Khambula Battlefield - Turning Point in the Anglo-Zulu War
Near the town of Vryheid, a battle considered by many to be the turning point of the Anglo-Zulu War, ensued on 29 March 1879. This historical area is the Khambula Battlefield. What makes visiting this battlefield so incredible, although somewhat difficult to find without a guide, is that the Khambula Battlefield has remained unspoilt. When standing on the Battlefield, eyes closed, feeling the grass brush past your legs, and the wind gently tugging at your clothes, you can hear the Zulu cries carried on the breeze, smell the gunpowder, and taste the fear of each soldier, British and Zulu.
On 22 January 1879, the British suffered a catastrophic loss and defeat at Isandlwana, and morale amongst the British troops invading Zululand plummeted. And on 12 March 1879, the British again suffered a great loss at the hands of the Zulus. A supply train and an ox wagon were stuck, waiting for the flooding Ntombi River to subside. Captain Moriarty formed wagons into a defense position, facing away from the river, whilst waiting for a chance to cross the raging water. Commanded by Mbilini, a force of 800 Zulus, unseen due to morning mist, approached the camp until with 50 meters, then rushed the defenses killing 60 men, including Moriarty. Men on the south bank fired on the Zulus, forcing them into retreat, and pursuing them for some distance. But the fleeing Zulus turned around and despoiled the train.
Zulu warriors are incredibly courageous fighters, launching themselves into battles in a mann that many would think to be suicidal. Warriors traditionally went into battle carrying spears and shields, which proved to be ineffective against the firepower of the British. In an effort to level the playing field, King Shaka Zulu purchased thousands of poor standard muskets and rifles, which still did not aid the Zulu Warriors, as they where ill-trained in the use of these weapons. Typically, Zulu Warriors attacked in formation, as the “chest” which was the frontal attack, and the “horns” which spread out from the “chest” to flank the enemy or attack the enemy from the rear.
An early morning British patrol unit came across a Zulu defector, who warned them of the coming battle at midday. The British Patrol confirmed the information on seeing the approaching Zulu Army. The British immediately assembled their positions, a 1st/13th Light Infantry of 1 200 and 800 irregular troops with the 90th Regiment. Along the rear of the line, ammunition reserves were established.
Briefly, the Zulu army paused, but the Warriors were ready for war, and soon the sea of Zulu Warriors, were increasing their speed toward the British Camp. The Battle officially began at 1:30 on the afternoon of 29 March 1979. By 5:30 that evening, the Zulu Warriors began to fall back, and the British kept firing into the withdrawing Zulus. The horsemen mercilessly killed fleeing Zulus, which they pursued relentlessly for miles. The wounded Zulus were slaughtered by British foot patrols, and under this pressure, the Zulu Army collapsed, and warriors were left fighting their way home.
British troops suffered only 83 casualties, while the Zulu Army lost 3,000 men, either in the battle or from the wounds inflicted on them. This battle severely crippled the Zulu Armies, trying to defend their homeland from invasion. They were finally defeated at Ulundi.