The Zulu War is best remembered for the disaster at Isandlwana and the defence of Rorke’s Drift, two of the most iconic events in the history of the British Empire, but it was a more complex conflict than the simple narrative of disaster and heroic resistance suggests. Lord Chelmsford, the overall commander at Isandhlwana (although absent during the battle), actually learnt from his mistakes and won the war before his replacement arrived to take over.
The author looks at the use of military intelligence by both sides in the war, noting that the Zulus actually began the war with a more accurate idea of their opponents capabilities and possible plans than the British did. There is even one first hand account of Zulu spies disguising themselves as policemen on the British side of the border so they could move around freely and ask questions.
On the British side most intelligence gathering was dedicated to the possible Russian threat to India (the ‘Great Game’), and largely relied on the exploits of daring individuals, often Army Officers on leave. In South Africa things were less organised, with much information coming from individual settlers and traders. The author examines the structure of British military intelligence, the sources of intelligence and the impact of intelligence on the individual stages of the campaign.
The story is placed in the overall context of the period, in particular the increasing British obsession with Russian expansionism. As the Russians expanded into central Asia, the British worried that they would soon threaten the Suez Canal, cutting the quickest sea route to India, and possibly even advance into southern Africa, possibly in alliance with the Zulus and Boers.
This is a fascinating examination of an unusual aspect of the Zulu War, placed in the context of the wider mood of the times, and of the later development of Military Intelligence.
1 - Two Adventurers
2 - Intelligence Establishments in the 1870s
3 - Diplomats and Border Agents: The Prelude
4 - Lessons of Isandlwana
5 - Khambula, Eshowe and Ulundi
6 - The Hunt for Cetshwayo
7 - Personnel and Personalities
8 - Correspondents, Media and Knowledge
9 - The Empire, Intelligence and the Zulu Experience
10 - Communications: Humint to Helioscope
11 - Theorist, Amateurs and Soldiers
12 - Conclusion
Author: Stephen Wade
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military