[Footnote 284: See maps Nos. 9 and 17.]
[Sidenote: 10th Jan. 1900. Lord Roberts lands. Situation at that date.]
Field-Marshal Lord Roberts landed at Cape Town on the 10th January, 1900, and assumed the supreme command.
The situation with which he was confronted will be more easily realised if a brief summary be here given of the facts as they now presented themselves at each of the several widely separated points of contact between the opposed forces.
[Sidenote: French before Colesberg.]
[Sidenote: Gatacre at Sterkstroom.]
[Sidenote: Boers in front of him.]
[Sidenote: Mafeking and Kimberley.]
As described in detail in the last chapter, the Boer commandos in front of General French having fallen back on Colesberg at the end of December, he had, on the 1st January, seized a group of hills on the south-western edge of the plain in which the town lies, and was continuing his tactics of active defence with constant success, save that a night attack made by the Suffolk regiment on 6th January had been repulsed with somewhat heavy loss. The Cavalry Lieut.-General's never-ceasing energy had not only foiled the enemy in his attempt to advance into the central districts of Cape Colony, but had appreciably diminished the pressure in other portions of the theatre of war. Gatacre was firmly established at Sterkstroom, with an advanced post at Cypher Gat, the main body of those fronting him remaining passively at Stormberg. A Boer commando had made a demonstration towards Molteno on 3rd January, and another party, about the same date, had driven out of Dordrecht a patrol of British mounted troops, which had occupied that place on the 23rd December. At Mafeking and Kimberley the garrisons were still gallantly holding their own against the enemy, although in the latter town the hardships of the siege were telling much on the spirits of the civilian portion of the population. In Natal the 5th division had landed; and an attack, made by the Boers on Ladysmith on 6th January, had been repulsed after a severe struggle in which the fighting efficiency of the British troops was shown to be unimpaired. Yet disease, coupled with losses in action, was beginning seriously to reduce their effective strength and their capacity for active co-operation in the field with the relief force.
[Sidenote: In Natal.]
[Sidenote: Cape Colony. 1. With Grobelaar at and near Stormberg. 2. With Schoeman at Colesberg. 3. Reinforcements on road. 4. With Cronje. 5. With Ferreira before Kimberley. 6. With Snyman before Mafeking, and in the west. 7. Under Botha fronting Plumer.]
The Boer scheme for the whole war still centred on the capture of Ladysmith. For the siege of that town, and for the repulse of the British relieving force, at least 21,000 burghers appear to have been still employed under the supreme command of Joubert. In the western theatre Grobelaar had probably 4,000 men under his control at Stormberg and in the adjacent areas: facing French at Colesberg were some 5,000 men, with Schoeman as leader; Boer reinforcements, gathered from various sources, amounting in all to some 2,000, were on their way, or would shortly be on their way, to that threatened point. The strength of Cronje's commando at Scholtz Nek may be estimated at 8,000, while 3,000 men, under Wessels and Ferreira, were investing Kimberley. Snyman had under his orders some 2,500, most of whom were encircling Mafeking, although a few detachments patrolled and dominated those western districts of Cape Colony which lie to the north of the Orange river. North of the frontier of the colony about 1,000 men, under Commandant Botha, opposed Plumer's efforts to relieve Baden-Powell's garrison from southern Rhodesia. Thus the total effective strength of the Boer forces actually in the field at this time may be approximately set down as nearly 46,500 men. Of these probably 1,000 were Natal rebels, and 5,000 British subjects belonging to Cape Colony, the latter being mainly distributed between the Stormberg, Colesberg, Kimberley, and Mafeking commandos. Of the Boer leaders, some, notably De Wet, had realised the folly of remaining on the defensive, but Joubert, whose appreciation of the conditions of the contest can be judged from his circular letter printed at the close of this chapter, was opposed to any forward movement, and Joubert's views prevailed. Sir Redvers Buller personally, although the Field Intelligence staff in South Africa did not agree with his estimate, assessed the strength of the enemy in the field at far higher figures than those above given; and on 9th January he telegraphed to the Secretary of State that there was reason to believe that it was not less than 120,000 men, of whom 46,000 were in Natal.
[Footnote 285: The views of the Field Intelligence department as to the actual strength of the enemy may be gathered from Lord Roberts' report to the War Office on 12th January, that in his opinion the total strength against us had never been more than 80,000 men (telegram to Secretary of State for War).]
[Sidenote: Buller's memorandum for Lord Roberts of Dec. 28th/99.]
Lord Roberts received on landing a memorandum, written by Sir R. Buller at Frere camp on 28th December, the following extracts from which will serve to explain the views of Sir Redvers:
"The whole Tugela river is a strong position; there is no question of turning it; the only open question is whether one part of it is easier to get through than another. I tried Colenso, because, though unaided I could not have forced the defile north of Colenso, it was the only place in the whole line in which Sir George White's force could aid me in my advance from the Tugela. I am now waiting for reinforcements, and am going to try and force a passage at Potgieters Drift. If I can find water to use in the subsequent advance, I think I ought to just pull through: but the difficulties are very great. If I succeed, it should be about the 12th January, and if then I join hands with Sir G. White, I think together we shall be able to force the enemy to retire and so free Sir G. White's force."
After stating that, in the event of success in the relief of Ladysmith, he hoped to be able to spare a division from the Natal army, and after referring Lord Roberts to instructions issued from time to time to Sir F. Forestier-Walker as regards the general plan of his operations in the western theatre, Sir R. Buller continued:
"You will see that my original idea was to bring Methuen back, but as his task has grown harder I have proposed a railway to Jacobsdal and thence to Bloemfontein. I think that for many reasons you would find such a line of advance easier and quicker than one up the main railway. Up that line the enemy will have a rail behind them, and will tear it up as you advance, and occupy positions that you must attack and from which they can escape. If I could have had my own way on arrival I should have pushed through Bethulie to Bloemfontein, but the fat was in the fire before I got out. Kimberley I believe will be saved. Ladysmith is a terrible nut to crack, but I hope it will (? be relieved). Then I would propose to attack Bloemfontein from Kimberley, and I think an army holding Bloemfontein based on Kimberley will be better off than one which holds Bloemfontein but has allowed Kimberley to be again invested. Time, after all, is in our favour. The Boers cannot reproduce their horses which are being used up, and if they lose their mobility, they lose their power. I believe that French and Gatacre are strong enough to prevent the spread of disaffection, and that when the 7th division arrives they will join hands, and the disaffected Dutch will go back to their homes."
[Sidenote: Sir Redvers telegraphs, Jan. 10th, 1900, that he is about to try to reach Ladysmith by Potgieters or Trickhardts.]
This written memorandum was supplemented by a telegram, in which General Buller reported that he was leaving Chieveley the next day (11th January), and would operate towards Ladysmith from Potgieters Drift or Trickhardts Drift. From the larger point of view Lord Roberts would have preferred that the forward movement in Natal should have been delayed a little longer; but he felt that he was not in a position to judge how far Sir R. Buller was committed to an immediate stroke, or whether the situation before him or Ladysmith itself demanded prompt action. He decided, therefore, to give General Buller an absolutely free hand to carry out the operations he had planned.
[Footnote 286: See p. 461, Vol. I., Minutes of Evidence before War Commission.]
[Sidenote: Lord Roberts prepares to carry out his plan of campaign.]
Before he left England Lord Roberts had determined on the line for the advance of the army which he had to command in person. Though in detail his scheme was somewhat modified afterwards, he began to prepare for the execution of it as soon as he had landed. For reasons which will be more fully recorded in his own words, he had decided to choose the route along the western line of railway, on which side alone a bridge over the Orange river was in his possession. In order to possess the freedom of movement essential to the execution of any sound schemes of war, he determined to make such arrangements as would enable him to cast himself loose from the railway and to march across the Free State eastward. His first idea was to strike the central railway as close as possible to Springfontein junction. He believed that the Boers would thus be compelled to evacuate their positions at Stormberg and Colesberg, and to abandon to him the Norval's Pont and Bethulie bridges over the river. The Commander-in-Chief was convinced, moreover, that this course, by menacing Bloemfontein, would oblige the enemy to relax his hold on the Modder river and Natal. But, on the 27th January, increasing anxiety as to Kimberley led him to decide that the prompt relief of that town had become necessary. This involved, not a change of plan, but merely a modification of details. The initial march eastward was still to be carried out, but as soon as Cronje's flank had thus been effectively passed, a wheel northward would bring the British troops athwart the Boer line of communication, and, when the passage of the Modder was made, the way to Kimberley would be opened. After relieving Kimberley the Field-Marshal's movements would depend on the situation, as it might then present itself, but should such a march appear possible, he determined to make straight for Bloemfontein. The occupation of that capital would, he thought, make it easy to re-establish direct railway communication with Cape Colony through Norval's Pont and Bethulie. The considerations which guided Lord Roberts to the adoption of this plan, as finally formulated, were explained by him in detail nearly three years later to the War Commission in the following terms:
[Footnote 287: Telegram, Lord Roberts to Secretary of State, 26th January, 1900.]
[Footnote 288: Telegram, Lord Roberts to Secretary of State, 27th January, 1900.]
[Footnote 289: Telegram to Secretary of State, dated 30th January, 1900.]
[Footnote 290: Minutes of Evidence of War Commission, Vol. I., pp. 460-1.]
"Before leaving England I had practically determined that the advance must be through the Orange Free State, but by one, not by three lines through Cape Colony, as was originally intended; and the western line commended itself to me for the following reasons:
[Footnote 291: This would seem to be a misapprehension. Sir R. Buller's intention had been to advance by Bethulie (see page 411).]
"1. It was on that line only that we had possession of a railway bridge over the Orange river:
"2. It was by that line only that Kimberley could be relieved in time, and had Kimberley fallen, Mafeking must have fallen also:
"3. It was by that line only I could deal with the Boer forces in detail, and defeat Cronje before he could be reinforced.
[Sidenote: Lord Roberts' explanation why he chose the route he took.]
"Both the Norval's Pont and Bethulie bridges were in the hands of the enemy, and by the time I had forced them back into the Orange Free State, and had been able to repair either of these bridges (which I was certain would be destroyed, and which actually happened), and I had occupied Bloemfontein, I should have between me and Kimberley, not only Cronje, but the whole of the Boer force which was not engaged in Natal. I should have then been obliged either to march across the veld against this increased force, or to have transported the greater portion of my troops by rail to the Modder River camp (if the railway could have been kept intact, which was hardly likely, seeing how weakly it was necessarily guarded and the number of Boers who would have been available to destroy it), and then to turn the Magersfontein position. To carry out either of these operations, and for the onward advance on an extended front to Pretoria, at least the same amount of transport would have been required as was needed for the march from Modder River camp to Bloemfontein. But this would not have been forthcoming had I adopted the railway line to Bloemfontein and not organised the system of transport directly I arrived at the Cape.
* * * * *
"I felt convinced that an advance on Bloemfontein must draw the Free Staters back from Kimberley and Natal, and that the occupation of their capital would render the Boer positions to the south of the Orange river untenable. To carry out this scheme, as large a force as could be collected was necessary, as the enemy had through railway communication (about two days' journey) between Natal and Bloemfontein, and could transfer a considerable portion of their forces from one of the theatres of the war to the other in infinitely less time than we could. Moreover, rapidity was essential in concentrating this force and making an advance towards Bloemfontein, as Ladysmith and Kimberley were, so far as I know, only provisioned for a very limited time."
[Sidenote: His reason for deciding against the railway through Jacobsdal.]
It will be seen that Lord Roberts rejected Sir R. Buller's suggestion that a railway should be made through Jacobsdal to Bloemfontein. Colonel Girouard had estimated that this line could be constructed at the rate of a mile a day without interfering with the traffic for the supply of the troops, and, in an offer made to the Home Government by a private firm, hope had been held out that the work might be carried through at the rate of five or six miles a day, or in other words, that, assuming fighting conditions to be favourable, the whole would be finished in about a month. The latter estimate seemed altogether too sanguine. Moreover, the practical difficulty of guarding those employed on the required task from the raids of a mobile enemy would have been very great. Finally, the chance of surprise would have been lost, and, hard to secure as secrecy in, military projects had been found in South Africa, Lord Roberts was certain that to obtain decisive results the complete concealment of his plan of operations was essential.
[Sidenote: Reinforcements from home.]
Great exertions had been made during the period of his voyage to South Africa, both by the Government and by private individuals, to provide the troops needed for the success of these schemes. He was informed of the result of these exertions by the following telegram from Lord Lansdowne of 9th January:
"Please let us know what you think about further reinforcements as soon as you have thoroughly examined the situation. We have arranged for the following reinforcements in addition to the 7th Division, viz.:
"1. Four brigade divisions Field Artillery, embarking as soon after the 20th January as possible.
"2. One volunteer company for each line battalion, amounting in all to about 7,000.
"3. The City of London regiment of Volunteers, and the battery of the Honourable Artillery Company.
[Footnote 292: The City of London Imperial Volunteers was formed as a special regiment under a Royal Warrant, dated 24th December, 1899, and organised under a Special Army Order, dated 6th January, 1900. The regiment was raised by the Lord Mayor and his committee under instructions informally given between the 16th December and the date of the Order of 6th January, which embodied these instructions.
The employment of the Service companies of the Volunteers was regulated by a Special Army Order, dated 2nd January, 1900.]
"4. One Field Artillery battery of Volunteers from Elswick.
"5. Colonial contingents, inclusive of four artillery batteries, mostly mounted, and amounting in all probably to about 3,000.
"6. Seven Militia battalions.
"Of these some have already started. As to the Imperial Yeomanry, it is not yet possible to say what number will be raised, but 4,000 at least will probably be the total, and the material, though raw, is good. We have also mobilised a cavalry brigade which could embark at once. If, however, it is sent, only the remainder of the Household cavalry and five line regiments will be left at home. Do you wish to have it? We are also mobilising the 8th division, which could begin to embark about the 20th February, but if it goes there will only be seven infantry battalions left, and unless the 8th division is urgently required this reduction of the home garrison does not appear desirable, in view of the general outlook. It might answer your purpose if we sent for the lines of communication eight or more Militia battalions instead."
[Footnote 293: The original proposal to organise regiments of Yeomanry for service in South Africa was made by Lord Chesham and other Yeomanry officers in October, 1899. Sanction for the formation of the corps of "The Imperial Yeomanry" was given by Royal Warrant, dated 24th December, 1899. Under a Special Army Order of 4th January, 1900, a committee of Yeomanry officers was constituted to administer the force. This committee was dissolved in May, 1900, the administration being then taken over by the War Office. The first contingent, which went out early in 1900, numbered about 10,000. A second contingent went in the spring of 1901, numbering about 17,000; and a third contingent, of about 7,000, in the winter of 1901-1902.]
To this telegram Lord Roberts replied on the 12th January:
"As to reinforcements that may be required, I am a little diffident about giving a definite opinion until matters still further develop and the result is known of Buller's operations to relieve Ladysmith. I trust that if White and Buller succeed, without very heavy losses, in joining hands, it will not be necessary to send the 8th division or another brigade of cavalry. For the lines of communication I shall require eight Militia battalions, in addition to the seven already detailed, but I should prefer thirteen Militia battalions, and if Lord Cromer agrees, the two Highland battalions which are now in Egypt, two of the Militia battalions to be sent there, taking the places of the latter. I hope, with the regular forces already under orders, the 4,000 Imperial Yeomanry, and the volunteer battalion, and the Colonial details referred to in your telegram, that the force in South Africa will be sufficient, and am most reluctant to request the despatch of more troops from home."
[Sidenote: Large numbers of mounted corps raised.]
Immediately on his arrival the Field Marshal strove to systematise and support the efforts of the many South African colonists who were pressing to be allowed to take up arms in self-defence. Their embodiment had already been sanctioned by Sir R. Buller and approved by the Home Government. Colonel Brabant's corps was expanded into two regiments, and their leader appointed a brigadier-general to command a Colonial division, composed of his own two regiments (Brabant's Horse), the Cape Mounted Rifles, Kaffrarian Rifles, Border Horse, and Queenstown Rifle Volunteers. Two new mounted corps, entitled Roberts' Horse and Kitchener's Horse, were raised, besides numerous local defence corps, such as Nesbitt's and Bayley's from the eastern province, and Orpen's from the Hopetown district. The mounted troops at Lord Roberts' disposal were further substantially increased by the formation of mounted companies from all battalions of the line serving in Cape Colony. By this means sufficient units were formed to make up eight additional mounted infantry battalions, but, owing to the difficulty in procuring remounts, the greater part of these did not receive their horses until the first week of February.
[Footnote 294: It had for many years been the practice in South Africa to mount at least one company of each battalion in the command, but this had not been carried out at the commencement of the war in battalions as they arrived from England.]
[Sidenote: The transport arrangements.]
The provision of sufficient and suitable transport for the new army now being organised was a question which naturally needed the consideration of Lord Roberts and his staff. From the first, even before war was generally regarded as inevitable, the subject had been found to be beset with difficulties. The nature of the country permitted little deviation from, or modification of, that form of transport which experience has taught the dwellers in the land to adopt. The roughness of the tracks across the veld, which were given the deceptive name of roads, necessitated a particular build of vehicle, while the draught animals which could be employed were almost exclusively oxen and mules. The pace at which oxen are able to move, and the fact that they must graze in the daytime, limit the length of a march and the hours of working. Nevertheless, oxen can draw far greater loads than mules, can work over heavy ground in wet weather, and for most of the year depend for their sustenance on grazing alone. On the other hand, mules travel more quickly, and can feed at any time of the day or night, but forage for them must be carried, since grazing alone is not sufficient to keep them in working condition--and their loads must be lighter; their use, therefore, increases the amount of transport and the length of the column. With mixed transport, drawn partly by mules and partly by oxen, the daily distance is regulated by the slower animal. In ordinary circumstances mules may do sixteen to eighteen miles a day, but oxen can hardly be counted on for more than twelve for many days in succession. It was because of such considerations that Sir R. Buller reported to Lord Roberts on his arrival that "there is no such thing as a rapid advance anywhere in South Africa, except by railway."
[Footnote 295: Memorandum dated December 28th, 1899.]
[Sidenote: Difficulties in providing both kinds of transport.]
Ox-transport could only be obtained in South Africa itself. A system of contracts organised by Colonel Bridge and the officers who accompanied him had hitherto enabled all troops to be fully supplied on their arrival with such ox-transport as was necessary for them. The Bechuanaland district of Cape Colony was the best ox-wagon country, but as this was occupied by the enemy there remained only the eastern parts of the Colony upon which to draw. In default of a general application of Martial Law, "commandeering" was not possible. Prices consequently ruled high, and at one time some doubt existed whether all demands could be met. By the middle of November, the steady influx of imported mules dispelled this anxiety, and numbers in excess of the contracts were also assured. The local supply of mule-wagons could not, however, keep pace with the demand, and was supplemented by the despatch of vehicles from England. These began to arrive in December, and on the 11th January the General Officer Commanding the lines of communication was able to report to the Secretary of State that "... speaking in general terms, units of all sorts have been completed with authorised or extempore regimental transport and equipment on arrival."
[Footnote 296: Col. C. H. Bridge, Army Service Corps, took up the duties of Director of Supplies and Transport on July 30th, 1899, and held this position until the arrival of Col. W. Richardson on October 3rd.]
[Sidenote: Ox-transport, left by troops moved to Natal, available for reinforcements expected. Mule-wagons gradually received from England.]
The transference to Natal of a large part of the field force, originally destined to advance from Cape Colony, released the ox-transport prepared for those troops and left it available for the reinforcements which were on their way from England. The Transport staff had, therefore, no difficulty in providing a sufficient amount of ox-transport to meet Lord Roberts' needs. Of mules there was a large number in hand. These, for the sake of economy, had been collected in batches, at various places where they could be kept without heavy expenditure, pending the receipt of mule-wagons and harness. But although, as troops were placed under orders at home, every effort was made to provide both wagons and harness for them in advance, the supply reaching South Africa, especially of mule-harness, was necessarily intermittent. Transport and equipment for the 7th Division had been shipped from England in December, and was coming in daily. Sir F. Forestier-Walker reported on January 14th that, as far as could be foreseen, "the provision of wagons already made is much more than our known requirements," i.e., on the scale which had hitherto been accepted.
[Sidenote: System existing. "The Regimental."]
The allotment of transport which had been made prior to the Field-Marshal's arrival was based on principles worked out by the Mobilisation branch of the War Office, and embodied in the regulations entitled, "War Establishments, 1898." Under these rules the distribution was as follows:
[Footnote 297: This system was commonly termed in South Africa the "Regimental System," although the regimental transport was in fact only about one-eighth of the whole.]
(A.) Regimental transport, i.e., transport allotted to regiments and battalions, and placed under charge of an officer and small staff furnished by the unit. This was available for the general service of the station where the unit was posted. It was sub-divided into:
[Footnote 298: Para. 10A, "Instructions regarding Regimental Transport, South African Field Force," issued October, 1899.]
1. First Line Transport--for ammunition, entrenching tools, medical stores, signalling equipment, machine gun, and water-carts.
2. Second Line Transport--for regimental equipment, blankets, baggage, and rations and forage for one day or more.
(B.) The Supply Column.--An Army Service Corps organisation forming the first reserve, and carrying at least one day's ration, an emergency ration for every man, and one day's forage for every animal.
(C.) The Supply Park.--Under the supply and transport officers of the Army Service Corps. The park carried at least three days' rations and forage, but this amount could be increased as circumstances might dictate.
(D.) Auxiliary Transport.--To be composed of excess or reserve transport organised in companies under Army Service Corps officers. It was intended primarily for use on the lines of communication.
[Footnote 299: A scheme for this existed and regulations had been issued, but prior to Lord Roberts' arrival there had been no excess transport to enable the scheme to be put into operation.]
(E.) Technical Transport.--To meet the requirements of ammunition columns, Royal engineers, technical equipment, medical units, and any special purpose, such as the Naval heavy guns.
[Footnote 300: Excepting for the last-named, transport for each of these units had been issued in Cape Town, October, 1899.]
[Sidenote: Proportion drawn by oxen and mules.]
Arrangements had been made in South Africa that (A) the regimental transport and (B) the supply column should be entirely drawn by mules. The supply park (C) consisted solely of ox-wagons with spans of sixteen oxen. The remainder of the transport had partly ox and partly mule draught, although in Natal ox-transport was mainly used. Under the conditions of the local contracts all ox-wagons were grouped in sections of ten, with a conductor and sub-conductor for each section. These sections of ten were organised in sub-divisions of fifty and divisions of one hundred wagons, respectively under a sub-inspector and an inspector.
[Sidenote: Lord Roberts recasts the transport system.]
[Sidenote: S.A. Army orders of Jan. 24th, 1900, and Jan. 29th determine details of change.]
This system had the advantage that, being prescribed in the existing regulations, it was more or less familiar to staff and regimental officers; moreover, the organisation of the Army Service Corps for field service had been adapted to it. But against this had to be set the serious objection of its extravagance. Under the regulations, the transport allotted to units employed as garrisons or for other reasons remaining stationary, would be idle and wasted. Without the transport so lost the mobility needed to carry out the Commander-in-Chief's plan would be unattainable. Lord Roberts therefore decided that in order to equip his army, so as to enable it to operate with rapidity at a distance from the railway, the transport must be reorganised. The regimental mule-transport from units was to be called in and formed into transport companies, which could be attached to brigades or columns in whatever manner the circumstances of the moment required. In short, decentralisation was to be replaced by concentration of the transport for redistribution in proportion to the wants of the service. The change of system was effected successfully under the supervision of Lord Kitchener and Major-General Sir William Nicholson whose experience of similar arrangements in Egyptian and Indian campaigns were of much assistance to the Commander-in-Chief. Returns of the mule-transport in possession of units were called for, and on January 24th an Army order was published withdrawing mule-transport with certain exceptions. On the 29th January a further order was issued, giving the details of the vehicles which were to remain with units and stating how their draught was to be provided. The general transport obtained by this withdrawal was formed into companies of four sections each, each company consisting of forty-nine wagons, one Scotch cart, and a water-cart; it was calculated that one of these companies would suffice to carry the baggage and two days' supply of food and forage for an infantry brigade of four battalions or a cavalry brigade of three regiments. The ox-transport was organised in companies of one hundred wagons each, from which convoys could be formed, as required, to fulfil the functions of the supply columns of the previous system. These transport companies were placed under Army Service Corps officers, and the administration of the whole was at first undertaken by the Deputy Adjutant-General for Supplies and Transport, Colonel Richardson, who had been transferred from the lines of communication to the Headquarter staff. The general principles now adopted were that complete transport, and transport animals for certain vehicles still left in charge of units, should be placed at the disposal of the commander of any force when it was ordered to move; such transport was to remain with that force during the move, but on its completion was to be returned to the transport department, so as to be again available for whatever duty was most urgent.
[Footnote 301: The "regimental" system was, however, retained by the force under Sir R. Buller until the break up of the Natal army, in October, 1900.]
[Footnote 302: Mule companies had 520 mules; ox companies, 1,600 oxen.]
[Sidenote: Difficulties in practice.]
Some difficulties naturally arose. By the abolition of regimental transport the services of the regimental officers and non-commissioned officers hitherto employed on that duty were regained by their corps, but were lost to the transport department. The personnel of the Army Service Corps was not equal to the demands thus made upon it, and it was found necessary to allot two transport companies to one company of Army Service Corps, and to attach to these so-formed companies officers of other branches as they happened to be available. Moreover, to ensure the requisite amount of mule-transport for the combatant portion of the troops that of bearer companies and of field hospitals was cut down. In the former the number of ambulances was reduced from ten to two, and for the latter only two wagons could be allowed in place of four. On the other hand, owing to fear of a scarcity of water on the intended march, the number of water-carts with the medical units was doubled. The mule-transport was speedily assembled at the places ordered. The concentration of the ox-transport for convoy purposes took a longer time, but partly by rail and partly by march route it was completed soon enough to enable the Field-Marshal to carry out his plan of operations.
[Sidenote: Supplies on the coast ample. The difficulty of getting them forward and distributing them.]
Owing to the efforts of the Quartermaster-General's department of the War Office, a steady stream of supplies had, since the beginning of the war, been poured into the country, and had removed all anxiety as to the possibility of food or forage running short at the coast. The difficulty was the transmission of these up country simultaneously with the troops and their equipment. Arrangements were made by the railway staff which enabled sufficient quantities to be forwarded from the sea bases and to be accumulated at Orange River, De Aar, and at depôts between the Orange and Modder rivers. For the forward move into the Orange Free State two days' supplies were to be carried by the men and two days' in the mule-transport allotted to brigades; the brigade supplies were to be filled up from convoys moving in rear of the troops, and for this purpose some five hundred ox-wagons, carrying ten days' rations and forage, were assembled.
[Footnote 303: The cavalry division was accompanied by a supply park on the old system.]
[Sidenote: Separation of supply and transport.]
These changes foreshadowed the separation of supply and transport into two departments, a separation which, shortly after the advance into the Free State had begun, was carried out by the transfer of Major-General Sir W. G. Nicholson from the appointment of Military Secretary to that of Director of Transport. Colonel Richardson still continued to have charge of supplies.
[Sidenote: Increase of heavy artillery.]
Meantime, steps were taken to improve the artillery equipment of the army in South Africa. Prior to the war it had been ascertained by the Intelligence department that the Boers had in their possession several 150 m/m Creusots and a battery of 120 m/m howitzers, but the cumbersome carriages on which the former weapons were mounted had led to the belief that they were intended solely for use in the forts and positions near Pretoria and Johannesburg. The howitzers had been classified in the intelligence reports as field artillery armament, because in the year before the war the French, Austrian, and German armies had added howitzers to their field equipment. The enterprise of the Boers in bringing 150 m/m (6-in.) guns into the field at the outset of the campaign formed in a sense a new departure in modern warfare, although in 1870 fortress guns had been taken from Belfort and used in the fighting on the Lisaine. On the receipt of Sir George White's report that one of these guns had been employed against the troops at Dundee, telegraphic orders, at the suggestion of Major-General Sir John Ardagh, were sent out by the War Office to Cape Colony to insure the immediate despatch to Natal of two 6·3-in. R.M.L. howitzers, lying at King William's Town, the property of the Cape Government. The arrangements made by the Naval Commander-in-Chief for the despatch to the front of Naval contingents, placed at the disposal of the military authorities, both in the western and eastern theatres of war, a number of long-range guns which, in the skilled hands of the officers and men of the Royal Navy and Marines who accompanied them, rendered valuable service. The War Office also took immediate action to reinforce the arm. On the 9th of December a battery of four 4·7-in. Q.F. guns, manned by a company of R.G.A., was despatched from England to South Africa, together with eight 6-in. B.L. howitzers, which formed part of the approved siege train of the army. On the 22nd two companies with eight 5-in. B.L. followed. On the 22nd January two more companies with eight 4·7-in. Q.F., mounted on 6-in. howitzer carriages, were embarked for the Cape, and supplemented on the 28th by six additional guns of the same type, intended to replace any naval guns which might be showing signs of deterioration. On the 3rd of February another batch of eight 5-in. B.L. guns, accompanied by two companies R.G.A., left Southampton in order to relieve some of the naval contingents; on the previous day a battery of four 9·45-in. B.L. howitzers had been embarked with the necessary personnel. The only further additions made during the war to the heavy armament were four 6-in. howitzers sent out at Lord Roberts' request on 27th April, 1900, and two 5-in. B.L. guns despatched at the end of the same year to replace two which had become unserviceable. With the exception of the howitzers the whole of these guns were taken from forts. Carriages for them were improvised by the Ordnance department. The use by the Boers of the 37 m/m Vickers-Maxim Q.F. guns, nick-named "pom-poms" by the men, was met by the despatch of forty-nine of these weapons from England. Another important change was the introduction of a longer time-fuse for use with field guns. The regulation time-fuse at the outbreak of the war burnt in flight for twelve seconds only, suited to a range of 4,100 yards for the 15-pr. B.L. guns and 3,700 yards for the 12-pr. B.L. Experiments had been already made by the Ordnance Committee to obtain a satisfactory time-fuse effective for longer ranges, and on receipt of reports of the extreme distance at which the Boers were using their field artillery, these were rapidly pushed on, with the result that by the middle of January fuses capable of burning twenty-one seconds, corresponding to a range of 6,400 yards, were sent to South Africa.
[Footnote 304: As will be seen in the account of the siege of Ladysmith (Vol. II.), these howitzers arrived in time and proved most useful.]
[Footnote 305: It was known before the war that the Boers had purchased a considerable number of "pom-poms." The artillery authorities of the army did not at that time attach much importance to them, but, as their fire was found to produce great moral effect, guns of this type were sent out at Sir R. Buller's request.]
[Sidenote: Railway system.]
At no time was a heavier call made on the personnel and material of the Cape Government railways than during the concentration for Lord Roberts' advance into the Free State. At an early date an organisation for the control of the transport of troops and stores by rail had been instituted, and had gradually been perfected by experience. Lieutenant-Colonel Girouard, R.E., the Director of Railways, had arrived with a staff of fifteen officers at Cape Town towards the end of October, 1899, and had, under the orders of the General Officer Commanding the lines of communication, initiated a system based on the principle that it was the controlling staff's duty to keep in close touch with the permanent traffic officials of the railway and to act as intermediaries between them and the military commanders. Much to his satisfaction, the Director of Railways had found on his arrival that "all the British lines were in good working order and administered by a highly loyal, capable, and enthusiastic staff prepared for any emergency, including risks of war." In conjunction with this permanent staff, of whom Mr. C. B. Elliott was the General Manager and Mr. T. R. Price the Traffic Manager, uniformity of military administration throughout the whole railway system of Cape Colony was speedily established. The technical working of the railways was left entirely in the hands of the civil officials, supported and protected by the military controlling staff from interference by officers or men. Repairs to the line were undertaken by the railway troops of the R.E., with such of the British employés of the Orange Free State railway as had not, at the outbreak of the war, been absorbed into the permanent staff of the Cape Government railways. The number of skilled artisans thus available was insufficient for the reconstruction of the Norval's Pont and Bethulie railway bridges and other extensive works which it was foreseen would be necessary in order to make good the damage done by the enemy in his retreat. The Director of Railways accordingly obtained leave to avail himself of the offer of Messrs. L. I. Seymour and C. A. Goodwin, leading mining engineers of Johannesburg, to form a corps of the miners and artisans, thrown out of employment by the war. With the title of the Railway Pioneer regiment, it was placed under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel J. E. Capper, R.E., Messrs. Seymour and Goodwin being appointed wing commanders, having the rank of major. The material needed for the construction of temporary bridges at Norval's Pont and Bethulie and for the rapid reconstruction of the permanent bridges at these points was, during the month of January, prepared.
[Footnote 306: General Report on Military Railways, South Africa, by Lieut.-Col. Sir E. P. C. Girouard.]
[Footnote 307: The conditions in Natal differed considerably from those in Cape Colony, and the system of railway administration was modified accordingly, but here, too, the military staff received the most loyal assistance in every way from Sir David Hunter and the rest of the civil staff.]
[Footnote 308: The 8th and 10th Railway Companies, 20th, 31st and 42nd Fortress companies R.E.]
Joubert's circular letter, referred to on p. 410 as having had great importance because it enjoined a passive defensive attitude on all Boer commanders at the very time when Lord Roberts was designing an active offence, ran as follows:--
FROM COMDT.-GENERAL TO ACTG. GENERAL DU TOIT.
It is obvious that England is exasperated that her army is not able, against the will of our God, to annihilate us and to overwhelm us as easily as they had expected. While they were governed and inspired by this thought, the name of Sir Redvers Buller was on the lips of everybody and his praise and prowess were elevated to the clouds. Now that our God and Protector has revealed His will, and Buller has not succeeded in crushing the hated Boers, or, as Sir Alfred Milner has it, the Boerdom, and to subjugate them and to banish from the face of the earth the name which God, as it were, had given them--now they, instead of admitting and acknowledging their fault and looking for it in the right place, want to have a scapegoat, and for this purpose Sir Redvers Buller must serve; he is not brave enough, not wise enough; he is not strong and powerful enough to carry on the war for them against the will of the High God of Heaven and to annihilate the Africander in South Africa. Many a person now deems it well that Buller has been humiliated; but I have to say in regard to this that when I withstood General Colley in the same way in the War of Independence, he was urged to attempt a successful battle before his successor could arrive, as he would otherwise lose all military honour and fame. He was moved to such an extent that he acted on the suggestion, ascended Amajuba Hill, which is to-day still so intensely hated by the blinded Englishman and Jingo, where the Lord then said, "Thus far and no further." And now, my friends, you may suspect and expect that Mr. Buller will receive the same advice, and that he may attempt to do as the late Sir George Colley had done. Therefore, he will issue orders either here at Colenso, at Ladysmith, Scholtz Nek, or elsewhere where there is an English force in South Africa, to attempt a successful action, either by means of a sortie or attack, or in some other way, in order, if possible, to regain his good name and military fame. For this reason we must, in firm faith in the help of our faithful and beloved God, be on our guard against such action. I very much fear a night attack, when our men are not alert and on their guard. The fright in case of a false alarm, when so much ammunition is blindly wasted, makes me fear that a disaster may be in preparation, and demonstrates that the burghers are not organised properly on outpost duty. On dark nights the outposts should be strengthened to such an extent that they could almost independently hold their position. In all cases at least the half of the outpost guard, if not two-thirds, must remain awake, so that the men are not aroused from sleep with fright and confusion, but, being on the alert, can independently offer defence. Therefore, let the words of our Lord be impressed on the mind of everyone: "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation." Our enemy is not only powerful, but also artful, and treason is continually taking place, for it appears from the newspapers that the enemy is even cognisant of our most secret plans, and we cannot advance, but remain stationary, while the enemy is continually strengthening himself.
Your sincere friend,
P. J. JOUBERT, Comdt.-General.