Like Wolves on the Fold: The Defence of Rorke's Drift by Mike Snook

I just finished a book chronicling the battle that occurred at Rorke’s Drift during the Anglo-Zulu War in the late 1870s. The book, Like Wolves on the Fold: The Defence of Rorke’s Drift, is written by Lieutenant Colonel Mike Snook. I did not realize until I started reading the book that there was a prequel of sorts about the British defeat at Isandlwana called How Can Man Die Better (I hope to do a review of that book in the near future) – the author advises that you should read the Isandlwana book before the second because of context issues. The second book not only discusses the Rorke’s Drift battle, but also delves into the results of the entire British campaign against the Zulu and who is to blame for the catastrophe at Isandlwana.

The first part of the Like Wolves book covers the time period between the defeat at Isandlwana and the British alarm at Rorke’s Drift. In the second part of the book, Snook covers the Zulu attack on the British position at Rorke’s Drift (held approximately by about 150 troops, with some of these being hospitalized due to previous illness and wounds). The Zulu attack lasts several hours and presses the British position throughout the attack. The British do not realize that the Zulu are gone until the dawn of the next day. The ferocity of the fighting can be highlighted by the fact that 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded after the battle.

As mentioned above, the third part of the book highlights the British campaign to defeat the Zulu and examines who is to blame for the defeat at Isandlwana. Snook discusses how Lord Chelmsford, British commander in charge during most of the campaign, learns from his lessons at Isandlwana and puts those lessons to good effect. The most interesting reading of this part is Snook’s discussion of who is to blame for the disaster at Isandlwana.

This book is outstanding. You can tell that Snook put a lot of time and effort into researching and writing this masterpiece of historical writing. He weaves into his research the logic of a military commander – he is an officer serving in the Royal Regiment of Wales (the successor to the regiment that fought at Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift). Because of his military background, he brings a fresh perspective that few military historians who have not served in the military can bring.

In my opinion, his descriptions and analysis are first rate. He thoroughly defends his thesis that the defeat at Isandlwana was a combination of mistakes at the strategic and tactical level. In the process, he exonerates the commander of the 1/24th Regiment – Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Pulleine – of responsibility for the defeat.

This book is an excellent example of scholarship and easy-to-read history.

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