I haven't posted in a while, been busy with current stuff
But I have read a lot more on the AZW and particularly Mike Snook and Ian Knights books on Isandlwhana - both several times.
Now I, as many others here, have had military training and experience - 7 years in my case, others like Mike Snook many more - and have never believed for
one second that the Zulu, once they had seen and counted the detached column under Chelmsford move away towards Mangeni - did not change their plans
and , as a result, were moving into position to attack the camp on the 22nd.
This is speculation, but based on Military 'ground-truth's', of the likely sequence of events and the Zulu commanders decisions and actions based on them.
I have reposted the various reports below my remarks as they give a good timeline.
The detached column moved out of camp at 4am, the zulu observers would have been able to note there was a lot of activity in the camp and could have seen
a body of men move out, however in the dark they would not have been able to make out the detail.
How far could the detached body have moved by first light, when the Zulu scours would have been able to determine that it consisted of almost half
the British forces? I suspect the tail end would only just have moved beyond the line of vision of the camp when this occurred.
This information was rushed back to the Zulu commander who made a very quick decision to take advantage of the gift being offered him. He had intended to
attack on the 23rd anyway, no matter how many men were in the camp, so this was an opportunity he grabbed at immediately.
However the Zulu army was still deep in the valley as the original intention had been to move to it's deployment area behind the Itusi during the following night.
It takes time to get the regiments moving from the valley to the deployment area, meantime they don't want the British to see what they are doing so they
Drive in the Vedette that has vision over the deployment area.
Once the 'Head' and the 'Horns' were deployed to this 'dead ground' they now have to deploy for attack. The difficulty being that the right horn or wing
still has a lot of rough country to cover to get onto the left flank and rear of the camp.
The rest of the force was seated with their backs to the camp, which is noted by every author on the subject I have read as being standard practise to avoid
them getting excited and attacking without orders.
The movement of the right wing cannot be hidden and their progress is noted by Essex at 8am, their forward movement bringing them past the flank of the camp -
as reported by Chard - around 9:30. Until this force could be reported as being in position, the rest of the force could not move forward without being observed.
It appears the Zulu command were very knowledgable about tactics, the great commanders of history would have done the same thing.
Raws men accidentally discover the main force before the right wing had arrived at their position, which from subsequent events seem to have been to come down
off the ridge and get into a position to attack over the saddle into the right-rear of the British, Raws finding the Zulu main force may well have been the reason
so many did manage to escape, the right-wing or horn had not been able to get into position to stop the first lot 'retiring' down the road to RD.
With discovery the Zulu main force shook themselves out into attack formation and advanced - the Left horn moving off to get into position to attack the camps right flank
- and meeting Durnford's force which held them up for some time.
The above does appear to account for the time and space equation (as Mike would put it) very well.
However, there is another way to view this properly, rather than argue about what the Zulu command did or did not intend to do, I looked at it from what the
British Command SHOULD have been thinking and doing given the reports and observations they had.
Doing this using standard military assumptions/conclusions and taking decisions in a timely manner based on these I offer the following:
As a preliminary, Mike Snooks book HCMDB is an excellent exposition, from a sound military man and I have little to argue against him, except in regards to two issues
The first being that in his determination to place the tactical blame for the disaster on Durnford he goes beyond what I consider proper, even to making
very negative assumptions of what was going on in Durnford's mind (though they may have been correct, the way in which this was done is overly disparaging IMO).
The second is his silence regarding what assumptions the British command should have been making, based on the reports and observations prior to Durnford's arrival
and what decisions should have been being made based on those assumptions.
To correct that, I am taking the liberty of replacing Pulleine with Mike Snook, who would, I am sure have followed the proper military process.
Just before dawn the Piquets and Vedettes move out to take up their positions, perfectly sound from a military point of view.
The reason for posting these are based on military standards that commanders throughout history would take for granted.
They are there to provide view over ground that would otherwise be 'dead ground' to the main force.
The enemy have two options if they want to move into this 'dead ground', either move and allow the posts to see them and alert the main force, or move
against the posts to eliminate them or drive them away, which again alerts the main force that something major is happening in the ground they can no longer see
- in other words the posts are 'trip-wires' for the main force no matter what the enemy do about them.Driving them away has the effect of keeping the commanders from exact knowledge of what's going on but does alert them that something major definitely is.
So as Trooper Barker reports, around 05:37 mounted zulus moved against his post, leaving the men there with the option of being eliminated or retiring,
which they did, giving the Zulu commander the ability to move his main force out of the valley onto the plateau to form up for the attack.
This is reported back to Colonel Snook and his staff.
Now he has to make militarily sound assumptions:
The vedette being driven in has to mean the Zulu are using the dead ground to make major movements.
The only two valid assumptions to make is that either the zulu main force wants to move across the dead ground to intercept and engage Chelmford's column
OR that the Zulu want the ground to prepare to attack the camp itself.
With assumption 1 all Mike can do is send a message off to Chelmsford advising him of the situation and warning of a probable attack on either himself or
on the camp sometime in the next few hours. Mike would of course have a quite good idea of the amount of time it will take the enemy to deploy a major
force into that area.
Those are the only Militarily sound assumptions to make, anyone having military experience or being a student of military history would know that.
The significance of having your outposts being driven in would be immediately obvious to Gaius Marius, Julius Caesar, the Duke of Marlborough or Wellington and
Napoleon - and to Mike Snook.
The remaining question is what to do if assumption 2 is the correct one and that the zulu main force is staging to attack the camp itself.
Mike addresses the situation at this point very well in his book, the unfortified camp was capable of being defended if the whole column was
present - 10 companies of the 24th (all other bodies were discounted, on quite solid military grounds that their ability to stand in line was
unknown and probably quite shaky - as turned out to be the case).
However Mike knows that with only 6 companies the camp is indefensible, stretch the men out too thin and they will not have enough firepower at
any point to stop a major attack , and even then could not cover the whole area.
The only sound military decision to take at this point is to get the majority of men in the camp building a fortified position.
The orders to defend the camp have been superceded by the situation now facing Mike and Chelmsford's orders were not capable of being
The commander on the spot must take the best action possible.
As the camp could not be defended the responsible decision to make is to secure the force itself.
Mike would most likely decide to fortify an area away from the two hills so it's right would probably start around where 'H' made their last stand
and across from there in front of the camp but well forward of Insand hill - probably about halfway to the donga.
There were plenty of men, wagons and a plentiful supply of rocks, mealie bags, biscuit tins etc were available to do this, the argument of whether
wagons would be useful without canopies ignores what the men at RD did with their one wagon, which they left on it's wheels and fortified the underside
giving the men posted there excellent protection and able to blast away any Zulu trying to get at them or climb onto the wagon.
If this had been done starting around 6am it could have been completed within 2 hours, the ammunition wagons inside, companies told off to their defense
positions, extra ammo boxes placed close to each company and all other measures that would advantage the defenders made.
If the Zulus had not yet attacked (they may have decided not to wait for the right wing to get in position and attacked anyway once they realised the
British were forting up), then parties of men could have been sent to the camp to drop the tents and bring in what equipment and supplies they could
prior to the attack starting (in fact several parties could have been tasked to this even while the fortified position was being constructed, there were plenty of available men).
This would quite possibly save a large amount of supplies and equipment though Mike realising that the bullock teams would have
to be left outside the camp would have made the obvious assumption that, even if the attack was beaten off, the British would have lost their transport
and therefore most of the supplies would have to be abandoned and the column retreat on RD.In other words Mike would have quickly appreciated that no matter what, the British strategic plan was already defeated
(courtesy of Chelmsford disobeying
that most cardinal military rule - not to split your forces while the enemy location, strength and intentions are unknowns).
If, however, Mike had elected to get his forces into readiness - as Pulleine did - but wait on further intelligence, by 8am he would have very definite
confirmation that the enemy were moving in to attack the camp as the right wing was observed beginning it's long move into the flank/rear of the camp
Now he has a lot less time available but still enough to hastily fortify, the chance of saving the camp and it's contents has now probably gone, but saving
the force is now the priority.
If again, like Pulleine, Mike took no action then the observation at around 9:30 that the force, first observed at 8am was now moving behind the ridge beyond the right flank
and vanishing behind Isand hill, could have left Mike with no further doubt that an attack was going to be made.
Again he has time to make a hasty fort and get the ammunition in, though it would mostly be composed of rocks tins and mealie bags, trying to get the majority of
the wagons inspanned and moved would be judged as taking too long at that point.
I believe that Mike Snook would have acted on the first report, but quite definitely on the second. That he would have known that the camp was not defendable by the
troops to hand is attested by himself in his own words in HCMDB. That he would have disregarded his now out-of-date orders to try to defend it is exactly what
I for one would expect of a good commander like Mike.
I think that Mike is a fierce defender of a fine Regiment and this lead him to ignore the wasted time and the militarily unsound inaction of Pulleine, but
if Mike had been in charge I am confident that when Durnford's force arrived they would have found a well-placed fortified position in an excellent state of
defense, the camp tents pulled down and the personal equipment of the force, both present and absent, moved into the fort along with the ammunition wagons
and what supplies Mike had determined would be immediately needed for the whole column prior to and on it's retreat (now inevitable) to RD.
Whatever Durnford did - or didn't - do from that point on, the force at Isandlwana would now have had an excellent chance of defeating that attack.
If they had still gone down at least nobody could say that Mike Snook had not given them the best chance he could.
Pulleine didn't do that, in fact he did very little and decisions he did eventually make - sending two companies onto the ridge and later throwing forwards
H & G to support Durnford - were both unsound, the latter decision left them wide open to attack by both Zulu wings when Durnford retreated from the donga.
I accept Durnford, in the situation as he found it, also did not act as sound military doctrine would have him act. But attempting to find out what was going
on in the dead ground to his front would have made sense - if it had been done hours earlier.
Given what the British at the camp had observed by then, it was really not necessary.
His failure to ensure his ammunition wagon was positioned correctly and that it's position was known was another mistake. His units were using
different weapons and ammunition than the 24th so their wagons could not help with resupply.
Having seen the pics recently posted, given the depth of the donga, Durnford may not have even been aware of the positions of H & G and therefore not been
aware that his retreat would leave the whole flank wide open and H & G companies so exposed.
As those who have seen posts from me before, I am no fan of Durnford, he was not acting as a force commander but more like the Captain of a company
He should have known the dispositions of the main force so he cannot be excused for not knowing where H & G were and what the effect of his sudden
withdrawal would be.
Conclusion: Chelmsford and his staff having made the strategic and tactical mistakes that left the British so open to defeat in detail, the main responsibility
for the disaster has to rest with Pulleine for not applying sound military assumptions and decisions, in the face of the reports and observations from the time the Vedette was driven in and onwards.
Had Mike Snook been in charge, nothing Durnford historically did would have had a disastrous impact on the 24th's defense capability.
Trooper Barker, Natal Carbineers.
“ ……[we] arrived on the hill [assessed to be Qwabe] about sunrise [0522 hrs] After being posted about a quarter of an hour we noticed a lot of mounted men
in the distance and on their coming nearer we saw that they were trying to surround us….. we discovered they were Zulus. We retired to Lieut. Scott about two miles nearer the camp [assessed to be Conical Hill] and informed him of what we had seen, and he decided to come back with us but before we had gone far we saw Zulus on the hill we had just left and others advancing from the left flank [an area including iThusi Valley] where two other videttes (sic), Whitelaw and another had been obliged to retire from. Whitelaw reported, a large army advancing ‘thousands’ I remember him distinctly saying ….this would be about eight a.m.”
…….. shortly afterwards numbers of Zulus being seen on all the hills to the left front.”
Captain Edward Essex.
75th (Stirlingshire) Regiment, serving as the Director of Transport for No 3 Column.
“…… until about eight A.M., when a report arrived from a picquet stationed at a point about 1,500 yards distant, on a hill, to the north of the camp, that
a body of enemy’s troops could be seen approaching from northeast.”
Lieutenant J.R.M.Chard, RE.
Time approximately 0930 hrs by estimation.
I also looked with my own, [field glass] and could see the enemy moving on the distant hills, and apparently in great force. Large numbers of them moving to my left, until the lion hill of Isandhlwana, on my left as I looked at them, hid them from my view. The idea struck me that they may be moving in the direction between the camp and Rorke’s Drift
Lieutenant W. Higginson, 1/3rd Natal Native Contingent (NNC.)
The first intimation we received about the Zulus was at 6 a.m when. Lt. Honourable Standish Vereker came into camp and said that the Zulus were appearing on the extreme left, and nearly opposite his outlying picket [Assessed as being somewhere north of Magaga Knoll and south of the Nqutu Range of hills.] …… Soon afterwards Colonel Pulleine sent me and Sergt Maj Williams came with me. We found Captain Barry [Comment: Commanding the picquet] and Lt Vereker watching a large body of Zulus on the extreme left of the camp, and they informed me that a large force of about 5,000 had gone round behind the Isandula Hill.
Lieutenant Hillier, Lonsdale’s Natal Native Contingent. (NNC)
At half past seven a.m. Lt. Veriker [sic] of the NNC who was on picquet duty with Captain Barry rode into camp and reported to Colonel Pulleine that the Zulus were advancing on the camp in large numbers. 6
This report corroborates that of Lt. Higginson, in that Zulu deployment was taking place in the open and in view of the camp’s outposts.
The words advancing on the camp are unambiguous and show aggressive intent to attack. Note the time: 0730 hrs 22nd January.
Lieutenant C. Pope’s Diary. 2/24 Regiment, portion of which read:
“ Alarm- 3 Columns Zulus and mounted men on hill E. Turn Out 7,000(!!!) more E.N.E., 4000 of whom went around Lion’s Kop.[Isandlwana Hill] Durnford’s Basutos, arrive and pursue.” 7
Pope, by direct personal observation, provided confirmatory evidence that a large Zulu force was sighted. Furthermore, the deployment was taking place prior to Durnford’s arrival. This is a valuable, and completely uncorrupted, collateral source report.
On the morning of 22nd January between 6 & 7 O’clock in the morning the Zulus showed in considerable force at the southern end of Ingutu Mountain."