Information regarding the tour
1. This tour takes about five hours and stretches over 633 kms. It is recommended that a break for fuel be made at Vryheid or Dundee and that a picnic lunch should be taken along as the airfields on the route do not have restaurants or a means of reaching the town. Arrangements for fuel should be made before hand as the airfields and route do not have a ready supply and are in some cases deserted over week ends.
2. The tour covers only those battlefields which are easily visible from the air and which are of general interest to the amateur historian. It is also designed with safe flying conditions in mind.
3. The tour starts from Rand Airport (FAGM) Germiston and pilots taking off from other airfields should organise their itinerary accordingly. It must be clearly borne in mind that individual pilots are responsible for their own flight plans and for the safety of their own aircraft and passengers. Meteorological conditions over the Drakensberg should be carefully checked and flight plans for the various legs should also be filed beforehand. Courses and navigational details as given below are given in good faith but should be checked before take off.
4. Heidelberg Fort. From the air the outline of the walls and breastworks of the British forts on the hill above the shooting range to the north east of the modern town of Heidelberg are clearly visible, immediately to west of a large pylon. The forts were constructed by the British during the First Anglo-Boer War. Immediately south of these in the open terrain alongside the cemetery is the site of the South African War concentration camp. The remains of blockhouses from the same conflict can be seen west of Heidelberg Kloof on top of the mountain immediately south of the town.
5. Suikerbosch (Balfour) Fort. Although not as clearly visible as those of Heidelburg the ruins of the old British fort on the hill north west of Fortuna and the modern town of Balfour can also still be seen. The fort was constructed by Colonel Hart and there was a battle between his troops and the Heidelberg Commando on 24 June, 1900.
6. Greylingstad : Camp. Situated on a hill to the north of Greylingstad the outlines of the walls and in particular the circular bell tent positions of this camp are clearly visible immediatily northwest of the 'SR' syn. The camp was erected by the Scottish Rifles in the South African War, (Second Anglo-Boer War) and is clearly identified by the SR picked out in stones on the side of the hill above it.
7. Majuba. Majuba, or Amajuba, the Mountain of Doves is clearly visible ahead when on course from Greylingstad. It is flat-topped with a conspicuous knoll on the right hand side of the plateau. As one approaches it will be seen that the mountain has three distinct plateaux. The battle of Majuba took place on the upper plateau. The graves and monuments are on the top of this plateau and the prudent pilot would probably prefer flying past east of the mountain with Majuba on the right rather than flying over the mountain. In the former case he will be flying over the battlefield of Laings Nek.
8. First however Majuba, which is also sometimes referred to as Spitskop or Colley's Kop.
9. Great Britain annexed the independent Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek in 1877. At first the Boers were almost paralysed by this high-handed action, but they gradually built up opposition to British authority. Between 8 and 14 December 1880 about 6 000 burghers met at Paardekraal, reinstated the former Volksraad as the highest legislative authority and resolved to regain their independence by force of arms. So began the "First War of Independence".
10. The main threat to the Boers came from the British Colony of Natal. From there General Sir George Pomeroy Colley with 1 400 men advanced against the rebels. The Boer Cmdt-Gen. Piet Joubert immediately decided to counter this attack.
11. With a force of 800 men he advanced towards Natal and at the end of January 1881 took up a position at Laing's Neck. Colley's camp was then at Mount Prospect, five and a half kilometre further south. On 28 January the Boers beat off a British attack at Schuinshoogte near Ingogo and on 8 February another at Laing's Neck.
12. With his advance blocked, Gen Colley decided to occupy Amajuba Mountain (Mountain of Doves) with part of his force. The top of the mountain commanded Laing's Neck; from there he would be able to bring artillery fire to bear on the Boer positions and also be in a position to seize the main road over the neck. During the night of 26 February he thus led a force from his camp at Mount Prospect up the southern side of the mountain. With him he took 35 officers and 693 men belonging to three companies of the 92nd Highlanders, the 2nd Company of the 58th regiment, the 2nd Company of the 60th Rifles and 54 marines from HMS DIDO.
13. By daybreak on 27 February, the Boers were surprised to observe the British troops on the summit and at about 0:700 the British fired a few shots at the Boer camp, but there was little heat in the bombardment since Colley thought he was perfectly safe on the mountain. So confident were the British of their position that no serious attempts at fortification were made, the works of the Naval Brigade on the western perimeter being probably the most substantial.
14. Gen. Joubert, however, decided that the British must be dislodged and sent volunteers from all the commandos under command of the burgher officers D. Malan, S. Roos and J. Ferreira up the mountain. All morning the Boers, 400 - 500 in number, worked their way steadily upwards in alternate rushes, each party covering the other in turn as they moved from one piece of cover to another. The whole operation was covered by long range fire from the better shots, usually the older men, in the rear, which served to keep the defenders' heads down. As with so many South-African hills, the formation of the mountain slopes is such that much of the terrain is dead ground, i.e. invisible to the watcher above.
15. The volunteers were both courageous and successful. By 11:00 most of the positions on the slope of the mountain were in their hands and by 13:00 the first of the Boers had reached the top. The Highlanders defended themselves bravely but could not resist the fierce attack and by 15:00 the engagement was over. Gen Colley was shot in the head where he stood amongst his men on the summit. The British losses were 92 killed, 134 wounded and 59 captured and those that were left fled down the mountain slope they had ascended the previous night. The Boer losses were two killed and five wounded. Gen Colley was buried in his camp at Mount Prospect and a marker was afterwards erected at the place where he fell.
16. The battle of Amajuba resulted in an armistice and led to the peace negotiations that took place in O'Neil's cottage.
17. Laings Nek. Whilst viewing Majuba you will be flying over the battlefield of Laings Nek which is the area to the left of the N3 winding through the pass. The white monument maks the apex of the British advance.
18. After the British annexation of the Transvaal and the subsequent decision of the Boers at Paardekraal to defend their country at all costs, war broke out. The British garrisons at Pretoria, Lydenburg and Potchefstroom were besieged and a column of the 94th Regiment which was moving to Pretoria, was ambushed and practically wiped out at Bronkhorstspruit. It became quite obvious to the British that relief had to be sent.
19. Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley was Governor and Commander-in-Chief in Natal at the time and also the High Commissioner for South East Africa. He was a man of ambition and great administrative ability. He had previously seen service in India and South Africa but had not yet commanded troops in battle.
20. Colley left Pietermaritzburg to relieve the besieged garrisons in the Transvaal. He travelled by post cart to the Biggarsberg. The Boers were thought to be threatening the route so the Natal Mounted Police escorted him to Newcastle.
21. Colley had a pitiful 1 100 troops to invade the Transvaal. The troops were made up of infantrymen from the 21st, 58th, 3rd and 60th Regiments. There was no cavalry, only four seven- pounders and a mounted squadron of 70. There were also 120 naval men from the HMS "COMMODORE" with 13 rocket tubes.
22. On 24 January the troops began to move from Newcastle hoping to make Standerton. The march was a nightmare. It was raining, the mud on the roads bogged down the wagons, the rivers were swollen and when the sun shone the high tambotie grass gave off steam. It took four days to reach Mount Prospect, about 32 kilometres from Newcastle. The scouts reported that the Boers were on the Transvaal side of Laingsnek where their wagons and tents could clearly be seen.
23. On the morning of 28 January Colley ordered Maj. Brownlow to capture a detached hill and to cover Col Deane's men as they scaled the 304,8 m rise to engage in battle with the Boers. Colley, his Aide-de-camp, Lt. Ian Hamilton, and the Natal Mounted Police scouts took their stand to the rear where they could observe the operations. There were also about twenty observers from Newcastle who were mainly reporters.
24. The artillery shelled the Boer positions for about twenty minutes and then the infantry (the 58th) under Col Deane advanced in columns of four.
25. When well on their way Maj. Brownlow and his mounted troops charged the hill named after him, also known as Engelbrechtkop. It was a steep and exhausting ride and many of the leading troops, including Brownlow, had their horses shot from under them. The second troop, thinking that all was lost, turned and headed for their starting line. The second troop were inexperienced soldiers, and poor horsemen on untrained horses.
26. This immediately exposed the 58th. Infantry the Boers were now free to come forward onto the western slopes where they were within clear view and range of the 58th, who were still struggling up the long slope to the east of the road. They now came under heavy fire and, with men dropping about them, they reached the crest in a confused and exhausted state. They were also still in close companies and Col Deane realised too late that he should get his men into extended order. Things now became chaotic. Men were breasting the ridge in full view of the Boers at a distance of about 137 metres. The casualties became extremely heavy. The British fell back and then retreated under the direction of Maj. Essex, the sole member of Colley's officers to survive. This action of the 58th was the last time that the colours were carried into battle.
27. The Memorial on Lamps Nek records 79 officers and men as killed but the total casualties could have been more. The monument is visible from the air and indicates the furthest point of the British advance. Immediately north of it on the crest of the hill are the Boer schantzes. Mount Prospect is the copse of trees slightly further on and directly beneath the aircraft. It is the site of Colley and some of his followers graves.
28. Ingogo/Schuinshoogte. Our route takes us slightly to the left (east) of Ingogo battle field, also know as 6Schuinshoogte. It lies to the left of the N3 mainroad between Majuba and Newcastle and has a large clearly seen red roofed hotel, against the hill, the Valley Inn, + 2 miles north of it. The battlefield is crossed by a gravel road with monuments to the fallen on the right of this road and two white-walled cemeteries on the left, all clearly visible form the air, south of the river and railway line.
29. Historical Background. While Colley was licking his wounds after the defeat at Laing's Neck and awaiting reinforcements, the Boers carried out a series of raids on his communication lines. He therefore took a small force of 273 men down the old road which runs past Valley Inn (then known as Fermistone's Hotel) to clear the lines. It was a blistering hot day and they had no rations with them as no engagement was anticipated.
30. Two seven-pounder guns and half a company were left to guard the drifts near the hotel. The main body consisting of about four companies and the nine-pounder guns continued towards Newcastle with Colley in personal command.
31. When they reached Schuinshoogte they were unexpectedly fired upon. The Boer's rifles were deadly accurate as always and they took advantage of every bit of cover, slight as it was. The British were unable to obtain an advantage - the artillery had little or no effect and sustained musketry fire at close range demolished them.
32. Shortly after 17:00 there was a torrential downpour which was a relief to those who had been lying in the blistering sun for hours suffering from thirst. The battle ended indecisively soon after sunset and both sides withdrew, the British suffering further losses when crossing the Ingogo River which came down in flood after the storm. Neither side had planned the battle - the Boers had attacked on the spur of the moment. As near as can be determined the losses were four British officers and 62 men killed and one officer and eight men drowned. Four officers and 63 men were wounded. The Boer losses were nine men killed and six wounded.
33. The battles of Laings Neck (28 January 1881), Schuinshoogte (8 February 1881) and Majuba (27 February 1881) present us with a interesting array of facts about the British troops.
34. A British regiment, the 92nd, wore khaki doublets - this was the first appearance of khaki in South Africa. Officers wore Sam Brown belts in South Africa for the first time. The 58th regiment wore the traditional scarlet tunics and blue trousers. The naval detachment wore blue. Helmets, puttees, etc, were pipeclayed white, but the 92nd regiment stained their helmets with mud. This was the last time that the "colours" were carried by a British regiment in battle. During the battle of Laings Neck the Union Jack was accidentally flown upside down. The British considered this campaign an Imperial War, and therefore scorned the help of local volunteers such as the Natal Mounted Police and Natal Carbineers. Local volunteers were only accepted for specialist jobs such as scouts and interpreters.
35. Newcastle and Fort Amiel. The industrial city of Newcastle can hardly be missed from the air and our route from Ingogo to Dundee takes us across its south-eastern corner. If you look carefully to the right on the edge of the city as one crosses its boundary you will see Fort Amiel. It is a small white building surmounted by a bell-tower made of scaffolding and surrounded by a white-walled enclosure. It is surrounded by houses and stands on a bluff overlooking a grove of trees next to a military cemetary, also white-walled.
36. Historical Background. When the British expected trouble with the Zulus in 1876, Major Charles Frederick Amiel was sent with 2 000 men, drawn from companies of the 80th Regiment, to build a fort at Newcastle (one of a series throughout Natal).
37. About this time, local inhabitants belonging to the Newcastle Mounted Rifles built the present armoury as an arsenal and for the defence of the area.
38. Maj. Amiel and his detachment had previously arrived in Natal from Hong Kong on 6 March 1876. He had served with the Staffordshire Volunteers in numerous wars and expeditions in the East, among which were the Burmese War of 1852 and the Indian Campaign of 1858-1859.
39. In 1879, the horrible aftermath of the Battles of Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift shattered the peace of the little settlement of Newcastle, leaving half of the women widowed.
40. With this as background and as a prelude to the annexation of the Transvaal in 1877, the building of a fort at Newcastle was of the utmost importance to the British - especially as Newcastle was regarded as the main strategic military focal point in northern Natal.
41. Fort Amiel was therefore built hurriedly by the detachment of the Staffordshire Volunteers (80th Regiment) and named after their commander. After it was built Maj. Amiel and his troops were held there in reserve for action. There is ample evidence that Newcastle (Fort Amiel) was an important military base for operations from 1876 right through to 1902. During the Zulu War of 1879 it was used as a transit camp, hospital and commissariat depot.
42. The fort appears to have continued in this capacity during the 1800-1881 Anglo-Boer War. In several accounts we read that Gen Colley found everything in readiness at Fort Amiel. The Fort once again came into prominence during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 when troops were stationed here. The numerous graves in the town cemetery tell the story of soldiers who died of enteric fever during 1900. It was also about this time that a watch-tower was erected on the Guard house.
43. The defences of Fort Amiel consisted of a ditch, a rampart and a stone wall. The foundations of the outer wall can still be seen on the boundary of the knoll overlooking the Ncandu River.
44. The towns of Glencoe and Dundee lie very closely together from the air when approaching from the direction of Newcastle (north west) and must not be confused. Dundee is distinguished by its surrounding hills, one of which is Talana. It is flat-topped and has a large museum complex at its base. The other large mountain to the east which is crowned with a radio aerial is Mpati.
45. Historical Background. Lt Gen Sir William Penn-Symons arrived in Natal to take command of the British forces. He was known to be headstrong and overbold and was determined to hold Dundee. He was convinced that with the 4 000 British troops in Dundee he would easily deal with the Boer threat.
46. After Newcastle fell to the Boers without a fight, Commandant-General Piet Joubert, in command of the Boer forces, despatched his 14 000 burghers in three columns. Inexorably they moved on in pouring rain and over bad roads, intent on their first target, Dundee. Gen Kock led the Johannesburg Commando and the Dutch and German Corps directly south over Mkupe Pass towards the Elandslaagte Colliery. Gen "Maroela" Erasmus with 4 000 men from Pretoria, Heidelberg and Boksburg went southeast through Dannhauser and Hattinghspruit. Swinging east along the line of the Buffalo frontier, Gen Lukas Meyer led the Middelburg, Wakkerstroom, Utrecht and Vryheid men to concentrate at Doornberg, overlooking the frontier post at De Jager's Drift. The net was closing round Dundee.
47. Over confident, Penn-Symons persisted in his faulty strategy. Evading Gen White's pressure to retire to Ladysmith, he limited himself to evacuating civilians. As the evacuation of civilians continued, army patrols out east, west and north made contact with the enemy forward forces. On 19 October the news came that the Boers had cut the railway line at Elandslaagte and that Dundee was cut off. One of the passengers on the train, Mr. Monypenny, a war correspondent who had taken the trouble to come from Ladysmith to Dundee to see what was happening at the front, was able to "scoop" the world papers with the news of the first battle of the Anglo-Boer War.
48. On the night of the 19th the Boer forces massed in the blackness of a wet night at Doornberg. Filing out they had made their way across the Buffalo river by 21:00. In pelting rain they battled their guns over the muddy tracks. After midnight Maj Wolmarans of the Staats Artillerie hauled two 75 mm Creusot cannons and a pom-pom up the hill. The Utrecht and Wakkerstroom commandos occupied the summit of Talana Hill. Across Smith's Neck, Lennox Hill was crowded by the Middelburg, Piet Retief and Vryheid burghers. In the west on Mpati Mountain Gen Erasmus's 4 000 men were impatient for battle. The Boers, shrouded in the mist, surprised the British camp; their second shell just missed Gen Penn-Symons's tent.
49. Outnumbered, trapped and surprised, Penn-Symons and his troops nonetheless responded prompty with courage and discipline. Within ten minutes the 67th Battery of the R.F.A. was spraying the slopes of Talana Hill with shrapnel. Leaving the Leicesters, Carbineers and Natal Police to guard the camp against an attack from Mpati, the General and his staff led the Irish and Dublin Fusiliers and the King's Royal Rifles at a trot through the town. At a range of 3,650 yards the Royal Field Artillery opened up and silenced the Boer guns.
50. At 08:50 the order was given to attack Talana Hill. The K.R.R. with the Royal Irish Fusiliers on their right flank headed towards Lennox. The Dublin Fusiliers moved out towards the north-west flank of Talana. As the scurrying figures ran across the open flats to the cover of the eucalyptus plantations, the Boer forces opened fire.
51. The British casualties were heavy in the three hour frontal assault on Talana Hill. In a tough and savage fight, the Royal Irish Fusiliers were enfiladed by cross-fire from the burghers on Lennox Hill. The K.R.R. were hit by their own artillery shrapnel and the Dublin Fusiliers were badly mauled in their attempt to scale the donga that ran up the northern flank of Talana.
52. Gen Penn-Symons was mortally wounded when he recklessly exposed himself as he stepped over a wall. He quietly handed his command over to Col. Yule.
53. The British now made the final assault up the face of the hill and, in doing so, several British officers paid the price for their courage. In the final rush Col. Shertston fell and Col Gunning fell on the crest as the day was won. At noon the guns fell silent and the summit was in British hands.
54. The reality was very different. Certainly the Boers were in full flight towards the Buffalo River, but by an inexplicable failure of the R.F.A. batteries, now mounted in Smith's Nek to fire on the retreating Boers, they managed to cross the river unscathed. What was worse, the cavalry, Col Möller and the 18th Hussars lost themselves in the mist. Not only did they fail to cut off the fleeing Boers, but they found themselves cornered on Adelaide Farm, miles away from Talana, and were forced into an ignominious surrender by Erasmus's men from Mpati who otherwise were contented to sit and watch the assault on Talana take place.
55. The Utrecht and Wakkerstroom commandos, on whom the brunt of the battle had fallen, had put up a tremendous resistance and paid a heavy price. The casualties on the British side numbered 250 dead and 250 wounded or taken POW. The Boers lost 145 men.
56. Helpmekaar. To the right of your flightpath. Follow with your eye the gravel road to the top of the hill where a clump of houses, a small lake and a cemetary are situated immedietely next to a sheer cliff. This was the site of a pestilential fort during the Zulu War of 1879. The survivors of Isandlwana made for this fort in their efforts to escape from the battle field.
57. Rorkes Drift. (See para 61 for historical background). The original mission station has grown to a large group of buildings at the foot of the conspicuous Oskarberg. The drift across the Buffalo River can be clearly seen, as can Isandlwana Mountain (sphinx shaped) in the background.
58. Fugitives Drift : (See para 72 for historical background). Follow the course of the Buffalo River around the west side of the Oskarberg to the drift. In a valley on the right side of the river a road can be seen leading down from the hotel to the river. Halfway down this road is a white monument to lieutenants Melvill and Coghill who died in the drift whilst attempting to save the regimental colours after Isandlwana.
59. Fugitives Trail : From the drift above to Isandlwana mountain, the trail taken by the fugitives fleeing the scene of the battle is clearly discernable by the white stone cairns marking their graves.
60. Isandlwana. The sphinx-shaped mountain is clearly visible even at a considerable distance. If there are any winds fly well clear of the prominence. A stone mission church is conspicuous on the eastern side of the battlefield which is unmistakeable because of all the monuments and graves scattered about it.
61. Historial Background : (Rorkes Drift). The names of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift evoke mixed emotions from anyone who has heard of them - sadness at the loss of life; pride in the actions of brave people; admiration at the courage of those who took part. These two battles of the Zulu War were fought within hours of each other on 22 January 1879 and have a direct relationship with each other.
62. On 11 December 1878 the British authorities issued an ultimatum to King Cetshwayo of the Zulus, an ultimatum with demands that the Zulus found impossible to meet. It was obvious that war would be inevitable and a month later the British invaded Zululand.
63. General Lord Chelmsford commanded the British and he planned a three-pronged attack: one force was to march up the coast, another to enter Zululand through northern Natal, and the third, under Chelmsford himself, was to advance on the Zulu capital, Ulundi, from Rorke's Drift. Two further columns, on the Tugela and the other in far northern Natal, were to remain on the defensive.
64. The Zulu forces, in the meantime, had mustered at Ulundi in anticipation of the British invasion. King Cetshwayo directed most of his regiments against the centre column, a smaller force against the right column, on the coast, and irregulars against the left column at Vryheid. A large reserve was kept at Ulundi against any unexpected British attack.
65. All three attacking British columns met fierce resistance, but none more so than the central column, which started crossing the river on 11 January 1879, successfully attacking Sihayo's stronghold on the 12th, and advancing to Isandlwana where it encamped on 20 January. A small force remained at Rorke's Drift to guard supplies that were stockpiled there and also the river crossing.
66. Rorke's drift derives it name from James Rorke and is one of the oldest and best-known drifts across the Buffalo River. In 1876 the Rev. O. Witt established a Swedish mission station at the foot of the rocky mountain about one kilometre west of Rorke's Drift. He called the mission station Oskarberg, in honour of the King of Sweden, and built a small church, a mission house and cattle kraals, all out of stone.
67. When Lord Chelmsford invaded Zululand he converted Oskarberg into a supply depot. The mission house became a hospital and soon housed 35 patients. The church was used as a commissariat store and hundreds of bags of mealies lay piled against the kraal wall. A hundred men under command of Lt. John Chard were left there to guard the place. On 22 January Col. Durnford, while on his way to Isandlwana, left 300 Basuto troops there to strengthen the garrison.
68. During the attack on Isandlwana the Zulus kept the famous Undi impi or regiment of 4 000 men in reserve. After the annihilation of the British force at Isandlwana, the Undi regiment hastened on to the Buffalo River, swam through it and launched a fierce attack on the mission station. Lt. Chard was on duty and at the drift when the first of the fugitives from Isandlwana reached the drift. He rushed back to the mission station and immediately prepared it for defence: a long stone wall with loopholes was hastily constructed in front of the buildings on the side facing the river, and behind it, a second barricade was built of bags of mealies and biscuit tins between the opposite corners of the buildings. Finally the doors and windows of the hospital were barricaded with heavy cases of tinned meat.
69. These preparations had barely been completed when, at 16:30 the Zulu soldiers stormed across the foot of the Oskarberg and, uttering weird shouts, rushed down upon the mission house or hospital. This sight was too much for the 300 Basuto soldiers. With their White commander in the lead, they took to flight. Barely a hundred men were left in the fortifications. The Zulu warriors advanced to within 30 metres, but were met by such staggering rifle fire that they hesitated and fell back, but only for a moment. Their attack was directed mainly at the hospital. They set fire to the roof by throwing assegais to which were tied burning grass. They broke down the doors and forced entry into the burning building. Sergeant Henry Hook and five men who were guarding the wounded retreated, fighting from one room to the other. The inter-leading doors were barricaded, so Hook's colleague, Williams, had to make holes in the partitions while at the same time shooting down the attackers one after another. At last they escaped through a small window into the inner courtyard where they joined the other defenders. Most of the patients were stabbed by the Zulus or burned to death. Fortunately the burning building prevented the Zulus from getting through into the inner courtyard.
70. The battle raged on without a break until the next morning. The Zulu warriors repeatedly penetrated between the stone wall and the barricade of mealie-bags and had to be driven out by bayonet charges. The barrels of the rifles frequently became sizzling hot from the incessant firing and the hands and faces of the soldiers were scorched by them. It was a tremendous relief when the Zulus at last withdrew and an armed detachment of Lord Chelmsford's force under Lt-col Russel reached the exhausted garrison.
71. The British losses were seventeen killed and eight wounded while three hundred Zulu bodies lay scattered in and around the post. No less than eleven Victoria crosses were awarded as a result of this action. The bravery of Lt Chard is commemorated in the name of the John Chard Medal for bravery in the South African Defence Force.
Fugitives' Drift: Historical Background.
72. When Lord Chelmsford's force unsuspectingly outspanned at the foot of Isandhlwana the Zulu force was hidden in the Nqutu hills, barely eight kilometres north of the camp. When Chelmsford set out with 800 men on the morning of 22 January to assist Dartnell, the troops at Isandlwana were still totally unaware of the Zulu force close by. The attack on Isandlwana thus came as a complete surprise to the British.
73. Col. Pulleine, an administrative officer who was left in command, organised his defence as quickly as he could but mistakenly postioned his outside the comp. The defenders fought tenaciously and heroically, but in half an hour not a single British soldier was left alive in the camp. A few fled towards Rorke's Drift but were overtaken and killed on the way.
74. Two courageous standard-bearers, Lts Coghill and Melvill were ordered to leave the scene of battle in an effort to save the Queen's colours when it was realised that defeat was likely. Both reached the drift, but were killed as they clambered out on the opposite bank. The colours were lost in the river, but were recovered some time later. Coghill and Melville are buried on a site overlooking the river. Very few of the fugitives survived to reach safety on the Natal side. Those who did, found their way to the British fort at Helpmekaar or simply disappeared. This drift has been known as "Fugitive's Drift" ever since.
75. Isandlwana : Historical Background. General Lord Chelmsford commanded the British in the invasion of Zululand in 1879 and he planned a three-pronged attack: one force was to march up the coast, another to enter Zululand through Northern Natal, and the third, under Chelmsford himself, was to advance on the Zulu capital, Ulundi, from Rorke's Drift. Two further columns, one on the Tugela and the other in far northern Natal, were to take up defensive positions.
76. The Zulu forces, in the meantime, had mustered at Ulundi in anticipation of the British invasion. Chelmsford himself was to advance on Ulundi.
77. Chelmsford led the central column. Unknown to him, he was facing the main Zulu army, which by careful scouting had established all the movements of his troops, and was ready to defend its territory. By the time the British had set up their main camp, the Zulus were only a few kilometres away waiting for the right moment to attack.
78. On the morning of 22 January, Chelmsford himself led a force of 800 men eastward from Isandhlawana to reinforce Maj Dartnell, who was sent ahead to find a suitable area for the British army to camp the following night. The rest of his force, made up mainly of the 1st Battalion of the 24th (Warwickshire) Regiment, together with an artillery battery, a detachment of the Natal Native Contingent and some colonial troops, remained in the camp. Although alert, they did not anticipate an attack nor did they prepare any proper fortifications.
79. The Zulu army had no intention of attacking, as their diviners had decided that it was not a propitious time to do so. However, their proximity to the British camp was such that a British patrol, in pursuit of a portion of the Zulu army, accidentally stumbled on the main Zulu force where they were concealed in a valley a few kilometres from Isandhlwana, at about 11:30.
80. Their discovery meant that there was no longer an element of surprise for them and the Zulu commanders decided to attack immediately. They formed themselves up into the traditional "chest and horns" formation and advanced on the British camp. Although Col. Henry Pulleine who was left in command, organised his defence as quickly as he could the Zulu right horn swept around to the north and west of Isandlwana in a wide flanking movement; the centre made a direct frontal attack; and the left horn engaged a forward position under Col Durnford, where they were temporarily held up.
81. Ultimately, the Zulu left horn outflanked the right of the British position, forcing the latter to retire and exposing a section of the front line. As a result, the Zulus were able to get behind the British line and, in effect, surround them. This was the beginning of the end and although the British were able to rally for a while, organised resistance ended shortly afterwards. The battle had lasted for approximately only about two hours before the Zulus completely overran the camp.
82. While the Zulus were attacking the camp Chelmsford, with his force situated about 19 kilometres to the south, was quite unaware of the pending disaster. At midday he learned the news from Zulu prisoners-of-war that a strong Zulu force was planning to attack his camp at his back. By half-past one rumours reached him that the camp was under attack. Accompanied by his officers, he rushed up a hill and observed the camp through binoculars, but saw nothing untoward. By this time , however, the action was over and the moving figures they saw were Zulus walking about amongst the tents and wrecked wagons. However, the reports he received became more and more ominous and, at two o' clock he and his force, which consisted for the most part of infantry, began to return. The closer they got to the camp, the more they were overtaken by a feeling of foreboding. When they reached the scene of disaster it was already dark, the perceptible silence broken now and then only by the groans of the wounded. Fearing another attack, Chelmsford forbade all movements and the troops had to spend the night amongst the dead, the ruined wagons, tents, weapons and supplies.
83. Before dawn the next morning Chelmsford ordered the column to march to Rorke's Drift. They had heard the sound of heavy firing coming from that direction all night. When they reached the top of the neck at dawn, they saw clouds of thick smoke coming from the buildings at Rorke's Drift and the Zulus in full flight.
84. Isandlwana was one of the worst disasters suffered by the British Army in Africa. Including their Black allies, 1 500 soldiers were killed. Amongst those killed were Col Pulleine, Col Anthony Durnford and Capt Younghusband.
85. Umgungundlovu or Dingaanstat. 40 miles to the west of Isandlwana is a large valley which was the site of Dirkie Uys historic defence of his father, Piet Uys. The site is known as
Italeni. A bit further east is the mission station and circular huts of Dingaans old royal kraal will appear right ahead. The knoll on which Piet Retief and his followers were killed ad are buned is to the north of a small stream running down from a mission station on a hill, the church of which has a conspicuous large cross.
86. Historical Background Umgungundhlovu. The Zulu name, "Mgungundhlovu", when translated means: "the conclave of the elephant". After Dingaan and Mhlangana assassinated their older brother, Shaka, at Dukuza (Stanger), neither Dingaan or Mhlangana could be installed as new king until the army returned from its latest campaign. This allowed Dingaan time to dispose of Mhlangana and to consolidate his claim to the Zulu leadership. When Shaka's warriors returned from a disastrous mission in Mozambique, the warriors were in no condition to dispute Dingaan's coup d'etat and were only too glad to have escaped Shaka's wrath.
87. The warriors, weary from battle and eager to return to their home, approved Dingaan's appointment to the throne. The consensus of opinion was that Dingaan, inspired by the ancestors, had killed Shaka in order to free Zululand from the heel of tyranny. Hereafter Dingaan left Dukuza and proceeded to Nobamba in the emaKhoseni valley, the ancestral royal homestead of his grandfather, Jama. Here he built his new royal kraal Umgungundhlovu, in 1829.
88. The new kraal consisted of some 3 000 huts. The military settlement in it, the ikhanda, was more or less oval and consisted of between 1 400 and 1 700 huts, which could house between 5 000 and 7 000 soldiers. This number varied, since regiments were called up at different times. The huts stood six to eight deep and formed a huge circle around an open area known as the large cattle kraal ("isibaya esikhulu"). This area was also used for military parades and gatherings and is the place where Dingaan received visits from English traders from Port Natal. Henry Fynn, Dick King and Nathaniel Isaacs came here, bringing presents and bartering beads and other goods in exchange for ivory.
89. Capt Allen Gardiner visited Dingaan, begging him to allow a missionary to settle at Mgungundlovu. The result was that the Rev. Francis Owen was stationed there. On Dingaan's instruction Owen erected his camp across the Mjhumbane on the hill, Hlom' amaButho, where the parsonage of the Dutch Reformed church now stands. Owen laboured here for a little more than a year and, from this hillock, was the only white person to witness the tragic events of Piet Retief and his companion's death.
Piet Retiefs' Grave
90. By the middle of 1837 the vanguard of the Great Trek had reached the Drakensberg. Piet Retief and a few followers proceeded from Kerkenberg via Port Natal to Mgungundlovu to obtain a grant of land from Dingaan on which the Voortrekkers could settle. Dingaan stipulated that the Voortrekkers should first recover some cattle which Sikonyella, chief of the Mantatisi in Northern Lesotho, had stolen from him before the question of land for the Voortrekkers could be discussed. On 3 February 1838, Retief, with 69 of his companions and about thirty coloured servants, returned to Mgungundglovu with the cattle.
91. Thereafter Dingaan drew up a treaty under which the Voortrekkers received all the land between the Tugela and the Umzimvubu "and from the sea to the north as far as the land may be useful and in my possession". This document, dated 4 February, was signed on the 6th at the time of the final interview.
92. On that morning Piet Retief, his companions and all their servants entered the kraal for a final meeting and farewell.
93. At the entrance to the kraal they were told that it was not polite or customary to bring their weapons into the kraal. Reluctantly they left their horses and guns at the entrance with their 32 attendants. The Voortrekkers, some 70 in all including Piet Retief, then entered the main cattle kraal where they were received by the king. He had assembled some of his regiments to perform war dances and to sing the King's praises. At a given moment the King stood up and shouted "Bulala aMatagati!" ("Kill the wizards!") and with that the Zulu warriors who had appeared to be unarmed then bent down and out of the cow dung in the kraal produced spears which had been hidden there and with which they attacked the Voortrekker group. As it was contrary to Zulu custom to spill blood in the royal kraal, the Zulus had to overpower the Voortrekkers, who resisted fiercely, using their hunting knives and their fists. Some actually died in the kraal, but most of them were overpowered and dragged over the Omkumbane stream to Kwamatimbane, the place of execution.
94. Legend has it that Piet Retief as leader of the deputation, had to witness the killing of all his companions before he himself was clubbed to death.
95. The remains of the Voortrekkers were discovered and only retrieved when a Voortrekker commando moved on towards Umgungundlovu after the Battle of Blood river on 16 December 1838. On Christmas day the Voortrekker commando had reached the remains of the royal kraal, which Dingaan, well aware of the approach of the commando, had meanwhile fled having commanded that it should be burnt down. What is left today has been preserved by the fire, the heat of the burned huts turning the clay floors into a hard clay brick substance.
96. Ulundi It is recommended that a re-fueling stop be made here. Make quite sure before-hand that fuel has been arranged for you. With the possible exception of Dundee the Zululand airports are closed for fuel over the week-end. There are toilets, a lounge and a tea, coffee and cold-drink vending machine in the lounge. Ulundi battle field is immediately to the east of the air field. The monument, a traditional hut above a memorial arch is situated within an enclosure said to be in the outline of the British "square" formation used at the battle.
97. Historical Background the Battle of Ulundi. In late 1878 the British colonial government in South Africa, fearing that the independent state of Zululand posed a threat to British expansionism, handed King Cetshwayo an ultimatum demanding that, among other things, he disband the Zulu army and the age regiment system. Although under orders from the Colonial Office in London to exercise "prudence", the British Governor ordered an invasion when King Cethswayo refused to comply with these demands. In January 1879 a British force, under the command of Lt Gen Lord Chelmsford, entered Zululand.
98. Since the Zulu army had suffered heavy losses in the battles of Kambula and Gingindlovu in April and May 1879, King Cetshwayo sent messengers to request the British to withdraw from Zululand. Gen Chelmsford made it clear that before negotiations could take place, King Cetshwayo would have to surrender the royal cattle herd, as well as all Zulu firearms. Once more the king sent messengers bearing ivory as a peace token to inform Chelmsford that these demands could not be met.
99. Chelmsford, keen for the British to redeem themselves after the disastrous and embarrassing defeats at Isandlwana, iNtombi Drift and Hlobane, led an advance on the Zulu capital, Ondini.
100. A Zulu force, estimated to have numbered some 15 000 soldiers, converged on the British. However the encircling Zulu force was cut down by artillery and rifle fire and the Zulu attack did not advance more than 70 m from the British ranks. For an half an hour the Zulus fought in vain, but were finally forced to capitulate.
101. Worse than defeat for the Zulus was the fact that their symbol of nationhood had been destroyed. This happened when a troop of Dragoon guards was sent to one of the royal kraals not far from Umgungundlovu where one of the ancient kraals were situated. At this kraal the Zulu national coil, the Inkata, was kept. The Inkata was a coil made of grass, magic substances and the body parts of deceased kings, all bound with a python skin and represented the power of the Zulu nation. It was brought out only on very special occasions.
102. The destruction of magic coil was a definite indication to the Zulu people that their kingdom and their existence as a nation had come to an end. King Cetshwayo sought refuge in the Ngome forest near the present-day town of Nongoma. He was captured there two months later and exiled to the Cape. The battle of Ulundi saw the final defeat of the Zulu army and the crushing of the Zulu state. This marked the end of the old Zulu order.
104. The Prince Imperial : The site of the Prince Imperial's death is a small copse of trees, west of a river and bounded by donga's and huts. To its north west there is a sizeable village a few kilometres away. It should be slightly to the left of your course but as the description above could describe practically anywhere in Zululand the site is difficult to identify to the air.
104. The Story of the Prince Imperials Death. Another place that brings the course of the bitter Zulu War of 1879 to mind is the place where Eugène Louis Joseph Napoleon Bonaparte, Prince Imperial of France, was killed by the Zulus on 1 June, 1879. A monument marks the site amongst the hills on the course of the Itshotshozi River.
105. The Prince was born on 16 March, 1856, and was the son of Napoleon III of France and the Empress Eugénie. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 had caused the fall of the Second French Empire and Napoleon III and his family had been obliged to make their home in England. The young prince received a military education at Woolwich and Aldershot.
106. When the chances of restoring the House of Bonaparte in France became increasingly slender, the prince felt he should justify himself to the people of France by having a successful military career. The disaster of Isandlwana gave rise to great military zeal in England, and the prince begged the British Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of Cambridge, to allow him to go out and fight in Zululand. His request was granted and he left for South Africa holding the rank of lieutenant. Lord Chelmsford, the British Commander in Zululand, by no means welcomed the heavy responsibility this placed upon him, and posted the prince to Col Harrison's scouts at Dundee.
107. At the time Chelmsford had begun his second advance against Cetshwayo, had marched to Blood River and had invaded Zululand. The prince was sent in advance with six men to choose a place where the army could spend the night. The party passed the Itelezi Hill and dismounted for coffee near an apparently deserted Zulu kraal about 200 metres from the Itshotshozi River. Except to the north, the area round the kraal was overgrown with tall mealie fields. On the eastern side, a donga about two metres deep ran diagonally past the kraal. Suddenly the party noticed about fifty Zulus approaching them through tall grass from that direction and rushed to their horses to get away. The Zulus shouted and fired at them; the horses took fright and bolted and the prince fell. He rose, ran beside his horse, took hold of the saddle-bag and tried to leap onto the animal. The horse swerved and he once again fell, and his horse galloped away. The dismounted prince turned on his assailants and opened fire with his revolver, but was struck down by Zulu assegais. Two of his men died with him. His body was brought into the camp the following day and was then sent on to Durban and conveyed to England on HMS ORONTES.
108. The place where the prince fell was first marked by a simple cairn. In 1880 the Empress Eugénie visited the place where her son was killed and a marble cross, given by Queen Victoria, was erected.
109. The prince was buried at Chislehurst, but his remains were later exhumed and reburied, together with those of his father, Napoleon III, in a memorial church at Farnborough in Hampshire. This lonely monument in the veld near Nqutu marks the place where the Bonaparte dynasty came to an end.
110. Blood River : You can be forgiven for missing the site of the Prince's grave but the 64 bronze wagons comprising a recreation of the laager make a conspicious landmark. Note the Blood River and the dongas.
111. Historical Background to Battle of Blood River. (Groot Trek 16 December 1836). The "Wenkommando" under command of the newly appointed Voortrekker leader Commandant-General Andries Pretorius was accompanied by more than sixty wagons. These wagons played a major role when the Commandant-General picked his site for the ensuing battle with the Zulus.
112. After Hans Dons de Lange saw what was obviously the main force of the Zulu army he immediately informed the Commandant-General. Pretorius immediately ordered the commando to halt, and surveyed the area to choose a strategic position for a laager. At this stage Pretorius and the main Voortrekker force were at a hill called Gelato on the Ncome Spruit.
113. To the east of the river, the direction from which the Zulu advance had come, the terrain was bare and sloped up towards two koppies to the right and left. This offered no suitable site for the laager. The country to the west was more favourable; not only did the Gelato Hill make the approach from that side difficult, but there was also a deep donga in the soft soil which sloped in the direction of the river. Just above the confluence of the donga and the river there was a marshy hippo pool, overgrown with reeds, which extended in the direction of the hill. Pretorius decided to form the laager in the angle between the donga and the hippo pool. This meant that the laager would enjoy protection by natural features on two sides and the Zulus would be forced to launch their main attack from the northwest. The Zulus would, in fact, be confined to a kind of channel and their vastly superior numbers would be exposed to a greater concentration of fire from the small number of Boers. At the same time the river would ensure a supply of water in case of a siege.
114. Pretorius explained his plan to the commandant of the laager, Piet Moolman, and, after helping him to form up part of the wall of wagons, left it to Moolman with 150 men to complete the laager.
115. The wall that ran parallel with the donga, and about 20 metres from it, was straight, while the rest of the wagons were arraigned in a wide crescent from one end of this wall to the other, in reality forming the shape of a capital D. The wagons were drawn up close to one another with the disselboom of one tied firmly under the deck of the one in front, while the wheels of one were joined to those of the adjacent wagon with trek-chains. The spaces between front and back wheels were closed with "veghekke" or "fighting-gates" tied to the wheels by leather thongs. This was to prevent the Zulus from storming through into the laager or pulling the wagons apart.
116. Openings were left in the crescent and a large gateway was made in the middle of the crescent. Here the wagons were reversed so that their disselbooms (beams) did not bar the opening. It was closed with "veghekke" and wagons pushed into it from the inside. Through this gate 900 oxen and 500 horses of the Voortrekkers could be brought into the laager at the last moment, and through it, also, a mounted commando would be able to make a charge on the enemy. Two smaller openings were left at the north-eastern and north-western corners for mounting the Voortrekkers' two small cannons: the small brass cannon that Pretorius had specially brought with him was placed at the north-eastern corner to cover the entire river front and even to fire on the Zulus across the river; the piece affectionately known as "Ou Grietjie" stood at the northwestern corner.
117. After these preparations Pretorius crossed the drift above the hippo pool with a mounted commando of 250 men to assess the strength and movement of the Zulu force. Beyond the ridge he came upon the main Zulu force of about 15 000 men under command of Dingaan's experienced headmen, Ndlela, Dambuza, Kokela, Nongalaza, Mpanazeta and others. Once again the Zulus tried to lead the Boers into a trap, but as it was late in the afternoon the Boers returned to the laager. The oxen and horses were brought in and Pretorius saw to it that every man was at his post, duly armed with his rifle and ammunition.
118. During the night some 6 000 men under command of Dambuza crossed the river at the drift and reached the Voortrekker laager towards the morning. Some of them crept down the donga and massed behind the laager. Those in front were crouched barely forty metres from the wagons. Meanwhile the main body under Ndlela, consisting mainly of Dingaan's premier regiments, the White and the Black Shields, also moved up in front of the ridges across the river, a great mass, and sat on their shields, waiting.
119. On 16 December at dawn the Boers observed that the laager was completely surrounded by a dense mass of Zulu warriors, which was still being augmented by the arrival of new regiments. Pretorius did not wait for the Zulu charge but ordered his men to open fire as soon as it was light enough to see. Fierce volleys broke out along the entire line of wagons to which was added the roar of the little cannons. With indifference to death the Zulus charged, but within fifteen minutes they had to retire to a distance of 500 metres. After consultation they launched a second attack. Again the Voortrekkers cut loose with volley upon volley of deadly accurate fire at them. Once again the Zulu attack was fought off and the Zulus retired to 400 metres. During the pause that followed, Pretorius noticed that Ndlela's crack regiments were still sitting calmly on the other side of the river and that a number of messengers seemed to be concentrating at a particular point. Pretorius now directed the brass cannon at this point. The first shot fell short, but the second and third ploughed amongst the knot of headmen. This brought a large number of Zulus there into action and led to a fierce attack on the laager lasting nearly an hour.
120. At last the Zulus retired once more. Now Pretorius dispatched a mounted commando charge against the enemy. Twice this commando was driven back into the laager by the reckless opposition of the Zulus, but at the third attempt they managed to cut the Zulu force in two and dispersed it in various directions. Led by Cmdt Gen Pretorius the greater part of the commando now emerged from the laager and deployed north and southwards along the river where hundreds of fleeing Zulus were shot dead amongst the reeds and in the river itself.
121. Not until then did Ndlela's 3 000 special troops go into action. They tried to cross the river at the drifts above and below the hippo pool, but they were carried along by the horde of fleeing warriors and shot down by the charging mounted Boers. Eventually the entire Zulu army took to flight in all directions, hotly pursued by the Boers. The pursuit lasted until midday when various detachments of the commando returned to the laager where 3 000 Zulus lay dead.
122. Next on your route is the town of Vryheid which is clearly identified by the grain silos on the south side of the town near the airfield. The large hill to the west of the town and crowned by a radio mast is Lancaster Hill, scene of a skirmish in the 2nd Anglo Boer War. The outline of the British positions can still be seen.
123. From Vryheid our flight plan leads us on to the mountain of Hlobane. Be careful of winds if overflying the mountain. It is better to keep your distance and fly northwards along the slopes to the north side. The summit of the moutain is most conspicuous by slabs of granite on the plateau.
124. Historical Background to Hlobane : Cetewayo, the Zulu King, was naturally pleased with the success of his armies at Isandlwana but the reverse at Rorke's drift was a source of grave concern. His peace initiative produced no results, and he received reports of British preparations in the north along the Blood River. He decided to dispatch his formidable army of 20 000 men in a northerly direction under the command of one of his ablest generals, Nyamana. At Kambula, in the disputed territory, some forty kilometres east of Utrecht Colonel Wood had erected a fort. On the advice of Petrus Lafras Uys he also formed a laager there.
125. The Zulu stronghold of northern Zululand was on top of the Hlobane mountain. Colonel Wood decided to attack it, and for his purpose he divided his men into two sections - one under Lieutenant-Colonel Redvers Buller and the other under Lieutenant Colonel Baker Russell. Petrus Lafras Uys and his company known as the Transvaal Volunteers formed part of Buller's section.
126. On March 27, 1879 Wood and his force left Kambula. That night they encamped below the Hlobane mountain. On the following morning Buller would attack Hlobane from the north- east and Baker Russell would occupy Ntendeka, a hill south-east of Hlobane.
127. At 04h00 on March 28, Buller commenced his attack and succeeded in scaling the mountain without encountering serious resistance. Zulu sharpshooters did kill three men, however, and wounded and killed several horses.
128. The mountain's summit is a plateau measuring approximately five kilometres by three kilometres. Here they found a herd of some 2 000 head of cattle and proceeded to round them up.
129. Meanwhile Colonel Russell had advanced on Ntendeka mountain but after receiving a note from Wood ordering him to occupy the saddle between the mountains he erroneously assumed if to mean Zuinguin mountain and so left the area.
130. Wood with a small party, was fired on when following Buller. A Mr Lloyd and Captain Campbell were killed. After burying them his men attacked and killed some Zulus concealed in a cave and then withdrew. The Zulus had, during the morning, succeeded in rallying their forces and severely harassed Buller's rearguard. Buller sent Captain Barton and a party to bury the men who had been killed that morning. At about 14h00, to their dismay, the British saw Nyamana's huge army approaching form the south.
131. Barton's burial party together with a contingent under Colonel Weatherly, received an order from Buller to retire "by the right of the mountain." As they were facing north they retired to the east where they were virtually annihilated by the right horn of the Zulu army. The attack on Hlobane then had to be abandoned. By then the path which Buller had used to reach the top had been cut off and the retreat had to be made down a very steep and dangerous route on the western slope of the mountain.
132. Granville Nicholsen, the correspondent of "De Volkstem", who was present, reported :
"The only route left to us, the route we had taken that morning, was already cut off and we had to descend two rocky ridges with our horses. And soon we were mixed up with the enemy. First, I saw Piet Uys pulling at his horse's reins, with his long white beard and hair waving in the wind, shooting and shouting at the Zulus. They were on him and he was stabbed in the chest and then in the back before he fell."
"At the same time I saw Russell's infantry retreating toward Kambula, fighting and fleeing. I descended the first ridge and then the second with the Zulus in pursuit. I also saw how two of Uys' sons escaped on horseback, having been separated from their father. After having fled a long distance, still being pursued by the Zulus I was assisted by a friend, Berrie Brecher, who took me on his horse with him and brought me out" (De Volkstem, April 1879).
133. Another eye-witness account records as follows: "Uys spotting his second son struggling to drag two horses from the path of the oncoming enemy, started back to help him. A Zulu leaped on the Boer's small grey pony and planted a spear between the old man's shoulder blades." (The Zulu War, 1879, by Alan Loyd).
134. Buller wrote in his report on the battle: "Our loss was very heavy. Amongst those who met their end was Mr Piet Uys whose death was a misfortune to South Africa."
135. The losses were indeed heavy: 15 officers and 79 men fell, as well as more than hundred Zulus who fought with the British.
136. Five men were to be awarded Victoria crosses at Hlobane: Lieutenant-Colonel R.H. Buller and Major W.K. Leet, Lieutenants H Lysons and E.S. Browne and private Fowler.
137. The following day the Zulus were resoundingly defeated at Kambula, in a five hour battle in which they suffered over 2 000 casualties. This was the decisive battle of the Zulu war and more than compensated for the tragic losses of Hlobane mountain.
138. In your flight northwards you will see the north slopes where Buller's force climbed the mountain. The graves of Campbell and Lloyd are also visible from the air on the slopes of the mountain next to a conspicuous tree.
139. Continue on to Kambula which is a large low hill identified by a cliff on its Eastern face, a memorial on its summit and a square of graves approximately one kilometre from the memorial.
140. Historical Background to Battle of Kambula. Following the action at Hlobane, the Zulus bivouacked on the White Mfolozi river, about fifteen miles from Wood's camp. If the action on 28 March had been a disaster for the British, it had at least given them ample warning of an impending attack, and Wood roused his men early on the 29th and set them to making his final preparations. His position was, in any case, a strong one, lying across the crest of a ridge the British called Khambula, but which the Zulus knew as Ngaba ka Hawana, 'Hawana's Stronghold.' To the north the ground fell away in a bare slope towards two converging streams about a mile away; to the south it dropped into a valley in a series of rocky terraces. The eastern anchor of Wood's position was a redoubt - a ditch with the earth thrown up inside to form a parapet - which was connected by a palisade to a small laager of wagons on a flat below it, which was used as a kraal for the transport oxen. A couple of hundred yards west of the redoubt was a large defensive laager, an irregular circle of wagons chained together, with a shallow ditch and rampart thrown up around them. Wood was the only British commader to take the advice of his Boers and laager stonefly.
141. Wood's scouts spotted the Zulu army moving away from its bivouac at about 10.30 on the morning of the 29th. It appeared to be marching to the west, and for a while it seemed as if it were following the king's instructions not to attack the camp, and Wood was worried that it might be making for the unprotected Transvaal. Then it halted about four miles south of the camp and began to form up to attack. As to why the commanders were disobeying the king's orders cannot be explained with certainty, but in all probability the young warriors, who made up the bulk of the force, had no time for a waiting game, and believed it their duty to attack the British as soon as posiible. Once again, as at Isandlwana, a crucial battle was to be fought against the wishes of the Zulu generals.
142. Wood made his final preparations. He had placed two of his guns in the redoubt, supported by a company of the 90th L.I. One and a half companies of the 13th were told off to guard the cattle laager, while the remainder of the infantry and the mounted men occupied the main laager. The other four guns were placed in the open between the redoubt and the laager. As the morning wore on, and the dense Zulu masses were manoeuvring on the hills around the camp, Wood allowed his men to eat lunch. He was fully aware of the importance of the coming battle, but he appeared cool and in contol, and there was no reason to make the men fight on an empty stomach. Open ammunition boxes were placed close to the lines.
143. Then, at about 12.45 p.m., he ordered the tents struck in preparation for the fight. By that time, the Zulus were almost in position. The left horn (Khandempemvu regiment) moved towards the valley to the south of the camp, while the chest (the uMbonambi, iNdlondlo, uDududu, in Angqu, uThulwana, imBube and iNdluyengwe regiments) ascended the eastern spurs of the ridge. The iNgogbamakhosi regiment, which comprised the right horn, swung round to the north of the camp. The regular amabuto had been augmented by a large number of Qulusi clansmen from the local district, and the huge masses stretched for more than ten miles from tip to tip. To more than one anxious observer inside the laager, it seemed that the hills were black with warriors. Curiously, considering it had had farthest to march, the right horn came into action first. It had halted its advance about a mile and a half from the camp, while the chest and centre were still moving into position. Wood was increasingly concerned that a coordinated attack by such a large force would be more than his firepower could withstand, but he needn't have worried. At about 1.30 the iNgobamakhosi suddenly moved forward, and drew up in battle formation - a dense mass screened by clouds of skirmishers - less than a mile away. Apparently the warriors believed that the rest of the army was also advancing to attack or perhaps they were vying with other regiments for the honour of being first into the red-coat camp. Certainly, it was not a move ordered by Ntshingwayo, who had taken up a position about 700 yards east of the redoubt, and who was apparently scarcely able to control his forces. In any case, Wood seized his opportunity, and ordered Buller to make a sortie to provoke the iNgobamalhosi into an unsupported attack.
144. The ground over which the first dramatic phase of the battle would take place sloped away from the laager towards a patch of marshy ground which marked the sources of the streams. It was completely bare grass, whith no cover except for dozens of ant-heaps which scattered the slope like low boulders. Buller's sortie consisted of roughly a hundred men, and they rode to within comfortable rifle-range of the stationary warriors. Here they dismounted and loosed a volley. The effect was electric; with a great shout of the war cry 'Usuthu!, the Zulus surged forward. Buller's men hastily mounted up and fell back, pausing every fifty yards or so to deliver another volley. Several times the furious Zulu charge swept to within a few paces of the stragglers, but each time Buller managed to exricate his men. The Zulus called out in frustration 'Don't run away Johnny, we want to speak with you!, and We are the boys from Isandlwana! Most of the mounted men raced back to the laager, but the Native Horse retired to the west. Perhaps, after their experiences at Isandlwana, they distrusted British defended camps, and they spent the day in the open, harassing the Zulu flanks throughout the fight.
145. As Buller's men rode up the final approach to the laager, the guns boomed out, lobbing shrapnel over their heads and into the Zulu ranks. A wagon was rolled aside, and the mounted men raced in and dismounted, taking their place on the barricades. A tremendous volley burst out from the infantry, rippling down the side of the laager and across to the redoubt. The front ranks of the Zulus melted away in the face of this storm of fire and the charge faltered. A few madly brave warriors reached the wagons, spilling round the sides trying to find a way in, but the rest threw themselves down behind what pathetic cover they could find. They were terribly exposed, however, and could not sustain this position, and they reluctantly fell back, taking cover behind a rocky fold in the ground to the north-east. They left the slope behind them strewn with bodies.
146. By provoking the attack of the right horn and defeating it, Wood had gained a tremendous tactical advantage. He had disrupted the Zulu plan, and it would be difficult now for them to avoid squandering their strength in uncoordinated piecemeal attacks, while he, in turn, would be free to concentrate his fire wherever it was most needed.
147. It was the Zulu left horn which proved the most dangerous, however. Here the warriors could advance along the southern face of the camp, completely sheltered from fire by a steep, grassy valley. At the western end a small stream had cut a slope which offered a route up to the crest of the ridge. It opened out between the two laagers, almost in the centre of the camp. The Zulus could mass in the valley then charge up the slope, out of reach of British fire until they crested the rise less than a hundred yards from the laager. When they did so, of course, they ran into a hail of fire that was devastating at so close a range. The heavy Martini-Henry bullets sent warriors somersaulting back into their ranks, or tumbling over one another, but they kept coming, buoyed up by a very real hope of success. At about 3.00 p.m. a series of determined charges made Wood aware of the danger. The uNokhenke ibutho, on the left of the Zulu centre, moved down into the valley and carried on right up to the walls of the cattle kraal. The whole movement had lasted less than three-quarters of an hour, and as the iNgobamakhosi fell back, so the left horn and chest moved rapidly foward in a belated attempt to support them. The chest came on in great waves, rippling over the contours, the warrious holding their shields high of the grass as they surged towards the redoubt. Their approach was hardly less open than that of the iNgobamakhosi, however, and the artillery opened up with shrapnel which blasted great graps in their lines. At 800 yards the infantry opened fire, and by the time the distance closed to 300 yards, the devastation wrought in the ranks had been appalling. Nevertheless the centre pressed up almost to the walls of the redoubt before falling back.
148. There was a flurry of hand-to-hand fighting with the men of the 1/13th stationed there, and the Zulus forced their way in. The kraal was still full of cattle, and the mêlee continued among the herd, which was surging and bellowing in fright. The British troops were in a dangerous position and Wood sent a messenger to order them to fall back. He and his staff took up a conspicuous position below the redoubt to encourage and support the men during the retreat. The jubilant uNokhenke poured into the positions they had vacated, and opened a heavy, but inaccurate, fire on the laager. Exploiting this success, Zulu commanders clould be seen frantically urging a new wedge of warriors into position on the slope. These were men of the uMbonambi ibutho and their attack threatened to punch a hole into the heart of Wood's defences. The rocky terraces prevented his fire from striking into the valley, so Wood ordered Major Robert Hackett of the 90th to take out two companies of his regiment and break up the Zulu concentration. To leave the protection of the laagers was a very risky business, but Hackett's men advanced swiftly and in good order, taking the Zulus by surprise. They formed up in a line at the top of the slope, and began firing steady volleys down into the valley. These chopped great swathes through the tightly packed uMbonambi, who gradually fell back before them, scrambling back into the valley or for the cover of the rocky outcrops on either side.
149. Hackett's sortie probably saved the day for Wood, but his men were completely exposed to Zulu return fire. Wood ordered the artillery and infantry in the redoubt to rake the cattle-laager, and the uNokhenke were grandually driven out, but a few snipers were still able to enfilade his line from the left. Worse, he came under a heavy crossfire from his right, the extreme tip of the Zulu left horn. This, the Khandempemvu (umCijo) regiment, had pushed forward as far as the lip of the ridge to the west of the camp. A company of the 1/13th dashed out and drove them back with the bayonet, preventing them from forming up, but the British could not maintain this position, and the Zulus took possession of a small knoll about three hundred yards form the laager. This was the site of a camp rubish dump, and was covered by a heap of manure which had sprouted a covering of tall green grass. Warriors form the regiment dived into the grass and opened a galling fire at close range on both Hackett's men and the southern face of the laager. As the bullets began to strike amongst the 90th men, several were hit. Hackett's subaltern, Lieutenant Bright, fell shot through both legs, and a minute later Hackett himself was hit in the face. Wood recalled the sortie and the men carried back their wounded officers. Hackett was to survive, though he lost the sight of both eyes; the surgeons failed to notice the extent of Bright's injury, and he bled to death during the night.
150. In the main laager, Redvers Buller noted the danger posed by the riflemen in the rubbish dumps and organized counter-fire. He urged his men not to waste time aiming at individual warriors, but to fire into the soft dung. The bullets passed clean through and struck the warriors behind. Volley after volley obliterated the heaps, and the Zulu fire was suppressed. The next day sixty-two bodies were found amongst the debris.
151. The narrow failure of the Zulu assaults on the south of the camp, and the success of the British sorties, was probably the turning-point of the battle but there were to be several hours' hard fighting to come. The Zulu chest regrouped and advanced again and again along the crest of the ridge, each succeding assault jockeying for a better position. On one occasion they came almost within reach of the artillery horses, in the open between the laagers, and in another the dead fell against the very wall of the redoubt. Each attack met with the same result,however; a concentrated storm of fire which nothing could withstand.
152. At about 4.30, the iNgobamakhosi, on the Zulu right, having recovered from the shock of its initial repulse, came forward again. It was a spirited charge that surged out from the cover of the rocky outcrop and dashed towards the northern face of the redoubt. But the final approach to the ramparts was steep, and as the warriors struggled forward a furious rain of musketry and shrapnel fell on them, scything them dowm. The charge collapsed.
153. It was as if the Zulu tide had reached highwater mark. The warriors crouched or lay in a great semi-circle, taking whatever cover they could, surrounding the camp on three sides, firing their inadequate firearms. Now and then an induna would urge one regiment or another to screw up their courage for a final rush, but none was able to close. By 5 o'clock it was clear to Wood that the day was his, and he ordered a sortie of the 13th to clear the cattle laager of any surviving warriors. A company of the 90th was pushed out to the lip of the valley again, forming up where Hackett's men had once stood. They drove a few lingering warriors out at bayonet point, and then began to fire down into the dark masses beginning to drift away down the valley. Everywhere, the Zulus were beginning to retire. For the most part they went slowly and in good order, still firing and carrying their wounded. The British infantry shouted and cheered as they went.
154. Now was the moment for Wood to close in for the kill. He ordered Buller to chase the warriors from the field, and his men hastily mounted up and streamed out of the laager in pursuit. The Irregulars had suffered heavily in the Hlobane debacle of the day before, and they were in no mood to be merciful now. The effect of their charge on the disheartened Zulus was shattering. Any cohesion that remained collapsed under the pressure and the retreat disolved into a route. A few Zulus turned and fought, but most were utterly exhausted. Many were so tired that they could not run, and some simply turned and stood, inviting their tormentors to shoot them down. Some even stabbed themselves rather than die at the hands of the British. The Irregulars were only too happy to be granted the opportunity for such slaughter. They shot warriors down at close range, "butchering the brutes all over the place', as one officer later commented. Some even
snatched up Zulu spears to skewer the warriors more efficiently. A few warriors tried to hide in long grass or ant-bear holes, but all were spotted and killed. The slaughter continued for as long as we could discover any human from before our eyes, wrote another participant. Later, when details of the butchery reached the British press, they caused something of an outcry, yet in truth Wood had been given a golden opportunity to deliver a stunning blow to the Zulu army and he would have been foolish to pass it up. Nor could his troops have been much restrained in any case; they knew only too well that there was no quarter given in Zulu warfare, and they were hell-bent on revenge. Someone saw Buller himself in the thick of the fight like a tiger drunk with blood.
155. The chase continued to the slopes of the Zungwini mountain, about twelve miles away. In the early stages, the Zulu commanders made some attempt to rally their men. Mnyamana Buthelezi urged them to turn around once the British had emerged from their laager, but Zibhebhu pointed out that it was hopeless. Once the route had began there was no stopping it. Mnyamana tried to lead part of the army back to Ulundi, but most of the warriors would not follow him, and simply fled towards their homes. It is not known for certain how many casualties they had suffered, but when the British burial parties began to collect the dead, 785 bodies were brought in from the immediate confines of the camp. Many were badly knocked about by shell fire. They were buried in large pits 200 feet long, 20 feet wide and 10 feet deep.
156. Because of the severe nature of the pursuit, the ratio of killed to wounded was probably very high. Hundreds more lay out along the route of the retreat, and bodies kept turning up for days, hidden behind rocks or in tall grass where they had crawled to die. Of those who managed to escape, bearing the terrible wounds inflicted by the heavy lead bullets, few probably survived the journey to their family homesteads. Many men of rank and influence had been killed, for the officers had exposed themselves a good deal in leading the charges. Most of the dead were from the younger regiments, and the nation was to be stunned by their loss. Perhaps as many as 3,000 warriors died in total, and it is impossible to calculate the number who survived with minor injuries.
157. By comparison, Woods's losses were insignificant : eighteen NCOs and men killed, and eight officers, 57 NCOs and men wounded. Ten of the wounded later died and they were all buried in a small cemetery to the north of the camp.
158. The Journey Home. Fly from Kambula towards Uyskop (the rounded mountain top north west of Kambula) and then aim for the end of the ridge in the west where a lip juts out. The ruins of Piet Uys' farm will be seen just beneath this as the escarpment drops away below. Uys was one of the casualties of Hlobane. His descendants left the farm as the area is too cold in winter.
159. From here the return flight can be made via Newcastle and Vrede, both of which have NDB's then on up to Rand Airport from where our journey commenced. We hope you had a pleasant and interesting day's flying.