you are currently viewing: Discussion Forum


The Rorke's Drift VC Discussion Forum
(View Discussion Rules)


PLEASE NOTE: This forum is now inactive and is provided for reference purposes only. The live forum is available at

(Back To Topic List)

DateOriginal Topic
9th December 2003Verbal orders to open fire
By Martin Heyes
Now this is probably not as "meaty" as other topics on this forum - but it is something which has always intrigued me. One of the better scenes (for me) in "Zulu" is when the 24th's NCOs pass the order to the riflemen on the mealie bags barricade to:- "hark the order;" "look to your front," and "mark your target when it comes."
Does anyone know whether these were actual commands which would have been issued in 1879 to British infantry, or was this simply licence by the Director to add to the suspense in the film? If it was the latter, then I feel he certainly achieved his objective!
("British Army infantry commands in 1879" must be a terribly specialised subject, I know, but I bet there is someone out there who knows the answer.....)
9th December 2003Mike McCabe
As others will no doubt tell you, volley fire was initiated by the order 'At N hundred yards....(allowing a pause for sight setting), then 'Present', then the ranks to fire would count a pause (usually of three beats in slow time) then raise their rifles, aim and (together) fire one round.

Look to your front, was intended to bring soldiers to the alert, and ensure that they were ready for the fire order that would follow. During the interim they would observe across their personal or section/platoon arcs of fire.
'Mark your target' is an old 'archery' order, from the French 'Remarquer' to take notice of. I'm not sure it was in general British Army use, except in that beloved military repository of the Flat Earth Society - the film 'Zulu'.
10th December 2003Martin Heyes
Many thanks for that.
I recall from my own time serving with the (British Army) infantry many years ago using the nemonic "GRIT." This referred to the Group, (i.e. the section/riflemen who you were ordering to open fire); Range, (self-explanatory); Indication, (identification of the target - I guess "300 Zulus in front" would have got the message across!); and Type, (i.e. type of fire, e.g. tracer, rapid, etc).

Must admit though, for sheer dramatic effect the orders that were issud in the film are MUCH better !!
10th December 2003Martin Heyes
My apologies for getting your name incorrect above.
10th December 2003Adrian Whiting

For the sake of pedantry (much underrated these days !!!) Mike is quite correct but there are a couple of orders to add to complete the appropriate sequence.

For volley fire the sequence would be

"Fire a Volley" or " N Volleys"

"At N yards...ready" (which causes the soldier to load a round and then set sights), followed by any necessary description to identify the target.

"Present" (which causes the actions Mike describes)

Then either "ready" again, with or without a change of range, if firing is to continue, or "Unload" if not.

For independent fire the sequence is,

"N rounds, independent firing"

"At N yards, (target description if needed - most likely not !) commence"

and as appropriate, "cease fire"

By 1882 Army Orders had prescribed a change for volley fire, whereby a command "fire" was inserted after "present". The rationale is stated as because the previous system caused soldiers to fire whether or not the target was visible three beats of slow time after the rifle was brought to the shoulder.

The Musketry Regs required the relevant officer to direct the fire, i.e. nominate the target, and for the section Sergeant to regulate it, i.e. giving the commands above and judging the rate of fire to apply.

Sergeants were trained (in the 1887 regs) to look to regulate 5 volleys a minute, less if they felt they could achieve better results, for example if the smoke was causing loss of view they were extolled to fire 4 volleys a minute.

I don't know if this type of arrangement was what your rather more recent experience included ?!!

11th December 2003James Garland
From my own military experience in the British Army coming under fire the orders were a bit more confused i.e. "Shit!! where did that come from. If anyone can see the bastards, fire!!"
12th December 2003Miguel
Very good one, James!! LOL

The French would say: 'They are firing at us! we surrender!'

The Italians would say: 'They are firing at us! what a waste of ammo!'

Spaniards would say: 'Hey, firecrackers! let's fiesta!'

Americans: 'They are looking at us funny: let's nuke the whole place!'

Canary Islands
12th December 2003Mike McCabe

I feel sure that serving members (and veterans) of the French, Italian, Spanish, and American armies would much enjoy discussing your sense of humour with you.

12th December 2003Miguel

As an 'abuelo' (grandfather or veteran) of the Spanish Army, I can assure you that my fellow comrades at those armies are not unfamiliar with that kind of humour and indulge in it rather frecuently, not only among different countries but among services as well (army, navy and air forces).

And you can feel sure that we tease each other mercilessly while at the same time sharing a deep sense of admiration for the other.

And if you don't believe me, among other things (that I will omit) I suggest you to google for the endless collection of jokes among the US Army, Navy, Air forces and Marine Corp.

Yours faithfully,

Canary Islands
13th December 2003Diana Blackwell
"The one unforgivable sin on this site {is} that of being slightly light hearted for faintly humorous." --Mike McCabe, 9/1/03
13th December 2003Trevor
This ones for you James Garland.
like you I came under fire a number of years ago. The guy next to me thought he saw where it came from. Without any command. He took the position just behind me and to my right. Let one off and perforated my ear drum. Dumb shit didn't even hit anything!
15th December 2003Mike McCabe
Irony - form of humour understood everywhere, except in America?
16th December 2003Diana Blackwell
Huh? Irony was the reason for the quote.
27th December 2003richard
As well as the acronym GRIT the British forces use CLAP, this is for how fire control orders should be given and it stands for Clear Loud As an order and with Pauses.