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"'Underestimating' the enemy - a meaningless statement? " Topic

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©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
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GreenLeader Inactive Member29 Jun 2018 5:33 a.m. PST

I was thinking about this earlier, and wondered what the Great Minds of TMP would make of it.

In pretty much every account of a defeat, it is claimed that they 'underestimated' their opponent: 'The British underestimated the Zulus and lost at Isandlwana', for example (actually, this thing does often seem to be specifically directed at British defeats – I wonder why).

Anyway, is there actually any sense in making such a statement, or is it totally superfluous? I mean, has anyone ever *not* underestimated their opponent and lost? Surely (aside from the occasional heroic last stand, where there was no other option) one would not fight (or certainly not initiate) a battle / war if one thought one would lose it? So, therefore, pretty much every single lost battle / war could be given this tag: 'The Boers underestimated the British in 1899, and lost', 'The Germans underestimated, well, pretty everyone else in 1939 and lost', 'The Argentinians underestimated the British in 1982 and lost' etc.

So is there actually any point making this statement, or is it just one of those meaningless throwaway / padding comments?

khanscom29 Jun 2018 5:53 a.m. PST

Invasion of Crete-- WWII, perhaps?

Personal logo Jeff Ewing Supporting Member of TMP29 Jun 2018 5:56 a.m. PST

Invasion of Crete-- WWII, perhaps?
The Germans badly underestimated the *numbers* of their enemy, and *won* by narrowest of margins.

advocate29 Jun 2018 6:21 a.m. PST

As a bald statement, it doesn't help. Did the British underestimate the Zulu numbers? Their tactical ability? Their speed of movement? Did the Argentines underestimate British capabilities, or did they think the British would not fight at all? Talk about specific factors and it becomes worthwhile.

advocate29 Jun 2018 6:24 a.m. PST

Some get involved in a war because of a misunderstanding. Both the Russians (before the Crimea) and the Iraqis (before Kuwait) may well have thought that their foreign adventures would not be opposed. So they fought and lost, but not because they underestimated their opponents.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP29 Jun 2018 6:38 a.m. PST

A classic example is Custer.

He knew exactly how to deal with Indians. If he could surprise them, it would be a massacre, like the Washita River.

In most cases the Indians had spotted incoming troops and fought a delaying action, putting up a token resistance long enough for the women and children to get away.

His troops knew that they could keep Indians at arm's length due to the firepower of the .45-70 cartridge that could knock a horse down before an Indian had the chance to get near. Disciplined fire had always kept the Indians at bay.

At Little Big Horn it was an entirely different game, the numbers of warriors exceeded that of the attacking troops and they would stand and fight, because if the cavalry did get into the camp they could kill many women and children and cause a huge panic.

The Indian warriors charged en masse and the volley fire was highly ineffective, failing to break the attack. Once up close they could use bow and arrow, muskets, rifles and Henry rifles to overwhelm the isolated troops.

The procedure was well known, the behaviour of the enemy was predictable, but this turned out to be an uncharacteristic situation and they behaved differently, Custer's force was wiped out.

After that the economic use of troops was abandoned, Washington gave the generals in charge the equipment to fight an all-out war of extermination and there was no chance that the US would underestimate the enemy again.

GreenLeader Inactive Member29 Jun 2018 6:40 a.m. PST


Good point on mis-reading the situation… though I suppose could one still argue that Saddam 'underestimated' the allies – he had plenty of time to pull back from Kuwait before Desert Storm was unleashed on him. So did he think he could fight off any attack?

GreenLeader Inactive Member29 Jun 2018 6:42 a.m. PST

Patrick R

I'm not 100% sure I follow – are you saying Custer didn't underestimate them?

GreenLeader Inactive Member29 Jun 2018 7:29 a.m. PST

Thinking about it… I've never read an account of (eg) Ulundi / Omdurman / Wagon Hill which states that the Zulus / Fuzzie Wuzzies / Boers 'under-estimated' the British.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP29 Jun 2018 7:33 a.m. PST

Custer had no reason to assume that the enemy would act in any way different. He mistook their mode of operation for a personality trait, brave to a pinch, but cowardly at the core when pressed too hard.

The method was proven, the enemy acted in a predictable manner and discipline made up for personal bravery. Being a military force they could afford to attack more violently than the ordinary balance of power could afford among the plains tribes who were always short on the proper resources to fight an all-out war.

Personal logo Saber6 Supporting Member of TMP Fezian29 Jun 2018 7:36 a.m. PST

GreenLeader: I believe he meant that given experience Custer expected a particular pattern of events. The situation dramatically changed and the pattern was broken.

ToysnSoldiers Inactive Member29 Jun 2018 7:37 a.m. PST

Unqualified, it is worthless. It is interesting when it serves to analyze what was actually underestimated. Case in point: the ammo crisis that all belligerents faced in early 1915, when all pre-war estimations of artillery ammunition expenditure proved to be unnaccurate, as well as the time it would take transform civilian economy into a war economy.

Legion 429 Jun 2018 8:16 a.m. PST

If you think the enemy has only a Squad in the defense and it turns into a Platoon or worse yet Company. And these troops are equal to or superior to the attacker in skill, expertise, weapons etc. The attacker has "underestimated" the enemy.

Now saying that, intel is really never 100% and perishable.

Deception is a standard as it is used by many capable troops. Most of us have read/studied Sun Tzu.

Another point is as we saw in e.g. GW1. The Iraqis were the 4th largest military in the world. But in many cases they we poor quality, i.e. poorly trained, lead, motivated, etc. In turn in many cases they were not very effective in action. And surrendered in large numbers frequently.
AFAIK the US military and the Coalition "overestimated" them. But it didn't take long for that paradigm to be proved incorrect. Happily for the US/Coalition Forces.

History is full of cases of both over and underestimating the enemy. E.g. the US/allies underestimated the Germans when they attacked in the Ardennes in Dec. of '44.

And well as the NATO Forces under MacArthur thought the North Koreans we defeated in the Fall/Winter of 1950, Plus all the Chinese that were KIA'd or became EPWs were merely a small number of "volunteers".

Both times we were "very" wrong …

LostPict Supporting Member of TMP29 Jun 2018 8:45 a.m. PST

I think there is also a nuance in the phrase "under estimated". Before a battle an "intelligence estimate" or "appreciation" is normally undertaken. In the case of "under estimated" it means that insufficient analysis of the enemy or circumstances was performed. I suspect there are many battles when both sides "under estimated", but one of them won in spite of the circumstances due to random, chaotic interactions on the battlefield.

28mm Fanatik29 Jun 2018 9:21 a.m. PST

Anyway, is there actually any sense in making such a statement, or is it totally superfluous? I mean, has anyone ever *not* underestimated their opponent and lost?

While chalking it to underestimating your enemy is a convenient explanation for failure, there are many instances when you didn't underestimate the enemy and still lost. I don't think we can say that the Germans underestimated the Russians by the Spring/Summer of 1943 while preparing for Operation Zitadelle, and certainly not the Americans by the time of Autumn Mist. Sure, the Germans still touted the martial superiority of the individual Aryan "Teutonic Knight," but they are not harboring any illusions that said prowess can overcome the overwhelming material, numerical and logistical superiority of the allies. Obviously they still lost, predictably.

Mark 129 Jun 2018 11:26 a.m. PST

There is an old adage that planning should be based on the enemy's capabilities, not the enemy's intent.

There is a LOT of evidence that this is a useful approach. In part, I think, it is because intent is a human factor, and humans are extremely variable over even very short periods of time. "How motivated are those guys?" can change dramatically in just moments, based on too many variables that can't be tracked (like how does the rest of the squad respond to the first guy's response to seeing a squad mate getting hit).

But I think it is also because estimates of intent are quite often projections rather than assessments. It may be a projection of our prejudices ("they are all cowards") or a projection of our own standards of behavior ("any reasonable commander would withdraw in that case"). For whatever reason, it seems very hard to people to actually observe the behavior of others, and predict based on what has been observed, rather than projecting.

All of this makes estimates of intent prone to high degrees of inaccuracy. Far better is to assess what the enemy capabilities are, and plan based on that, without too much weight given to projections of what the enemy intent will be. Plan more based on what you think the enemy CAN do, and worry less about what you think the enemy will WANT to do, will be WILLING to do, or will TRY to do.

If we apply this lens to many of the cases described by others above, we see that several cases of "underestimating the enemy" were in fact just projecting assumed behavior patterns onto the enemy's intent. I would not characterize those as cases of underestimating, but rather as cases of looking at the wrong things to estimate in the first place.

Planning an attack based on an estimate that the enemy has one platoon, and then finding out you are attacking a position occupied by a full company … that's a case of underestimating your enemy. Planning an attack based on an estimate that the enemy will flee in terror, and finding out they are standing their ground and fighting … that's just a case of stupid.

(aka: Mk 1)

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP29 Jun 2018 12:36 p.m. PST

"Military operations end in two ways: in operational success, or in intelligence failure."
--old Intel saying.

I think it's fair to say that some commanders and armies wound up in a mess because they underestimated the training, bravery, equipment or numbers of their enemies. Obviously it's helpful to say which. But it's also worth noting that it's not said of every defeat. No one says the 1941 British underestimated the DAK, for instance--though they may have underestimated the Japanese.

Often it means someone has substituted prejudice--or history--for good intelligence preparation.

Legion 429 Jun 2018 1:10 p.m. PST

Whether you under or over estimate your enemy but still win …

It don't mean nuth'n ! evil grin

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP29 Jun 2018 2:05 p.m. PST

Guys, I hate to say this to historical wargamers, but let's be careful not to confuse possibilities and outcomes.

Take Desert Storm. The Iraqi army was decently equipped, trained and not cowards. Suppose the US and its allies had blown the propaganda war? Suppose Saddam Hussein had gone forward to share the hardships and dangers of his troops, and insisted his generals do as much. Neither impossible. Suppose the US had opted for a general attack. We've done things at least as dumb. In such a situation, the Iraqi army might not have been "overestimated" at all. It's one reason I dislike wargame rules which treat national morale grades as though they were carved on stone tablets.

Drop back to horse and musket for a bit. The truth is, many British commanders in North America seem to have worked on the presumption that one British regular was worth at least two "Doodles" and without that belief they would not have fought and won Long Island, Camden, Bladensburg and Stoney Creek--among many others. Tarleton's mistake and Riall's--which I'm sure someone has called underestimating--was to believe that because something has been or is often true, that it is necessarily true.

So yes, "underestimating" one's enemy is something different from the mere fact of losing. You can also lose due to treason, overestimation of one's own forces or bad terrain analysis, just to name a few. But generally we can and should narrow it down to just what way the enemy was underestimated.

Dn Jackson29 Jun 2018 3:27 p.m. PST

"actually, this thing does often seem to be specifically directed at British defeats – I wonder why"

Well, it wouldn't make much sense to say it about victories. :)

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP29 Jun 2018 3:51 p.m. PST

Perception is indeed important

You can also over-estimate your opponents – look at George McClennan

28mm Fanatik29 Jun 2018 4:15 p.m. PST

You can also over-estimate your opponents – look at George McClennan

Or Bernard Law Montgomery. Hope I'm not bringing down a furious storm upon myself from our British friends.

Dn Jackson29 Jun 2018 5:45 p.m. PST

I think, as an example, the German invasion of Russia was a true under estimation of an enemy.

Hitler looked at what the Russians had done since 1914, defeated by Germany to the point that the Imperial Army almost reached Volgograd, beat back by Poland, their army deveastated by Finland. It's actually understandable why he felt it would be an easy victory.

28mm Fanatik29 Jun 2018 5:58 p.m. PST

Hitler underestimated the Russians due to his belief that the Slavs are an inferior people who will wilt before the might of Aryan superiority. That was clear when he said that all it takes was a kick in the door for the whole rotten edifice (of Russia) to come crashing down. The early sweeping successes of blitzkrieg buoyed his optimism and perpetuated the belief that the Russian campaign would be over within a few months, until winter came and the Wehrmacht ground to a halt right outside the gates of Moscow.

The disaster at Stalingrad relieved him of that underestimation. He was reportedly apprehensive and "sick to the stomach" leading up to Zitadelle, his all-or-nothing roll of the dice.

Andy ONeill30 Jun 2018 8:08 a.m. PST

Isandlwana is interesting.
It'll be one of our scenarios for GeneralStaff.

Worth bearing in mind the total eclipse for 3 minutes at the height of the battle.

Up to about this point the Zulu force had been repeatedly checked and forced to take cover.
Not only did the eclipse allow them to get closer without being shot to pieces, it massively bolstered morale.

There was leadership weirdness.
When Colonel Durnford arrived in the morning, he should have taken command off Pulleine ( as he was senior ). He didn't.
He should really have pointed out the need for defences of SOME sort – they had a lot of wagons could have been kraaled.
He didn't question dispositions.
The native contingent had not been properly trained or equipped.
As a result they folded rather easier than they might otherwise have.
These were Zulu BTW. Interesting to speculate what might have happened if they'd been armed with shield and assegai and held.

But I digress….
Despite a series of mistakes.
Things might have gone rather different but for the eclipse.

Mobius30 Jun 2018 9:13 a.m. PST

The worse thing is to mis-underestimate your enemy.

Dynaman878930 Jun 2018 9:48 a.m. PST

Not meaningless, just used too often.

khanscom30 Jun 2018 7:07 p.m. PST

The Germans badly underestimated the *numbers* of their enemy, and *won* by narrowest of margins

I was actually looking at this from the other side-- with superlative intelligence resources the Commonwealth forces had a nearly perfect appreciation of German strength, plans, and timing, yet managed to lose the fight. Failures in execution rather than "underestimation" of the enemy may be even more important.

GreenLeader Inactive Member30 Jun 2018 7:38 p.m. PST

Andy O'Neill

Interesting points on Isandlwana.

I recently read a fascinating article about the eclipse which suggested that the impact of this has been overblown. I'm sure you've witnessed a few yourself, and it's not as though one is plunged into darkness.

The article instead suggested that any 'darkening' of the field was actually due to a lack of any significant wind / breeze that day, which meant the smoke produced by the rapid volley fire of the red coats didn't clear and consequently obscured their view.

I can forward you the article if you are interested.

Dn Jackson01 Jul 2018 2:57 a.m. PST

"Hitler underestimated the Russians due to his belief that the Slavs are an inferior people who will wilt before the might of Aryan superiority."

That may have been part of it, but I think you may be putting too much weight on that aspect of the decision process.

Just looking at the performance of the Red Army between it's creation and the opening of Barbarossa supports the idea that the invasion was a good idea. The Czech Legion rode a train across all of Russia, the Poles gained territory, the Finns destroyed large numbers of tanks and troops, in the opening months of the war the Germans captured hundreds of thousands of prisoners.

Hitler may have been justified, based on the information he had, in making the invasion, (justified meaning his chance of success, not that he had a legitimate causes belli). Just because something didn't work, doesn't mean it wouldn't work. It's the old 'for a want of a horse shoe' argument.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP01 Jul 2018 3:47 a.m. PST

Napoleon underestimated the Austrians in 1809 I would say. In fact so would he.

Lion in the Stars01 Jul 2018 10:54 p.m. PST

Probably the most dangerous under-estimation would be the enemy's morale.

The Japanese utterly mis-understood the effect that Pearl Harbor would have on the American psyche. They thought that the Americans didn't want a fight, so if hit we would pull back. Yeah, not so much. We don't want to fight, but will happily finish the fight you started.

I'd call that an under-estimation of morale.

I am pretty sure the Japanese also underestimated the production capacity of the US.

Frontovik02 Jul 2018 1:41 a.m. PST

I am pretty sure the Japanese also underestimated the production capacity of the US.

As did the Germans. IIRC Goering was presented with a projection of US aircraft production and refused to believe it because German industry wasn't capable of that level of manufacture.

Frontovik02 Jul 2018 1:46 a.m. PST

Regarding the Zulus. Yes, the British massively underestimated them before the invasion considering them to just another bunch of 'savages'.

The reaction is seen after the defeat at Isandhlwana where we try describe the Zulu army as consisting of disciplined regiments analogous to the British Army in an attempt to explain the defeat.

The Germans come up with things like 'the Slav is closer to nature' to explain away why they're better than them at some things really explained by doctrine, training and equipment.

The interesting psychological bit is not the initial underestimation but the attempt to explain afterwards how a despised enemy could possibly be better than you. :o)

Andy ONeill02 Jul 2018 1:47 a.m. PST

Just as well it's not me building the scenarios :^)

It seems the eclipse at Isandlwana was only partial.
Still a very significant morale effect, but not much noticeable darkening.

GreenLeader Inactive Member02 Jul 2018 3:46 a.m. PST


But strangely I have never heard anyone say that the Zulus 'massively underestimated' the British at Kambula or Ulundi. Or that the Fuzzie-Wuzzies 'massively underestimated' the British at Omdurman.

Perhaps this comment can only be made about certain nations.

GreenLeader Inactive Member02 Jul 2018 3:49 a.m. PST

Andy O'Neill

The Zulus may well have drawn inspiration / courage from the event. In the Matabele War some 14 years later, their fairly distant cousins called off a night attack on the Rhodesian laagers after seeing some signal rockets being fired up into the night sky – the otherwise fearless Matabele refused to attack a force which could 'knock the Moon from the sky'.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP02 Jul 2018 4:43 a.m. PST

@ Frontovik

The British appreciation of the Zulus was that, like all previous African native armies had done, they would retreat from confrontation with a European army. This was an empirical assumption based on previous colonial encounters, and was reinforced by Zulu diplomacy ahead of the invasion, in which it was clear that the Zulus were desperate to avoid a war they clearly could not win. It wasn't based on some ex ante assumption that Africans = savages.

Chelmsford then went on to assume that as the Zulus had tried to avoid war, they would probably try to avoid battle. So they would need to be found and brought to bay, hence the wide front. This same wide front left the three columns out of mutual support range, but as the Zulus wouldn't fight this did not of course matter. This error afforded the Zulus the opportunity to concentrate against one column. Chelmsford's next mistake was to assume that as the main column was too strong for the Zulus to attack, its camp needn't be properly laagered or fortified, so it wasn't. His third mistake – that doomed the defenders of Isandhlwana – was to march two-thirds of the main column off on a wild goose chase, leaving the Zulus at liberty to attack and destroy the one-third left behind.

So he under-estimated their willingness to fight and their skill in doing so.

There is room to argue that the Zulus had the best light infantry in the world in 1879 for the actual theatre. Yes, they were armed mainly with spears, but so were European cavalry – and the Zulus manoeuvred tactically at a similar speed to European cavalry.

The interesting thing about them as an army is their relative lack of mobility. Thanks to Michael Caine we tend think of them as able to run 50 miles a day, but in fact a typical Zulu day's march was between 5 and 15 miles, the same as a European army.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP02 Jul 2018 4:53 a.m. PST

@ khanscom

the Commonwealth forces had a nearly perfect appreciation of German strength, plans, and timing, yet managed to lose the fight.
Freyberg was a bit useless. He should have held Crete and he later did little more than bellyache in the Western Desert.

In the latter campaign it was occasionally misplaced reliance on their "nearly perfect appreciation of German strength, plans, and timing" that caused the trouble. After Compass, the Commonwealth had read the orders to Rommel telling him not to attack before April, so they assumed he'd obey them and wouldn't. He didn't, and did.

thomalley02 Jul 2018 5:11 a.m. PST

Napoleon underestimated the Austrians in 1809 I would say. In fact so would he.

I would say it was the Austrians that underestimated the French. They didn't think Napoleon could even raise a army against them because of Spain and other commitments. They were lucky to keep their country in tact and not have the Austrian Empire turned into the Austria of today. On the other hand we might have missed WWI if Austria had been 4 or 5 countries in 1914.

ocollens Supporting Member of TMP02 Jul 2018 7:16 a.m. PST

In fact Custer also overestimated the Indians in one crucial respect. He assumed that the news of the mule that had it shed its load would be a big giveaway and had blown his cover. This meant he had (in his mind) to attack immediately.

In fact the Indians who found it were on they way to the camp on the LBH and did not reach it until after the battle. First thing the Sioux and Cheyenne knew about the 7th was Reno's 'charge'.

Having an inflexible mind-set is IMO more serious a problem for a commander than simply underestimating your enemy.

Frontovik03 Jul 2018 2:36 a.m. PST

@ 4th Curassier

And what drives all those assumptions about the Zulus expected behaviour? :o)

As an aside, while I can't recall the details, some years ago I read that the number of trade guns trafficked to the Zulus in the years prior to 1879 was sufficient to equip most of their army with a firearm of some description.

That said lack of skill and ammunition probably limited their effectiveness if not use.

GreenLeader Inactive Member03 Jul 2018 4:52 a.m. PST


Apparently about 1 in 4 Zulus had some sort of firearm at Isandlwana… or, to put it another way: about 5000 of them.

Legion 403 Jul 2018 4:59 a.m. PST

And as we know after the fact hindsight is generally 20/20 …

Bill N03 Jul 2018 11:26 a.m. PST

'The Boers underestimated the British in 1899, and lost'

Did they underestimate? Or did they determine that as bad as the odds were then, they would be even worse later?

Lee49403 Jul 2018 4:16 p.m. PST

Re Zulus. I disagree that Chelmsford made any errors regarding Isandlhwana except overestimating the ability of the officers he left in command. They conducted an astonishingly inept defense and had more than sufficient firepower to hold off the Zulus as several subsequent battles would prove. Which begs the question does "overestimating your own capabilities" equate to underestimating your enemy's? Isn't it really the comparative capabilities that need to be grasped and allowed for which really determines the outcome of a battle? Cheers!

GreenLeader Inactive Member03 Jul 2018 10:12 p.m. PST

Bill N

The Boers outnumbered the Imperial garrison in Southern Africa by about 3:1 when they started the war, and confidently predicted being in Durban and Cape Town in no time.

Some quotes:

'…he commenced the war with a firm trust in God, and the most gross negligence'
Said of President Steyn of the OFS

'… our leaders underestimated the magnitude of the task on which they were embarked'
'…the people were not only perfectly willing to go to war, but that they absolutely wished for it'
'We look on fighting the English as a picnic. In some of the Kaffir wars we had a little trouble, but in the Vryheids Oorlog [the first Boer War] we simply potted the Rooineks as they streamed across the veldt in their red jackets, without the slightest danger to ourselves.' They had the utmost contempt for Tommy Atkins and his leaders, many of them bragging that the only thing that deterred them from advocating war instanter was the thought that they would have to kill so many of the soldiers, with whom individually they said there was no quarrel'
Deneys Reitz

'The Transvaaler, accustomed to fight against natives, welcomed the war; for them it was more sport than anything'
'[FW Reitz had] no doubt as to the final victory of the Boers, of which he was so convinced that he would not even allow the possibility of the fortunes of war changing'
'[there was a] feeling rampant in young Transvaal that they would sweep the British into the sea and compel the officials at Cape Town to speak Cape Dutch'
Count Sternberg, Austrian volunteer

The Rev Bailey, of the Anglican Church in Dundee, recorded that some of the trains carrying Boers to the front were marked with the anticipated final destinations: 'Durban' and 'Pietermaritzburg'. He wrote of a pair of stone masons who, having managed to escape to safety in Natal, disclosed how the Boers had boasted of driving the Rooineks into the sea. Such was their confidence that some had even assured the two masons that they would employ them to build their new houses in Durban.

'The Dutch patriot had conceived the notion of stepping into an Empire ready made, which was dropping from the feeble hands of a race emasculated by wealth and an unchallenged possession of the earth'
'Each man also was actuated by a strong contempt for his foe, in part due to the easy victory achieved in 1881; in part due to the hasty concession of freedom'
Maydon, 'French's Cavalry Campaign'

'The crowd are talking very big and from their talk Cape Town and Durban will be their first stopping place!!'
'The Afrikaner Bond has poisoned the mind of the uneducated Transvaal Boer, with its papers and pamphlets, and lies they circulate. The ordinary Transvaal Boer believes it is impossible for any nation to beat them'
Reluctant burgher, Jack Lane

'One of us shall drive three score, and five a thousand drive…'
'[the Bethal Commando]…rode out in the early morning, in all kinds of clothes, with saddlebags slung over the front of their saddles, all full of hope and big talk of driving the Rooineks into the sea'
Tom Vinnecombe, resident of Bethal

'There is, however, one bad quality which has become prevalent amongst us Afrikanders, and that is the quality of conceit. It is especially noticeable in the rising generation of Afrikanders … the Young Afrikander reminds me of the fable of the frog that felt so confident that it could rival a bull in size, that it blew itself out until it burst … the young Afrikanders in the Transvaal and Free State gradually came to believe that they knew everything better, and could do everything better than any Englishman. They thought that because they, or rather their fathers, could hit a bottle at 200 yards there was no limit to their capacities … to suggest to the young Afrikander that he was not omnipotent was to be a traitor to one's race. To tell the Kruger oligarchy at Pretoria that it was quite impossible to prevent the active and intelligent majority of the community from obtaining a voice in the future government of the State was enough to be jeered at called a fool … to point out their folly and to caution them that if they persisted in their foolish course, ruin would stare them in the face, was a sin that merited the contempt of every Afrikander. This conceit has brought ruin to many a Transvaal, Free State and Colonial home'
Advocate J W Wessels

'[the Boers I met considered themselves] invincible because of his powers of marksmanship, and the special aid on his behalf of Providence. Said one of this fanatical type the other day to a Britisher, ‘I suppose the English can send an army of 20,000 soldiers against us?' ‘Oh yes—500,000 troops, if necessary,' answered the patriot. ‘Verdompt!' rejoined the Boer, in unconscious humour, ‘it would take us three months to kill them all'
'[they ones I shared a cabin with on a train were] an excellent yeoman type of burghers, the best among the Boers, simple good-hearted fellows, with a foolish belief that England was a wretched and cowardly country they could put down any day. They were going to invade Natal, eat fish in Durban, and then, if the English did not submit to be thrashed, sail over to London and finish the job! It is sorrowful to think that so few of them realized what they were under-taking.'
War Correspondent, Bennet Burleigh

'[The war will] be over in a fortnight. We shall take Kimberley and Mafeking, and give the English such a beating in Natal that they will sue for peace'
Judge Gregorowski, Chief Justice of the Transvaal

So yes, I think they somewhat underestimated the magnitude of what they were going to do.

GreenLeader Inactive Member03 Jul 2018 10:59 p.m. PST


That's a jolly good point.

I suppose one could argue that Chelmsford should have ordered that the camp be fortified etc, but I fully agree with your assertion that the forces left behind *should* have been adequate.

When visiting the battlefield, one thing that really strikes you is how scattered all the cairns of white washed stones are (these mark the clusters of Imperial dead). Rather than stringing the companies out in the open, had they instead been tightly grouped around the camp (and thus nearer their ammo supplies) it is almost inconceivable that the Zulus could have overwhelmed them.

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