Thursday, 26 January 2017

Isandlwana at the Shed

My 72 Zulus ready to go

I was very excited to hear about Eric the Shed's intention to organise two Zulu Wars games on the anniversary of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift; both of which took place on 22nd January 1879.   I did volunteer to paint some Zulus to add to the forty I had already done in the past but, as ever, time was against me.  Nevertheless, I did paint 32 extra figures this month, meaning I could field six units of 12.  I admit that the recent 32 were not painted as well as the original 40 but given Eric had already painted over 600 Zulu figures it didn't really matter as they would be lost in the number.  I had to really concentrate to finish the last 12 figures and weapons and all 32 shields on Saturday.  In fact while painting them I listened to Rachmaninov's four piano concertos, three symphonies, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Isle of the Dead, Vocalise and the Symphonic Dances.  I also had 12 movement trays to make so didn't finish until about 11.30 pm, at which point I was shattered.  

My 72 Zulus on the far right

Eric didn't really need my paltry offering but he kindly let my units take part in the Isandlwana game, where I commanded the right horn with my figures on the very far right.  The Shed itself would have been too cold for the game given the sub-zero temperature.  Also, Eric had set up a wider board than the Shed would have allowed.  He didn't have enough of his usual scenic boards but the cloths over objects gave a good rolling look to the hills and was nicely Old School as well.

Here we have the British camp, with the donga at top right holding Durnford's horse.  You can also see some of the companies of the 24th Foot spread out in front of the camp with the rocket battery in the centre.  Before the game started the three Zulu players had decided to feint to the left and attack in strength on the right with the centre following up.

Here are the Zulus massed at the beginning of the game with the British in extended line far out in front of the camp. My command at the left.

Sensibly, the British retreated in the face of the Zulu attack but with their backs to the mountain and the camp they had, of course, nowhere to go.  In the background Durnford led his cavalry from the safety of the donga to attack Alastair's Zulus, to their surprise!

Here you can see the British Companies facing the Zulu hoard.  I don't like putting multiple figures on one base but Eric's Sabot bases are an excellent way to more large numbers of individually based figures around.  I always use square bases for figures in larger armies and round bases for skirmish games but I made some movement trays for groups of six for my square-based Zulus.

The British conducted a disciplined fighting retreat and started to score hits on the Zulus.  We were lucky that the artillery wasn't that effective although the rocket troops scored some early hits.

My horn of the buffalo starts to close in on the British while the chest (top centre), commanded by James, advances in an invincible looking block.

Unusually, rolling consecutive low command dice ensured my painted figures were the first to engage the 24th Foot on the right flank.

The Zulus pour forward.  We lost only four warbands out of 58 on the table, although a number had taken quite hard knocks from Martini-Henry fire.  Luckily I overwhelmed the artillery battery before it could do much damage.

The beginning of the end for the gallant British.  At the end only the British colour party survived, in true Victorian tale of heroism style.  Every Colonial wargamer wants to play Isandlwana but it is very difficult, unless you are a painting machine like Eric the Shed, to field enough Zulus.  With his and my figures (I provided about 10% of the Zulus force) we had around 700 28mm Zulus and about a quarter of that number on the British side.  

This is what 52 12 man units of Zulus looks like. Of course, the battle doesn't make a very balanced game and it played out almost exactly like its historical counterpart, which says something about the rules.  Eric tweaked a few things, reducing movement distances and shooting ranges.  Personally, for me, it meant I could field my Zulus in a huge game which I now never need to play again, so don't now feel i need to paint hundreds more Zulus.  I will confine myself to small skirmishes, using The Men Who Would Be Kings rules. One game that springs to mind for me to do is a scenario that came to mind from a novel I read (I can't remember whether it is John Wilcox's Horns of the Buffalo or Saul David's Zulu Hart) about an attack on a Zulu village by British and Natal Native Contingent troops.  Given the Old Bat gave me a Zulu beehive hut for my birthday I might try to find the relevant novel.  I have some Warlord NNC figures which I started to paint, somewhere.

Thanks to Eric the Shed for a splendid game (and bacon rolls and pizza).  His account is here and Alastair's is here.  The anniversary of the beginning of the Zulu War in 1879 falls on my birthday so I have always been interested in it and to play such a splendid game on the anniversary of the two best known battles in it was quite special.

Next I will look at the Rorke's Drift Game we played in the afternoon.


  1. An impressive sight so many Zulu against the proverbial thin red line!

  2. What a truly epic game! Marvellous to see the photographs, looking forward to the Rorke's Drift game now.

  3. That is certainly a tremendous spectacle. Well done gentlemen.


  4. That must have been a lot of fun, one of my favourite battles.