"The Zulu typically took the offensive, deploying in the well-known "buffalo horns" formation (Zulu: impondo zenkomo). It comprised three elements:
the "horns", or flanking right and left wing elements, to encircle and pin the enemy. Generally the "horns" were made up of younger, greener troops.
the "chest" or central main force which delivered the coup de grace. The prime fighters made up the composition of the main force.
the "loins" or reserves used to exploit success or reinforce elsewhere. Often these were older veterans. Sometimes these were positioned with their backs to the battle so as not to get unduly excited.
Encirclement tactics are not unique in warfare (see Battle of Cannae), and historians note that attempts to surround an enemy were not unknown even in the ritualised battles. The use of separate manoeuvre elements to support a stronger central group is also well known in pre-mechanised tribal warfare, as is the use of reserve echelons farther back. What was unique about the Zulu was the degree of organisation, consistency with which they used these tactics, and the speed at which they executed them. Developments and refinements may have taken place after Shaka's death, as witnessed by the use of larger groupings of regiments by the Zulu against the British in 1879. Missions, available manpower and enemies varied, but whether facing native spear, or European bullet, the impis generally fought in and adhered to the classical buffalo horns pattern.
Organisation and leadership of the Zulu forces
Regiments and corps. The Zulu forces were generally grouped into three levels: regiments, corps of several regiments, and "armies" or bigger formations, although the Zulu did not use these terms in the modern sense. Although size distinctions were taken account of, any grouping of men on a mission could collectively be called an impi, whether a raiding party of 100 or horde of 10,000. Numbers were not uniform but dependent on a variety of factors, including assignments by the king, or the manpower mustered by various clan chiefs or localities. A regiment might be 400 or 4000 men. These were grouped into corps that took their name from the military kraals where they were mustered, or sometimes the dominant regiment of that locality. There were 4 basic ranks: herdboy assistants, warriors, inDunas and higher ranked supremos for a particular mission.
Higher command and unit leadership. Leadership was not a complicated affair. An inDuna guided each regiment, and he in turn answered to senior izinduna who controlled the corps grouping. Overall guidance of the host was furnished by elder izinduna usually with many years of experience. One or more of these elder chiefs might accompany a big force on an important mission, but there was no single "field marshal" in supreme command of all Zulu forces. Regimental izinduna, like the non-coms of today's army, and yesterday's Roman Centurions, were extremely important to morale and discipline. This was shown during the battle of Isandhlwana. Blanketed by a hail of British bullets, rockets and artillery, the advance of the Zulu faltered. Echoing from the mountain, however, were the shouted cadences and fiery exhortations of their regimental izinduna, who reminded the warriors that their king did not send them to run away. Thus encouraged, the encircling regiments remained in place, maintaining continual pressure, until weakened British dispositions enabled the host to make a final surge forward. (See Morris ref belo
"The Washing of the Spears").