The Zulu War 1879
The most common image of the Zulu Wars is Michael Caine in his scarlet tunic shouting "Don't throw those bloody spears at me!" This not one but two myths. The first is that he never said it in that movie as the line actually come from "The man who would be king." The second is that the Zulu threw their spears. They were far to skilled at war to throw their short stabbing spears, called Assegai, other than as a last resort.
When the Zulus needed to attack their enemy at longer range they used muskets and rifles. These were either taken from the British after the defeat at Isandhlwana, or had been sold to them before the war. The commanding officers of the British column, Colonel Parnell and Colonel Pearson, both had their horses shot from under them at Inyezane, however it was close up fighting with the Assegai which was their strength. What the Zulu did not have were heavy artillery.
The British did have heavy weapons, and much of it was supplied by the navy in a Naval Brigade from HMS Active under the command of Commander Campbell. They started out with two 12-pounders, but these were swapped for smaller 7-pounders at Fort Pearson on the Tugela River. They also had a Gatling Gun, operated under the command of Midshipman Coker at Inyezane, and 24-pounder Hale Rockets, directed by Boatswain Cotter at Inyezane.
Rockets were still very inaccurate at this stage, but still a terrifying weapon both for the enemy and the people firing it. This was because once fired it would travel roughly a mile, but you could never be sure that it wouldn't turn around and end up coming strait back at you. If it did go where you wanted it to it could be very effective. A single rocket ripping through a Kraal at Inyezane was enough to scatter all the Zulu in it.
The battle of Isandhlwana
There was another British column invading the Zulu kingdom at the same time as the one that got besieged at Eshowe. This is the force depicted in the film Zulu, and did not have a happy fate. Chelmsford had underestimated the danger posed by the Zulu and choose not to form his wagons into a defensive formation called a Laager or make any other defensive fortifications. 20000 Zulu warriors attacked a portion of the British main column consisting of about 1800 British, colonial and native troops and perhaps 400 civilians. They killed 1300 troops, including everybody in the forward most line, for a loss of about 1000 of their own warriors.
There were only two sailors in this column. These where Lieutenant Archibald Berkeley Milne who was Lord Chelmsford's naval aide-de-camp and his batman, Signalman William Henry Aynsley. Milne escaped because at the time he was with Lord Chelmsford on his foray to the area around Mangeni Falls. He later went on to become an Admiral. However Signalman Aynsley was last seen holding off a mass of Zulu with his Cutlass bayonet, until one sneaked up behind him and stabbed him through the spokes of the wheel of a wagon.
The Siege of Eshowe
Shortly after the battle at Inyezane the British column reached Eshowe, where they dug in unable to continue due to their over extended lines of communication, and because they had heard of what happened to the other column at Isandhlwana. The cavalry and native troops were sent back to British territory in order to get re-enforcements with the rest, including the Naval Brigade, remaining where they were.
They remained their until they were relieved on the 4th of April by a force which include a Naval Brigade of men from the Shah, the Tenedos, and the Boadicea which joined the column later after having had to deal with a smallpox outbreak on board first. The Shar was not actually supposed to have been there. She had been on her back to England when her Captain, Captain Bradshaw, heard about how badly things were going in Natal and decided to return on his own initiative. He heard about the situation on St. Helena while returning from the Pacific and sailed for the Cape Colony, taking 200 men supplied by the governor of St. Helena with him.
Commander Campbell took command of the entire naval force, now numbering 800 officers and men, including two from the Royal Naval Artillery Volunteers who had paid their own way to get there. Together with the army they then withdrew back to British territory.
Off the coast of Zululand
The Royal Navy also helped to ship supplies to the troops fighting near the coast in Zululand. On 24th April, HMS Forester was sounding for landing places for stores, near Port Durnford, when her boats were fired on by Zulus on the shore. Her boats withdrew returning fire and HMS Forester shelled the beach and surrounding bush killing some cattle and probably some of the attackers.