Saturday, 26 November 2011



eon said...

"It's a miracle!"

"Yes, a .450-caliber Martini-Henry miracle."

The moral of Rorke's Drift is the same as Adobe Walls. It isn't who has the numbers; it's who shoots the straightest.



Anonymous said...

The missing line is, of course...
"Don't you point, Bloody Spears at Me!"
I'll get my coat...

Sergej said...

eon: don't forget Isandlwana. Same .450 rifle, same British riflemen, somewhat different outcome. I think those two or three days in South Africa are a very quick reminder not to get too arrogant. A sufficiently advanced incompetent, even if given arbitrarily advanced technology, can still manage to pull defeat from the jaws of victory.

Range where I used to practice in Minnesota had racks of antique rifles for sale (Minnesota, you fish for bass or you hunt for deer, preferably both, no back-talk). One of the guns was just such a Martini-Henry as was used in the defense of Rorke's Drift. That is one beast of a cartridge!

David said...

Two lessons from Isandlwana:

1. When going into battle, always remember to bring along the ^&%$ing cutters you need to open the ammo boxes. Otherwise, the Martini Henrys make rotten clubs.

2. Lord Chelmsford was a blithering idiot.

eon said...

Sergej & David;

The difference between Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift was, as David states, ammo. Not only did Chelmsford's men not have the equipment to open the ammo cases, but they had the standard three units of fire worth of .450 rounds in their pack train.

The rest of their ammo loadout, ten units of fire for the entire regiment, was at their forward supply point. That being Rorke's Drift. Plus their main ration supply load- hence, the use of "mealie" bags (25 pounds each, IIRC) as sandbags by the defenders.

After the first couple of attempted assaults, they augmented the breastwork with the bodies of dead Zulu warriors- a measure not mentioned in the film, I think. (It's been a long time since I've seen it.) Few things will stop incoming blackpowder rifle fire (MV under 1,400 FPS) as thoroughly as a windrow of nice, fresh corpses.

As for incompetence vs. competence, the Zulu were supremely competent at close-quarters battle. Their main weapon, the assegai, was a short spear used much like a sword- a stabbing and thrusting weapon. It had superseded their previous one, the knobkerrie, a club not unlike the traditional Irish shillelagh, because in actual "troop tests" with one Zulu impi (regiment) taking on another, the assegai-armed warriors consistently (and literally) wiped out the knobkerrie-swingers. The Zulu didn't believe in "simulated combat exercises"- their definition of practice was "well, not everybody ended up dead".

The only way to beat a numerically superior force that is that good at CQB and doesn't care about the casualties they take to win is to not let them get within arm's reach of your force to begin with. Bromhead and Chard knew it; Chelmsford didn't.

And yes, David, His Lordship was an idiot. About in the same class as George Armstrong Custer. (And don't get me started on Georgie. ;-) )



Sergej said...

As I understand Isandlwana, Chelmsford failed to arrange for scouting and communication, so the Zulus were able to sneak up on the British position unobserved, and failed to fortify---clear brush, place markers to indicate range, and yes, make sure that his men had enough of something to throw at the other side besides rocks. The Romans, who built fortified camps whenever they stopped for lunch, would not have approved. Laziness, and I think, arrogance. If a thousand well trained spearmen suddenly pop out of the grass and say howdy, it no longer matters if they're just discovering the joys of the Iron Age and you've got the state of the art in shooty things.