In 1878, Sir Henry Belter Frere, British High Commissioner to Southern Africa issued a thirty-day ultimatum to Zulu King, Cetshwayo, ordering him to dismantle the Zulu military. This ultimatum provided no effect as demand was highly unfeasible within the given timeframe and Cetshwayo also would not budge.
When the thirty-day ultimatum expired on January 22nd, 1879, Sir Frere ordered Major General Lord Chelmsford, the Commander-in-chief of the British forces, to invade the Zululand. With Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pulleine and Colonel Anthony Drunford as subordinate commanders, the British army comprised of 800 regular troops, 400 mounted cavalry, 100 European colonial troops and 500 Natal Native contingent. King Cetshwayo fully aware of his inaction had already prepared an army of about 20,000 troops to engage the British forces while about 5,000 troops stood as reserves.
The British upon realizing that they were vastly outnumbered continued to advance as they believed their artillery of Congreve rockets and field was far superior to 20,000 Zulus led by Nstingwayo kaMahole Khoza , Mavumengwana kNdlela and Vumindahba kaNthati wielding Iklwa (spears), knobkierre (clubs) and shield made of cow hide.
Chelmsford after advancing into the enemy territory left almost a third of his force endangered at the Isandlwana Mountain. Whilst Chelmsford was frantically seeking the Zulus, they out maneuvered him creeping the force left under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Pulleine. The Zulu ambush led to a massacre of the British troops. Before the rest of the British forces could return, they had suffered about 1,300 casualties inflicting less than 500.
The Zulus tactical formation and surprise attack won them the war as the British could not re-strategize to engage them. Just as King Cetshwayo predicted, the British upon hearing the news about the victory of the Zulus decide to save face and preserve their long standing prestige. They would go ahead to break the resistance of the Zulus which lasted for nine months. King Cetshwayo would be eventually captured on August 28th, 1879 and coerced to accept the disintegration of the Zulu Kingdom into thirteen states. However the victory of Zulu at Isandlwana would forever be remembered as a mighty stand against European imperialism.
Video credit: History Radar