Battle of Isandlwana
The 22nd of January 1879 AD
The Battle of Rorke’s Drift following the defeat at Isandlwana is one of the military events we British like to remember, partly because it was a heroic and successful defence, partly because the territory defended was within British Empire boundaries. Not so Isandlwana, which was in Zulu territory during an unprovoked invasion for the purposes of annexing Zululand within a proposed South African Federation.
The defeat at Isandlwana had many causes, not least the bravery and discipline of the Zulu warriors. They concealed a massive force from the British invaders, who unwisely split their army into several smaller units. When the Zulu force was discovered by scouts for an encamped British column they reacted with incredible speed, attacking and organising during a charge. The inexperienced British commander, Lt Colonel Pulleine, seems to have spread his men over too great an area, creating a perimeter that was impossible to defend effectively, and failed to make his camp more easily defended. Other suggestions have been given over the years, including poor distribution of ammunition for the modern Martini-Henry rifles by the British – boxes needing to be unscrewed, men issued with too few rounds early on, and those in one unit unwilling to supply those not attached to it.
Isandlwana ended in a massacre, the British losing more than 1300 men, their opponents though armed with spears and muskets about 1000. National pride meant another more organised force followed to complete the job, and the Zulu Empire was fractured then annexed.
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