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Worst British military defeat in History

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posted on Jun, 25 2017 @ 09:16 PM
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After seeing topic after topic on here about Trump vs Clinton and Russian Collusion I wanted to move away from politics and go into a little bit of history, I have decided to talk about the Battle of Isandlwana which is considered by most military historians as the worst defeat in history for any first world nation.

A little background into the Battle of Isandlwana, The battle was fought between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom of what is now South Africa. On 22 January 1879 the British Number 2 Column and Number 3 Column a total of 1800 men met a Zulu army of anywhere between 12,000 to 20,000 warriors. The British soldiers at the time were armed with what is considered one of the best infantry rifles of its time the Martini-Henry breach loader while the Zulu Impis were armed with Assegai iron spears and cowhide shields.


The battle was a decisive victory for the Zulus and caused the defeat of the first British invasion of Zululand.[23] The British Army had suffered its worst defeat against an indigenous foe with vastly inferior military technology.[20] Isandlwana resulted in the British taking a much more aggressive approach in the Anglo–Zulu War, leading to a heavily reinforced second invasion[24] and the destruction of King Cetshwayo's hopes of a negotiated peace.[25]


The British invasion force was under the command of Lord Chelmsford and the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 24th Regiment of Foot were considered some of the best and most reliable British troops in the continent of Africa. Days before the initial battle Lord Chelmsford split his force in to go find the Zulu Impis, leaving close to 1300 men at the foot of Isandlwana. While he was doing this the Zulu Impis were able to out maneuver the British and were able to get behind the British.


While Chelmsford was in the field seeking them, the entire Zulu army had outmanoeuvered him, moving behind his force with the intention of attacking the British Army on the 23rd. Pulleine had received reports of large forces of Zulus throughout the morning of the 22nd from 8:00am on. Vedettes had observed Zulus on the hills to the left front, and Lt. Chard, while he was at the camp, observed a large force of several thousand Zulu moving to the British left around the hill of Isandlwana. Pulleine sent word to Chelmsford, which was received by the General between 9:00am and 10:00am.[54] The main Zulu force was discovered at around 11:00am by men of Lt. Charles Raw's troop of scouts, who chased a number of Zulus into a valley, only then seeing most of the 20,000 men of the main enemy force sitting in total quiet. This valley has generally been thought to be the Ngwebeni some 7 miles (11 km) from the British camp but may have been closer in the area of the spurs of Nqutu hill. Having been discovered, the Zulu force leapt to the offensive. Raw's men began a fighting retreat back to the camp and a messenger was sent to warn Pulleine.


The Zulu attack began with what they called "the horns and the chest of the buffalo" with the whole idea being to encircle the British and defeat them in order. The British commanders at the camp believed that even though the Zulu Impis had superior numbers, the training the British soldiers had and the fact they had rifles and cannon would be what would allow them to win this battle however they were terribly wrong.


ulleine sent out first one, then all six companies of the 24th Foot into an extended firing line, with the aim of meeting the Zulu attack head-on and checking it with firepower.



An officer in advance from Chelmsford's force gave this eyewitness account of the final stage of the battle at about 3:00pm. "In a few seconds we distinctly saw the guns fired again, one after the other, sharp. This was done several times - a pause, and then a flash – flash! The sun was shining on the camp at the time, and then the camp looked dark, just as if a shadow was passing over it. The guns did not fire after that, and in a few minutes all the tents had disappeared.


An account from a Zulu warrior at around the same time.

"The sun turned black in the middle of the battle; we could still see it over us, or should have thought we had been fighting till evening. Then we got into the camp, and there was a great deal of smoke and firing. Afterwards the sun came out bright again."[62] The time of the solar eclipse on that day is calculated as 2:29pm.


There are many accounts towards the end of the battle of desperate last stands with groups of foot soldiers and officers realizing that this was the end tried there utmost to starve off defeat the best they could. A Zulu account of the battle describes about 150 men and officers of the 24th to have formed square at the foot of a hill around the well liked Colonel Durnford also with him were officers, NCO's and NMP (Natal Mounted Police) who all easily could have fled but instead fought and died next to their brothers in arms. I personally like hearing stories like this, not for the loss of life but for the fact of sheer courage and what it shows of the bond of brothers in arms. All of these men knew that they would not make it out alive, I can onlu imagine the sheer terror and panic going through their minds but they never left the men standing next to them to try and flew in panic, they stood and fought and ultimately died like men.


The British fought back-to-back[66] with bayonet and rifle butt when their ammunition had finally been expended.[67] A Zulu account relates the single-handed fight by the guard of Chelmsford's tent, a big Irishman of the 24th who kept the Zulus back with his bayonet until he was speared and the general's Union flag captured.[64] Both the colours of the 2/24th were lost, while the Queen's colour of the 1/24th was carried off the field by Lieutenant Melvill on horseback but lost when he crossed the river, despite Lieutenant Coghill coming to his aid. Both Melvill and Coghill were killed after crossing the river, and would receive posthumous Victoria Crosses in 1907 as the legend of their gallantry grew, and, after twenty-seven years of steady campaigning by the late Mrs. Melvill (who had died in 1906), on the strength of Queen Victoria being quoted as saying that 'if they had survived they would have been awarded the Victoria Cross'.[68] Garnet Wolseley, who would replace Chelmsford, felt otherwise at the time and stated, "I don't like the idea of officers escaping on horseback when their men on foot are being killed."[69]


This will forever go down as the greatest military defeat by a vastly superior force fighting what was considered a army of "heathens". This is a prime example of never underestimating your opponent. For those of you who have never seen it there is a movie that was made in 1979, 100 years after the battle was fought called Zulu Dawn, it is a very historically accurate film and one of my personal favorites that I would highly recommend to anyone who likes historical films.

Out of the 1300 British soldiers present at the battle it is believed that only 55 survived.

Battle of IsandlwanaBBCBattle












edit on 25-6-2017 by caf1550 because: (no reason given)




posted on Jun, 25 2017 @ 09:33 PM
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perhaps the Dutch sailing up the Thames and burning London.

or Saratoga, Cowpens and Yorktown in the American Revolution. (and the naval Battle of the Capes, in which the French fleet drove off the English reinforcements, leading to the decision @ Yorktown).

French/Indian defeat of Braddock in the woods.

The Japanese sinking Prince of Wales and Repulse in the Pacific in WWII.

Rommel wining @ Gazala and taking Tobruk



posted on Jun, 25 2017 @ 09:38 PM
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My apologies, it is considered one of the 5 worst British military defeats.

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posted on Jun, 25 2017 @ 09:40 PM
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a reply to: ElGoobero

ooh and lets not forget the fall of Singapore



posted on Jun, 25 2017 @ 09:56 PM
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a reply to: caf1550

OK. Eighteen-hundred men with rifles, that are bolt-action at the best, against 12,000 to 20,000 warriors that can run and fight like the wind with spears that don't need a belt box full of limited bullets with which to kill the vastly outnumbered enemy. Other than a failure on the truly intelligence part of the British command structure, what is the point of this history lesson?



edit on 25-6-2017 by Aliensun because: (no reason given)



posted on Jun, 25 2017 @ 10:01 PM
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a reply to: caf1550

An excellent retelling of a sad day in history. Thank you for sharing this with us. Yes, Zulu Dawn is a super retelling of the story.



posted on Jun, 25 2017 @ 10:24 PM
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Very good read and something I never really looked indepth too



posted on Jun, 25 2017 @ 10:42 PM
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originally posted by: caf1550
My apologies, it is considered one of the 5 worst British military defeats.

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This is not related to the Zulu and I don´t want to derail the thread... but I was reading through your source and after reading the part about the bismark I am really confused.

I was always under the impression that the only ship that got sunk by the Bismark was the HMS Hood yet the article states

that the two ships that intercepted them on May 24 were the battleship Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser Repulse... it was the Repulse that made it a dark day for the Royal Navy. After a few German salvoes, the battlecruiser exploded with the loss of more than 1,300 sailors.


Now wikipedia says that

The sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse was a naval engagement in the Second World War, part of the war in the Pacific, that took place north of Singapore, off the east coast of Malaya, near Kuantan, Pahang, where the British Royal Navy battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse were sunk by land-based bombers and torpedo bombers of the Imperial Japanese Navy on 10 December 1941


Sooo ...what am I missing here? Did the author in the source article just mix this up, where there two Repulse named battlecruisers or am I just too stupid to read this all correctly? Can someone explain this to me?



posted on Jun, 25 2017 @ 10:48 PM
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originally posted by: Aliensun
a reply to: caf1550

OK. Eighteen-hundred men with rifles, that are bolt-action at the best, against 12,000 to 20,000 warriors that can run and fight like the wind with spears that don't need a belt box full of limited bullets with which to kill the vastly outnumbered enemy. Other than a failure on the truly intelligence part of the British command structure, what is the point of this history lesson?




1.Don't get cocky.
2. know your opponent.
edit on 25-6-2017 by Spider879 because: (no reason given)


(post by Therisnospoon removed for a serious terms and conditions violation)

posted on Jun, 25 2017 @ 10:59 PM
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Ummm, I would think 22(?) January 1815 . . . the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.



posted on Jun, 25 2017 @ 10:59 PM
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originally posted by: weirdguy
a reply to: ElGoobero

ooh and lets not forget the fall of Singapore


thats what i was thinking.
Singapore being lost to Japan was a real turning point in the British Rule over its colonies.



posted on Jun, 25 2017 @ 11:07 PM
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originally posted by: Aliensun
a reply to: caf1550

OK. Eighteen-hundred men with rifles, that are bolt-action at the best, against 12,000 to 20,000 warriors that can run and fight like the wind with spears that don't need a belt box full of limited bullets with which to kill the vastly outnumbered enemy. Other than a failure on the truly intelligence part of the British command structure, what is the point of this history lesson?




The Commander was an idiot, and the battle was conducted extremely poorly. Men weren't given bullets despite an abundance of them, orders were confused and often contradictory leading to confusion among the ranks.

Look up Rorke's Drift. Immediately after Isandlwana. Arguably one of the greatest moments in British military history following from one of the worst.

The Zulus had guns that time around.



posted on Jun, 26 2017 @ 12:20 AM
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Part of the reasons, for this massive failure, was Europe's confidence post 18th century in their military technology as the quote by Hilaire Belloc goes

“Whatever happens, we have got The Maxim gun, and they have not.”

This confidence and it was justified confidence, had seen Europe's rise across the globe, however it can and often lead to disaster.
The Ashanti wars three wars with the British, the British lost except in the last one.

The Anglo Egyptian invasion of Sudan, was met with disaster, the first time around killing General Gordon.

The first Italian invasion of Ethiopia , wiped out, Ethiopians managed to adopt the maxim gun..now what?

French military leaders referred to him as "The Black Napoleon."
The French faced numerous battle field defeat at the hands of Samory Toure .
www.nbufront.org...
The era pre 19th century, saw every European attempt to bully their way past the coast was met with failure


www.amazon.com...

Beginning with the Roman defeat in Meroe era Kush, but for our purposes in the 16th century engagements where Portuguese ships ran afoul of West Africa's Navel fleets at sea and on the rivers, entire crews killed or enslaved..diplomacy and trade had more success.
edit on 26-6-2017 by Spider879 because: (no reason given)



posted on Jun, 26 2017 @ 12:52 AM
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originally posted by: Ohanka

originally posted by: Aliensun
a reply to: caf1550

OK. Eighteen-hundred men with rifles, that are bolt-action at the best, against 12,000 to 20,000 warriors that can run and fight like the wind with spears that don't need a belt box full of limited bullets with which to kill the vastly outnumbered enemy. Other than a failure on the truly intelligence part of the British command structure, what is the point of this history lesson?




The Commander was an idiot, and the battle was conducted extremely poorly. Men weren't given bullets despite an abundance of them, orders were confused and often contradictory leading to confusion among the ranks.

Look up Rorke's Drift. Immediately after Isandlwana. Arguably one of the greatest moments in British military history following from one of the worst.

The Zulus had guns that time around.


Perhaps the man who saved the Brits from being driven into the sea.
True but idiocy and over confidence cuts both ways..

While the Undi Corps had been led by inkhosi kaMapitha at the Isandlwana battle, the command of the Undi Corps passed to Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande (half-brother of Cetshwayo kaMpande, the Zulu king) when kaMapitha was wounded mopping up British fugitives from Isandlwana. Prince Dabulamanzi was considered rash and aggressive and this characterization was borne out by his violation of King Cetshwayo's order to act only in defence of Zululand against the invading British soldiers and not carry the war over the border into enemy territory. The Rorke's Drift attack was an unplanned raid rather than any organized counter-invasion, with many of the Undi Corps Zulus breaking off to raid other African kraals and homesteads while the main body advanced on Rorke's Drift.
en.wikipedia.org...'s_Drift



posted on Jun, 26 2017 @ 01:25 AM
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Yeah, well. Even the British suffer military defeats. Putting the Battle of Isandlwana in the wider Anglo-Zulu war, the Brits won. Isandlwana revealed poor tactics and the inability to cope with being so outnumbered.



posted on Jun, 26 2017 @ 01:42 AM
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Regardless of any historical defeats, nothing can tarnish the reputation of the vastly superior British Military. Any nation who could do real battle with a foe such as the Falklands, and valiantly defend the Crown's vital Strategic Sheep Reserves is one who's light shall never be extinguished.

(End tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness)

edit on 26-6-2017 by pfishy because: (no reason given)



posted on Jun, 26 2017 @ 01:57 AM
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Well lets throw in "The Great Mistake" during operation Market Garden... pretty big failure there lol



posted on Jun, 26 2017 @ 02:03 AM
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Good work OP.

A combination of inept leadership and an awesome enemy.
To be fair, there were plenty of natives around the empire who gave the army a bloody nose.
Isandlwhana stands out for sheer shock value though.



posted on Jun, 26 2017 @ 02:19 AM
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originally posted by: Xtrozero
Well lets throw in "The Great Mistake" during operation Market Garden... pretty big failure there lol


No, it was a gamble that did not accomplish its aims. Yet, the war was won. In a complex and fluid war some things work and some things don't. That is the case for all sides in any conflict, including the Americans who made some serious cock-ups in WW2, as did the Japanese, Soviets, Italians and Germans etc...



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