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Infantry

An infantry division usually consisted of Division Staff, two (and sometimes three) Infantry brigades, a brigade division of Royal Artillery consisting of 18 guns in three batteries, each battery having six x 15 pounder guns and an ammunition column, one squadron of cavalry, one company of Royal Engineers, one company of ASC and a field hospital.

The strength of an infantry division was around 11,000 men, 1,780 horses, 8 machine guns and 280 vehicles.  The combat strength was 7,040 rifles, 150 armed engineers and 134 swords and lances carried by the cavalry.

Infantry Division.  Commanded by a Lieutenant General.
› Infantry Brigade.  Commanded by a Brigadier-General, Local Major General.
 › Infantry Battalion.  Commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel.
  › Company.  8 companies, each of 100 - 120 men.  Commanded by a Major.
   › Half Company.  Commanded by a Lieutenant. 
    › Section.  25 men.  Commanded by a Corporal.

An infantry brigade consisted of brigade staff, four battalions, one company of ASC, one company of RAMC and a field hospital.

The strength of an infantry brigade was around 4,700 men, 373 horses, 4 machine guns and 85 vehicles.  The combat strength was 3,520 rifles.

A battalion contained of:

  • 29 officers.
  • 2 Warrant Officers.
  • 45 Sergeants.
  • 16 Drummers.
  • 40 Corporals.
  • 900 privates.

The equipment of a battalion was:

  • .303 Lee Enfield rifle with an 8 round magazine (Mk I) or 10 rounds (Mk II).
  • bayonet.

Click here for the service of the Imperial Yeomanry and here for the service of the Militia units.

When referring to the infantry units in particular, different nomenclature can be employed to describe the same unit.  This can be confusing and partly results from the reorganisation of the Army in 1881 when the numbering system for infantry units was replaced by names.  This is further complicated because the names of some units can be abbreviated with the result that it is not clear to which units some accounts refer.  For example, the Seaforth Highlanders can be referred to by this name, the Ross-Shire Buff, the 72nd or 78th.  The names of the infantry regiments and other information about the 1881 reorganisation is described on a separate page.

Mounted Infantry

When traditional battle tactics failed, Lord Roberts ordered all battalions that arrived from Britain to provide a mounted infantry company.  Some achieved this by converting one of their eight companies and others complied by making a 9th company,  Initially, the mounted infantry companies were formed into 8 Mounted Infantry Battalions and in April of 1900 two brigades were formed.   The mounted infantry was comprised of men equipped and trained as infantry, armed with the infantry rifle (not the cavalry carbine), and with the mobility offered by a horse.

A company of mounted infantry consisted of 142 men, composed of four troops each of 32 men, commanded by a Major or Captain.  All the ranks were mounted.  Every company was provided with two wagons which carried baggage and food.  Two companies of mounted infantry were attach to each cavalry brigade.  The two companies amounted to 306 men, 310 horses, two machine-guns and nine vehicles.

About the need for mounted infantry, Roberts wrote (27 October 1900): "Before we put an end to the war, there will have to be numerous changes in our present military system and tactics. Corps of mounted infantry must be raised, say 200 or 300 strong, and each corps given a district (not too big), and told to live as much as possible on the country: two or more guns to be given to each corps: all the infantry to garrison towns and places of importance. Then, and not till then, will this brigandage cease and peace be established. We can go on till Doomsday hunting these Boers with infantry - they only laugh at us."

Cavalry

The Cavalry consisted of Staff, a Field troop of Engineers, two Brigades each of three cavalry regiments, and a Battery of Royal Horse Artillery.  There were two 1st and 2nd Cavalry Brigades.  One served under Major General French and the other under General Buller in Natal.

A cavalry regiment totalled 531 men with 536 mounts.  With each regiment was a machine gun and carriage drawn by two horses, a convoy of 13 vehicles drawn by 48 draught horses and three pack horses.  A total number of men was 467.  They were armed with Lee Metford carbines with 30 rounds of ammunition.  The officers were armed with a revolver and 12 rounds.  The Lancers and some of the Dragoon regiments were supplied with lances.

The hierarchy of the Cavalry was as follows:

Cavalry Division.  Commanded by a Lieutenant General.
 › Cavalry Brigade.  Commanded by a Major General.
   › Cavalry Regiment.   Commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel.
     › Cavalry Squadron.  Commanded by a Major.
       › Cavalry Troop.  Each with 4 sections, 8 men each.

The equipment carried by the Cavalry, but not all used by the same ranks or units, consisted of:

  • Let Metford carbine.  .303 in calibre single lever action, 5 rounds per magazine.
  • Webley Mk IV revolver.  .455 calibre.
  • Sword.
  • Lance.

There were two types of cavalry; 'Household Cavalry' and 'Cavalry of the Line'.  The Household Cavalry consisted of the 1st Life Guards, the 2nd Life Guards and the Royal Horse Guards.  The Cavalry of the Line consisted of seven regiments of Dragoon Guards, three regiments of Dragoons, twelve regiments of Hussars and six regiments of Lancers.

Artillery

The artillery was divided into two types: Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) and Royal Field Artillery (RFA).  Both were organised into Brigade divisions.   The RHA supported cavalry and the RFA supported infantry.

Corps of Artillery.  Commanded by a Major General.
 › Brigade Division of RFA or RHA.  Commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel.
  › Battery.  Commanded by a Major.
   › Ammunition column.  9 artillery ammunition wagons. 12 small arms ammunition wagons.
   › Left section.  2 guns & 2 ammunition wagons.
   › Centre section.  2 guns & 2 ammunition wagons. 
   › Right section. 2 guns & 2 ammunition wagons.

A Corps of Artillery consisted of 1,699 men, 1,531 horses, 48 guns and 132 vehicles.  A Brigade Division of the RFA consisted of 530 men, 409 horses, 18 field guns and 32 vehicles.
A Brigade Division of RHA consisting of 377 men, 402 horses, 12 guns and 22 vehicles.

A battery of RFA consisted of 171 men and 131 horses, commanded by a Major, six 16 pounders, three transport wagons and a blacksmith.  A howitzer battery consisted of 195 men, 136 horses and six guns.

The Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA) consisted of two types:

  • Ten batteries (numbered from 1 to 10) of Mountain Artillery. A battery of RGA consisted of 236 men, 50 horses and four 2.5 inch muzzle loading guns.  4th and 10th Mountain Battery served in the Boer War.

  • Three divisions; Eastern, Southern and Western, totalling 104 companies were established for the defence of Great Britian.  Some of these companies say service during the war eg 23rd Western Division during the siege of Kimberley.  A company consisted of 146 men and muzzle loading howitzers.

The equipment of the Artillery consisted of:

  • 12 pounder, 6 cwt breech loading (BL) guns - used by the RHA.
  • 15 pounder, 7 cwt breech loading (BL) guns - used by the RFA.
  • Drivers were equipped with revolvers only.
  • Gunners were equipped with sword bayonets only.
  • Two carbines were attached to a gun carriage.

Naval Brigade

The Naval Brigades were drawn from sailors and marines stationed on RN ships around South Africa.  They mostly served the guns removed from the naval ships.  However, the brigade attached to Methuen has a strength of over 400 and a small detachment with the large guns continued with Roberts to Pretoria.  In Natal, the force was split.  283 men went to Ladysmith, while 310 manned the naval guns in the relief of Ladysmith.

Parent Category: Units
Category: Imperial units
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