before but I reckon the Gatlings would not have turned LBH either,Custer is today regarded as a far bigger buffon then Chelmsford.Indeed the lance [and sabre ?] were far more significant which reminds me of the theory that the lance andsabre would have been of effective use against the Native americans [unusual for me to be pc] Discuss,there's nothing on the telly till late on.

Cheers Everyone,

8th April 2004Julian Whybra
Well, Ron, I'm glad to see the sweeping statement is still alive and kicking.
Faulty intelligence? There were Zulus in the Malakathas, were there not?
Insufficient troops? Numbers had not much to do with Isandhlwana (look at Rorke's Drift). The right calibre? Tell it in England those that pass us by, here, faithful to their charge, her soldiers lie.
Underestimating the Zulus? Yes, that one I grant you.
8th April 2004Bill Cainan

I echo Julian's comment about sweeping statements.

"The rocket was probably the most unless (useless ?) piece of equipment ever issued to the British Army". On what evidence do you base this statement ? Certainly the trials and field assessments do not support this viewpoint. It may well be that they way the battery was deployed at Isandlwana did little to enhance its reputation, but is that the fault of the rocket? I'm sure the many serving and former-serving members of the Forces who read this forum could produce a list of items that were considerable more "useless".

As to the Battery being "irrelevent", I would point out that of the few written accounts of what happened on the 22 Jan 1879, a number came from the survivors of the Rocket Battery. Who else on that fateful day (apart from Curling) can say thatr they were on the front line, were over-run by Zulus and lived to tell the tale ?

Chelmsford and Custer bufoons ? Certainly both suffered considerable reverses (fatal in Custer's case !) - but was not Chelmsford the victor at Gingindhlovu and Ulundi ? And did not Custer do some extraordinary things in the US Civil War ? Bufoons, I think not !

The lance and sabre "significant" ? They were both useful in building up the body count, once the damage had been done by the Martini-Henrys, the 9pdrs and the Gatling Guns, but I think "significant" is somewhat of an over-statement.

However, like Julian, I fully agree with you that Chelmsford had initially underestimated the Zulus. It was, however, a mistake he was not to repeat.

13th April 2004Mike McCabe
The respective locations of the Rocket Bty and Capt Rusell are to an extent conjectural. There is good collateral evidence for locating Capt Russell ahead of the battery in the area between the Comical Koppie, Itusi, amd the so-called Notch. The battery itself was seen from Isandlwana rounding the shoulder of the Conical Koppien(roughly its SE slopes, by the time that the contours and superelevation of both the Koppie and Itusi (as shown on the 1:50,000 survey) are both taken into account. It would have been normal for the battery commander to be in advance of his battery in country where contact with the enemy was expected - and the separation would not just have been caused by the slow progress of the battery mules, but would have been quite deliberate. Having encountered the enemy, as he (unexpectedly) did, Russell would have returned to order them into action - hoping for enough reaction time to bring the rocket troughs into action. So, I'd happily accept that the battery was somewhere between the various estimated locations for sighting Russell - and the SE slopes of the Koppie where it was last seen from Isandlwana - but it would assume too much to place them too close to Russel;l's position on the slopes of Itusi.

It's also good to see that Julian has risen to the cause too. Quite like old times!