Zulu or Ashanti, who would win?

Who wins the hypothetical battle for Africa?


  • Total voters
    20

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,630
Benin City, Nigeria
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.
This is your opinion, and that's fine. But once again, I am basing my estimation of their value on written accounts of what they were able to accomplish for those who used them (to "maul" and mow down large numbers of soldiers from groups who were probably at least as good in warfare as the Zulu, if not better. . .)

Also, with Maxims and their descendants, I don't see why more than a few at any one time would ever be needed to do massive damage unless one knows beforehand that the force one is facing will be so very large or well equipped that tens of them might be needed. So "only" two, is, in my opinion still powerful.

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.
Can you provide sources or analyses of some sort showing that the Gatling guns used by the square that advanced to Ulundi were not important in destroying large numbers of the Zulu while taking minimal casualties? I certainly don't think that the importance of the Gatling guns in bringing about the result that occurred could somehow just be assumed to be low/minor without evidence. . .not after the other descriptions we have of what machine guns could do in that era.


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.
The impression I got was that he didn't have much experience against African opponents at all (besides Ethiopians), but I guess when he was in the Cape in 1878 he was actually doing some fighting. Thanks.
 
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Kevinmeath

Ad Honoris
May 2011
14,038
Navan, Ireland
..................

Can you provide sources or analyses of some sort showing that the Gatling guns used by the square that advanced to Ulundi were not important in destroying large numbers of the Zulu while taking minimal casualties? I certainly don't think that the importance of the Gatling guns in bringing about the result that occurred could somehow just be assumed to be low/minor without evidence. . .not after the other descriptions we have of what machine guns could do in that era...................
I've read many accounts of the battle and none of them stress the importance of the two gatling gun -- as opposed the other artillery present and most account emphasis it was the lines of redcoats firing volleys that destroyed the Zulu, followed up by the cavalry which the Zulu simply had no experience of and no way to counter.

As soon as the huge re-enforcements arrived the Zulu's were doomed whether or not the British brought a handful of Gatling guns. the problem Chelmsford had was supplying his troops and gatling guns actually make things worse since (if they don't jam which the ones at Ulundi did) since they fire off so many rounds the majority of which don't actually hit anything.
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,630
Benin City, Nigeria
I've read many accounts of the battle and none of them stress the importance of the two gatling gun -- as opposed the other artillery present and most account emphasis it was the lines of redcoats firing volleys that destroyed the Zulu, followed up by the cavalry which the Zulu simply had no experience of and no way to counter.

As soon as the huge re-enforcements arrived the Zulu's were doomed whether or not the British brought a handful of Gatling guns. the problem Chelmsford had was supplying his troops and gatling guns actually make things worse since (if they don't jam which the ones at Ulundi did) since they fire off so many rounds the majority of which don't actually hit anything.
I don't know what you've read, but what I've read indicates basically the exact opposite of what you've described here. For example:





- C. J. Chivers, The Gun (2011), pp. 63-64

I haven't read any account which downplays the importance/usefulness of the Gatling guns in the battle.

As for accuracy, when you can fire nearly 400 rounds a minute, you won't need to be perfectly accurate.
 

Kevinmeath

Ad Honoris
May 2011
14,038
Navan, Ireland
.............

I haven't read any account which downplays the importance/usefulness of the Gatling guns in the battle.

As for accuracy, when you can fire nearly 400 rounds a minute, you won't need to be perfectly accurate.
Of course they had an effect but there was only two of them and they jammed, the Zulus were not defeated by the gatling gun . If the British had not had gatling guns the outcome of the war would have been little different.
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,630
Benin City, Nigeria
Of course they had an effect but there was only two of them and they jammed, the Zulus were not defeated by the gatling gun . If the British had not had gatling guns the outcome of the war would have been little different.
I agree that the ultimate outcome would be the same, but the issue is whether there would be such a complete destruction of the Zulu army at Ulundi with such a limited number of casualties on the British side without the Gatling guns. . .that is not obvious to me at all. You are perhaps quite certain that the Zulus still would not have reached the British lines (and thereby caused much more British casualties) even without the Gatling guns? Whereas I am not so sure about that at all. Without the Gatlings I could certainly imagine the Zulus charging in large numbers at one specific part of the square to try to break it. . .and then who knows what would have happened.

That's only my imagination at work of course. . .but I see no really clear obstacles to that scenario in the absence of Gatling guns.
 

Kevinmeath

Ad Honoris
May 2011
14,038
Navan, Ireland
I agree that the ultimate outcome would be the same, but the issue is whether there would be such a complete destruction of the Zulu army at Ulundi with such a limited number of casualties on the British side without the Gatling guns. . .that is not obvious to me at all. You are perhaps quite certain that the Zulus still would not have reached the British lines (and thereby caused much more British casualties) even without the Gatling guns? Whereas I am not so sure about that at all. Without the Gatlings I could certainly imagine the Zulus charging in large numbers at one specific part of the square to try to break it. . .and then who knows what would have happened.

That's only my imagination at work of course. . .but I see no really clear obstacles to that scenario in the absence of Gatling guns.
The problem is there is only two of them on one side of the 'square' and the Zulu were unable to approach any sides of the British troops.

Chelmsford based his strategy from the beginning that Zulus would be unable to stand up to volley fire from breech loading rifles -- and he was right the Zulus couldn't. Even at Isandlwana the redcoats were only really overwhelmed when they eventually ran out of ammunition.

Machine guns just gave European yet another technological advantage -- like artillery for instance (which is an even bigger killer than the machine gun was to be) but also mundane things such as improved medicine and food storage that meant Europeans armies would be decimated by disease as they often were in the past. Perhaps the humble tin can could be as important as the machine gun!
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,630
Benin City, Nigeria
The problem is there is only two of them on one side of the 'square' and the Zulu were unable to approach any sides of the British troops.
Okay, I see what your point is here, but how many Zulus were on that side of the square (the "front" of the square) compared to other sides? I would think the front of the square would be the side that encounters the most Zulus as they started encircling the British square.

Chelmsford based his strategy from the beginning that Zulus would be unable to stand up to volley fire from breech loading rifles -- and he was right the Zulus couldn't. Even at Isandlwana the redcoats were only really overwhelmed when they eventually ran out of ammunition.
Sure, but the fact remains that the British did not risk coming to the battle with less firepower than they thought they would need and they did not leave the Gatling guns behind. They brought them, and they used them. The notion that they were unimportant or unnecessary to prevent the Zulus from reaching British lines still seems like speculation to me.

Machine guns just gave European yet another technological advantage -- like artillery for instance (which is an even bigger killer than the machine gun was to be) but also mundane things such as improved medicine and food storage that meant Europeans armies would be decimated by disease as they often were in the past. Perhaps the humble tin can could be as important as the machine gun!
As I said earlier, I think the significance of machine guns in these conflicts is misunderstood or not appreciated, at least in the "popular" consciousness or by the general majority of people. Other weapons turned out to be hugely important as well, especially much superior rifles as you've mentioned already (and I agree with that), but I see no reason why the machine gun should be downplayed after the fact, when contemporary accounts are clear on its great usefulness.
 
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Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,630
Benin City, Nigeria
According to the source below, the main assault of the Zulu forces on the square was halted by the addition of the heavy firepower of Gatling guns to the artillery, while it was mainly just the Zulu reserve force that was halted by the artillery+rifles :

"The British artillery opened up on the Zulus at a range of 2,000 yards, which spurred on the attackers' advance. As the Zulus got closer, the Gatling guns also opened up, and this concentration of fire broke up the assault. The Zulu reserve attacked the southwest corner of the square, but the artillery and massed rifle fire halted this attack. Not a single Zulu reportedly reached the British bayonets." - Harold E. Raugh Jr., Anglo-Zulu War, 1879: A Selected Bibliography, p. 9

The issue for me is how much of the "heavy lifting" in causing the most Zulu casualties (and therefore causing them to lose and retreat) was caused by using the Gatlings. If the main force (not the reserve) was mostly mowed down by the combination of the Gatling + artillery, then the question is still open to me whether they could have reached the British lines without the Gatlings in play.

Even more notable in my opinion, is that, with just the artillery fire (before the Gatlings opened fire), the Zulu were still able to advance closer and closer to the square.

In fact, despite that book I cited previously quoting a source which claimed they didn't get within 30 yards, it seems some of them got closer than that before being mowed down by the Gatling guns:

"Nevertheless, when they worked the guns were terribly effective, chopping great swathes through the Zulus in front of them. At one point, one of Chelmsford's ADCs, Lord Grenfell, saw a Zulu induna lead a knot of men to within less than 20 yards of the guns before they were all suddenly cut down. After the battle was over, Evelyn Wood counted sixty Zulu bodies within seventy paces of the Gatlings." - Ian Knight, Companion to the Anglo-Zulu War, p. 100

It still does not seem obvious to me that they definitely would not have reached the British lines even if the Gatlings were left out of the battle.
 
Last edited:
Apr 2019
1
Djenne
I realize this is somewhat of a necro, but i read this thread a couple years ago and it has been rattling around in my brain since then.

Asante and Zulu were very different societies.

The cliche Zulu were a short lived completely militarized sort of meritocratic bunch, kinda like the Spartans. They had just arrived a generation or two ago in the area as the culmination of the Bantu expansion and their domination was gone within less than like 80 years.

The Akan otoh had been living in their area for centuries, their mythology casts them as the "people out of the woods", pretty much all of Ghana, CIV and Togo used to be completely forested. The Asante Empire was surprisingly modern in many respects, their military was sort of a people's army - Made up of the Asafo-Companies. They were indeed pretty much local militias and in peace time responsible for all sorts of civil services.

As of today, modern Ghana ( pretty much the Asante kingdom ) is doing ok(ish), while the Zulu province of RSA is one of the poorest areas in Africa.