Monday 23 November 2015

The Battle of Isipezi Hill

Col Evelyn Wood's Column
My social calendar is getting a little crowded as we near Christmas and free weekends for wargaming are become as rare as hens teeth. So when Postie called me last week and asked if I wanted a game on Sunday I quickly grabbed the opportunity as it is my last free day for several weeks. hence this will be my last game of the year in the shed-o-war. Pity it wasn't a happy ending!

The date is the 29th June 1879 and a large British Scouting force is pushing deep into Zulu territory looking for the enemy. They know the Zulus are out there but have no idea where they are. This is the second invasion of the Zulu Nation and this time the British have learnt a few lessons form the disastrous first invasion (of Isandlwana and Rourke's Drift fame). The force under the command of Colonel Evelyn Wood is supported by lancers a battery of guns and a Gatling gun. Facing them are over 10,000 Zulu's. 

Order of Battle
British Forces - 2,500 men
  c/o Col Evelyn Wood
    90th Foot - 8 Companies c/o Maj Tucker  (800 men)
    80th Foot - 4 Companies c/o Maj Rodgers VC (400 men)
    NNC - 5 Companies (500 men)

  2iC Lt Col Buller 
    17th lancers - 4 Squadrons (600 men)
    Frontier Light Horse - 2 Troops (100 men)
    Bakers Horse - 2 Troops (100 men)

  11/7 Royal Artillery - 2 Sections (4 Guns)
  10/7 Royal Artillery - 1 Gatling Gun c/o Maj Tremlett
  6 Wagons

Zulus - 10,700 Warriors
  c/o Ntshingwayo Kamanole
  2iC Prince Kampande
    Left Horn
      Umsikaba - 2 Bases (500 warriors)
      Ngwekwe - 4 Bases (1000 warriors) - Veterans
      Umkapo - 4 Bases (1000 warriors)
      Imbube - 2 Bases (500 warriors)
      Umhlonga - 4 Bases (1000 warriors)
      Nkankone - 2 Bases (500 warriors) - Veterans
      Igwa - 2 Bases (500 warriors)
      Umbonambi - 8 Bases (2000 warriors)
    Right Horn
      Indlondlo - 4 Bases (1000 warriors)
      Nsugamgeni - 4 Bases (1000 warriors)
      Isangqu - 6 Bases (1500 Warriors) - Veterans
   Unit of Riflemen - Skirmishers - Decoy - 4 Bases (200 Warriors)

The Action
Col Evelyn Wood's column strung out along the road with no idea which direction the Zulu's would attack from. Eight companies of infantry lead the column with guns and resupply wagons in the center and more infantry (including the Natal Native Contingent) in the rear. Frontier light horse and Lancers form a cavalry screen making this a very formidable British army for the Zulu's to attack.

Zulu skirmishers watch the British advance. The rest of the Zulu army is hidden behind some of the surrounding hills...but which ones? This unit was purely a diversion to sow doubt in the mind of the British commander. 
The British begin to redeploy their forces, sending troops of horsemen out in all directions to act as a skirmish screen. Infantry begin to form lines and at first it looks as if the British are scattering all directions. 

Eventually the Zulu's appear...behind the British, cutting their escape route home. This is the 'Head' of the Impi containing 4000 warriors, two thousand of which are in the Umbonambi regiment.

The right horn consists of 3700 Warriors, with the large (6 base, 1500 warrior) Isangqu regiment in the centre. Their white shields show their veteran status. 

The left horn has 3000 warriors including the veteran Ngwekwe regiment.

Surjit begins to move his army in reaction to the Zulu deployment. At first his guns and some infantry regiments turn to face the Zulu's and begin to fire at long range, but it is never their intention to stand and fight.

Towards the other end of the British column Sujit starts positioning his troops for the 'end game'.

The Zulu's advance quickly, gaining ground on the British every turn. The Zulu's ran the whole length of the table moving 7" per turn while the British retreated on average about 5" per turn. The gap was slowly closed but never enough for the Zulu's to get within charge range. 

Zulu casualties begin to mount until they reached ten percent, then an Army check roll was required. I needed to roll high (6+ actually) and this is what I got! Even with adjustments this resulted in "The Zulu's cease their current course of action and withdraw" over!!!!

Both Surjit and I were gutted to see the game end like this. I was especially miffed as this is the second game in a row where an army Moral Check has brought the game to a premature end. Sujit very gentlemanly suggested we pretend I'd passed the test and continue to play on. A higher category on the army test list was "play on for 4 turns and check again" so we decided to run with that result instead to see what would happen. 

A company of Lancers has an opportunity to charge the flank of a Zulu Regiment. Technically they won the melee (+4 for lances!) but their own casualties were so high the lancers were effectively wiped out after only two turns of fighting. The Zulus took a lot of casualties too, but they were such a big unit they could absorb the damage and still function.

Finally the Zulu's have caught up to the British. Now within charge range it was essential for them to win the initiative to get into melee. All the Zulu units have now taken serious casualties and only their ever present leaders are holding the line together....which is why the loss of my Chief at this stage was an utter disaster!!

I moved the chief just a fraction too close to a front line unit and when it took casualties I had to roll to see if the chief was also hit. I rolled badly and the chief went down in a hail of bullets. With intense fire from the British forcing unit tests on all the front rank regiments, and without their leader to maintain order the Zulu units either broke or were driven to ground right under the guns of the British. There would be no recovering from this so I conceded defeat for the second time in the same game.   

Well that could have gone better for the Zulu's. My plan was to confound the British by appearing where they didn't expect me. Before the game started I had to declare to Postie where my regiments would appear so I couldn't change my mind once the game started. But instead of consolidating his army in the centre and waiting to see where I appeared Surjit almost immediately started moving everything away from my deployment zone. This was a very risky move because he had no idea where I was and if I had deployed in front of him I would have caught his forces in the open several turns quicker than I actually did. Instead I spent the whole game running across the open ground trying to catch up with the British, taking casualties all the while. By the time I was within charge range my weakened forces were in no state to resist that final volley of fire. Of course moving my Chief into such a vulnerable position didn't help matters at all. Such a silly mistake to make and ultimately it cost me the battle. 


  1. I have never played this period, but this kind of beautiful report is so tempting...great pictures, terrain and armies!

    1. Thanks Phil. Despite loosing I enjoyed the game. This is an interesting period to play and the massive disparity in forces make every game a nail biter.

  2. Replies
    1. It was good...but I blame you for starting a trend with awful moral checks.

  3. Mate, you need to have some serious words with the Dice Gods, your reputation for bad dice precedes you by a country mile! Great looking game in a period I've read about but have no playing experience. In 6mm it looked the dogs!

    1. My consistently crappy duce rolling is so bad its almost a supernatural ability!

  4. Great report and wonderful looking game!

  5. Nice AAR and good looking game. We've all experienced runs of dice dearth like this. For a while I rolled so many low dice I got the nick name 'The One'. The answer, however, is a pleasant one. Play lots more games and your average will inevitably get better!

  6. My dice rolling was particularly bad this game. My army didn't do any shooting so I only had 12 dice rolls during the whole game - 2 Army Tests, 3 melee rolls, 2 command saves and 5 unit tests. 9 were utter dismal failures, one was borderline even after modifiers and only 3 were unequivocal success.

  7. My dice rolling is so bad that other players on my side refuse to use dice that I have touched! Next game I am in, I plan to have my opponent throw my dice for me. My reputation with dice started in the late 60's when, in a Quatre-Bras game, I managed to get both British Guard Bdes to retreat from the table in one turn!

  8. Back in the 70's I knew this bloke in our club whose dice rolling was so bad he had the unfortunate nickname of Routing Austrian -RA for short. He could almost roll 1's to order!

  9. The vast expansiveness of the battle layout is striking. Outnumbering an opponent like this cannot ensure victory even after a Mulligan. Great BatRep!

  10. That 6mm really makes the game impressive!


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