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Was Lord Chelmsford Decoyed?
Alan
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Ron Lock has written an article "Was Lord Chelmsford Decoyed?".
This is to be found in the Pot Pourri section. We would appreciate your comments.
http://www.rorkesdriftvc.com/potpourri/Was_Lord_Chelmsford_Decoyed.pdf

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mike snook 2


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It is of course designed to open the road for TMFH by allowing 'do nothing, wait and see' (on Ntsingwayo's part) to constitute excellent generalship.

Taken in the round it is no more than an articulation of an opinion. It deploys nothing new and is not even close to compelling (which I presume to be the intention).

It mis-portrays (no such word I know) events in a number of dimensions.

Dartnell had been in contact with about 300 Zulus in the afternoon. He sent in a message with Gossett and Buller (ADCs) about fourish, (message received by his Lordship about fiveish plus), to the effect that he intends to stay out and attack this small body of Zulus in the morning, unless in the meantime he receives positive orders not to do so but to return to camp immediately.

Lord Chelmsford had no reason to apprehend and did not believe that there was anything more at stake than an attack by 1750-1800 ish of his own men on an isolated body of 300. Remember that nobody has yet lost confidence in the NNC. It is still new and being 'tested'. So his Lordship does what any general would do: I'm not there, they are big boys, it is their decision. His response is to that effect. In other words he grants leave for Dartnell to proceed as he thinks best. Somebody else (on the staff) decides to send out packs with some food with the 'OK go ahead' type reply.

It is not even the sighting of the 1000-1500 Zulus that compels Dartnell's second message to the effect, actually my lord I've bitten a bit more than I can chew here, please can I be reinforced with regulars. What triggers the latter message is the realisation that the NNC are in the most terrible state of jitters and aren't going to be attacking anything. This happens well after dark - 2030-ish, 2130 ish....who can say. We do know of course that it was received about 0100-ish, by the hand of Walsh to Clery to Glynn to Chelmsford. It is only then that Lord C thinks hey ho... there's something amiss here. I'm going to go and have a look.

It is not, as far as I am aware, contested by anybody that what later showed itself was a regiment of the main impi.

Its position was on the high ground to the left of the undulating axis which would take the main body into the Ngwebeni Valley during the last couple of hours before sunset. Of course Ntshingwayo knew that some of the Brits were at Mangeni; indeed he would have received, I would suggest, a fairly accurate advisory to the effect that there were about a hundred and some troopers and possibly some NNC levies. I say 'possibly some NNC levies' because the NNC commandants kept their troops on a reverse slope on Hlazakazi. Only the officers were forward and even they were amongst the rocks using their binos. Prior to that they were either on top of the latter feature or behind it in the Mangeni valley. There is no guarantee therefore that the Zulus knew exactly where the NNC were or in what strength. What they had seen all day was the police and volunteers. What you fear most, as a commander, whilst making a great grand-tactical manoeuvre, is the enemy's reconnaissance assets. That of course is what the police and carbineers represented.

Now, if the presence of this regiment is an act of deception, it must comport itself in front of the enemy in some way in order to achieve its object. But that is not what it does. It actually remains concealed on a reverse slope. The act of compromise only occurs because Dartnell sends half a dozen men towards what is a known enemy position, in order to provoke a response. This is going on in the last (dying) hour of daylight. The reason Dartnell does this is that he doesn't know how many Zulus are there, but has already declared an intention to attack. If you're going to attack something, you had jolly well better know what it is. If the Zulu plan was to deceive Dartnell, the commander of that regiment would have made a decided effort on his own initative to make sure that Dartnell knew how many men were there before darkness fell. The reason the Zulus emerged from a position of concealment to drive back the six horsemen, I believe (opinion), is that the job of that regiment was to prevent any nosy parker horsemen gaining that ridge and seeing what was going on behind it (the main body move to Ngwebeni). Thus it is a flank guard, not a decoy.

Next to tactical doctrine. Everything about the Zulus of 1879 is 'balls out'. They are going to 'eat up' the British centre column. Nobody has said, (least of all the King) ....I'd like you to draw two men in every three out into the hills...and then not worry about them....as long as you eat up one in three....


Sorry, but that ain't the way it works. This is a Zulu army. It can't remember 1838. It's arrogant, supremely confident, angry at the outrage of invasion, macho, determined, bumptious, oh...and incredibly brave. 'Balls out' as I've said.

It also operates, like any army which is critically dependent on tactical rapidity, but is devoid of a sophisticated communications system, on 'tramlines'. In other words it has only a small number of repeatedly rehearsed options available to it. Same idea as the shouts in a line out on the rugby pitch. It is not sophisticated. It is based on simplicity. Its simplicity is its strength. Not much room for confusion. Option 1 lads...or....Option 2 lads.... and after that you start to run out of options. It works on what soldiers term 'drills': as in 'Right lads you all know the drill.'

What Zulu generals understand, like as a concept, and practice in the field, is the notion of getting close without being seen. The whole army gets that. It is an operational precept from which 'tactical surprise' flows. Then, when you've got to where you want to be, it's a shock-action horns of the buffalo attack as best suited to ground. It is a fundamental of the horns of the buffalo (double envelopment in the rest of the world) that you don't turn your back to the enemy (so that he can in turn attack your rear). Rather the object is to compromise, unhinge and roll up both his flanks. In other words the enemy needs to be inside the bag, not outside it looking at the rear of the left horn.

Ron wants to be able to argue, because it suits his hypothesis, that Nstingwayo delayed his attack until-morning, in the happy knowledge that his deception plan was working and that plodding column on the plain will soon be at a point of no return and will no longer be able to influence the battle he is planning around Isandlwana. Or as I would characterise it, that he intends to go home to the king and say: I was really clever, I allowed two in every three of the men from kwajimu's to wander off into the countryside, (yes your majesty they are still out there somewhere and will doubtless come back), but don't worry I did eat up one in three. Eating up one in three was not his mission. His mission was the destruction of the central column.

But leaving the one in three argument aside...

One could argue that the detached regiment was a decoy force predicated on a scenario in which the attack was to be mounted on the 23rd. In other words it would do what I have said is has, by definition, to do (comport itself in some way), on the morning of the 22nd. That way Lord C might be drawn out during the course of the day, leaving the road clear to an attack on the camp on the morning of the 23rd. That would at least be a credible construct....but then all the TMFH stuff has gone down the swanny. Furthermore it ain't the case anyway, because it would still have been at Mangeni in daylight on the 22nd, which it wasn't. Having achieved its flank guard task, it moved out, (in my opinion), from its overnight bivouac, at the crack of dawn, to catch up with the main body at Ngwebeni. Some part of it was responsible for the 6-7ish hiatus around the Qwabe vedette. But it was not the sighting of thousands on the move which followed which I think came from iThusi and was the right horn moving to its new bivouac position - a position very likely consistent with that shown on what R & P insist is Wood's map. (which, as I have argued elsewhere, does not mean that the other unlabelled lines also represent bivouacs, as opposed to start lines occupied later in time and space).

The thing that puzzles me is that Isandlwana was a great 'Zulu Victory' (to quote a perfectly legitimate title in the recent historiography of the AZW), without the necessity to overreach history by bestowing upon it sophisticated attributes it cannot be shown to have possessed. It was a victory achieved by good security on the line of march, shock-action, excellent use of ground, rapidity of tactical manoeuvre and, above all else, the most extraordinary courage. That's victory enough for anyone ain't it?

Enough.

Regards

M
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Mel


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
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Mike Snook wrote:
"Ron wants to be able to argue, because it suits his hypothesis, that Nstingwayo delayed his attack until-morning, in the happy knowledge that his deception plan was working and that plodding column on the plain will soon be at a point of no return and will no longer be able to influence the battle he is planning around Isandlwana. Or as I would characterise it, that he intends to go home to the king and say: I was really clever, I allowed two in every three of the men from kwajimu's to wander off into the countryside, (yes your majesty they are still out there somewhere and will doubtless come back), but don't worry I did eat up one in three. Eating up one in three was not his mission. His mission was the destruction of the central column."

This one viewpoint, alone, destroys the decoy theory.

I've never understood why there is the need to bestow such a level of sophistication on the Zulu strategy used at Isandlwana.

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Alan
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Unfortunately, Ron is unable to take part in this topic at present.
He will respond when the situation allows.

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mike snook 2


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Dear All

It will be obvious that I am implacably opposed to decoy theory. I don't want to go into the reasons why, but whatever Ron eventually replies will elicit no further response from me. I'd like to leave it there.

Regards

Mike
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Ron L


Joined: 05 Nov 2007
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Gentlemen,
I apologise for the delay, due to circumstances beyond my control and trust the subject has not gone cold. I would also like to express my sincere regret at the passing of Mike McCabe, who takes with him a vast and unretrievable knowledge of the Anglo Zulu War. He would, I am sure, have made some pithy observations regarding the subject under discussion and this debate will be poorer for their absence.
First Mike Snook. Mike, your response is rich in bluster and lead heavy in sarcasm. You have ignored the fact that Fynn unwittingly fed misinformation to Lord Chelmsford, misinformation that led to deception which in turn developed into a decoy. Instead we are treated to a lengthy discourse on British army tactics and jargon concluding with the astonishing concept that the morning long will o” the wisp decoy of Chelmsford’s column into the Pindo Hills was not a decoy at all! Were the Zulus still guarding their flank?
I agree with your “Balls out” description but you have overlooked a couple of things: Stealth, Intelligence and the ability to confuse and deceive. “Balls out” they may have been but they got 20 000 men within a hop, skip and a jump of the camp without the opposition having any idea that they were there. The opposition was, in fact, searching in the wrong direction. I wonder why?
As for the NNC at the crucial moment being, to quote you, “in the most terrible state of jitters”. Who trained them and was responsible for having passed them out fighting fit and fit to fight? The buck must stop with the officers of the British Army and in particular with the General Officer Commanding HM Forces Southern Africa.
You have gone on at length about Zulu “Balls Out” tactics. What about the British, shall we say “Balls In tactics”? Provoke the enemy to attack, preferably when we are all behind a barricade of sorts, and then at 800 yards let them have it with the god old Martini- Henry – hoping, of course, that we can open the ammo boxes at the crucial moment (there is another good topic). Hardly as innovative as the tactics taught at the Ulundi staff college. You say there was no guarantee that the Zulu commander knew where and at what strength the NNC happened to be on the 21st. More likely the Zulu commander knew the exact progress of the NNC from the moment it “marched” out of Greytown with the band playing “The Girl I left Behind Me”.
And would have been kept abreast of its whereabouts on an ongoing basis, including its movements on the 21st-22nd, by the Zulu community at large, every one a potential spy.
And you still persist in pooh poohing the Zulu army’s “sophisticated communications systems”. Ryder Haggard was in Pretoria on the morning of the 24th January when his servant, by means of the Zulu communications system, heard the tale of a great battle that had taken place in Zululand leaving hundreds of redcoats dead. Twenty hours later an exhausted horseman arrived with the news of the British defeat. Pretty sophisticated, I would say and just one instance of many such accounts.
Mike, is it so difficult to accept that a British General was outmanoevered by a Zulu espionage system? Even if you don’t reply, Mike, all the best, Ron.
Mel – You seem to be saying that to decoy an enemy was beyond the ability and intelligence of the Zulu army? Come on, please! Decoys have been part of primitive warfare ever since and before a wooden horse was left outside the gates of Troy. Best wishes, Ron.

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Mel


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Ron
Good to hear from you. Hope all is well.

Yes, indeed, I am saying that the use of a decoy strategy as described by yourself, was beyond the ability of the Zulu army on the 22nd.

Could you please point out any Zulu participant on the 22nd, who stated that decoy was part of the strategy used at Isandlwana?

Please show me an example where the Zulu army used such a sophisticated level of battle strategy in any other encounter with the British in 1879.

Are we talking about the same Zulu army who knew no other tactic but to make suicidal charges onto the guns of entrenched British positions?

If the Zulu army had, indeed, used such a successful decoy strategy, then why did they not try similar (much needed) decoys in future encounters?

Having learnt lessons at Isandlwana (and it was, even in their triumph, a very painful lesson) and Rorke's Drift (more pain for the Zulu), why do you think that the Zulu did not change tactics and, perhaps, attack the British at their most vulnerable, i.e., when on the march? Or, perhaps attack in the dead of night? Yes Ron, whilst there is no doubt about their courage, I do, indeed, question the level of sophistication the Zulu could apply in their attacks.

What makes you think that Ntshingwayo would have felt the need to implement a decoy strategy? He could only guess at the effect of the fire power of the British companies and he was, after all, in control of an unstoppable juggernaught was he not?

Why would he decide to lure half of them away and let them off the hook.

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Ron L


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Mel,
First, thanks for your kind wishes. I do not see why it is necessary to qualify an event that actually happened. The method by which it was accomplished, via unwitting Henry Francis Fynn, is recorded and explained in my first posting. As you are so adamant that the decoy never happened, disprove it. I think you are putting the Zulu ruse on a far higher level of acomplishment than it warrants. Why did the Zulu army not use similar tactics again, you ask? Isandlwana was really a one off as a person in a similar position to Fynn did not surface again. But that certainly did not prevent the Zulus from using decoy tactics. On the night of 27/28 March Colonels Wood and Buller, with a force of approximately 700 horsemen and numerous native irregulars, attacked Hlobane Mountain finding minimal resistance. They were lured onto the summit and whilst they were leisurely rounding up cattle their escape route was closed forcing the attackers into the funnel of Devil’s Pass, resulting in the second worst defeat of the war. Without going into detail, the headstrong Prince Imperial went on patrol with Buller, fell for a decoy and was only rescued in the nick of time.
You ask why the Zulus did not attack in the dead of night? They did. Ntombi River on the 12 March 1879, inflicting 60 casualties, either k.i.a. or drowned, on a company of the 80th Regiment. The attackers got away with an unrecorded number of Martini Henrys and 90 000 rounds of ammunition.
Why the need to implement a decoy strategy? The Zulu Army as an “unstoppable juggernaught” had previous experience of head on attacks against white men’s wagon lagers and fire power. The Battle of Blood River would not have been forgotten.
Why would Ntshingwayo let them off the hook? Read the accounts of the 23rd January. Chelmsford’s demoralized column, virtually our of food and water had no desire to fight and the Zulus, having suffered perhaps 1000 casualties, was equally reluctant: lets get off home with our wounded and loot.

Ron.

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Peter Ewart


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All

Is it, perhaps, pertinent to consider what we mean by "decoy"? To lure or to entice is a common preliminary to an ambush - although in this case it was not the supposedly lured force which suffered the ambush, but the camp itself.

Was Chelmsford deliberately lured away from the camp on the night of 21st/22nd? Almost certainly not. But once most of the main impi was installed in the Ngwebini valley & the rest were moving across towards it, a very successful screening process was enacted, preventing the British from realising exactly what was afoot. At some stage in this process, it will have become clear to Ntshingwayo that if Chelmsford's (now further split) forces were far enough from the camp, they could not get back in time to assist in its defence. Ntshingwayo's ability to know what was going on at various places would have depended on the quality of the Zulu communications and our understanding of this will depend on whose and which statements made afterwards by Zulus are to be accepted or weighed in the balance, as some conflict with each other.

Might the Zulu high command have attempted to keep Chelmsford as far east as possible for as long as possible once his force had reached the Mangeni area? I'd think so - but unfortunately Ntshingwayo was never interviewed. Nor were some others in the high command who may have been privy to their intentions during the latter part of Lord C's presence to the south-east.

Decoys? Elaborate plans? Subterfuge? Sophisticated ruses? The Zulu approach in 1879 was by no means entirely devoid of these, with the most prominent example being one not yet mentioned above - that of 3rd July, when Buller's force was extremely lucky to escape disaster by a whisker. There were at least four occasions in 1879 when the conditions and/or the topography - or just the long grass! - were used to assist the element of surprise. Although this was only an obvious, basic military approach to be employed by any attacking force, it demonstrates to us that the need for surprise was hardly unknown to the Zulu, in itself suggesting that thought was usually given to the need for it, inviting the possibility that much more sophisticated ruses were by no means impossible.

Of course, there were plenty of examples of the opposite as well, either through poor leadership, disobedience, impetuosity or lack of discipline. But Zulu history - well before 1879 and even during the civil war afterwards - contains examples of surprises and ruses, sometimes involving very cunning deceit, especially against single clans, factions or individual homesteads. In fact the entire (including internal) story of the Zulu involves the routine employment of cunning against one 's foe, something they were not likely to forget or put aside when faced with such a crisis of 1879.

Peter
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Mel


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Ron,

I just knew that you would bring Hlobane and Intombi into it. Smile

Quote - Blood On The Painted Mountain page 128 "Buller had been given the task of assailing the eastern end of the mountain".

How can you say that he was lured up the mountain when the whole point of his mission was to ascend said mountain?

Yes, Mbelini got it right didn't he? (Well, almost).
This reinforces my whole point. Why didn't the main Zulu commanders learn and follow his example? Imagine the difference if the Impi had attacked Khambula in the middle of the night instead of launching what I have previously refered to as suicidal charges which never stood a chance.

The picture I have tried to paint is of an army which could not adapt to a modern enemy and was not capable of (to quote ZV chapter 6) "the game of chess" or a sophisticated decoy ruse as described by yourself.

Is there any Zulu participant who actually claims to have been directly involved in the decoy? I am referring to the decoy supposedly used to lure Chelmsford from the camp in the early hours of the 22nd.

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Ron L


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Mel,
Buller, once on the summit was lured into believing he was safe and secure. There had been little opposition to the ascent. Thereafter his column spread out leisurely rounding up cattle. Then the trap was sprung, their escape was cut and the abaQualusi in their thousands appeared from hiding, pushing the raiders west into the funnel of Devil’s Pass. You will find a number of primary source accounts in Zulu Zanquished.
A night attack by overwhelming numbers on an unentrenched camp as at Ntombi River is one thing, but I fail to see what advantage darkness would have afforded twenty thousand warriors stumbling towards Kambula in the middle of the night.
I think we have exhausted whether or not Lord C. was decoyed from the camp. I have submitted the evidence and you have been unable to disprove it.
Is there any known Zulu participant who was involved in the decoy? you ask. Lets start with Ntshingwayo, the Zulu commander. I cannot believe that he was not interrogated. Assuming that he was, why has his account never surfaced? I contend it would have portrayed Lord C. falling for the Zulu decoy which, for obvious reasons, would have been undesirable.
Mel, thank you for the tussle, but we seem to be going around in circles. Like Mike Snook, I am going to bow out, call it a day and conclude with a report bearing the Windsor Archives stamp (RA VIC/0 33/92) dated Feb. 11/79 and headed The Isandlnana (sic) Disaster. A memorandum from the Intelligence Department. Writing of Chelmsford’s conduct, the report states He did not keep up proper communications with his camp. He was led away by the Zulus who decoyed him from the camp … ( Perhaps the Intelligence Department had interrogated Ntshingwayo, after all) The report is unsigned. Also read page 31 of John Laband and Geoff Matthews Isandlwana ISBN 0 94747 398. Finally the Duke of Cambridge had a concluding opinion. On the 11th August 79 Sir Charles Ellis wrote to Chelmsford … His Royal Highness has come to the conclusion that the primary cause of the misfortune, and that which led to all the others, was the underestimate formed of the offensive fighting power of the enemy.
All best wishes,
Ron

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Julian whybra


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And the absence of Zulu testimony to support this argument means what?
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Mel


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Ron,

Thanks for the discussion. It could be seen as going round in circles but that's what discussion sometimes does. I see it as not only about the decoy theory but as an aid to evaluating other aspects of the battle such as the early movements of both sides.


.

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Was Lord Chelmsford Decoyed?
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