Sunday, 5 June 2016


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
The Zulu plan was to allow the column to advance close to the village before looking to encircle it and destroying it away from its supports at the river.

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
As the NNC neared the village a fusillade of shots rang out and several Natal Natives fell as the order was given for them to rush the buildings, being protected by a group of Zulu skirmishers.

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
The firing up ahead attracted little attention from the pickets guarding the British camp, although just to be on the safe side, Imperial cavalry were dispatched to reconnoitre the nearby hills. whilst the other NNC contingents were directed to start bringing the supplies across.

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
As camp life continued happily unaware of the situation developing up the road, the NNC company within the village soon found itself engaged in hand to hand combat with the young inexperienced Zulu skirmishers, soon getting the upper hand and driving them back as they completed their mission of burning everything in sight.

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
The appearance of the warriors of the right horn was quickly followed by the other Zulu battle groups and the alarm was transmitted along the column back to the British camp as men were summoned to arms.

Suddenly Zulu impis are observed along the high ground overlooking the road and the camp
Camp life was suddenly transformed when the Zulu left horn appeared on the hills beyond the camp. Immediately men were told off to manhandle the wagons into a laager, whilst NNC contingents quickly grounded any stores they were carrying as they assumed their battle lines amidst shouting NCOs.

The order goes out to circle the wagons
Meanwhile to delay and forestall any Zulu advance the Imperial cavalry units rode off in the direction of the threat to form their picket lines and cause as much discomfort as possible.

Natal Hussars move out to contest the advance of the Zulu hoard
The waves of Zulu impis looked formidable and unstoppable from the ranks of the Imperial infantry, but the experienced men calmly went about their tasks encouraging the younger soldiers, whilst about them men of the Royal Marines and the Naval Contingent formed line amidst the rocket, gun and gatling batteries at the head of the column.

Usuthu!, as the right horn Zulu force advances
The impis jog trot down the slopes towards the Imperial troops on the road
It was the men at the head of the column that were the first into action as the right horn impis crashed forward into the scrub occupied by the Natal troops and a unit of irregular cavalry, driving both units before them as the closed on the Naval troops beyond, being pulled up short as their first volleys hit home.

Orders are coolly issued as the Imperial troops stand too in anticipation of the impending attack
The respite was short as the Zulu commanders sought to put as many units as they could in front of the Imperial troops, judging that it only needed one opportunity of one unit failing to cause sufficient casualties to stop an attack to allow the first impi to engage in hand to hand - a Zulu speciality.

Steady! Use the range markers, that's what they're there for
Not to be left out of the fight the left horn followed some way to their right by Chief Godide leading the main force loins formation raced across the open ground towards the Imperial lines, with Godide's warriors coming under artillery fire as they headed down the slopes.

A mass of deadly intent
Irregular mounted troops take up over watch positions as the wagons are moved into place
The fighting along the road down to the camp was at long range and the Zulu's spread out as best they could to minimise the casualties from the artillery.

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 RA and Naval Gun teams had got the range and the exploding shells began to take a toll as more stands of Zulus were removed and impis were forced to go to ground requiring morale checks before resuming their advance, all leading to a longer time under the fire of the Imperial artillery.

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
As impi after impi began to suffer under the fusillade, the first chink in the Imperial defences were revealed as one of the Zulu regiments prepared to charge in towards the gatling crew.

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 attack on the gatling was soon followed up by a second impi emerging from the scrub and again driving off the NNC contingent leaving the poor old matelot's left flank hanging in the wind. The wind soon brought a Zulu impi smacking into the somewhat surprised sailors who up until then had been enjoying their target practice.

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
With their forward position on the ridge unhinged by the Zulu attack, the Imperial troops at the head of the column were forced back down the slope with the need to manhandle their guns giving the Zulus some respite from the harassing shell fire.

The advancing Zulu's appear impervious to the falling shells 
Meanwhile events were unfolding in front of the Imperials camp as the Zulu left horn impis threw themselves at the troops manning the now wagon encircled camp.

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
The infantry of the 3rd Buffs were, however, made of sterner stuff, or perhaps it was because they were the right side of the barricades.

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
Things kept getting interesting at the head of the column as with their tails up (excuse the pun) the Zulu head and right horn impis pressed forward, now being subjected to fire from the remaining Imperial guns but an annoying RA rocket launcher that, despite its ability to land anywhere other than where it was aimed, had so far continuously hit the the Zulu warriors.

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
Both sides had been at it all day, with stops for tea, lunch and tea and cakes. Frankly I don't know how we kept going!

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
Meanwhile with all the fun and games going on on the extreme flanks of the British line, what about the centre and Chief Godide and his loins (sorry Chas, I couldn't resist that one)?

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
The Zulu advance of the reserve "coup de grace" force was subjected to harassing artillery shells that could barely not find a target despite a minimal amount of a scatter. The impis that arrived to confront the Imperial infantry was badly handled by the volley fire that greeted them.

Abandoning the jammed gatling gun, the Naval contingent are caught in the retreat and are decimated
With the reserves of Imperial infantry now aware of the threat to their comrades on the opposite bank and with a secure crossing to allow them to be fed into the line, the opportunity for any other Zulu gains looked bleak.

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
The head of the Imperial column had, through a combination of retreats and skillful withdrawal, that probably saved it from a much worse battle, found a new line at the foot of the slope below the smoking remains of the Zulu village.

As the Zulus mass for a push down the slope, their ranks are subjected to yet more shell fire
The Zulus, as in the historical clash, had paid a terrible price in casualties for the capture of a gatling gun and the few Imperial casualties inflicted on the Naval Contingent.

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.
As always, much fun was had by all who attended. Thank you to Chas for organising and pulling another great days entertainment together and to the North Devon Wanderers for all the laughs and banter that accompanied the playing.

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
Throughout the game during brakes for photo sessions, the model of Noggs would be placed at pertinent places in the game as the pictures were taken to tell this story and serve as a tribute to another great British character actor.

"Noggs" on the front line
So that's it for another year with another North Devon Wanderers (DWG on tour) game played and with plans already afoot for next year. I'm not at liberty to give too much away, but it looks likely to have an ancient theme!


  1. Nice report JJ.

    I think I had the easy end of the table, as my men had wagons to laager and use as cover. Andy was in the eye of the storm at the column's head and proved more than up to the task, saving the day with the order to move the line back, just as the zulus got too close for comfort. This allowed 3 batteries of guns to cannister the fresh zulu units and it was close, but not cigar for the natives.

    As usual the game threw up several "really ?" dice rolls, not least being the three 1s on three dice (1 in 216 chance)

    It was a great visual spectacle, played with a good spirit on both sides and organised by our most experienced member, Chas.


    No zulus were hurt in the making of this game. Well, one of mine lost an arm, but I think that his commander ripped it off in frustration.

    1. Cheers Vince.
      Yes Andy got it just right pulling back when he did, as it saved his command from potentially a lot of pain and it allowed his units to poor on the hurt to the Zulus.

      The die roll alarms only emphasise that you have to manage the Zulu attacks as they really only have to get lucky once to get in among the ranks and then things can start to go wrong very quickly.

      Great fun, one for the memories and hopefully we can all enjoy looking over this report when we're all past it, providing we can still see!


  2. Fantastic looking game guys! Wonderful photos, thank you.

    1. Thanks Rodger. Every now and then it is just great to spend a whole day playing a game with shed loads of figures, totally emerged in the period with great company and lots of banter. Totally self indulgent, but I reccomend it

  3. What a nice report and a great looking game, well done!!

    1. Thanks Phil, glad you enjoyed the read. As you probably guessed we had a great day.

  4. what a wonderful wargame! so many beautifully painted figs! must have been a great experience... how long did it last?

    1. Thank you, we took the luxury of playing over a whole day

  5. great report..what rules were you using?

    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed the read. The rules were a home brew that took a few playtests at the Devon Wargames Group meetings to tweak to our requirements