Forum Index
Discussions related to the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879
Reply to topic
Zulu Scouting On The Day Of The Battle At Isandlwana

Reply with quote
Recently on another topic, I mentioned the following 'whole' conclusion -

' The Zulu Commanders won the day, outsmarting Chelmsford and attacking the less defended camp.'

I'll break it down into sections (in my own opinion)

1. 'Outsmarting Chelmsford ' - being the Zulu army using the deliberate strategy of positioning themselves as close to the camp as possible, with the view of attacking it the next day. Remaining undiscovered.

2. Chelmsford not scouting far enough to find the location of the Zulu army, then leaving the camp with half his force. This is the decoy aspect discussed previously. However, although Chelmsford had been drawn out of the camp, I'm not of the opinion that it was a deliberate strategy by the Zulus to accomplish such a task, but a piece of 'good fortune', being the halving of the camp's defences.

3. The discovery of the Zulu army which caused the Zulus to attack on that particular day, was accidental. I don't think they were originally going to attack on the day the actual battle occurred. However, with the camp's defenders depleted by Chelmsford taking away half of the force, they couldn't really repel such overwhelming odds stacked against them.

There is a couple of points (possibly discussed previously) that I'm having difficulty understanding.

1. It was mentioned (in the old forum ?) that the Zulus may not have seen Chelmsford leaving the camp with half his force, the Zulus thinking the whole column was still at Isandlwana.

2. The Zulu army 'surprised' by the sight of horsemen appearing on the ridge overlooking their location near to the camp.

In a few topics in the old forum, apparently the Zulu scouting of their territory, even before the war, let the King know everything that was 'going on'.

How then, could they have 'missed' Chelmsford leaving the camp ?

Also, would there not have been Zulu scouts above the valley where the Zulu army was, looking out for any approaching British units scouting that area. ?

If scouts seen Raw and Roberts's men approaching, they would have warned the Zulu Commanders. Therefore, aware that the army may be discovered, the Zulu Commanders would have started manouevering some of their men in preparation of an attack on the camp, their discovery leaving them with no other option.

Or, if the Zulu Commanders were informed of the approaching mounted men, could they have been waiting to see if their position was left undiscovered, only moving to attack when found ?

I apologise if this has been covered before, but I find it hard to believe that Zulu scouting, when an invading army was camped nearby, failed on the day.

Mike Snook

Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 130
Reply with quote

Well done for raising a topic which is just far too tempting to sit out - you have enticed me in! (Did you decoy me?!) I think you raise a really interesting subject. Like you, I began from the premise that the impi must have had lookouts posted and must have seen Lord C leave the camp.

But when one reverse engineers it - and accepts that the Undi Corps were genuinely surprised to bump into Lord C on the morning of the 23rd - then plainly the impi did not see his departure. How can this be? (Much head scratching).

First and most obviously - it was damn near still dark on the plain when Lord C set out - orders were specifically given that the flying column (as I call it) was to be roused in silence - no lights, no bugles etc. But on the other hand the column would have been visible in daylight as it made its fairly tortuous way across the plain.

The answer, I believe, lies in not what the Zulus would have wanted to do (i.e.. 'surveill' the battlepsace) - but what British dispositions allowed them to do. In order to see from the area of Ngwebeni, to the other side of the plain, you have to come up to a high point on the escarpment - or to other points commanded by the escarpment - and of course the NC vedette posts were deployed along the edge of the escarpment, and as far afield as Nyezi Hill. In other words the vantage points were denied to the Zulu by the physical presence of the British lookouts. I think also that Nstingwayo had a bit of a fright the previous afternoon when Browne's IMI patrol came damned close to discovering the impi (Oft missed fact - Browne exhanged shots on the afternoon of the 21st with what must have been scouts/screen troops).

So, to cut a long story sideways, surprising though it might appear, I can persuade myself that Nstingwayo might well have been completely unaware of Lord C's early morning departure. I think his main concerns were security (keeping hidden), discipline (stopping the wild youth going off at half-cock) and real estate (as described in my book).

I think you make a very fair point about lookouts on Mabaso Ridge - and indeed I can readily imagine a few lads doubling downhill shouting the alarm just as Charlie Raw was in the final stages of his approach.

Well done on Durnford's Horse. Spot on.

Regards as ever

View user's profileSend private message
Zulu Scouting On The Day Of The Battle At Isandlwana
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
All times are GMT  
Page 1 of 1  

 Reply to topic