Sunday 27 October 2013

Crook's Drift, South Africa 1879....Game Number 43

Private Henry Hook: Crook's Drift... It'd take an Kentishman to give his name to a rotten stinking middle o' nowhere hole like this.

The mission station at Crook's Drift was not designed for defence and indeed, was only used as a staging post for reinforcements to bivouac in before heading to the front. It was prudent to wait until a reasonable number of men had accumulated before setting out into enemy territory and so the occupants could consist of troops from any number of parent units. On this occasion the garrison consisted of the following troops:

Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: Seven officers including surgeon, commissaries and so on; Adendorff now I suppose; wounded and sick 36, fit for duty 97 from B company and with a Gatling Gun and crew from H.M.S. Gannet. Not much of an army for you.

Lieutenant John Chard had already settled the issue of command with Bromhead (his commission was dated slightly earlier, therefore he had seniority) and had issued orders for the perimeter of the mission station to fortified with spare wagons, mealie bags and anything else that could be used as a barrier. Originally he had planned to construct a redoubt in the centre but decided to use the power of the Gatling Gun to sweep the forward perimeter if needed. The small detachment out to the northwest would form a mobile reserve, to be deployed as and when needed.

The Zulus, under their fearless commander, Chief UpaNunda had adopted the classic war formation of the fighting bull buffalo. The young unmarried regiments were deployed on the hills in the west whilst the the junior married men were in the east. The white shielded veterans were under his direct command in the centre.

The initial deployment. Crook's Drift is in the centre with the Zulus occupying the high ground on three sides. A small detachment of British are on watch to the northwest. The Gatling Gun with the Naval crew under Lieutenant Chard are in the centre whilst Lieutenant Bromhead is on the right by the hospital with Colour Sergeant Bourne on the left.

Crook's Drift in more detail - note the Gatling Gun by the chapel. Lieutenant Chard took the decision to include the ramshackle native huts within the perimeter in order to break up and channel any breakthroughs the Zulus might make. Lieutenant Bromhead was scathing of the plan devised by his notional superior:

Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: You mean your only plan is to stand behind a few feet of mealie bags and wait for the attack?

The apparent impertinence of his comment went unanswered as Colour Sergeant Bourne snapped to attention before both officers and calmly delivered his report: 

Colour Sergeant Bourne: The sentries report Zulus to the south west. Thousands of them.

The view from the Northwest - the British troops on the right spotted the oncoming Zulus to the south of them. They immediately fell back to the mission to take up their position before the Zulu onslaught.

Turn 1. With a rhythmic stamping of feet, a furious drumming of shields and a spine-chilling cry of 'USUTHU!' the two Zulu horns attempt to envelop the mission station whilst the veteran white shielded head under the command of Chief UpAnunda waited impassively in the foreground. Already the Martini Henry rifles are ringing out. Within the mission itself the defenders hurriedly reinforce the walls facing the Zulu onslaught - from both flanks.

Turn 2. Despite the dreadful volleys from the British rifles and with a shattering crash the Zulus hit both the east and the west wall. Bayonets, clubbed rifles, assegais and knobkerries rise and fall as men from both sides fight desperately for their lives. For the British on the west wall it is a grim struggle with quarter neither asked for nor given. Slowly the hard pressed defenders are forced back from the perimeter in the foreground. Lieutenant Bromhead leads the battered survivors deeper into the mission with the Cheering Zulus in hot pursuit.

Meanwhile, the rock-steady voice of Colour Sergeant Bourne serves to put steel in the defenders of the east wall, just as the first wave of Zulus arrive:

Colour Sergeant Bourne: Look to you front, mark your target when it comes.

Turn 3. The defenders on the west wall stand fast and continue to pour volley after volley into their implacable assailants. With a triumphant battle cry the Zulus pour over the ramparts, eager to wash their spears in the blood of the retiring redcoats. Meanwhile on the east wall the defenders, although hard pressed are managing to hold their own whilst the Zulu losses continue to mount.

Turn 4 - The Climax. On the west wall Lieutenant Bromhead and the survivors fall back across the front of the Gatling Gun which promptly roars into action, cutting the next wave of Zulus down as they struggle across the ramparts. Meanwhile the other defenders continue to pour volley after punishing volley into their impotent adversaries. On the east wall Colour Sergeant Bourne pulls his men back in an orderly retirement as the Zulus pour over the barricades. Taking the situation in hand in an instant, he calls his men to order and with stentorian tones issues the order to fire. Repeatedly.

Colour Sergeant Bourne: Front rank fire! Rear rank fire, reload!

The volleys of Martini Henry rifle fire crashed out at point blank range (note the three doubles in the score!) and with the other casualties sustained the Zulus are defeated!

The action was fought using Bob Cordery's 'Itchy and Scratchy' rules and was a real treat to play. The action flowed along very nicely and the dice convention in use caused no problems whatsoever. In fact I would say that these seem to play better than the usual sets of rules I would use.

I particularly liked the effect of close range rifle fire versus troops armed with hand weapons - it was suitably lethal - especially from behind cover! Having said that, I might consider giving such troops a bonus when attacking from cover, from an ambush for example.

In the game itself the Zulus were quite unlucky with some of their dice rolls whereas the British did not seem to be able to miss although the final volley was rather spectacular!

I will leave the last words to Lieutenant Chard and Color Sergeant Bourne:

Colour Sergeant Bourne: It's a miracle.
Lieutenant John Chard: If it's a miracle, Colour Sergeant, it's a short chamber Boxer Henry point 45 caliber miracle.
Colour Sergeant Bourne: And a bayonet, sir, with some guts behind.


Sean said...

Great report. I will have to try out these rules.

David Crook said...

Hi Sean,

It was fun to fight and one that I may tinker with - perhaps some more Zulus to begin with might be an idea.

The rules play very nicely and the dice scores required soon become very intuitive. The main thing though is that the basic concepts are sound and the rules will withstand any amount of 'tinkering'.

I am sure you will enjoy them.

All the best,


Robert (Bob) Cordery said...


I have only just begin to catch up with everything I have missed whilst I was away, and have only just read your battle report.

I was pleased to read that the rules worked so well. I have been tinkering with them and hope to send you a revised draft in the near future.

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Bob,

Welcome back! The game ran very smoothly indeed although as mentioned, I am thinking about the one time shock value of charging native infantry. Warband types in Command and Colours Ancients are catered for rather nicely in this respect so I am thinking adapting this to suit may be the way to go.

I assume you will have spent some brain cells on the subject whilst you were away so I will be very interested to see the next version.

All the best,


Rick Krebs said...

Thanks David for sharing this post on the 140th anniversary. I have thought about doing the Zulu battles made with Granny Grate for a number of years, but have never gotten beyond the thinking stage. However, this is certainly a great post to change that.

David Crook said...

Hi Rick,

Many thanks old chap - much appreciated! I fought a couple of Zulu War games using the block armies and they were great fun. The asymmetric nature of the armies makes for some challenging games as both sides have to fight in a different way.

I shall be watching Zulu again in honour of the anniversary for the umpteenth time but what the hell!

All the best,