Sunday, August 4, 2013


              "Pork Chop Hill" and "Zulu" are two of the greatest battle/small unit movies ever made. They have some interesting similarities. Both have an Alamo feel to them. Both have a small unit fighting against great odds. Both units have a strong, but inexperienced leader. Let's look at those two men.

1. PCH is based on the book by SLA Marshall about the fight for a hill in Korea near the end of the war. The hill had fallen to the Chinese and King Co., 31st Infantry, 7th Marines commanded by Lt. Clemons (Gregory Peck), was tasked with recapturing it. This was his first battle, but he tried hard not to show any doubts in front of his men. And doubts he had. It is obvious he is being a team player when his commanding officer outlined the mission. He doesn't let these doubts filter down to his men. Whenever he is asked "why?", he responds by saying that the higher ups must know what they are doing.

            He is a firm leader and no nonsense. He demands his men carry out orders (he leads by example on this) and does not coddle them. One soldier in particular (Franklen - Woody Strode) is a malingerer. Clemons forces him to go up the hill, but later when confronted by an armed Franklen he uses peer pressure. He adjusted to the situation. Clemons is willing to listen to his exec (O'Hashi), but he makes the final decisions. He leads by example and is in the thick of the fighting when necessary, but he also steps back to command from a central location.

            "Zulu" is the story of the Battle of Rorke's Drift in the Zulu War. The small unit was B Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot (2nd/24th). It was commanded by Lt. Chard (Stanley Baker) who was fighting his first battle. He is stoical, but laconic. He never loses his cool. He does not believe in inspirational speeches (neither does Clemons) and he also does not believe in discussing plans with his subordinate Bromhead. Similar to Clemons, he takes part in the fighting, but prefers to command from the rear. He has to make more decisions than Clemons (who is essentially following orders) and shows a knack for making the right tactical moves.

            Who is the better leader? I would have to choose Clemons, but they are both good leaders. They are very similar. However, Chard is too insulated from the men. He does not discuss plans with Bromhead. He does not explain why he does things.

2. The tactics depicted in PCH are standard for the modern U.S. Army. Clemons is ordered to retake the hill using a two platoon frontal assault with the third platoon held in reserve. The hill is prepped with an artillery barrage and King Co. pushes hard when it is lifted. Once in control, Clemons consolidated and used purely defensive tactics.

           Chard has a similar, yet different problem. He does not have to capture Rorke's Drift, but he does have to defend it. His defensive tactics include improving the position through ramparts with interior lines of defense. He establishes a reserve unit to plug holes. He uses volley firing by ranks to blunt some of the attacks.

           In PCH, the Americans were faced with horde frontal attacks by an enemy armed with bolt action rifles, burp guns, and potato masher style grenades. The Americans countered with M-1s, BARs, Browning M1919A4 machine guns, and pineapple grenades. Advantage Americans. What the movie does not clearly show is the use of artillery by both sides as the main weapon.

           In Zulu, the British are armed with Martini-Henry rifles. The Zulu warriors were armed with the iklwa (a short stabbing spear that was a cousin of the assegai). Some had a variety of rifles. These were notoriously inaccurate but did cause some of the British casualties. The British had a much bigger firepower edge than Clemons did. The Zulu used similar tactics to the Chinese.

           Both movies should be required viewing at West Point. Both leaders are good role models.

AUGUST WATCHALONG: Lawrence of Arabia


  1. The "Alamo feel" analogy is apt. IIRC, Chard chose to dig in and defend Rorke's Drift, rather than evacuate and take to higher (and, presumably, easier to defend) ground. Travis was originally supposed to destroy the Alamo, but chose to defend it. BTW, Woody Strode in Pork Chop Hill, like James Garner in The Americanization of Emily, played a character almost the opposite of his real-life service record. Strode served in the Army in WWII.

  2. Thanks for the info.

    BTW I am working on a History or Hollywood for both of these films. One thing I learned is Chard did not want to hold the position. It was Acting Assistant Commissary James Dalton that persuaded him to hold.

    That was a gutsy decision by Strode to take the role. I find it a bit offensive that the plot has a black character turning yellow. Especially since there were plenty of choices of white soldiers who behaved less than valiantly.

  3. I remember the movies but not the leaders.
    They are both good films, I agree, but Zulu has the more impressive cinematography.


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