Edmund Yorke is senior lecturer in Defense Studies at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and has written and researched extensively on the Zulu War. He was the historical consultant for the History Channel/Discovery Channel television documentary on Rorkeâ€™s Drift.
The first major encounter between the British Army and Zulu Kingdom, and one of Britainâ€™s greatest military disasters.
On January 22, 1879, a 20,000-strong Zulu army attacked 1,700 British and colonial forces. The engagement saw primitive weapons of spears and shields clashing with the latest military technology. However, despite being poorly equipped, the numerically superior Zulu force crushed the British troops, killing 1,300 men, while only losing 1,000 of their own warriors. It was a humiliating defeat for the British Army, which had been poorly trained and which had underestimated its enemy.
The defeat ensured that the British had a renewed respect for their opponents and changed their tactics; rather than fighting in a straight, linear formation, known as the Thin Red Line, they adopted an entrenched system or close order formations.
The defeat caused much consternation throughout the British Empire, which had assumed that the Zulu were no match for the British Army; thus, the army was greatly reinforced and went on to victory at Rorkeâ€™s Drift. Isandlwana puts you at the forefront of the action.