On 22 January 1879 a 20,000-strong Zulu army attacked 1,700 British and colonial forces. The engagement saw primitive weapons of spears and shields clashing with the latest military technology. However, despite being poorly equipped, the numerically superior Zulu force crushed the British troops, killing 1,300 men, whilst only losing 1,000 of their own warriors. It was a humiliating defeat for the British Army, who had been poorly trained and who had underestimated their enemy. The defeat ensured that the British had a renewed respect for their opponents and changed their tactics, rather than fighting in a straight, linear formation, known as the Thin Red Line they adopted an entrenched system or close order formations.The defeat caused much consternation throughout the British Empire, who had assumed that the Zulu were no match for the British Army and thus the army was greatly reinforced and went on to victory at Rorke’s Drift.
The Battle of Isandlwana was a decisive victory for the Zulus and caused the defeat of the first British invasion of Zululand. The British and colonial troops were armed with the modern Martini-Henry breech-loading rifle and two 7-pounder mountain guns deployed as field guns, as well as a Hale rocket battery. Despite a vast disadvantage in weapons technology,the numerically superior Zulus ultimately overwhelmed the poorly led and badly deployed British, killing over 1,300 troops, including all those out on the forward firing line. This is a good concise account from the “Battle Story” series.