Firstly, I want to say thanks for listening to the first ever episode of the Redcoat History Podcast. This has been a long journey for me and I am so happy to finally see this dream become reality.

The purpose of the blog posts that accompany each episode is to share useful links, videos and images that help to add context and background to the audio podcast.

If you’ve not already listened to the episode then you can do so here and here (for Apple) or here for Spotify or via the embedded player below.

Today we talk about the reasons for war and the capabilities of the rival armies.

I’ve also listed all the books that I used in my research and added Amazon links at the bottom of the page. Please consider buying via those links as it won’t cost you anything but means Amazon will throw a few pennies my way.

A contemporary map of Zululand

When you think of the Anglo-Zulu war it is often in isolation but the history of South Africa is long and complicated – small wars had become a constant feature of settler life. In the introduction to the official history of the war prepared by Horse guards it says:

“In the history of South Africa it has rarely happened that peaceful relations have subsisted for a lengthened period between the small community of European descent and the great masses of the native race among whom they dwell. . .A very widespread feeling of restlessness and hatred towards the white races had for some time been known to exist amongst the races of South Africa…While a war with the Zulus could hardly be regarded as improbable; hostilities were actually in progress in Griqualand west and in two districts of the Transvaal, one near Bloemhof and the other near Lydenburg – this latter being known as Sekukuni’s country.” 

So as you see – the British and the white settlers were constantly fighting against someone.

The British had also only recently emerged victorious from a small, brutal war against the Xhosa of the Eastern Cape – the so-called 9th Frontier war.

If you are in a rush then below you’ll find a short video I made a few years ago discussing the reasons Britain decided to wage war on the Zulus.

Yes, yes Chris but what did they wear and what kit did they carry? 

Ok, fair play I’ll crack on with the fun stuff. I haven’t yet had a chance to make a video with the Dundee Diehards reenactment group but for now, I have found this nice video on YouTube where the uniform and kit that would have been used in 1879 is shown and discussed.

So hold on, were all the troops British regular infantry then?

Well, I’m really glad you asked. Because actually the majority of the soldiers that invaded Zululand were locally recruited – a combination of white settlers, mainly in irregular cavalry units and black auxiliaries formed into the Natal Native Contingent or NNC.

The NNC basically looked the same as the Zulus except they wore a red piece of cloth tied around their head so that they didn’t get shot at by the redcoats.

An awesome looking box of miniatures that gives a good simple idea of how the NNC would have looked.

As well as the infantry of the NNC there was a mounted contingent that was to prove itself a number of times throughout the campaign. Six troops were formed under the command of Brevet Colonel Anthony Durnford of the Royal Engineers – he was a tough wiry looking Irishman with an unruly moustache and deep-set eyes – nothing like Burt Lancaster who played him in the film “Zulu Dawn”.

His left arm was paralysed – a reminder of a fight with the AmaHlubi clan a few years earlier. He had an unfashionably positive attitude towards black South Africans telling his mother that:

″…they are at least honest, chivalrous and hospitable, true to their salt, although only barbarians. They are fine men, very naked and all that sort of thing, but thoroughly good fellows.″

Thanks to his energy, enthusiasm and confidence his men received uniforms and were well equipped with breech-loading carbines – he also made sure to recruit the best white officers and NCOs.

These troops of native horse are often referred to as Durnford’s Basothos as many of them were recruited from the Tlokwa clan that were Basuthos who had settled in Natal.

There number also included Christians – especially the troop recruited in Edendale, close to Pietermaritzburg. These men were churchgoers who wore English clothes and were proud of their education.

OK, So I kinda get the state of the British army – but who the hell were the Zulus?

Yes, good point – we can’t really talk about the Anglo-Zulu war without explaining who the Zulus are and why they were so feared.

Well as you can see in the short video below they are a football “firm” who travel to matches threatening rival fans with chants such as “Zulus gonna get yer.”

OK, that’s just me trying to be funny but I do find it fascinating that 140 years after the Zulu war British football fans still use the name to instil fear in their opponents – I think that speaks volumes about the psychological damage that the war did to Britain’s population.

The man who created the Zulu army, who forged it warring against his neighbours and rival tribes was Shaka – Sigidi kaSenzangakhona. The man sometimes called “Africa’s Napoleon”. For some he was a despot, for others a military genius – for me, the two aren’t mutually exclusive and it’s likely he was a combination of both points of view.

But by 1879 the Zulu King was called Cetswayo – a bear of a man who tried desperately to avoid a war with Britain.


His army was around 29000 men strong and was incredibly skilled in skirmishing and small unit tactics. They invented and mastered the “Horns of the bull” (see diagram below). The key was to surround and destroy your enemy.


The film below should give you a good insight into the history and culture of the Zulu.


Oh, I’ve just remembered, I was meant to add a bibliography of the key books I used for my research for each episode. This isn’t an exhaustive list but more of a rough guide to the key texts. So here goes:

First off were two books by the brilliant Ian Knight, the first is the National Army Museum book – which is very good.

And then secondly is THE work on the Zulus – a book packed with information about their history, military and culture – The Anatomy of the Zulu army.

And then, arguably one of my favourite books about the Anglo-Zulu War – Philip Gon’s The Road to Isandlwana.

So as I’m simply a poor wee soul with barely two farthings to rub together it would be graciously appreciated if you could purchase any of the books you like the look of via the above links – that way Amazon throw me a few pence as an affiliate and you don’t pay any extra – WIN, WIN! Hurrah!!!

So I think you should be ready now to head on over to Episode 2 of the Podcast and learn all about the disaster that was the battle of Isandlwana.

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