Substantial reinforcements--Guns taken to summit of Zwart
Kop--Plan of attack on Vaal Krantz--Lie of the
land--Another crossing of the Tugela--Demonstration
towards Brakfontein--Bombardment of Vaal
Krantz--Infantry storm the height--Difficulty of
holding the position--Disappearing guns--Renewed
attacks--Council of war--Evacuation of the
ridge--Losses--Disappointment in Britain.


[Sidenote: Substantial reinforcements.]

Twice beaten back, twice discomfited, neither the general nor his
army lost heart. No sooner had the army withdrawn across the Tugela
than, in a review, General Buller told his men that he held the key
to Ladysmith, and hoped yet to be in that town in a week. It is
possible that this speech was made in accordance with suggestions
from Capetown, so that the enemy's attention might be diverted from
the great campaign, now about to begin in the west. Meantime he was
strongly reinforced. Three thousand drafts from home reached him, more
than replacing the losses of Colenso and Spion Kop. Not less important
was the addition now made to his artillery. Two siege 5-inch guns
supplemented his 4·7 weapons of position, and a great 6-inch naval gun
on a special mounting was also sent up from Durban. Besides these,
another Field Battery and A Horse Artillery Battery joined him, and
thus, as the guns lost at Colenso were now replaced, he found himself
with seventy-eight serviceable guns--an immense change from the days
of Colenso and of the first operations in Natal. He received, too,
the best part of another cavalry regiment--the 14th Hussars. General
Woodgate, mortally wounded on Spion Kop and now lying betwixt life and
death, was replaced in command of his brigade by Colonel Wynne. Thus
all was ready for a fresh attempt.

[Sidenote: Guns taken to summit of Zwart Kop.]

[Sidenote: FEB. 4, 1900.] Vaal Krantz to be Seized.]

The army remained in its camp at Spearman's Farm, close to Potgieter's
Ford, until February 4. The wait was utilised to move six naval
12-pounders, two field guns, and the mountain battery, to the summit
of Zwart Kop. The slopes of the mountain were so steep and precipitous
that the work was one of no little difficulty and danger. Steel hawsers
were employed, attached to trees on the summit, to warp up the heavier
weapons; the little mountain 7-pounders were carried up on mule-back,
but even the mules found it hard to keep their footing, and one in
the battery fell and was killed. The first of the naval 12-pounders,
too, had overturned on its way up and caused no little trouble. On
January 30, the cavalry pushed out far to the west in a reconnaissance,
the object of which was to distract the attention of the Boers, but
they saw little of the enemy. The troops at Chieveley, to keep up the
mystification, demonstrated at their end of the line and shelled the
Boer works at Colenso.


The camp of the 3rd King's Royal Rifles on the evening of February 4.]

[Sidenote: Plan of attack on Vaal Krantz.]

[Sidenote: Lie of the Land.]

[Sidenote: [FEB. 4-5, 1900.]

The serious attack, however, was to be made from near Potgieter's
Drift. Between Spion Kop, to the west of the drift, and Doorn Kloof,
a yet higher summit which rose from the Tugela to the east, ran a
comparatively low ridge, fronting Spearman's Hill and Zwart Kop. The
left and western end of the ridge, known as Brakfontein, commanded
the broad tongue of land which ran up from Potgieter's Drift in the
direction of Ladysmith. It was strongly defended by four lines of Boer
trenches, so constructed as to give complete cover against the British
fire. Though demonstrations had been made against it during the week
of battles, it had been found too strong for serious attack. But the
right and eastern end of the ridge, known as Vaal Krantz, and rising
just above the curve of the easternmost of the two inverted ⋃'s which
the Tugela hereabouts describes, was not so strong. It was a bare,
rocky, razor-backed ridge with comparatively flat ground to the east,
over which ran a road to Ladysmith. Still further to the east rose
Doorn Kloof, as it was somewhat incorrectly called, Doorn Kop being the
real name, the highest mountain on the Tugela line and also the most
irregular in outline--a picturesque tangle of peaks and watercourses
and wooded valleys, affording the best of shelter to the Boers. Against
Vaal Krantz General Buller determined to make his real effort; while
once more demonstrating in the direction of Brakfontein. On February 4,
instructions were issued to the leading officers. The Brigade to which
General Wynne had just been appointed was to make the demonstration
against Brakfontein, supported by General Coke's Brigade, by thirty-six
field guns, the howitzers, and the position guns. The artillery was
gradually to withdraw during the demonstration, and to come into action
against Vaal Krantz. General Clery's Division, composed of the Second
Brigade under General Hildyard and the Fifth Brigade under General
Hart, with the Fourth Brigade under General Lyttelton temporarily
attached, was to take position halfway up the eastern inverted ⋃, as if
it intended to join in the attack on Brakfontein, but instead of doing
so was at the appointed moment to build a new bridge over the Tugela
and advance against Vaal Krantz. General Lyttelton was to storm this
position after a thorough artillery preparation, when the guns were to
follow him and take post on Vaal Krantz ridge, while the First Cavalry
Brigade under General Burn Murdoch, composed of the 1st Dragoons, 13th
and 14th Hussars, and A Battery of Horse Artillery, was to press up the
road which ran under the Vaal Krantz ridge towards Ladysmith, breaking
in upon the Boer rear. Lord Dundonald with the rest of the mounted men
was to guard the British right from any counter-attack. Such was the
plan, and it offered good promise of success. Now for the execution.



[Sidenote: Another crossing of the Tugela.]

On the 4th the troops began to move. Generals Hart and Hildyard crossed
from the British left to the right; General Lyttelton withdrew from One
Tree Hill and was replaced by Wynne; in all directions great clouds
of dust rose from the rough tracks, indicating to the eyes of the
expectant Boers the march of thousands of men. With dawn of the 5th the
cavalry struck its camp on the left and also moved off--the squadrons
at a walk. Pontoon bridges already spanned the Tugela to the east of
Potgieter's Drift, allowing men readily to cross from the neighbourhood
of One Tree Hill to the tongue of land enclosed by the river which
runs up to Vaal Krantz. Yet another bridge was to be built at Munger's
Drift, on the further side of the tongue, to allow the passage of
troops from this tongue to the northern bank of the Tugela. The
engineers with the pontoon train were ready, waiting to get to their
work as soon as the demonstration against Brakfontein fully occupied
the attention of the Boers.



F. W. Burton.]


During the action at Vaal Krantz, the balloon came under heavy fire,
and had to be retired out of range by means of the rope which holds it

[Sidenote: Demonstration towards Brakfontein.]

[Sidenote: FEB. 5, 1900.] The Artillery get into Action.]

[Sidenote: [FEB. 5, 1900.]

The morning was hot and misty, and not till after 7 a.m. could the
battle begin. Then the six batteries of field artillery deployed
in front of One Tree Hill and opened a vigorous fire upon a quite
invisible enemy. There was nothing to aim at except the Boer trenches,
which appeared, as usual, untenanted. The enemy were grimly watching,
with orders not to return a shot till the British infantry approached
within 500 yards. Next, two battalions, the York and Lancasters and the
South Lancashires, extended and moved forward towards Brakfontein in a
long thin line of brown dots, followed by the batteries in succession.
"Round the guns the long thin lines split and joined together again
in front and went on," writes Mr. Atkins. "Here and there the lines
were thick where the men had not yet had room to extend. Officers
blew their whistles and threw their arms apart, and the knotted part
of the line moved crabwise until the proper intervals were observed."
Gradually the advance developed till the Boers began to feel real alarm
for Brakfontein. The infernal thunder of the field guns and 4·7's,
which had now joined in the game, echoed up through the valleys and
reverberated among the mountain heights. And then at last the enemy's
guns began to reply. These were barely a dozen in number, but they
were well-placed; on Doorn Kloof was a huge 6-inch Creusot, which did
not as yet disclose its presence; on the eastern slope of Spion Kop
were two Krupp field guns, and at other points along the line were
the much dreaded "Pom-Poms." Towards ten o'clock all the smaller Boer
weapons began to fire; columns of dust spurted suddenly up beside the
British batteries, telling that the enemy shot true; Maxim shells and
shrapnel bullets lashed the surface of the veldt around them. But the
gunners fired stolidly and steadily, and, as on many other occasions,
the Boer projectiles caused trivial loss. The British howitzers now
opened, hurling into the clouds from their squat throats the 50-lb.
lyddite shells, which, when they fell, burst with a fearful concussion,
tearing men in pieces. A correspondent with the Boers notes that in
one case the upper and lower parts of one body were found no less than
100 feet apart. For some hours the shells fell on Brakfontein at the
rate of ten a minute, but, wonderful to relate, the Boer casualties
were by no means large. To direct the British fire the war balloon was
sent up and information as to the enemy's whereabouts was transmitted
from the observer in the car by telephone. This, by the way, was the
second balloon to be employed by General Buller's army; the first had
been damaged by Boer shrapnel, and eventually torn against rocks and
rendered useless during the Spion Kop week.

And now it seemed to the Boers that once more victory was falling
to them. The British attack was distinctly relaxing; battery after
battery could be seen retiring in perfect order, crossing the Tugela
by the pontoon bridge and moving off to the right. The enemy did not
at once seize the fact that all this sound and fury veiled a mere
demonstration, and that a withdrawal had been ordered from the first.
The Boer guns redoubled their fire, and elicited a vigorous return from
the heavy naval weapons on Zwart Kop, which were unmasked suddenly by
felling trees in front of them.


[From photos by a British officer.



Officers and correspondents watching the effects of the fire. The smoke
from bursting shells is seen on the distant hill.]

[Sidenote: FEB. 5, 1900.] A Brilliantly-managed Demonstration.]

The engineers at Munger's Drift had got to work upon their bridge as
the booming of the bombardment began. The Boers were not long in seeing
them, and opened upon them a rifle and cannon fire which wounded eight
men. In thirty minutes the task was accomplished with all the coolness
and method which the Royal Engineers invariably displayed under fire.
All was ready for the real attack upon Vaal Krantz, and at once General
Lyttelton's Brigade crossed the river and extended, while battery by
battery the guns stole off from in front of Brakfontein and deployed
to support the infantry on the right. The withdrawal was effected in
superb style; at intervals of ten minutes the six field batteries and
the howitzers retreated, and, as they went, the shrapnel from the Boer
guns rained round them. "Forward trotted the teams with the limbers
for one battery, the unflinching gunners meanwhile loading and firing
to the last minute," writes Mr. Burleigh. "When all was in readiness,
the guns moved off in perfect alignment, the six upon one axle, as if
on show parade. And yet it was deadly war, for the Boer shells were
falling and tearing up the ground upon all sides.... The last three
to be withdrawn were ammunition waggons. All the wounded and left
material were placed very deliberately upon the two which had teams.
For five minutes they waited, putting things to rights and rearranging
harness, under a rainstorm of shells. Then they walked off the field,
followed by shells, step by step." "Was there ever anything finer than
British gunnery or so extravagantly dangerous?" was the reflection
of another correspondent at this wonderful spectacle. Even the third
ammunition waggon, the horses of which had been killed or wounded, was
not abandoned. The gunners ran it back by hand and so saved it from
capture. The ground was open and there was no cover of any kind, yet
the casualties in the batteries were only about fifteen.


S. Paget.]


Gunners of the 78th Battery recovering a limber under a heavy fire.]

It now remained to bring back General Wynne's two battalions from their
yet closer contact with the enemy. They had reached a point only 1,200
yards from the nearest Boer works at Brakfontein, and as the officers'
whistles blew and the line of khaki-clad men leapt up from the ground,
the enemy at last opened a fierce, spluttering rifle fire. Yet again
the casualties were not heavy, though the running of the gauntlet of
that storm of fire from invisible marksmen for about 1,000 yards must
have been a grim experience. The total loss in the two battalions was
about fifty killed and wounded. The retirement of our men gave scope
for the usual Boer legends. Some professed that our infantry had fled
in panic, while the field glasses of an American correspondent with
the Boers were so powerful that they revealed to him desperate efforts
on the part of our officers to check the flight and to persuade the
men to advance. Whence he argued that Thomas Atkins "was beginning to
funk it." Had he only been able to see into General Buller's mind he
would have known otherwise. In fact, this demonstration was brilliantly
managed with insignificant loss of life--no small achievement against
such an enemy as the Boers.

[Sidenote: [FEB. 5, 1900.]

[Sidenote: Bombardment of Vaal Krantz.]

Soon after noon the batteries began the bombardment of Vaal Krantz, and
all the heavy guns joined in the infernal concert. Never in this war
had there been such an artillery display before. The naval guns and
5-inch siege pieces divided their attention between Vaal Krantz and
the dongas under Doorn Kloof, where the Boer guns, from their higher
altitude, had the distinct advantage; the 12-pounders and mountain
guns fired wholly at the tangle of watercourses under Doorn Kloof;
the field batteries and howitzers concentrated their efforts against
Vaal Krantz. The slopes and ridge of that eminence were torn with
projectiles of all kinds; the usual method being first to fire a couple
of lyddite shells and then a half-dozen of shrapnel in a terrific
volley. Not a living being should have been left on the hill if the
theories of artillerists were correct. But in actual fact the execution
was by no means what was expected. A good many Boers were killed and
wounded, but a number of determined men still held their ground and did
not flinch. A Boer correspondent tells us:--"Scattered about, crouching
low among the boulders, and in the innumerable tiny ravines, the Boers,
with the phlegm of their race, patiently endured the storm and waited
for Tommy Atkins to come within rifle range. The boulders which covered
them were shattered and splintered by the iron hail, but the Boers did
not budge. It is really marvellous how the burghers manage to fight
effectively while keeping so perfectly concealed. A wounded English
officer, who was brought into the laager after the fight, told me that
the men who carried him off the field were the first Boers he had
seen. During the fight he had not caught a glimpse of a single man."
Some idea of the nature of the artillery fire concentrated upon this
point may be gathered from the fact that this correspondent picked up a
double handful of shrapnel bullets in a space only 50 feet square.


[Photo by Middlebrook.


The puff of smoke on the distant hill shows where a Boer magazine was
exploded--it is believed, by a British shell.]


[Photo by Capt. Foot.


This photograph was taken under fire during the battle of Vaal Krantz,
and shows the Brakfontein position in the distance. The men in the
foreground are awaiting the order to advance.]

[Sidenote: Infantry storm the height.]

[Sidenote: FEB. 5, 1900.] Capture of the Ridge.]

From Zwart Kop the Vaal Krantz ridge was seen to be veiled in the dust
and smoke thrown up by the bursting shells, and it was thought--and
with good reason, as afterwards appeared, notwithstanding the Boer
correspondent's tale of unflinching burghers--that the greater part of
the enemy's force had retired from the hill. The artillery preparations
had been completed as never before; the time had come for the infantry
to storm the position. The 1st Durham Light Infantry on the left,
and the 3rd King's Royal Rifles on the right accordingly extended and
pushed forward under a sharp, enfilading rifle fire from the dongas
below Doorn Kloof, and under a hail of bullets from the Boer guns'
shrapnel. Unshaken, they pressed steadily on, availing themselves of
every inch of cover--now vanishing from view as they sank down behind
the ant heaps, now rising and rushing forward in a wavy line. They
reached the foot of the smoking ridge, breasted it, and with a cheer
gained the Boer trenches, from which the enemy fled precipitately,
leaving only half-a-dozen armed Kaffirs to fight to the last. The
Kaffirs were shot down, though not until one of them, who was wounded
and who had been spared, had put a bullet through a British officer's
wrist. Their presence showed that the Boers were ready without scruple
to arm and employ black men against whites.

As the storming of Vaal Krantz began there was an exciting episode,
a Boer "Pom-Pom" galloping from Vaal Krantz towards the Doorn Kloof
dongas across open ground. The British artillery aimed at it shell
after shell, but, so hard is a fast-moving object to hit at uncertain
ranges, that the gun and its team escaped injury and went to earth in a
donga, amidst a cloud of smoke from bursting shells.


[Photo by Lieut. Salmond.


This photograph shows the Durhams in the act of passing one of the
field guns. It was taken under fire, and is a quite typical view of a
modern battlefield--the infantry advancing in open order, the gunners
taking what shelter their gun affords. Even the insignificant size of
the figures, especially of those near the trees in the middle distance,
lost as they are in the expanse of landscape, is quite characteristic.
Except for the noise, and the occasional dropping of a wounded man, a
spectator would hardly know that anything serious was going on.]

[Sidenote: Difficulty of holding the position.]

About 4 p.m. the eastern end of Vaal Krantz was in British possession.
But the Boers still held trenches along the western end, while
from their positions on and under Doorn Kloof they could direct an
enfilading fire upon General Lyttelton's Brigade. It had been intended
to move the British artillery on to the ridge, but this was now found
to be impossible. In the first place, the ridge itself was razor-edged,
steep, and rocky, so that guns could not be handled upon it; in the
second place, beyond it, but within easy rifle range, was a second
ridge of even greater strength, still in the hands of the Boers. Thus
the gunners would be too close to the enemy for the safe working of
their guns, and the episode of Colonel Long's artillery at Colenso had
shown that it was not good to be too close to the Boer marksmen. The
long grass, too, on the sides of the ridge had been set on fire, and
the dense volumes of smoke which this caused would have been a further
obstacle to the gunners. The A Horse Artillery Battery was, however,
sent forward, and it shelled the ridges held by the enemy. Towards
evening the Boers delivered a vigorous counter attack, endeavouring to
dislodge the British force from Vaal Krantz, but General Lyttelton's
battalions, reinforced by the 2nd Devons from General Hildyard's
Brigade, beat off the attempt with little difficulty, though it was
found impossible to hold the eastern end of the ridge.

[Sidenote: [FEB. 5-6, 1900.]

[Sidenote: Disappearing guns.]

The night of the 5th was spent by the British troops in entrenching the
position they had won, and providing cover against the enemy's shell
fire. The Boers, on their part, were busy concentrating men from the
east and the west to meet further attacks, and were mounting their
6-inch Creusots on the summit of Doorn Kloof. General Joubert's whole
army was rapidly gathering to drive back the bold assailants, who
had effected a lodgment in the centre. During the night skirmishing
proceeded between the outposts, and with dawn the Boers opened a heavy
fire upon Vaal Krantz and the British camps to the south of the Tugela.
Several of the shells from the 6-inch guns on Doorn Kloof actually
burst within a few yards of the British headquarters. Efforts were
made to silence these inconveniently long-range weapons, but without
success; and though, in the expressive words of a correspondent, the
whole ground round these guns smoked with exploding shells like a lime
kiln, the weapons were never hit or disabled. They were mounted on the
disappearing principle, and their ugly muzzles only showed for a few
seconds on the sky-line, vanishing when their messages of destruction
were sped.

[Illustration: O. Eckhardt.] [After a sketch by E. Prater.



[Photo by C. Knight, Aldershot.


A short sketch of Major-General Lyttelton's military career is given on
page 84. He took a distinguished part in the actions during the "week
of battles" before Spion Kop, and commanded the attacking force at Vaal

[Sidenote: Renewed attacks.]

[Sidenote: [FEB. 6, 1900.]

To support General Lyttelton's men on Vaal Krantz, General Hildyard
had already advanced to the foot of the hill, and held his Brigade in
readiness to move at a moment's notice. Here, as before Spion Kop,
and in precisely the same manner, the British advance had come to a
standstill. Before, it was Spion Kop that flanked and enfiladed our
line of attack; now, it was Doorn Kloof, and, unless this frowning
mountain could be stormed, there was little prospect of any success. So
councils of war deliberated, while a protracted, aimless battle raged
along the front. On the afternoon of February 6, the Boers suddenly
attacked Vaal Krantz and gained some ground; for whole minutes, indeed,
it appeared as though the hill might be lost. But General Lyttelton
speedily rallied his men, and with the Durhams and King's Royal Rifles
regained the ground that had been lost by a brilliant bayonet charge.
During the day a fresh pontoon bridge was built just under Vaal
Krantz, so as to give easier access to that fiercely disputed point.
At nightfall General Hildyard's men replaced General Lyttelton's weary
battalions, and yet more trenches were constructed. In the darkness the
Boers made a third attack upon the hill, but as before were repulsed
with some trouble.


[Sidenote: Council of War.]

Unless a resolute advance was made, Vaal Krantz was an utterly useless
possession. It was exposed to fire from three sides; it was not a
good artillery position; it had little natural strength; and it was
now ascertained to be very far from being the "key to Ladysmith." The
original intention, to follow up its seizure by a flank attack upon
Brakfontein, had to be abandoned, because troops massing for such an
attack would have been exposed to a devastating artillery fire from
Doorn Kloof. The same consideration compelled the withholding of the
cavalry who were to have menaced the Boer rear. Nothing remained,
if the advance was to be pressed, but to storm the ridge which rose
behind Vaal Krantz, and to assault and capture at the same time the
lofty eminence of Doorn Kloof. A council of war was held to determine
the course which should be taken. General Hart alone--"No-Bobs" as his
soldiers called him, from the fact that he never bent his head before
the storm of bullets--was for such an assault, which, it was allowed,
must cost the lives or limbs of thousands of men. He was for going
forward at all risks, and for storming Doorn Kloof. But the other
officers were against so bold, so desperate, a course. They were for
withdrawing and trying yet another line of approach to Ladysmith. To
this General Buller was himself inclined, in view of the frightful
difficulties of the country before him. Accordingly, a general retreat
was once more ordered; General Hildyard's Brigade was to evacuate Vaal
Krantz that night--the night of the 7th--and, with the rest of the
army, to fall back to Springfield and Chieveley.

[Sidenote: Evacuation of the ridge.]

[Sidenote: FEB. 5-7, 1900.] The "Key to Ladysmith" lost.]

[Sidenote: Losses.]

The retreat was accomplished with perfect order and success. General
Hildyard's troops fell back with all their wounded; once more the
Tugela was recrossed, and the bridges taken to pieces. The enemy
offered no other molestation than a few shells, but watched with
exultation the long lines of troops and waggons moving slowly eastwards
all the 8th. There were some among the Boers who supposed that the
relief of Ladysmith had been finally abandoned, and in the British
force there was at least talk of such a dreadful possibility. The
soldiers were gloomy and dispirited, yet they still had confidence
in themselves and in their commanders, notwithstanding the errors of
the past month. Only two brigades out of the five composing General
Buller's army had been seriously engaged, and all longed for a real
trial of strength. The British losses in the fighting at Vaal Krantz
were by no means heavy. The killed were 25, wounded 344, and missing
5. The Boers on their part owned to 21 killed and 31 wounded, but
their losses were probably nearly equal to those of the British, with
a larger proportion of killed, owing to the effect of the tremendous
shell-fire directed upon Brakfontein and Vaal Krantz. According to Boer
accounts, no fewer than 5,000 projectiles were thrown against these two
positions by the British guns. Seldom have more shots been fired with
less effect.


[Photo by Knight, Aldershot.


Commanding the Eleventh Brigade of the South African Field Force,
was born in Ireland in 1846; joined the 51st Light Infantry in
1863; Adjutant, 1868-71; Superintendent of Signalling in the Jowaki
Expedition, 1877; and served in the Afghan War of 1878-9; employed on
special service in South Africa in 1881; commanded the 4th Battalion
Egyptian Army, 1883-5; and has since held appointments as Deputy or
Assistant-Adjutant-General at the Curragh, at Malta, and at Aldershot.]



[Sidenote: Disappointment in Britain.]

The repulse at Vaal Krantz--for defeat it could scarcely be
termed--marked the nadir of British fortunes in South Africa. It was
the third occasion on which a British army had attempted to fight its
way to Ladysmith and had failed. It was the climax of a long series of
reverses--Stormberg, Magersfontein, Colenso, Spion Kop, and now Vaal
Krantz--the darkest hour before the dawn. Yet already the preparations
for the new campaign, which was to change disaster into triumph, were
completed. By a dramatic coincidence, as General Buller's troops
tramped sadly back to Chieveley, Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener were
speeding on their way to Modder River Camp to inaugurate the invasion
of the Free State and to effect the rescue of Kimberley. Orders were
forthwith sent by the Field-Marshal to General Buller, to relieve
Ladysmith at all costs. The load of responsibility was lifted from
his shoulders, and he proved in the weeks to come that he had laid to
heart the lessons of his costly experience. In England, the news of
Vaal Krantz only accentuated the gloom which Spion Kop and the earlier
defeats had caused. It was feared that General Buller's task was an
impossible one, and that Ladysmith, exhausted by hunger and ravaged
by disease, must, notwithstanding its superb defence, succumb to the
grimly-resolute foe. Yet England still persevered--

"Baffled and beaten back, she works on still:
Weary and sick of soul, she works the more,
Sustained by her indomitable will,"

though face to face with "the sense that every struggle brought