On this day in 1879 during the Anglo-Zulu War, the Battle of Kambula takes place when a Zulu Army attack the British camp at Kambula. It resulted in a decisive Zulu defeat and is considered to be the turning point of the Anglo-Zulu War.
Picture: The closing stages of the battle of Kambula. A company of the 1/13th in the foreground are driving the Zulus back into the ravine.
At 12.45 on 29 March 1879, the tents were struck, reserve ammunition was distributed, and the troops took up their battle stations. As the troops moved to their posts they could see the Zulu right horn, circling north out of British artillery range before halting north-west of the camp. The left horn and centre of the impi continued westwards until they were due south of Kambula. The advance was held at bay by the steady British musketry. Some of the Zulu force swung right to come in against the western sides of the laager, but were met with equally effective resistance. After about half an hour the Zulu right horn drew back to the north-east. At 2.15, as the right horn made its withdrawal, the left horn and centre surged up out of the ravine, their leading warriors falling to crossfire from the laager and kraal as they came over the crest. The Zulus soon forced their way into the cattle Kraal and fought hand-to-hand with men of the 1/13th company, with moutnign pressure the 1/13th company managed to extricate themselves and pull back to the redoubt.
Although now attacked on both sides, Wood appreciated that the situation to the south was critical and ordered two companies to clear the Zulus off the glacis. Led by Major Hackett the men formed in line with bayonets fixed and charged across the open ground, forcing the Zulus back over the rim. The troops then lined the crest and opened volley fire into the packed warriors in the ravine. The counter-attack had succeeded perfectly but Hackett’s men suddenly found themselves under fire from their right, where Zulu marksmen had concealed themselves. Hackett sounded the ‘Retire’ and his men returned to the cover of the laager, but not before recieving casualties. The sight of this withdrawal encouraged the Zulus in the ravine to charge again, but along the narrow killing zone in front of the laager they could not this time prevail against the controlled volleys from behind the redoubt. On the north side the Royal Artillery men fought their guns in the open, not taking cover, and poured round after round directly into the right horn.
The Zulus charged again and again, with unwavering courage, but the head of each charge was shot away and at about 5pm Wood sensed the impetus was going out of their attack. Two companies moved to clear the kraal and lined the rim of the cliff with a further company to fire into the dead ground.
As soon as the Zulus began to pull away eastwards Woods ordered Buller, the commander of his mounted troops, to mount his men up and pursue. The Zulus were harried mercilessly for 7 miles. Cecil D’Arcy of the Frontier Light Horse (FLH) told his troopers to take no prisoners and told them, ‘no quarter boys and remember yesterday!’ - referring to the action at Hlobane, where his men had suffered severely.
The moral effect of the battle of Kambula on the Zulu army was severe. Their commander, Mnyamana tried to get the regiments to return to Ulundi but many demoralized warriors simply went home. The shock of the defeat contributed to a weakening of the Zulu resolve to maintain armed resistance to the British invasion.
By contrast to the heavy Zulu losses, only 18 British soldiers were killed, and 8 officers and 57 men wounded, 11 of whom later died. Kambula is considered as the turning point of the war, for the British demonstrated that shield and assegai were no match for an entrenched force with artillery and the Martini-Henry. Never again would an impi fight against a prepared position with the ferocity and resolution displayed up to this date.