The nation at home, which at the close of 1900 was confidently expecting the end of the war at an early date, was not long obsessed by its optimism. Efforts not less vigorous than patriotic were made not only by Great Britain, but also by the Colonies and South African Loyalists, to give Lord Kitchener the troops he needed.
At the end of May, 1901, he had at his disposal a force which, including all classes of irregulars, semi-combatants, and non-combatants, was not less than 230,000; of whom more than one-third were mounted. The rule hitherto observed, that the native races were to be employed in servile capacities only, was relaxed, and in certain cases natives were allowed to carry arms when acting as scouts or patrols.
It is impossible to ascertain with any degree of accuracy either the actual or the potential strength of the enemy at this period. It has been estimated that, excluding the burghers actually on commando, there were less than 30,000 Boers able to take up arms if inclined to do so; but this number must only be regarded as the maximum strength of a possible and to a great extent an unreliable reserve upon which the commandos in action, at no given moment much exceeding 12,000 burghers, could draw to supply the wastage of war.
The war now entered fully into its "blockhouse and drive" phase. The use of these expedients in combination was, it is believed, new to military history. The principle of the blockhouse had already been tentatively adopted in South Africa without much success, notably between Bloemfontein and Thabanchu, where a line of posts was established which on three occasions was cut by De Wet.55 The chief defect of the blockhouse is its vulnerability to shell fire; but by this time the Boer artillery was a negligible quantity. Its adoption on a large scale dates from the time of Lord Kitchener's taking over the command. The expedient was, in the first instance, applied to the railways as a protection against the raids to which they were subject; and after July, 1901, it was extended to the open veld. Subsidiary lines of blockhouses, which in general jutted out at right angles to the railways and in most cases ran along the cross-veld roads changing direction as circumstances required, were built. They acted as fences to obstruct or to deflect the movements of the enemy and enclosed areas greatly differing in size.
The longest blockhouse line, which was, however, not completed until a few weeks before the end of the war, extended from Victoria Road Station to Lambert's Bay on the Atlantic, a distance of 300 miles. In the vicinity of Johannesburg, and in the Central districts of the Orange River Colony west of the railway, cordons of posts manned by the South African Constabulary took the place of blockhouse lines. These posts, which were established at wider intervals apart than the blockhouses, were intended to act as bases for minor clearing operations. They offered little or no obstruction to a Boer commando on trek. The blockhouse lines were resolutely extended by Lord Kitchener in every direction; and by the end of the war there was scarcely a district in the spacious area of hostilities that was not impaled upon them or helplessly clutched in their fatal grasp.
The "Drive" as a military weapon is as old as the time of Darius. The first use of it in South Africa, on a large scale, was French's movement through the Eastern Transvaal in February, 1901.56 The "Drive" has been criticized as an awkward attempt to perform, with one and the same force, two distinct operations of war; namely, the coercion of the non-military population and the defeat of the enemy's troops. The dual task deprives the force set to it of mobility and power of initiative.
As a detail of abstract and orthodox military criticism the objection is sound; but it ignores the special local circumstances of the case. In the vast area on which the British Army was operating it was not possible to separate the two objectives. Moreover, the purely military resources of the enemy were waning; and the contest was resolving itself into an effort to put pressure on the country at large, rather than to smash the dwindling, evasive, and centrifugal commandos in the field. French's "drive," from a military point of view, was not a success; but it at least frightened Botha and the Transvaal Government. In May, 1901, there was a conference near Ermelo at which it was resolved that overtures should be made to Lord Kitchener; and but for Steyn, who was communicated with in the Orange River Colony, and who had had no experience of the "drive," it is probable that negotiations for peace would have ensued. On the other hand, the "drive" has been approved as a method of warfare particularly adapted for use by an army deficient in mobility and incapable of acquiring accurate intelligence of the enemy.
During the two months preceding Lord Roberts' departure from South Africa at the end of November, 1900, no events of great military importance occurred in the Transvaal, except De Wet's Fredrikstad raid. The opposition had, to all appearance, dissolved into impalpable matter. Here and there some Boer atoms coalesced and were not pulverized; but for many weeks there was little in the general situation to disturb the optimistic belief, which was held not only by the people at home but also by the Army in the field, that the end was not far off.
Botha and Steyn reached Pietersburg in September, where they were joined by B. Viljoen, who arrived a few weeks later after a circuitous journey from Komati Poort through the low veld. An important detail of Lord Roberts' plan of campaign had not been carried out. He had hoped that the Northern Transvaal would be denied to the Boers by Carrington, who failed to carry out his part of the programme. Thus Pietersburg was a fairly secure eyrie in which plans could be devised and from which a swoop could be made either east or west of Pretoria.
Botha and Steyn soon came to the conclusion that the situation, though serious, was by no means hopeless. Certain events of October and November were encouraging. They not unnaturally argued that the withdrawal of their two chief opponents, Lord Roberts and Sir Redvers Buller, indicated infirmity of purpose on the part of the British Government. The idea was mistaken, as the recall of these leaders, or at least of one of them, was due to the fact that the British Government was of opinion that the war was practically over. Again, they were relieved of the inconvenient and harassing presence of Kruger, the dour, reactionary old farmer, who had brought on the war and had now left his country to its fate; who had learnt nothing and forgotten nothing since he had set out on the Great Trek of 1836; and whose mind ran in a channel so shallow that it could almost be heard rippling over the stones. Also, it is probable that they had information that the majority of the men of the Colonial and Irregular Corps, whose term of service of one year would shortly expire, or had already expired, were declining to re-enlist—yet another sign of infirmity of purpose. Moreover, the Boer agents in Europe no doubt reported that all the regular infantry and its reserves in Great Britain had been exhausted.
In November, 1900, the new plan of campaign was drawn up. L. Botha was to invade Natal, after a raid into the Cape Colony by De Wet, for whom Kritzinger and Hertzog would prepare the way and lay out the dâk. Steyn hurried southwards with the scheme, and was picked up at Ventersdorp by De Wet. Botha went to the high veld between the Natal Railway and the Delagoa Bay Railway, leaving B. Viljoen north of the latter railway. Beyers was ordered to join Delarey, who after the battle of Diamond Hill went into his own country near the Magaliesberg and was now lurking in the Zwartruggens.
French, after his unhappy cross-veld march to Heidelberg, was placed in charge of the Johannesburg district. His passage had not overawed the local commandos, which, like the armed men from the teeth of Cadmus, soon sprang up out of the ground; and two attempts made by Smith-Dorrien to coerce them failed. Hildyard, after the departure of Buller and the dissolution of the Natal Army, was placed in charge of an extensive district which included not only Natal but also the S.E. corner of the Transvaal. Clery went home in October, 1900, and was succeeded in the charge of the Natal Railway in the Transvaal by Wynne. Lyttelton, with his Head Quarters at Middelburg, was posted on the Delagoa Bay Railway.
Methuen alone of all the British leaders had an opportunity during this period of acting against definite objectives. Early in September he quitted Mafeking and zigzagged in the western districts. After a minor affair at Lichtenburg he was called south, and with the help of Settle, who sallied from Vryburg, relieved Schweizer Reneke. His next efforts were not so successful. A march to Rustenburg, with a view of intercepting the wandering President of the Free State, brought him to his destination early in October, only to find that Steyn was gone; and subsequently he was unable to tackle Delarey effectively in the Zwartruggens, a difficult district lying a day's march west of the Magaliesberg. When he reached Zeerust a considerable portion of his command was withdrawn under C. Douglas to reinforce French, and the end of November found him again at Mafeking, too weak to work outside his own district.
The Magaliesberg was patrolled by Clements and Broadwood, who made some captures. Clements also was called on to furnish troops for French, who lay at Johannesburg, having under his command several mobile columns as well as the garrisons on the Klerksdorp railway and elsewhere.
Paget, who since August had been operating north of Pretoria, made an attempt in the direction of Rustenburg to cut off Steyn, but was no more successful than Methuen. His next divagation was to Eerstefabriken, a few miles east of Pretoria, whence he was ordered away to see to B. Viljoen, who was harassing the Delagoa Bay Railway, and whom, without assistance from Lyttelton, he shifted from a strong position at Rhenoster Kop in an affair which has been termed the last orthodox pitched battle of the campaign.
Such, in brief, was the position in the Transvaal when Lord Kitchener, after a flying visit to Bloemfontein for the purpose of co-ordinating the activities against De Wet, returned to Pretoria on December 11, 1900. It would have offered greater difficulties to a man who was a soldier first and an organizer afterwards than it did to the successor of Lord Roberts. It may be likened to an archipelago in a stormy sea infested by pirates who, though powerless to take possession of any of the islands, made communication between them always dangerous and sometimes impossible.
Lord Kitchener's coming difficulties were heralded less than a week after the departure of Lord Roberts by the loss of a large convoy which was proceeding to Rustenburg, and for which Delarey, who was always to be found where weak detachments came his way, was waiting. Ten days later Clements suffered a disaster. He was based on Krugersdorp, but his command had been weakened and his transport was deficient. He received orders to act in the Hekpoort Valley, while Broadwood acted north of the Magaliesberg. When he reached Noitgedacht Nek he found Delarey a few miles away. At his urgent request a small portion of the troops which had been taken from him was restored, with a few wagons; but they left Krugersdorp too late to be of service.
Clements was under the impression that he had only Delarey to deal with, and was unaware that Beyers was on his way to carry out the orders he had received from Botha. The withdrawal of Paget to Eerstefabriken cleared his front, and he marched on to the Magaliesberg. His movements were not unnoticed by the Intelligence, which, however, failed to notify them to Clements, who on December 11 was in presence of two Boer leaders, whose united forces were twice as strong as his own. Unknown to him they had met at Boschfontein near the southern approach to Breedt's Nek; for when a commando was reported to be at hand, he did not doubt that it was Delarey's force only.
Noitgedacht was tactically an unsound position which Clements, assuming that his right was safe, had taken up in order to maintain heliographic communication with Broadwood on the other side of the Magaliesberg. The range rises more than a thousand feet above the camp selected by Clements and is accessible only by a rough track. The ground on either side of the Nek was occupied by pickets posted there mainly for signalling purposes. These posts, however, were helpless if attacked, as they were not only widely scattered, but could not be reinforced from the main body in the valley below. Thus they were little or no protection to the camp.
In the direction from which an attack might be expected Clements' camp, which lay at the foot of the Nek, was protected by a low ridge jutting out from the main range and ending in a detached kopje. This ridge was held by mounted infantry. Another detached kopje, called Yeomanry Hill, was occupied towards the S.E.
Delarey's general idea for the day's operation was simple: an advance by himself along the low ground upon the camp, coincident with an advance by Beyers on the other side of the range. Shortly before sunrise on December 13 Delarey endeavoured to rush the mounted infantry posts on the ridge, which in anticipation of an attack had been strengthened on the previous evening. Their vigorous resistance foiled the enterprise and Delarey was driven off.
Soon, however, the sound of firing on the heights showed that the Northumberland Fusilier posts on each side of the Nek were in action. They had been attacked by Beyers, but fortunately not as had been intended by Delarey simultaneously with his own attack upon the ridge; otherwise it is probable that it would have been successful. After a desperate struggle, in which the Fusiliers lost heavily, they were overpowered, and Beyers was in possession of the high ground overlooking the camp. An attempt made by Clements to recover the Nek failed. Beyers' burghers came plunging down like a cascade and broke upon the camp itself.
Clements anticipated that Delarey would soon return to the charge and ordered a retirement, which was effected under cover of the artillery and a rearguard of mounted infantry. Shortly before noon he formed up on Yeomanry Hill. Delarey renewed his attack, but met with such sturdy resistance that his men could not be induced to push it home. In the course of the afternoon Clements withdrew towards Rietfontein, having lost in killed, wounded and prisoners more than two-thirds of his 1,500 men. An orderly retreat was effected, and the column, which had been surprised by Beyers and had seen its camp in the possession of the enemy, brought away, in the presence of superior numbers, all its ten guns.
Broadwood on the other side of the range, to communicate with whom Clements had taken up an unsound position at Noitgedacht Nek, lost touch with him, and like many a British officer before him in South Africa, was groping in the Fog of War. Two days previously he had heard that Beyers was approaching, and he knew that Delarey was not far off; yet in his ignorance of the situation he allowed Beyers to wriggle in between him and Clements and to meet Delarey. At the time when Clements was defending himself against the combined attack of the two Boer leaders, Broadwood was seven miles away, placidly patching a field telegraph cable; and when at noon he discovered that Clements was in action he made no attempt to create a diversion.
It would be inequitable to surcharge the Noitgedacht misadventure and other "regrettable incidents" to any individual: they should rather be surcharged, not to this or that responsible commander, but to irresponsible Human Nature. The British Army was, to a great extent, stale and veld-sick. It was informed that the war would soon be over, and it had become slack and careless. Convoys were sent afield with insufficient escorts to run the gauntlet of ever watchful and alert Boer commandants; Intelligence news qualified by the reports of untrustworthy native spies was transmitted circumferentially from column to column, with the result that the leader to whom it was of the most importance was sometimes the last to receive it; the scouting and patrol work was casual and rash. It is, however, but just to say that when the occasion called for it, the fighting qualities of the British soldier showed no signs of deterioration.
The Boers, after their habit, were content with the tactical victory at Noitgedacht and refrained from endeavouring to improve upon it. French and Clements took the field without delay, and although they failed in their plan to pin Delarey and Beyers on to the wall of the Magaliesberg, the Boer leaders were compelled to separate. Their brilliant and brief co-operation did much to awake the British nation out of its torpor. There was no longer any talk of reducing the Army of occupation by one-half at the end of the year, and still more during the New Year; or of quenching the smouldering embers of the war with Baden-Powell's new South African Constabulary.
Late in December the pursuit of Delarey, who had retired from Noitgedacht towards the S.W., was resumed. At Ventersdorp he and his 700 men, after eluding a ponderous force of nearly 6,000 men with 40 guns, doubled back; and soon the same columns unsuccessfully encountered him at Cyferfontein, where he ambushed a mounted detachment and then disappeared.
Beyers, who went into the west after he was wrenched apart from Delarey, soon reappeared upon the stage in the Hekpoort Valley with 1,200 men. His position was precarious. In front of him was Paget, who had been sent round to intercept him; while pressing on his heels was a newly-formed mounted force under Babington, 2,000 strong. He extricated himself cleverly by brushing past Paget and advancing boldly in what was apparently the line of greatest resistance.
No one but a Boer leader with a supreme contempt for his enemy would have thought of placing himself within striking distance of Pretoria and Johannesburg. Yet on January 11, 1901, he audaciously laagered within a few miles of Johannesburg, unknown to the garrison. Next day he crossed the railway at Kaalfontein, half-way between the two cities, and disappeared in the Eastern Transvaal. That at this stage of the war it was possible for 1,200 men to cut the railway, and with scarcely the loss of a man to cross it, with guns and a long train of wagons, midway between the two chief cities of the Transvaal, showed how much still remained to be done.
The disturbances in the Orange River Colony brought about certain changes and redistributions in the Transvaal commands, by which leaders were, as in the circuits of Wesleyan ministers, removed from spheres familiar to them. Clements went to Pretoria in succession to Tucker, who was sent to Bloemfontein; E. Knox, who, fifteen months previously, had been in command of the squadrons of the 18th Hussars which were not made prisoners of war at Talana, took command of the column of Broadwood, who was sent across the Vaal; Cunningham succeeded Clements in the Magaliesberg district; Hart quitted Klerksdorp for the Orange River Colony; and French went away into the west.
On the Boer side a new name which was destined often to be on men's lips emerged from the crowd in January, 1901. A young lawyer named J.C. Smuts, who had received his legal education in England, and whom Delarey entrusted with a command, soon showed, and not for the first time, that a shrewd, resourceful, energetic and determined civilian was, at least in guerilla, more than a match for highly trained British officers.
A movement towards the south by Cunningham, with a view of checking Delarey, soon brought Cunningham into trouble. After crossing the Magaliesberg he was entangled by the Transvaal leader, and had to be extricated by Babington before he could proceed to his destination at Krugersdorp.
Smuts, the new leader, went to the Gatsrand. His first exploit was to snap up a weak and isolated British detachment at Modderfontein Nek, and to establish his own commando on the position. When Cunningham reached Krugersdorp he received orders to tackle Smuts. On February 2, having an overwhelming superiority in guns and a considerable advantage in numbers, he attacked Smuts; but the apprentice tactician had little difficulty in meeting the regulation frontal holding attack combined with a turning movement, and Cunningham withdrew.
In the Western Transvaal there were now three Boer leaders to be dealt with: Smuts in the Gatsrand, Delarey in the Zwartruggens, and Kemp. The latter had come down from the north with Beyers and had been with him when the line was crossed at Kaalfontein. He had lately returned to his own district of Krugersdorp. With Botha threatening in the east and De Wet raiding in the south, few troops could be spared to help the columns on the spot; but two additional columns, under the command of Shekleton and Benson, and composed mainly of details, were assembled by Lord Kitchener. One of these went astray, but the other joined Cunningham and advanced against Smuts in the Gatsrand, only to find that he had escaped at first towards the south, and had then changed direction and had vanished in the N.W.
Methuen, who towards the end of November, 1900, had gone south from Mafeking in order to deal with apprehended trouble in Griqualand West, pushed up from the S.W. corner of the Transvaal and on February 18, 1901, came upon Delarey, who had escaped from Babington and had reinforced a gathering of weak commandos near Hartebeestfontein. Although outnumbered by more than 4 to 3, Methuen without much difficulty compelled Delarey to withdraw, and went on to Klerksdorp. Smuts reappeared and with Delarey made off to the N.W., the sanctuary to which each of them had in turn repaired. Methuen was sent south to Hoopstad in the Orange River Colony. He had hardly started when news came in that an isolated garrison seventy miles away in the N.W. was threatened.
Delarey had a definite objective in view when he disappeared, his native town of Lichtenburg. The place was one of many for which Methuen, with an attenuated force, was responsible; and now he had been called away to a town in trouble in the opposite direction. Two columns nearer at hand were called upon to relieve Lichtenburg, but in the meantime it had relieved itself; for although Delarey succeeded in winning a footing within it, the obstinate resistance which he encountered disheartened him, and he withdrew on March 4 after twenty-four hours' fighting.
The next three weeks were occupied in the pursuit of Delarey by two columns under Shekleton and Babington, at first in directions which he had not taken. They started westward from Ventersdorp, not conceiving it possible that, after the repulse at Lichtenburg, he would have the audacity to throw himself across their left front in an attempt to reach Klerksdorp. When the news that he had actually done so reached them they changed direction southwards, Delarey opening outwards to let them pass through towards Wolmaranstad, whither the Intelligence had in imagination waybilled him. The British columns, unaware that he was on either side of them, and still under the impression that he was on their front towards the south, passed on and halted at Hartebeestfontein, when a reconnoitring party sent out northwards discovered that he was in rear of the columns.
The reconnoitring party had much difficulty in saving itself, as it was charged by mounted Boers in mass, a tactical movement which hitherto had not been tried by the enemy. Babington at once reversed the line of his march, and on March 24 came up with Delarey at Wildfontein, midway between Ventersdorp and Lichtenburg. Delarey was moving heavily and was compelled to jettison his guns and his transport. These were picked up by Babington, who, however, was not able to continue the pursuit and returned to Ventersdorp.
The loss did not disconcert Delarey. He retired with Kemp to a position close to his lair in the Zwartruggens, where, however, he did not long remain. At the same time, he sent Smuts to the Hartebeestfontein district, out of which he had just been driven. The audacity of the act was justified, for Smuts maintained himself against Babington during the whole of April.
Early in May a determined effort was made to clear the district. Methuen after he had relieved Hoopstad was recalled to Mafeking, and then went to Lichtenburg. The British force on the Magaliesberg, commanded first by Clements, then by Cunningham, and now by Dixon, was ordered to operate from the north, while a strong column under Ingouville-Williams was prepared at Klerksdorp. Thus each angle of the disturbed area was held by troops ready to converge; and within it were Babington's columns. Delarey was believed to be at Hartebeestfontein; but neither he nor any other Boers could be found there when the troops entered it on May 6. The Boer leaders had, as usual, adopted their usual strategy of spreading false reports, and of dispersing their commandos as soon as they were hard pressed. On the British side the subsequent operations were conducted without method. The columns, having effected little, were recalled to their bases; and the middle of May, 1901, saw Delarey, Kemp, and J.C. Smuts still at large.
The first offensive action taken by Botha after he came down from Pietersburg in November, 1900, was against Hildyard's posts in the angle adjoining Natal. His movements against the garrisons of Vryheid and other places in December failed, and he returned to the Central Transvaal in order to co-operate with B. Viljoen in worrying the Delagoa Bay Railway, on which Lyttelton's57 force was strung out. Viljoen had already made a daring and successful raid on Helvetia, from which he brought away not only prisoners of war but also a heavy gun; although the town was by no means isolated, being one of a line of posts running from Belfast and Machadodorp to Lydenburg.
The exploit encouraged Botha to plan a general attack, in co-operation with Viljoen, on a section of the railway each side of Belfast. It was made on January 7, 1901. The chief effort was against Belfast, where Smith-Dorrien was in command of a garrison too weak for effective resistance. Viljoen advancing from the north met with some preliminary success, but a fog prevented co-operation between him and Botha and the attack failed. The attacks on the other posts on the railway were repelled without much difficulty. The recrudescence of Botha, the intrusion of Beyers from the west, the hovering presence of Viljoen north of the Delagoa Bay Railway, and the rumour that an invasion of Natal was in contemplation to synchronize with raids beyond the Orange by De Wet, Kritzinger, and Hertzog, determined Lord Kitchener to try to sweep up and reduce the Eastern Transvaal.
A force of five columns under the command of French was assembled a few miles east of the Elandsfontein-Pretoria Railway and began its advance on January 28. The general idea was that it should gradually extend its front, like the cone of dispersion of a shrapnel shell, between the diverging Natal and Delagoa Bay Railways, and then sweep eastward towards the Swaziland and Zululand borders; upon which Botha's commandos, if not already crushed by an enveloping movement on Ermelo, would be finally impaled. To assist French when he had traversed about one-half of the area, three columns were detailed to march southwards from the Delagoa Bay Railway on Ermelo. One of these columns was, however, sent away at the last moment under Paget to take part in the operations against De Wet in the Cape Colony. The combined strength of the seven columns against Botha was about 20,000 men, the majority of the combatants being mounted. A break back by Beyers and Kemp, who rejoined Delarey, was the opening incident of French's advance.
The first objective of French's movement was the town of Ermelo, where Botha was acting as a sort of rearguard to cover the retreat of the fugitive burghers, who with their families and their stuff were endeavouring to escape from the Khakis. His contemplated attack on Natal was, at least for the time being, impracticable; and he set himself to the task of inflicting what damage he could on the threatening columns. He ascertained that Smith-Dorrien's column was approaching Lake Chrissie on February 5, and that the other column operating from the Delagoa Bay Railway under W. Campbell, was too far away to give it effectual support. The gap left by the withdrawal of Paget had not been filled up.
When Smith-Dorrien reached the Lake, Botha had already started to meet him. Early in the morning of February 6 the British Camp was attacked, but although the attempt was furthered by a stampede of Smith-Dorrien's horses, Botha failed. He was compelled to draw off, but with the greater portion of his burghers wriggled round to the rear of the columns.58 Thus when French reached Ermelo he found that he had nothing to strike at. The Boer commandos had passed away. After a short halt he changed direction half right, and projected his front on to a cross-veld line reaching from the Swaziland border to Amersfort; then bringing round his right he formed up his seven columns on February 18 along the Swaziland border, with an eastward front of nearly forty miles extending southwards from Amsterdam. Dartnell was on the right of the line and Smith-Dorrien on the left.
Most of the fugitive commandos had, however, retired into the S.E. corner of the Transvaal; a movement which Hildyard, who was in charge of the district as well as of the whole of Natal, was not strong enough to check. French was now based on Natal for supplies, and arrangements had been made that two large convoys should be sent to him by way of Utrecht. Bad roads, bad weather, and submerged drifts impeded the progress of the painful trains, the first of which did not reach him until March 2, ten days after it was due. Meanwhile he subsisted on dwindled rations and on what he could pick up on the veld.
When, owing to a change in the routes by which he was supplied, French was able towards the end of March to operate actively, he endeavoured to isolate the S.E. corner of the Transvaal by disposing his force in two lines. One line ran from Piet Retief to Vryheid and acted as the driving force, and the other ran from Piet Retief along the Swaziland border and acted as the stopping force. Within the angle enclosed by these lines were commandos under Grobler of Vryheid, Emmett, and other leaders; but all of them wriggled out with insignificant losses. The line along the Swaziland border was rendered immobile by difficulties of supply, and the driving line was exhausted. The closing incident of French's ten weeks' campaign, the chief harvest of which was the capture, surrender, wounding, or killing of 1,300 Boers, the seizure of a considerable amount of ammunition, and the taking of eleven guns, was the return of Smith-Dorrien to the Delagoa Bay Railway in the middle of April.
Botha's projected invasion of Natal had indeed been frustrated and postponed, but he and all the other Boer leaders had escaped, unscathed and undismayed. French's ponderous columns had trudged painfully across the veld from Springs almost into Zululand, and had left things much as they were at the beginning of February.
During the early months of the year 1901 Viljoen for the most part contented himself with frequent attacks on the Delagoa Bay Railway, and a vigorous effort to restrain his activity was not practicable. In March Lord Kitchener formulated a plan for the subjugation of the Northern Transvaal. His plan was to send a column with secrecy and dispatch to Pietersburg, which would be occupied as a base from which the column would work southwards along the line of the Olifant's River, in co-operation with columns acting northwards from the Delagoa Bay Railway.
The force selected to proceed to Pietersburg was Plumer's Australian column, which sixteen days after it desisted from the chase of De Wet in the Orange River Colony was marching northwards out of Pretoria. Plumer entered Pietersburg on April 8 without opposition, Beyers, who had been falling back before him from Warmbaths, having evacuated the town. Plumer halted for a few days in order to secure the railway and to make arrangements for carrying out his orders to hold the line of the Olifant's River. Before the end of the month he was in possession of all the drifts from Commissie Drift downwards, and denied them to Viljoen.
The country in which Viljoen was acting is hilly and intricate, and Lord Kitchener, by borrowing Sir Bindon Blood from the Indian Government, an officer of great experience in frontier guerilla, paid Viljoen and the Boer commandos the compliment of crediting them with the military qualities of the dangerous, predatory, and enterprising hill tribes of the underfeatures of the Himalayas. To Blood were given six columns which were to work from Lydenburg and the Delagoa Bay Railway.
Viljoen was near Ros Senekal. He had three lines of retreat, northward or southward along the Steelpoort River, or down the Blood River. Blood's columns were disposed with the object of closing these exits. The Transvaal Government, which for some months had been sojourning in security at Paardeplatz, fled and joined Botha near Ermelo; but Viljoen stood fast.
The total force under Blood exceeded 10,000 men. Three columns under Beatson, Benson, and Pulteney, who had joined from Vryheid where he had been serving under
French's command, advanced northwards from the Delagoa Bay Railway. On their right front they were supported by three columns acting from Lydenburg, under Park, W. Douglas, and W. Kitchener. Douglas was the only leader destined to encounter Viljoen, who on April 10 struck at him near Dullstroom, but was handsomely beaten and compelled to return to the place from which he came. He was hedged in on all sides; mutiny and disaffection were rife among his burghers; and he saw that there was nothing to be done but make his escape as best he could.
He was headed off by Benson in an attempt to get away up the Steelpoort Valley, where next day 100 Boers gave themselves up to Blood. He next tried the Blood River, and passing down the valley crossed the Olifant on April 22, almost within sight of Beatson, who was watching the drifts. A few days later he crossed the railway and joined Botha at Ermelo. Early in May the active operations north of the Delagoa Bay Railway ceased. As in French's campaign, so also in Blood's, the results were chiefly negative. A glut of live stock was rounded up, a considerable amount of ammunition and all the guns known to be in the district were taken, and 1,100 Boers either surrendered or were made prisoners. The columns were withdrawn, as troops were in request in the districts lately driven by French; and Plumer, who had had no opportunity of engaging actively in the movement, was recalled. He was succeeded at Pietersburg by Grenfell.
At the end of May Dixon set out westwards from Naauwpoort in the Magaliesberg district on a raiding expedition. He trekked for three days and then ran unexpectedly into a Boer column at Vlakfontein. He was attacked through a veil of smoke from a grass fire which the slim enemy had lit to windward. In spite of this disadvantage he held his own and compelled the Boers to retire, but soon, however, found it advisable to retire himself and returned to Naauwpoort.
The column which had engaged Dixon was under the command of Kemp, whom the Intelligence had after the Hartebeestfontein operations despatched in imagination with Delarey to the south, where they were reported to be concentrating. Kemp, however, had returned to the Zwartruggens. After the Vlakfontein affair he found columns approaching him from all sides and dissolved his command. Delarey had gone south, and was now in the Orange River Colony.
The northward retreat of De Wet through the Orange River Colony in March, 1901, drew in its trail a host of British columns, which plodded sturdily across the veld with scanty results. He endeavoured to systematize guerilla by parcelling out the late Free State into districts under commandants acting locally: Lord Kitchener retorted by parcelling it out into a smaller number of districts, each district being in charge of a general officer armed with columns with which to worry the local commandants. Many divagations ensued; few profitable results were attained.
Of these divagations the most conspicuous was a visit paid by Rundle to the Brandwater Basin, wherein the enemy was reported to be once more concentrated. There were, in fact, less than 1,000 burghers within the Basin, but these pressed severely on him when, at the end of May, he made his exit through the Golden Gate with one prisoner of war.
Exigencies elsewhere compelled Lord Kitchener to allow the Cape Colony, to a great extent, to take care of itself. Some troops were sent down, but they were insufficient to control the disaffection which was active in the midland districts. Kritzinger remained in the Cape Colony; paying, however, a brief visit to the Orange River Colony in April.
Early in June Delarey, De Wet, and Steyn met at Reitz, for the purpose of considering a communication lately received from the Transvaal Government, suggesting that overtures should be made to Lord Kitchener. To this Steyn had already returned an unfavourable answer; but he distrusted the wavering and wandering Transvaal Government, and he was desirous of obtaining the support of Delarey, whom he knew to be the most stalwart and implacable of the Transvaal leaders. It was arranged that Steyn, Delarey, and De Wet should go north and meet Botha at Ermelo.
Meanwhile Elliott, who was in charge of one of the districts parcelled out by Lord Kitchener in the Orange River Colony, was engaged in a drive from Vrede to Kroonstad. On June 6 he sent on a weak column under Sladen to capture a Boer convoy near Reitz. It was taken without trouble, but the news soon reached the triumvirate in camp not far off and they determined to make an effort to recapture it. A small commando was quickly mustered and Delarey and De Wet attacked Sladen, who after several hours' hard fighting was relieved by another column from Elliott's force. The prize was retained, but Delarey and De Wet got away. They waited until Elliott had passed by, and then made for the north with Steyn, crossing into the Transvaal near Standerton.
Meanwhile the Transvaal Government which they had gone to meet had been again sent on its journeyings. The effects of French's drive had soon passed away, and Lord Kitchener found it necessary to resume active operations in the Eastern Transvaal, the chief object of which was the capture of the Transvaal Government. It was hustled out of the Ermelo district and pushed down towards Piet Retief, from which it returned to Ermelo in the middle of June. Its drooping spirits were revived by an affair at Wilmansrust, where a wandering Australian column was overwhelmed by a commando under Muller which was lurking in the district. On June 20 Steyn, Delarey, and De Wet met the Transvaal Government in a Council of War near Standerton.
The allies at once determined to continue the war. Lord Kitchener had permitted a communication to be sent to ex-President Kruger asking his advice. Kruger's reply, as might have been anticipated, was in favour of continuing the war. In his comfortable sanctuary in Holland he had nothing to lose by urging those whom he had left behind to carry on the struggle. In view of the tentacles with which Great Britain was grasping South Africa and of the general situation, the decision of the Council of War was a morally courageous act. There was in it, moreover, a special as well as a general idea. Particular attention was to be given to the cultivation of the numerous germs of mischief in the Cape Colony, and this part of the plan was entrusted to the brilliant young lawyer, J.C. Smuts, who returned with Delarey to the Western Transvaal.
An almost complete reconstruction of the Free State Government was rendered necessary by an episode which occurred soon after Steyn's return to his own country. When he and his colleagues crossed the Vaal they found Elliott again engaged on a drive. On the night of July 10 they were surprised at Reitz by Broadwood, who had joined Elliott's command, and all except Steyn were captured. De Wet was away, otherwise it is improbable that a man of such infinity of resource and strength of will would have allowed his friends to be taken tamely in their slumbers.
The task set to Smuts was, to all appearance, impossible of fulfilment. Not only had he to collect a sufficient force in the Gatsrand under the eyes of British columns, but he had also to conduct it through the whole length of the Orange River Colony, and run the gauntlet of Elliott, C. Knox, Rundle, and Bruce Hamilton. By the middle of July he had recruited 340 burghers, who travelled south in four parties with British columns at their heels and mustered near Hoopstad on August 1.
Here they entered the precincts of the area into which Lord Kitchener was endeavouring in one grand drive to sweep the Boer remnants of the S.W. Transvaal and the Orange River Colony. Elliott was wheeling round from Reitz through Vredefort and Klerksdorp and advancing on the line of the Modder River, behind which stood Bruce Hamilton.59 A considerable amount of transport and live stock was taken; also 500 Boers, among whom Smuts and his commando were not.
He had succeeded on August 3 in wriggling by night through Elliott's driving line and was now in rear of it. He now divided his force into two commandos, one of which, under Van der Venter, made for the south by way of Brandfort. With the other he boldly trailed behind Elliott and followed him to the Bloemfontein-Jacobsdal line of Constabulary posts, through which he passed without injury. He then found himself entangled in Bruce Hamilton's columns, and although he succeeded in reaching Springfontein, he was soon forced to retreat nearly seventy miles in the direction of Bloemfontein. Nothing daunted, he made another dash for the south, and having evaded two pursuing columns entered Zastron on August 27, where he found Van der Venter waiting for him. His daring and adventurous ride ranks as one of the most notable personal exploits of the war. He had not only cut Elliott's line from front to rear, but had afterwards enfranchised himself amid the swarm of Bruce Hamilton's columns. The lawyer Smuts was the De Wet of the Transvaal.
Kritzinger after fifteen weeks' activity in the Cape Colony had returned to Zastron a few days before Smuts' arrival. His incursion into the Colony in May occurred at an opportune moment, for the local rebels were being severely worried. He made at first for the Zuurberg, but being soon expelled from it and from the adjacent mountainous district north of Sterkstroom, circled back to the Orange and snapped up Jamestown. He now flung his grenades on all sides. One rebel leader reached the Transkei districts; others prowled between Graaff Reinet and the Capetown Railway. Kritzinger himself captured a small British detachment near Maraisburg.
As in February when Lyttelton was brought down, so again in July the situation in the Cape Colony was sufficiently serious to call for outside assistance. French was sent down from the Transvaal; Lord Kitchener himself came to Middelburg. The measures concerted between them, a series of northward drives by the operation of which the rebels would be plastered against the railways, which were rapidly blockhoused for the purpose, met with indifferent success. The disaffected midland districts were swept, but the leaders escaped. Kritzinger crossed the Orange in August, and at Zastron awaited the arrival of J.C. Smuts with new schemes for mischief.
The presence of these leaders attracted columns from several quarters and they were betimes theoretically surrounded. Kritzinger, however, refused to consider himself surrounded and even worked freely in co-operation with Brand: nor had J.C. Smuts any intention of resigning his commission. He crossed the Orange on September 3. A fortnight later, Kritzinger and Brand parted company. Kritzinger marched on the Orange, and near a drift of that river pounced upon and overwhelmed a weak detail of the force under Hart, who was acting as warden of the Cape Colony marches. Brand made for the Bloemfontein-Thabanchu line of posts, which was the sport of every Boer leader who chose to hack at it, and which recently had scarcely impeded the progress of Van der Venter to the south for an hour. On September 19, near Sannah's Post, he ambushed and destroyed a party of mounted infantry engaged in raiding a farm. Two guns and nearly 100 prisoners of war were taken by Brand.
Smuts' arrival in the Cape Colony, like Kritzinger's four months before, stimulated a waning cause. Lotter, who had escaped French's drives, had just been taken; the other rebel leaders were isolated and comparatively innocuous. Fresh hopes were kindled, activities were renewed, when it was noised among the rebel bands that Smuts the Transvaaler had swooped down like an eagle from the north.
These hopes were not delusive. Smuts made for the south, pursued by some of French's columns. Near Tarkastad on September 17 he ambushed and overwhelmed a detachment of regular cavalry and won a footing in the midlands, where rebellion again raised its head from the ground.
Smuts noticed and encouraged the promising movement and returned to the Zuurberg, out of which, however, he was soon hustled. He went away to join a rebel leader named Scheepers, who had been working freely 200 miles away to the S.W. in the districts bordering the sea. Scheepers, however, was taken prisoner near Prince Albert Road Station on the Capetown Railway before Smuts reached him; but Smuts continued his movement. Smuts had entrusted the inflammatory work in the midlands to local leaders before he left the district, and now set himself to trespass beyond the furthest point reached by Scheepers, and to make a bold entry into the extreme S.W. corner of the Cape Colony. Early in November he penetrated into the Ceres district, where he was less than 100 miles in a direct line from Capetown. He had brilliantly performed the task set to him by Botha and Steyn at Standerton in June. He had been in contact with and had evaded the majority of the units of Lord Kitchener's widely disseminated army at one time or another during his ride of 1,100 miles, and in fourteen weeks had passed from the Gatsrand in the Transvaal to within a few days' march of Capetown.
Meanwhile Lord Kitchener was doing his best to deal with the accruing winter discontent. He had a plan of his own; and he was also furnished with a plan that had been drawn up by the civilian authorities in Downing Street and South Africa, who thought that the walls of Jericho would fall to the sound of a Proclamation. In August, 1901, a legal document was served on the Boers, much in the same way that a writ is served upon a debtor. In it they were declared to be helpless and incapable of carrying on the struggle, and their leaders were threatened with perpetual banishment. It had little effect on the enemy, except to brace him up for further efforts; and Lord Kitchener, it is believed, had no faith in it.
Lord Kitchener's plan was the extension across the veld of the system of blockhouse lines which at first ran only along the railways, and the formation of pens or enclaves into which the attenuated roving bands of Boers were to be herded and dealt with severally and severely. The work of extension was taken in hand in July, 1901. The Boers in the veld watched it with the detachment and unconcern of a wild bird on the branches looking down upon the fowler laying his snares in the field below.
Another drive by Elliott during August and September, this time through the eastern districts of the Orange River Colony, affected little. Kritzinger remained in his corner between the Orange and the Caledon and could not be extracted from it; De Wet was still at large. In the Transvaal the leaders were marking time. Viljoen after the Standerton conference withdrew beyond the Delagoa Bay Railway, but was soon driven out of the mountains. He lost heart, handed over his command to Muller, and went down to the low veld adjoining the Pietersburg Railway.
In the Western Transvaal Delarey and Kemp were alert. Kemp in the Zwartruggens foiled an attempt to cast a net around him, and in conjunction with Delarey attacked Methuen on the Marico River without success on September 5. A pale of blockhouses denied them access to the "protected area."60 Muller effected a trifling success in the middle north. Beyers in the Pietersburg district was unable to prevent Grenfell reaching a point but sixty miles from the Limpopo and there making prisoners of a local commando.
No organized attempt was made to disturb Botha in the Ermelo district. A column under Benson did indeed set out from the Delagoa Bay Railway in August, but it was recalled by the alarm of a Boer raid on the line at Bronkhorst Spruit. Benson subsequently did useful raiding work in the Carolina district, but was not strong enough to tackle Botha.
Botha had never abandoned the scheme of an invasion of Natal which was drawn up at the end of 1900. His first attempt to carry it out was frustrated by French, but it was uppermost in his mind during the winter of 1901. Early in September he left the Ermelo district, in which Lord Kitchener had never been able to operate effectively, and made for Piet Retief with 1,000 men. Columns, faint yet pursuing, started from each railway, and ignorant of his movements trudged wearily across the veld to the S. E. Botha, after passing through the defile between the Swaziland border and the Slangapiesberg, turned to the south, his ultimate objective being Dundee. In the corner abutting on Zululand were commandos under Emmett and Grobler of Vryheid.
Lyttelton on his return from leave took over the Natal command from Hildyard. He disposed his columns as best he could, having regard to the contradictory reports which reached him of Botha's movements and intentions. The first encounter occurred on September 17 at Blood River Poort. A mounted column under Gough and Stewart had been sent out from Dundee across the Buffalo to bring away a convoy from Vryheid. Gough soon came into touch with a body of the enemy. It was, he thought, only a local commando, and when he saw it off-saddle he left Stewart in support and went out to surprise it. The nature of the ground prevented a complete surprise, but he partially effected it, only to be surprised himself by the sudden charge of Botha's main body, which was supposed to be a day's march distant. After a brief combat, in which Stewart was unable to intervene, Gough lost the whole of his command of nearly 300 men in killed, wounded, and prisoners, as well as three guns. Stewart escaped to the Buffalo.
The crick-crack of Botha's Mausers at Blood River Poort echoed throughout South Africa. Troops from all quarters were hurried to the spot; search parties discovered some columns under W. Kitchener which had lost themselves on the high veld; and so rarified was the military atmosphere, that not only columns but even general officers were scarce. Bruce Hamilton and Clements were brought in.
Botha seems to have regarded his success as unreal. He hesitated to follow it up, and soon the Buffalo in flood effectually barred the way to Dundee. He now proposed to enter Natal through Zululand, below the junction of the Tugela and the Buffalo. On the point of the angle which, at that time, the Transvaal thrust into Zululand were two British posts, Forts Prospect and Itala. Botha was beginning to be doubtful about the eventual success of his Natal raid, but thought that as he was on the spot he might as well be doing something. He therefore ordered these posts to be taken, entrusting to his brother C. Botha the attack on Itala, and to Emmett and Grobler the attack on Prospect. The failure of each attack with considerable loss on September 26 made Botha reconsider his position. There was no more thought of another campaign on the Tugela, and he determined to retire.
Lyttelton's dispositions continued for some days to be directed against the Natal raid upon which Botha was supposed to be still engaged, and the discovery that he had abandoned it was not made until October 1. His capture did not seem to be a very difficult task, as his only way of escape was the Piet Retief defile by which he had entered the district three weeks before.
There was, however, an intermediate barrier, the irregular Pondwana range lying eastward of Vryheid, where he might be arrested. Lyttelton's plan was that Clements and B. Hamilton should press towards this barrier from the S.W., while W. Kitchener acted as a stop on the north side of it. The range is pierced by several neks, at one of which, lying between the main heights and the Inyati spur, Botha was checked by Kitchener on October 2. He then made a cast eastward to another nek and by abandoning his transport succeeded three nights later in getting round Kitchener's left. He easily kept Kitchener off in a rearguard action and made for Piet Retief. Neither Clements nor B. Hamilton was ever in the running, and Kitchener was hampered by the necessity of watching several neks along a front of twenty miles.
There was, however, one more barrier for Botha to cross or to turn, the Slangapiesberg between Wakkerstroom and Piet Retief; but it scarcely delayed him for an hour. Except one column, which was covering the building of a blockhouse line and which he evaded without difficulty, there was nothing to oppose him. When a column under Plumer came upon the scene he had passed away on October 11 through Piet Retief towards Ermelo. His movements had bewildered his opponents, who intent on frustrating a raid on Natal, had omitted to bar and bolt the door by which he had entered. His capture would, in all probability, have ended the war.
When Botha left for the south he instructed B. Viljoen to carry on for him; but when he joined the itinerant Transvaal Government at Amsterdam he was disappointed to find that little or nothing had been done in his absence, thanks chiefly to the mobile energy of Benson, who hovered like a hawk over the terrorized laagers. Moreover, the pale of Constabulary posts which formed the eastward section of the great ring fence enclosing the "protected area" had been advanced. It now ran from Greylingstad to Wilge River Station on the Delagoa Bay Railway, and encroached upon the area in which Botha could act with reasonable hope of success.
The return of Botha, however, infused some spirit into the hustled commandos of the high veld, and he gladly accepted a suggestion that Benson should be attacked. The Ermelo and Carolina men who had accompanied him to Natal returned to find that their districts had been roughly handled by Benson and were eager for reprisals. On October 25 Botha narrowly escaped capture by two columns which had been sent after him from Standerton.
Benson left Middelburg, the base to which he returned from time to time, on October 20, with a column 1,600 strong, to renew his operations on the high veld. When he reached the Bethal district he noticed ominous signs of the revived spirit. He was hampered with a considerable transport, his supplies were dwindling, and he did not think himself justified in risking an encounter. He therefore decided to return to the Delagoa Bay Railway. H. Grobler of Bethal, who had suggested to Botha the attack on Benson, was in the vicinity with 700 burghers, and Botha himself was again in the field.
Benson began to retire before sunrise on October 30. Bad weather and Grobler pressing in rear worried the forenoon march, and ere the midday halt had been called Botha came up with 500 men after a forced march. While the convoy was being parked at Bakenlaagte, the pressure on the rearguard increased, and it was forced back to a ridge about two miles S.E. of the park. Benson came up and ordered a second retirement of the rearguard to a position, to which the name of Gun Hill has been given, nearer the park, and posted two field guns on the hill.
Botha soon occupied the ridge, and then charged Gun Hill with his main body under Grobler, at the same time sending parties to attack the flanking posts. Two detachments of British infantry stranded between the ridge and the hill were overwhelmed by the charge. Most of the mounted sections got away to the hill, hotly pursued by the Boers, who leaving their horses at the foot, at once began to climb the slope. They clutched each shoulder of the hill, swarmed up the front, and soon silenced the guns. An attempt to bring up the teams from the reverse slope failed.
In less than half an hour Grobler had won Gun Hill with a loss of 100 men. Benson was mortally wounded. The flanking posts were too much engaged in defending themselves to be able to assist the defenders of Gun Hill. An attempt to intervene made by a few companies on the march to the camp where the convoy was parked was unsuccessful. The Boers, as usual, were satisfied with a casual tactical success, and made no effort to follow it up strategically. They were soon driven off Gun Hill by shell fire from the camp, but after nightfall returned to bring away the guns. In the British casualties were 120 prisoners of war. Wools-Sampson, who succeeded Benson in command, maintained himself for two days, and was then relieved by columns from the south. He returned to the Delagoa Bay Railway.
The exigences of the military situation called for the withdrawal of most of the troops operating against Kemp and Delarey in the Western Transvaal; and by the middle of September, 1901, these leaders had practically but one column to evade, namely the force formerly commanded by Dixon and now by Kekewich. He left Naauwpoort on September 13, and after some preliminary work on the Magaliesberg passed through Magato Nek, and with a force of less than 1,000 men advanced into the Zwartruggens, a wild, difficult, and confusing district admirably adapted to Boer guerilla.
On September 29 Kekewich took up a position at Moedvil near the right bank of the Selous River. He was compelled to place all his westward outposts, except one double picket, on the right bank, as the veld on the left bank was bushy and rose gradually from the river and would have absorbed more men than he could spare for outpost duty.
Delarey was accurately informed of Kekewich's movements, and it is said had actually reconnoitred the camp unobserved a few hours after Kekewich's arrival. He quickly formulated his plan of attack, in which he seems to have followed, on a smaller scale, the familiar tactics of the British leaders whom he had met in battle, notably at Diamond Hill, but with a certain innovation of his own.
He divided his force into four columns, two of which were told off to grapple Kekewich's flanks and command his line of retreat, and two to make a frontal but not merely holding attack on his centre. Early in the morning of September 30 Delarey put his columns in motion. He started with certain points in his favour. All Kekewich's outposts save one were on the right bank and in the vicinity of the camp, and in fact Delarey took him by surprise. The movements of the Boer columns were, however, not well co-ordinated. The flanking columns were not in position when the centre columns, which do not seem to have been challenged by the post on the left bank, reached the river and concealed themselves in the deep bed. This might not have marred the success of Delarey's plan if the columns in the river-bed had not been discovered by a patrol which gave the alarm and brought them prematurely into action.
The situation now resolved itself into an attempt to storm the position. The centre columns sprang out of the river while it was still dark, mounted the steep bank and opened fire up the slope on to the camp on the skyline above. A stampede of the horses ensued, but a resolute front was quickly formed and the attack was checked. An alarm that the enemy was threatening the rear of the camp was proved to be unfounded by a scratch gathering of details which was hastily mustered; it then wheeled round, and picking up reinforcements on the way charged the Boer left at the river. The charge was irresistible, and the sun had hardly risen when Delarey's whole line fell away.
No limit can be assigned to the British soldier's power of resistance when he finds himself in a tight place, but it would probably have gone hard with him if Delarey's tactical scheme had been accurately carried out, and if the flanking columns, one of which was under the command of Kemp, had been further in advance when the centre columns were discovered. A panic among the horses which threw the camp into confusion, supervening on an unexpected attack while the dawn had scarcely shown above the Magaliesberg, was soon followed by a cry that the position had been turned. Yet at that critical moment of the dark hours, when animal courage is supposed to be at its lowest ebb, Kekewich's men never wavered, and although they were only called upon to deal with a blundered manoeuvre, yet it exacted from them a toll in casualties of nearly one fourth of their strength. Kekewich was wounded, and the loss of horses and transport pinned him to the ground until he was relieved by a column from the south, which had marched to the sound of the battle.
A few days later Kekewich went to Rustenburg, out of which he again sallied forth on October 13 into the Zwartruggens in search of Delarey. Methuen had already left Mafeking on the same errand. On October 24 Delarey fell in with one of Methuen's columns on its way to Zeerust. The column, which was impeded by wagons slowly progressing along a bad road in a defile, was pounced upon unexpectedly and hewn in twain; but if, as usual, the scouting was poor the defence was excellent. After a struggle which lasted two hours Delarey was driven off, the severed portions of the column were re-united, and not one of the seven guns was lost.
By the end of 1901 all the precedents of European warfare had been discredited. Tactics and strategy, as practised by the experts, had done their best, and were now in bankruptcy. The war had drifted into its final mechanical phase: the coercion of brute force by brute force of higher potential. It was now mainly a question of putting as many men as possible on horseback to ride down the enemy. Field guns not being needed, the Royal Artillery was formed into a corps of Mounted Rifles.
Ian Hamilton, who had gone home with Lord Roberts, returned to South Africa a year later as Chief of the Staff to Lord Kitchener.
These posts, however, were small entrenched forts at considerable distances apart for the protection of the road to Basutoland, rather than blockhouses.
See p. 326.
Lyttelton went to the Cape Colony in February, 1901, to direct the operations against De Wet, and was subsequently sent into the Orange River Colony. After a few months' leave he returned to South Africa in September and took over Hildyard's command in Natal.
He was next heard of at the abortive peace conference held at Middelburg, where he met Lord Kitchener at the end of February.
Bruce Hamilton succeeded Lyttelton in the Orange River Colony when the latter went home on leave.
The "protected area" was a district round Pretoria and Johannesburg which was enclosed by a ring of blockhouses and Constabulary posts in August, 1901.