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THE WAR OPERATIONS IN SOUTH AFRICA.—III.
BY A MILITARY CONTRIBUTOR.
THE pause which occurred after the action at Colenso gives an opportunity to review the causes which led to it. The initial mistake was in not having a force in Natal strong enough to stand up against the Boers when they crossed the border. The reason why that mistake was made must be asked of politicians: it is not a question which enters here. In consequence of this initial mistake, when General Buller landed at Cape Town he found a force of nearly 10,000 men locked up in an out-of-the-way corner of the area in which he was to conduct operations. Thus he was from the start forced to lay aside strategic measures in favour of tactics, a case of the cart before the horse. Strategy is the art of moving a force in such a direction as will compel the movements of a hostile force in
immediate objective would be Bloemfontein. It is not necessary here to discuss the reasons for the selection, or to inquire into alternative strategic schemes. In the event of Lord Roberts moving on Bloemfontein, how will he be situate?
If it is assumed that he has sufficient troops on arrival, he must also be assured that he has sufficient transport. His army, before everything, must possess mobility,-it must not be tied to a railway.
The Boer tactics will oppose his march in well-selected positions which, if he has not the power to avoid them, will have to be pushed aside at an excessive cost. To avoid them he must depend upon transport, probably mules. These have been already collected in large numbers in the Colony; but he will want carts, harness, and drivers. The Army Service Corps has done good work in this direction; but its numbers are limited, and some time must elapse before such requisites are provided. Let us assume that sufficient transport has been organised.
Then as to his line of advance. The enormous length of these lines is the difficulty of the campaign. Railroads in rear of the column may be counted upon to largely supplement mule-transport. The most tempting are those that cross South Cape Colony from
Port Elizabeth and East London roughly 300 miles in length to the Orange Free State, which they touch at points about 100 miles south of Bloemfontein. A second line from Cape Town runs to De Aar Junction, 600 miles in length, from whence it continues for about 120 miles to the points on the Free State border already gained by the two first it would thus be auxiliary to them. But, tempting as 300 miles appear against 700, there are disadvantages in the choice. Both East London and Algoa Bay are open roadsteads, exposed to the prevailing wind at this time of the year from the south-east. The landing at them, always difficult, is impossible in bad weather; both lines struggle through a country probably hostile, and both cross a mountain - range where a stubborn resistance may be expected.
It is not meant here to discuss the advantages or the reverse of either: they are alluded to merely to show the little reliance that can be placed on railways, and how much would rest on other means of transport.
fore, depend upon supply and transport. In the present campaign the first is assured as long as we hold command of the sea; it is to the latter that every energy must be directed. Transport may be railways, mule- or ox-waggons. We already know by experience that railways cannot be relied upon except when they are in rear of the army in the field. If we advance by rail we shall always be anticipated by the Boers at the railhead; we shall have to adopt their tactics and fight them in a chosen position, as the Natal column and that under Lord Methuen have done. If we hold the railhead in force, we must leave behind sufficient troops to protect the line in rear.
Mule transport is suited for light flying columns by which the objective in front is aimed at, or for turning movements. Ox-waggons move at infantry pace, and would accompany the column intended to hold strategic points or to fling its weight into a decisive battle. Mulewaggons march in sections of ten or twelve, each under a non commissioned officer of the Army Service Corps; they would seldom move on the same road, to avoid occupying too much road-space; for convenience of feeding, forage might be carried on the waggons. Those drawn by oxen must depend on the grass by the wayside, which would soon be eaten up if all moved in rear of one another. A waggon requires ten mules or twenty oxen at the very least, and carries 2 or 4 tons respectively This fresh start will, as be- at the outside. The mules
The tactical problems which will occur as strategy develops will be better examined as they display themselves.
To follow on the probable strategic course of the campaign, it is enough to explain that when strategy has gained a convenient point for its purpose, a secondary base will be established from which to start
travel about five miles, the oxen two and a half miles an hour in a day of ten hours,— roughly, fifty and twenty-five miles a day. Mules require better feeding, and while feeding can be tethered near the waggons; oxen feed anywhere, but stray long distances after food and water, and so always require mounted guards: they return at night, each span to its own waggon; experienced drivers are plentiful in the country. The waggons form an excellent laager if attacked, and men can sleep underneath them if tents are not carried.
Mules are stubborn, often difficult to manage, and given to stampede; oxen won't stampede, and do their work mechanically if under native drivers. An ox-waggon carrying 4 tons occupies fifty yards road space; a mule-waggon carrying 2 tons occupies twenty-five yards, so the length of a column is the same. Both require two men to drive. Nothing will force an ox to vary his natural pace, and his habits must not be interfered with. If you are in a hurry and it is near the time to outspan, you must do as he wishes: he must be humoured or he will give in, so he is not fitted for movement in the neighbourhood of an enemy; but he stands alone as the transport animal of South Africa.
South Africa has been called the grave of reputations, and why? because men have not studied the customs of the country. The Horse Guards started off its generals with a light heart. Transport?
There are railways; you can look them up in the Drill Book, which tells you how many men with valises on their backs
you can stow in a third-class carriage, how to entrain them, to lock the carriage-doors at the stations: there are pages in books of red binding telling you how to do it-yes, except in Africa!
It's going to be a big affair: we know how to do it; send an Army Corps, that's the thing We
yes, except in Africa. shall want cavalry; our Hussars and Lancers are the finest mounted men in the world: the very thing-yes, except in Africa. But, says the Admiralty, there are no ships to be got fit for the transport of cavalry or artillery; we have taken all that can be hired, and the others will only carry infantry. Africa is a horseproducing country, where thousands of hardy little horses can be bought at about £13 a-head; they know the country, can thrive on the forage there, and can be ridden away as soon as the men to ride them jump ashore. Sending horses to Africa is sending coals to Newcastle. They are not up to the standard, no! The time will come when we shall enlist cavalry for cavalry work all over the world, and not for parade; officers and men who can ride anything and over anything, as they can now, mounted for use and not for display, and not handicapped, the first by the regulation £500 a-year beyond their pay, the men by well-shaped legs to show off their well-cut trousers.
Hardly had the Army Corps landed when the ponderous creature was broken up: generals saw divisions shouting for their brigades, gunners calling to the blue-jackets for guns, and units nowhere at all. It was all very wrong, for units are excellent things-except in Africa. Then the troops were entrained, only to detrain in front of the Boers, who had got there before them and locked them up for a month or two, till South Africa sent her oxwaggons to get them out.
Those fine English horses left England in mid-winter and had to fight at the Cape in midsummer; no wonder they could not catch the Boers, and had to be replaced by colonial lads on ponies not up to the standard-yes, except for Africa.
So the War Office have spent some millions and many soldiers' lives to learn what commonsense would have told it for nothing, that the dwellers in a country must know something about it, and can produce articles better fitted for use in it than those which "come from Sheffield."
In view of the tactics which our generals have employed, we have to admit they have been out - manoeuvred by the Boers everywhere except at Elandslaagte. But defensive tactics must fail unless leavened by the offensive, a maxim which assures us that success, which now appears to tremble in the balance, will not be with the Boers. With this exception their tactics have been admirable: they have shown themselves indomitable with spade and rifle; the skill
and labour which have moved guns of position are nearly incredible; and the courage with which they have held their ground is worthy of brave men. In a broad sense their tactics have been to utilise their superiority in numbers by strictly containing large forces, and their knowledge of the ground by occupying defensive positions across our line of advance, compelling a frontal attack, their own retreat being assured. They have traded on our want of mobility, and by skilful use of their own have enabled their tactics to win.
This superior agility, and inexperience of the country, has led the latter to disregard ordinary rules; but this is no excuse for the disgraceful mistakes which have been made. For these they can hardly be blamed: there are details which are relegated to the staff, and the burden of blame must rest with them. Insufficient scouting is at the root, no doubt extremely difficult, owing to our weakness in cavalry in a land where every Boer is a mounted scout, trained from boyhood to learn scouting as a serious business, using smokeless powder, riding a pony at home on karoo, veldt, or koppje. The Boers, again, have recognised the revolution modern firearms have caused in warfare, while we have been wedded to obsolete methods; they have held positions in such a way that our artillery has been unable to prepare the way for the assault; in their trenches they have constructed the most perfect head
cover, and the advanced trench of considerable depth, placed some distance in front, has proved a novel and disastrous obstacle. It is doubtful whether our boasted lyddite shells have caused the losses which we claim, or that we have ever destroyed a gun of position by the fire of our own, so admirably are they protected.
A terrible indictment against our sagacity lies in the number of men captured-at Nicholson's Nek more than 800. An officer present stated that when the ammunition and guns were lost it was decided to remain: if they retired it would interfere with Sir George White's general scheme. But a schoolboy will recognise that without guns and ammunition soldiers cease to be such, and their presence anywhere is a hindrance.
There has been a tendency of late years to exalt the staff at the expense of the regimental officer. Cases are noticed where a staff officer has been sent to "assist” a commanding officer at the head of his regiment. Seasoned commanding officers disregard this "assistance," but the younger officers which the present system produces are apt to look upon it as "by order." There was a staff officer present at the Nicholson's Nek disaster to "advise" Colonel Carleton, commanding his own and the Gloucester regiment, which made up the column,-a step calculated to interfere with the regimental system to which our army Owes its roll of glory of the past. It has grown spontaneously out of that love of home which
is innate in every one in our Islands. Most of us have dined at a regimental mess, where, at the table, we have been welcomed by the officers hospitably and cordially; where the band has played their best in honour of the guest their officers have produced; where the men have gathered in groups outside to listen to their band, and we feel we are in a home circle-every one here is bound together by home ties. The regiment sails for South Africa and hurries up to where the fighting is; by the side of the colonel rides an officer to "assist" him, and the ranks say to one another, "Who's he? I don't know him. Well; I shall stick to old Blazes, though he did give me ninetysix hours last week." What are our soldiers out there fighting for? For British supremacy? for the overthrow of a corrupt Government? Not at all; the politicians will settle that. Every soldier is fighting for his home: the Englishman for the farm by the sunny Devonshire lanes, the Highlander for that cottage where the heather spreads a carpet for the north wind, and the Connaught lad for the cabin by the wayside in far-off Galway. The presence of a stranger in that company is like a pebble in a puddle, and makes a ripple.
At Stormberg we lost 600 men because they took a wrong turning was no staff officer told off to indicate the right and efface the wrong road? Boer tactics, immediately before an attack, lend themselves to in