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By the first week of October many of the Transvaal Boers had moved to the Natal front.
This is a modern photograph of the the area near here where the Boer Commandos gathered in preparation for the coming battles – they set up laagers with wagons and tents – horses and cattle corralled inside. At night their fires sparkled all over the area and they could be heard singing psalms as they gathered around the fires. Women, children and family servants accompanied them.
It was on the morning of October 12th, amid cold and mist, that the Boer camps at Sandspruit and Volksrust broke up, and the burghers rode to the war. Some twelve thousand of them, all mounted, with two batteries of eight Krupp guns each, were the invading force from the north, which hoped later to be joined by the Freestaters and by a contingent of Germans and Transvaalers who were to cross the Free State border. It was an hour before dawn that the guns started, and the riflemen followed close behind the last limber, so that the first light of day fell upon the black sinuous line winding down between the hills. A spectator upon the occasion says of them: 'Their faces were a study. For the most part the expression worn was one of determination and bulldog pertinacity. No sign of fear there, nor of wavering. Whatever else may be laid to the charge of the Boer, it may never truthfully be said that he is a coward or a man unworthy of the Briton's steel.' The words were written early in the campaign, and the whole empire will endorse them to-day. Could we have such men as willing fellow-citizens, they are worth more than all the gold mines of their country. Arthur Conan Doyle - The Boer War
The Boers had come from the towns, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein and many other small villages. They gathered with everything they had which they could fight with. The women and children and the servants accompanied men to the laagers
Buller had cautioned against crossing the Tugela – White and Pen-Symonds ignored him. In fact Pen-Symonds had moved his brigade to Dundee. Oct 20 - Boer Col. Lucas Meyer swiftly moved against Dundee contacting Pen-Symonds at Talana Hill – the first confrontation of the war took place – (britishbattles.com) he had outrun his support and the Brits pushed him back. Not before Pen-Symonds was killed and several serious mistakes being made by the British soldiers. Oct 21- Gen. Kock also moved far ahead of Gen’s. Joubert and Erasmus and engaged General French at Elandslaagte just north of Ladysmith.
The Talana Hill photograph shows Dundee in the background – the copse of trees at the foot of the hill is where the battle took place and Symonds was mortally wounded.
Note the location of the British camp where the guns and horses were bivouacked. Impati hill where Dundee’s water supply was stored in tanks. The Boers established their gun position on top of Talana hill and began shelling the town. It had rained for weeks and the percussive shells that the Boer gun was firing did not all explode as some buried themselves in the mud.
On the 20 th of October The Artillery battle raged over the top of the hill – forcing the Boers to finally pull back their guns – the waves of British troops advanced up the hill. They became bogged down in the woods – Major General Pen Symonds accompanied by his aide, carrying a red pennant rode up and led the charge up to the next level – he crossed through a gap in a stone wall - then returned and collapsed having been mortally shot through his abdomen. He made his men put him on his horse and he rode back through the advancing troops to the artillery at the rear where he finally collapsed. They carried him into Dundee where he died. The British finally forced their way to the top to find the Boers had withdrawn and ridden off – a tactic the British came to deplore - “Strategic Attack – Tactical Withdrawal” - Pen Symonds had sent his cavalry round the rear of the hill so that in just such an event the cavalry could mop up the retreating Boers – however another Boer force had captured all of them. The Battle of Talana Hill was called a British Victory – Pyrrhic at best!
The next confrontation took place at Elandslaagte (Eland’s hollow) the following day – 21 st 1October 1899. General Kock with a Commando mainly comprised of Johannesburg burgers and detachments of German volunteers, occupied the railway station on 19 th Oct. Cutting communications between the British at Dundee and Ladysmith. General Sir George White sent his cavalry commander, Major General John French to recapture the station. Arriving shortly after dawn on 21 October, French found the Boers present in strength, with two field guns. He telegraphed to Ladysmith for reinforcements, which shortly afterwards arrived by train.
On the 21 st October another confrontation took place at Elandslaagte – closer to Ladysmith – General French – 5 th Lancers General Kock and some of the Burgers Gordon Highlanders storming the hill The 5 th Lancers again The 5 th Lancers charge the Boers – note the Maxim While three batteries of British field guns bombarded the Boer position, and the 1st Battalion, the Devonshire Regiment advanced frontally in open order, the main attack commanded by Colonel Ian Hamilton (1st Battalion, the Manchester Regiment, 2 nd Battalion, the Gordon Highlanders and the dismounted Imperial Light Horse) moved around the Boers' left flank. The sky had steadily been growing dark with thunderclouds, and as the British made their assault, the storm burst. In the poor visibility and pouring rain, the British infantry had to face a barbed wire farm fence, in which several men were entangled and shot. Nevertheless, they cut the wire or broke it down, and occupied the main part of the Boer position. Some small parties of Boers were already showing white flags when General Kock led a counterattack, dressed in his top hat and Sunday best. He drove back the British infantry in confusion, but they rallied, inspired by Hamilton (and reportedly, a bugler of the Manchesters and a Pipe-major of the Gordons) and charged again. Kock and his companions were killed. (Kock captured?) As the remaining Boers mounted their ponies and tried to retreat, two squadrons of British cavalry (from the 5th Lancers and the 5th Dragoon Guards) got among them with lances and sabres, cutting down many. This was almost the only time during the Boer war that a British cavalry charge made contact. This battle was very demoralizing for the Boers – many fled on their ponies in panic, fearing the Lancers - The British withdrew to Ladysmith.
Meanwhile the brigade at Dundee decided to pull back to Ladysmith – Cover picture from Pakenham’s book – The Boer War The true sadness and pain of war must be apparent; the beaten look of the men, slogging through the mud, three days and nights in the rain and cold – and the poor horses! We begin to see Milner’s “dream” come true!! How many times before this – and after - have men dragged their broken spirits and bodies away from the conflicts, leaving behind their slain comrades - and enemies. Our pain and frustration makes us want kill those who perpetrated this upon us – and therein lies the quandary !! And this is only the beginning!
Rather than retreat south of the Tugela, General White continued to mass supplies and reinforcements in Ladysmith. (He sent the wounded south to Pietermaritzburg but left the civilians and other non-combatants in the town. As the British troops concentrated in Ladysmith now constituted a balanced &quot;field force&quot; of all arms, White also rejected the option of leaving an infantry garrison in Ladysmith while sending the bulk of the mounted troops and artillery south of the river. He gambled on being able to strike a knock-out blow against the Boer armies in a &quot;set-piece&quot; action. This was despite the disadvantages of the terrain, with Ladysmith being on low ground surrounded by hills rising to 500 feet above the town, which gave the Boers the advantage of height.
From 26 October to 29 October, White sent out tentative cavalry reconnaissance's, which he recalled when it appeared that Boer horsemen might cut them off. On 29 October, Boers could be seen emplacing one of their heavy Creusot siege guns on Pepworth Hill, roughly 4 miles (6.4 km) north-north east of the town. Before this gun could open fire, White had already made plans for attack the following dawn, based on incomplete reconnaissance's and observations. The main frontal attack was intended to capture Pepworth Hill. The column was led by Colonel Ian Hamilton. This attack was to be supported by a column under Colonel Grimwood, which would attack the supposed Boer left flank and capture Long Hill, about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) east of Pepworth Hill. The bulk of the mounted troops under Colonel John French were stationed in reserve or to Grimwood's right. Six batteries of 15-pounder guns of the Royal Artillery were to support the attacks. The British attacks did not go well – Grimwood’s battalion got caught in the open near Lombard’s Kop and White decided to pull back after losing touch with his column sent to hold the pass to the north, commanded by Lt. Col Carleton. Carleton’s maneuvers had became a rout! Commandant Christiaan de Wet took full advantage of the disorder of the British. Pg 81 GABW This became known as “Mournful Monday” - Since the Boers launched no immediate assault, the British force reorganized and constructed defensive lines around the town, which would require a major effort to overcome. They recovered morale through some small-scale raids at night which sabotaged some of the Boer artillery. Thereafter the siege became a long drawn-out blockade, except for a single storming attempt. General Joubert, who was the lead Boer General said – ‘When God reaches out a finger, you do not take his whole hand!” And the Boers sat tight! Pg 83 – 84 GABW -
An interesting point about the rifles used by the opposing armies; The Boers used German Mausers – Model 1895 which had a accurate range of 2200 yards – and fired a 7.65 mm bullet. (.301”) They also had a 7 bullet clip which was easily replaced and they carried many clips in bandoliers. The British used Lee Enfield's or Lee Metfords – (the latter had a shallow rifling pattern and wore out quicker with the smokeless powder bullets.) Although they used a 10 bullet magazine they had to be reloaded individually. So after firing 10 shots they had to refill the clip! They fired a .303” There were many rumors of the Boers using “Dum-Dum” bullets – these had a cross cut into the tip so that they spread upon striking a body and caused much more severe wounds. These rumors were actually aimed at both sides. One of the stories is that the British captured Boer ammunition which was in boxes stamped ‘Dum-Dum’ – It turned out that this was the town in India where the bullets had been manufactured, and this was the root of at least some of the rumors.
German Uitlanders joined the Boers as did volunteers who came from Germany and other European nations – the Scandinavians in the TvL formed a volunteer company!
For those who are not English – this is pronounced ‘Lester’ - from the ‘Lester-shire’ regiment. These were the more “modern” maxims – others in the field were mounted on wheels like small cannon, or on stands were the operator actually stood behind the gun.
At the end of October Sir Redvers Buller and 40,000 British troops arrived in Cape Town. Milner insisted that some troops be sent to Kimberly to protect the Cape (and also discourage the Afrikaners who were increasingly sympathetic with the Boers) Buller took about 30,000 troops and sailed for Durban in Natal. Let us not forget: Buller had said – DO NOT CROSS THE TUGELA RIVER. Now the British found themselves defeated and trapped in Ladysmith – north of the Tugela! Accompanying Buller from Britain was Winston Churchill – more later.
We now need to change focus to the west – if only to stay with the chronological sequence of events. Note Kimberly, Mafeking and Stormberg – also the two rail lines – west and central The Modder river – the Vaal and the Orange Break
In the West, Boer forces under Cronje, De La Rey and Prinsloo crossed the border and laid siege to Mafeking in the North and Cecil Rhodes’ diamond mining capital, Kimberley and began an invasion of Cape Colony.
Sir Alfred Milner, the British High Commissioner of Cape Colony, saw his plans to annex the two Boer Republic in ruins with the added danger of a revolt in his own colony by Boers in sympathy with their cousins in the republics. On 30th October 1899 General Sir Redvers Buller arrived at Cape Town from Britain as the new commander-in-chief. In November 1899 British reinforcements, comprising an army corps of 40,000 men, disembarked from an armada of transports. The plan was for the whole army corps to continue to Natal and confront the Boer incursion. Under pressure from Milner, Buller divided his force, taking the greater proportion on to Natal, but leaving three infantry brigades with artillery and supporting arms, commanded by Lord Methuen, to march to the relief of Cecil Rhodes in Kimberley and the town’s garrison commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Kekewich. Gen. Gatacre moved a smaller force toward Stormberg to protect the central Cape
OK so this is a very busy map – stay with me! Lord Methuen’s task with his division was to force his way north up the railway to raise the Boer siege of Cecil Rhodes’s diamond town, Kimberley. Methuen moved off from his forward base on the Orange River, with the Naval Brigade, the Guards Brigade, the 9th Brigade, the 9th Lancers, 2 batteries of artillery and Rimington’s scouts. Arriving at Belmont station it was apparent that the Boers were in position on the range of Belmont Kopje behind the road to the North. Methuen directed the Guards Brigade to advance by way of a night approach march up to the Boer positions. Delays caused by agricultural fencing and defective maps found the Guards well short of the line of Kopjes at dawn; the Boers opening fire on the exposed lines of Guardsmen stretching across the open ground at the bottom of the hillside. The 9th Brigade also found themselves in open veldt when dawn broke.
At Belmont two brigades launched their attack from the open ground up onto the hills under heavy rifle fire from the Boers entrenched on the crest. The Boers did not wait for the final bayonet attack, hurrying away down the far hillside to where their ponies were tethered and riding back to the next line of kopjes, pursued for some distance by a small force of 9th Lancers and Mounted Infantry. Following the battle for Belmont the Boers fell back to the next station on the line, Graspan, where the fighting was similar in pattern. The Boers occupied positions on the neighboring kopjes and were this time assaulted by the Naval Brigade with the 9th Brigade. Pg 94 GABW Again the infantry advanced across open country and stormed the Boers’ hilltop positions, a small force of 9th Lancers and Mounted Infantry giving chase to the Boers as they cantered away across the veldt on the far side of the hill line, inflicting some casualties. While a Boer thumbed his nose at the following British. The way was now open for Methuen to reach the Modder River; within striking distance of Kimberley. Casualties: British casualties at Belmont were 200 and at Graspan 197. Boer casualties at each battle are unknown but are thought to have been slight.
Methuen's force consisted of two infantry brigades (the Guards Brigade under Major-General Sir Henry Colville and the 9th Brigade under Major-General Reginald Pole-Carew), two mounted regiments, three batteries of field artillery (18th, 62nd and 75th) and four guns of the Naval Brigade. Further reinforcements were arriving up the railway. The British cavalry, The 9th Queen's Royal Lancers, or the Delhi Spearmen, were a Cavalry regiments of the British Army. They are best known for their roles in the Indian mutiny of 1857 - and a unit recruited in Cape Town. Rimington's Guides were a unit of light horse active in the Second Boer War. They were led by Major Rimington, later Colonel Rimington. He also led a Column in the later stages of the war.... they made some attempts to scout the ground ahead of the army, but failed entirely to detect De la Rey's trenches and other preparations. (For example, the Boers had whitewashed stones on the veld or had placed biscuit tins as range markers). At 4:30 a.m. on 28 November, Methuen's force roused itself, deployed into line and began advancing towards the Modder, with no plans other than to cross the river before having breakfast on the far side. The Battle As the British troops came within sight of the river, Methuen remarked to Colville, &quot;They're not here.&quot; Colville replied, &quot;They're sitting uncommonly tight if they are&quot;. At this point the Boers opened fire. Most of the British troops were forced to throw themselves flat. Some tried to advance in short rushes, but could find no cover on the veld. Few British troops got closer than 1000 yards to the Boers. The Guards tried to outflank the Boer left, but were unable to ford the Riet River. The British guns pounded the buildings near Modder River Station and the line of poplar trees which marked the north bank of the Modder, and entirely missed the enemy trenches on the south bank. Meanwhile, the Boer guns maintained a galling fire, and kept in action by repeatedly moving their positions.
The battle became a day-long stalemate. Most of the British infantry lay prone on the veld, tortured by heat and thirst, but safe from enemy fire unless they moved. Many stoically smoked pipes or even slept. Methuen galloped about the field trying to renew the advance, and was himself wounded. At midday, some of Pole-Carew's 9th Brigade found the open Boer right flank at Rosmead drift (ford) downstream. British infantry infiltrated across the ford and about 1:00 pm drove the Boers out of Rosmead. The attack was disjointed, and suffered casualties when a British field artillery battery (62nd) which had just arrived on the field shelled them by mistake. By nightfall, De la Rey had driven them back into a small insecure bridgehead. Methuen reported that the battle had been &quot;one of the hardest and most trying fights in the annals of the British army”. Although casualties had not been cripplingly heavy (between 450 and 480), mainly because the Boers opened fire prematurely, it was clear that any simple frontal attack by infantry only against an enemy using bolt-action rifles, was effectively impossible. The British were forced to pause for ten days, to evacuate their casualties, receive further reinforcements and repair their lines of communications. The delay allowed the Boers to construct the entrenchments which they were to defend in the Battle of Magersfontein.
What we call “spin” today!
The worst was yet to come! The Magersfontein Hills in the far background After the Battle of the Modder River, the Boers had at first retreated 10 miles (16 km) to the range of hills at Spytfontein the last defensible position before Kimberley. General Koos de la Rey had been absent, having gone to the laager at Jacobsdal to bury his son Adriaan, killed by a shell at the Modder River. He disagreed with this retreat and telegraphed his objections to President Martinus Theunis Steyn of the Orange Free State, who in turn informed President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal. Kruger suggested to Steyn that he himself should visit the front. Steyn arrived on 4 December, and spent the next day touring the camps and defenses. He then summoned a krijgsraad (council of war), at which de la Rey put forward his plans. De la Rey recommended that they should move forward from Spytfontein to Magersfontein, and also that they should entrench themselves forward of the line of kopjes. The Boers had learnt in earlier battles that the British artillery was superior in numbers to theirs, and would pound any high ground where they placed their guns or forces. Therefore, contrary to common practice, de la Rey convinced them to dig defensive positions at the foot of the hills, rather than on the facing slopes. The trenches overlooking the receding ground sloping down towards the British axis of advance afforded the Boers surprise and protection from fire, and permitted them to make best use of the flat trajectory of their Mauser rifles.
Methuen's plan was to keep to his axis of advance along the railway line. He believed that the Boers were occupying the line of kopjes, as they had done at Belmont, but he had been unable to reconnoiter the position; his cavalry could approach no closer than 1 mile (1.6 km) to the Boer positions before being driven off by rifle fire. Also the rain precluded use of the balloon. The lack of reconnaissance would prove critical to the outcome of the battle. He planned to bombard the Boer positions with artillery from 1650 hrs to 1830 hrs on 10 December, after which the Highland Brigade under Major General Wauchope, which had been sent to reinforce the 1st Division, would make a night march to launch a dawn attack on the Boers on 11 December. Methuen's orders stated that his intention was to hold the enemy on the north and to deliver an attack on the southern end of Magersfontein Ridge. By this time, the Boers had received reinforcements with some commandos joining them from the siege lines around Kimberley and from the border of Basutoland. The remainder of Cronje's force also arrived from the desultory Siege of Mafeking. Their total force numbered 8,500 fighters, with camp-followers and African laborers who performed the actual work of digging the Boer entrenchments. The Boers occupied a wide crescent shaped front, extending for 6 miles (10 km) and straddling both the road and the railway line, to which Methuen's advance was bound. Their main trench was in front of the Magersfontein Kopje and was 2-mile (3.2 km) long, with another trench bending along the river to protect their escape route to Jacobsdal.
Read – pg 208 – 209 TBW -
Page 210 both paragraphs & 211 middle TBW
Pg 211 last and 212 – 213 TBW
Pg 214 last paragraph
An element of approximately half of the one hundred men in the Scandinavian Volunteer Corps had been ordered to man an advance outpost at the junction of Cronje's and de la Rey's forces during the night of 10/11 December. The rest of the force was entrenched in defensive positions some 1,600 yds further northeast. In the early morning hours of 11 December, General Cronje ordered Commandant Tolly de Beer to abandon the outpost, but the order had only reached the Boer contingent who withdrew, leaving the Scandinavian section on its own. It was this section which was destroyed in holding back the attack by the Seaforth Highlanders, denying them access between the hills and preventing the Scots from reaching the Boer guns.
Tactical dispositions The Boers had halted Methuen's advance to relieve the siege of Kimberley, had defeated his superior force and inflicted heavy losses, particularly on the Highland Brigade. The British were forced to withdraw to the Modder River to regroup and to await further reinforcements. Unlike previous occasions, where the Boers withdrew after an engagement, this time Cronje held the Magersfontein defense line, knowing that Methuen would again be forced to continue his advance along his logistical railway &quot;lifeline&quot;. Losses British The British had lost 22 officers and 188 other ranks killed, 46 officers and 629 other ranks wounded and 1 officer and 62 other ranks missing. Of this, the Highland Brigade had amassed a killed, wounded and missing loss of 747 men. Among the battalions, the Black Watch had suffered the most severely, losing 303 officers and other ranks. On 12 December, when British ambulances again went forward to collect the dead and remaining wounded, they found Wauchope's body within 200 yards of Cronje's trenches, with British reports stating that most of the Highland Brigade's dead had their backs to the enemy. Conversely, Boer reports stated that the most of the dead had head injuries. The British camp at Modder River, and subsequently also at Paardeberg, created ideal conditions for the spread of Typhoid fever. By the time the victors arrived in Bloemfontein, an epidemic broke out amongst the troops, with 10,000-12,000 taken ill, and 1,200 deaths in the city. The disease ultimately took more British lives during the war than were lost though enemy action. Boers Boer losses are disputed. The official British account of the battle records 87 killed and 188 wounded, while later accounts record a total loss of 236 men. As with the Boers, several different figures regarding the strength of the Scandinavian outpost exist. British sources quote 80 men and Scandinavian sources between 49 to 52 men. Uddgren records 52 men based on identified names, consisting of 26 Swedes, 11 Danes, 7 Finns, 4 Norwegians and 4 of unknown nationality, of which all but five were either killed, wounded or captured. The losses of native Africans working or fighting for the two sides were not recorded.
Strategic consequences The week from 10 December to 17 December rapidly became known to troops in the field as to politicians in England as &quot;Black Week&quot; during which the British had suffered three defeats: the battles of Stormberg in the Cape Midlands and Colenso in Natal as well as the Battle of Magersfontein. The defeat at Magersfontein caused much consternation in Britain, particularly in Scotland where the losses to the Highland regiments were keenly felt and where Wauchope was well-known, having stood as a Parliamentary candidate. The reverberations of the &quot;Black Week&quot; defeats lead to the hasty approval for large reinforcements being sent to South Africa, from both Britain and the Dominions. Although Cronje had temporarily defeated the British and held up their advance, General Lord Roberts, who had been appointed as overall Commander in Chief in South Africa, took personal command on this front, and at the head of an army reinforced to 25,000 men, relieved Kimberley on 15 February 1900. Cronje's retreating army was soon thereafter surrounded and forced to surrender at the Battle of Paardeberg on 27 February 1900. Despite the defeat, Methuen soon redeemed his reputation and career through successes he achieved against George Villebois-Mareuil at the Battle of Boschoff, although he was the only general captured by the Boers during the war.
Diamonds, Gold & War 4
The Second Anglo-Boer War
1899 - 1902
Presented at OLLI at Duke - Fall 2009
The story thus far ….. Milner has pushed forward with his plans to force Kruger into a confrontation – ultimately with the goal of taking over the Transvaal. The Orange Free State will follow and Britain will have a unified South Africa consisting of four colonies. The Bloemfontein conference ends in deadlock, Uitlander agitation continues, Britain begins to bring in reinforcements – Kruger issues ultimatum. Britain does not concede – war breaks out!
The conduct of the small Naval Brigade in storming the Boer hill top position at Graspan attracted considerable attention in the British Press. The public imagination was particularly taken by the Jack Russell terrier of Major Plumbe from the Royal Marines found guarding the body of his dead master on the embattled hillside. Battle of Graspan
The Black Watch after the Battle of Magersfontein – Two hundred and two of the 239 British killed and 496 of the 663 wounded were Highlanders “ 91 st at Modder River” Pipe Major Angus MacDonald
Major General Wauchope and his temporary grave
The Scandinavian Volunteer Corps Monument to the Scandinavian volunteers killed while fighting for the Boers at the battle. The memorial reads: "They could not retreat. They could only fall. In memory of Scandinavians killed here."
Final Retreat & The Aftermath Such was the day for our regiment, Dread the revenge we will take. Dearly we paid for the blunder A drawing-room General’s mistake. Why weren’t we told of the trenches? Why weren’t we told of the wire? Why were we marched up in column, May Tommy Atkins enquire… Pte Smith of the Black Watch, December 1899. Pakenham p.201