British and Zulu Military Tactics in the Zulu War

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The Zulu war is a prime example of asymmetrical warfare where the military power between both sides differs significantly. While the British and Zulu shared similarities throughout the war, the technology used on both sides differed largely. King Shaka showed a keen interest in firearms but “Zulu tactics aimed at direct physical contact with the enemy, where the soldiers could use their basic weapons—the short stabbing spear in conjunction with the hide shield.”[1] King Shaka also believed that conventional Zulu tactics would succeed in defeating soldiers using guns.

While some Zulu warriors were given the opportunity to snipe using the muskets and rifles from previous trading, the British severely outgunned them in the battle and the Zulu were greeted by tremendous firepower on their land.

While the British outgunned the Zulu warriors, their tactics of attack were similar. General Chelmsford was placed in charge of the British forces in which he organized into five columns that he would send into battle.

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Both sides essentially tricked each other into traps. When one of Chelmsford’s columns crossed a river, the Zulu’s attacked the soldiers leaving officers and other ranks dead. In comparison, the British combatted this attack with mounted men in hopes to entice the Zulu’s into making a premature attack, and the plan worked. The Zulu’s advanced with thousands of men and were then bombarded with firepower back at the British fort. The Zulu practiced the tactic of surrounding their enemy, and in this case, their tactic failed and “even when they won, the Zulu suffered very heavy losses”[2] due to their conventional tactics.

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What the Zulu’s did successfully practice is stealthy approaches and camouflage. In the 1979 Zulu Dawn movie, the Zulu were shown as cautious warriors watching over the horizon down upon the British camp, collecting information on their enemy. And while not perfect, they were able to exploit weaknesses in the camp when in striking distance.

Communication during a battle is essential, and both sides varied in how they did so. The British had communication failures during parts of the war where Chelmsford did not respond quick enough when the Zulu were near the camp, and by the time he did respond, the fort was surrounded. Ultimately, this failure of communication led to the camp being taken. The Zulu on the other hand, had officers use hand signals and messengers and the system was simple and well understood among the Zulu soldiers. The Zulu’s also had their regiments painted on their shields which helped with their organization and communication. Similarly, the British uniforms were color coded to create a system of unity and organization.

Lastly, the leadership from both the Zulu and the British played a significant role in the success and failure of each side. Chelmsford failed to realize that his failure was his own and looked to blame it on someone else.  He felt that another officer was to blame for the camp’s poor defense. The Zulu did not have the manpower, technological resources, or the logistical capacity to match the British, but the Zulu king instilled a strict hierarchy among regiments. These chiefs helped command all the Zulu forces, in turn, encouraging the warriors to remain in place while under pressure. Undoubtedly, the Zulu were not an equal match for the British, but they put up a strong fight against the advanced British troops.

The idea of strategic bombing is a military strategy used in total war with the goal of defeating the enemy by destroying their ability to produce and transport material to their military operations. During World War I, Germany flew many strategic bombing raids against England killing civilians. Not only did “the Germans raid the British, but also attacked French and American hospital posts behind the lines.”[3] For the duration between World War I and World War II, most nations’ air forces had made the technological advances to carry out strategic bombing. All nations had a policy of only attacking military targets, but once the German Luftwaffe began conducting air raids on British cities, strategic bombing became a fundamental part of military combat.

The practice of strategic bombing grew during World War II with the use of gravity bombs to destroy and demoralize the enemy. During the first year of the war in Europe, strategic bombing was developed through trial and error. The Luftwaffe had been attacking both civilian and military targets. The raids started as daytime bombings and progressed into night time attacks when the losses became too severe. While the Germans adopted the night time bombing policy, the American forces attacked during the day for precision bombing for greater accuracy. The destruction of German infrastructure became apparent after the endless bombings, but the Allied campaign against Germany used it as a morale booster to finish the fight. In World War II, the most significant episode of strategic bombing was the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to devastate civilian populations. The United States had already used conventional bombing raids to devastate civilians in both Germany and Japan. However, the use of atomic weapons had a permanent impact on the war and international relations after World War II.

After World War II, strategic bombing continued to play an important role in U.S. military strategy. During the Vietnam War, the bombing campaign implemented by President Johnson was designed to relentlessly bomb North Vietnam. The aim of the bombing campaign was to demoralize the North Vietnamese by damaging their economy and to reduce their support for the war in hopes to negotiate for peace. His campaign was ultimately ineffective because the casualties from the bombings were broadcast in the United States, reducing support for the war effort.

Overall, strategic bombing was believed by many military leaders to hold major victories by attacking the infrastructure and civilians of the enemy. It was used to disrupt the enemy’s society and terrorize their usual activities. It began as an idea and became one of the main ways of fighting throughout the World Wars. It altered warfare by attacking civilians using large bombs to unsettle the areas surrounding enemy military infrastructure. Throughout the war campaigns, the bombs and aircrafts became more advanced and complex, allowing the allied powers to leave significant damage on enemy land. Without the advancement of strategic bombing, the outcomes of the wars would be significantly different.

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British and Zulu Military Tactics in the Zulu War. (2021, Oct 11). Retrieved from

British and Zulu Military Tactics in the Zulu War
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