SURROUNDINGS OF LADYSMITH—PRINCIPAL HILLS AND OBSERVATION POINTS IN ITS PERIMETER AND HOW GUARDED—POSITIONS OF THE NAVAL GUNS AT DIFFERENT PERIODS OF THE SIEGE.
BY the time the Naval Brigade arrived in the straggling little town, names had already been given to the principal hills and positions in the lines of defence.
Gordon Hill, a piece of high ground in the centre of the northern line of defence, was the first position selected for the naval 12-pounders, and to this hill they retired after the action of October 30, the four Maxims also taking up positions on the same hill. From here they had full command of the open plain in front of Gordon Hill, and would have been able to concentrate a terrific fire on any advancing enemy, had they thought fit to follow up the advantage gained by their success, in the battle of Lombard's Kop, and attack the town on the northern side—a plan of action which it was thought quite possible they might attempt to carry out during the first few days of the bombardment.
The two 4-7 guns were also mounted on the northern line of the defences, principally to engage ' Long Tom' of Pepworth Hill; the first one on Junction Hill, about half a mile to the north-east of the main naval position on Gordon Hill, and the other on Cove Redoubt, a hill five hundred feet high, and three-quarters of a mile to the west of the main position, from which commanding altitude it could fire in any direction, and was in a fairly concealed position, some way back along the flat crest of the hill.
This latter gun remained in this same position during the whole four weary months of siege; but the one originally placed on Junction Hill was dismounted and moved away to be mounted in a position on the southern line of defences, on Wagon Hill, a few days before each of General Buller's three unsuccessful attempts to relieve the town, in order to cover the advance of a flying column intended to effect a junction with his forces if possible. It was only actually mounted in its new position once, however, just before the battle of Colenso, on December 15, the enemy on the second occasion unfortunately selecting the same night—January 6— for their big assault, as had been chosen for mounting this gun on the hill they assaulted; while the third attempt at relief and the operations round Vaal Krantz had actually been abandoned when it was decided to move this gun once again.
After each retirement of the relief column across the Tugela the gun was remounted in its old position on Junction Hill again, till this unfortunate 4.7 came to be regarded as a sort of bird of ill omen, and faces fell directly there was the slightest suggestion of moving it. Finally, however, it was taken across to the eastern end of Caesar's Camp, just before the end of the siege, with the intention of harassing the enemy in their retreat; and there it remained till the Naval Brigade left, worrying the gunners of the Bulwana 6-inch gun all through the night of February 28 in their attempt to get this gun away, though, much to the disappointment of the whole garrison, and the Naval Brigade especially, without success.
The four 12-pounders were far too useful weapons to retain all together on Gordon Hill, and, with the exception of one of them, which remained on this hill during the whole of the siege, were moved from place to place, as the frequent shifting of the besieger's guns made it necessary. Thus, one was sent over to the west of Cove Redoubt to engage the guns on Surprise Hill and Rifleman's Ridge (see map), and another to Cesar's Camp to try conclusions with the Boer 6-inch gun on Middle Hill and the field-pieces on the other ridges to the southward; while the naval field gun was thrown out with the advanced post on Junction Hill, so as to cover the approaches to the 4.7 gun, across the open plain.
One only of the Maxims was used at all, the other three being merely ornaments to the earthworks on Gordon Hill. This one was fired under the command of Midshipman Stokes, also with the advanced post in front of Junction Hill, and was of great service in keeping down the fire of the snipers, who often secreted themselves at early morning in a farm known as Brooks's Farm, about two thousand yards to the northward of the hill.At the end of the siege all these guns, with the exception of the naval field gun and the four Maxims, which were taken back to H.M.S. ' Powerful,' were turned over to the Royal Garrison Artillery, with many a fond word of farewell from their crews, so sad were they at parting with them.