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26th August 2005Artillery questions
By Julian Whybra
I’d be extremely grateful anyone who could answer the following questions for me. To save time I’ve checked the Maurice-Jones, Dalton and Abbott articles and the Harness and Curling letters but I do not have an artillery manual of the period.
1) Re N/5’s guns at Isandhlwana, how many shells would have accompanied each of the two guns out to its position on the perimeter?
2) Was there a point laid down when resupplying the guns with ammunition would have begun (e.g. when half the shells had been used) or was this left to the officer commanding to decide?
3) Resupply would not have been carried out using the limbers at the perimeter. In general it was done by hand- or mule-cart, although I believe the artillery in the early stages of the AZW used horse-carts. Can anyone confirm this?
26th August 2005Coll

I can't answer your questions, but D. P. & G. Military Publishers now has Artillery Handbooks of the Zulu War Period, which apparently include details about the packing of limbers, wagons and other vehicles in the same series. Plus, drill, position of gunners, etc.

26th August 2005Bill Cainan

Not an easy question to answer as N/5 battery had undergone considerable changes away from the normal battery establishment to allow for the conditions on this campaign, not least being the exchange of the standard 9pdr RML for the 7pdr RML (mounted on a Kaffrarian carriage). Caissons were not deployed, so this would have reduced the amount of ammunition available.

According to the "Primer for Horse, Field & Mountain Artillery" by Capt LLoyd RA published in 1878, the 9pdr Mk II limber (which N/5 would have used) carried 24 rounds of shrapnel and 12 rounds of common shell. 4 rounds of case shot were carried in boxes on the gun carriage. However, the 7pdr was considerably less destructive than the 9pdr - the shrapnel rounds had little effect because of the low muzzle velocity; and the common shell had a small bursting charge. It may well be that N/5 carried less of these rounds and more case rounds.

In Table IV of the General Regulations/Orders of the Field Force (Nov 1878) it states that 68 rounds of ammunition were carried in a 4 mule scotch cart per Division (of 2 guns).

This would give each gun 74 rounds (36 on the limber, 4 on the gun, and 34 in reserve in the Ammunition wagon). However, I can find no definitive split of the type of rounds.

Star shells were available for the 7pdr, but I can find no evidence that these were taken or used in Zululand.

As to when the 2 gun division would need to replenish their ammunition - I think it would probably be left to the Division's Officer (Lt Curling). The General Orders quoted above would indicate a 4 mule waggon (scotch cart)would be used to achieve the replenishment.

A good article on the use of Artillery in the Zulu war can be found in the South African Military Society's Journal, Vol 4, No 4 published in Dec 1978 and written by Maj D D Hall.

Hope this was of some use?

26th August 2005Mike McCabe
The Darryl Hall article is at:

He makes interesting references to rocket troughs being part of the general battery scales of equipment. Of these, some were left with mounted volunteer units still engaged in 'mopping up' after the Ninth Frontier (or Kaffir) War, and redistribution of these was probably also the source of Durnford's Rocket battery equipment.

I'm not sure of the specifics for the 7 Pdr RML, but generically:
- Common shell achieved its on-target effect simply by bursting on impact, and fairly concentrated blast effect, but there was comparatively little fragmentation. However, it might indirectly ignite grass/bush in very dry conditions.
- Shrapnel shells contained pre-formed inert sub munitions, usually metal cylinders or sometimes spherical balls, packed into the projectile and designed to explode above or forward onto the target - requiring some form of elementary timing fuze. The low muzzle velocity of the 7Pdr and the geometric limitations of its small calibre reduced the effectiveness of type of shell.
- Case shot was literally preformed metal pieces enclosed in a case designed to enable them to scatter like shotgun pellets to deliver a pre-determined cone of fire forward of the muzzle.

Normally, the rounds on the limber would be treated as a mobile reserve, and usually fired last. Other stocks could be brought forward from the wagon lines and placed upon the gun position if its location was predetermined, or time allowed. The exception being the case rounds which were nomally only used to repel an enemy about to close on the guns themselves.

The composition of rounds by type on the limber, and in wagons in the Wagon Lines would have been varied by unit practice, the type of engagement envisaged, and the availability of the various ammunition natures with the limber always being kept stocked up. The filled limber also played a part in keeping the gun train fairly stable as it was moved moved. 4 rounds of case would be standard, and usually maintained on the gun throughout for emergencies. Axle boxes usually contained tools for the gun and carriage, etc. However, it's possible that these had also been adapted for the larger Kaffrarian carriage, possibly just using those already on the 9 Pdr.
We don't, of course, know exactly what the limber and wagon loads were in N Bty, or how much case had been left by Smith and Harness in the Wagon Lines for Curling. Curling makes no mention of taking extra ammunition numbers, different ammunition natures, or battery wagons forward of the Wagon Lines when he deployed his section of two 7 Pdrs. It raises the intriguing possibility that Curling had to withdraw his guns from action quite early having simply run out of a suitable ammunition nature to fire at the target array that he was left with once the Zulus got within a few hundred yards of the gun position. In other words, they were partly being moved back as the other way of accessing a more suitable ammunition nature.

Also, these (quite small) guns were effectively direct fire weapons with relatively flat trajectories, except at the longer ranges. So, you fired at what you could see from the gun position - or estimated range and fall of shot into dead ground if you could see the target in some other way, or guess its centre of mass.

There are also interestingly different observer reports on estimated numbers of rounds fired, including from those who heard rather than saw the guns being fired. However, in the latter case, especially if there had been an weather inversion that day, the echo as well as the initial report might have been heard, and several times. Also, none of the long distance listeners would have known that only two, rather than six, guns were still at Isandlwana.
A small subject, but well worth exploring - as is the relative incapacity of N Bty to defend itself or take part in delivering rifle fire alongside the infantry and other (due to the few weapons held being intended to arm sentries mounted on the guns).
I have not seen them, but I gather that there are specific reports on the use of Artillery at Isandlwana in the RA Institution Library archive.
Well worth a good dig, it appears.
27th August 2005Julian whybra
Many thanks
28th August 2005Chris
Is it known if they fired any grapeshot? I would have imagined it took down quite a few Zulus if they were able to.
28th August 2005Mike McCabe

Grape shot was an earlier form, with (usually) spherical balls of a suitable diameter being sewn into a canvas bag. It tended to be used in larger calibre guns, and often in warships to repel boarders or rake the enemy's decks prior to boarding. In field guns, musket balls were often used as a convenient, available item.

Case (or canister) was a minor improvement, loading the balls (or whatever kind of metal shape was used) into a light gauge metal cylinder. This had a longer shelf life, and could be handled and loaded slightly quicker.

The 7 Pdr Rifled Muzzle Loader would have used bagged propellant charges, loaded first, and hopefully somebody who has the User Manual will advise us all further on the small details - which will be good and useful general knowledge on a site like this!