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22nd March 2002Zulu victory at Isandhlwana, 'defeat' at Rorkes Drift - Why?
By Alun
Having recently watched both Zulu Dawn and Zulu movies, I wonder if I could invite your comments on the following question.

In 'Zulu Dawn', the Zulus appear to have attacked 'en masse' and continued to press home the attack until victory was achieved. They used the advantage of superior numbers to very good effect.

In 'Zulu', the Zulu advantage of numbers appears not to have been employed to good effect at all. Attacks using relatively small numbers were not followed through, so that only 100 or so British soldiers could hold off thousands of Zulus.

Assuming that both movies are not straying too far from the facts of the battles, why did the Zulus at Rorkes Drift not follow the same very effective strategy of 'all out attack'? Surely, with 4000 Zulu to 100 British, the battle would have ended differently, had they done so?
22nd March 2002John Young

Sadly your assumption about the films is far from the truth. They are stories with an element of fact interwoven.

At times the Zulu assault on Rorke's Drift was an all out attack. What I conclude is that the defensive position at Rorke's Drift, as opposed to a completely unprepared position at Isandlwana was the most telling factor. Hence, in my view, the different outcomes of the two battles.

John Young,
Anglo-Zulu War Research Society.
22nd March 2002James Garland
The British victory at Rorke's Drift is easier to explain than the Zulu victory at Isandhlwana.
The Boers had already demonstrated the effectiveness of a prepared laager at the battle of Blood River some years before and they only had flintlock weapons. so the outcome at Rorke's Drift is no surprise.
Isandhlwana is very different. It doesn't follow that just because the British didn't form a laager that they were sure to be defeated. The Boers had already developed a mobile tactic to deal with Zulu Impis. They simply sent mounted tgroops to intercept the horns of the Zulu attack and using their mounted mobility would dismount and retire as\ soon as the Zulus got close. This I believe is what Colonel Durnford was trying to do at Isandhlwana. The trouble was that this tactic was only used against one horn and their was a finite limit to how far the mounted men could withdraw because they were trying to defend a static position. The Boers in the past had used an all mounted force and therefore were able to dismount and retire as much as they wished.

22nd March 2002James Garland
Sorry about the bad use of English..
I meant "there was a finite limit " rather than "their"
23rd March 2002Alan Critchley
Cetyweyo had warned his commanders against attacking fortified positions. Apart from the courage of the defenders, and the Martini-Henry rifle, I think there is one other major reason for the Zulu failure.
With a limited length of perimeter, even with the number of defenders, the Zulus could ony cover the length of barricades with so many men. The others would have been behind them. When the front line were killed, the British still had to face the same number of Zulus to their front.

25th March 2002Bob Bennett
You pose an interesting question which I have thought about myself.
At Isandlwana Pulleine, et al. were outnumbered by approximately 13 to 1. At R.D. Chard & Co. were outnumbered by a number closer to 30 to 1.
In my novice opinion, if Pulleine has struck the tents and formed square closer to the camp itself, the day would have turned out much differently.
26th March 2002John Young

Quite right if the tents had been struck a certain Archibald Berkeley Milne R.N. may well have had an indication something was amiss at Isandlwana, when viewing the camp through his telescope.

But if we didn't have Isandlwana, we would not have had Rorke's Drift - and perish the thought no website!

John Young,
Anglo-Zulu War Research Society.
5th April 2002Thomas Witting
Having read the account in "Hinges of Battle" , by Erik Durschmied, I would humbly offer my opinion as being that the crucial factor was the lack of ammunition resulting from

a)the quartermasters' inisistence of requisition forms from ammo runners and
b) the ammo boxes themselves having their lids screwed to the hard wooden boxes with iron screws which consequently had rusted to total immobility and
c)together with the fact that there was a considerable distance between the main fight and said "ammo depot", if żou will, contributed decisively to the outcome.

The whole thing at Isandlwana took less than 1 hour so resupply failure must have been a crucial factor.

At Rorke's Drift the ammo was not an issue due to hasty butlevelheaded planning and preparation, also due to which the brave Zulu were funneled into an efficient killing zone.

What a waste for all!

Thomas Witting, Finland
12th April 2002Bryce
I have often read that the story of not enough ammunition at Isanhlwana was exccagerated.
I am with James Garland on it>
2nd May 2004Claudio Romiti
E' certo che gli uomini di Isandlwana hanno sottovalutato il grado di combattivitą dell'esercito zulł e la sua relativa efficacia tattica. Altrimenti non si spiegherebbe lo schieramento suicida predisposto da Pulleine.E' ragionevole pensare,al contrario, che oltre 1700 uomini concentrati all'interno di un quadrato di carri avrebbero fatto strage di truppe avanzanti allo scoperto e pressochč prive di armi da fuoco.
3rd May 2004Keith Smith

Grazie per vostri commenti e io tentaro li tradurre.


For those without Italian, I give below a very free transaltion of Claudio's comments:

"It is certain that the men at Isandlwana had underestimated the aggressive quality of the Zulu army and its relative tactical ability. Otherwise, how can one explain the suicidal lack of preparations by Pulleine. It is reasonable to think, on the contrary, that more than 1700 men concentrated inside a square of wagons [laager] could have massacred forces advancing over open ground and almost entirely lacking firearms."

3rd May 2004David Alan Gardner
Very concise, well put,- and spot on Claudio!-sorry can't say it in Italian!-although firearms they had, though not very good