Why were British troops slaughtered at Isandlwana




 
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November 2nd, 2011  
BritinAfrica
 
 

Topic: Why were British troops slaughtered at Isandlwana


Why were over 1000 British troops massacred at Isandlwana 22nd January 1879 against a force of 25,000 Zulu's (25 to 1 Zulu advantage) while Rorkes Drift 22nd to 23rd January 1879 with just over 100 troops held out against 4,000 Zulu's (44 to 1 Zulu advantage).

I have visited both battlefields and I have my own conclusions.

Historians have stated a number of reasons, among which are:-
(1)Lack of ammunition at the firing line.
(2)Difficulty opening ammunition box's which were screwed shut.
(3)Firing lines extended far beyond then they should have been.
(4)Lord Chelmsford should never have split his force to go searching for the Zulu
(5)Poor command by *Brevet*Lieutenant Colonel*Henry Pulleine.
(6)British commanders severely underestimated the Zulu capabilities.*

Recent discoveries have been made that disproves (1) and (2) , proof has been found suggesting the there was plenty of ammunition available, screws used to close the box's were bent suggesting that troops used rifle butts to smash open ammunition box's. Further proof has been found that the firing line extended far beyond then what was originally thought.

In my opinion (3) (4) (5) and (6) are mainly responsible. Could the outcome of battle been different if fought differently?

While it was a close run thing, Rorkes Drift held out with junior officers in command.

I'd be interested in other views.
November 2nd, 2011  
muscogeemike
 
I don't agree with you use of the word "massacred" - the Brits (along with not a few African levy’s) were killed in battle - just as Custer's men were not "massacred" at the Little Big Horn.
But I do agree with your other conclusions although I don't think there were actually 4,000 Zulu's attacking Rorkes Drift, certainly not at the same time. This doesn't diminish the Brit.'s defensive action.
November 2nd, 2011  
BritinAfrica
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by muscogeemike
I don't agree with you use of the word "massacred" - the Brits (along with not a few African levy’s) were killed in battle - just as Custer's men were not "massacred" at the Little Big Horn.
But I do agree with your other conclusions although I don't think there were actually 4,000 Zulu's attacking Rorkes Drift, certainly not at the same time. This doesn't diminish the Brit.'s defensive action.
They were actually massacred, every man had his stomach slit open, some were cut down along whats called today Fugitives Drift.

All told, the battle cost the British 858 killed as well as 471 of their African troops for a total of 1,329 dead. Casualties among the African forces tended to be lower as they filtered away from the battle during its early stages. Only 55 British soldiers managed to escape the battlefield. On the Zulu side, casualties were approximately 3,000 killed and 3,000 wounded.

According to records there were 4,000 Zulu attacking Rorkes Drift. When it was obvious that the battle at Isandlwana was going in the Zulu's favour, the reserve (under Prince Dabulamanzi) moved towards the isolated British garrison at Rorke's Drift.

They left in the early afternoon, with the battle still on going. There had been no chance to loot Martini Henry rifles off the dead British soldiers. The approach to Rorke's Drift involved a cross-country march of nearly twelve miles and included crossing a major river - the Mzinyathi. The iNdluyengwe Regiment leading the reserve corps arrived at Rorke's Drift first, approaching the post from the south, around the flanks of the Oskaberg (Shyiane Hill). They formed up into their attack formation behind the hill. The right horn would move along the terraces of Shyiane Hill while the left horn swung wide around the post taking advantage of a covered approach. The chest and loins would advance directly on the post covering some 600 yards of open ground. The skirmishers came into sight at 1630hours at a range of 600 yards. The British moved defenders to the south wall and opened fire less than a minute later with the Zulus having advanced to about 500 yards.


After their failure to take Rorkes Drift, they were mocked and chided by other Zulu Regiments

Check my photo album that shows the method of attack by the Zulu.
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November 2nd, 2011  
Warwick
 
They should have laagered the camp. Not sure if it would have made much difference but it always seemed to work for the Boers.
November 2nd, 2011  
LeEnfield
 
 
Over confidence
November 3rd, 2011  
Spartan613
 
 
I recall in a documentary about the battles that one of the failings was the brass cartidges being too soft to handle a high rate of fire. The cases being much thinner and softer compared to what is used in small arms ammunition today.
November 3rd, 2011  
BritinAfrica
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spartan613
I recall in a documentary about the battles that one of the failings was the brass cartidges being too soft to handle a high rate of fire. The cases being much thinner and softer compared to what is used in small arms ammunition today.
You are correct, many of the early rounds the brass were coiled, while the later cases were drawn. I did have example of both at my shop, the coiled cases were dented to hell and back. Another major problem was black powder residue building up, causing stuck cases in the breech. In effect turning the rifle into no more then a medieval pike.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Warwick
They should have laagered the camp. Not sure if it would have made much difference but it always seemed to work for the Boers.
Again, correct, tents were not struck giving cover to the Zulu and disrupting British field of fire, that is one of the reasons. A properly laagered camp would have given a better defensive position

Another good point.

Quote:
Originally Posted by LeEnfield
Over confidence
Very much so, the British commanders considered the Zulu savages incapable of fighting well equipped British troops, when in fact the Zulu were highly disciplined and highly organised.

A fact not commonly known, before battle, the Zulu's smoked dagga (weed, pot, whatever you call it) and were high as kites.

In my opinion one of the biggest faults was pushing the firing line out as far as they did, leaving possibly 2 or 3 meters between each rifleman, take one or two riflemen out and it gave the Zulu a big enough gap to flood through. Not only that the Zulu method of attack was the chest of a buffalo attacking head on, then the horns spreading out on either side, out flanking the firing line. Game over!

I believe that if the troops had formed up into a square, two ranks, one kneeling and one standing firing volleys, with an F group in the middle waiting to plug any breeches, the Zulu attack could have been beaten, negating their out flanking attacks.

Instead small parties were formed fighting their own pitched battles, one being Captain Younghusband with a company of troops on a saddle of Isandlwana mountain, he was finally cut down along with his company.
November 3rd, 2011  
LeEnfield
 
 
They had the same cartridges at Rourke's Drift and they seemed to be okay
November 3rd, 2011  
BritinAfrica
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by LeEnfield
They had the same cartridges at Rourke's Drift and they seemed to be okay
If I remember correctly, the ammunition at Rorkes Drift and Isandlwana were of the drawn case variety, there were still a lot of jams when firing volleys, many of the rifles also got too hot to hold. One of the troops wrote after the battle how he would try and pry the jammed case out of the chamber with his bayonet, if that failed pick up a rifle of one of the dead and hoped it worked.
November 3rd, 2011  
George
 
A few Gatling guns would have helped....
 


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