Isandlwana © Creative Commons
The battle at Isandlwana Hill on 22 January 1879 stunned the British Empire in what was to be the worst defeat in the history of their imperial warfare. The news that an entire battalion of British troops had been wiped out by a 'native' army was unbelievable.
The Zulu kingdom, under the leadership of King Cetshwayo, had been gaining strength and was perceived to be a threat to the British colonists, refusing to submit to British rule. British troops were ordered to invade Zululand, but grossly underestimated the Zulu warriors, and the surprise attack on the British camp on the slopes of Isandlwana Hill left hundreds dead.
Isandlwana was the first major encounter of the Anglo-Zulu War. A force of about 20,000 Zulu warriors attacked a portion of the main British column, consisting of about 2,000 soldiers. British fatalities numbered about 1,300 and the Zulus sustained almost as many fatalities, but their far greater numbers allowed them a decisive victory.
The far superior weapons technology of the British should have enabled them to withstand the attack but they were very poorly deployed. Today, the battlefield is dotted with memorials, and mounds of white stones that mark the British mass graves. The beauty of the place belies the horror it once witnessed.
Address: The battlefield is 50 miles (80km) southeast of Dundee off the R68