The Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, began on January 11th when the British Army, invaded the Zulu kingdom in an attempt to extend British control in South Africa, as it was realised that this could only be achieved when the Zulu’s with its standing army of 40,000, had been suppressed.
The first major encounter was the Battle of Isandlwana on January 22nd 1879, where a Zulu force of some 20,000 warriors equipped mainly with the traditional assegai iron spears attacked and overwhelmed a portion of the British army consisting of about 1,800 men and was one of the British army’s worst and bloodiest ever defeats. As the battle drew to a close several Zulu regiments reached the Tugela River chasing the few escaping British and buoyed by their success crossed the Tugela and attempted to capture the British base at the river crossing called Rorke’s Drift and which was manned by a company of approximately 90, mainly Welsh infantrymen, with the entire garrison’s strength being around 155.
The fighting was fierce and often hand to hand, but the British maintained discipline, stood firm and only gave fire when the enemy was right upon them. They then fought them off with bayonets and as the night dragged, they were reduced to a mere handful of men. Then when they were almost out of ammunition, the Zulu, who had themselves taken heavy losses, retreated. King Cetshwayo was captured in August 1879 and Zululand was broken up and annexed.
The bravery of those men of whom seven were awarded the Victoria Cross is now immortalised in the film Zulu, starring Michael Caine, Stanley Baker and Ivor Emmanuel.