Friday, February 11, 2011

35. Battle of Rorke's Drift

January 22-23, 2011 was the 132nd anniversary of the Battle of Rorke's Drift.  (For those of you who don't know about this battle, see here for lots of good information.)

My friend Tom just happened to be in town for Friday the 21st and Saturday the 22nd, so we decided to have a go at re-fighting the battle with my 15mm Old Glory figures.  We've been playing the same battle a couple of times a year, usually at Christmas when we've got time off from work.  We've been refining the "beer-and-pretzels" rules that came with the figures (no author credited) each time we play, trying to create that "perfect" set of rules.  We're still trying.  Every time we make a change, it seems to tilt too far in favor of the Zulu, so we make another change and then it seems to tilt too far in favor of the British.  You know how it is.
We're pretty happy with the state of the rules (although there are a couple of tweaks we'd like to make for next time).  They're almost unrecognizable from the rules with which we started.  It was the Zulu war, and specifically this battle, that really got me hooked on Historical wargaming (and Colonial wargaming in particular), and it's mostly Tom's fault for suggesting I read "The Washing of the Spears" by Donald Morris (Amazon link).  Then I watched the film "Zulu!" and all hope was lost:  I bought the Old Glory 15s box set of 300 Zulus, 62 Brits, and resin buildings (although truth be told I bought it from WarWeb on sale).

We also invited my friend Patrick, who is a novice wargamer but a stout-hearted history buff.  He had played once or twice before, so he and I divided the British between us:  he took Lt. Bromhead and the storehouse while I took Lt. Chard and the hospital.  Tom ran the Zulu.  We actually played on Friday the 21st, but it was late in the evening, and since South Africa is 8 hours ahead of us it was actually the 22nd there when we played.  Yay!

Anyway, here are some pictures of the game.  You'll be happy to know that history is preserved!  While there were some tense moments early in the game, in the end the British held on for the win.

The defenders in position.  Left:  the storehouse.  Right:  the hospital.
Battle begins, and early in the game the Zulu reach the walls, causing casualties in the British line.

A close-up view of the action in front of the storehouse.  Patrick decided to build the redoubt, and completed it in record time:  2 turns!  Lt. Bromhead surveys the fighting from a place of safety.

Blimey, more Zulu!  Plus those pesky snipers on the hill.  I need more guns on the wall!

Only 8 stands of 30 made it to the wall, but since this was only around Turn 6 (of 24) I thought we were well and truly done-for.

Three sections of the wall are under attack, and Patrick is bored enough to get creative.  (Most of the attacks had been on my half.)

Of those 8 stands, one actually made it inside the perimeter!

And hard on the heels of that attack...another!

A couple of turns have elapsed here:  I whittled the nearer attack down to 3 stands, but I was also under assault on the exact opposite side.  I pulled my men off both walls and formed a double firing line.

The is the same scene, viewed from the other side where 11 stands are about to gain uncontested entry inside the perimeter and move into close combat.  I honestly thought the game was about to be over.

The Zulu attack in very strange formations....

And then....  After a single round of close range rifle fire, all the Zulu were dead or fled.  As suddenly as the end had been about to arrive, it departed.  The Zulu never regained the initiative (ie, Tom just couldn't roll for attacks when he needed them).  There is one attack on the far side of the hospital...

...which my suddenly-targetless soldiers had no trouble in devastating.  Except for that one stand.  It held of for three turns!  It couldn't advance, it wouldn't run away, and nobody could kill it for the longest time.

We almost called it quits, but decided to press on.  This represented the Zulu's last best chance, one final massive push with a very large mob of warriors.  I got my men in to a double firing-line again, but it took precious time to do so, time I was not able to spend shooting.

So the Zulus made it to the wall nearly unscathed!  Ahhh!

But one turn of close-range shooting and close combat saw them all dead or fled, again.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (or storehouse), the Zulu had managed to breach the roof, pushing the defenders down and into the "courtyard," plus there was an attack from the opposite side.  Where to send the guns?
As it turns out, that's the last of the pictures I took.  The two men shooting from next to the redoubt killed the two stands of Zulu on the roof, and the wall of rifles saw off the Zulu attack.

I know this report makes it sound like the rules unfairly favor the British, but in the last two games (played as recently as December) the Zulu won pretty comfortably.  That's partly why I feel the rules are pretty good, because neither side has an obvious edge each time.

The way the rules work, the Zulu attacks are randomized, both in location and in size.  It's worst for the British when there are attacks occurring in consecutive turns; when the Zulu can't roll for a new attack, it gives the Brit's breathing room.

So history is safe from re-writing (at least insofar as our game is concerned), although Lt. Bromhead did bite the dust.  Gallantly, though.

Thanks for reading.


  1. So the Brits won . . . but did Patrick "catch the Colonial bug"?

    -- Jeff

  2. Nice game report and a graet looking set up.

  3. Very nice setup. That attack formation was odd...

  4. @Jeff: Patrick is a history buff but not a gamer...yet.

    Thanks, all, for the nice comments and thanks for looking.