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1. Mahdists taking a table top fort with British forces looking on. Image by kind permission of 'All Things Jacklex' blog
THE AFRICAN USE OF FIREARMS
Varied Moroccan horsemen had been using matchlock and flintlock muskets – often beautifully crafted weapons – for three centuries in an impressive but largely ineffective style. Riders would approach the enemy, halt, fire a shot then retire to reload in best 16th century manner – a tactic much appreciated by their opponents armed with breech-loaders. For most Africans firearms were a recent innovation, useful in slave-raiding or elephant hunting, but causing few changes in traditional tactics.
The Zulus used rifles largely to cover the attack of their impis, but were completely unable to contest the British fire superiority (eg at Kambula, when they had captured modern weapons but found them strange and mysterious items).
Ndebele warriors believed that by pushing the sights as far forward as possible they would make the bullet strike home harder.
Mahdists often shortened the barrels of their Remington rifles to make them easier to carry. There was no real appreciation of Europeans’ overwhelming superiority in training, and at Omdurman the Mahdists were confident that their riflemen would be a match for Kitchener’s.
The Ethiopians used modern rifles as assault weapons, firing as their massed formations closed for combat. In contrast to this, there were some peoples who made an effective combination of traditional fieldcraft skills with modern firepower.
The German Official History maintained that the Hottentots and Herero were more dangerous foes than the Boers, because of their sniping from cover.
Equally in Somalia the Mullah’s forces employed an efficient ‘fire and movement’ system of short rushes in extended order, making careful use of brush cover.
Source: Battle in Africa 1879-1914, Howard Whitehouse, Field Books, 1987. One of, if not the best introductory book I have read on the subject of campaigning and fighting in the colonial period. A must for the wargamer.
Jacklex Miniatures Colonial Nineteenth Century 20mm metal wargame figures.