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Lord Chelmsford Said .Buller is ‘one of the finest soldiers of the century’, so modest and reticent –that it was difficult to say for what individual deed he had got the Victoria Cross as he had been doing acts worthy of it all along the line
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Subject: Another 'what if'! Mon Dec 10, 2018 10:29 pm
Gentlemen, This is my first post since joining so please bear with me if this question has been asked before. I have read pretty well all the available books on the Zulu wars, but none seem to answer the following 'What If' questions, so here goes! 1) I have often wondered what would have been the result if Chelmsford had remained at Islandwana when the Zulus attacked, would the sheer weight of numbers overwhelmed his forces (they didn't appear to have Gatling guns then)? 2) If the Zulus had attacked him while he was away from the camp and then gone on to the camp could his entire force have been wiped out? 3) If Pullene had time to form a square with the ammo in the centre, could he have held the camp - or was the result a foregone conclusion? and finally! 5) It was said that around 4000 Zulus were in the attack on Rorkes Drift, again, I have often wondered that if they had mounted a full scale attack using all the warriors surely they would have overwhelmed a 100 or so men even though they were behind barricades and armed with Martini -Henrys
Posts : 127 Join date : 2013-09-16 Age : 54 Location : MELBOURNE
Subject: Re: Another 'what if'! Mon Dec 10, 2018 11:38 pm
Hi Paul I will try to answer your questions but there are others on the forum with better knowledge 1/ That would mean Durnford would not have been there. I would say it depended on the disposition of the troops the battle was well over when the right horn entered through the saddle so that area must be covered or else it would of been a larger massacre. 2 / Having trouble understanding the second question. If the Zulu would of attack Chelmsford on his return to the camp then the Zulu would of used all those Martini Henrys on Chelmsford force remembering that he only had less than 70 rounds each seeing they used a certain number of rounds at Mangeni but could they have afford another two to three thousand dead, also the Zulu had all the reserve ammo at the camp to use. 3/ One thing many people seem to forget the Zulu had about 4000 old muzzle loaders which was only effective up to 100 yards so once the Zulu got within 100 yeards the battle would of favoured them strongly. 5/ you Forgot 4 What was required is something the break up the Zulu charge and biscuit boxs did the job at Rorkes Drift. One other thing the 4,000 Zulu arrived in peacmeal they were not all there when the battle started.
Posts : 10089 Join date : 2009-04-07 Age : 64 Location : Melbourne, Australia
Subject: Another ' What If ' Tue Dec 11, 2018 12:41 am
Hi Paul and Welcome 1/ I doubt if L.C remained had remained in camp the result would've been different . Yes no Gatling Guns at Isandlwana , I believe LC didn't want to be burdened with them , much the same thoughts as Custer ! . The Battle Of Nyezane on the same day , but earlier in the morning , saw the Naval Brigade use their Gatlings . One has to remember that the numbers of Imperial troops in No3 Column were lowest amount of all the Columns during the war , with the exception of No2 ( Durnford ) and No 5 ( Rowlands ) . After Chelmsford left the camp , there were about 700 Imperial troops left at Isandlwana , of which over 100 of these were Royal Artillery , Staff , Mtd Inf , AHC , R.E ...etc etc , that brings the Imperial infantry figure to under 600 , which isn't many to hold back 20,000 . 2/ The Zulu's only concern was destroying the camp , they saw and knew there were Imperial troops out and about at Mangeni , to answer your question , there's no doubt they could've taken out Chelmsford and his men , they ( Chelmsford and his men ) were strung out like Brown's Cows attempting to locate the Zulu Army . This always puzzled me as to why the Zulu Army never attacked the Columns on the march , with the exception being Nyezane ... and because the Zulu failed to co-ordinate that attack it failed , as it did at Kambula , when Wood sent Buller and his men out in an attempt to goad the right wing into attacking far earlier than it should've , Wood had many more imperial troops in his command , they had Lagaars and a Fort , from which to defend , and they did , although .. Wood later said '' it was a close run thing '' , which is why I believe Isandlwana would've fallen no matter what , as there were no defensive structures put in place there . 3/ The Square was seen as a tactic to combat European Cavalry , not an enemy on foot , which was the thinking of Chelmsford at that time , Chelmsford had prepared a booklet for Column commanders with his instructions on how to prepare for an attack in Zululand , this was done by Col Pearson at Nyezane on the morning of the 22nd , ( no Square ) . I don't know if you've been to Isandlwana , but the dead ground is a major problem , it drops away sharply and you don't realise how sharply ...until you are standing there amongst it , that was the main reason the Firing line was so farin front of the camp , it was to combat the dead ground , the zulu , if left unhindered , could move in very close to the camp , and launch a massed rush which would've overwhelmed a Square in quick order . 5/ Many of the zulus who crossed into Natal were more focused on looting and raiding properties than attacking RD . Rorke's Drift ...again not knowing if you've been there ? , part of it is situated on a rocky ledge about 6 foot high , plus the mealie bags atop that.. made it extremly difficult for the zulu's to get into the defences . The 100 men was more like 150 . Had all the zulus who crossed the river gone straight to RD , no doubt there would've been a second disaster , many Zulu's appeared on the hill Kwa siquindi opposite RD about 8am on the 23rd , these had a look and withdrew , quite possibly knowing the remnants of No 3 Column were coming back to RD , they thought it was time to leave , let's not forget they probably hadn't eaten or rested very much since they left Ulundi on the 18 or 19th , not sure of the day without looking it up . They had come a long way in hot weather , the 22nd was a very hot day in the 30's by all reports . Hope this helps . 90th
Posts : 7507 Join date : 2009-09-21 Age : 73 Location : Cape Town South Africa
Subject: Re: Another 'what if'! Tue Dec 11, 2018 5:59 am
Paul One thing that's often overlooked is the actual size of the defended area at RD. Its pretty much a tennis court. 4000 Zulus when attacking would be compressed as they got to the barricades forcing them into quite deep crowds. The number who actually go to the barricades at one time therefore would be relatively small so on the defence area of a single soldier its quite feasible that he was facing possibly three Zulu maximum. Those three would have been hemmed in by their companies and crushed from the back and sides potentially reducing their ability to wield a spear. To off set that I would assume that numbers would then have been held back to reduce the mayhem. This of course still had to be defended by the soldiers, at one point even down to using fists. Welcome to the forum.
Posts : 10089 Join date : 2009-04-07 Age : 64 Location : Melbourne, Australia
Subject: Another ' What If ' Tue Dec 11, 2018 9:00 am
Agreed Frank , there was only a limited number that could attack at any one time. 90th
Posts : 921 Join date : 2011-10-21 Location : Algoa Bay
Subject: Re: Another 'what if'! Tue Dec 11, 2018 11:41 am
….….and added to which there were defenders operating in the sniper role. They were responsible for much attrition in the rear eschelons of the enemy, by all accounts,..... that out to about 400 metres from the barricades. Much damage was done by these skilled riflemen positioned in elevated places ie the top of the mealie bag tower and those on the cookhouse roof. Amongst these was NMP Tpr H. Lugg.
Posts : 2 Join date : 2018-12-02
Subject: Re: Another 'what if'! Tue Dec 11, 2018 3:20 pm
Thanks for all you answers chaps, I can now equate all your points and revise my own opinions!
Posts : 2881 Join date : 2010-06-02
Subject: Re: Another 'what if'! Tue Dec 11, 2018 4:33 pm
There is another way of thinking about what might have transpired at Isandhlwana which I think is more realistic. The starting point should be, what do we know of British and Zulu intentions had the fateful decision in the early hours of 22nd to take half the force out of the camp not happened? It is perhaps something along these lines.
For the British, Isandhlwana was a temporary camp - there was no intention for the bulk of the column to remain there for very long at all (part of the reasoning for not erecting defences). Chelmsford intended to perform sweeps towards the western and southern hills to clear local opposition and take the column forward to the Mangeni. Sending Dartnell out was a preliminary part of that action and we know the intention was to bring Durnford up to do something similar. We know also that Chelmsford had repeatedly declined advice from Glyn and his staff to scout and patrol the northern range (Symon's complains endlessly about this), so it is reasonable to conclude that Chelmsford would have continued to ignore the north and the Zulu attack would not have been triggered.
For the Zulu army the plan seems to have been to attack on the 23rd and it can be argued that they would not have been discovered at all on the 22nd because Chelmsford was blind-sided. By the 23rd I believe Chelmsford would be starting the move towards Mangeni with the bulk of the column behind quite extensive sweeps of Durnford's and Dartnell's mounted men to the west and south.
The question then is would the Zulu army have attacked what would have been just a transit camp (rather like they did at RD) or would they have gone for Chelmsford's very vulnerable slow moving column?
I think it is too simplistic to imagine that things would just have been static at the Isandhlwana camp for three days.