Zulu or Ashanti, who would win?

Who wins the hypothetical battle for Africa?


  • Total voters
    19
Apr 2017
676
Lemuria
#21
Comparing these battles to those Zulu battles where no machine guns were used is just strange to me. There is no similarity in what was faced.
The Mahdists had artillery and modern weaponry. Their greatest success came against the Egyptians. They were no where as good as the Zulu. They were actually quite stupid and mindless in their approach despite the advanced technology they were wielding.
The Zulu were better trained and they carefully scouted the enemy and overwhelmed them by moving extremely fast but in a coordinated and tactical way. There is actually about the Zulu written by an Englishmen. They only failed when met with fortification. This type of warfare eluded them.
For what they lacked in term of technology they made up for in term of martial prowess. It's actually an incredible feat for a melee army to actually defeat a British of around 2,000 men. 2000 men is significant. India was conquered with actually very few men using a divide and conquer strategy.

Most non-European armies would actually flee after a few volley but the will and discipline of the Zulu were demonstrated not in victory but in defeat. They actually kept charging against fortification. The Mahdists would have panicked almost instantly. This takes unusual discipline. The Russians for example had to place a machine gun behind their men to discourage them from retreating.
The Mahdists were pathetic. The Zulu deserves admiration. We are talking about the British army with battle hardened colonials in the mix. People just don't realize how good the French and British armies were even in small numbers. These people could conquer entire countries with a few thousands men.
 
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Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,546
Benin City, Nigeria
#22
The Mahdists had artillery and modern weaponry. Their greatest success came against the Egyptians. They were no where as good as the Zulu. They were actually quite stupid and mindless in their approach despite the advanced technology they were wielding.
The Zulu were better trained and they carefully scouted the enemy and overwhelmed them by moving extremely fast but in a coordinated and tactical way. There is actually about the Zulu written by an Englishmen. They only failed when met with fortification. This type of warfare eluded them.
For what they lacked in term of technology they made up for in term of martial prowess. It's actually an incredible feat for a melee army to actually defeat a British of around 2,000 men. 2000 men is significant. India was conquered with actually very few men using a divide and conquer strategy.

Most non-European armies would actually flee after a few volley but the will and discipline of the Zulu were demonstrated not in victory but in defeat. They actually kept charging against fortification. The Mahdists would have panicked almost instantly. This takes unusual discipline. The Russians for example had to place a machine gun behind their men to discourage them from retreating.
The Mahdists were pathetic. The Zulu deserves admiration. We are talking about the British army with battle hardened colonials in the mix. People just don't realize how good the French and British armies were even in small numbers. These people could conquer entire countries with a few thousands men.
Eryl, I don't want to seem rude, but except for your last two sentences (which do seem to downplay or ignore the fact that the British and French often used thousands of locally recruited but European-trained African troops - unless you are counting these as among the "few thousands of men" you're talking about), most of what is written here, with few exceptions, is simply incorrect.

I won't go into detail about all the problems with this post. Previously, I suggested that you expand your reading but I failed to actually recommend anything about these specific subjects that we are talking about. This time all I will just recommend is that you read the book by Vandervort that I already mentioned on page two, and also that you read the book Dervish: the rise and fall of an African empire by Philip Warner.

Also, your portrayal of the Sudanese Mahdists as a group who would "panick almost instantly" is just strange to me. It is simply contrary to fact. Take this description of the battle of Tokar (which the Mahdists lost against superior firepower, but in which they displayed great courage), from a contemporary report:

TOKAR. » 28 Feb 1891 » The Spectator Archive

(They are mostly described as "Arab" throughout that article, which is how they were perceived - perhaps correctly - from a cultural perspective, but it is referring to the Sudanese.)

You should be able to tell from the description ("fiery gallantry", "magnificent courage", etc.) that it is not a description of a group of people that "panicked almost instantly." As I alluded to earlier, the reputation of the Sudanese Mahdists as soldiers was quite high in the past, and for good reason. I would naturally wonder how it is that their reputation came to be so eclipsed by that of the Zulu to the point that they are sometimes not even mentioned when talking about formidable soldiers that put up a gallant resistance in Africa. I merely asked that question to point out the lack of objectivity that I think exists about this topic, not because I have a particular interest in elevating or promoting the Sudanese. So far I have not seen a sufficient explanation, and what I have seen so far does seem to overlook or downplay basic facts that are very relevant here.
 
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Jun 2013
854
Universe
#23
I am aware of when the first major conflict occurred. I just view the earlier conflicts before 1874 as being more along the lines of two states competing for influence/power in a certain area (the coast) and eventually warring rather than really being a case of anti-colonial resistance. It might be hard to believe nowadays, but the Asante in the early 1800s (such as in 1823-1831) simply were not at any real risk of being "colonized", and the conflicts before the 1874 war are not something I would interpret as fitting under the label of anti-colonial resistance. That is just my opinion and you are welcome to disagree of course. Some scholars certainly have described the earlier conflicts as anti-colonial resistance of course so there are definitely other people that hold the same view that you do.

Nah I understand what you mean with it not truly being "anti-colonial resistance." So no disagreements. But even before 1874 I still personally believe the Ashanti people fared better against the British than the Zulus. Welcome to be corrected on that part.
 
Jun 2012
5,701
Texas
#25
Much appreciate your input, and what you are saying was actually noted in the opening comments. The Ashanti were much more stubborn, and, also extremely tactically flexible. This is one of the big arguments for the Ashanti.

The argument for the Zulu is that they stopped an enormous, modern British army dead in its tracks with the three wins at Isandlwana, Eshowe, and Hllobane. To put this into context, there were about 35,000 Zulus in the army. The British had about 17,000-18,000, fully half of which would have been crack British Infantry armed with Martini-Henry breech loading rifles capable of firing up to twelve rounds a minute and hitting targets at perhaps several hundred yards.

Several thousand more of their number would have been cavarly, mostly irregular Afrikaner and African cavalry that fought like "cowboys," firing rifles and pistols from horseback. There also would have been some classic British lancers.

Rounding out the number were native levies (other than then cavarly) which would be used for scouting, logistics, and mopping up.

The Zulu stopped this juggernaut in its tracks. This would have been a formidable army against any opponent in the world, and some might even say ahead of its time, since they had cavalry that fought more intelligently than that of classic European shock cavalry, which had not caught up with the times and come to grip with the increased lethality of weapons.

A lot of people decry Zulumania, or Zuluphilia, and it is hard to understand why. They did somethings that seemed almost impossible.
Didn't the British break the siege and defest the Zulu at eshowe?
 
Mar 2012
2,344
#26
You are ignoring the fact of the machine gun being used in those battles. Have you read the descriptions, in European accounts (mostly British) of its effectiveness against troops armed with inferior firearms?

Abu Klea which you mention. . .machine gun.

El Teb consisted of two battles. The Mahdists won the first battle against the Egyptian force. They lost the second to the British force. . .at that second battle there were six machine guns.

Tamai. . .machine guns in use.

Comparing these battles to those Zulu battles where no machine guns were used is just strange to me. There is no similarity in what was faced.
I am not ignorning anything or doing anything strange: the Mahdists lost to machine guns in these battles, so no, they did not do better.

Even when they beat Egytian troops, they did so with modern weaponery. It was the Zulu that overcame a massive technological gradient, not the Mahdists.

But again, they point is that they never beat the machine guns. Your point would matter if they did.

The last time I checked, they fought the British, the Egyptians, and Ethiopians, and they fought for nearly two decades. . .the Zulus fought in one year, and lost as soon as two Gatling guns were brought into play. . .whereas the Sudanese had been fighting against troops with multiple machine guns from the beginning.
But they never defeated a British army of 17,000 men like the Zulu.


This isn't about "degrading" the Zulu feat, but about putting it in perspective, since it seems there's a lot of confusion about what their military prowess really was relative to other African groups.
They were undeniably great and captured the imagination of generations.

Again, the point of the thread is to discuss the merit of Zulu against another great African nation. Why not participate in that? Why say that you dislike head-to-head comparisons and then introduce one of your own?

Just pick the Ashanti.


Please read up on the battles again.
I do intend to re-read THE RIVER WAR. But the fact is, the Mahdists just did nothing to capture the imagination of people like defeating a British army of 17,000.

These battles were not anything like most of the Zulu-British battles at all. This is the point I have tried to emphasize already by providing the context about the change in weaponry that occurred.
I am not going to go on and on about this. You can have the last word if you like. But getting mowed down by machine guns and not winning agains the British army does not capture the imagination like beating a massive British army, and it isn't going to. What is more, it is the Zulu that overcame the higer technological gradient.


This isn't about liking one over the other. My comments are simply an attempt at bringing what I believe is a factual quality to the discussion. They are not aimed at degrading one group or emphasizing that I like one more than the other. That isn't the point.
Might not be the point but it is the reslut.

About bringing up the Sudanese, that is just one example that I used to ask a simple question, that's all. Why aren't they more renowned (nowadays, not talking of many decades ago) compared to the Zulu when their stand against the British was clearly more impressive?
Because it wasn't in the hearts and minds of the generations that followed. They never got the big astonishing win over British forces. An no, the fact that they were mowed down in the thousands doesnt change that.

From what I've gathered over the years, it seems that there just isn't much understanding of the real effect that the introduction of the machine gun into warfare had on British power relative to its opponents in Africa.
They never beat the British. Being mowed down by machine guns is not impressive.

What is more, you are dramatically overestimating the effect of machine guns. Rifles and artillery are much more important. You can look into the Franco-Prussian war for that one.

I am aware of that. That is counted as a forerunner to machine gun rather than outright called a machine gun usually, though I guess classifications may vary according to the author. But anyway, the losses on the Zulu side vs the losses on the British side for Ulundi resemble those of other conflicts of the period where the British used machine guns against opponents that were not as well armed, which lines up with my point. If the British had come into the war using one or two Maxims or Gardners or Nordenfelts or the Gatlings that they used at the end of the Zulu war, we wouldn't even be having this discussion because the Zulu victories would never even have occurred.
I can only keep repeating: the Zulus overcame rifles with spear. The Mahdists died in the thousands with their rifles against machine guns.

The Zulu victories were obviously more impressive. Hence Zulumania.



This is pretty much completely upside down.

The Maxim wasn't the first machine gun the British used against the Mahdists, it was just the most superior and the final one and the one they used to decisively end the war.

As I said earlier, the Mahdists fought against machine guns from the beginning.
And they lost against machine guns since the beggining.

In any event, the sources that I have read said that the dum-dum bullts had greater effect because they were used to play on Muslim fear of deformity. You can believe as you like. In any event, they never overcame machine guns.


Please re-check your information about the battles. . .
Sure. Will do. Won't change anything though, for reasons stated repeatedly.



My point is simply that until the final battle, where two Gatling guns put an end to their streak, the Zulu did not face anything like what the Mahdists, or other Africans who fought against British armies with machine guns did. My point remains unchanged, and the losses of the Zulus at Ulundi compared to the British losses basically reinforces it.
A) The Zulu overcame the greater technological gradient, defeating rifles with spears.

B) The Mahdists did not defeat British troops using machine guns, so the point is moot. The Madists never had the big, impressive win that people remember.

Look, I have helped hijack my own thread here. I think you would be better off celebrating the Zulu, but you can do as you like. Go ahead and have the last word. You are a gentlemen. From here on it is all Ashanti VS Zulu.
 
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Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,546
Benin City, Nigeria
#27
I am not ignorning anything or doing anything strange: the Mahdists lost to machine guns in these battles, so no, they did not do better.
I'm sorry but I do think that this is missing the point. The Mahdists fought against machine gun equipped armies for nearly two decades, but the Zulu crumbled once two Gatling guns were introduced.

Even when they beat Egytian troops, they did so with modern weaponery. It was the Zulu that overcame a massive technological gradient, not the Mahdists.
It's not quite so simple. And this is why I recommended to another poster a book that he could read that gives an informative and objective appraisal of the Mahdists' efforts. . .if one reads that book I mentioned one will come across the words "sword" and "spear" so many times that it will soon become obvious to any reader that the Mahdist armies weren't simply a "modern weaponry" army. A fraction of them had rifles yes, but in many battles, most of their forces were armed with weapons for fighting hand-to-hand.

Hicks' 1883 expedition against the Mahdists had several machine guns. . .the Mahdists had no comparable weaponry and many of their soldiers were armed with swords and spears, only a fraction of their army had rifles. But this force was completely outsmarted and then annihilated by the Mahdists. A force commanded by British officers that had thousands of infantry and cavalry, several machine guns and artillery pieces. . .and they lost against a force that had mostly swords and spears. . .

I don't want to derail the thread any further than I already have, so even though I do disagree completely with most of what you've written, especially with the claim that I am overestimating the effect of the machine guns and with the idea that what the Zulus faced was a greater technological challenge/gap to overcome, I won't argue any further in detail. It may seem like I am derailing simply to "go to bat" for the Sudanese, but that is not my goal or real purpose in bringing them up at all. I was simply using them as an example to show the lack of objectivity which I believe exists when discussing the Zulu and how their fighting ability is seen relative to other African groups. I honestly think most of what I had posted that has ended up derailing the thread or which appears (on the surface) to be promoting the Sudanese is simply information/arguments meant to challenge certain ideas which many people seem to have that are just popular beliefs or assumptions, but are not really fact or source based ideas.
 
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May 2011
13,780
Navan, Ireland
#28
I'm sorry but I do think that this is missing the point. The Mahdists fought against machine gun equipped armies for nearly two decades, but the Zulu crumbled once two Gatling guns were introduced..................
I am broadly in agreement that the Zulu's are widely over estimated but there are a couple of point,

I think your are widely over estimating the importance of machine guns, initially they were not that important and certainly not above artillery and formed troops. A far more important was initially the breech loading rifles eg Martini -Henry used in the Zulu war and by Egyptian troops against the Mahdists and then magazine rifles eg British troops rate of fire compared to the Egyptian troops was much greater and at a much longer distance.

The Zulu did not 'crumble' as soon as Gatling guns were introduced-- they were heavy, and unreliable. They 'crumbled' because the British brought in large numbers (comparatively) of Imperial troops, well armed and well disciplined.

Chelmsford was not a fool but does bear responsibility for the disasters, all his experience in fighting African tribes had shown him that his main problem would not be defeating the Zulu army but getting it to give battle. He believed they would avoid him in a 'stand up fight' and just fight a guerrilla campaign.

If he could get them to attack he believed that redcoats standing shoulder to shoulder volley firing would slaughter them.

The Zulu's were different they attacked en-mass and caught the British completely unawares and slaughtered them at Isandlawa and also were lucky to catch cavalry in an exposed position at the Holbane. However at Kambala , Rorkes drift etc there tactics of charging redcoats simply resulted in slaughter.
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,546
Benin City, Nigeria
#29
I think your are widely over estimating the importance of machine guns, initially they were not that important and certainly not above artillery and formed troops. A far more important was initially the breech loading rifles eg Martini -Henry used in the Zulu war and by Egyptian troops against the Mahdists and then magazine rifles eg British troops rate of fire compared to the Egyptian troops was much greater and at a much longer distance.

I recognize that breech loading rifles were important. However, the importance that I am giving to machine guns is based solely on the descriptions of their effectiveness given by those who actually used them in their wars of conquest against native African powers, and nothing more. It is a view that would follow naturally from reading the descriptions of their effectiveness given by those who used them. I have read too many accounts now of machine guns decimating large numbers of enemy troops in these 19th century wars that the British used them in, to think that their importance is simply overstated or that I am overestimating their importance. Having much better rifles than any native opponents that the British faced was a significant advantage, but having machine guns was an even bigger advantage still, and its importance lay in its ability to allow them to destroy large numbers of the enemy with while taking only a few casualties. When Churchill wrote that the Mahdists were "destroyed, not conquered, by machinery" he was certainly referring to machine guns (and artillery), not rifles.

The Zulu did not 'crumble' as soon as Gatling guns were introduced-- they were heavy, and unreliable. They 'crumbled' because the British brought in large numbers (comparatively) of Imperial troops, well armed and well disciplined.
Can you elaborate? I haven't yet come across any evidence that what you're talking about here (large numbers, discipline) is what changed things at all.

Chelmsford was not a fool but does bear responsibility for the disasters, all his experience in fighting African tribes had shown him that his main problem would not be defeating the Zulu army but getting it to give battle. He believed they would avoid him in a 'stand up fight' and just fight a guerrilla campaign.
Just curious, but what experience exactly did Chelmsford have in fighting "African tribes"? He went to Abyssinia and the Ethiopians definitely had a "stand up fight" approach in the 1868 conflict (though they still lost of course).
 
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May 2011
13,780
Navan, Ireland
#30
I recognize that breech loading rifles were important. However, the importance that I am giving to machine guns is based solely on the descriptions of their effectiveness given by those who actually used them in their wars of conquest against native African powers, and nothing more. It is a view that would follow naturally from reading the descriptions of their effectiveness given by those who used them. I have read too many accounts now of machine guns decimating large numbers of enemy troops in these 19th century wars that the British used them in, to think that their importance is simply overstated or that I am overestimating their importance. Having much better rifles than any native opponents that the British faced was a significant advantage, but having machine guns was an even bigger advantage still, and its importance lay in its ability to allow them to destroy large numbers of the enemy with while taking only a few casualties. When Churchill wrote that the Mahdists were "destroyed, not conquered, by machinery" he was certainly referring to machine guns, not rifles..
Machine guns are not that important, for instance in 1914 a long way into the 'machine gun age' the British only had two per battalion, other machines, technology and logistics were far more important.

They were the new 'wonder weapon' of the age and were very much liked by the public but in reality more mundane things were important.


Can you elaborate? I haven't yet come across any evidence that what you're talking about here (large numbers, discipline) is what changed things at all. .
Simple really after the defeat of the first invasion (an action not sanctioned by London using only 'local' troops and the existing Imperial garrison troops ) the British were humiliated. Londons response was to send Chelmsford re-enforcements in the face of a barrage of criticism and even hysteria.

More battalions of redcoats,Naval Brigades and even a couple of cavalry regiments (something the Zulu simply couldn't cope with). Now the invasion columns had lots of Imperial troops who simply formed a square and allowed the Zulu to surround them and charge-- volley fire from Martini-Henry's slaughtered them-- then the lancers and dragoons left the square and rode down the survivors.


Just curious, but what experience exactly did Chelmsford have in fighting "African tribes"? He went to Abyssinia and the Ethiopians definitely had a "stand up fight" approach in the 1868 conflict (though they still lost of course) .
He'd fought several 'wars' against tribes in South Africa whose main tactic had been to avoid battle (wisely) and he assumed that the Zulu would be the same.