Boer guns—The Staats artillery—The Boer commando system of military organization—Boer methods of warfare.
The information obtained by the British War Office as to the extent of the Boer preparations in arms and ammunition was I approximately correct. The alleged methods of importation referred to by Lord Salisbury were, however, only employed in Jingo imagination. There was no disguise of any kind adopted in the purchase or conveyance of the armaments for the Republic. The Martini-Henry and Lee-Metford rifles were bought in England, and carried to Lourenzo Marquez in English ships—a means of transhipment which might well excuse the dull Portuguese customs' officials from suspecting hostile designs against England. Twelve million rounds of rifle ammunition were purchased in England, through Beckett and Co., of Pretoria, who were the Transvaal agents of Kynochs, of Birmingham. I failed to obtain while in Pretoria accurate information as to the amount of Mauser cartridges purchased in Europe, but it is safe to say that large quantities were obtained by both Republics from Belgium and Germany. . There would be over 50,000,000 rounds of small-arm ammunition in possession of the Boers on the declaration of war. All the Webley revolvers referred to in Lord Lansdowne's "Military Notes" were " made in Birmingham " and purchased there for Boer service. Excepting the Mauser rifles and their ammunition, and the Creusot and Krupp guns, the weapons and bullets with I which the burghers have fought their English foes were supplied by English manufacturers and forwarded by means of English vessels to the seaport nearest to Pretoria.
The facts as to the character of the Boer artillery were not so well known to the British War Office, with the exception of those [ relating to the twenty-two automatic guns. These Maxim-Nordenfelts and Vickers-Maxims' were bought in London. On one of them I found the following inscription:
"Maxim-Nordenfelt C. and A. Co., Ltd.,
37 m|m Aut. Gun. Mark II.
These were the " pom-poms" which did almost as much to demoralize the British armies in the larger engagements of the war as the deadly shooting qualities of the Mauser rifle. English Government officials knew of these purchases, as they did of the ammunition and other armaments specified in Lord Lansdowne's Notes," and it was equally known to them that they were forwarded direct from London to Lourenzo Marquez.
In addition to these four small batteries of automatic guns, the Boer Government had purchased four 15 cm. Creusots ("Long Toms"), six 7.5 cm. quick-firing Creusot field guns, four Krupp howitzers, and eight Krupp field guns, of the same caliber as the 7.5 cm. Creusot quick-firing fifteen-pounder—in all, forty-four guns. The Orange Free State had only time to acquire six Krupps of the same class and caliber, but of an older pattern, and two Maxim-Nordenfelts, before war began. The two Republics had fifty-two guns, all told, of the classes described, which, with half a dozen more of Maxims and Krupps taken from Jameson in 1896, comprised the entire artillery equipment of the Federal forces. The old Armstrongs and Whitworths referred to in the secret English circular as being part of the Free State artillery, were not used throughout the war. Adding these, however, to the list with which I was supplied by officials of the Boer Government, it will be seen that the number, tho not the character, of the Federal artillery corresponds almost exactly with the details in the possession of the British War Office.
There was no secrecy of any kind employed in the purchase of the Creusot guns. They were openly bought of the famous French firm, and their range, capacity, and simplicity of breech mechanism had been described long before the war in the Paris " Echo des Mines et de la Metallurgie" for the information of any British military attache in France who could have spared sufficient time from a study of " L'Affaire Dreyfus " to acquaint himself with what was being published concerning the French guns destined for the South African Republic. These guns have made their mark in the war as probably the most effective in range and velocity ever produced. The fifteen-pounder Creusot far outclassed the vaunted British field gun of the same caliber, having 2,000 yards of a longer range, along with other corresponding advantages over its English rival.
A dozen batteries of these splendid guns were in order when hostilities began, despite General Joubert's protests against any more guns being bought. " What can I do with more guns?" the old man was in the habit of exclaiming, when the certainty of war was seen by other members of the Executive Council as Joubert could not, or would not, recognize. " Have we not more of them already than we can use?" This short-sighted view was largely responsible for the fatal delay in placing an order which, had it only been carried out in time, might have changed the whole fortunes of the war. Joubert's blind faith in the peace-compelling power of the English Liberal Party, and his belief in a possible conversion of Queen Victoria to the views set forth in his letter of June, 1899, were responsible for even more deplorable errors than this in the initial stages of the great struggle. He failed to see that neither the monarch nor the Opposition had the power or the will to oppose Mr. Chamberlain's policy when the combined national and commercial and religious conscience of Great Britain was in " righteous conflict" with the Boer rulers of the world's richest gold reefs—over a two years' dispute as to the franchise. Other patriots have died with warnings born of bitter disillusionment not to put faith in princes. The old hero of the Boer War of Freedom could justly say to his country when his passing came in Pretoria, " Put not your trust in English queens or politicians."
The Transvaal Staats Artillery numbered 1,000 trained burghers, mostly young men, in 1899. The officers' names are correctly given in the " Military Notes." In 1896 the same force consisted of one hundred men and nine officers, on active duty. The corps was first founded in 1890. Majors Wolmarans and Erasmus were sent to Europe by General Joubert to study the artillery systems of the Continent. They remained away, chiefly in Holland and Germany, for four years, and began to organize the Republic's tiny artillery force on their return. The encounter with the Jameson Raiders at Doornkop in January, 1896, was their first experience of actual combat, and the surrender of the troopers before a Boer gun was fired left them with bloodless laurels on an unfought field. The Raid, however, awoke the Executive to the necessity for a larger force, and the year 1897 saw the commencement of the effective training and increase of that body which enabled the Republic in its hour of need to have the service of the most successful artillerists who have ever handled guns on a battle-field.
These men were not trained, as the English press alleged, by German, French, or Russian officers. Erasmus and Wolmarans did the necessary training; ho foreigners being required for the purpose. Two German lieutenants were in charge of the Johannesburg Fort when war began, and three Dutch officers and one private were numbered in the force. Outside of these six or seven Europeans, the whole Transvaal Artillery was composed of Africander Boers.
In the Orange Free State an ex-German officer, Major Albrecht, had command of that Republic's artillery, which numbered 300 men. A few of these were Europeans, some more were Dutch from Cape Colony, but over ninety per cent, of the corps were Free Staters.
A few words explanatory of the military organization of the Boers will not be out of place ere we come to see the little Republics locked in deadly combat with their gigantic antagonist. The basis of the system is thus laid down and described in the Transvaal Constitution:
" The military power shall comprise all the able-bodied men in this Republic, and, if necessary, all such natives within the country whose chiefs are subordinate to the Republic.
" By able-bodied white men shall be understood, all males between the ages of sixteen and sixty years of age.
"For the purpose of classifying the field forces according to locality, the territory of the Republic shall be divided into Field-Cornetcies and Districts. The boundaries of these Field-Cornetcies and Districts shall be fixed jointly by the President of the Executive Council, the Commandant-General, and the Commandants and Field Cornets in the adjoining Divisions.
" The troops shall be under the command of officers, ranking upwards as follows : Assistant Field Cornets, Field Cornets, Commandants, and Commandant-General.
" The officers shall be elected by a majority of votes, namely : the subordinate officers by the enfranchised burghers of the different wards, the Commandants by the burghers in the Districts, and the Commandant-General by the burghers of the Republic.
" The voting tickets for the election of these officers shall be handed to the respective Landrosts (Magistrates), who shall send the same to the Executive Council.
"Not more than two Commandants shall be elected by any District.
" The field forces, with the exception of the colored mercenaries, shall be called out to maintain order; to go on commando (to take the field) in the event of internal risings; and, without any exception, to defend the country and to wage war upon foreign foes."
It may be observed here that, despite the power given in the Grondwet to utilize native subject races in defense of the country, in no instance did the Boers avail themselves of the service of such allies in this war until the British had extensively employed armed Kaffirs in the field. It is absolutely false to assert they did so in the earlier stages of the conflict, while, on the other hand, it will be proved further on in this narrative, by undeniable facts and photographs, that savages were employed against the Transvaal and Free State forces in the defense of Mafeking and Kimberley, at Deredepoort, and throughout the whole campaign.
Other Grondwet provisions specify the class of men who are to be exempt from military service; they include members of the Volksraad, State officials, Ministers of the Church, duly appointed school teachers, dealers, only sons of widows, " and all who can adduce such lawful and well-founded reasons as shall excuse them."
All burghers capable of bearing arms are, however, compelled to go on commando whenever martial law is proclaimed.
The merits on one side, and the weakness and deficiencies on the other, of this military system will be pointed out when we come shortly to deal with operations in the field.
The declaration of war gave to the military critics topics of absorbing interest for discussion. The British army, drilled and equipped on the general European disciplined system, was to meet an opponent untrained in military tactics, but formidable on account of his mobility, skill in marksmanship, and the unknown quantity of his unit initiative and formation on a field of large operations. Apart from comparative numbers and equipment, the Boers would possess many obvious advantages which, tho they could not, humanly speaking, be expected to enable the Transvaal and Free State forces to prevail against the strength and resources of the British Empire, would give to their resistance a more determined and prolonged character than the mass of English opinion flattered itself in believing. These probable advantages caused the saner British critics some anxiety in their forecasts of the conflict into which Mr. Chamberlain's diplomacy and the TJitlander knavery of Johannesburg had plunged Great Britain.
The coming fight would be on a field seven thousand miles distant. The country in which operations would have to be carried on would offer many difficulties in transport and in concentration. Climatic conditions would tell against the health of the English soldier, and, especially, against the horses which would be indispensable to that branch of the British forces on which most reliance would have to be placed for turning movements, rapidity of action, and for dealing the final blow where their adversaries should meet with a reverse. Conversely, the Boer would know every inch of the ground. His horse, like himself, would have kinship with the veldt. He could be counted upon for swiftness of movement and for great mobility of forces. There would be little or no trouble with a cumbersome commissariat, or with unwieldy heavy guns. His unit formation would offer a minimum target for the weapons which the British would rely most upon for their demoralizing and striking power—the artillery; while this disadvantage for the enemy would be greatly increased in the fact that the English battalion formation would give the Boers the maximum of aiming opportunity in big human targets for their noted powers of straight shooting.
Then, there was the well-known natural strategy of the Boer to utilize cover. This, with his unequaled mobility, was virtually his only idea of military tactics; but in countries like Natal, the Free State, and the Transvaal it was an idea which, like the single plan of the eat in the fable of pussy and the fox, would probably turn out more effective in its application than all the Salisbury Plain maneuvers that would be employed on the other side. The task of crushing such an opponent, numerically weak tho he might be, was considered by competent military critics not likely to be settled in an imposing military promenade from Cape Town to Pretoria, such as the English Jingo papers bragged exultingly it would be. Britain's military prestige was destined to bear a startling testimony to the correctness of the critics' view before the Boer forces should be beaten into a final submission to overwhelming numbers.