[Footnote 50: See general map of South Africa, Relief map No. 2, and map No. 3.]
[Sidenote: Defence plans of local authorities.]
[Sidenote: Genl. Goodenough.]
It has been convenient to carry the statement of the measures adopted for preparation at home in certain matters beyond the actual date of the declaration of war. It is now necessary to view the state of affairs in South Africa at that time. Although British preparations for war had been retarded by the hope of the Queen's Government that the grave issues with the Dutch Republics might be determined by diplomatic action, yet the weakness of our military position in South Africa had long been felt as keenly by the local military authorities as it had been by the Headquarter staff at the War Office. In schemes for the defence of the British colonies, submitted in 1896 and 1897 by Lieut.-General Sir W. H. Goodenough, who was then commanding in South Africa, the extraordinary extent of the frontiers to be defended, the disadvantages entailed by their shape, and the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Boers over the handful of British troops then in South Africa, made it necessary to base the protection even of the most important strategical points on sheer audacity.
[Sidenote: War Office to Gen. Butler Dec. /98.]
[Sidenote: Dec. /98, from W.O.]
A letter addressed by the War Office to General Goodenough's successor, Lieut.-General Sir W. Butler, on 21st December, 1898, had requested him to reconsider his predecessor's proposals, and to report at an early date the distribution of troops he would make in the event of war with the two Dutch Republics. In a review of the strategical situation, that despatch drew attention to the fact that the troops then stationed in the command "would be inadequate for any other than a defensive attitude, pending the arrival of reinforcements from England." In the same paper the effect of the frontiers on the questions, both of defence in the earlier stages of the war, and of the ultimate form of offence, is so fully treated that it will be convenient to quote here the official statement of the case. It must be premised that it is assumed in it, as in fact proved to be the case, that both sides would tacitly agree, for the sake of not raising the native difficulty, to treat Basuto territory as neutral. That mountain region was therefore throughout considered as an impassable obstacle:--
"The frontiers of the Transvaal and the Free State are conterminous with English territory for over 1,000 miles, but the defence of this enormous frontier by Her Majesty's troops is impossible to contemplate. Southern Rhodesia, although a possible objective for a Boer raid, must rely entirely for its defence upon its own local forces, and, although the line from Kimberley to Buluwayo is of some strategic importance, yet its protection north of the Vaal river would be altogether out of our power during the earlier stages of the war. Basutoland may also be eliminated from defensive calculations, as its invasion by the Boers would be improbable; moreover, the Basutos, if invaded, would be able for some time to maintain an effective resistance.
"The frontier, therefore, the observation and defence of which appears to need definite consideration, may be held to extend in Cape Colony from Fourteen Streams bridge in the north to the south-west corner of Basutoland, and to include in Natal the triangle, of which Charlestown is the apex, and a line drawn from Mont Aux Sources to the Intonganeni district of Zululand the base.
[Footnote 51: Now spelt Emtonjaneni on the general map.]
"The mountains and broken country of Basutoland and Griqualand East, which lie between Natal and the Cape Colony, are unpierced by railways and ill-supplied by roads. It must be accepted, therefore, that a force acting on the defensive in Natal will be out of touch with a force in Cape Colony, and the two can only operate from separate bases.
[Sidenote: Dec. /98 from W.O.]
"As regards the Cape frontier, for the portion lying between Basutoland and Hopetown railway bridge, the Orange river forms a military obstacle of some importance, impassable, as a rule, during the first three months of the year, except at the bridges, and even at other times difficult to cross, owing to its quicksands, and liability to sudden flood. Between Hopetown railway bridge and the Vaal the frontier is, however, protected by no physical features and lies open to invasion.
[Footnote 52: The railway bridge at Orange River station.]
"As regards the Natal frontier its salient confers on the enemy facilities for cutting our line of communications, and for outflanking at pleasure the positions of Laing's Nek and the Biggarsberg. This facility is accentuated by the influence of the Drakensberg, which forms a screen, behind which an enemy can assemble unobserved and debouch on our flanks through its numerous passes. These passes, however, have been recently examined and found to be for the most part but rough mountain tracks available for raids, but unsuitable for the advance of any large force accompanied by transport. To this Van Reenen's Pass, through which the railway and main road issue from Natal into the Free State, and Laing's Nek (across and under which the main road and railway pass into the Transvaal) are notable exceptions, and the possession of these two passes necessarily carry with them great strategical advantages.
"An appreciation of the relative importance of the defence of the two frontiers of Cape Colony and Natal would, no doubt, be assisted if the line by which the main advance on the Transvaal will ultimately be undertaken were determined; but I am to say that in the Commander-in-Chief's opinion the plan for offensive operations must depend upon the political and military situation of the moment, and cannot now be definitely fixed. The fact, however, that an offensive advance will ultimately be undertaken, as soon as sufficient forces have arrived, must be especially borne in mind in considering arrangements for the first or defensive stage of the campaign."
The despatch then stated that the following should be taken as the basis of Sir William Butler's arrangements for frontier defence: "The latest information in the possession of the War Office as to the military strength of the two States will be found in the recent pamphlet entitled 'Military Notes on the Dutch Republics of South Africa,' copies of which are in your possession. You will observe that in that publication it is estimated that the total forces of the two republics amount to over 40,000 men, and that of these some 27,000 would be available for offensive operations beyond their frontiers. It is known that projects for such offensive operations have actually been under the consideration of the War department of Pretoria, but although an attempt may be made on Kimberley and the northern strip of Natal may be occupied by the Boers, yet it is considered to be unlikely that any further serious advance into the heart of either colony would be undertaken. Raids, however, of 2,000 to 3,000 men may be expected, and it is against such raids that careful preparation on your part is necessary."
[Footnote 53: A later edition of the Military Notes (June, 1899) estimated the total strength of the burgher and permanent levies to be 53,743, and further that these would be joined at the outbreak of war by 4,000 Colonial rebels. It was calculated that of this total, and exclusive of those detached for frontier defence and to hold in check Kimberley and Mafeking, 27,000 effectives would be available as a field army for offensive operations. When these estimates were made, the large number of Uitlanders in Johannesburg made it probable that a considerable Boer force would be detained to watch that city.]
[Sidenote: June /99. Sir W. Butler's reply.]
Sir W. Butler, being occupied by other duties, did not reply to this despatch until pressed by telegrams at the beginning of June of the following year. He then reported by telegraph and in a letter to the War Office, dated 12th June, 1899, that he intended, in the event of war, to divide the troops in Natal into two; one part at Dundee-Glencoe with orders to patrol to the Buffalo river on the east, Ingagane on the north, and the Drakensberg Passes on the west, and the other at Ladysmith, with instructions "to support Glencoe and maintain the line of the Biggarsberg, or to operate against Van Reenen's Pass should circumstances necessitate." In Cape Colony he proposed, with the small number of troops then available (i.e., three battalions, six guns and a R.E. company), to hold the important railway stations of De Aar, Naauwpoort and Molteno (or Stormberg), with strong detachments at Orange River station, and possibly Kimberley, and outposts at Colesberg, Burghersdorp, and Philipstown. It will be seen, therefore, that, while deprecating the actual occupation of the Drakensberg Passes and of the Colesberg and Bethulie bridges over the Orange river, which had been proposed by his predecessor and approved by Lord Wolseley, Sir William Butler did not shrink from the forward policy of endeavouring to bluff the enemy with weak detachments stationed in close proximity to the frontier.
[Sidenote: Baden-Powell sent out.]
It was in conformity with this policy that, in July, 1899, the War Office despatched Col. R. S. S. Baden-Powell, with a staff of special service officers, to organise a force in southern Rhodesia. It was hoped that, in the event of war, his column might detain a portion of the Boer commandos in that quarter, since its position threatened the northern Transvaal. To his task was subsequently added the organisation of a mounted infantry corps which, based on Mafeking, might similarly hold back the burghers of the western districts of the South African Republic.
[Sidenote: Choice of Routes.]
The cloud of war rapidly spread over the whole of the South African horizon, and the strategical situation became sharply defined. As regards the determination of the plan of offence referred to in the above War Office despatch, the difficulty was due to the hope entertained by the Cabinet that, in the event of war between this country and the Transvaal, the Orange Free State would remain neutral. The choice in that case would have lain between an advance based on Warrenton, i.e., on the Kimberley-to-Mafeking railway, or a movement parallel to the Natal-to-Johannesburg railway. By the middle of 1899, however, the Headquarter staff at the War Office were convinced that, if war should supervene, the two republics would make common cause. A memorandum, entitled, "The Direction of a Line of Advance Against the Transvaal," was prepared by the Intelligence division on that basis and submitted on 3rd June, 1899. It was contended in this memorandum that the lack of any railway between Fourteen Streams and the Transvaal capital eliminated that route from consideration, and that the choice now lay between the line running up through the centre of the Free State and the Natal route.
[Sidenote: The better line.]
In comparing the relative merits of these two routes it was shown that strategically the Natal line would, owing to the shape of the frontier and the parallel screen of the Drakensberg, be constantly exposed to dangerous flank attacks, while the flanks of the Free State route would be comparatively safe. "The Basutos' sympathies will be entirely with us, while on the west the garrison of Kimberley will hold the approaches."
Tactically, it was pointed out, the Natal route traversed "an ideal terrain for the Boers," and crossed the "immensely strong" position of Laing's Nek. On the other hand, a force advancing by the Free State route, once over the Orange river, would have only to deal with the Bethulie position, and would then reach open plains, which "afford the freest scope for the manoeuvres of all three arms."
Furthermore, the Free State route could be fed by three distinct lines of railway from three ports, while the Natal route would be dependent on a single line and one port. The memorandum, therefore, submitted the conclusion that "the main line of advance against the Transvaal should be based on the Cape Colony, and should follow generally the line of railway through the Orange Free State to Johannesburg and Pretoria."
[Sidenote: Natal threatened.]
In June it became evident that the vague designs of the Boer Governments against Natal, of which the British Intelligence department had had cognizance in the previous year, were taking definite shape, and that, at any rate, so far as the Transvaal forces were concerned, the eastern colony would probably become the main object of their attack. The only British reinforcements immediately available were therefore assigned to that colony. On the Cape side it was manifest that the determining factor was the attitude of restless elements within the colony itself. It was known that secret agents from the Transvaal had, during the past two years, visited many parts of the colony, and that arms had been distributed by those agents. The investigations of the Intelligence department had, however, failed to discover proofs of the establishment of such organisations as would enable any formidable rising in the colony to coincide with a declaration of war by the republics. It was fully realised that it could not but be the case that there would be among many of the Dutch colonial farmers some natural sympathy with their kinsmen, and that a certain number of the younger and wilder would possibly slip across the border to join the enemy's forces; but it was believed that, provided this class of the community was not encouraged by any sign of weakness to enter into relations with the republics, they would be, as a whole, loath to throw off their allegiance to a State to which they and their forefathers had for many generations been loyal, and under whose rule they had enjoyed equal liberties, self-government and much prosperity.
[Sidenote: Protective Posts.]
If these conclusions were sound--and the course of events during the first month of the war was to prove their general correctness--it was highly desirable that detachments of British troops should remain in the northern districts of the colony, and thus carry out the double function of encouraging the loyal while checking lawless spirits, and of retaining possession of those lines of railways, the use of which would be a matter of vital importance to the field army in its subsequent advance from the coast. It was obvious that these isolated posts of a few hundred men would run serious risks. Thrust forward in close proximity to the enemy's frontier, they were separated from their base on the coast by some four to five hundred miles of country, throughout which there might be possible enemies; thus their communications might at any moment be cut. Furthermore, until troops arrived from England or India, no reinforcements would be available for their assistance. But the alternative of abandoning the whole of the northern districts of Cape Colony to the enemy, and thus allowing them to enforce recruitments from colonists who might otherwise live in peaceful security under the British flag, involved dangers far graver, and was, in fact, never contemplated by the military authorities either in London or at the Cape, except in the remote contingency of war with some maritime Power coinciding with the outbreak of hostilities with the Boer Republics. Moreover, by the middle of September, 1899, the organisation and training of Colonel Baden-Powell's two newly-raised corps, the one at Tuli and the other near Mafeking, were already sufficiently advanced to afford good hope of their being able to sustain effectively the rôle which had been assigned to them, while arrangements were being taken in hand to secure Kimberley from being captured by any coup de main.
[Footnote 54: See Vol. II.]
[Sidenote: Forestier-Walker adopts Butler's plan.]
Although, therefore, at that moment the only regular troops in Cape Colony were three and a half battalions of infantry, two companies Royal engineers, and two companies of Royal Garrison artillery, General Sir F. Forestier-Walker, who, on September 6th, 1899, arrived at Cape Town, replacing Sir William Butler, decided to adhere to his forward defence policy, and to carry out unchanged the arrangements contemplated by him. Thus, by the end of September, a series of military posts had been formed encircling the western and southern frontiers of the Free State at Kimberley, Orange River station, De Aar, Naauwpoort, and Stormberg, each post including a half-battalion of regular infantry, and a section of engineers. To Kimberley were also sent six 7-pr. R.M.L. screw guns, and to Orange River station, Naauwpoort and Stormberg, two 9-pr. R.M.L. guns each. Each of these three-named had also a company of mounted infantry. The guns were manned by garrison artillerymen from the naval base at Cape Town. By arrangement with the Colonial authorities the Cape Police furnished various posts of observation in advanced positions. Behind the weak line thus boldly pushed out in the face of the enemy there were no regular troops whatever in the Colony, except half a battalion and a handful of garrison gunners in the Cape peninsula.
[Sidenote: Sir Redvers approves.]
Sir F. Forestier-Walker had, however, the satisfaction to find that these dispositions, which he had carried out on his own initiative after consulting the High Commissioner, fitted in well with the plans of Sir Redvers Buller, and were acceptable to that officer. A telegram from Sir Redvers, dated London, 29th September, 1899, informed Forestier-Walker that an expedition made up of an army corps, a cavalry division, and seven battalions for the lines of communication would be sent out to South Africa and would advance on Pretoria through the Free State. That general was therefore directed to make, so far as was compatible with secrecy, preliminary arrangements for the disembarkation of this army at the three ports, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London. In acknowledging these orders on the following day, Sir F. Forestier-Walker accordingly reported by telegram that he would arrange for the disembarkation bases and that he was establishing advanced depôts at De Aar, Naauwpoort, and Stormberg; Sir Redvers Buller, in a message despatched from London on 2nd October, replied:--
[Footnote 55: These places had been suggested as suitable for advanced depôts in "Notes on the Lines of Communication in Cape Colony," issued by the Intelligence Division, W.O., in June, 1899.]
"Your proposals are just what I wish, but I feared suggesting depôts at Naauwpoort and Stormberg, as I did not then know if you had sufficient troops to guard them. It will not do to risk loss. I leave this to your local knowledge."
[Sidenote: Further Steps of Defence.]
On the 7th of October, 1899, the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers landed at Cape Town from England and were sent on the 10th to De Aar; a wing of the 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers left Stellenbosch by train for the same destination on the 9th. Stores were already accumulating at De Aar but, having regard to Dutch restlessness in the vicinity of Naauwpoort and Stormberg, Sir F. Forestier-Walker, after personal inspection, considered it inadvisable to risk any large amount of material at either until more troops could be spared to hold them. For the moment it appeared to him desirable to concentrate all available mobile troops at the Orange River station, where he retained command of both banks of the river, and thus, as soon as adequate strength was organised, could operate thence towards Kimberley or on some point in the Free State. The energy of Lieut.-Colonel R. G. Kekewich, Loyal North Lancashire regiment, who had been despatched to Kimberley to take command, assisted by Mr. Cecil Rhodes and the officials of the De Beers Company, had placed that town in a fair state of defence. At Mafeking it was realised that Colonel Baden-Powell's troops would be unable to do more than protect the large quantities of stores accumulated by merchants at that station against the formidable Boer force which was concentrating for attack upon it. Nevertheless, by so doing, Baden-Powell would fulfil the rôle assigned to him, since he would prevent large numbers of the enemy from engaging in the serious invasion of the exposed frontier territories of Cape Colony. The actual distribution of troops in the Colony at the outbreak of war is shown in Appendix 2.
[Sidenote: Natal defence--Generals Cox and Goodenough, 96/97.]
Reports on the frontier defence of Natal had been submitted during the years 1896-7, by Major-General G. Cox, who was then holding the sub-command of that colony, and by Lieut.-General Goodenough. After a careful examination of the question whether the tunnel under Laing's Nek, the Dundee coalfields to the south, and Van Reenen's Pass could be protected with the troops available, General Goodenough decided that none of these could be guarded. Having then only one regiment of cavalry, one mountain battery, and one infantry battalion, he thought it better to concentrate nearly all of them at Ladysmith, the point of junction of the branch railway to Harrismith with the main line to the Transvaal, sending only small detachments to Colenso and Estcourt. On the despatch to Natal, in the second quarter of 1897, of reinforcements, consisting of another cavalry regiment, a second battalion of infantry, and a brigade division of artillery, temporary quarters were erected at Ladysmith for this increase to the garrison of the colony, and Sir William Goodenough informed the War Office that in case of emergency he proposed to watch the whole frontier with the Natal Police, to hold Newcastle with colonial troops and to despatch most of the cavalry, one field battery, and half a battalion of infantry to Glencoe to cover the Dundee coalfields. The remainder of the regular troops, consisting of a battalion and a half, a few cavalry, and two batteries, would be placed at Ladysmith, where a detachment of a battalion and the mountain battery would be kept ready to occupy and entrench itself at Van Reenen's Pass. These proposals were approved for execution on an emergency "so far as the exigencies of the occasion may admit."
[Footnote 56: W.O. letter, September 3rd, 1897.]
[Sidenote: Natal defence--Sir W. Butler, /99.]
Sir W. Butler's report of 12th June, 1899, adopted practically the same plan of defence. To a suggestion as to a possible occupation of Laing's Nek, General Butler had replied that he did not think the immediate possession of that place of great importance and that its occupation by a weak force would be a dangerous operation. The regular troops in Natal had at this date been only reinforced by one more battalion, and consisted of but two cavalry regiments, one brigade division field artillery, one mountain battery, and three infantry battalions. To these must be added the Natal Police, a corps about 400 strong, admirably trained as mounted infantry, and nearly 2,000 Colonial Volunteers of the best type.
[Footnote 57: W.O. letter, February 23rd, 1899.]
[Sidenote: Protest of Natal Government, July /99.]
The communication of this scheme of defence to the Natal Ministry in July, 1899, led them to prefer an urgent request that sufficient reinforcements should be sent out to defend the whole colony. In the long telegraphic despatch addressed on 6th September, 1899, by the Governor, Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson, to the Colonial Office, it was urged that: "In the opinion of the Ministers, such a catastrophe as the seizure of Laing's Nek, and the destruction of the northern portion of the railway ... would have a most demoralising effect on the natives and the loyal Europeans in the colony, and would afford great encouragement to the Boers and their sympathisers." The announcement from home of the early despatch of reinforcements from India which was received by Sir W. Hely-Hutchinson in reply to this telegram, did not, in the opinion of Sir F. Forestier-Walker, or of Major-General Sir W. Penn Symons, who had succeeded General Cox in the local command of Natal, justify a deviation from the scheme of defence put forward by their predecessors. Apart from the difficulty of a water supply for a force occupying Laing's Nek, it was felt that such a forward position would be strategically unsafe, and would impose on the troops in Natal a task beyond their powers. On the other hand, the decision to give the coalfields at Dundee the protection contemplated by Sir W. Butler was adopted.
[Sidenote: Sept. 25th, /99. Glencoe held.]
By the 24th September the Governor told General Symons that the gravity of the political situation was such that the dispositions of the troops previously agreed on for the defence of the colony must at once be carried out. The necessary permission to act having been obtained by telegram from the General Officer Commanding South Africa, the 1st Leicester and 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers, with a squadron of the 18th Hussars were entrained at Ladysmith for Glencoe on the morning of the 25th September, the remainder of the 18th Hussars, with a mounted infantry company and two field batteries reaching Glencoe by march route on the 26th. The gaps these changes made in the Ladysmith garrison were filled up, the 5th Lancers, 1st King's Royal Rifles, and 1st Manchester being ordered to move to that place from Maritzburg.
[Sidenote: Sir George White, Oct. 7th, wishes to withdraw from Glencoe.]
Sir George White had been despatched early in September from England to command the troops in Natal. When, on October 7th, he arrived and assumed command, he found that the forces at his disposal were divided into two bodies, the one at Glencoe and the other at Ladysmith. On leaving England he had been given no instructions on the subject, nor had the previous correspondence with the local military authorities as to the defence of Natal been seen by him, but he held that from a military point of view the only sound policy was to concentrate the whole of the British troops in such a position that he would be able to strike with his full strength at the enemy the moment an opportunity offered. He determined, therefore, to withdraw the Glencoe detachment and assemble the whole at Ladysmith, the importance of which was increased by the preliminary dispositions of the Boer commandos, to be described later. The Governor, on being informed of this intention, remonstrated against the withdrawal from Glencoe in terms which are thus recorded in his subsequent report of the interview to the Secretary of State for the Colonies:--
[Sidenote: Protest by Governor.]
"Now that we were there, withdrawal would, in my opinion, involve grave political results, loyalists would be disgusted and discouraged; the results as regards the Dutch would be grave, many, if not most, would very likely rise, believing us to be afraid, and the evil might very likely spread to the Dutch in Cape Colony; and the effect on our natives, of whom there were 750,000 in Natal and Zululand, might be disastrous. They as yet believe in our power--they look to us--but if we withdraw from Glencoe they will look on it in the light of a defeat, and I could not answer for what they, or at all events a large proportion of them, might do."
[Sidenote: Sir G. White yields and retains Glencoe.]
Influenced by these strong representations and especially by the suggestion that the evacuation of Glencoe might lead to a general rising of the natives--a very grave consideration in the eyes of an officer with long Indian experience--the British commander decided to acquiesce for the moment in the separation of his troops which had been arranged by Major-General Symons. Sir George conceived, however, from the Intelligence reports before him that the bulk of the Boer commandos were assembling behind the screen of the Drakensberg, and that the northern portion of Natal would be their primary and principal object. He retained his own belief that the safety of the colony could only be fully secured by decisive strokes at the enemy's columns as they emerged from the mountain passes and, in pursuance of this policy, General White impressed on his staff the necessity for making such preparations as would set free the maximum number of troops for active operations in the field. Under these circumstances Sir W. Penn Symons started for Dundee on October 10th and on October 11th Sir George White went by train from Maritzburg to Ladysmith. The distribution of the forces in Natal on the outbreak of war will be found in Appendix 3.
[Sidenote: Boer plans.]
The exertions of ten special service officers despatched to South Africa three months earlier had ensured the acquisition of accurate information as to the enemy's mobilisation, strength, and points of concentration. Sir George White's appreciation of the situation was, therefore, in conformity with the actual facts. The main strength of the enemy had been concentrated for an invasion of Natal. The President hoped that it would sweep that colony clear of British troops down to the sea, and would hoist the Vierkleur over the port of Durban. Small detachments had been told off to guard the Colesberg, Bethulie, and Aliwal North bridges and to watch Basutoland. On the western frontiers of the Transvaal and the Free State strong commandos were assembling for the destruction of Baden-Powell's retaining force at Mafeking and for the capture of Kimberley. Both Kruger and Steyn aimed at results other than those achieved by the initiatory victories of 1880-1. They cherished the hope that the time had come for the establishment of a Boer Republic reaching from the Zambesi to Table Mountain; but, for the accomplishment of so great an enterprise, external assistance was necessary, the aid of their kinsmen in the south, and ultimately, as they hoped, an alliance with other Powers across the seas. The authorities at Pretoria and Bloemfontein realised fully that, though they might expect to have sympathisers in the colonies, active co-operation on any large scale was not to be counted on until successes in the field should persuade the waverers that, in casting in their lot definitely with the republican forces, they would be supporting the winning side. The conquest of Natal and the capture of Kimberley would, it was thought, suffice to convince the most doubtful and timid. As soon, therefore, as the British troops in Natal had been overwhelmed and Kimberley occupied, the Boer commandos in the western theatre of war were to move south across the Cape frontier to excite a rising in that colony. A situation would thus be created which, as they calculated, would lead to the intervention of one or more European Powers, and terminate in the permanent expulsion of all British authority from South Africa.
[Sidenote: Boer Distribution Oct. 11th, /99.]
[Sidenote: For Natal.]
It was with these designs and based on this far-reaching plan of campaign that the mobilisation of the burghers in both the republics was ordered during the last week of September, and by the 11th of October the following was approximately the constitution, strength and distribution of the field forces. The army for the invasion of Natal was made up of three distinct bodies; the principal and most important of these remained under the personal orders of General P. Joubert, the Commandant-General of the Boer forces, and was concentrated at Zandspruit and Wakkerstroom Nek, in immediate proximity to the northern apex of Natal. It included the Krugersdorp, Bethel, Heidelberg, Johannesburg, Boksburg and Germiston, Standerton, Pretoria, Middelburg, and Ermelo commandos, the Transvaal Staats Artillerie, and small Irish, Hollander and German corps of adventurers; the total strength of this force was about 11,300 men. Its armament included 16 field guns and three 6-inch Creusots. On the eastern border of Natal, facing the British force at Dundee, lay the Utrecht, Vryheid, Piet Retief and Wakkerstroom commandos, under the leadership of General Lukas Meyer; this detachment numbered about 2,870 men. Westward, a Free State contingent, amounting to some 9,500 burghers, and consisting of the Vrede, Heilbron, Kroonstad, Winburg, Bethlehem and Harrismith commandos, occupied Botha's, Bezuidenhout, Tintwa, Van Reenen's, and Olivier's Hoek passes. The republican forces, to whom the task of conquering Natal had been assigned, amounted therefore at the outset of war to about 23,500 men.
[Footnote 58: This statement is based on information obtained from Boer sources during and since the war, but the numbers must only be taken as approximately accurate.]
[Footnote 59: Reinforcements, amounting in all to about 3,240 men, joined the Boer Natal army during the months November-December; these were made up of 1,300 Johannesburg police and burghers, 290 Swaziland police and burghers and the Lydenburg and Carolina commandos. These reinforcements were, however, counterbalanced by the transfer of detachments of the Free State commandos to the western theatre of war.]
[Sidenote: For Mafeking.]
For the attack on Colonel Baden-Powell's small garrison at Mafeking, a body, in strength about 7,000, consisting of the Potchefstroom, Lichtenburg, Marico, Wolmaranstad and Rustenburg commandos, with a company of Scandinavian adventurers, had been concentrated close to the western border. General Piet Cronje was in supreme command on this side, his two principal subordinates being Generals Snyman and J. H. De la Rey.
[Sidenote: For Kimberley.]
The capture of Kimberley and the duty of holding in check the British troops at the Orange River station were assigned to Free State levies composed of the Fauresmith, Jacobsdal, Bloemfontein, Ladybrand, Boshof and Hoopstad commandos, the first two of these corps being assembled at Boshof and the remainder at Jacobsdal. Their total strength was probably about 7,500; a Transvaal detachment, about 1,700 strong, composed of the Fordsburg and Bloemhof commandos, was concentrated at Fourteen Streams, ready to join hands with the Free Staters.
[Sidenote: For other points.]
The Philippolis, Bethulie, Rouxville, and Caledon commandos, under the orders of Commandants Grobelaar, Olivier and Swanepoel, were assembling at Donkerpoort, Bethulie, and a little to the north of Aliwal North for the protection, or possibly destruction, of the Norval's Pont, Bethulie, and Aliwal bridges. These four commandos had an approximate strength of 2,500 burghers. Detachments, amounting in all to about 1,000 men, were watching the Basuto border; on the extreme north of the Transvaal about 2,000 Waterberg and Zoutpansberg burghers were piqueting the drifts across the Limpopo river. A small guard had been placed at Komati Poort to protect the vulnerable portion of the railway to Delagoa Bay, while the Lydenburg and Carolina commandos, about 1,600 strong, under Schalk Burger, watched the native population of Swaziland. Thus, including the police and a few other detachments left to guard Johannesburg, about 48,000 burghers were under arms at the outbreak of war.
[Sidenote: Large influence of Baden-Powell on them.]
The most remarkable feature of the Boer dispositions is the influence on them of Baden-Powell's contingent. His two little corps, each numbering barely 500 men, had drawn away nearly 8,000 of the best burghers. Mafeking was in itself a place of no strategic value, and, had the enemy been content to watch, and hold with equal numbers, Lt.-Cols. H.C.O. Plumer's and C.O. Hore's regiments and the police and volunteers assisting them, a contingent of 5,000 Transvaalers might have been added to the army invading Natal, thus adding greatly to the difficulties of Sir George White's defence. Alternatively it might have ensured the capture of Kimberley, or might have marched as a recruiting column from the Orange river through the disaffected districts and have gradually occupied the whole of the British lines of communication down to the coast.
[Sidenote: Anxiety of British Situation.]
The general distribution, therefore, of the Queen's troops in South Africa at the outbreak of war appears, with the exception of the division of the field force in Natal, to have been the best that could have been devised, having due regard to the advantage of the initiative possessed by the enemy, and to the supreme importance of preventing, or at any rate retarding, any rising of the disloyal in Cape Colony. Nevertheless, the situation was one of grave anxiety. The reinforcements which would form the field army were not due for some weeks. Meanwhile, in the eastern theatre of operations, the Boers would have made their supreme effort with all the advantages of superior numbers, greater mobility, and a terrain admirably suited to their methods of fighting. A considerable portion of the British troops under Sir G. White were, moreover, mere units, lacking war organisation except on paper, unknown to their leaders and staff, unacquainted with the country, and with both horses and men out of condition after their sea voyage. In the western theatre, the safety of Kimberley and Mafeking mainly depended on the untried fighting qualities of recently enlisted colonial corps, volunteers, and hastily organised town-guards; detachments of regular troops dotted along the northern frontier of Cape Colony were without hope of support either from the coast or each other, and would be cut off and crushed in detail in the case of serious attack or of a rising in their rear. Thus, the initiative lay absolutely with the enemy, and, so far as could be foreseen, must remain in his hands until the British army corps and cavalry division should be ready to take the field about the middle of December.
[Sidenote: Actual movement of Boers begins.]
According to the terms of the ultimatum of October 9th, a state of war ensued at 5 p.m. on the 11th. The advance of the Boer forces destined for the attack of Mafeking and Kimberley began on the following day, and by the 14th both places were cut off from Cape Colony. On the 17th the enemy occupied Belmont railway station. To meet these movements the 9th Lancers, the squadrons of which disembarked at Cape Town from India on the 14th, 15th, and 18th, were sent up to Orange River station immediately on their arrival. The 1st battalion Northumberland Fusiliers were also moved by train on the 15th from De Aar to Orange River, being replaced at the former station by a half-battalion of the 2nd battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, which reached Cape Town on the 14th, having been brought with extraordinary swiftness from Mauritius by H.M.S. Powerful. The Orange River bridge garrison was further strengthened by two 12-pr. B.L. guns manned by Prince Alfred's Own Cape artillery. The first field artillery to land in Cape Colony, the 62nd and half 75th batteries, were, on the evening of their disembarkation, the 25th, entrained at once for Orange River. The 1st Border regiment, which arrived from Malta on the 22nd, was despatched immediately to De Aar, but subsequently, at the urgent request of Sir George White, was sent by train to East London and re-embarked for Natal. Steps were taken to make the Orange River railway bridge passable by artillery and cavalry, by planking the space between the rails. Meanwhile, on the advice of the local magistrate, Colonel Money, who was in command at Orange River, destroyed Hopetown road bridge, eleven miles to the westward, as it was feared the enemy's guns might cross the river at that point. Raiding parties of the Boers had overrun Bechuanaland and Griqualand West and spread proclamations annexing the former district to the Transvaal and the latter to the Free State. On the eastern side of the colony the enemy made no move, but still hung back on the north bank of the Orange River. The British garrison of Stormberg was reinforced by two naval 12-pr. 8-cwt. guns, accompanied by 357 officers and men of the Royal Navy and Marines, lent from Simon's Town by the Naval commander-in-chief. In the opinion of General Forestier-Walker, this reinforcement made this important railway junction, for the moment, reasonably secure. Three months' supplies had been stored at all the advanced posts.
[Sidenote: Cape volunteers called out.]
Two thousand of the Cape volunteer forces were called out by the Governor on the 16th October and placed at the disposal of the General Officer Commanding the regular troops, on the understanding that they were to be paid and rationed from Imperial funds. These corps were at first employed as garrisons for Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, Queenstown, and King William's Town; detachments of the Kaffrarian Rifles being also stationed at Barkly East, Cathcart, Molteno, and Indwe; but by the end of October the Colonial volunteers were drawn upon to furnish military posts on the three lines of railway from the coast, viz.: Touw's River, Fraserburg Road, and Beaufort West, on the western system; at Cookhouse and Witmoss on the central, and at Molteno and Sterkstroom, on the eastern. Arrangements were made for patrolling the line between these posts by railway employés. Having regard, however, to the great length of these lines, it was obvious that protection of this description, although useful in checking individual attempts to obstruct trains, or destroy bridges and culverts, would be of no value against any armed bodies of the enemy or of rebels.
[Footnote 60: The corps mobilised were Prince Alfred's Own Cape Field artillery, the Cape Garrison Artillery, the Kaffrarian Mounted Rifles, Prince Alfred's Volunteer Guard, the Duke of Edinburgh's Volunteer Rifles, and the Cape Town Highlanders. The Kimberley and Mafeking corps had been called out before the commencement of the war. Subsequently the Uitenhage Rifles and the Komgha Mounted Rifles were called out on the 10th of November, the Cape Medical Staff Corps was mobilised on the 16th of November, and the Frontier Mounted Rifles on the 24th of November, 1899.]
[Sidenote: General success of policy of bluff.]
Thus, in the western theatre of war, although the investment of Kimberley, and, in a lesser degree, the attack on Mafeking, were causes of grave alarm to the loyalists of Cape Colony, yet, from a larger point of view, the forward policy of frontier defence successfully tided over the dangerous weeks previous to the arrival of the first units of the army corps from home.