“Zulu”

[Third of a trilogy – from March 28, 2013]

In 1964 I was in my first year of college. Two afternoons a week, I worked as a lifeguard at a local YMCA (thanks to Lifesaving Merit Badge). One day after work, I noticed that a new movie was playing at the theater across the street.  I had time. I had interest. So I went in.  Alone. To watch “Zulu.”  WOW! 

The movie “Zulu” debuted in 1964 and it was Michael Caine’s first starring role. He played Lt. Gonville Bromhead – one of two commanding officers (with Stanley Baker as Lt. John Chard) of the small garrison that defended Rorke’s Drift.   None other than Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the former Prime Minister of Zululand and noted South African politician, played King Cetshwayo — the leader of the Zulu nation in 1879.  The scene opens with Zulus walking through the battlefield of Isandlwana.  And then the scene shifts to Rorke’s Drift. 

Names and characters are based on actual participants in the battle.  While the movie is historically accurate, there are some Hollywoodizations — limited pretty much to personalities and not events.  There was no “singing” and some of the characters are incorrectly portrayed (like “Hook” who was actually a model soldier).    Nonetheless, “Zulu” is one of the most captivating action movies I have ever seen.   In 2008, while in South Africa, I couldn’t resist.  I chartered a 4-seater and flew to Isandlwana and walked the battlefield.   The place was barren, remote and silent — except for lonely white stone cairns scattered over the landscape which served as markers for the 1,500 that lay buried beneath them.  I then went to Rorke’s Drift.  The interesting thing?  There was hardly a soul at either place.  A Zulu guide spoke eloquently of the British defense at Rorke’s Drift.  But he spoke more eloquently of the Zulu courage — and military savvy — that nearly drove the British from South Africa.      

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Rorke’s Drift

[Second of a repeat trilogy – from March 25, 2013]

Following the dreadful defeat of British troops at Isandlwana on January 22, 1879, a small British outpost/hospital called “Rorke’s Drift” – a bare dozen miles from the site of the massacre – quickly mobilized.  They hastily built walls and fortifications with mealie bags between a series of buildings and a cattle kraal.   The 150 defenders settled down to wait.   They didn’t wait long.  By late afternoon, about 4,000 Zulus fresh from The Washing of the Spears (from the title of the magnificent book by Donald R. Morris on the history of the Zulu campaign) descended on the small outpost.  And attacked.  

As at the Battle of Isandlwana, the Zulus configured their attack like the head of a water buffalo — the horns surrounding the enemy and the head and chest crushing forward.  The battle raged through the night and into the morning.  The defenders fell back into smaller and smaller redoubts.  The 150 defenders poured a withering fire at the Zulus who surged a bare foot or two beneath the mealie bag walls. 

 By morning, the small garrison still held – suffering a few score of casualties.  Zulu casualties ran into the hundreds.  And the Zulus fell back as reinforcements were detected in the distance.  The defenders – the 24th Foot Regiment – succeeded in winning more Victoria Crosses (11) than any other regiment in British military history.  And 85 years later, a Hollywood offering captured with historic accuracy this pivotal battle of Rorke’s Drift.  The movie was “Zulu” . . . . .       

Isandlwana

[A repeat from March 21, 2013]

January 22, 1879, was the first major encounter in the Anglo-Zulu War between the British and the Zulu kingdom in South Africa. The battle took place in a remote area of the Natal province called “Isandlwana.” Isandlwana is remembered as the worst single defeat in British military history in terms of percentage. Surrounded and attacked by nearly 20,000 Zulu warriors, nearly all of the 1,800 British defenders were massacred. Armed mainly with assegais (the Zulu short stabbing spear), the Zulus literally overwhelmed the Britsh. The reasons for defeat? The British – led by the inept Lord Chelmsford – upon arrival at Isandlwana with about 10,000 troops – refused to “laager” (circle the wagons) or entrench (as was normally required). Why? Chelmsford severely underestimated Zulu capabilities.

Shortly after arrival at Isandlwana, Chelmsford marched off with nearly all of his troop “looking for Zulus.” Meanwhile, the entire Zulu nation was just over a hill. Waiting. Watching. Chelmsford left the similarly inept Col Anthony Durnford in charge of the remaining soliders. Durnford – with a bare 1,800 men – set a sparsley-defended perimeter nearly a mile out from the camp. And when the 20,000 Zulus attacked, they quickly knifed through the perimeter and set upon the camp. Durnford never gave the order to “strike the tents” (in other words, pull down the center pole of the hundreds of tents so that clear vision of the terrain could be had). Thus the battle raged around canvas tents. And there is rumor that an idiot quartermaster refused to pass out ammunition (“I have no orders to give out ammunition“) even though the Zulus were pouring through the lines and the encampment.

It is clear that the British underestimated the Zulu capabilities. And this gave rise to the major military disaster where only a hundred or so British soldiers barely escaped with their lives. The few who escaped raced in all directions. Many raced in the direction of Rorke’s Drift. . . .

“Zulu”

In 1964 I was in my first year of college. Two afternoons a week, I worked as a lifeguard at a local YMCA (thanks to my Lifesaving Merit Badge). One day after work, I noticed that a new movie was playing at the theater across the street. “Zulu.”  I had time. I had interest. So I went in.  Alone. To watch “Zulu.”  WOW! 

The movie “Zulu” came out in 1964 and it was Michael Caine’s first starring role. He played Lt. Gonville Bromhead – one of two commanding officers (with Lt. John Chard) of the small garrison that defended Rorke’s Drift.   None other than Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the former Prime Minister of Zululand and noted South African politician, played King Cetshwayo — the leader of the Zulu nation in 1879.  The scene opens with Zulus walking through the battlefield of Isandlwana.  And then the scene shifts to Rorke’s Drift. 

Names and characters are based on actual participants in the battle.  While the movie is historically accurate, there are some Hollywoodizations — limited pretty much to personalities and not events.  There was no “singing” and some of the characters are incorrectly portrayed (like “Hook” who was actually a model soldier).    Nonetheless, “Zulu” is probably the best action movie I have ever seen.   In 2008, while in South Africa, I couldn’t resist.  I chartered a 4-seater and flew to Isandlwana and walked the battlefield.   Barren, remote and silent — except for lonely white stone cairns scattered over the landscape where the 1,500 lay buried.  I then went to Rorke’s Drift.  The interesting thing?  There was hardly a soul at either place.  A Zulu guide spoke eloquently of the British defense at Rorke’s Drift.  But he spoke more eloquently of the Zulu courage — and military savvy — that nearly drove the British from South Africa.      

Rorke’s Drift

Following the dreadful defeat of British troops at Isandlwana on January 22, 1879, a small British outpost/hospital called “Rorke’s Drift” – a bare dozen miles from the site of the massacre – quickly mobilized.  They hastily built walls and fortifications with mealie bags between a series of buildings and a cattle kraal.   The 150 defenders settled down to wait.   They didn’t wait long.  By late afternoon, about 4,000 Zulus fresh from The Washing of the Spears (from the title of the magnificent book by Donald R. Morris on the history of the Zulu campaign) descended on the small outpost.  And attacked.  

As at the Battle of Isandlwana, the Zulus configured their attack like the head of a water buffalo — the horns surrounding the enemy and the head and chest crushing forward.  The battle raged through the night and into the morning.  The defenders fell back into smaller and smaller redoubts.  The 150 defenders poured a withering fire at the Zulus a bare foot or two beneath the mealie bag walls. 

 By morning, the small garrison still held – suffering a few score of casualties.  Zulu casualties ran into the hundreds.  And the Zulus fell back as reinforcements were detected in the distance.  The defenders – the 24th Foot Regiment – succeeded in winning more Victoria Crosses (11) than any other regiment in British military history.  And 85 years later, a Hollywood offering captured with historic accuracy this pivotal battle.  The movie “Zulu.”      

  

Isandlwana

January 22, 1879, was the first major encounter in the Anglo-Zulu War between the British and the Zulu kingdom in South Africa.  The battle took place in a remote area of the Natal province called “Isandlwana.”  Isandlwana is remembered as the worst single defeat in British military history in terms of percentage.  Surrounded and attacked by nearly 20,000 Zulu warriors, nearly all of the 1,800 British defenders were massacred.   Armed mainly with assegais (the Zulu short stabbing spear), the Zulus literally overwhelmed the Britsh.   The reasons for defeat?  The British – led by the inept Lord Chelmsford – upon arrival at Isandlwana with about 10,000 troops – refused to “laager” (circle the wagons) or entrench (as was normally required).  Why?  Chelmsford severely underestimated Zulu capabilities. 

Shortly after arrival at Isandlwana, Chelmsford marched off with nearly all of his troop “looking for Zulus.”    Meanwhile, the entire Zulu nation was just over a hill.  Waiting.   Watching.  Chelmsford left the similarly inept Col Anthony Durnford in charge of the remaining soliders.  Durnford – with a bare 1,800 men – set a sparsley-defended perimeter nearly a mile out from the camp.  And when the 20,000 Zulus attacked, they quickly knifed through the perimeter and set upon the camp.  Durnford never gave the order to “strike the tents” (in other words, pull down the center pole of the hundreds of tents so that clear vision of the terrain could be had).  Thus the battle raged around canvas tents.  And there is rumor that a curmudgeonly quartermaster refused to pass out ammunition (“I have no orders to give out ammunition“) even though the Zulus were pouring through the lines and the encampment. 

It is clear that the British underestimated the Zulu capabilities.   And this gave rise to the major military disaster where only a hundred or so British soldiers barely escaped with their lives.   The few who escaped raced in all directions.  Many raced in the direction of Rorke’s Drift. . . . .