The Battle of Rourke's Drift

Discussion in '1800-1914' started by olbrat, Apr 7, 2008.

  1. olbrat

    olbrat Member

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    I'm curious about The Battle of Rourke's Drift and wondered if anyone could answer a few questions.

    How many men were there on each side?
    How may casualties were there on both sides?
    Was the movie "Zulu" very accurate?
     
  2. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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    1). There was 139 British troops against about 4,500 Zulus. The Zulus that attacked the drift were actually going against orders and had crossed the border. It was not a planned attack nor in the battle plans of the Zulus.

    2.) I'll have to check.

    3.) the movie has some inaccuracies but Hollywood being Hollywood its not bad. One inaccuarcy; The preacher Witt was not a drunkard and actually was one of the first to report the Zulus coming along with the Commissar.

    Check here for some:
    Zulu (1964) - Goofs

    There is a thread here that goes into the battle and there is also a very good website. Will try to find it.
     
  3. olbrat

    olbrat Member

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    Thanks Njaco!

    I think I'll be going to the library to read up more on this interesting event.
     
  4. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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    Another interesting aspect of this battle is the number of Victoria Crosses awarded. And what happened to the reciepents afterward.
     
  5. olbrat

    olbrat Member

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    Thanks for the tip Njaco - I'll look that up too!
     
  6. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    One of my all-time favorite movies. Saw it again a few nights ago. I wonder if the sound of the rifles was anything like the sound of a Martini being fired?
     
  7. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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    I'm not sure if the sound was accurate. What always impressed me was the tactics used by Bromhead and Chard. I remember it being the first time I realized how gun lines and boxes were used by the British. And the impressive sight of the Zulus on the hill when they first appear.

    Favorite line:
    Colour Sergeant Bourne: "It's a miracle."
    Lieutenant John Chard: "If it's a miracle, Colour Sergeant, it's a short chamber Boxer Henry point 45 caliber miracle."
    Colour Sergeant Bourne: "And a bayonet, sir, with some guts behind."
     
  8. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    Way to go Njako, when I read those lines you posted a shiver went up my spine. I have read a lot of books by Bernard Cornwell, particularly about the British infantry and their drills and subsequent battlefield execution of those tactics with muskets. No doubt that based on the infantry tactics of the day they were the best trained in the world. Those tactics stood them in good stead at Rorke's Drift.
     
  9. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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    My thoughts exactly. Its sometimes difficult to imagine what is read in a book but that movie brought it out fantastically. Thats what I do like about the movie. It tried very hard to be accurate from Jones from Boothwynn right down to weapons and tactics. Just when you thought all was lost another military maneuver was used. For that I love the movie and can forgive the inaccuracies, such as they are.
     
  10. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    To me the movie does not appear dated at all. No special effects by computer but the action seems pretty realistic and the photography is excellent. I believe Stanley Baker directed as well as acted in the movie. It would be interesting to see the ballistics of the rifle. Reminds me of Kipling;" When arf of your bullets go wide in the ditch; Don't call your Martini a cross eyed old bitch; For she is a lady and you treat as sich; And she'll fight for the young British soldier."
     
  11. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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  12. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    I'm not so sure the tactics were all that great at Rourke's Drift. Not that what happened there wasn't a great feat of arms. But they were using a .45 (heavy) round against guys armed with spears (taking into consideration the suppressing fire from Zulu Warriors with weapons from the column). It really wasn't all that even a matchup.

    The Brits just had to keep the volume of fire up and keep the "fort" intact. I understand it is not as easy to do as it sounds but their job was easier than that of the Zulus. For the Zulus, they had to cross some 100 yards of open ground, clamber up on top of fortifications, climb down and then get at the British. The whole time, they are being shot at and, at the end, they face several British soliders with bayoneted rifles that have the reach on them.

    There really wasn't much the British did from start to finish but hold ground. That, is something the Brits are famous for doing very well. Historically, and as a group, the Brits are very hard to get out of a place once they get there.
     
  13. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    Good site Njaco, Tim, I agree with your observations. As long as they did not panic, the British stood an excellent chance of surviving. In the site about the Martini, it mentions that the British opened fire at 400 yards instead of the 100 yards portrayed in the movie. Apparently the fields of fire were open enough for that. Even a Zulu is going to take several minutes to advance 400 yards. I have personal experience about how fast a falling block weapon like a Martini can be fired as I have hunted many times with a No 1 Ruger. I would estimate that the British could get off at least ten rounds a minute. If it takes the Zulus 4 minutes to advance 400 yards(that is probably optimistic) and there are 100 rifles, that is 4000 bullets they face in one charge. If you saw "Gettysburg" and what Longstreet said about Picketts charge, It is mathematical, the charge will fail. They estimate around six hundred Zulus KIA eventually. That is about 50% casualties but does not include wounded who survived. Terrible carnage.
     
  14. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    The odd thing about it is, if you look at history, situations like this are fairly common. Leadership on one side miscalculates, sends troops forward for an easy kill and end up throwing their soliders against prepared positions and at a technological disadvantage. Agincourt, Rourke's Drift and the Somme come to mind right away.

    You get the feeling that either somebody wasn't paying attention, they were blinded by the thought of an easy kill or they just didn't do their homework.

    PS- Ren, your math is good. Probably about right too. Add in the later attacks had to climb over the bodies of the earlier attacks, the tiredness factor as well as demorialization and it probably gets worse for the Zulus. One cannon from the American Civil war and a trained crew firing from 800 yards and the battle has a different outcome.
     
  15. davparlr

    davparlr Well-Known Member

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    I read somewhere that the Zulus were more afraid of the bayonets than they were of the bullets.
     
  16. Emac44

    Emac44 Active Member

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    Rourke's Drift is the engima of the British Infantry from the 1870s to the Boer War Period of Sth Africa. But one has to remember that Rourke's Drift and the earlier battle at Isandlwana became a political football. Lord Chelmsford had to make ammends for his stumbling attack into Zululand and under estimating the Zulu's themselves as a fighting force.

    1) Lord Chelmsford was instrumental in putting a political spin to the battles and the entire Zulu War even after Rourke's Drift and Isandlwana
    2) There is evidence suggesting that Lord Chelmsford had conspired with Queen Victoria and members of the British Parliament in some of the receipants of Victoria Crosses and it was a Political awarding of said Victoria Crosses.
    3) As for both Lt Bromhead and Lt Chard there seems to be a some what confusing account as to what capability both these Officers had. I will get back to you when I find out more on both these British Officers.

    But in the long run the movie Zulu like any movie has inaccurate material in the movie. It does make lesser mention of the Natal Mounted Police and what part the Boers themselves played in assisting the British in Zululand. To get a rounder picture of Zulu I suggest you watch Zulu Dawn as well Olbrat. Zulu Dawn details the events leading up to Rourke's Drift as it focuses more on Lord Chelmsford's Preparations to invade Zululand and what occurs at Isandlwana. Which in the history of the British Army ranks prior to the Fall of Singapore as the biggest Military Blunder of the British Army. The accounts after Rourke's Drift by the British Army into Zululand make less savoury reading and is seen as one of a British Army atroscity towards the Zulu's themselves. Reports of bayonetting wounded Zulu's and the torching of Native Krall's by the British Army and other atroscities are well known about. Olbrat there are plenty of websites on Rourke's Drift Isandlawana and the Zulu Wars that you can avail yourself off. Hope I have helped you in some areas
     
  17. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    Saw both movies and you're right Emac, ZULU DAWN was the better movie from a historically accurate perspective.

    Both were good movies.
     
  18. Emac44

    Emac44 Active Member

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    Here is the list of Victoria Cross Winners from Rourke's Drift
    1) Lt Gonville Bromhead
    2) Lt John Rouse Merriott Chard
    3) Commisariat James Langley Dalton
    4) Surgeon James Henry Reynolds
    5) Corporal William Wilson Allen
    6) Private Fredrick Hitch
    7) Private William Jones
    8) Private John Williams
    9) Private Robert Jones
    10) Private Alfred Henry Hook
    11) Constable Christian Ferdinard Schiess (Natal Mounted Police).

    And why Colour Sergent Bourne was never awarded a Victoria Cross for the Battle of Rourke's Drift seems one of those mysteries coming from that era
     
  19. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    Do any of youall know if the British formed squares at Isandlwana?
     
  20. Emac44

    Emac44 Active Member

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    No Renrich. Isandlwana the British were caught in their encampment. Even the artillery didn't have time to be brought into action. Waterloo and other battles yes but not so it seems with Isandlwana
     
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