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A NEW ANGLO-ZULU WAR BOOK FROM OSPREY

     My new book has just been published by Osprey - it's British Infantryman vs. Zulu Warrior in their Combat series (not a snappy title, I grant you, but certainly functional!). Not merely a new book but a new series too, no less; Osprey of course are famous for their finely-honed format publications which break military history down into remarkably detailed yet bite-sized chunks, each series approaching the subject in a different way. The Men-At-Arms series, for example, offers a concise look at the uniforms of a given period, whilst Campaigns considers particular actions in detail, Essential Histories provides a concise outline of key events, Raid looks at small-scale actions, and so on. Writing for Osprey can be a bit of an exacting art, requiring the author not merely to know his stuff - and in sufficient detail to be able to provide references for the artists producing the colour plates to work from - but to be able to fit it within each series' precise format. Only the steeliest and most disciplined of authors - and that is certainly not me! - will have escaped that conversation with an editor which at some point goes along the lines of 'yes, I know that section is already 500 words over-length, but how can we leave out ...?'! Combat takes a surprisingly simple but rather fresh new approach, looking at its chosen conflicts through the experience of ordinary soldiers on both sides. In this case - and the title rather gives it away - I look at the lives of ordinary infantrymen on both sides, how they were trained, what their expectations were, the ground-level tactical approach to the fighting, and how their experience of combat actually panned out. As usual with Osprey it is profusely illustrated, and there are some wonderful original plates by Peter Dennis. The 'series signature' of Combat is the examination of three key battles which, between them, sum up the tactical progression and lessons of the war, and this is summed up by a new approach to the artwork which represents one of the actions in a split-screen style, showing how a particular incident looked to the men on either side, and hopefully placing the reader right at the heart of the action. As key battles I chose Nyezane - the first major battle of the war, fought early on 22 January 1879 - iSandlwana, fought later that same day, and Khambula, the turning point of the war. For me Nyezane demonstrated British tactical thinking at the beginning of the war - the idea of fighting in open, extended formations, concepts which were firmly rooted in an underestimation of the enemy - and yet of course it was a British victory. Later that same day, however, those same tactics fell woefully short at iSandlwana. In many ways the war revolved around a simple tactical contest, that between a large, fast moving army, operating comfortably within its own environment, but needing to come to close-quarters to be truly effective, and a much smaller conventional European army which nonetheless enjoyed a significant advantage in firepower; Zulu success depended upon them maneouvering to the point where their undoubted advantages in hand-to-hand combat might prevail, while British success depended upon preventing them. Between them Nyezane, iSandlwana and Khambula represent the possible outcomes of this contest, with Khambula pointing the way to ultimate British success. Some readers may be surprised that, although we feature a soldier of the 24th Regiment and a warrior of the uKhandempemvu ibutho as examples of uniform and weapon types, I decided not to feature iSandlwana in the battle artwork. Instead we feature the attack of the Zulu uMxapho ibutho at Nyezane, and a 'split-screen' study of the climax of the battle of Khambula, the sortie by Major Hackett and two companies of the 90th Regiment. I felt that these had more opportunities visually to explore the way both sides approached the fighting in general, throughout the war, whilst the conventional 'last stand' imagery of iSandlwana, striking enough in its way, couldn't tell us much more than that particular experience. Plus, of course, Adam Hook's stunning artwork for my Isandlwana title in the Campaigns series has already covered that ground. I'm rather pleased with the way the title has come out, I think it looks fresh and exciting. But - don't take my word for it, you can see an extensive preview of it here -

 

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