Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Ulundi - The End of the Old Zulu Order (1879)

The road up to Ulundi from the old Natal border winds through the Zulu heartlands. The beauty of the landscape is breathtaking and the towns en-route are marked by the hustle and bustle of the local culture. We stopped off to admire the fantastic landscape of Twin Peaks and when we reached the top of the the adjoining plateau it felt like we were on top of the world.
Crossing the Tugela River
Twin Peaks
The British column that trod this route in the Spring of 1879 had one objective only. To defeat the Zulu Army in a decisive battle and put an end to Cetshwayo's rule. The Zulu king had tried in vain to negotiate but after the debacle of Isandlwana Lord Chelmsford was a man with a reputation to restore and nothing was going to get in his way.
Ulundi Battlefield Memorial Park
For the final fight in Ulundi Chelmsford deployed a total of 5,317 men in the form of a rectangle bristling on each side with formidable fire power. The infantrymen were supported by two gatling guns, four artillery pieces and three squadrons of cavalry. This 'square' was formed up and then moved, in formation, up to the King's kraal where some 15,000 Zulu warriors stood ready to fight.
The Ulundi Mausoleum
The battle lasted less than hour with hundreds of warriors killed outright as they tried in vain to penetrate the defensive walls of the 'laager'. The left horn got to within nine paces but most the Zulu rushes stalled 300 or 400 metres out. As the Zulus faltered Chelmsford released his cavalry reserve - the 17th Lancers - who put the survivors to flight. 
The Path to the British Cemetery
It is estimated that the Zulus lost about 1,000 killed and a similiar number wounded. Sadly the names of these fallen warriors are lost in antiquity. British losses were modest - just eleven killed. A Captain and farrier from the 17th Lancers, two from Shepstones Horse, an interpreter, an artilleryman and six infantrymen. all are buried in a small cemetery on the battlefield.
Ulundi Military Cemetery
The battlefield park is in the middle of a vast Zulu township and it is only the area of the British position that has been preserved. This, in itself, is interesting though. The square was larger than the command position at Khambula but considerably tighter than the loose perimeter at Isandlwana where the defenders paid such a heavy price in January.
The End of the Old Zulu Order
The battle marked the end of the old Zulu order. Cetshwayo was captured shortly afterwards and was imprisoned in Cape Town before spending time in London and eventually returning to his Ulundi where a new Kraal was built to replace the original homestead which had been destroyed by the British.
The New Kraal at Ulundi
The old Zulu order was not to return however. The country was split into spheres of interest with chieftains nominated by Britain as the colonial power. Over several decades after the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War there were a series of bloody civil conflicts which served only to split the Zulu nation even further apart.

For the Battle of Hlobane click here.
For the Battle of Khambula click here.
For the Battle of Isandlwana click here.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Strange Story of Monty, the Papakha and the Bekesha (1947)

Last week I picked up a copy of 'The Last Six Months' by General S.M. Shtemenko in a local charity shop. The author was Deputy Chief of General Headquarters reporting to Stalin on a daily basis through the final six months of the second World War. The book is a treasure trove for anyone interested in the Soviet view of this critical period. It is also full of interesting anecdotes including the visit of Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery to Moscow in January, 1947. I will quote the story of Monty's bekesha and papakha in Shtemenko's own words.
Field Marshall Montgomery with Gen. Shtemenko
But first an explanation of what a bekesha and a papkha are. A bekesha is a squirrel skin winter coat much favoured by Soviet era military officers. The papakha is a Caucasian fur cap made of grey Astrakhan. Astrakhan is the fleece of a newly born lamb. When Monty visited the Soviet High Command in 1947 these were the gifts chosen for him. The picture above shows Montgomery departing Moscow after the trip. Shtemenko is to the right of Monty.
"Montgomery was very pleased with the gifts. He looked them over at length and asked whether the squirrel skin was genuine and how much the fur had cost. No one could tell him the price, so I had to go to the telephone to find out. Then Montgomery decided to to try on the bekesha and the papakha .... the bekesha was too long. The so called reliable data we had used was sharply at odds with reality. The British Field Marshall, not being distinguished by a hero's frame, simply swam in the bekesha. Vasilevsky said soothingly, "we can fix that. By tomorrow morning the bekesha will be delivered to you properly taylored". But this wasn't enough for the Field Marshall. He wanted the bekesha shortened right there and then, while he waited. The rest of us exchanged puzzled glances .... I went out and returned forty minutes later with a tailor. Measurements were taken, and in the reception room of the General Staff, the tailor set down to work with his sewing machine. Meanwhile, the time allocated for the official part of the visit had elapsed."
Monty with M Koniev. Hugh Lunghi stands between them.

Shtemenko goes on to recall "On the eve of Montgomery's departure, Stalin gave a dinner in the Field Marshall's honour. Some twenty persons were invited .... when Montgomery arrived, the door opened, and he entered the reception room, wearing his bekesha and papakha. "What's the matter? we asked rushing to meet his escort. "Why didn't you take off his coat and hat in the cloak room?" "He categorically refused" was the answer. Montgomery noticing our puzzlement said "I want Generalissimo Stalin to see me in Russian uniform". At that moment Stalin entered. Montgomery explained what was going on. Stalin laughed and had himself photographed with Monty (as the British call him)". 

You never know what you are going to find on the shelves of a charity shop. This dusty old book is a real treasure.