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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.
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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.
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on 29 December 2012
This is an incredible reconstruction of the famous battle follwing the timeline of events and based on an analysis of the evidence from a variety of sources, It does require all your concentration to follow the events as they unfold otherwise it is easy to lose the thread of the narrative. Photocopying the maps and diagrams for reference throughout the battle is very useful.
It does make reference to his book on Isandlwana and if you have not read it I would suggest reading that first although it is not essential.
For those who more than a superficial review of the battle this is a "must read".
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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.
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on 14 May 2010
The 1879 defence of Rorke's Drift by 150 British soldiers against 4,500 Zulus is one of the most famous military actions in British history. The main reason for this is the superb 1964 film, Zulu, starring Stanley Baker and Michael Caine in the roles of Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead, the officers in command of the post. The other is that more Victoria Crosses were awarded for this action than for any other before or since. The reasons why are made clear in this well-written account.
The fame of Rorke's Drift is such that this book joins a long line of others. What differentiates it is that this is written by an experienced, serving officer. Not only that, but a serving officer in the Royal Regiment of Wales that incorporates the old 24th Regiment that provided most of the Drift's gallant defenders. The author's first-hand knowledge of military tactics, chains of command and psychology enables him to offer fresh insights into this historic action and especially into the motivations of those who took part. While this is the book's strongest selling point, it may also account for one or two weaknesses, in that the author seems unusually lenient towards some members of his own profession. Other writers, for example, have criticized Major Spalding, the original commanding officer of Rorke's Drift, for failing to return to his post having left it in the morning to ride to another depot a few miles away. In Mike Snook's account, Spalding's actions are not only excusable but entirely justifiable. Of course, he may well be right and he certainly makes a good case.
There are other minor points, such as the fact that Private 'Old King' Cole seems to be killed twice, and the question of whether NNC Lieutenant Adendorf did or did not take part in the defence is glossed over rather quickly. But apart from such minor quibbles, the writer does a first rate job in weaving together all the available accounts of the battle into a convincing, consecutive narrative that does full justice to the extraordinary bravery, resourcefulness and resilience of this little band of heroes. And what makes it so convincing is the writer's intimate understanding of soldiering and soldiery.
The author rightly and frequently acknowledges the military prowess and courage of the Zulu warriors too. He also acknowledges that the entire Anglo-Zulu War was the tragic, unjustified and unnecessary result of hubris, ego, flawed reasoning and stubborn stupidity on the part of the British.
The latter part of the book details what became of the defenders of Rorke's Drift in later life. Some prospered, some suffered, a few, remarkably, went on to serve in the First World War. Among the most tragic is Corporal Ferdnand Schiess, who, five years after his heroic part in the defence, was found penniless and ill on the streets of Cape Town. The Royal Navy took pity on him and gave him passage on a ship bound for Britain. Sadly, he died shortly after they set sail and was buried at sea. His Victoria Cross was found in his pocket. He was just 28 years old.
So, while this may not be the last word on Rorke's Drift or the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, it is certainly a very welcome and highly readable account of this iconic action and one I thoroughly recommend.
Incidentally, those who know me as a lifelong pacifist may wonder why I review books on a Victorian war. Simple: I saw the film, Zulu [1964] [DVD], when I was 11 years old. Not only is it brilliantly made, it was also the first anti-war film I'd ever seen. If you don't believe me, watch it again and you'll see that it questions what the British were doing there in the first place and expresses clearly and powerfully the tragic futility of war.
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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.
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on 24 May 2014
My Great- Great Grandfather fought at Rorke's Drift and was one of the men awarded the VC so my interest was personal.
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on 5 September 2013
Brilliant read. I am amazed at the research that must have gone into writing this book. It brought out the terror that there must have been, to have been there.
After reading the book I watched my video of Zulu which follows the story line very well.
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on 23 July 2014
I was somewhat trepidatious about this having loved the film epic but what a fine read. Enlightening and informative with highly descriptive text. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
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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
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