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Retiring and retreating - are they the same?"
Rob D


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
Posts: 93
Location: Melbourne Australia
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I'm hoping someone here can unconfuse me.
When I used to play Napoleonic wargames there was a clear distinction in the rules between troops "retiring" (faces to the enemy, able to fire during the move) and troops "retreating" (backs to the enemy, unable to fire), but when I read about the crisis point at Isandlwana the two terms seem to be used interchangeably.
So what I'd like to know is whether that distinction existed in real life in 1879, and, more specifically, how we think the firing line was withdrawn. And I'd also like some opinion about why the "Cease Fire" call was, according to Curling, blown twice (I can understand that in the case of the artillery, because you can't move a gun while it's firing, or vice versa, but I'd have expected the infantry to keep firing during the withdrawal to try to slow down the enemy pursuit).
Any clarification would be appreciated.
Rob
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Peter Quantrill
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Rob,
Distant memories from Sandhurst lectures:

'A unit does not retreat: It makes a tactical withdrawal!'

Regards,
Peter
Rob D


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
Posts: 93
Location: Melbourne Australia
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Peter,
Gee, thanks so much. I'd already found several variations on that theme ("attacking in another direction", "advancing rapidly to the rear" and so on) from various online sources (Brit, US and others) when I posed the question to the forum.
Unfortunately, none of them explain adequately exactly how British forces in 1879 would have been expected to perform that particular maneuver in the face of the enemy.
In fact, the closest description that I've found of how it ought to be done dates from the 1930's, in John Masters's Bugles and a Tiger. After explaining the difficulty of the maneuver he describes in some detail the successful withdrawal, under fire, of a Gurkha outpost to a prepared reserve position, supported by rifle and machine-gun from that position.
Is it safe to assume that the maneuver would have been attempted at Isandlwana in much the same way, allowing for differences in the availability of both covering fire and the prepared reserve position?
Rob

PS Alan - the spell-checker on your site doesn't like "manoeuvre", hence "maneuver"
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Alan
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Joined: 30 Aug 2005
Posts: 1415
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Rob D wrote:
PS Alan - the spell-checker on your site doesn't like "manoeuvre", hence "maneuver"

Alan in confused mode.

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Peter Quantrill
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Rob,
The late John Masters, 4th PWO Gurkha Rifles was, in 'The Bugles and a Tiger,' referring to pickets/piquets in a "successful withdrawal of a Gurkha outpost to a prepared reserve position."
Pickets were positioned in strengths varying from two or three troops to a section, platoon or Company, depending on the tactical requirement of the situation. They were normally positioned on high ground commanding a camp or low lying passage.
In the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of India, during the 19th and early 20th century, every single Indian Army Gurkha battalion, at some stage,( including the 4th) served in the NWFP bordering Afghanistan. The task of battalion Pickets was to warn of an impending Pathan attack. Particular care had to be taken in timing the withdrawal of the picket as the Pathans always attempted to mount an assault to coincide with such withdrawal. When successful, those wounded suffered the most appalling
death.Hence the reference in "Bugles and a Tiger." Golden rule in the NWFP was never to leave a wounded casualty to he mercies of the Pathan. Chapter and verse written on the subject and in Regimental records. (Dare one add, true today?)
Examples of offensive and defensive action on the Frontier may be found in Winston Churchill's first work, "The Story Of The Malakand Field Force" published in 1897.
A definitive work on Frontier action and pickets may be found in
"Lessons in Imperial Rule -- Instructions For British Infantrymen on the Indian Frontier" by General Sir Andrew Skeen, first published in 1932.
(ISBN 978-1-84832-507-4.)
The correct possible usage of terminology may be exemplified in Ron Lock's work,"Hill of Squandered Valour, The Battle for Spion Kop, 1900."

Under a severe attack from the Boers, Maj-Gen Sir John Talbot Coke wrote a memo to Sir Charles Warren that read:
"The position is extremely critical .....................Please give orders should you wish me to cover retirement from Connaught's Hill."
On reviewing the draft message with his subordinate, Lt-Col Augustus Hill, Coke changed the word " retirement" to that of "withdrawal" as retirement had a connotation of permanence.
To that, perhaps the Sandhurst terminology mentioned in this post, delete "withdrawal" and insert 'tactical withdrawal!' (Temporary connotation)
Following which, when circumstances permit, the well received order "Advance to Contact."

As ever,
Peter


Regards,
Peter
Rob D


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
Posts: 93
Location: Melbourne Australia
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Alan:
The spell-checker attached to your site underlines in red words which it does not recognise (such as "manoeuvre" - which I think is correct). Since I'm not a touch typist, I read most of these underlined words as mis-spellings and correct to get rid of the underlines - hence "maneuver" (US spelling, accepted by the spell-checker).

Peter:
Thanks for taking the trouble to clarify. Your recall of the detail of Masters's book is better than mine, but I think the speed of the withdrawal at least might be applicable to the withdrawal of the firing line at Isandlwana.
I have found (on www.farmersboys.com) a list of British army bugle calls that would have been used in action. That list includes "Retreat" and "Cease Fire" but not "Retire" so I'm now thinking that the distinction in the wargames rules that I mentioned earlier did not reflect reality, so much as an effect of the rules themselves.
As each "Move" lasted 2 1/2 minutes a "Retire" would indicate a short distance withdrawal, followed by a "turn and fire" sequence, while a "Retreat" would mean a longer withdrawal for the full time period.

Rob
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Rob

A 'retire' would suggest an element of British control over the battlefield, yet there is no mention of a secondary support line, most defenders being already committed to the action, nor a specific rallying point.

Apparently, after the bugle sounded, firing stopped all along the line, the 24th getting to their feet and withdrawing, hard-pressed by thousands of fleet-footed warriors, unless of course it started as a retire or fighting withdrawal, then very quickly became a retreat, with the mass Zulu advance movement being completely unexpected.

There is no mention of a Colour being clearly displayed for the soldiers to head towards, maybe already having left the battlefield with Melvill.

The ammunition wagons were exposed and unprotected, with Bloomfield being/about to be killed and Pullen being/about to be away from his own wagons.

The nek appears to have been the main rally point, by circumstances rather than planned.

So, a full-on retreat with no rally point and blocked by the Zulus.

Have you ever seen a computer crowd dynamics/simulation ?

I saw this used in a documentary about Gettysburg, when the soldiers retreated through the town creating hot spots/choke areas/blockages, preventing any movement/mobility of the soldiers, retreating or advancing.

You can imagine a simulation for Isandlwana, with a long line of soldiers retreating on the camp all the time, contracting, making their area smaller, with their equipment and terrain slowing them, then hitting the camp tents, breaking their cohesion further.

Same for the Zulus, thousands of warriors entering an area getting smaller by the moment, becoming jammed against each other, the soldiers, tents, wagons, etc.

Hope this helps....but probably it'll not.

Something to consider perhaps ?

Coll

PS. Peter Q - good to see you posting again.
The Scorer


Joined: 27 Nov 2006
Posts: 324
Location: Newport
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Peter Quantrill wrote:
Rob, Distant memories from Sandhurst lectures:
'A unit does not retreat: It makes a tactical withdrawal!'
Regards,
Peter


And, of course, W S Gilbert wrote about The Duke of Plaza-Toro, who always led his troops from the rear, so he'd be in the right place to lead them when they retreated:

"In enterprise of martial kind,
When there was any fighting,
He led his regiment from behind
(He found it less exciting).
But when away his regiment ran,
His place was at the fore, O-
That celebrated,
Cultivated,
Underrated
Noble man,
The Duke of Plaza-Toro!
In the first and foremost flight, ha, ha!
You always found that knight, ha, ha!
That celebrated,
Cultivated,
Underrated
Noble man,
The Duke of Plaza-Toro!"

(Sorry, I couldn't resist this!)

Smile
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Rob D


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
Posts: 93
Location: Melbourne Australia
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Scorer:
Was the character based (perhaps unjustly) on Sir John Cope?
Rob
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Rob D


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
Posts: 93
Location: Melbourne Australia
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Coll:

While I agree generally with your points about the likelihood of general disorganisation at the time of the firing line's withdrawal, I don't really get where you're coming from with the mention of a "crowd dynamics" simulation.

The crowd simulations I have seen rely on knowing the physical layout, crowd density, and movement timings precisely so that the crowd behavior can be modelled accurately, and that's exactly the information we don't have about Isandlwana.

My guess is that the firing line, being in extended order and with significant gaps between units and sub-units, would have had little trouble in withdrawing to a more compact formation (or a number of such formations on, say, a company level) if they'd been granted the time to do so. Of course, given the speed of the Zulu advance, they might then have been isolated from their ammunition supply, but crowd dynamics wouldn't have had much to do with it.

The more tightly packed Zulu formations closing in on ever-shrinking pockets of resistance might have met some crowd-dynamics-related problems, but given the lack of detailed knowledge about exactly where everyone was at any given time, I don't see that a simulation could provide anything more than the most impressionistic (and possibly wildly inaccurate - you know the old saying "garbage in, garbage out") view of what happened.

I've actually come to the conclusion, as I indicated in my previous post, that the distinction made in my old wargames rules between "Retire" and "Retreat" is a bit of a red herring as there doesn't appear to have ever been a bugle call for "Retire" - just "Retreat". And, of course, there wouldn't ever have been a call for the third and worst withdrawal condition in those rules - "Rout".

Rob
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Peter Quantrill
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The Scorer:
Could not resist the completion of another verse:

"When, to evade Destruction's hand,
To hide they all proceeded,
No soldier in that gallant band
Hid half as well as he did.
He lay concealed throughout the war, and preserved his gore, O!
That unaffected,
Well-connected
Warrior,
The Duke of Plaza Toro."

Peter
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Rob

The crowd dynamics part is a comparison to the line of soldiers in full retreat, unable to reform, but terrain, etc., causing them to 'bunch up' when losing formation, broken into smaller groups when reaching the tents.

There has been accounts of the Zulus being intermingled with the fleeing soldiers and soldiers running everywhere, also that many warriors couldn't get near the soldiers in the camp as there were so any others in front of them.

The contracting of the British and Zulus themselves means points would be reached that men were unable to move in any direction, but fight where they stood.

However, I did say it my post might not help, just something to consider.

Coll

PS. There is a map on Wikipedia showing the Union forces line of retreat into Gettysburg, then imagine the Confederates had blocked their route at the other end. Many stands would have taken place within the town near the Union escape route/way out, as they would have had nowhere else to go.
timothylrose


Joined: 13 Jan 2012
Posts: 24
Location: Bognor Regis, West Sussex
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Not sure if any of this helps but .....

The manuals of the time are quite specific about how infantry are trained to make "retirements" - the 1877 Field Exercises devote a number of pages to the manoeuvres - normally retiring by half battalions at about 100 to 150 yards each movement backwards. If there is a reserve company then they can be deployed in extended order to the rear of the firing line and screen any retirement through them.

If companies are in extended order then on the bugle call to retire they will close onto named files and proceed to the rear. That means that the command would be given close to the centre or close on file number 20 and the rest of the company would retire using that file as it's marker.

Normally if retiring in good order then the practice would be to turn and face the enemy and give a volley or two to cover the retirement. Infantry were trained that if in contact they rally into smaller numbers in groups of 4 when in extended order - each four man group making a diamond shape and retiring to meet the next 4 man group and so on - rallying on a fixed point - either on a designated file or failing that a rallying point - senior NCO or Officer - who would direct the company to fall in round him. There was a visual rifle signal to do so and troops were trained to react to visual orders as well as bugles and verbal ones.

Not too sure about crowd dynamics - having been in a few crowd control issues in my time people do get out of the way of a formed body of people moving with a purpose and I am certain that with a few volleys every so often of a .45/577 they would be an added impetus (as well as the fact you are fighting for your life!)

Let's remember that Anstey got 50 or so down to the Manzimyama Valley after all was said and done.






Pictures taken as we fell back across Isandlwana battlefield towards the saddle in 2009.

It's a big old battlesite so you got plenty of space to work with!

Atb - Tim
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peterw


Joined: 30 Aug 2005
Posts: 865
Location: UK
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Wonderfully evocative pictures there. One of the themes I keep returning to is where and at what time did order break down? When did the men in the camp and those who had drawn back realise there was no further point in attempting to keep the Zulus at bay? All I do know is that I am glad I never had to make that decision.

Peter
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Peter Ewart


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 1797
Location: Near Canterbury, Kent, England.
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Tim

Perhaps not all that dissimilar from the method apparently used by Sgt Booth of the 80th and his comrades? It seems he may have known his Field Exercises manual fairly well.

Peter
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Retiring and retreating - are they the same?"
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