It was 10:30 am on that bright, sunny Wednesday morning when 1,200 British soldiers were stunned by the sight of 12,000 Zulu warriors advancing over a hill toward the unfortified British camp. By 4:00 pm that afternoon, it was all over. Only a handful of Redcoats escaped with their lives to tell the world of Britain’s biggest military disaster. That evening the haunting vista of well over a thousand British soldiers’ corpses confirmed that the Battle of Isandlwana on January 22nd, 1879, was a catastrophe for England. Nobody knows exactly how Zulus armed with nothing more than short assegais and clubs annihilated a well-armed and highly disciplined regiment.
Some say that the state of the art Martini-Henry single shot rifles used by the Redcoats began to overheat and jam. Others claim that the breech-loading guns puffed a big cloud of white smoke out of the front of the barrel after each shot, obscuring the enemy Zulus and preventing accurate aim. The solar eclipse that darkened the field at 2:29 that afternoon certainly diminished shooting accuracy and favored the Zulus. The chief factor that enabled the British to hold out as long as they did was their superb discipline. They held to their “thin red lines” until the foe was upon them, killing them ferociously in hand-to-hand combat.
My own view is that the Zulus won because they possessed ferocious courage and pressed forward relentlessly even in the face of their own three thousand casualties. That, along with their famous and flawlessly executed ‘horns of the bull’ flanking strategy brought them victory. But as you’ll soon see, there was another ingredient in their victory.