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24th August 2005Another wonderful 'What If'
By Paul Cubbin
OK, how's this for a 'What If'?

In can fairly easily argued that the growth of Natal and contact with the Zulus were both indirectly brought about by the cessation of hostilities at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Apart from the fact that sea travel was a lot safer, there was an abundance of British Naval Officers who suddenly found themselves out of a job. Many of these went into exploring. There was also an occasion, in 1822, of violent conflict between a group of sailors and some Ndwandwe (the losers in an internecine Zulu nation power-struggle).
It does not take a massive leap forward in imagination to place Wellington in Zululand with some Waterloo veterans in defence of the embryonic city/state of Natal. Or perhaps diamonds/coal/gold has been discovered (as in the US goldrush) and miners are under attack. Maybe Chaka goes too far and slaughters the entire unhabitants and there is a retaliatory invasion by the British - who knows!
It's interesting to wonder whether the tighter battalion and brigade formations of Wellington's day would have fared better against an empire at its peak?
24th August 2005Mike McCabe
Random points:
- The close formations of Wellington's day reflect continental practice in Armies armed with fairly elementary firearms, deployed in proximity to their own and enemy cavalry, and with or without various levels of artillery support.
- The small 7Pdr RML guns in use at Isandlwana were easier to manhandle than Ramsay's RHA guns at Waterloo.
- The British stationed remarkably few troops at the Cape in the first half of the 19thC, and then primarily intended to secure the anchorages, enforce the British mandate, and to secure and pacify the administered territories. A 'permanent' naval presence came even later - there being little routine need for ships to be based there after slavery had been supressed and before other powers were assessed to be capable of intervening strategically. It's instructive to note that the Cape was still thought vulnerable to the Russian fleet in the late 1870s, leading to most of the (in any case very small) 7th Coy RE remaining there during the Zulu War to continue work on batteries and magazines.
- Generals of influence and ambition would not normally seek service in a small colony, though one might be sent out if forces were to be reinforced for specific operations. There were capable exceptions such as Harry Smith, of course. The Great Duke himself held no active field command after the post-Waterloo occupation of France by the Allies.
24th August 2005Paul Cubbin
No, he didn't. But he might have.
Stop picking at nits, man, let's have a good 'What If' based around imagination, to hell with facts! I don't think it's too far a leap to think that since india had reaped such rich rewards then the African interior might be an inviting prospect.
The 'continental' use of troop formations was evident in India at the end of the 18th century, and this is where Wellington (Arthur Wellesley then) cut his military teeth after all. Why change it?
24th August 2005Mike McCabe
Touchy fellow!
The best what ifs are reasonably within range of happening by virtue of only a slight change in the turn of events, or let us reconsider why the real events might have happened as they did, or a bit differently. This one's got too many variables - for me, anyhow.
If you're wondering why there wasn't much substantial settlement until commercial prospects improved enough to make risks and costs worth chancing, then have a look at any writings on the 1820 settlers, and such communities as the German Lutherans in places like the Hex River valley.
A scenario a bit less 'Pigs in Space' might help other contributors to engage.
Yours in good will!
24th August 2005Coll

Can you give a description of the type of formations you are suggesting, including what forces would be at the British Commander's disposal, as many will be unfamiliar, possibly, of such details from that time.

Maybe also describing a battlefield scenario, either real or made up, in order for (some) to 'react' against, understanding the situation more clearly, as in the circumstances are explained in such a way to give an image of the kind of confrontation that would take place between this British force and the Zulu army.

When I say some will react, I don't include myself, as I ain't got a clue.

However, your topic has interesting possibilites, for those (who can) to reply, but for others (including me) to observe.

24th August 2005Paul Cubbin
Mike - I was having a 'I'm taking my football and going home' moment since you refused to play my game. 'Pigs in Space' however, is a classic and I'm not going to hear a word said about it (especially if it's whispered).

Coll - drill in the Napoleonic period was focussed very much on Battalion or Brigade sized formations, rather than Company sized, and was very much more rigid than it was 50 years later. Quite apart from the amount of time spent practising the various formations (primarily column, line, skirmish order and square) the actual distance between each man was less. With the firearms being relatively inaccurate and with a shorter range than in 1879 there was a great deal more physical cohesion without so much fear of snipers making mincemeat of the men (at least at longer ranges). The evolution of the rifle led to a blurring of the line between 'Line' and 'Light' foot regiments and more emphasis was placed on loose formations and individual action. Cavalry also underwent changes, with the difference between 'Heavy' and 'Light' cavalry being almost non-existant and the horseman evolving towards a mounted infantry role.
I can't help but think that a post-Waterloo British force, apart from being numerically superior (probably) to Chelmsford's, would have been more able to effectively deal with an enemy who employed hand-to-hand fighting rather than rifle fire, as this was something Napoleonic troops were used to. The square, for instance, apart from being the classic response to cavalry, was also occasionally used when surrounded, as it gave excellent all-round defence (but relatively little firepower). Each side of the square was at least three ranks deep (sometimes four) with the front rank kneeling, presenting bayonets (instant barbed wire) and the other ranks firing and reloading in turn. Don't forget, the Zulus didn't break the line at Isandlwana by attacking head-on, they did it by out-flanking their opponents. A square can't be out-flanked and any Zulu unwise enough to charge it would be met by three or four men each.
24th August 2005Coll

Do you think Wellington would have underestimated the Zulus for the very same reasons Chelmsford did ?

Also, knowing what forces (infantry, cavalry, artillery) he had available to him post-Waterloo, what units do you think he would have used in the composition of his whole invasion force ?

The way to fight Zulus is to keep them as far away as possible and if the firepower wasn't effective enough, allowing a large Zulu force to close, even with a square formation, it would make an incredible demand on the front 1 or 2 ranks of British soldiers, the close distances between the men lessening movement considerably when trying to engage the Zulus hand-to-hand.

Also, the throwing spears, as with Chelmsford's men at Isandlwana, would be used to unnerve the men, as fellow soldiers fell, leaving gaps in the ranks, as the Zulus continued to rush in.

Do you think this demonstrates the disadvantage with tighter formations, being that in any close-quarter fighting, the soldiers' movements would be restricted ?

25th August 2005Michael Boyle
I'll play a little. I don't think you can compare India with SA as India had an infrastructue ripe for the taking and SA was a virtual wilderness. Although Napoleanic formations were tight (and practiced 'form square'!) they were anly armed with muskets (in large part) and battle-field fortification was in it's infancy (it was thought unsporting well into the US Civil War) so my guess is that Shaka would have made mincemeat of them.
25th August 2005mark
from a south africans viewpoint ....

muskets against a "horde of savages" were only effective if used in conjunction with a fortified position

the boers beat the zulus at blood river fighting from a laager , the zulus being unable to get to hand-to-hand range

the 24th beat the xhosa (5000 warriors) at centane in 1878 , fighting from an enclosed position

the start of the third xhosa war (the war of the axe) resulted in three british defeats in a row , the first being a column practically being decimated whilst on the march in the amatola mountains (the only thing saving the british was the fact that the xhosa attacked frontally , not like the zulu horn formation designed to cut all retreat)

so in my opinion,only a fruitcake would have tried to attack a well trained,well led zulu army in the open with muskets
-especially when the range of a musket was
quite small,the zulus would have been able to approach in the smoke at speed and decimate the ranks

the only thing going for the british would be that the zulus were (and still are) a noble nation, who disdained ambush tactics (they apologised for the way napoleon was killed) and disliked night fighting (the ntombe river was a rare exception )

i guess it would make a good wargame !
25th August 2005Paul Cubbin
I guess what Wellington (or whoever) would need, then, is greater parity in numbers. A battalion or two simply wouldn't do! Should the finance to fund such a mythical operation magically appear (the treasures of Vitoria being confiscated and sold at several times their estimated value, say) then a few divisions at least would be required.