Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift 22-23rd January 1879




 
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October 23rd, 2008  
BritinAfrica
 
 

Topic: Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift 22-23rd January 1879


I visited both Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift with my son, if anyone is interested I have added some photographs of the battle fields.

Much has been written about the Battle of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift some of which is pure fiction. The movie “Zulu” was fairly accurate in some ways, although with some glaring inaccuracies.

(1)The terrain around Rorke's Drift is nothing like that as shown on the movie.

(2)British Troops never sang “Men of Harlech” in Welsh or English during the battle.

(3)It is depicted in the movie that the 24th Regiment of Foot as a Welsh Regiment, when in fact it was the 2nd Warwickshires, an English Regiment. The Regiment was not named the South Wales Borderer's until 1st July 1881.

(4)The Zulu's did not salute the British Garrison at the end of the battle. Lord Chelmsford's column was seen approaching, resulting in the departure of the Zulu's.

(5)The redoubt shown in the movie was massive, when in reality it was only 9 feet across at its widest point.

(6)In one scene in the movie, a soldier with his back to the redoubt is seen firing a bolt action rifle.

(7)Lt Chard did not assume command of the Garrison because of seniority over Lt Broomhead, Lt Chard was in fact ordered to take command.

At the start of the battle, some 20,000 rounds of ammunition were available, at the end of the battle 600 rounds were left, or approximately 4 rounds per man.
October 26th, 2008  
LeEnfield
 
 
Films are made for entertainment and rarely ever stick to historical facts, well just ask Mel Gibson, he would know a historical fact if it hit him in the face
October 26th, 2008  
perseus
 
 
BritinArfrica

Do you think the other film Zulu Dawn was more representative of the truth? I think there is little evidence that many of the men ran out of ammunition, but rather they held too big a perimeter and the Zulu's in contrast concentrated their attacks. Rather reminiscent of another battle around that period were Custer divided his force and one part of it was swamped.
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October 26th, 2008  
BritinAfrica
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by perseus
BritinArfrica

Do you think the other film Zulu Dawn was more representative of the truth? I think there is little evidence that many of the men ran out of ammunition, but rather they held too big a perimeter and the Zulu's in contrast concentrated their attacks. Rather reminiscent of another battle around that period were Custer divided his force and one part of it was swamped.

I never saw the film Zulu Dawn, but my study of the Battle of Isandlwana highlighted a number of serious errors during the battle.

This merely a rough synopsis of the battle, a full indepth comment on the battle would take many hours

Lord Chelmsford split the column in half, taking his half to search for the Zulu, leaving the troops at Isandlwana seriously undermanned, although Chelmsford may not have been aware of the sheer size of the Zulu force. The force that attacked Isandlwana was in excess of 25,000 warriors

There is evidence that the firing line was extended way too far forward, resulting in a gap over over 6 feet (perhaps even more) between each soldier. The Zulu's took one or two out and flooded through the gap, game over!
Ammunition wasn't a factor as screws and remains of ammunition box's were found at the firing line.

The whole organisation of Isandlwana was a total lash up, the tents were not struck before the battle, giving cover to the Zulu. The whole force became fragmented, fighting in small pockets. What artillery was available was badly sited and employed. It is possible that if a two rank square was formed using approximately 185 troops in each rank, and using volley fire, the Zulu could have been beaten back.

Looking over the terrain where the Zulu came from, there should have been enough warning to get troops organised. There was some dead ground, but the Zulu would have been visible for a considerable distance.

The Zulu used a classic Buffalo formation in their attacks, two horns out flanking, while the main body carried out a frontal attack. If a two rank square had been employed , as I said previously, could have beaten back the Zulu.

Rorkes Drift was another thing all together, Lt Chard organised his defences brilliantly, even though somewhat hurried, greatly outnumbered, (approximately 30 to 1 while Isandlwana was approximately 16 to 1), he used what strengths he had. When he realised he couldn't control his perimeter, he abandoned the hospital, thereby shortening the perimeter and used volley fire to great effect. For a Royal Engineer, he had a sound understanding of infantry tactics.

The body count compared to the expenditure of ammunition was very few, out of roughly 20,000 +/- round expended, 350+/- Zulu bodies were found after the battle. Zulu wounded left on the battle field after the withdrawal of the main Zulu force were either shot or bayoneted.

But for all the errors of the film, Zulu remains one of my all time favourites, along with "The Battle of Britain."

There is a fascinating book called "Washing of Spears," written by Donald Morris. It gives an interesting insight to the Zulu nation. Well worth a read.
October 26th, 2008  
perseus
 
 
Quote:
The body count compared to the expenditure of ammunition was very few, out of roughly 20,000 +/- round expended, 350+/- Zulu bodies were found after the battle
Makes you wonder what they were shooting at. Surely you would expect a hit rate of at least one in 10 during a mass charge unless their shields were effective to some extent.

I recall a theory that men have to be trained to shoot to kill and during WW11 (presumably on the Western front) most shots were never intended to. Not sure if I can believe this especially if your own life was in imminent danger.
October 27th, 2008  
BritinAfrica
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by perseus
Makes you wonder what they were shooting at. Surely you would expect a hit rate of at least one in 10 during a mass charge unless their shields were effective to some extent.

I recall a theory that men have to be trained to shoot to kill and during WW11 (presumably on the Western front) most shots were never intended to. Not sure if I can believe this especially if your own life was in imminent danger.
Zulu shields were tested not too long ago in UK by firing a 450/577 cartridge at them, needless to say the paper patched bullet travelling at around 1300 feet per second punched straight through.

Evidence suggests that many of the Zulu wounded were carried off from the battle field during the battle and that many Zulu died of their wounds later. The bullet of the 450/577 caused horrific injures, what might be considered minor wounds today, would have been fatal then.

The Martini Henry rifle frequently jammed because of the build up of black powder residue, spent cases became jammed in the chamber, while troops frantically attempted to pry the jammed case out of the chamber with their bayonet. This is where a full length ramrod would have been a useful bit of kit

Yes, there was a theory not only in UK but I also believe in the US, that men during not only WW1 but WW2 fired shots harmlessly over the heads of the enemy. The introduction of the "charging man" Figure 11 and Figure 12 target was designed to overcome this to some extent.

Remember Sergeant York during WW1? He was deeply religious and didn't like the idea of killing anyone “Thou shalt not kill.” It turned out that did his duty and won the Congressional Medal of Honour, duly deserved I might add. As an aside, during the movie Sergeant York was seen firing a Springfield 1903, he actually won his CMH using an Enfield P17.
October 27th, 2008  
MontyB
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by BritinAfrica
Yes, there was a theory not only in UK but I also believe in the US, that men during not only WW1 but WW2 fired shots harmlessly over the heads of the enemy. The introduction of the "charging man" Figure 11 and Figure 12 target was designed to overcome this to some extent.
You also have to remember that during WW1 and WW2 most of the allied forces were citizen soldiers, prior to that smaller professional armies fought the wars as has been the case since WW2.

As I recall British studies have indicated that the higher levels of training given to individual soldiers prior to and after the two world wars negates a lot of the "shooting to miss" problem.
October 28th, 2008  
BritinAfrica
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MontyB
You also have to remember that during WW1 and WW2 most of the allied forces were citizen soldiers, prior to that smaller professional armies fought the wars as has been the case since WW2.

As I recall British studies have indicated that the higher levels of training given to individual soldiers prior to and after the two world wars negates a lot of the "shooting to miss" problem.
During the Anglo Boer War, British marksmanship was abysmal. The Boers were brought up with a rifle in their hands, and shot for the cooking pot, ammunition wasn't wasted needlessly. A Boer farmer told me that he was given 3 rounds by his father and told to bring home 3 springbok, if he didn't, he was in a lot of trouble.

From http://subismallbore.asn.au/Resource...2/Default.aspx
Field-Marshal Lord Roberts V.C. who had commanded the British Forces in South Africa, strongly supported a campaign to establish a rifle club in every town and village in Great Britain. Though this objective was never reached, many new clubs were formed, though the stringent safety regulations governing the building of full-Bore ranges made it necessary for clubs to come to an arrangement with the military authorities to use the existing Service ranges. Miniature Rifle Clubs (.22 in.) had a much easier range problem and such clubs increased rapidly in both town and rural districts. This led to the formation of the Society of Miniature Rifle Clubs Small-bore Rifle Association), (now the National which relieved the N.R.A. of the organization of competitive .22 in. target shooting.

The First World War soon showed the value of the civilian rifle club movement. The N.R.A. was authorized by the War Office to form a school of musketry at Bisley Camp to train musketry instructors. The school proved invaluable, and over 15,000 instructors were trained during the War. Younger members of the N.R.A. on active service turned their knowledge of target shooting to good purpose as snipers, many of them being seconded to sniping schools as instructors. The N.R.A. report for 1916 included the following statement:

"Every penny spent by marksmen has been an investment towards war needs, for without Bisley there would have been no organization ready, to which Lord Kitchener could have turned for aid".

In the Second World War the NRA again played its part, training instructors in sniping.

In the later years of the war anti-aircraft training was carried out at Bisley.

There is also a lot of interesting information regarding the School of Musketry at Hythe in Kent.

I shot at Bisley many times, I loved the place, its also a fascinating place to simply wander around. Fultons gun-shop in Bisley was famous all over the world, turning out some of the most accurate rifles ever built. I had a Lee Enfield Number 4 Mk2 which had a new barrel fitted then ball burnished and regulated by Fultons, it was the most accurate rifle I have ever used.
October 28th, 2008  
MontyB
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by BritinAfrica
During the Anglo Boer War, British marksmanship was abysmal. The Boers were brought up with a rifle in their hands, and shot for the cooking pot, ammunition wasn't wasted needlessly. A Boer farmer told me that he was given 3 rounds by his father and told to bring home 3 springbok, if he didn't, he was in a lot of trouble.
I think you are being overly harsh on the British forces in South Africa, the South Africans had a major advantage in knowing the territory and being able to pick the battlefields, on top of this the British forces were trained and deployed for large scale "set piece" battles not a guerrilla campaign and worst of all aging British commanders were still fighting the wars of the mid to late 1800s.

Once the British came to grips with the Guerrilla tactics however the South Africans were soundly beaten.

In terms of how previous weapons experience being beneficial to the military I think that is true if you are looking to reduce the training time of recruits but in most modern army's that is not necessarily the case.

Back in 1983 I was lucky enough to get accepted into the the Regular Force Cadet School:

Quote:
The NZ Regular Force Cadets

During the period of the "Cold War" between 1948 and 1991, an average of over 5000 New Zealand boys vied each year for entry into the Army's elite RF Cadet School or the "Club" as it was colloquially known. Less than 3% of those who applied to join, made the grade. The Army accepted them as young as 15 into its ranks offering continued education, trade training and apprenticeships. Most would go on at age 18 to become the backbone of the New Zealand Army serving with distinction in Korea, Borneo, Malaya, Vietnam, Bosnia, Afghanistan, East Timor, Iraq and other regions of conflict as Senior Non - Commissioned Officers (NCOs). A few would earn commissions as officers. Some went on to serve with the SAS and as key personnel of other Regular Force units.
Today they can be found in leadership roles in all aspects of business, social services, government and politics following their successful careers in the Army and other arms of the services, both at home and abroad. Coinciding with the end of the cold war the School closed its doors in 1991. This website is dedicated to all those young soldiers who volunteered to serve their country at a time when the world faced the threat of communism & nuclear war.

And to be perfectly honest all the shooting I had done meant very little, we had guys that had never fired or even handled a weapon in their life and within two weeks they were as proficient as anyone else there.


Anyway my personal belief is that the main problem faced by the British military in the early part of last century was caused by a failure in its leadership stemming back to the Crimean War and it really wasn't until the early part of WW2 that the "old boys network" gave way allowing leadership to rise up through ability rather than connection.


Basically the British soldier has performed outstandingly for at least the last 400 years however at times he has been badly led.
October 29th, 2008  
BritinAfrica
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MontyB
I think you are being overly harsh on the British forces in South Africa, the South Africans had a major advantage in knowing the territory and being able to pick the battlefields, on top of this the British forces were trained and deployed for large scale "set piece" battles not a guerrilla campaign and worst of all aging British commanders were still fighting the wars of the mid to late 1800s.
Once the British came to grips with the Guerrilla tactics however the South Africans were soundly beaten.
I agree with most of what you say, I am staunch a champion of the British soldier, but its a fact that British marksmanship wasn't very good at all. I am not blaming the average soldier, his training was found wanting in the extreme. You are quite right, the British Army wasn't trained or equipped to fight a Guerrilla war.

I wouldn't say the Boers were soundly beaten, with a force of 27,000 +/- they tied up a far larger British force to a great extent. The Boers greatest weapon was mobility which the British didn't have. The British won the Boer War in 1902 because of sheer weight of numbers. Obviously other factors contributed including attrition.
.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MontyB
Anyway my personal belief is that the main problem faced by the British military in the early part of last century was caused by a failure in its leadership stemming back to the Crimean War and it really wasn't until the early part of WW2 that the "old boys network" gave way allowing leadership to rise up through ability rather than connection.
Basically the British soldier has performed outstandingly for at least the last 400 years however at times he has been badly led.
I agree with you on that 150%. Much of the reason why there were so many casualties among British forces in South Africa, was the mishandling of troops by Senior Officers, including Haig. Haig would order his men to attack across open country against Boers who were well dug in or hidden among rocky outcrops, who then simply cut the British to pieces. As our American cousins would say, A turkey shoot. Quite right, the British soldier has all to often been badly led.

There is an old saying, British General Staff fight the last war, not the present one.

In many cases this was perfectly true. One must remember, commissions were purchased by people who didn't know one end of a rifle from another, had no leadership abilities whatsoever and couldn't organise a bun fight in a bakery. There is always the exception, Lt Chard at Rorkes Drift for example, he had a sound understanding regarding the deployment of his troops and organising the battle field to his advantage. Rorkes Drift is still today held up as an example of a small force holding off a numerically superior force. Of course the courage, tenacity of the men played a major part, but badly led as at Isandlwana, the garrison would have been destroyed.