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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave

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Sunday, 8 September 2019

Zulu Kings and their Armies

Like most wargamers, my understanding of the Zulu army doesn't extend much before or past the 1879 Zulu War. This book by Jonathan Sutherland and Diane Canwell takes us from the early days of Shaka kaSenzangakhona to the last true Zulu king who died in 1913. Although the Zulu remains a numerous force in modern South Africa with around eight million Zulu speakers.


The book starts with an outline of warfare in southern Africa at the start of the nineteenth century. Shaka turned a tiny tribe into an empire with a new form of warfare that incorporated his defeated enemies into the Zulu way of life. This included new weaponry, including the assegai, a short stabbing spear that largely replaced throwing spears. His battlefield tactics based on the head and the horns of a bull, with reserves in the loins, also relied on rapid movement to outmanoeuvre an enemy.

The regimental system also provided  trained and better disciplined forces than his opponents. At its height, some 40,000 to 50,000 troops could be mustered. They were organised by age rather than tribe, in part-time units required to serve from the age of eighteen.

The arrival of white settlers, Boer and British, brought firearms to warfare in southern Africa, something the Zulus never mastered. The defeat by the Boers at the Battle of Blood River in 1838, led to a civil war and further loss of land.

I have covered the 1879 war in my review of Saul David's book. However, that wasn't the end of the story. The British divided the kingdom up and ended the regimental system, but a restoration of sorts gave the Zulu a continuing role. They fought with the British in the Boer War, and parts of the nation were still rebelling against the poll tax right until the end.

This book is a chronological study of the kings and the events during their respective lifetimes. Each major battle gets more detailed treatment along with clear maps. The Zulu army was a formidable force for more than century, but British and Boer weaponry proved too powerful in the end.

My painting table is currently straining under the weight of 240 Zulu figures. A task I will leave until I return from my trip to South Africa next week!

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