Saturday, 27 October 2012

BATTLE OF ISANDLWANA part four-The Collapse of the British Position.

The Collapse of the British Position.

Part four of the battle and continuing on from last week with Durnford's withdrawal and the right flank of the camp left wide open.....
Several things happened very quickly at about the same time. Captain Krohn's NNC (Pulleine's reserve) in front of the camp were becoming very jumpy due to the amount of men coming in from the outlying companies searching for ammunition and, the amount of bullets dropping amongst them. A Carbineer rode by , looking for ammunition and called out that Colonel Durnford had been shot - which seemed unlikely at this stage. Also the Zulus had now swept round to the right of the camp. When Krohn's NNC saw this, nothing could stop them, they all jumped up and ran.

What remained of Barry's NNC who had been up on the left of the camp in between Younghusband and Mostyn's companies turned and fled.

Durnford had gone to Pulleine's tent and about this time someone seems to have given an order for the 24th to fall back and take up a close defensive position nearer to the tents.

At the same time a simultaneous forward movement was now made by all the Zulus.

The entire Zulu army seemed to rise up and rush forward, shouting out the war-cry "Usuthu!" It was a terrible moment for Major Smith and his gunners, the infantry were ordered to retire, whilst they fired case on the advancing enemy. Before they could get away the enemy were on them and the gunners did not mount, but run after the guns.    

On the right of the line Captain Lonsdale's NNC were ordered to retire on the camp as they were also threatened on their rear by the advance left of the Zulus.

On the right, the Carbineers and Bradstreet's men had dismounted by the road about a hundred yards in front of their tents.
After firing about a dozen shots, they heard a rush from behind and then saw the soldiers who were left in the camp literally surrounded by Zulus, who had evidently come in from the rear - Zulu right horn.

Confusion started to set in, the whole of the force, white and black, foot and horse mixed together were being assegaid, with men running everywhere.
Essex noticed that as the 24th fell back, the men became unsteady. A few fixed bayonets and the officers called out to their men to keep together and be steady. This they did, which under the circumstances, is an extraordinary tribute to their courage and discipline.
When Smith's guns reached the camp he found that the Zulus were already amongst the tents and as his limbers rattled through it towards the nek most of the gunners were killed. 

The three companies on the left tried to retire through the camp, pursued by the Zulus.

The fighting raged hand-to-hand and these companies began to suffer heavy casualties.

Wardell and Porteous seem to have managed to fall back from the rocky ridge in good order.

Two heaps of dead soldiers, amongst them the bodies of Wardell and Lieutenant Dyer, were later found in the area of the 1/24th camp, where they had tried to make a stand.

Pope's company also fell back and made a stand a little further down the slope above the road. The companies were presumably trying to draw together, but the Zulu pressure was too intense.

NEXT WEEK..........The Butcher's Bill.

There is quite a bit I have left out and am leaving out, for example the actual eclipse that happened during the battle, Colour-Sergeant Wolfe's last stand, Shepstone's defence on the rocky knoll, the fugitives flight, plus more.  I have to draw the line somewhere as this is quite time consuming, sitting in front of the computer and the hobby for me is painting the figures, although this has been very rewarding. So my apologies for this not being a complete account of the battle, next week will be the final part of the battle of Isandlwana, followed by three or four weeks of blog, covering the defence of Rorke's Drift.
I will be doing more of these in the future, time permitting, but for different periods, and if you keep an eye on the Mad Guru is planning on doing the same sort of thing on his excellent blog for the North West Frontier.  

Saturday, 20 October 2012

BATTLE OF ISANDLWANA. part three - Russell's Rocket Battery

Following on from last week - part three - Battle of Isandlwana - Russell's Rocket Battery.....

Durnford had ridden out of camp at the head of his cavalry and had ordered Captain Russell's rocket battery to follow behind with an escort of NNC. The rockets were loaded on pack-mules but the ground was difficult, seemed with dongas and strewn with boulders and Durnford's men had inevitably drawn ahead, leaving Russell and his escort alone on the plain. When they were about a mile and a half from the camp and about two miles behind Durnford's men, having just passed the Conical Koppie, they came across some vedettes who advised Russell to withdraw as there was a large number of Zulus moving in this direction. Russell however decided to press on, in the best military tradition.

Russell caught sight of warriors appearing on the crest above him and turned and shouted "Action Front!"

The battery only had time to fire one rocket, which passed over the heads of the warriors, before Russell's command was over-whelmed.

This was happening probably about the same time that Cavaye's Company first came into action.

Durnford meanwhile, had ridden out about four miles from the camp when he received a message from some Carbineers, that they were being surrounded. Durnford ordered his men to extend and when the Zulus got to within 400yds they fired and retired alternately, slowing the Zulu advance.

Far away on the left, Essex now thought things looked rather serious, with the enormous masses facing them. "The enemy's fire had hitherto been wild and ineffective, now, however, a few casualties began to occur in our lines". The band of the 1/24th doubled as stretcher bearers.
They were out with the companies some ten minutes when they were ordered by Surgeon Major Shepherd to go to the hospital tents, as Shepherd believed there would be too many wounded to attend to.

Pope's men had been sent out initially over a mile from the camp. This position was obviously too extended in the face of the mass attack which was now developing, and Pope's men fell back closer to Wardell, who had secured himself on a rocky rise.

In any case the line was still spread perilously thin. Beyond Lonsdale's NNC, to the British right, the flank was wide open, there was nothing except the shattered remnants of the rocket battery, and Durnford's men retreating steadily across the plain.
Pulleine had no reserve available to him, beyond Captain Krohn's NNC company still drawn up in front of the tents and a crowd of camp casuals - servants, cooks, grooms and men with no other duties - who had taken up a position in front of the camp and were blazing away at the Zulus in the distance.

The artillery threw about 25 shots from different parts of the field during the battle. For the most part the guns fired on the Zulus facing to the North, but at one point Major Smith took one gun off a little distance to the right to fire at the Zulus attack developing there.

Shortly after Mostyn and Cavaye's companies had retreated to the bottom of the hill, Essex observed that they were now getting short of ammunition, so he went to the camp to bring up a fresh supply loaded on a mule cart. 

Quartermaster Bloomfield issuing out ammunition.

While the line was holding the Zulus to the North at bay, however, the increasing numbers of warriors swinging South across the plain were posing a serious threat to the British right. To the right of the guns there were only Wardell and Pope to meet this attack, along with Lonsdale's NNC company.
Due to the right flank being very open, Captain Gardner rounded up "30 or 40" Mounted men and asked Pulleine for permission to take them out to the right. These were the Volunteers and Mounted Infantry under Captain Bradstreet who went out and lined the spruit running across the front of the camp.   

Bradstreet had not been in position long when Durnford's men, still retiring across the plain, fell in beside them.  

Durnford moving up and down the line continually, encouraging his men.

At about this time Pope's company left its original position and, passing behind Lonsdale's NNC took up a new position between the rocky ridge and Durnford's men in the donga.

Unfortunately before they had time to complete this manoeuvre, Durnford's men fell back again and Pope's company was now very exposed to attacks from his right.

Durnford's men held the donga for perhaps 20 minutes or half an hour but the Zulu left horn sweeping around to Durnford's right, had forced them to fall back.

Durnford's retreat must have horrified Colonel Pulleine, since it left the British right wide open. Both Essex and Gardner rode over to find out what had gone wrong. Durnford's position had become to exposed to hold any longer.

NEXT WEEK..............The collapse of the British position.