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Anglo-Zulu War
The Battle of Rourke's Drift

"War against Zulus. Cause: The Zulus. Zulus exterminated. Peace with Zulus."
W. C. Sellar & R. J. Yeatman, 1066 and All That

The Anglo-Zulu War (1879) was a series of conflicts fought between the British Empire and the Zulu Empire all between January and July 1879. The war was instigated due to tensions between the Zulu leader Cetshwayo, and the Boers in the Transvaal region. The British choose to intervene due to a pre-existing desire to war against the Zulu because of land disputes. In 1879 a British force invaded Zululand aiming to capture the capital of Ulundi.

In response a Zulu force of 40,000, armed mostly with assegais, was mobilized against the British expeditionary force of 2000. Underestimating Zulu numbers and capabilities met with bad leadership as the British lost the initial Battle of Isandlwana. Immediately after this, 139 British soldiers managed to hold off three to four thousand Zulus attacking their garrison until relief arrived in the Battle of Rorke's Drift, which resulted in eleven Victoria Crosses being awarded, a record for a single action unsurpassed to this date.

The British would also lose another decisive conflict during Siege of Eshowe, and a major contingent of their forces decided to make a Tactical Withdrawal following news of the defeat at Isandlwana. This left only a single small British force in Zululand unable to advance alone.

With the British invasion force crippled, Cetshwayo was left in an odd position. He hadn't anticipated such a decisive victory over the invaders, albeit at distressingly heavy losses, and hadn't planned to follow them into neighbouring Natal. The Zulu remained in their own country as the British retreated and regrouped. The British eventually launched a second invasion but suffered a debilitating defeat at the Battle of Intombe, where a supply convoy was ransacked by the Zulu and only 40 British managed to escape.

The British would face defeat again at the Battle of Holbane, before finally meeting with some success in winning the three subsequent battles the Battle of Kambula, the Battle of Gingindlovu and the Battle of Eshowe. Finally finding some success in their advances, the British found themselves in more or less the same position they had been in January. Quickly moving forward in an attack on the capital, Cetshwayo attempted to establish a treaty but was refused peace talks by the British. The resulting Battle of Ulundi, with British with better tactical arrangements and more suitable weapons like gatling machine guns, was a decisive defeat on behalf of the Zulu though the British suffered great casualties as well, including the exiled French heir Imperial Prince Napoleon Eugene, who had volunteered for service.

In the aftermath of the British victory in the Zululand capital the remnant of the Zulu army dispersed and Cetshwayo went into hiding, though he was later captured and disposed of his monarchy. Zululand was then divided into 13 territories by the British, and after traveling to England Cetshwayo was awarded monarchy of one of the 13 states. He would later be killed after being wounded when another of the fractured states invaded his own.

Today what was Zululand is a portion of South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal, one of South Africa's nine provinces. In North America today it is probably best known as the place where Mike Rowe got attacked by a monkey.

In media

  • Zulu!, a 1964 about Rorke's Drift and starring Michael Caine. It's got a fair few inaccuracies and anyone with a knowledge of film goofs will tell you about the wristwatche, but it remains a classic. 1979's Zulu Dawn covered Isandhlwana.
    • Many later works about situations like Rorke's Drift reference this in some film.
    • White Dwarf 222 did an Orks vs. Imperial Guard Warhammer 40,000 scenario explicitly based on the battle.
  • Monty Python's The Meaning of Life has a sketch set on Natal right in the middle of a battle. However, the officers get sidetracked by a leg-stealing tiger.
    "A tiger in Africa?"
Imperial GermanyHollywood HistoryWar of the Pacific
Anglo-Dutch WarsAdministrivia/Useful Notes Pages in MainAnne Boleyn

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