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greater part on the south bank, which they had strongly intrenched, the flanks resting on the inevitable kopje, that to the south on a group called the Seven Sisters, that the north, across the river, on a flat-topped kopje of some extent and well watered; the space between strengthened by fortifying a line of kopjes, and a second line in rear, elaborately prepared for defence, extending to a formidable position on the Modder at Poplar Grove, the whole specially adapted to meet a frontal attack.
But the tactics of Lord Roberts were unwilling to lend themselves to those of the Boers. His intention was to turn their left flank with a cavalry division, while his infantry would meet their line of defence as it was rolled up northwards, with the result that their entire force would be enclosed, as was the case with Cronje. Accordingly, the 9th Division marched off along the north bank at daybreak on the 7th March, followed by the 6th and 7th Divisions on the south bank, with the Guards brigade in the centre. General French, with five mounted brigades and seven Horse Artillery batteries, crossing the river the previous day, moved south-east, till, when daylight came, he found himself opposite the Boer left flank. The enemy opened on him with shrapnel, which was ineffective, and turning farther south, he passed over a grassy plain for some miles, when he again turned east for three miles, and again north to get behind the Boers.
But they had detected his intention, and were already in retreat, which the fire of our naval guns turned into a general rout. The entire Boer army turned and ran helterskelter across the plain, leaving behind stores, waggons, their half-cooked dinners, and one gun,-flying eastwards, and so escaping our infantry, which was moving up the Modder to intercept them. Our cavalry tried to charge on several occasions, but the horses were knocked up, and the Boers were allowed to escape. Had the cavalry division made a slightly more extended circle, it is probable that the general's plan would have succeeded.
Now that we have a cavalry division numbering some 6000 horses, the question of where they are to come from, and how we are to feed them when we have got them, becomes paramount, as it always is, in South Africa. It is one of the paradoxes of a country where every one rides, that neither hay nor oats is possible: the nearest approach to the latter is oat-hay, the oats in the straw, SO many bundles a shilling, as if it were asparagus, - and the supply is not unlimited. Mealies, the only alternative, do not suit English horses, who will not eat them, and if they do they are apt to droop. It was a sad and too frequent sight in the Zulu war to see those big, 16-hand chargers of the 17th Lancers and the King's Dragoon Guards stand, gaunt skeletons, with their legs apart, and poor wistful eyes watching the troop
trot by, only to totter where they stood and die. The only pasture on the veldt is in spring when the grass is green. By midsummer all will be dead stalks that rustle in the wind, knee-high, on every stalk a tick. Grass like this does not make hay-the farmers burn it just where it grows, to manure the ground and kill the ticks.
Then the climate is SO deadly. Horse-sickness, pinkeye, attack country - breds as well as imported. The worst time is autumn. Day after day your horse has carried you, feeds well, and has done. easy work then no sooner is the saddle off than he lies down, foams at the mouth, swells like a cask, and is dead; or he strays for food not fifty yards away, lies down just where he feeds, and does the same he has eaten tulip-grass. Riding with a troop of Hussars, we off-saddled on a green bit of turf by the side of a brook that rippled a rare thing where most are sluggish, almost stagnant; and the horses, enjoying their liberty, started playing by its side, picking daintily as they did. Then they came back wearily, telling us they were not well, and lay down and died; quite half the number-tulip-grass again.
There is the "fly," a small bluebottle which settles only to kill. Happily it cannot exist in civilised parts-only a few belts which it still haunts remain south of the Limpopo. An amateur strategist suggested that we should land an army at Delagoa Bay and march it on Pretoria. There
is a belt of "fly-country" forty miles across between, where every horse and mule would have remained. Mr Kruger declared war when the grass was springing, and it has done
ever since, so his ponies could feed as they went: now it is dying down for winter, when there is no feed, and forage must be carried, of which the Boers have none. Through the winter the high-veldt, where the fighting now is, is deserted, the Boers driving their stock down to the low-veldt, where they can pick up a living. For a Boer to fight throughout an African winter is impossible unless he leaves his pony behind, which he won't do. This difficulty with us is not SO acute it only means more transport. Winter will put strategy and tactics on our side.
To Lord Roberts is due the solution of the kopje: he discovered that that feature has a flank, and he used his knowledge to the elimination of the South African bogey. There are kopjes and kopjes. Cronje's kopje is a savage thrusting up defiant from the flat; a load of bricks shot in the road before a house that is building, every brick a block of stone, black or grey, often trickling with green slime, in size varying from a wheel - barrow to a hay - rick, the space between springing with lank grass stems, once green, now brown, a neutraltinted background for the tritomas, blazing up red - hot; round the base a patch of green, welcome in the rounding brown, where
trickle has oozed down to make a marsh. Kopjes in the Free State are often lower, flat topped, the slopes more gentle grass-covered; on one side steep and weather-worn, sloping easily on the other to the veldt, domesticated, as if they had been chained up in the farmyard that nestles under them and had got tame.
At the same time, with the exit of the kopje, the Boer tactics, which without exception centre in that feature, are well worth studying: they reveal something like a revolution in the struggle for the mastery between guns and ground.
Ground has been gaining in resisting power, no matter what increase in shellpower the guns may showthe flat trajectory of modern
field - guns the chief cause.
Thus howitzers have been again introduced, yet the kopje holds its own.
A tactical manoeuvre hitherto placed well to the front, known in military jargon as "preparation by fire," has to confess itself beaten. Before a position can be stormed it must be "prepared" by a concentrated artillery-fire, directed, against the guns of the defence, then, these silenced, on the point to be assaulted. Lord Methuen concentrated a great many guns-as many as he had, including naval guns - against every position he attacked on the march to Kimberley, with the result that the Boer guns were not disclosed till they were wanted at the next kopje. At Vaal Kranz, General Buller concentrated seventy-two guns,
including those of position, on the enemy, but it is doubtful if more than one or two guns were disabled; while as for "preparing" away the defenders from the point to be assaulted, they jumped up almost to a man with their Mausers as soon as our infantry appeared. Now the guns must be silenced before the infantry attack is launched: the failure to storm the Redan was owing to the Russian guns remaining effective, and meeting the assault with grape.
It is difficult to understand how the Boers have kept their guns during this artillery attack. The huge blocks of ironstone of which the kopjes are built give excellent shelter from bullets, whether rifle or shrapnel, and largely from common shell, but against naval guns and howitzers firing heavy lyddite shells disjointed blocks of stone should add to the danger: earth is mostly wanting for head-cover, disappearing carriages are only useful behind thick earthern parapets, but where is so much earth to come from? The balloon must have seen such an enormous mass if it were there. The Boer guns did not reply to the "preparation" at Colenso and elsewhere; but they were always on the spot as soon as it ceased-they could not have been retired or moved into recesses. If such tactics in the case of heavy guns can be persevered with, an infantry assault should be a thing of the past.
We get a glimpse of Boer infantry protecting themselves in trenches 6 feet deep, the side
towards the enemy hollowed out at the base to give shelter to the men standing in the trench, while its original width at the top was not increased, the whole partially roofed over as protection against the weather, a wall of sand - bags along the front to afford head-cover to the shooting line. No doubt extremely few men held them, the trenches communicating with each other to allow reinforcements to come up quickly to any threatened spot. This deep trench some distance in advance of the position is new, and will account for the small loss our fire inflicted on the defenders, who were 100 yards or more from the position which was being "prepared." The advanced trench is nearer to the attack than it expects, and so comes as a surprise, which is again an advantage. An American journalist writing from Pretoria tells us "that the Boer new mode of fighting is to put great numbers of their best shots, armed with Mausers and using smokeless powder, out on the flat in rifle-shelters. On the sky-line of the hills they post their Martini-Henry men with the old black-powder cartridges. The latter are to draw the artillery fire, while the Mauser men in front are to shoot down the English infantry and cavalry at close quarters."
The Boers no doubt have unlimited native labour, otherwise to dig miles of trenches, tier above tier, as they have round Ladysmith and Magersfontein, would be impossible to a European army; while their ability
to transfer the defence to a threatened flank in time to meet a turning movement has put the tactics of the past at a disadvantage. At the same time, it is not an incident which will forbid flank attacks. There is no flank which cannot be turned, however mobile the defenders are, provided the attack gets round far enough, when these miles of trenches are but labour lost. Magersfontein and Colenso cost incredible labour, yet a well-directed movement forced them to be abandoned.
The prodigal use of barbed wire as an entanglement was possible to the Boers in South Africa, where it could be appropriated in vast lengths without payment. We have read of six miles of such entanglement round Magersfontein-probably an exaggeration, but still with a possibility of truth as to a mile or two. Now Chatham tells us that the area to be entangled is calculated by the square foot, and barbed wire being added, makes a plain wire entanglement more effective at the cost of time; but Chatham never contemplated entanglements by the mile, and it is doubtful if such great lengths add much to security against assault. Troops are not led against six miles of front. The most tempting points are chosen where the attack is intended to get in; the rest has to be contented with demonstrations. We can safely conclude that both trenches and entanglements were excessive.
The strategic movement on Bloemfontein was a masterly design, carefully calculated and
perfectly carried through. No doubt the attitude that Cronje might assume was an element of doubt at the outset; but in dealing with it Lord Roberts followed a sound tactical principle, "to bring the greatest force to bear on a given point at a certain time" the given point being Cronje himself. Whether he fled north, or stood his ground, or decided on the course he adopted, he would find himself in face of a superior force. His disorganised flight was forced upon him by the sudden appearance of a cavalry division to isolate him on the Karroo in a position to which the propinquity of water tied him. Thus the initial success of the move is due to the wellordered ride of those mounted men from the Riet.
The only cover available was in excavations made in the banks of the Modder. Now a laager is to a Boer what a fort is to any one else: in all wars with the natives it had been a feature, for it is proof against assegais and such guns as are supplied to Kaffirs. It had beaten the natives, but it could not save Cronje-it cannot stand against artillery. To make a laager, the waggons as they come up form an open square, each pushed end on against the one which came last, the desselboom underneath, so that the tail of the last touches the front of the preceding waggon; a trench is dug outside, and the earth banked up against the wheels till it reaches the body of the waggon; the Boers lying down fire over this bank, and others
in the waggon over the sides: thus a double tier of fire is brought on the level veldt outside.
Cronje surrendered on the 27th February to an infantry force almost worked out by the forced march of thirty-five miles from Modder river, followed by a very warm engagement on the 18th, and eight days' investment of a desperate enemy, the men on scanty rations owing to the capture of a convoy which was following; the cavalry skirting round many miles to the front to get touch with the Boers hurrying up to the relief of Cronje, and who had to be engaged and driven off in at least two well-contested fights.
On the 1st of March, two days after the surrender, General Roberts commenced his march on the capital, to find the enemy intrenched across his front. On the 7th inst. the cavalry turned their position and drove them off in a disorganised mob, to be caught up on the 10th inst. at Dreifontein, when they were again defeated; and at last, when they recovered fifteen miles farther east, and were reported to be holding the way with 12,000 men and 18 guns, General Roberts turned south and marched twenty-five miles to Venter's Vlei, where he was in rear of them and only eighteen miles from Bloemfontein, the cavalry reaching that place at midnight. The next day Lord Roberts took possession of the town unopposed, just a fortnight after Cronje surrendered, during which the infantry had marched ninety