The garrison at Rorke’s Drift have been seriously reduced in numbers of able fighting men, from a total of 140 we’ve only got 36 left standing. They’re gathered inside the inner perimeter, delimited from the rest of the camp by a wall made of sturdy biscuit boxes bi-secting the courtyard.
The remaining men of the 24th Regiment of Foot are looking at their last moments alive. Surrounded by their comrades and leading them with professional discipline, dignity and honour we have Lieutenant John Rouse Merriott Chard.
The men are at the end of their tether, they have been fighting for their lives all day and through the night. They’ve seen many of their friends die in the most hideous and horrific ways.
Now is the time to steel themselves for the end. Proud that they did all they could.
On turn 101, we have Zulu’s from the Right Horn clawing and clambering over the boxes. Chard orders the men to form up and present line formation in front of the mealie bag redoubt, they drag their wounded and dead into the bottom of the protective structure. Independent fire has managed to disrupt and even rout some of the Right Horn Zulu’s.
In the last surge, we have lost 3 more men.
By Turn 102, the Right Horn and remnants of the previous wave of Chest have bunched up into a large mass of seething Zulu bloodlust. They jostle and push hard at the biscuit box wall to get to the redcoats behind. To add to this, incoming fire hits the men outside of the redoubt and causes them to rout.
The British soldiers brace the wall, and ply their lunger bayonets to the incoming mass. Their odds are good at 3/1 considering.
With such a force of men advancing on mass, the redcoats struggle to make any kills, and well aimed assegai’s or stabs from probing ikwla take another 2 lives. The Hospital finally crumbles into a smouldering heap, with the thatch still burning bright enough.
Chard from inside the redoubt (which is raised a good 6ft high) can shoot down upon the advancing mass to good effect.
With fire from the ground level, coupled with Chard’s effort from above, the Zulu pack finally begins to break.
Chard orders soldiers from the stone kraal wall into the line, to plug the gaps left by the recently killed. Incoming errant fire is still pouring into the inner perimeter.
We take two more casualties, hiking our losses to 77%. By all reckoning the defenders of the Drift should all be dead by now. Surely it has to end soon?
In astonishment, the men stand agasp as a new wave of the Reserve comes into view to the South. Chard orders the rest of the men from the Kraal to take up positions on the line.
The only reserves available to Chard are the three injured patients taking refuge in the Storehouse. These men escaped the burning Hospital, and currently cover the northern approaches through the loopholes in the Storehouse wall. Chard decides to let the injured men, stay in the protection of the Storehouse.
With the Reserve holding back and throwing assegai’s into the perimeter, the men return fire and manage to disrupt and rout some Zulu’s.
However, trapped like rats in a hole, the British line starts to lose any remaining cohesion. We lose another 6 men by the end of Turn 104.
Chard shouts orders to reconfigure the line, into a front surrounding the redoubt, with soldiers filling the redoubt in an orderly fashion as best they can. The Reserve come on with re-enforcements.
The Reserve begin their push over the outer perimeter walls, pelting the British with assegai, and stray shots from smooth bore muskets.
These pot shots begin to take a higher toll, now that the British are clustered into a small area, and there are so few of them left to provide much in the way of covering fire. The term “sitting ducks” would be appropriate here.
By Turn 106, seven more British men have fallen. The men outside the Redoubt walls perish. With only 19 men alive, our effective fire capability has seriously diminished.
The Reserve are now leaping over the outer walls, and a mass of them are pushing against the biscuit box wall. They’re hurling everything they have into this push. With a few held back to join them if a breakthrough happens.
The Reserve are now at the Redoubt Wall! Even the unshakable Lt. Chard is disrupted by this development. Reynolds routs to the far side of the Redoubt in horror. This could be it. The inevitable gruesome death, a few stabs to disable, then the ritual disembowelling.
From inside the Redoubt the remaining soldiers attempt to shirk the attackers. The odds look good, at 5/1 given the height advantage the Redoubt affords them.
Stabbing frantically downwards their lunger bayonets connect with the Zulu’s, and they’re pinned from above, cold steel plunging into their torso through neck and collarbone. Chard attempts to rally the pitiful numbers of men left in the defense.
The last scrape has taken another 6 lives. We have a mere 13 men left in the Redoubt. Clustered around their commanding officer and surgeon.
As more Reserve clamber over Chard’s biscuit box wall, he pots a few of them with his revolver in a final act of defiance. He kills one and disrupts another.
With the remaining 24th men laying down independent fire, they manage to rout the remaining Reserve Zulu’s near the inner perimeter wall.
Finally, the fields around the Drift become quiet. Chard quickly scans the landscape around with his eyeglass, and can see no more Zulu’s approaching. Can it be true?
The Battle of Rorke’s Drift is over. With only 13 men left, the British have held the outpost, and are claimed to be Victorious. But to Chard it feels like a hollow victory indeed. So many men lost. It has been a bloody battle.
With 90% of his men lost, only the fact that they sold their lives dearly to the 600 Zulu warriors that were also put down. Including the wounded and disbanded the Zulu impi lost 42% of its strength at the Drift that day.
This “Victory” in the name of the White Queen, Queen Victoria, simply has to recognise the efforts of one man. Lt John Chard.
I’ve laid out the Order of Battles at the end of this game, for interest mainly.
Overall British Order of Battle
British Order of Battle – showing Names of the men who fought – table 1.
British Order of Battle – showing Names of the men who fought – table 2.
British Order of Battle – showing Names of the men who fought – table 3.
British Order of Battle – showing Names of the men who fought – table 4.
Overall Zulu Order of Battle
Thanks for reading through my re-creation of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift here, and I hope it has given you a taste to explore the interesting depths of the Anglo-Zulu War.
A couple of points, I should raise.
This battle played out very much like the historical battle, apart from the amount of casualties I took. In reality only about 13 men died during the immediate action, two more later of their wounds. I managed to hold onto the win, using about the same number of men in this scenario. I really should have worked out that the Left Horn was finished a long time ago, and I could have pulled them men off the Kraal wall earlier, and they could have helped in the line sooner. I should have perhaps pulled the injured patients out of the Storehouse too, to join in the final stand.
My references to North, South, East and West in the text, refers more to the orientation of the Drift in the screenshots, and not to the actual geographical location (in fact I think my North and South are the wrong way round, compared to reality). Apologies for that. I should also apologise for much of my artistic license in the prose I’ve laid down. I was attempting to create a tense and readable narrative supported by the screenshots of the game as it played out. I may have added extra drama to the proceedings for effect.
I think there was an issue with the release version of the game, because the British side didn’t seem to take account of wounded men. There has been a patch since I documented this session, so it is probably fixed.
The history behind the battle is very interesting indeed, and I urge folks to read Mike Snook’s books (How Can Man Die Better, and Like Wolves on the Fold) about Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. Mike comes at the topic, from a military perspective and his insights and research do make the conflict come alive.
Also, check out the following web communities, for discussing the Anglo-Zulu War – there are many interested folks and experts populating these places. Utterly fascinating to read, all the facts, and the debates.
If you’ve enjoyed reading about the Battle, then why not grab a copy of The Drift 1879 and give it a go yourself, perhaps you can do a lot better than I did. I was so upset when I lost Bromhead early on!
Thanks again for reading.