Monday 23 January 2017

Zulu Sunday - 28mm Isandlwana Wargame

There can't be too many wargamers out there who have never watched the movies Zulu Dawn or Zulu and said wouldn't that be great to recreate those battle on the table top.

This has always been on the top of my bucket list to re-fight these cinematic engagements and following all the hard graft to paint up hundreds of figures over the past six months my dream was finally realised.

If you have been following my blog over this period you will be aware that I started this project when my father was sadly diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. Sadly he passed away before he could see the fruition of these labours but the following is dedicated to him.

On Sunday five of us gathered to commemorate those souls who fought and died bravely in the opening salvos of the Anglo Zulu war of 1879. The day was made even more poignant by the fact that Sunday 22nd was actually the anniversary of the battles of Isandlwhana and Rorkes Drift.

With the cold weather gripping the South East of England (temperatures barely above zero) the shed was out of bounds so our games were played out in the warmth of my kitchen.

Kicking off at 09.00hrs with Bacon Sandwiches and gallons of tea the forces and players assembled. The morning would focus on Isandlwhana with the attention in the afternoon from 1pm switching to Rorkes Drift. The day would finish around 5pm - 8 hours of great gaming.

Setting the field for Isandlwhana was no easy feat as I had to draft in both a garden table and our dining room tanble to complement the Kitchen table. This ended up being almost 11ft x 11ft with the invisdible summit of the rocky outcrop of Isandlwhana sitting at the cut off edge of the dog leg.

I'd bought some green fleece cloth to cover the tables (not the best colour) and under this we built up the slopes of the South African veldt.

Both games were fought using Black Powder rules with some variations. These are explained in the following notes.

The Zulu Commanders debate their initial approach

The picture above shows the table set up with the British deployment. I used the following map found on the internet to lay out the British forces. The camp complete with wagons and tents can be seen to the right of the picture

I also found this 3d render on the internet showing the layout of the ground and the direction of attack. Our table represents the lower ground circling the summit

British Forces

The British players (myself and Mark) would command the two columns who fought at the battle.

Number 3 Column, Col. Glyn - Mark
Number 2 Column, Col. Durnford 0- Eric the Shed

British Units and their approximate strengths.

Number 2 Column -
Number 2 Column -
Commanded by Durnford 9+
11 Battery 7th Brigade R.A. - 3x 9pdr Rockets.
One Rocket Units
/1st Natal Native Contingent - 2 companies - 240 men
One Unit NNC
Sikhali Horse
One Unit Sikhali
Edendale Troop - 50 men.
Hlubi's Troop - 50 men.

One Unit Boers

Number 3 Column commanded by Colonel Glyn
Commanded by Glyn 9+
N Battery 5th Brigade R.A. - 2x 7pdr Guns

Two Artillery Battery
1/24th - 5 companies - 415 men.

5 units British Infantry
2/24th - 1 company and detachment - 180 men.

1 unit British Infantry
1/3rd Natal Native Contingent - 2 companies - 200 men
2/3rd Natal Native Contingent - 2 companies - 200 men
No.1 Squadron Mounted Infantry - 27 men.
Natal Mounted Police - 34 men.
Natal Carbineers - 29 men.
Newcastle Mounted Rifles - 17 men.
Buffalo Border Guard - 8 men.

Unit of Natal Mounted Police

(For game purposes this will be transferred to Number 2 Column)

Total Number of Units 14

Each British Infantry unit has its own commander (9+) with non ifantry units rating as 8+

Durnford’s forces will be deployed along the front Donga at the beginning of the game. This includes the Rocket Batteries and NMP

Five of the British Infantry companies have been deployed according to the map provided. The Artillery will be limbered half way between the camp and leading unit of deployed infantry.

The British have two other commanding units at their disposal
Colonel Pulleine (in Camp) – 8+ commander

Melville (with Colours) - Tiny Unit 1 Shoot +2 to Melee

British line infantry were given the volley fire attribute and were steady and stubborn. Furthermore to reflect the ammo issues of the British if a firing sequence rolled more 1's than 6's ammo became limited for the unit in question. With ammo limited the unit lost one firing dice.

Each unit had an ammo runner who could 'run' to the ammo wagon and run back to replenish his unit.

The British commander had cards showing the names of his companies and commanders - all adds to the character of the game

Zulu Forces

Zulu Units and their approximate strengths.
Whilst searching for unit descriptions of the Zulu Army I discovered that an Impi is just a generic term for an Army/Regiments. Regiments were actually called IButho’s and these were made up of several units called Amaviyo’s.  Amaviyos ranged in size from fifty to three hundred men. The Amaviyo will become my standard warband and each warband will represent 300 warriors.

Zulu Forces (actual Deployment)
Right Horn

Number of Men

Left Horn

Number of Men


Number of Men
uMbonambi -

The Zulus have a total of 52 units in play which gives them a 4 top 1 numerical advantage
 Once 27 plus are shaken or Routed the Zulu Force is assumed to be spent and cannot attack

Cards for all of the Zulu Regiments were produced to aid identification of the units.

The Zulu player will receive one commander for each regiment. These are all +8 commanders.

Zulu units all have the initiative ability that allows them to move forward one move provided they have not been ordered.

The Zulu Force – had to be divided into three horns with no horn more than 50% of the total warband count.The Zulu players could determine the composition of the horns and they would start from any edge facing the summit.

All the Zulu units were standard warband units as described in the book  with no differention between married and unmarried units.

The Game

I think it is fair to say that nobody expected the Brits to win this game - they were severely outnumbered.  

The following is a pictorial story of how our battle of Isandlwhana unfolded..

The Zulu Centre and left horn emerged onto the table....they decided to ignore Durnford and his mounted troops in the Donga
So Durnford's me mounted up and pushed towards the left horn. Next turn Durnford blundered and wheeled his me away from the approaching hordes
The British infantry are in extended line across the battlefied - facing the hordes of Zulus

The centre and left horns pushed forwards to the British camp - the zulus making rapid advances- Centre picture is the advanced rocket battery - it scored a couple of hits !
The Right horn rapidly advanced towards the British Infantry companies

The Zulu units threw themselves against the Rocket Battery - it held for a turn before being engulfed by the Zulu units
The entire Zulu army swamps forward - an impressive and scary site. Over 800-  28mm figures

The Zulu unit about to charge the battery

The first Zulu units reach the British lines on their right wing - red counters denote casualties but they are not piling up quick enough. The Right hand company falls short on ammo (see ammo box)

The British lines fall back towards the summit in good order but they can't hold back the tide
Dunfords mounted units finally start peppering the Zulu left horn with fire but they just don't stop

Colonel Glyn (Mark) finally gets the British line into some semblance of order

But the Zulus keep puushing forward with casualties mounting up
The whole British line is now engaged
The British commander surveys his meagre forces

The line is charged
Fierce hand to hand fighting breaks out across the summit - Zulus are cut down in droves but they just keep coming
The Impis push there way up the hill
Swamping the British companies - moments of heroism but never to be told

The left horn crashes into the British Flank - swiftly overcoming the redcoat resistance

They swarm into the camp for the spoils of war

The colours are about to fall on the summit ! (right hand of picture)
The Zulus have wiped out the British columns 

In three hours of game play the Zulus had won. The Butchers bill was telling. All of Durfords cavalry managed to escape shaken from viscous fighting with the left horn but what of the British line - massacred and the colours taken.

The Zulus lost four only war bands with a number shaken and disordered. Interesting this put the Zulu casualties at about 1600 men. The real battle reports suggest the Zulus lost around 1000 KIA and an numerable number injured. In other words our game fought much like the real thing.

Just a couple of observations on the Black Powder rules.

I had reduced the movement distances listed in the book  - this worked well but the rifle ranges appeared to be a little short - at 18" the Brits only really had a chance to fire a couple of times into the Zulu units before engagement. In hindsight these probably needed to be extended.

Orders of Battle Sheets for Isandlwhana

A big thank you to Mark, Legatus, Alastair and James for making this a truly memorable game

Thanks for reading and in the next post I'll be sharing our re-fight of Rorkes Drift.

part 2 - Rorkes Drift can be found here


  1. Looks very impressive: those Zulu hordes certainly look imposing!

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  3. Amazing seeing all those Zulu's on the table, well done.

  4. Awesome!!! Great looking game

    1. Cheers mate - you coming around this year? - be good to catch up

  5. Most impressive game, wow!

  6. Impressive is the word! Quite a feat putting on so large a game, and nicely done.

  7. A splendid effort at recreation of the battle Mr Shed!

  8. This was a real spectacle Eric, brilliant!

  9. A very impressive looking battle :)

  10. A very impressive report.The sheer number of figures you have ppainted is very impressive.

  11. Excellent stuff. Looks awesome!

  12. Great looking game. I have to agree that it's one of those cinematic battles I've always wanted to play. Finally got the chance at a convention a few years back.

  13. Great looking game ...who said you can't have great games on the kitchen table. Worth all the effort 😀

  14. My lesson learned here is that when you are vastly outnumbered by Zulus, it's good to have a horse between your legs. :)
    A truly impressive table and restaging of this battle. Well done. Quite historic by the looks of it and a fitting tribute to your dad.

    1. Cheers Michael - agree about the horse...apparently the fifty who escaped were all mounted