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Begbie's Foundry explosion - April 1900 6 years 9 hours ago #21851

  • djb
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I came across this paragraph in Stevens' book containing speculation on the cause of the explosion:

On Tuesday, April 22nd, an explosion took place at Begbie's foundry at Johannesburg which was used as a Boer arsenal. It was suggested that it was the work of some Englishmen (of course) who had made a tunnel from a house on the other side of the street, and used a large quantity of nitroglycerine for the purpose. Seventeen men (Italians and Austrians) were reported killed and 70 wounded. Everything within 50 yards of the explosion was destroyed. The foundry, which originally cost £20,000 and belonged to a company, had been commandeered by the Boers for the manufacture of shells. £100,000 had been spent in plant and machinery. Mr. Wm. Begbie, a Scotchman, son of the founder, was arrested on the charge that he had caused the explosion to avenge the commandeering. In consequence of this affair foreigners were ordered out of the district at once. In the end the disaster was attributed to an accident.


From The Times, 27 Apr 00


From The Times, 28 Apr 00


Dr David Biggins
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Begbie's Foundry explosion - April 1900 5 years 11 months ago #21862

  • Brianc
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David

Thanks for posting, first I ever heard of this.Always wondered where the Boers got their shells and ammunition from,I thought they were possibly made in the NZASM workshops in Pretoria. Well as they say you learn something new every day.

Brian

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Begbie's Foundry explosion - April 1900 1 month 2 days ago #70502

  • Neville_C
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Good morning all,

I recently acquired this shell casting, picked up as a souvenir after the Begbie's explosion and converted into a table lighter.
It is for an 1873 66mm Krupp Mountain Gun (Berg-Kanone), four of which were purchased by the Transvaal in 1874.

As far as I can gather, these guns remained at Fort Klapperkop during the war, presumably because they were considered obsolete. So why were Begbie's casting new shells for this gun in 1899/1900?

Any thoughts (perhaps one for LinneyI?)

Neville




This figure shows the 8cm version of this shell (for the C/67 Krupp Field Gun)

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Begbie's Foundry explosion - April 1900 1 month 1 day ago #70516

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One of the 66mm guns at Johannesburg Fort

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Begbie's Foundry explosion - April 1900 1 month 1 day ago #70526

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I have just received this response from MC Heunis, which gives an exhaustive history of the Transvaal's 66mm guns:

The shell in question belonged to the ZAR's 66mm Broadwell RBL guns.

Until the late 1860s the Transvaal’s artillery was still reminiscent of the Great Trek era and consisted of a couple of antique smooth bore muzzle loading naval guns mounted on improvised carriages. In 1872, under the progressive leadership of President TF Burgers, the Transvaal Volksraad decided to re-arm the state. After attempts to buy weapons from Natal failed, the Volksraad in February 1873 decided to approach the German Kaiser to import the desired equipment from Germany. Albrecht Kossel, a Rostock salesman and his brother, Richard, a major in the Imperial Guard Artillery at Spandau, were appointed as the Transvaal’s representatives in Germany. As the Kaiser was away on a visit to Austria and Russia at that stage , Kossel travelled to Berlin to make enquiries at the Imperial Arsenal. The arsenal was too busy to assist the Transvaal and Kossel was referred to Krupp. Originally the Transvaal requested muzzle loading guns, but with Krupp’s assistance four breech loading guns were purchased. Very little is known about the transaction, but on 15 July 1873 the four guns and some other equipment were ready for shipment at Hamburg.

Although Krupp was involved in the transaction, the guns that were supplied carried the inscription “Patent von Broadwell & Co.” and “Carlsruhe” engraved on their breeches. Broadwell & Co. was founded by the American/Russian inventor of the Broadwell ring, Lewis Wells Broadwell, in Karlsruhe in 1866 to manufacture breech loading guns with his own patented expanding ring gas check. It is assumed that Krupp supplied the steel for the guns and they were often referred to as Krupp guns in the Transvaal. These four guns were the first rifled breech loading guns imported by the Transvaal and they formed the backbone of its first official artillery unit, the Batterij Dingaan.

Conflicting evidence exist on the exact calibre of the Broadwell guns. British sources describe them as 65 and 70mm guns as well as 4, 4½, 5 or 6-pounders. A Transvaal annual defence report for 1892 stated that they were “6.5cm” guns, while a drawing of the rifling made in 1886 by Adolph Zboril, Administrator of the Transvaal Police and Artillery, identified the calibre as 66mm (assumed to be the most correct).

The guns were equipped with rectangular, horizontal sliding breech blocks, which opened to the left. As the inscription on the breech suggests, the guns made use of a Broadwell ring, probably manufactured from copper, to affect gas sealing. Ammunition consisted of lead coated shells, with bagged black powder cartridges and friction tubes to fire the gun. A centre mounted rear sight and a raised front sight at the muzzle, which was cast integral with the barrel, were used to lay the guns. Originally the guns were imported mounted on light steel carriages with small wooden wheels, but later the same guns also appeared on larger wooden field carriages. One possible explanation for the appearance of wooden carriages can be found in the De Volksstem newspaper of 22 May 1875. During a firing exercise with two of the “Broadwells 4-pdr mountain guns” both carriages broke down and the construction of the mountings was described as flimsy.

In 1876 a number of the 65/66mm guns saw service against the Pedi tribe of Chief Sekukuni. A photo taken during this campaign shows one of the guns mounted on what seems to be a locally made wooden field carriage, probably to give the gun a higher mounting as tall grass often restricted the use of low mounted guns in South Africa.

When Britain annexed the Transvaal a year later all four guns were confiscated. In British hands one or more were used during the Sekukuni and other campaigns of 1878, while Col. Rowland’s No.5 column had one gun at the beginning of the Anglo-Zulu War, but it does not appear to have seen any action.

During the 1880-81 Transvaal War the four Batterij Dingaan guns were used against their former owners in defence of the British garrison besieged in Pretoria. One gun, mounted on a wooden carriage, was stationed at Fort Tullichewan, while the remaining three guns were used by other sections of the garrison to defend the Convent Redoubt, Fort Commeline and Fort Royal. After the Boer victory at Majuba the four guns were handed back to the Transvaal Government and became part of the newly formed Staatsartillerie.

Ammunition listed in the magazine book of the 1882-1883 Njabel campaign indicates that some of the 65mm guns were present in the Boer laager during this campaign. In March 1887, Zboril proposed that the guns should be converted to faster moving field guns by the addition of horse harnesses. Mounted on their small steel carriages they would have been liable to overturn when towed at higher speeds and this is another possible explanation for the appearance of the large-wheeled wooden field carriages. No mention of the 65mm guns seeing action during any of the other native wars could be found, but annual defence reports of the 1890s stated that the republic still had the four guns and that common shells with percussion fuzes, shrapnel with time fuzes, incendiary shells and case shot were in use. After the Jameson Raid in 1896 two of the guns were stationed in Krugersdorp for use by the Krugersdorp Volunteer Corps.

A few weeks before the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War Capt. Thomas Kroon of the Staatsartillerie reported that two of the “old 65mm Krupp guns” were standing in the Johannesburg Fort. On 31 May 1900 British forces advanced into the abandoned Johannesburg and found the two guns still standing in the fort. A list of “Guns, ammunition etc. in the Fort Johannesburg” compiled by General Marshall of the Royal Artillery in June 1900, identified them as: “Two 65mm (about 6 pdr) Krupp guns with old wooden carriages + limbers. Both guns are marked Patent Broadwell, Carlsruhe, 1873 on the face of the breech, and 1 and 3 respectively on the chase.” There were also “about 500 shells in very bad order for these”.

At least one of the 65mm guns, mounted on the larger wooden field carriage, saw active service during the war and was photographed outside Mafeking. The fact that it fired lead coated shells might explain why the besieged British garrison’s artillery reports referred to it as a 5-pr Armstrong!

British War Office lists mention that a “70mm” gun was surrendered at Lourenco Marques, Mozambique. This suggests that one of the Batterij Dingaan guns followed the Boer retreat through the Eastern Transvaal and was with the group of Boers who crossed the border to surrender to the Portuguese authorities.

After their capture the two Johannesburg guns (No.1 & 3) were shipped to Woolwich, in May 1901 aboard the Templemore. No.4 was shipped from Durban aboard the SS Inyati on 10 October 1903. In 1904 No.1, then identified as a 70mm, was donated to the Superintendent of Parks, Queens Park, Glasgow, while No.4 went to the Chief Ordnance Officer in Belfast. No.3 was allotted to the “Minister of Militia + Defence” in Ottawa, Canada. What became of No.2 during the war is unknown.

The Canadian gun (no 4) survived (mounted on a newer Nordenfeldt carriage), today in Kingston Ontario, as well as possibly one of the UK guns, now in a private collection in the US. A very nice example (not from the Boer War) was also sold on a US auction a few years ago, but my wife would not let me bid... ;-)

I have one shell like yours in my collection, but without the trophy stand etc. I have also seen one with the lead jacket and a part of the lead jacket mould at the Ditsong Museum in Pretoria.

Due to their age I doubt whether any shells for these guns were made at Begbie, but maybe they planned to or hoped to convert the old shells they still had in stock?

MC

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Begbie's Foundry explosion - April 1900 1 month 1 day ago #70527

  • LinneyI
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Neville
An interesting table piece; similar in form to those offered for sale in the 1911 edition of the German ALFA Arms of the World catalogue - see pic


I see that Appendix D of The History of the Royal Artillery (from the Indian mutiny to the Great War) lists four 65mm Krupp guns in the hands of the Transvaal at the commencement of the War. No indication that these were "Berg-Kanone". If so, then perhaps a stock of shells was held in reserve. Are you sure that the item in question does actually date close to 4/00? Or is that dating based on the hallmarks visible on its fittings? If the shell body does not have clear manufacturing/inspection marks , it could have dated many years previous.
The design of the illustrated shell is quite interesting. I had heard of it somewhere and eventually found the reference in my dusty copy of the 1887 Textbook of Ammunition. Such shells as shown were termed "Ring Shells" (fairly obviously!) and were much favoured by Continental Powers. They were supposed to possess the same penetrating power as a common shell yet shall be more available as a man-killing weapon. In other words, Dual Purpose and constructed in such a way to as to break up into numerous fragments of a uniform and moderate size. The author of the ToA comments that the Ring Shell has much the same effect as the segment shell for the RBL guns. And that - fired at troops behind a thin wall, or other cover not beyond the power of the Ring Shell to penetrate before bursting, it would be a formidable weapon.
I would be most interested to hear if the illustrated Ring Shell bears a date - and what that date is.
Best regards
IL.
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