Editorial: Battle of Isandlwana and Video AAR
Curtis Szmania serves up a double-helping of wargamer fun with a historical article on the Battle of Isandlwana and a video AAR to go along with the historical battle!
- The Creative Assembly
Be sure to read to the bottom, where Curtis Szmania's video AAR begins!
Colonialism plagued much of the 19th century, as European nations raced to secure lands outside of Europe at an ever increasing pace. Sometimes the indigenous populations would submit to the authority of the European monarchies, and sometimes they would not. If they refused to submit relations would inevitably lead to armed conflict, in which the Europeans would send a meager force of highly-trained soldiers overseas to defeat the menace. Most often this limited war investment would work because of the logistical capacities and technological superiority of the Europeans. But occasionally, this wasn't enough. And the contingents sent would be humiliated defeated by an underestimated enemy. The counter reaction to such a disaster is most often a large mobilization instigated by a public outcry of the European nations home population, forcing further resources to be dedicated to subduing the natives. One such war was the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. And one such humiliating defeat that sparked a public outcry initiating a larger European investment, was the Battle of Isandlwana.
Cetshwayo, the King of the Zulus
The Anglo-Zulu War began in early January 1879 after an ultimatum was sent to Cetshwayo asking him to turn over a group of Zulus accused of murdering a party of British subjects. He was also asked to disband his army and put an end to the military society of the Zulu people. The Zulu king could not and did not respond to the ultimatum, and the British authorities attacked Zululand from the British colony of Natal (which borders Zululand on the south). General Frederic Thesiger, 2nd Baron Chelmsford, was responsible for sending the ultimatum and leading the attack into Zululand. He launched his attack on 11th January 1879.
General Frederic Thesiger, 2nd Baron Chelmsford
Chelmsford's total force consisted of four columns, with Colonel Evelyn Wood commanding the column to the north. Colonel Glynn led the Center Column with Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony William Durnford's column following, and Colonel Pearson commanded the column to the south near the Indian Ocean. The Center Column consisted of two battalions of the 24th Foot, units of the Natal Native Infantry, Natal irregular horse and Royal Artillery. The Center Column totaled 4,700 men and Durnford's was about 1,500. Chelmsford accompanied the Center Column, which crossed the Tugela River at Rorke's Drift and ventured into Zululand. He left one company, of the 2nd Battalion of the 24th, at Rorke's Drift to defend against a possible Zulu invasion of Natal; this included Durnford's column.
Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony William Durnford
As Chelmsford's column advanced they were transporting all their supplies via wagons pulled each by teams of 20 oxen. This extended the length of the column (making it difficult to defend) and slowed the advance to a crawl (difficult terrain, heavy rain, and the time spent for the upkeep of the oxen). The vulnerability of the column made a Zulu ambush probable, so picketers were stationed on hilltops and scouts were dispersed on the perimeter. Chelmsford had decided to march towards Isandlwana Hill, a very distinctive geographical feature 10 miles into the interior of Zululand that could be seen from the outpost at Rorke's Drift.
After hearing of the British invasion, Cetshwayo mobilized an unprecedented Zulu army. He rallied his men for the defense of their homeland. He argued that the British went against their word, violating the independence of the Zulu nation as they trespassed onto their lands. The army he raised is said to have numbered around 24,000 and was split into two; one part heading towards the British Southern Column and the other to intercept the Center Column. The Center Column reached Isandlwana on the 20th of January. The column encamped on the hills lower slopes without forming the customary laager (wagon trained formed into a circle around the camp for protection). This is partly because of Chelmsford's underestimation of the Zulus and because he was under the impression that there were too many wagons to form a laager.
Map of the battle
On the 21st, Major Dartnell encountered a strong Zulu force while leading a mounted reconnaissance in the direction of the advance. The enemy contingent was so large and mobile that he was unable to disengage his force until the early hours of the 22nd. After hearing of the clash, Chelmsford chose to force an engagement with the enemy, in an attempt to defeating them in one blow. He put together an adequate force made-up of the 2nd Battalion of the 24th Foot, mounted infantry, and 4 guns to march out at dawn on the 22nd in the direction of the encounter.
The 1st Battalion of the 24th Foot was left behind in the camp at Isandlwana with Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Pulleine. Left behind at Rorke's Drift, Durnford, with 500 Natal Native Contingent mounted troops (Natal Carbineers), was ordered to reinforce the Isandlwana camp as Chelmsford moved forward in the early morning with 2,500 men and 4 guns. But by the time Chelmsford had reached Dartnell the Zulu force had disappeared. After hearing this, Chelmsford immediately sent another reconnaissance force into the hills in search of the enemy. Chelmsford couldnt find the enemy contingent Dartnell had ran into earlier and continued to believe the main Zulu army was in Ulundi, Cetshwayo's principal kraal (enclosure for livestock) and the Zulu capital.
Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Pulleine
Durnford arrived with his 500 mounted men at about 10 AM. Pulleines force at Isandlwana, now with Durnfords irregulars, also consisted of 5 companies of the 1st Battalion and a company of the 2nd Battalion of the 24th Regiment of Foot. He also had under his command 2 companies of the Natal Native Infantry, some mounted volunteers, and some Natal Police. He was equipped with two seven-pounders consisting of 70 men as well, from N Battery of the 5th Brigade of the Royal Artillery. Pulleine's contingent totaled some 2,300, with a fighting strength of about 1,837 (not including wagon drivers, camp followers, and servants).
In the meantime, the Zulu force had maneuvered around Chelmsford as he was advancing. They had moved behind him, in-between his force and the camp at Isandlwana. The Isandlwana contingent started seeing signs of this, spotting Zulu soldiers to the north east and east of their position. In reaction to the sightings, Colonel Pulleine ordered the men in the camp to form towards the east. He also sent a dispatch to Chelmsford telling him he had sighted the Zulu force and that they were threatening his encampment. As Pulleine was now on alert he sent Durnford on a reconnaissance patrol with a team of two Congreve rockets to find the location of the Zulu main body, while Captain Cavayes company was positioned as a picket force on a hill to the north.
Spread out and searching the heights, one party of Durnford's mounted men located a small party of Zulus. They chased the party into a valley, where Durnford's men found the whole Zulu army sitting quietly on the valley floor. The Zulu army immediately reacted to the presence of the mounted enemy force and advanced towards Durnford. Bewildered by the proximity of the enemy, the Zulu army organized into their traditional fighting formation of a protruding left and right horn on either flank of the central chest of attack. This formation enabled them to double envelope their enemies as the central chest engaged and fixed the enemy force.
Battle of Isandlwana
Durnford immediately sent an officer back to Pulleine informing him of what he had seen. Pulleine received this message at the same time he received a message from Chelmsford ordering him to advance and join the Chelmsford. Pulleine decided to support Durnford instead deploying his men towards the east, the location of the threat. There is much debate concerning Pulleine's decision here, as he had many courses of action he could have taken. Many historians believe that Pulleine and his men simply underestimated the Zulu force that Durnford had intercepted. Additionally, Pulleine ordered a company under Captain Mostyn to join Captain Cavaye's company of pickets on the hill. He also positioned the guns on the left with some infantry support.
As the Zulu army enclosed on Durnford's men the rocket troop that accompanied him was quickly overran, however the Royal Artillery crews managed to slip away. Durnford then fought a fighting withdraw with his mounted rifles back to the camp. As the Zulu force appeared over the hilltop, they could be seen by the whole Isandlwana camp. The pickets then fell-back, delivering volleys as they withdrew.
At this point the 1,300 men that made up Pulleine's deployed line supposedly faced a force of some 12,000 Zulus, who were under the command of Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza and Mavumengwana kaMdlela Ntuli. Pulleine was outnumbered by a ratio of about 10 to 1 in fighting strength. The British line was positioned at the bottom of the hill as they opened-up on the center chest section of the enemy mass. This, on top of the rough terrain they had to advance over, slowly impeded the Zulu attack. But as they closed in, the horns on both sides of their formation probed the British line looking for its flanks. The horns were too much for Pulleine's line and they found a gap in-between Durnfords irregulars and the British line. Pulleine's right, consisting of the 24th and the Natal Native Infantry, could not prevent the enemy from outflanking them.
Even though the British troops were able to impede the advance of the enemy center for some time, it is believed that ammunition and supply problems were the cause of it eventually being outflanked. There is speculation concerning this idea, however, because the 24th performed quite well in holding the enemy's center. But we do know Durnford's irregulars had run out of ammunition. They were positioned on the extreme right and had to fall back to the camp to get more ammunition. This was most likely the cause of the collapse of the British right.
As the Zulu horns hooked around the flanks the Zulu center was encouraged by its leaders to increase its pressure on the enemy's front. As they did, the British line withdrew towards the camp. During the maneuvers a Zulu outflanking contingent managed to slip between the withdrawing British force and the camp, causing panic and hysteria in the British line. Because of this, and the fall of both of its flanks, Pulleine's line collapse entirely. It is also assumed that the total eclipse of the sun, which occurred on that day at 2:29 PM, occurred during this moment.
The line disintegrated into small parties of men fighting desperately to hold back the enemy until all their ammunition was spent or they were overwhelmed by the enemy's momentum and numbers. One of these groups was the cavalry under Durnford, continuing their fight with knives and pistols until the last man. Other parties managed to fall back in the direction of Rorke's Drift, suggesting the Zulu double envelopment was not entirely executed. But these men, of the 24th, were forced into the hills where they were gradually hunted down and killed. The mounted contingents had better success at fleeing the enemy, reaching the river bank of the Tugela using the most direct route. But the riverbank saw its own share of last stands.
About 60 men of the British foot, following Lieutenant Anstey, managed to get to the edge of one of the tributaries of the Tugela; only to be surrounded and slaughtered. Many other men also found their way to the banks of the Tugela, although they couldn't cross it. These men were possibly massacred by the native Natal inhabitants of the area who might have been encouraged to do so by the Zulus. Also, a more notable incident occurred while this bloodshed was occurring. A Lieutenant Melville is said to have taken and ridden the Queens Colour up to the edge of the river. He then jumped into the flooded river atop his horse but fell off. Lieutenant Coghill saw this and dove in to save him, making it to the other side of the river with Melville. While this was happening the Zulus were congregating on the far side of the river, firing missiles at the two officers. The colour did slip away down the river, however, and the men are then assumed to have been killed by Natal natives. It is assumed their deaths occurred around 3:30 PM.
The last survivor of the Battle of Isandlwana was a soldier who found his way into a tunnel, where he held out until he used up his ammunition. He was then overtaken by the enemy's firepower.
When the killing had finished the casualties were astounding. 52 British officers and 806 other ranks had been killed with only 60 Europeans surviving the incident. Additionally, 471 Africans had died fighting for the British. This was a total of 1,329 dead, out of the whole of Pulleine's force. The Zulus, it is estimated, had suffered 3,000 killed and 3,000 wounded. But the Zulus had captured 1,000 rifles and the whole camps ammunition supply after the battle; as well as oxen and other supplies. Their war spoils were plentiful.
The aftermath and arrival of Chelmsford
Chelmsford was unaware of the result of the battle until sometime after it was over. Once he got word he marched back to Isandlwana, but by this time it was way too late. He was shocked by the scene and uttered unto himself, "But I left 1,000 men to guard the camp." His men camped near the battlefield that night and left the early morning without surveying the destruction, thinking it would discourage his men further. Though, from that position Chelmsford could see the Rorke's Drift encampment burning in the distance. He determined the Zulus had crossed the Tugela and attacked the river crossing. But he refused to march to Rorke's Drift, fearing the engagement had already been decided. This was not so, because it was still being fought at this time.
The consequences of the Battle of Isandlwana, as you can imagine, were many. The battle showed that an army of men armed with spears and javelins could destroy a trained unit using modern weapons and artillery. As word of the battle reached the colony of Natal hysteria grew rampant, and it was feared that the Zulus would invade further south. Although the Zulus attained a shocking success, they had brewed their own demise. The greatest Empire on Earth mobilized its resources to deliver vengeance unto this tribe of spear and shield-bearing natives, and the destruction of the Zulu nation was only a matter of time. Back in Britain, public support swelled and the government agreed to beef up the British forces in the region. General Sir Garnet Wolseley was also asked to replace Chelmsford because he had fallen out of favor after the battle. But Wolseley would arrive only after the war had ended, while Chelmsford proved much more successful in subsequent engagements; ultimately bringing the war to an end. Cetshwayo was captured on August 28 (ironically by Wolseley) after being defeated by Chelmsford at the Battle of Ulundi on July 4 once after he had better organized his forces in the region. However, the Zulus had delivered the worst defeat upon the British Empire from a native force; regardless of their demise.
Suggested video games: The Khartum and Zulu Mod for Napoleon: Total War, Zulu War, Empire Earth II: The Art of Supremacy
Battle of Isandlwana Video After Action Report
Mod used: The Khartum and Zulu Mod for Napoleon: Total War
I'll be fighting the Battle of Isandlwana, but my goal is to win a British victory. The game I'll be using is The Khartum and Zulu Mod for Napoleon: Total War. The mod can be found at the Total War Center forums at twcenter.net. If you'd like to read more about the mod Ill be using there was a review posted on it not too long ago. There is also a historical article on the battle Ill be fighting, posted on the website. But the outcome here will not be historical, it will be the opposite. I do hope you enjoy the video, it is in 1440x1080 resolution and runs a little over 1 hour and 46 minutes total. It is divided into eight parts. Also, please forgive me for the few microphone issues that occur in the video. I was outnumbered more than 11 to 1 as I had an army of 1,800 against a Zulu army of 20,000. The Zulu army that actually engaged in the historical battle was about 12,000 but they crushed the British contingent, holding many men back in reserve. But here the Zulus have no reserves; Im facing the whole army! How will I pull this off?
This is how you win the Battle of Isandlwana as the British.
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Article written by: Curtis Szmania, Staff Writer