Isandlwana (Fields Of Battle)

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9780304357000: Isandlwana (Fields Of Battle)
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The Zulu handed the British one of the biggest disasters in their colonial history. Ignoring orders to the contrary, Viscount Chelmsford led his troops into Zululand in 1879, establishing a camp at Islandlwana. But, while Chelmsford and about half his men were away trying to intercept a Zulu force, the camp was hit by a surprise attack. When the Viscount returned the next day, the area was strewn with bodies: of the 1600 troops, all but 55 Europeans and 300 natives had been killed.Armed with new information from recent excavation of the battle site, and important never-before-published documents, Adrian Greaves challenges all previous interpretations of the attack that proved once and for all that the British army was not invincible.

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About the Author:

Adrian Greaves is the editor of The Journal of the Anglo Zulu War Historical Society.

Review:

This book serves as a volume in Cassell's Fields of Battle series - and as such, carries a Forward by the Series Editor - the eminent British military historian, Richard Holmes. Holmes speaks of the shockingly sudden and convincing nature of the defeat of the British Army, at a part of Western Zululand known as 'Isandlwana', on January the 21st, 1879. He also points out that the British Army suffered two simlar defeats in the 1800's at the hands of indigenous forces - the 1844 retreat from Kabul, and in 1880 the debacle at Maiwand, curiously both disasters involved the destruction of British-Indian forces at the hands of Afghanis. These defeats may be compared and constrasted with the defeat of the Italian Army at Adowa (Ethiopia) in 1896, where an army of around 17,000 Italians was destroyed by Ethiopian tribesmen. The author of this book - Adrian Greaves - has served in the British Army as an infantry officer, and held a senior rank in the UK Police Service. His experience and analytical skills have been put to good use in this publication. The hardback (2001) edition contains 216 numbered pages and as well as containing a Foreword, Introduction and 6 very important appendices, it is separated into 7 comprehensive chapters: 1) Conditions At Home. 2) The Adversaries. 3) Preparations For The War. 4) The Battle Of Isandlwana. 5) The Flight From Isandlwana. 6) After Isandlwana. 7) The Re-Invasion And Destruction Of Zululand. The book is lavishly illustrated throughout, and contains a number of campaign maps, showing the position of the British camp to the east of Isandlwana, and how the Zulu attack unfolded from the north and north-east of that position. Numbers vary, but the numbers of British troops stationed at Isandlwana is thought to be around 1,700 - 800 imperial infantry troops, Mounted Infantry and around 800 Natal Native Contingent. It is estimated that the Zulu army on the day numbered some 25,000 warriors. The British forces used Henry-Martini Breech-loading rifles, cannons and rocket natteries, the Zulus, although in possession of some rifles, nevertheless were not trained in their use, and relied instead upon their traditional weapons - namely the short stabbing spear (iklwa), the battle-hammer (iWisa) and the cowhide shield (umBumbuluzo). Using their famous 'Horns of the Buffalo' (Impondo Zanknomo). The battle commenced around 12 noon, and was all but over just 2 hours later. In that time, around 1,300 British troops were killed, with only 55 Europeans escaping the carnage and riding out of Zululand to the safety of the British colony of Natal. No one survived who was on foot, and every British soldier serving in the Imperial companies was killed to a man. Of the 55 Europeans who survived, 5 were Imperial officers. It has been suggested, at least in official circles, that the officers who survived, left Isandlwana whilst British soldiers were still fighting for their lives, often in desparate last stands, exhibiting the highest level of bravery. Zulu accounts of the battle often talk about the bravery of the soldiers in red. Assessments of Zulu casualties vary and are uncertain. It is estimated that between 1000 and 3000 Zulu warriors died at Isandlwana, with perhaps the same number (or more) being wounded. Interestingly, the Natal Native Contingent (NNC) is often ignored in the assessment of British battle casualties at Isandlwana. Essentially, these units comprised of African 'Volunteers', who for one reason or another had decided to join the British invasion of Zululand in 1879. Many of these units were hastily formed, badly trained and poorly led. Only 1 in 10 were allowed to carry a rifle, whilst the others had to rely on traditional weapons. All the officers were white, as were many of the non-commissioned officers. --ShiDaDao Ph.D TOP 1000 REVIEWER

Isandlwana must conjure a grisly compulsion over readers judging by the number of books written: perhaps the best parallei is The Little Bighorn. Adrian Greaves book debunks the myths that all the other recent works have debunked,lack of amnunition etc, but is concise and well argued. His treatment of the actual battle up to the destruction of the British camp is very brief but in a way this is a strength as it coveys the confusion and shock of the event: which anyone who has been in a life threatening situation will recognise. Greaves is particularly good and clear on the Zulu tactics and organisation and equally so on the failure of the British to treat their enemies as deadly opponents. In terms of who was to blame he demonstrates how the enquiry tried to demonise Durnford and makes a very good case. Whereas the failures of Chelmsford's disposition of his forces is obvious it is still difficult to understand who was to blame and how the defenders came to make a weak position worse by continuing to spread their firepower. I think it is this realisation on the part of readers that makes reading about Isandlwana so edgy. Greaves is also very good on some of the detail particularly on the smoky discharge of the British carbines that formed a black fog of confusion over the terrible massacre. Well worth reading and very readable --Nicolas Milne

For anyone interested in knowing more about this battle than just watching "Zulu Dawn", this is a good place to start. Unlike many battle guides, it places the battle in context, not only within the whole Anglo-Zulu War campaign, but also within it's time and within African history. There is a wealth of background material on how African history and politics led to the war, how the British and Zulu Armies were organised, their strategies and tactics, weaponry, supplies, etc. This is mostly given in a level of detail which is good enough to be satisfying but not so deep to be distracting, with the exception of the chapter on Zulu history which seemed unnecessarily extensive. Dr Greaves gives a very considered assessment of the actual events, testing the veracity of the evidence and explaining how he reaches his conclusions. This is a very professional approach and makes a welcome change from some authors who heavily favour evidence supporting their own pet theories on certain events and discounting anything that detracts. I was pleased to see that he included some "myth busting" such as the alleged shortage of ammunition and the unwillingness of Quartermasters to issue it. I would have given the book 5 stars had it not been for the positively awful maps used. In order to understand the battle, the Zulu tactics and the campaign, you need a full understanding of the terrain and topography of the country it was fought in. The two battle maps have a pale brwon grainy background which looks like the surface of a cappucino after you've stirred the chocolate in, and impart about the same amount of information. The detail of the undulations is so vague it is impossible to comprehend the topography. On pages 110-111 the background is better but it covers such a huge area that the print becomes miniscule and difficult to read. Overall, an excellent all round grounding in the opening actions in the Anglo-Zulu War. --Larry Petersen

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