Thursday, 18 July 2013

Forgotten Battles of the Zulu War

Those interested in gaming the battles of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 could do worse than pick up a copy of Forgotten Battles of the Zulu War by Adrian Greaves. He has written a number of books on the conflict, including volumes devoted specifically to Rorke's Drift and Isandlwana. Forgotten Battles covers the other battles of the campaign.

Greaves argues in his foreword that Rorke's Drift and Isandlwana tend to overshadow the other engagements, partly due to their cinematic exposure. The war falls into three phases: the first invasion, which was abandoned once the centre column under Lord Chelmsford was decimated at Isandlwana; the period during which the British prepared for a second campaign, and when they still managed a couple of other disasters (e.g. the action at Ntombi Drift), and then the final invasion which culminated in the epic battle at Ulundi.

Greaves in his introduction says that part of his objective with this book is raise awareness of those battles which, unlike Rorke's Drift or Isandlwana, have not been the topic of films:

 "It is not only within the UK that the memories of these past battles are becoming lost in time; the situation has long been replicated in South Africa, where these battles were actually fought. Indeed, many registered guides in South Africa, who make their living guiding parties to the Zulu War battlefields, focus their attention specifically onto Rorke's Drift and Isandlwana."

Forgotten Battles is a great 'dipping in' book, ideal for the odd quiet moment that might present itself. The chapters on each battle are short enough to read in one sitting. It does NOT, however,cover Rorke's Drift or Isandlwana, skipping from Sihayo's Kraal and First Hlobane to Inyezane. In this, it is not a complete account, but it does not set out to be.

The book also has some excellent maps of each battle at the beginning, superimposed onto maps of the contemporary area, so that a visitor can use current landmarks to help to orientate themselves. It also draws heavily on primary source material, for example including many of the written orders from British commanders to help clarify why confusion sometimes occurred - fatally at Hlobane Mountain and Isandlwana. Each chapter also includes a short description of how to get to the site, but it seems many of these battlefields are unmarked and hard to access, or require an experienced guide who knows their way around.

In terms of the primary source material, there is a quite brilliant letter from Major William Knox-Leet written after Hlobane Mountain to a high ranking officer friend in England in an effort to have himself awarded the VC. It is really quite breathtaking in its wheedling and grovelling tone. The reproduction of these documents really help to bring the whole war to life and it is really a pity that there is not more from the Zulu side.

It should also be mentioned that there is quite a lot of other material here, including a list of all the units that took part, and the full text of Lord Chelmsford's battle memo to his commanders on how they should tackle the Zulus.

If you're interested in writing your own Zulu War scenarios, this book is an excellent starting point!

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