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 Isandlwana; The British Outgunned?

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Erimus



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PostSubject: Isandlwana; The British Outgunned?   Thu Mar 03, 2016 9:52 am

Hello all,

First time poster here so be gentle Wink

I've been fascinated by the Anglo-Zulu war since I was a young lad when my Dad would make me watch the traditional boxing day marathon of Zulu and The Great Escape. Only in recent years have I had the get up and go to do some research of my own. Now I am by no means an expert but having read these forums for over the last few years think someone here who is far more learned and knowledgeable could clear something up for me!

In "How Can Man Die Better", Snook suggested that perhaps as many as 1 in 4 Zulu warriors at Isandlwana were armed with a firearm of some sort and that it has often been overlooked previous historians that the British were heavily outgunned as well as outnumbered. Of course the Zulu's lacked the training and discipline that would have came with the firearm training the British received but still! I've been pondering this ever since. Is this something that has been mentioned before in previous accounts of the battle or has Snook pull this 'fact' out of thin air?

Apologies if I have misinterpreted the information from Snooks book, or indeed, misquoted him as it has been a while and I dont have the book to hand. Cheers! Salute
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waterloo50

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PostSubject: Re: Isandlwana; The British Outgunned?   Thu Mar 03, 2016 10:18 am

Hello Erimus and welcome to the forum.

Your question has been debated a number of times on this forum and there are a number of helpful threads on the subject. Here is a link to one such topic, How many rifles did the Zulus have?

http://www.1879zuluwar.com/t4508-how-many-rifles-did-the-zulus-have

Mike Snook is a very credible historian and it is unlikely that he would pull a fact out of thin air without first examining the evidence, having said that, there is often an element of guess work involved in trying to work out what exactly happened at Isandlwana. Most of the guess work however is based upon the evidence that we currently have available to us. We have some very knowledgeable people on this forum and my feeling is that most of the questions that you need answers to will more than likely  been covered in earlier discussions. Enjoy the forum and ask as many questions as you want, there will always be someone ready to give you an answer.

Kind Regards
Waterloo
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John Young

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PostSubject: Re: Isandlwana; The British Outgunned?   Thu Mar 03, 2016 10:21 am

Erimus,

Welcome to the fray.

King Cetshwayo's ambition was for every man in his army to be armed with a firearm.

So Mike Snook's 1 in 4 may actually be wide of the mark, as that's only 25% of what might have been available and present.

At the start of the war there were at least 50,000 firearms of some description or other available to the Zulu forces. A point I always bring up when lecturing on the subject of Zulu firepower.

At Isandlwana Prince Shingane commanded a large number of riflemen, a fact recorded by John Laband and in Prince Shingane's family oral history.

Regards,

John Y.
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waterloo50

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PostSubject: Re: Isandlwana; The British Outgunned?   Thu Mar 03, 2016 11:31 am

Neil Aspinshaw made the comment 'The only primary scource of Zulu firearms is made by Capt Woodgate after Khambula'. if that's the case then we are back to guess work.
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waterloo50

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PostSubject: Re: Isandlwana; The British Outgunned?   Thu Mar 03, 2016 11:50 am

One report of 1878 estimated that there were as many as 20,000 stands of arms in Zululand of which 500 were modern breech loaders, 2,500 recent percussion models, 5,000 older percussion models and the rest obsolete flintlock muskets.

Not only were most guns owned by the Zulus old but few had been stored in ideal conditions, and the trade in spare parts was virtually non-existent.

Ian Knight
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John Young

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PostSubject: Re: Isandlwana; The British Outgunned?   Thu Mar 03, 2016 11:55 am

Waterloo,

Would you accept a photograph as a primary source?

If so can I suggest a look at any photograph of Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande at his brother's coronation?

Between 1872 - 1877 some 60,000 firearms were illegally imported into Natal, see the late Jeff Guy's article in the Journal of African History XII, published in 1971, for his findings on the gun trade with the Zulu.

Woodgate is not the only one to make comment, the General-Officer-Commanding makes comment regarding the firearms recovered after Gingindlovu, many of which were either British or Prussian made weapons.

In his work The Anatomy of the Zulu Army, Ian Knight, states that the majority of the Cetshwayo's army had access to some sort of firearm.

Regards,

John Y.

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PostSubject: Re: Isandlwana; The British Outgunned?   Thu Mar 03, 2016 12:44 pm

Hello John

Following your advice I have looked at some photographs and all of the men appear to have a weapon of sorts, there is quite a mixture of rifles and muskets. Are you suggesting that Prince Dabulamanzi KaMpande impi were typical of the entire Zulu army, I ask that question in all seriousness because I keep coming across different numbers for the firearms used at Isandlwana. Ian Knight made a statement where he talks about the youngest amabutho- who were conspicuously short of guns, since the gun trade naturally favoured mature men who had accumulated enough resources to buy them and, as Mpashana of the uVe recalled had been disappointed in what he saw. ''lift up your guns,'' we did so ''so are there no guns? Each man with a beast from his place must bring it up next day and buy guns of Dunn.''
IK certainly mentions the 60,000 guns that had been legally imported into Natal but he goes onto say '40,000 of which had been re-exported and 20,000 of these shipped to Mozambique.'

Regards
Waterloo
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John Young

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PostSubject: Re: Isandlwana; The British Outgunned?   Thu Mar 03, 2016 1:43 pm

Waterloo,

No just giving it as a contradictory example to the one that you cited from Neil. That photograph obviously pre-dates the Zulu War.

As I mention the same author, Ian Knight, that you are citing goes on to say that the majority of the Zulu army was armed with firearms of some description.

40,000 re-exported to another sovereign country perhaps one that bordered the Colony of Natal? And as for those that went to Mozambique, where both John Dunn and Sihayo had trading links what might have become of those? Bearing in mind the Britain's old ally would have had little or no need for them.

John Y.
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waterloo50

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PostSubject: Re: Isandlwana; The British Outgunned?   Thu Mar 03, 2016 3:05 pm

Hello John,

I guess it wouldn't be that difficult for those 40,000 re-exported weapons to find their way back over the border.

Edit
I have only just read your article on 'JOHN DUNN,AFRICAN FRONTIERSMAN', very interesting.
Waterloo
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Erimus



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PostSubject: Re: Isandlwana; The British Outgunned?   Fri Mar 04, 2016 8:43 am

Hello Waterloo and John! Thank you very much for your warm welcomes and informative replies! You have certainly given me a lot more information than I was expecting and plenty for me and my like minded friends to debate over a pint or two!! This is why I love this community!! Very Happy

And cheers for the link John. When I get the chance I'll have a read through it (a bit difficult at the minute having just recently moved house so I'm short on spare time!). With regards to further reading what would you suggest? Like I mentioned in my previous post the only book I've read so far is Snooks "How Can Man Die Better". The only other sources I've seen / read is what is freely available on the internet.

Cheers

Erimus Salute
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waterloo50

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PostSubject: Re: Isandlwana; The British Outgunned?   Fri Mar 04, 2016 10:49 am

Erimus,

Zulu Rising by Ian Knight is my personal favourite, it's one of the books that gets quoted quite often on the forum. There are a number of good books out there, look for anything written by Julian Whybra, John Young, Ron Lock and Peter Qauntrill.
I haven't read anything by the historian Saul David, I don't think that his books received a great review by many forum members.

The advice I was given when I first joined was to read:
Zulu Rising.
The South African Campaign of 1879 by Greaves and Knight.
Hill of the Sphinx by  F.W.D. Jackson.
Narrative of the Field Operations connected with the Zulu War of 1879.

Also read anything you can get your hands on and form your own opinions.

Cheers
Waterloo
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barry

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PostSubject: The gun trade   Sat Mar 05, 2016 7:03 am

Hi All,

There indeed  was a roaring gun trade in Natal in the mid to late 1800's.
However, not all weapons bought from unscrupulous European dealers who were trying  to make space in their burgeoning arsenals for newer technology, were sold in colonial Natal. A great quantity of these went over border to Pondoland and more to Mocambique.
The weapons thus traded via Dunn and others  were mostly very old technology including blunderbusses and various other smooth bore flintlocks. None of which were a  technical match  for the MH. There are one or two examples of the Zulu chiefs being bribed by the arms pedlars into assisting them with this trade by giving them more modern heavy hunting weapons, as gifts.
This illicit trade was still going on just prior to the Boer War at which time Natal Government agents were posted, posing as fishermen, on the coast at St Lucia/Cape Vidal watching out for illegal arms and powder shipments being brought ashore, at night, through turbulent surf in longboats.. Various missionaries in the area were suspected of being complicit in these gun running operations.
Now, in terms of the Isandlwana defenders being outgunned, that is a fallacy. The wounds of the dead on that battlefield just do not support that hypothesis.
However, there is evidence that at the battle of Rorke's Drift , the Zulus used  firearms with some success, particularly those firing down on the defenders from the caves and terraces on the Oskarberg. Indeed one or two MH's picked up from Isandlwana  survivors may have been brought to bear there.
The question has been  raised  as to how many ancient firearms the Zulus may have had available. This can best be answered by considering how big the total Zulu population may have been in 1879. According to Henry Lugg (*), Harry's father, who authored " A Natal Family  Looks Back", the total Zulu population was of the order of  225,000 , ie both sexes, all ages.
Assuming that 1/5 of the total  were involved in the military system, and had the cow to pay for their weapon, 40,000 may not be too unreasonable a number, for all weapons in Zululand.  
In deciding the answer to the question one must consider that the Impi at Isandlwana only totaled some 25,000 warriors, and extrapolating this translates roughly into 6000 firearms, in Zulu hands, at the battle.
This number is far in excess of the 2000+ or so MH's and other weapons used by the Isandlwana forces, BUT, the weapons in the Zulu hands were technically inferior and in poor condition because of age and lack of care ( the Zulu's had a habit of hiding their weapons from the Police and each other, underground,  buried in the the manure in their cattle kraals where the rust rate was phenomenal ).

(*) Lugg was employed for some time in his career as a census counter in Zululand so was very well placed and experienced to talk with authority on Natal demographics.

regards

barry


Last edited by barry on Mon Mar 07, 2016 7:15 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Frank Allewell

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PostSubject: Re: Isandlwana; The British Outgunned?   Sat Mar 05, 2016 9:13 am

Interesting and informative post Barry. Just one small queerie for you, "The wounds of the dead on that battlefield just do not support that hypothesis. " How do we know that? We do know through Stafford etc that casualties were being taken, how many we don't know, Bloomfield probably being one of the high profile ones.

Cheers Mate
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barry

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PostSubject: Balance of fire power   Sat Mar 05, 2016 10:26 am

Hi Frank,

Good to hear from you.
Whilst writing that short response on weapons I could think quickly of 3 notables at the battle who had recorded gunshot wounds, ie Bloomfield, Durnford and possibly Pulleine  (or another officer). Besides which the circumstances of Bloomfield's demise suggests collateral damage. There were a small number of others too.
The "ah but" to all of this is the fact many of the defenders bodies were so severely butchered, with decapitation of some , and disemboweling of many more, that gunshot wounds may have not been too conspicuous . The counter to that is that any reports of rifle fire received from the attacking impi were scarce (*) and that the real killing occurred at really close quarters when the traditional Zulu weapons were at their very best.
As all the 'modern" weapons in the Zulu hands used black powder propellants, firing would have been very visible and would have been accompanied by clouds of  black smoke eminating from their front lines as well as the roar of rifle fire. There was no report of that.
So considering these facts , and on balance of probabilities, modern firearms were not the biggest problem for the defenders of Isandlwana

(*)  any Zulu rifle fire attempted at the opening stages of the Isandlwana battle would have been futile anyway as the range for those antiquated weapons was just far too great.

regards

barry
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