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DateOriginal Topic
7th July 2004Islandwana
By paul neville
Would the Zulu's really have attacked a British Camp with 5,000 armed soldiers complete with cannons, rockets and gatling guns? If Chelmsford had not split his forces on the 22nd of January I cannot believe that they would have attacked it would have been suicide.
8th July 2004Michael Boyle
I agree that had they attacked the Center column in sutu(with Chelmsford commanding) it could have resulted in a very short war indeed.(Even though the Gatling guns were not with his column.)

However,to my understanding, Cetshwayo didn't send his Impis out to play tag with the British (as seemed to have been the case by the protagonist of the previous 9th Cape Frontier War).He sent them out on the 17th to kick some red coated butt with the explicit instructions NOT to cross into Natal and NOT to attack an entrenched position.(For good reason as evidenced by the subsequent defence at Rorkes Drift.)There in lies the rub.

It seems to me that Chelmsford's decision not to entrench the camp led to the decision to go for it.The Impis must have had intelligience that the camp was not entrenched and shared Cetshwayo's confidence that with their speed they could negate the advantage of volley fire.Even so they apparently hadn't planned on attacking until the next day,not due to the impending eclipse(which they may have been unaware of) but because of the new moon.They only attacked after the vedettes discovered them.Chelmsford's splitting of the column was only a lucky break.After all, they did win.(If only because the British ran out of ammo ;)

(I'm out of breath just reading the ammunition discussion!)
8th July 2004Peter Ewart

Cetshwayo's instructions to his army were to engage the centre column and drive it back into Natal. Ntshingwayo ka Mahole and his "staff" may well have found an opportunity around the 22nd, 23rd or 24th of attacking the whole column while it was on the move east of Isandlwana (as was intended by Chelmsford) if the force had not been split. But I don't think one can necessarily rule out an attack on the camp at Isandlwana itself. After all, the Zulus' perceived strength of the British force was probably more pertinent than its actual strength, which admittedly the Zulus may have had a good knowledge of from their espionage.

There were certainly no Gatling guns available and the effectiveness of the rockets is questionable. They didn't contribute at all in the battle, although if used from behind a "safe" line of infantry, they may have been more useful. It would depend on whether the Zulu army took a blind bit of notice of them once they'd come under fire from them for a little while. Obviously the increase in artillery would have been useful, at least for a while.

If the same mistakes were made even if the whole force remained in camp - infantry pushed out too far, tents not struck, a failure of the staff to post vedettes far enough out or to comprehend the import of the COMBINED messages from those vedettes between the 20th and 22nd, or to fail to locate the main Zulu army until too late, etc etc - who is to say the result would have been any different, albeit with inevitably higher Zulu casualties?

There were thousands of reserves the Zulus never had to call upon, some of whom were only used in the pursuit or mopping up. The actual battle was won with only a proportion of the Zulu army available at Isandlwana actually needed.

Surely we must assume that the "faulty" troop dispositions of the morning of the 22nd would have been repeated had Chelmsford been in the camp, given that they followed his instructions closely, and provided the same messages arrived in the same order? Durnford's force wouldn't have complicated matters out east if the force hadn't been split, in fact he wouldn't have been called up from Rorke's Drift at all. Undoubtedly the larger number of infantry and mounted forces available would have made things more difficult for the Zulus, but if the latter had been beaten off, what then? Over the next few days/weeks, a huge column several miles long, encumbered with slow oxen and wagons, would have been a vulnerable target. A way would have been worked out to shield it with mounted infantry, but again it would depend on how many losses the Zulus were prepared to take in repeated attacks on vulnerable parts of the column.

Most importantly, the under-estimation of the enemy by Chelmsford in a variety of ways caused the defeat (speaking generally) and there is nothing to suggest that, had Chelmsford not received Dartnell's message and subsequently divided his force, he would have been any more on his guard sitting at Isandlwana for another day or so. Surprise was inevitable.

8th July 2004steve
yes......they would have attacked.

as peter pointed out they had received their instructions from cetshwayo......
to defy,and not attack would probably have brought down the zulu equivalent of roman decimation on their heads...............
and besides,their faith in their warrior status,
and the need to earn the headring and wash the spears must have been foremost in their thoughts.................
now if you had asked,would they have still won
regards to all
9th July 2004Julian Whybra
Yes, they would. Cetshwayo had ordered them to. That was enough. Didn't they attack them at Ulundi?