22 Jan 2018

Lest We Forget: Rorke’s Drift


Lady Butler, The Defense of Rorke’s Drift, 1880, Royal Collection.

Battle of Rorke’s Drift, 22-23 January 1879, Natal, South Africa.
139–141 men from B Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot, 11 colonial troops, and 4 civilians versus roughly 4000 Zulus. Result: British victory.

From “Zulu” (1964).

8 Feedbacks on "Lest We Forget: Rorke’s Drift"

JK Brown

A bit of context from an article on European small arms around 1900:

“England has lately adopted a small bore-0.303 inch calibre-modified Lee magazine rifle–a Lee with most of the strong points of the mechanism modified out-after making a long series of most amusing steps of development in order to reach the conclusion that this arm was suited to her needs. For some years she has been more than content with her famous 0.45 inch calibre single-loading Martini-Henry rifles and Boxer cartridges-guns almost as bad in principle of breech mechanism as our own Springfilelds, and cartridges even worse than the United States regulation ones– and in her late “wars with peoples who wear not the trousers,” her soldiers have gallantly fired on the enemy when they knew full well what a horrible punishment they were to receive from the brutal recoil of their weapons, and have borne their torture with true English grit. An English officer informed the writer that the practice was a great aid to gallantry in battle in South Africa, for “when a fellow has been so brutally pounded by his own rifle half a hundred times, he don’t so much mind having an assegai as big as a shovel stuck through him; it s rather a relief, don’t you know.” ”


Damn, the memory was just fading. Why did you have to dredge it back up?

Steve Gregg

I strongly recommend the book, “The Washing Of The Spears – A History Of The Rise And Fall Of The Zulu Nation Under Shaka And Its Fall In The Zulu War Of 1879,” by Donald R. Morris. It’s everything you want history to be, full of strange customs, war, black magic, and sex.

You can buy the hardback on Amazon for a couple bucks.

I saw a documentary a few years ago that showed history buffs walking the battlefield at Isandhlwana. Over a century later, they still found the pull tabs from the ammo cans where they were tossed as they broke out the rifle rounds as the Zulus charged them.

Maggie's Farm

Tuesday morning links

January-o-phobia. Virology and vaccine research  Don Imus Will Retire from His Radio Show in March He is 77.  I will miss him   Sex and Marriage: 6 Statistics That Might Surprise You Remembering Rorke’s Drift  Expe

Dick the Butcher

Agree with Steve Gregg above. “The Washing . . .” is outstanding in its exposition of the war – strategy and tactics; Zulu warrior culture and its demise.

Rorke’s Drift was in stark contrast to the massacre of the British column at Isandlwana.

Steve Gregg

Quite so, Dick. Much better to be at Rourke’s Drift and live than to be at Isandhlwana and die. The documentary I saw featured a Zulu shaman who revealed that the warriors were hopped up on drugs made from local herbs.

Zulu history sounded much like early Roman history. It’s interesting that both Romans and Zulus put their old gray heads to the rear to steady the line in combat.

Dick the Butcher

Steve, the Zulu infantry horns and loin tactics recall Hannibal’s double envelopment at Canae. The Romans were massacred.

Steve Gregg

True enough. The idea of a fixing force and and a striking force are elemental ideas of military strategy going back to Sun Tzu and even further back. All herding peoples inherently understand this from managing cattle or horses. The Zulus herded cattle. Their tactics sprang from that. They put their steady warriors in the chest, the inibuthi, and their fleetest runners in the wings, the ozimpopo. Then, they herded their enemy like cattle.


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