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
25th May 2004Zulu Battle Formations
By Steve Oster
I've searched mightily for a description of Zulu fighting formations during the AZW, to no avail thus far. All books and online content describe the "horns of the beast" strategy. A few make reference to the Zulu's use of "extended" and/or "open order" along the line of advance. Can someone point me to a reference where this is described in detail? I'm trying to gain an accurate picture of what the Zulu companies looked like during their advance. I'm fairly certain this wasn't a mob moving shoulder to shoulder over hill & dale. Was it rank upon rank of men moving in an extended line with several paces between ranks? Were front ranks in extended order, but following companies formed up in a group? What typical distances were observed between warriors? Do the Zulu today say what these formations looked like? Any assitance would be greatly appreciated. Regards,
26th May 2004Peter Ewart

Most accounts of detaiIed movements that I have seen appear in reports from eyewitnesses on the other side, i.e. the British, including (indeed perhaps especially) from those of NCOs and men. You are right that there seems to be an absence of specific detail other than admiration in various reports of the speed, mobility & discipline of the Zulu formations.

You may already have checked Ian Knight's "Anatomy of the Zulu Army" but, if not, I seem to recall (I'm not at home so can't check today) at least one chapter which goes into details of composition, formation and movement. From memory I think it's in the "Wet with Yesterday's Blood" chapter (if I've got the right book!)

Several books during the last 100/150 years on the Zulu social system contain descriptions of military life but offhand I can't think of one which goes into the detail you seek. Among modern works, I seem to remember a chapter in either (a) Ron Lock's excellent "Blood on the Painted Mountain" or in (b) Knight & Castle's "Fearful Hard Times" which does go into the detail of the enemy movements as described by British combatants - but I can't remember which! (I think it's in a chapter called "What pluck!" but I I can't check today - someone else, hopefully, will be able to confirm or correct that).

26th May 2004Clive Dickens
You are quite correct Ian Knight goes into the Zulu army formations in great detail in his book "The Anatomy of the Zulu Army" in chapter six (6).
26th May 2004Peter Ewart
Thanks, Clive. Just had a chance to check. I see Ch 6 is entitled "Seeing Nothing but Red", the title I mentioned above being another of his gory chapters somewhere else!

The second account I mentioned is, I see, in Knight & Castle's "Fearful Hard Times", their own account of the coastal column's experiences. Excellent too, even if they do give the Rev Robert Robertson a bad press! Chapter 8 is called "Talk About Pluck!" so I wasn't far out, and provides some very good descriptions - mainly from eyewitness accounts - of the detailed movements of the Zulu forces.

27th May 2004Steve Oster
Thank you both! I'll begin hunting for the titles at once.