Skip to comments.This Week In History: The Battle of Rorke's Drift
Posted on 01/20/2013 4:05:47 PM PST by Argus
This week, January 22-23 marks the 134th anniversary of the Battle of Rorke's Drift in Natal Province, South Africa. Everyone knows the story of the small company of Welsh troops from the 24th Regiment of Foot who held off a force of up to 4,000 Zulu warriors who outnumbered them twenty to one.
I plan to celebrate the occasion tomorrow by viewing the classic movie of the siege starring Stanley Baker and Michael Caine, made fifty years ago. It looks like there won't be anything else worth watching on TV that day anyway.
Everyone knows about Rorke’s Drift but hardly anyone knows about the main show at Isandlwana. What a horrifying deal that was (from the British POV).
Both were well documented in a Flashman book, called “Flashman and the Tiger”. As will with all of the Flashman books, the research is pretty good..
I saw it at The Lincoln Theater in Kearny, NJ. I believe however it was a company of Royal Army Engineers, supported by Welsh Infantry and Natal Border guards. An amazing and trenchant example of a first class civilization over an inferior one. The fact that they were engineers and were based at a small compound of buildings, they were able to fortify the compound to their advantage and make the enemy come to them. Remarkable still when you realize that only a week earlier 1,000 British troops were caught in the open at a place called Iswandala by the Zulus and were slaughtered to a man. 22 Victoria Crosses were awarded in connection with this battle, the most ever awarded in all of British military history.
The officer commanding was an engineer, Lt. Chard. The main body of troops were infantry.
The battle at Isandlwana was not a week earlier; it was earlier that day.
I will set down tomorrow and watch ZULU DAWN and ZULU! Two of the best action movies ever made. Will not be watching the coronation in DC.
Back in 1968, the NY Times published a book of movie reviews by Rex Reed released to TV. Being 1968, I immediately looked up ZULU.
Talk about a crying baby. He was crying about how such a “racist” movie could be released in these hard times of 1968 with all the race riots going on!
The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation Under Shaka and Its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879
By Donald R. Morris
Watch ZULU DAWN with Burt Lancaster and Peter O’Toole. It covers Islandwana very well.
Two Soldiers in the firing line talk while shooting.
Soldier 1 speaks well of the .557 Martini rifle and how the bullets smash ‘em, flatten out!
Soldier 2 says... “The bullets give out! The bloody spears don’t!”
Read it! Great book!
Anyone ever notice how the Germans in GLADIATOR sound so much like the Zulus in ZULU?
I am not qualified to make a serious assessment of the British outfits involved but I do remember thinking it was a combination of Engineers and Infantry along with some Boer scouts.
I am not sure how accurate the movie was but it showed a group of Engineers working before the attack.
Men of Harlech
January is not a particularly good month for the British army, as it is also the 171th anniversary of the annihilation of Elphinstone’s army in retreat from Kabul, Afghanistan.
Ironically, the Elphinstone family produced some of the finest Admirals in British naval history, and the worst General in world history.
My favorite secen from Zulu http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWuaSww3JnA
Yes, that’s correct.
May I recommend as additional reading a book called Against These Three-A Bio of Paul Kruger, Cecil Rhodes & Lobengula by Stuart Cloete http://www.amazon.com/Against-Three-A-Kruger-Rhodes-Lobengula/dp/B0017DSLLO
Bromhead was the other subaltern. I didn’t know the Royal Army at that time used infantry troops to do engineering details.
One of my favorite movies. I watch it every chance I get.
They used Zulus as extras and you could see them charging with war cries and assegais in hand. Very realistic battle scenes.
I always wondered if any of the actors representing the British army garrison ever had a moment’s thought about: “Hey, what if one of these guys gets excited and has a “flashback” about being a warrior?”
The opposite might be true.
My Father was in the combat engineers and I was recently reading of their normal assignments. In addition to all their engineering duties they were to be used as infantry as needed.
They were fully trained as infantry in addition to their specialized training. They carried what was basically infantry weapons. For instance they carried M1 Garands, not carbines or pistols.
No semi-automatic, assault weapons?
No “High-capacity clips”?
How could such carnage happen?
“Soldier 2 says... The bullets give out! The bloody spears dont!”
They must have had those illegal, high-capacity-clip spears.
(full auto is not always your friend)
His was the 208th Engineer Combat Battalion. Daddy always called them “Combat Engineers” but I noticed in their official history the Army always says “Engineer Combat Battalion”.
His outfit was what they called a Bastard outfit because they were not attached to any army. I think they mostly built pontoon bridges. The one they put across the Rhine was constructed while under artillery fire.
Daddy always claimed the truck drivers killed more men than the Germans.
Zulu, the complete original movie. BTW: The Brit uniforms are not completely correct. In the field, these guys didn't wear the bright helmet badge, and the sun helmets were dyed a tan color, not bright white.
Working link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSZXo9mfPg8
"Men of Harlech" or "The March of the Men of Harlech" (in Welsh: Rhyfelgyrch Gwŷr Harlech) is a song and military march which is traditionally said  to describe events during the seven-year siege of Harlech Castle between 1461 and 1468.  Commanded by Constable Dafydd ap Ieuan, the garrison held out in what is the longest known siege in the history of the British Isles. 
Men of Harlech, stop your dreaming
Can't you see their spearpoints gleaming
See their warrior pennants streaming
To this battle field
Men of Harlech stand ye steady
It can not be ever said ye
For the battle were not ready
Welshmen never yield
From the hills rebounding
Let this war cry sounding
Summon all at Cambria's call
The mighty foe surrounding
Men of Harlech on to glory
This will every be your story
Keep these burning words before ye
Welshmen will not yield.
My son and I watch the movie on a regular basis. Never quit! Never give up!
Some historians say that so many VCs were given at the Drift to try to cover up the loss earlier in the day.
Thanks for the link. I need a good movie tonight-—I’m a Pats fan.:=(
“Im a Pats fan”
There is an even more amazing story set in SW Africa. Four German Soldiers held a fort being attacked by hundreds of natives. I think it was 400 against 4. The Germans held it for a long time too.
Now there’s irony, I had an great uncle I met as a kid who was addled from surviving running a jeep into a loaded ammo truck and it went up, right in the area of one of the first crossings. He got blown hundreds of yards away and was paralyzed for quite a while on one side. I don’t think they even found tags for the guy with him...
First it is the British Army, not the Royal Army. Lt. Gronville Bromhead commanded Co. B 24th Foot. Lt. John Chard of the Royal Engineers, was senior to Bromhead in DOR and therefore commanded the action at Rourks Drift.
In addition to “The Washing of Spears”, I would highly recommend “How Can Man Better” about the Battle of Isandlwana, and “Like Wolves on the Fold”, about Rourk’s Drift. The author is Lt.Col. Mike Snook. The author was a former commander of the Royal Welsh Regiment