This weekend saw the annual gathering in North Devon to play "Zulu!", the planned scenario that has been getting play-tested over recent months at the Devon Wargames Group.
It is hard to believe that twelve months has gone by since we were gathered together to play Chain of Command in Korea, featuring the UN forces stand on the Imjin River in 1951.
|Colonel Charles Knight Pearson - 3rd Buffs|
This time we were transported back to 1879 and the commencement of the British invasion of Zululand, and more precisely to the adventures of Number One Column, 2,000 men under Colonel Charles Knight Pearson and their march towards Ulundi via Eshowe as they set off on the 18th January to cross the River Nyezane, only to find themselves attacked by 6,000 Zulus under the command of Chief Godide kaNdlela Ntuli, on the 22nd Janauary, the same day as Number Three Column met disaster at the Battle of Isandlwana.
Our scenario picks up with half the British column having crossed the Nyezane and, after setting up a bridgehead camp, has set off with a punitive group on the road to Ulundi to attack and burn a nearby Zulu village.
At the start of the march no Zulu forces had been spotted, and the British commanders were keen to send out cavalry patrols to explore the higher ground above the road and river, whilst the column point made their way towards the Zulu village.
|Scenario Map and planned movements|
To replicate Pearson's ignorance of exactly where the Zulu threat was we set up the Imperial troops with no Zulus on table or in sight of their column.
This set up allowed the Zulu "horns, head and loins" battle formations to manoeuvre off table, moving twice as fast as on table to allow them to position themselves the more favourably when they chose to enter the table or when they were forced to by the sight of their burning village exciting the younger less controllable warriors to attack, as was the case in reality.
|The game set up well under way|
However the Zulu plan did, again as in reality, not quite come off and the left horn attack swung out away from the head, heading for the camp, causing problems for the Zulus as the battle progressed.
|The British/Imperial Commanders snatch a final Orders Group before the start|
So with the bulk of the British force camped around the river, the punitive column set off up the road towards the Zulu village, sending out cavalry and NNC (Natal Native Contingent) troops to their left to cover the broken ground.
As the Imperials neared the village compound, the regular troops halted to cover the NNC infantry as they made for the huts with flaming torches to hand.
|Zulu skirmishers ready to defend their village against the invaders|
|The head of the column with the Naval Brigade to the fore, with Royal Marines and Naval artillery|
|British regulars patrol the perimeter of the bridgehead camp|
|Colonel Pearson directs troops to their positions (Nice figure Nick)|
|The British camp is alive with activity as the column moves out up the road to Ulundi|
Suddenly the NNC men stopped and looked towards the nearby hill to see swarms of Zulu warriors moving at the jog trot towards them, initiating an immediate retreat back to the scrub and the nearby support of Pearson's Imperials,
|The attack on the Zulu village stirs up a "hornets nest" as angry Zulu warriors press forward to get to grips with Imperial troops|
|NNC troops are engaged by the Zulu skirmishers as their supporting impi's move up|
|Suddenly Zulu impis are observed along the high ground overlooking the road and the camp|
|The order goes out to circle the wagons|
|Natal Hussars move out to contest the advance of the Zulu hoard|
|Usuthu!, as the right horn Zulu force advances|
|The impis jog trot down the slopes towards the Imperial troops on the road|
|Orders are coolly issued as the Imperial troops stand too in anticipation of the impending attack|
|Steady! Use the range markers, that's what they're there for|
|A mass of deadly intent|
|Irregular mounted troops take up over watch positions as the wagons are moved into place|
The fighting at the head of the column was soon much closer and the volley fire from the infantry was soon joined by the rolling staccato of the Naval gatling gun.
|More Zulus advance down the road in support of the right horn attack|
|The Naval artillery opens fire|
|The first British shells explode among the fast moving Zulu ranks|
|The Naval and RA gun teams start to thin out the ranks of advancing warriors as the shells explode among them|
The British commander (Andy we all know it was you) announced he was going to fire and rolled a d6 to determine how many hits had been achieved. He rolled a one!
Realising this might not be enough to stop the impi charging in, the die was quickly rolled again in the hope of adding to the tally (the gatling gun can roll as many d6 as required, clocking up hits that can be converted into kills with each roll. However if a die result is doubled, i.e. two rolls of any number, the weapon is deemed jammed, requiring a full turn of inaction to un-jam it.) The roll produced another one! This caused, as you can imagine, much glee in Zulu ranks, only to be dampened down with the declaration that the commander was throwing in an initiative chit to have another go, with the added reassurance to other British commanders, "what are the chances of me rolling another one?"
Off course you know what was rolled. You simply cannot go around tempting the dice Gods like that and so the gatling remained jammed and the crew only narrowly escaped destruction but the mighty gatling was abandoned to the oncoming Zulu hoard and Andy went away to work out precisely what were the odds of throwing three ones.
|The first Zulus hit the line, bursting from cover as the NNC contingent reels back in terror|
The melee that ensued was quick and bloody with barely a quarter of the Naval contingent making it back behind other Imperial troops in support.
|The Royal Artillery make final adjustments to the gatling gun and rocket trough|
|The advancing Zulu's appear impervious to the falling shells|
First blood went to the Zulus who managed to catch a unit of NNC the wrong side of the barricades and quickly sent the remains of the unit routing back over the river.
|The Zulus in the left horn strike the wagon line defenders as NNC defenders come to grips with the attack|
Either way the crashing volleys stopped the Zulu attack in its tracks and despite a valiant attempt by the warriors on the end of the Zulu line to press their advance the volley fire forced "recoils" and "going to ground" reactions that more than made up for the lack of any Imperial artillery at this end of the line.
|The fist volleys from the Imperial troops ring out and stagger the first impis|
Now somewhat chastened by the gatling experience the rocket began to take on an even more important role for the British commander in pinning the impis to its front.
Then it happened again, with an unbelievable roll of the scatter die, the rocket ended up back among the remaining Naval gunners and RA rocketeers.
|Disaster, as mis-directed rockets burst among the Naval troops|
|The battle under full sway, as the head of the Imperial column falls back under the pressure of the attack|
|Nathan leading the left horn moves more Zulus up to keep pressure on the camp|
|Zulus from the head impis strike the crew of the gatling gun just as it decides to jam - oh dear, never mind|
|With the head of the column fighting hand to hand, more Zulus press forward to support their comrades|
Well with the Zulu line so extended the Chief followed doctrine and brought his impis in close up to the head formations and the ensuing traffic jam, as Zulu regiments fell over each other trying to plot a course towards the Imperial line, gifted the British artillery a target they could have only dreamed of.
|The attack on the camp is held back under withering fire from the defenders|
|Shell fire falls among the impis attacking the head of the column|
|Abandoning the jammed gatling gun, the Naval contingent are caught in the retreat and are decimated|
|The RA and Naval gunners are forced to limber up and manhandle their guns back as the Naval troops are almost wiped out in the attack|
|Mounted contingents move up to support the hard pressed elements at the head of the column|
|As the Zulus mass for a push down the slope, their ranks are subjected to yet more shell fire|
However after such a fierce engagement and with news of the disaster at Isandlwana to arrive that day it is likely that Colonel Pearson would have settled for garrisoning his forward position and awaiting new orders, whilst the Zulus retired to lick their wounds
|Both sides mentally and physically exhausted (and I am not talking about the troops) the two lines glower at each other at game end.|
|Zulu and Imperial Commanders gathered for a post battle picture - Left to Right|
JJ, Andy, John, Chas, Nick, Mike, Steve M and Vince. Unfortunately Nathan had to leave before game end
My role during the playing of this epic clash was not only as the commander of the "Zulu Head" impis, but also as your reporter for the day and so happily assumed the part played by the late Ronald Lacy as Norris "Noggs" Newman, War Correspondent for the Standard Newspaper, with the directions of Lord Chelmsford ringing in my ears
"just report what you see Noggs."
|The late-great Ronald Lacey who played Norris "Noggs" Newman, |
the war correspondent for the Standard