Lessons from history: Isandlwana, 1879 and FOF, 2000

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On the 22nd of January 1879, the British army suffered one of its most overwhelming defeats ever, at the hands of the Zulus at Isandlwana in southern Africa.

The British army had overwhelming technical superiority, and a good scout system and battle plan. Unfortunately, they disregarded the reports from some of their own scouts, vastly underestimated the numbers of their foes and engaged in a foolhardy battle under false assumptions. Eventually brought to bear in a defensive position, their discipline and courage held the Zulus off for a considerable amount of time, despite being outnumbered about ten to one. Their final collapse was brought on due to a lack of ammunition. One of the more obscure facts about Isandlwana is that there were plenty of boxes of ammunition available (which the Zulus happily siezed), but no one to open them. The Zulus cleverly targetted the officers and Commisars who held the keys to the ammunition boxes, and the rankers couldn't force them open with their bayonets.

Relevant Y2K lessons we can learn: 1) When you have to choose between believing a good report and a bad report, you'd better base your decision on what you will lose if you are wrong.

2) Courage, fortitude, training and calm, confident leadership in a crisis is no substitute for avoiding the crisis in the first place.

3) Any piece of technology is only as good as it's most vulnerable part. No bullets = no guns. No adhesive = no labels = no tins = no food.

4) Who's got the keys to the "ammunition boxes" at your utilities, bank and supermarket? The engineers who COULD fix the problems probably don't have the authority to do so. I'm not even cleared to SEE my company's contingency plans.

-- Colin MacDonald (roborogerborg@yahoo.com), November 22, 1999


This battle has also been noteworthy to handgun caliber discussions, as the British had recently switched from large to small caliber revolvers (.38), which apparently did not have the stopping power needed. The Zulus apparently just kept on coming, in spite of having been shot numerous times. Many died, but only after killing the British soldiers with their machetes.

Chances are, had an adequate manstopping caliber been in use, the need for additional ammo might have not been so crucial. Though it would have been nice to have ready if needed....

39 days.

-- Jack (jsprat@eld.~net), November 22, 1999.

---very good points and story. Illustrates why it's so important to NOT be 100% "dependent" on your local megamart for food, your local completely overpriced mega monopoly utility "service', your local 911 to keep you "safe"-on and on. Being as independent as possible gives you the FLEXIBILITY to cruise in and out of the gridded and interconnected "world". You are never (hardly ever, anyway), so dependent on everything outside "working' that it's a hassle if any of that goes tango uniform. You keep crusing. and for the majority of people, it's relatively easy time wise and money wise, just a realignment of priorites. really need that pizza tonite? instead, for the same money you could have bought-lemme see what's a decent pizza price, 15 greenspans? OK--could have got a small roast, cooked half, made jerky and stashed away the other half, got a big bag 0 spuds, got a bag of onions, carrots, etc, dried and put away most of those. there's one example. Lemme see--some "sporting" event tickets and expenses-50$x2 tickets=100 clams, add parking, 6$, add some brewskis and dogs, another 10$, that's 116$, could have bought an entire closet full of tp when it was on sale, ladies hygiene paper products on sale, and enough bar soap to last a LONG time. There are thousands of examples like that. Not saying anyone has to go live like a hermit, we all like our comforts, etc, but being adequately prepared really doesn't have to be much of a burden at all. You can do quite well by spending the exact same money you now do, just rearrange your priorities. Lemme see, a biggee--homeowner X spends 150 grand on a "home" of maybe 3500 sq feet. Now if homeowner x had adjusted to living in a 3000 sq ft home instead, and spent that savings on a big solar array, storage batteries, and an attached solar greenhouse for example, he'd still be at that theoretical 150 grand level, still have a nice big house, but he'd have a lot of his energy needs and food production independent of the grid and megastore taken care of. That's insurance to me, REAL insurance. Priorities-a martha stewart simply divine entryway, or a really impressive and adequate solar rig? you all have choices.

some points to ponder zog

-- zog (zzoggy@yahoo.com), November 22, 1999.

Holy cow! Where do you live that you can get 3500 square for 150K? I just got 2500 square for 215K. Sheesh, what I could have done with the extra 65K...

-- just wondering (what.it.is@about.com), November 22, 1999.

First of all ,the Zulu's used Assegi's not Machetes, they sound the same but one is a spear, the other is a big knife ... second, the British did not lose at Isandhlwhana because of an ammo shortage, you've watched 'Zulu' to many times. They lost because they did not fortify the camp, because chelmsford split his forces, and most of all because of the brilliant Zulu envelopment maneuver.

-- jeremiah (braponspdetroit@hotmail.com), November 22, 1999.

Similar issues for ole' General Custer around the same time period as well. Didn't listen to scouts, outnumbered, ammo was the wrong type...and both incidents all happened within what 10-15 years apart? If we as a people couldn't learn from experience then, then what do you think will happen this time around?

-- Billy-Boy (Rakkasan@yahoo.com), November 22, 1999.

If you always do what you always did,

You'll always get what you always got.

-- Sam (Gunmkr52@aol.com), November 22, 1999.

It should also be mentioned that the ammunition was not resupplied fast enough to the troops early on due to British military disciplined adherence to orderly conduct; standing in line awaiting your turn for standard issue of a standard quanity of ammo,with a stiff upper lip so as to not show any unbecoming signs of panic; all the while the Zulu kept on coming only slightly deterred by the deadly accurate firepower of the British which was beginning to show signs of lessening of intensity. The Zulu have my respect!

-- (historyfan@nosafety.net), November 22, 1999.

And tried to hold WAY too big a defensive perimeter

-- mushroom (mushroom_bs_too_long@yahoo.com), November 22, 1999.


Were they really using .38 cal revolvers in the Brit army in 1879? I would have thought that was way too early. I thought they still had .45s in WWII?


-- Ron Davis (rdavis@ozemail.com.au), November 23, 1999.

Hi Jeremia. Bzzt, I've read a book or two. IIRC, Isandlwana is touched on only briefly in "Zulu", and the ammunition issue isn't mentioned. Perhaps you are thinking of "Zulu Dawn", which I haven't seen. I'd be delighted to discuss this via email if you are interested, but I'm disappointed that you chose to belittle my post without even bothering to check my research. :(

-- Colin MacDonald (roborogerborg@yahoo.com), November 23, 1999.

As 'historyfan' pointed out, part of the problem was that people had to stand in line and wait for additional ammunition because the ammunition boxes were securely locked and sealed and in the charge of QM's who couldn't adjust quickly enough to simply handing ammunition out to anyone who just came along and asked for it. In the Victorian Imperial Army, such a casual approach to the issuance of ammunition was not the done thing. Nor, by Jove, were the QM's prepared to even consider handing our Her Majesty's ammunition to the irregulars who accompanied the British forces, many of who were crack shots. When the rifle barrels began to overheat, too, the British force was doomed - but, as I recollect, Sir Garnet was then sent for and the Empire's then-premier soldier then exacted a terrible revenge.

Those Victorian QM's worry me, though - their descendants have multiplied, are everywhere, and aren't adjusting to Y2K too quickly, either, and they control many of the resources we require as the Y2K impi steadily advances on us...

Okay, Colin, on to Ladysmith. What lessons can we draw from that to help us through Y2K :)?

-- John Whitley (jwhitley@inforamp.net), November 24, 1999.

i think ur all wrong it was because the brits were dumb and a bunch of losers back then

-- katrine houseman (littlemrspiggy@fsnet.co.uk), December 05, 2004.

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