Many of you have seen the movie Zulu or Zulu Dawn, and its very very obvious that the Praetorian Guard of 40K are drawn from that aspect of history. Heck even when they where first featured many years ago they starred in the battle of Big Toof River they where massacred due to poor leadership and the under estimate of the local Ork forces. Much like the battle of Battle of Isandlwana.
So lets take a look at the original battles staring the Praetorian guard.
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Last Stand at Glazers Creek This battle is based on the battle for Rorkes Drift (in 40k this is called orks drift) where a band of soldiers hold off another Ork Horde. Now this is one cool battle report. Custom rules, heaps of back story and so on. There is a Ratling in this battle who avoided the massacre by faking illness, only to find out the Ork horde was coming for him! Give this battle a read its well worth the time.
Massacre at Big Toof River Im sorry, I cant find the original White Dwarf scans that used to be on the net somewhere, but here is enough info and pictures. The gist of his battle was the Tallarn mechanized backed up by the Praetorian Guard were to go stop an Ork Waaaaaaaaagh! The battle started to go down hill before it began. The Tallarn commander decided the orks weren't a threat and instead of sending in his Blood Axe Mercenaries to figure out the situation he instead split his force into three groups. The Majority of the guard died in that battle and the Tallarn commander ended up suicide charging a Tyranid monster because he could no longer bear the guilt of his command.
The battle of big toof river was where the idea for these men where born. They originally were Mordian Guard with a green stuff made Pith Helmet. Customers begged for these to be made so a limited run was done and they can still be found today! I had one once a while back. Felt really cool to hold a piece of history in my collection. Unfortunately many years later GW threw a lot of the board and conversions in the trash, literally. Very disappointing. But it lives on through photos and stories.
So that was the birth of these guys from GW.
But in history they have another place. As many have seen in the Zulu movies of old they famously battled against the Zulu king, Shaka. What was famous about these battles was the fact the most advanced regiment in the world lost to primitive forces.
The regiment lost the Battle of Isandlwana, despite having some of the latest rifles, rocket artillery and the obvious advantages of having technology. However the Zulu where swift and brought the battle to the enemy in areas where they would have the most impact. At the same time the British command were tricked into thinking they had the advantage. It got to the point where the camp was being over run before the command thought the problem was serious. Even some the company colours had been grabbed and fled from the battlefield.
The Zulu had played the British well and enjoyed their temporary success. However the next engagements did not go so well for them.
The moral of this story is never to relax your command or under estimate your enemy. Britain learnt this against the Zulu, Imperial Russia learnt theirs against Imperial Japan and there are many examples throughout history.
Taking it further
There are many examples throughout history where the basic pith helmet uniform has been used. Notably in the desert forces. The 3rd Photo is a Scotsmen in with the pith helmet look, but there where Khaki versions of his outfit used in the first world war also. So if you are a fan of a more modern looking force and wanna incorporate the Praetorian look, use Khaki Greens.
There are so many ways to incorporate this basic look and suit it to your tastes. Its also a common helmet used in Steam Punk style media too if thats your thing. As you can see, history is my thing, so naturally I draw inspiration directly from that.
You can also look to non British Empire examples like one of the Vietcong uniforms here:
If you look at any Imperial Guard regiment and do a little research you will find many aspects of that regiment that where taken from soldiers of the past or even popular movies of the 80s (Catachans cough). Since the new Astra Militarum Codex will launch soon im sure some people are thinking about starting Guard. So check out this POST here and see what regiment possibilities there are from GW alone, the possibilities are endless. The coolest thing about the guard is anything goes. There is nothing absolute about the Imperial Guard. So if you have a passion for modeling, or want to make your army special I urge you to create a regiment of your own. Or take one that really suits you. If money is an issue or you arent a keen modeler, remember a basic head swap is all you need.
But there you have it. Im sure most Guard players can look at their regiment and see what inspired the sculptors to make them. Its great fun and can really get you in the spirit of adding to your army. Even since reading about the rockets used by the British at the time of the Anglo-Zulu war I now have urges to create my own rocket batteries.
So look into your regiment if you can. You will learn plenty.