On Wednesday morning, January 22, 1879, the 1st Battalion and most of the 2nd of the British 24th Regiment of Foot was wiped about by a Zulu army at Isandlwana in South Africa. (This battle is covered in Lieutenant Colonel Mike Snook's book, HOW CAN MAN DIE BETTER.)
After Isandlwana, the victorious tribesmen swarmed on several miles to the missionary compound, comprising a residence/hospital and storehouse, at Rorke's Drift. Here, for five hours in the late afternoon and evening of January 22nd, 154 remnant troops of the 2nd/24th successfully held off a siege by some 4,500 assailants. This stalwart defense, the crowning glory in the history of the 24th (now the Royal Regiment of Wales), is the subject of LIKE WOLVES ON THE FOLD, also by Snook.
I'm no expert on such narratives, but this book seems to me to be as exemplary an account of a small unit defensive action as one can find anywhere. Based on after-action reports and participants' memoirs, it's of the sort I would have expected from Custer and his 7th Cavalry troopers, or the Alamo defenders, or the 300 Spartans of Thermopylae, had any of the former heroic bands had the good fortune to survive. But at Rorke's Drift, luck had little to do with it - just gritty determination, an adequate supply of ammo, inspired leadership from Lieutenants John Chard and Gonville Bromhead, and not just a little desperation; they were surrounded.
The volume includes a commendable 33-page section of photographs and painting reproductions. There are also several excellent drawings of the Rorke's Drift compound at various stages of the battle, each showing the direction of the Zulu attacks against a defense wall hastily constructed of 200-lb mealie-bags and 100-lb cases of hardtack and tinned bully beef - a perimeter that contracted and changed shape several times during the course of the siege as Chard and Bromhead found it necessary to withdraw and regroup their men in the face of ferocious assaults. Indeed, about halfway through the ordeal, the hospital was set aflame and had to be evacuated under fire.
The narrative of the 24th's gallant stand comprises the first half the book and is the most riveting part. The remaining, more staid chapters concern themselves with the outcome of the Anglo-Zulu War, the assignment of responsibility for the Isandlwana debacle, and the post-war careers of the principle British and Zulu combatants, particularly the eleven British defenders of Rorke's Drift who were honored with the Empire's highest award for valor, the Victoria Cross - the most ever awarded in British military history for a single action.
The story told by LIKE WOLVES ON THE FOLD illustrates the British "stiff upper lip" at its stiffest. The Empire and the Queen Empress were privileged to have such men in their service.
on 29 April 2012
I highly recommend this book. An informative well paced account of the heroic deeds in South Africa. Being a military man himself, the author can draw on a wealth of experience from the point of view of the man on the ground, the ordinary soldier. At the end of the book he even gives you tips on visiting the country and battlefield areas! If you loved the film Zulu then buy this book and you won't be disappointed.
on 17 October 2012
I have to confess that after the first chapter I was struggling with this and couldn't work out if it was the style (written by an out and out 'military' man) or if it was the fact I needed to read How Can Man Die Better which tells the story of the Zulu massacre of the British at Isandlwana.
Simply put if you, like me, picked up this book because of only having a hazy history of the matter from the film Zulu! ('Fousands of 'em!) then you are the one needing the lesson in military history. And there could not be a better author for it.It is a much better book than it initially seemed as it is a follow on from the first book, and once you get 'established' it becomes that rare thing amongst the history section - a great book.
Putting to rest many popular myths raised by the film - notably there was no 'ordered fire' from the start so everyone was basically firing at will (so forget the line in the film when given the order to fire at will 'That's very nice of him!'), and also there was no close harmony singing to raise morale.
So forget all that and, without giving anything else away, what you have is a well written book, that drags you into the soldier's boots, puts you in the mind of the officers and shows the sheer terror, valour and ferocity of the fight.
Mike Snook also lays to rest some long held beliefs about the roles the men played based on simple facts and his own military thinking. You cannot deny that it was a brave and amazing effort that allowed them to hold out, but you also cannot deny that it would never have been such a great stand if it had not been for the out and out disaster that was Isandlwana.
With the simple addition of some excellent plans, some really good photos and a final chapter that actually tells you what happened to the men in the years after this is a fully rounded and, yes, 'filling' account of Rorke's Drift.
on 31 March 2014
I have a number of books on the Zulu wars, in particular books on the battles of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift. This book is written by a serving officer with links to the regiment that fought in both these classic battles. I would class this as a must read!
Brilliantly told, packed with detail. Watch those assegai's, it's that real.
Very highly recommended.
on 14 May 2016
Having been addicted to the great film Zulu since early youth, and having visited Rorke's Drift, staying with the late David Rattrey, absorbing his understanding and taking in the site, I did not expect to find anything new about the famous encounter.
Snook proved me wrong, as he challenges many assumptions and with his rigorous research and military expertise and has cogent things to say, and is not adverse to bayonetting his enemy. 'As usual' he writes 'the facts in no way lend support to the ravings of conspiracy theorists or the ramblings of revisionists.'
Perhaps the best aspect of the book are the maps and plans he produces which enable the reader easily to follow the details of the engagement. The writing is good and clear, with one minor quibble, the unnecessary use of 'sadly', sadly too often