The Battlefields

The Battlefields

The eerie stillness of the battlefields is a poignant reminder of the bloody battles for territory that were fought here less than 150 years ago between the British, Zulus and Boers.

The Battlefields

Offering an incredible insight into the history of South Africa

The Battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal offer an incredible insight into the history of South Africa, and the best way to really appreciate the bloody and fiercely-fought battles that took place here is to go on one of the mesmerising and theatrical tours of the key areas.

These are not your usual dry reports, of interest only to military historians - these are incredible stories of events that happened less than 150 years ago and the impact they had on those directly involved and the world at large. No matter how uninterested you think you are in history, these tours will captivate and move you, and a 2 night stay in this area is a highly recommended addition to anyone's itinerary.

The most 'famous' battles are the Battle of Isandlwana, the Battle of Rorke's Drift, the futile Battle of Spionkop, and the Battle of Blood River

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The Battle of Isandlwana

At Isandlwana a 20,000 strong Zulu army, armed only with spears and shields, attacked the heavily armoured but far smaller British Army contingent of 1,774 men on the morning of 22nd January 1879. Despite many tales of individual heroics, only a handful of  British soldiers escaped alive after a fierce 2 hour battle, and this massacre was the British Army's worst defeat in Africa. The battle site itself is a eerie and haunting place, and both the Zulu and British view the events of that day as a tragedy.

 

Rorke's Drift

The Battle of Rorke’s Drift started immediately after the British Army had been defeated at the Battle of Isandlwana, and continued into 23rd January. Also known as the Defence of Rorke's Drift, it is the story of when some 150 British soldiers and colonial troops defended a supply station against approximately 4,000 Zulu warriors. Over 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded.  It is truly a story of great courage.

 

Spionkop

The focal point of the second major war between the British and Boers (now referred to as the South African war) was the 118 day siege of the British town of Ladysmith in Natal.  Whilst the story of the siege is fascinating in its own right, it is the events that occurred at Spionkop as the British tried to get support to Ladysmith that are really moving. 

On 23rd January 1900, 1,700 British troops (part of a British force of 24,000 heading for Ladysmith) took over this small hill, and were attacked the next day by 3,600 Boers.  Poor communication meant that the British force was not reinforced from the main party, and in the ensuing battle, many hundreds of British and Boer soldiers were killed and wounded.  By the middle of the following night, both sides believed they had lost and retreated, leaving the hill to the dead and the dying.  Several hours later the Boers returned, and finding the hill deserted, reclaimed it. 

The futility of war has never been so movingly illustrated, and to add to the sense of international significance Winston Churchill, Mahatma Ghandi, and Louis Botha (first President of the independent South Africa) where all present on the hill on that day. Had any one of them been killed, the 20th century would have been very different.

 

The Battle of Blood River

In February 1838, the Boer trek leader, Piet Retief, met with Dingane, the Zulu chief, to agree to the purchase of a large tract of Zulu land for the establishment of an independent Boer nation. Dingane agreed to the deal, however, after the signing of a title deed Dingane then ordered the slaughter of Retief and the party of men who accompanied him. The Battle of Blood River was the Boers revenge for this treachery. On 15 December 1838, led by Andries Pretorius, a 464 strong Boer army marched out, and made a D-shaped formation with 64 wagons at Ncome River and waited for the Zulus to attack.

The next morning, 10,000 Zulus had surrounded them, but were driven off by fierce gun fire and a mounted charge.  After 3 hours, the river ran red with the blood of 3,000 massacred Zulus. Only 3 Boers were wounded.  Today, the 16th December is still commemorated, now as a Day of Reconciliation, and 64 bronze wagons mark the site of the battle. Near the Boer monument a Zulu Monument and museum tell the story from a different perspective.