A detailed chronicle of a significant opening battle in the Anglo-Zulu War: ”The Zulu attack on Rorke’s Drift thrillingly retold” (Richard Holmes).
On January 22nd, 1879, the British Army in South Africa was swept aside by the seemingly unstoppable Zulu warriors at the Battle of Isandlwana. Nearby, at a remote outpost on the Buffalo River, a single company of the 24th Regiment and a few dozen recuperating hospital patients were passing a hot, monotonous day. By the time they received news from across the river, retreat was no longer an option. It seemed certain that the Rorke's Drift detachment would share the same fate. And yet, against incredible odds, the British managed to defend their station.
In this riveting history, Colonel Snook brings the insights of a military professional to bear on this fateful encounter at the start of Anglo-Zulu War. It is an extraordinary tale—a victory largely achieved by the sheer bloody-mindedness of the British infantryman. Recounting in detail how the Zulu attack unfolded, Snook demonstrates how 150 men achieved their improbable victory. Snook then describes the remainder of the war, from the recovery of the lost Queen's Colour of the 24th Regiment to the climactic charge of the 17th Lancers at Ulundi. We return to Isandlwana to consider culpability, and learn of the often tragic fates of many of the war's participants.
A lieutenant colonel in the Royal Regiment of Wales, Snook offers a blow-by-blow account of the heroic defense of Rorke's Drift during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, made famous by the 1964 British movie classic Zulu. Rorke's Drift was an "isolated, lightly held, and completely unfortified" garrison on the edge of Zululand and served as a depot for the advancing British army. On January 22, 1879 "one of the most calamitous... and one of the most renowned days" in the history of the British Empire a British column was decimated by a Zulu army at the Battle of Isandlwana, the subject of Snook's earlier volume How Can Man Die Better. Late that afternoon, a force of some 4,500 Zulus who had missed the earlier action descended on the garrison at Rorke's Drift finding it "too tempting a target to resist." The 150 men at the garrison held their ground against wave after wave of frontal attacks the fighting often hand-to-hand. The battle raged into the night before the Zulus finally withdrew. Seventeen defenders lost their lives, while 13 received the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest honor for valor. The story of Rorke's Drift is well documenented, and Snook adds primarily "a soldier's perspective," recreating the battle in scrupulous detail and high drama. The climax comes early, however, and much of the final third of the book such as an extended analysis regarding responsibility for the disaster at Isandlwana feels extraneous.