History of the War in South Africa 1899-1902 v. 1 (of 4) - Compiled by Direction of His Majesty's Government
by Frederick Maurice
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[Transcriber's note: Obvious printer's errors have been corrected, all other inconsistencies are as in the original. The author's spelling has been maintained.

The sign + around words have been used to mark bolded text.

The errors noted in the errata have been corrected in the text.]











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The decision of His Majesty's late Government, mentioned on the first page of this history, was not finally given till November, 1905. It was, therefore, not till December 12th, 1905, that I was able to obtain approval for the form in which the political facts connected with the war are mentioned in the first chapter. Since then the whole volume has necessarily been recast, and it was not possible to go to page proof till the first chapter had been approved. Hence the delay in the appearance of the volume. I took over the work from Colonel Henderson in July, 1903. He had not then written either narrative of, or comments on, the military operations.


May 22nd, 1906, London.




I.—Preparation for War 1 II.—The Outbreak of the War 35 III.—The Theatre of War 54 IV.—The Boer Army 68 V.—The British Army 87 VI.—The Navy in the Boer War 96 VII.—Talana Hill 123 VIII.—The Retreat from Dundee, and the action of Rietfontein 142 IX.—Elandslaagte 157 X.—Lombards Kop 172 XI.—The Arrival of Sir Redvers Buller 196 XII.—Advance from the Orange River 211 XIII.—Belmont 218 XIV.—Graspan 229 XV.—The Battle of the Modder River 243 XVI.—The Raid on Southern Natal 261 XVII.—Operations round Colesberg up to the 16th December 275 XVIII.—Stormberg 285 XIX.—Halt on the Modder River before Magersfontein 304 XX.—The Battle of Magersfontein 316 XXI.—Sir Redvers Buller in Face of Colenso 332 XXII.—Colenso, December 15th, 1899 351 XXIII.—Lord Roberts' Appointment to the Command in South Africa 376 XXIV.—Operations Round Colesberg—December 16th, 1899, to February 6th, 1900 389 XXV.—Lord Roberts at Capetown; reorganises 408 XXVI.—The Army Moves Forward 428



1. Reinforcements sanctioned on 8th September, 1899 453 2. Distribution of British Forces on 11th October, 1899, in Cape Colony 455 3. Distribution of British Forces on 11th October, 1899, in Natal 456 4. Strengths of the Forces of the Transvaal and Orange Free State 457 5. List of H.M. Ships and Vessels serving on the Cape Station, October 11th, 1899, to June 1st, 1902 460 6. Approximate Strength and Casualties at Various Engagements described in Volume I 462 7. The Expeditionary Force as originally organised and sent to South Africa 471 8. The Composition and Distribution of British Troops in Southern Natal, 23rd November, 1899 477 9. Reinforcements Landed in South Africa up to the 13th February, 1900, other than those given in Appendices 1 and 7 478 10. Distribution of Troops in South Africa on 11th February, 1900, when the March from Ramdam began 485

Glossary 492

Index 497


(In separate case.)


General Map:—South Africa. Special Maps:— No. 1. INDEX MAP. No. 2. RELIEF MAP OF SOUTH AFRICA, to show Topographical Features and Theatre of War. No. 3. NORTHERN NATAL. No. 4. SOUTHERN NATAL. No. 5. TALANA. October 20th, 1899. No. 6. ELANDSLAAGTE. October 21st, 1899. No. 7. RIETFONTEIN. October 24th, 1899. No. 8. LOMBARDS KOP. October 30th, 1899. Situation before 7 a.m. No. 8 (A). LOMBARDS KOP. October 30th, 1899. Situation from 7 a.m. to Close of Action. No. 9. NORTH CAPE COLONY and PART of the ORANGE FREE STATE. No. 10. BELMONT. November 23rd, 1899. Situation prior to Capture of Gun Hill. No. 10 (A). BELMONT. November 23rd, 1899. Situation prior to Capture of Mont Blanc. No. 11. GRASPAN. November 25th, 1899. Situation at 9 a.m. No. 12. MODDER RIVER. November 28th, 1899. Situation at about 3.30 p.m. No. 13. MAGERSFONTEIN. December 11th 1899. Situation at 4.30 a.m. No. 13 (A). MAGERSFONTEIN. December 11th 1899. Situation at 8 a.m. No. 13 (B). MAGERSFONTEIN. December 11th, 1899. Situation at 3.30 p.m. No. 14. STORMBERG. December 10th, 1899. No. 15. COLENSO. December 15th, 1899. Situation at 8 a.m. No. 15 (A). COLENSO. December 15th, 1899. Situation at 11 a.m. No. 16. OPERATIONS AROUND COLESBERG. No. 17. SOUTH AFRICA. Map showing the approximate situation on the 31st December, 1899.


Talana. Rietfontein. Modder River. Magersfontein. Stormberg. Colenso.


A. & S. Highrs. Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Art. Artillery. Art. Pos. Artillery position. B.M.I. Bethune's Mounted Infantry. Bn. Battalion. Border. Border Regiment. Br. Brigade. Car. Carabineers. Cav. Cavalry. Cold. Gds. Coldstream Guards. Co. Company. Devon. Devonshire Regiment. D.G. Dragoon Guards. Dns. Dragoons. Durh. L.I. Durham Light Infantry. E. Surr. East Surrey Regiment. Fus. Fusiliers. Glouc. Gloucester Regiment. Gordon., or Gordon Highrs. Gordon Highlanders. Gren. Gds. Grenadier Guards. Gds. Guards. Highrs. Highlanders. Hosp. Hospital. How. Howitzers. Hrs. Hussars. I.L.H. Imperial Light Horse. King's King's Liverpool Regiment. K.O.Y.L.I. King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. K.R. Rif. King's Royal Rifle Corps. Lrs. Lancers. L.I. Light Infantry. Liv'rp'ls King's Liverpool Regiment. Manch. Manchester Regiment. M.B. Mountain Battery. M.I. Mounted Infantry. N. Car. Natal Carabineers. N.F.A. Natal Field Artillery. N.M.R. Natal Mounted Rifles. North'd Fus. Northumberland Fusiliers. North'n. Northamptonshire Regiment. N. Lan. Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. Prs. Pounders (e.g., Naval 12-prs.). Queen's Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment. R.E. Royal Engineers. R.F.A. Royal Field Artillery. R.H.A. Royal Horse Artillery. Rif. Brig. Rifle Brigade. R.I. Rif. Royal Irish Rifles. R. Irish Fus. Royal Irish Fusiliers. R. Innis. Fus. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. R. Fus. Royal Fusiliers. R. Muns. Fus. Royal Munster Fusiliers. R. Sc. Fus. Royal Scots Fusiliers. R. Welsh Fus. Royal Welsh Fusiliers. S.A.L.H. South African Light Horse. S. Gds. Scots Guards. Sco. Rif. Scottish Rifles. T.M.I. Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry. W. Yorks Prince of Wales's Own West Yorkshire Regiment.


Pains have been taken to embody in the maps all topographical information existing up to date. A very considerable amount of valuable triangulation has been executed over portions of South Africa, but no systematic detailed survey has ever been made by any of the South African colonies or states. Maps have, however, been compiled by both Cape Colony and Natal. The former has prepared and published a map extending north as far as Lat. 26 deg. 30'; this includes the Bechuanaland Protectorate and the Orange River Colony, but the topographical detail shown over these two areas is exceedingly scanty. The scale of the map is one inch to 12.62 miles.

The Natal Government have a map similarly prepared and drawn in the office of the Inspector of Schools, and published on a scale of one inch to five miles. Both these maps are very fair general maps, and show with rough accuracy the railways, main roads and large rivers, but the delineation of hills is little more than suggestive.

Of the Orange Free State and Transvaal the only general maps published are based on the farm surveys. As these surveys show only those topographical features which serve to fix the farm boundary, omitting all other features, the map resulting from their compilation is not of much use, especially for military purposes.

Of the north of Natal there exists a series of one inch reconnaissance surveys of the communications from Ladysmith to the Orange Free State and Transvaal frontiers, with sketches of the whole of the Biggarsberg and Laing's Nek positions, made in 1896 by Major S. C. N. Grant, Royal Engineers, assisted by Captain W. S. Melville, Leicestershire regiment, and Captain H. R. Gale, Royal Engineers.

It is from these sources, as modified here and there by special surveys made during or since the war, that the general maps 1, 3, 4, and 9 have been compiled.

Of the site of the battle of Talana no special survey has been made since the war, and map 5 is a reproduction of a portion of Major Grant's reconnaissance sketch before referred to.

Maps 6, 7, and 8, of the battles of Elandslaagte, Rietfontein and Lombards Kop, are prepared from surveys made since the events occurred, by No. 4 Survey section, Royal Engineers, working under Captain H. W. Gordon, R.E., and maps 14 and 16, of Stormberg and Colesberg, have been prepared also from sketches made by the same section.

Maps 10, 11, 12 and 13, of Belmont, Graspan, Modder River and Magersfontein, are from sketches made by Nos. 2 and 3 Survey sections, under Captain P. H. Casgrain, R.E. The two sections on map 12 are from drawings by Lieut. J. Cuthbert, Scots Guards.

Map No. 15, of Colenso, is from a sketch made immediately after the relief of Ladysmith by Major S. C. N. Grant, R.E., assisted by Captain P. McClear, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and Lieut. S. A. Wilkinson, The King's (Liverpool) regiment, and the sections from a sketch by Lieut. M. G. Pollock, R.E.

In most instances the special survey of the site of the battle has had to be extended by enlarging portions of the general maps on smaller scales. This sometimes causes a difference in the amount of detail shown in different areas of the same map, but this is unavoidable if the map be made to illustrate, not only the action itself, but also the preceding and subsequent movements.

The six panoramic sketches embodied in this Volume are facsimile reproductions of a selection made from a number executed by the late Captain W. C. C. Erskine, Bethune's Mounted Infantry.


A.A.G. Assistant Adjutant-General. A.D.C. Aide-de-Camp. A.S.C. Army Service Corps. B.L. Breech-loading. Battn. Battalion. Brig. divn. Brigade division=2 batteries of horse, or 3 of field artillery, commanded by a Lieut.-Colonel. (The term has since been changed to "brigade.") Captn. Captain. C.B. Companion of the Order of the Bath. C.I.F. Cost, Insurance, Freight: i.e., under the contract so designated the price paid included the cost of the article, its insurance while on the voyage, and freight. C.M.G. Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Col. Colonel. C.O. Commanding Officer. Comder. Commander. Cos. Companies. Coy. Company. C.R.A. Commanding Royal Artillery. C.R.E. Commanding Royal Engineers. C.S.O. Chief Staff Officer. Cwt. Hundred-weight. D.A.A.G. Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General. D.A.A.G.I. Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General for Intelligence. Det. Detachment. D.C.L.I. Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry. D.G.O. Director General of Ordnance. G.O.C. General Officer Commanding. Govt. Government. H.L.I. Highland Light Infantry. H.M.S. His (or Her) Majesty's Ship. I.L.H. Imperial Light Horse. in. inch. I.S.C. Indian Staff Corps. K.C.B. Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. K.C.M.G. Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. K.O.Y.L.I. King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. K.R.R. King's Royal Rifle Corps. Lieut. or Lt. Lieutenant. Lt.-Col. Lieutenant-Colonel. L. of C. Lines of communication. L.I. Light Infantry. Maritzburg Pietermaritzburg. M.B. Mountain battery. m/m millimetre. M.I. Mounted Infantry. M.L. Muzzle-loading. N.N.V. Natal Naval Volunteers. N.S.W. New South Wales. N.S.W.L. New South Wales Lancers. N.Z. New Zealand. N.C.O. Non-commissioned officer. O.F.S. Orange Free State. pr. pounder. P.T.O. Principal Transport Officer. Q.F. Quick-firing. Q.M.G. Quartermaster-general. Regt. Regiment. R.M.L. Rifle-muzzle-loading. R.A.M.C. Royal Army Medical Corps. R.A. " Artillery. R.B. Rifle Brigade. Royal Commission. Royal Commission on the War in South Africa (1903). R.E. Royal Engineers. R.F.A. " Field Artillery. R.G.A. " Garrison " R.H.A. " Horse " R.M.A. " Marine " R.M.L.I. " " Light Infantry. R.N. " Navy. R. S. Fusiliers Royal Scots Fusiliers. Sec. Section. S.A. South Africa. S.A.R. South African Republic. Scots Greys 2nd Dragoons. Sqdn. or Squadn. Squadron. Tel. Telegram. T.B. Telegraph battalion. V.C. Victoria Cross. W.O. War Office.


Page 2, line 13 from top, omit "(Arabic)".

" 14, " 2 " bottom, for "Sir H. Escombe" read "the Right Hon. H. Escombe."

" 78, first marginal note, for "of" read "in."

" 128, second marginal note, for "comma" read "full stop."

" 144, line 3 from top, for "The troops a Ladysmith" read "The troops at Ladysmith."

" 144, last marginal note, omit "full stop" and read on.

" 160, bottom marginal note, for "full stop" read "comma."

" 256, line 6 from bottom, for "Major T. Irvine" read "Captain T. Irvine."

" 337, line 12 from bottom, for "semi-colon" read "comma."




[Sidenote: Scope of history.]

The war in South Africa which began on October 9th, 1899, ended so far happily on the 31st May, 1902, that, chiefly in consequence of the tactful management of the negotiations with the leaders who then guided them, those who had till then fought gallantly against the British Empire agreed to enter it as subjects of King Edward. Under the circumstances, His Majesty's late Government considered it undesirable to discuss here any questions that had been at issue between them and the rulers of the two republics, or any points that had been in dispute at home, and to confine this history to the military contest. The earlier period is mentioned only so far as it concerns those incidents which affected the preparation for war on the part of Great Britain, and the necessary modifications in the plan of campaign which were influenced by the unwillingness of Her Majesty's Government to believe in the necessity for war.

[Sidenote: Situation Oct. 9th, /99.]

When, on October 9th, 1899, Mr. Kruger's ultimatum was placed in the hands of the British Agent at Pretoria the military situation was as follows. It was known that the Boer Governments could summon to arms over 50,000 burghers. British reinforcements of 2,000 men had been sanctioned on the 2nd of August for a garrison, at that date not exceeding 9,940 men; and on the 8th September the Viceroy of India had been instructed by telegram to embark with the least possible delay for Durban a cavalry brigade, an infantry brigade, and a brigade division of field artillery. Another brigade division and the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers were also ordered out from home. The 1st battn. Border regiment was despatched from Malta, the 1st battn. Royal Irish Fusiliers from Egypt, the 2nd battn. Rifle Brigade from Crete, and a half-battn. 2nd King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry from Mauritius. The total strength of these reinforcements, ordered on September 8th, amounted to 10,662 men of all ranks. On the same day, the 8th September, the General Officer Commanding in South Africa, Sir F. Forestier-Walker, was directed by telegram to provide land transport for these troops. For details see Appendix I.

[Sidenote: Total forces.]

The whole of these reinforcements, with the exceptions of the 9th Lancers and two squadrons of the 5th Dragoon Guards, whose departure from India was somewhat delayed by an attack of anthrax, a brigade division of artillery, the 1st Border regiment and the 2nd battalion Rifle Brigade, were landed in South Africa before the actual outbreak of war. Including 2,781 local troops, the British force in Natal was thus raised to 15,811 men of all ranks. In Cape Colony there were, either under arms or immediately available at the outbreak of war, 5,221 regular and 4,574 colonial troops. In southern Rhodesia 1,448 men, raised locally, had been organised under Colonel Baden-Powell, who had been sent out on the 3rd July to provide for the defence of that region. Thus the British total in South Africa, 27,054, was at least 20,000 smaller than the number of the burghers whom the two republics could place in the field, irrespective of any contingent that they might obtain from the disaffected in the two colonies. Early in June Sir Redvers Buller had been privately informed that, in the event of its becoming necessary to despatch an army corps to South Africa, he would be the officer to command it. On June 8th, the Commander-in-Chief had recommended that as a precautionary measure an army corps and cavalry division should be organised and concentrated on Salisbury Plain. He had proposed that one complete army corps, one cavalry division, one battalion of mounted infantry, and four infantry battalions to guard the lines of communication, should be sent out to South Africa, and he was most anxious that the expeditionary force should be assembled beforehand, so as to render it more effective for war purposes. The course of the negotiations which were then being carried on convinced Her Majesty's Government that any such step would tend to precipitate war, and, the weakness of our troops at the time in South Africa being such as it was, that it would be impossible to reinforce them before serious attack might be made upon them. Moreover, there was this further difficulty, that adequate attention had not been directed publicly to the circumstances in South Africa which caused anxiety to the Government.

[Sidenote: Causes of delay.]

It was always possible to think that the preparations for war on a large scale, which were undoubtedly being made both by the Transvaal and by the Orange Free State, were the result of the anxiety which had been caused to the rulers of those republics by the circumstances of the Jameson raid. Every attempt by any statesman at home to bring the facts, as they presented themselves to those behind the scenes, before the world, was open to the imputation of being deliberately designed to lead up to a war which it was intended to bring about. Thus it was the very weakness of our position at that time in South Africa which made it difficult to relieve the military danger. Any premature effort to place our power there in a condition of adequate security tended to suggest to foreign states that the movements made were directed against the independence of the two republics; tended to shake public confidence at home, and even to excite jealousy in our own colonies. All through the long negotiations which were carried on during the summer and autumn months of 1899 it seemed better, therefore, to incur even some serious risk of military disadvantage rather than to lose that general support of the nation, whether at home or in the colonies, which would be secured by a more cautious policy, and to hope against hope that a peaceful solution might be reached.

[Sidenote: "Adequate strength."]

In one respect there would appear to have been a misunderstanding between the Government and their military advisers as to the sense in which the reinforcements sent to South Africa were sufficient for the temporary protection of our interests on the sub-continent. It is remarkable that in the evidence subsequently given by the soldiers, not only do they admit that they anticipated beforehand that for this purpose the strength would be adequate, but that they assume, at the end of the war, that it had as a matter of fact proved so. This can obviously only be understood in the sense that the numbers then in South Africa were able to retard the Boer operations until a large army was thrown into the country. On the other hand, Lord Lansdowne, describing what was evidently the meaning in which this language was understood by himself and his colleagues, says: "I am not a soldier, but I never heard of sending out reinforcements to a country which might become the theatre of war merely in order that the reinforcements might successfully defend themselves against attack; they are sent there, I imagine, for the purpose of securing something or somebody." And again: "I should say not sufficient to prevent raids and incursions, but sufficient to prevent the colonies from being overrun." It appears necessary, under its historical aspect, to draw attention to this discrepancy of view, because it is one that may be liable to repeat itself.

[Sidenote: Plans delayed.]

Another point influenced by the unwillingness of Her Majesty's Government to believe in the possibility of the Orange Free State, with which we had had for many years relations of the greatest friendliness, appearing in arms against us, was this: that it delayed for a very considerable time the determination of the general plan of campaign on which the war was to be carried on. Practically, supposing it became necessary to conduct an offensive war against the Transvaal, the choice of operations lay between a movement by way of Natal and one by way of the Orange Free State. Any advance by Natal had these serious disadvantages. In the first place, the mountain region through which it would be necessary to penetrate was one that gave very great advantages to the Boer riflemen. In the second place, it lay exposed, as soon as Northern Natal was entered, to attack throughout its entire length from the Orange Free State. On the other hand, the march by Bloemfontein opened up a country much more favourable for the operations of a regular army, whether that march, as was originally proposed, followed the direct line of railway through Bloemfontein, or, as it did ultimately, the railway to Kimberley and thence struck for Bloemfontein.[1] There remained, indeed, a third alternative, which had at one time been proposed by Lord Roberts, of a movement outside the Orange Free State through the north-western portion of Cape Colony, but this had ceased to be applicable at the time when war was declared. As a consequence of the uncertainties as to the ultimate attitude of the Orange Free State, and the extreme hope that that State would not prove hostile, it was not till the 3rd October that Lord Lansdowne was in a position to say: "We have now definitely decided to adopt the Cape Colony—Orange Free State route. It is intended that a force of 10,000 men should remain in Natal, on which side it will make a valuable diversion; that about 3,000 should be detailed for service on the west side (Kimberley, etc.), and that the main force should enter the Orange Free State from the south."

[Footnote 1: See Chapters II. and III. for full discussion on the Theatre of War.]

[Sidenote: Limit of force.]

In all schemes for possible offensive war by Great Britain, subsequent to a memorandum by Mr. Stanhope, of 1st June, 1888,[2] it had been contemplated that the utmost strength which it would be necessary for us to embark from our shores would be that of two army corps with a cavalry division. Those army corps and the cavalry division were, however, neither actually, nor were they supposed to be, immediately ready to be sent out. To begin with, for their despatch shipping must be available, and this, as will be shown more in detail in a subsequent chapter, was a matter which would involve considerable delay and much preparation. During the time that the ships were being provided it would be essential that the successive portions of the army for which shipping could be obtained should be prepared for war by the return to the depots of those soldiers who were not immediately fit for service, and by their replacement by men called in from the reserve to complete the ranks. None of these preparations could be made without attracting public attention to what was done. The reserves could not be summoned to the colours without an announcement in Parliament, nor, therefore, without debates, which must necessarily involve discussions which might be irritating to Boer susceptibilities at the very time when it was most hoped that a peaceful solution would be reached. It was not, therefore, till the 20th September that the details of the expeditionary force were communicated to the Admiralty by the War Office, nor till the 30th that the Admiralty was authorised to take up shipping. Meantime on September 22nd, a grant of L645,000 was made for immediate emergencies. On the 7th October the order for the mobilisation of the cavalry division, one army corps, and eight battalions of lines of communication troops was issued, and a Royal proclamation calling out the army reserve was published. Of the excellent arrangements made by the Admiralty a full account will be found hereafter.

[Footnote 2: "Her Majesty's Government have carefully considered the question of the general objects for which our army is maintained. It has been considered in connection with the programme of the Admiralty, and with knowledge of the assistance which the navy is capable of rendering in the various contingencies which appear to be reasonably probable; and they decide that the general basis of the requirements from our army may be correctly laid down by stating that the objects of our military organisation are:—

(a) The effective support of the civil power in all parts of the United Kingdom.

(b) To find the number of men for India, which has been fixed by arrangement with the Government of India.

(c) To find the garrisons for all our fortresses and coaling stations, at home and abroad, according to a scale now laid down, and to maintain these garrisons at all times at the strength fixed for a peace or war footing.

(d) After providing for these requirements, to be able to mobilise rapidly for home defence two army corps of regular troops, and one partly composed of regulars and partly of militia; and to organise the auxiliary forces, not allotted to army corps or garrisons, for the defence of London and for the defensible positions in advance, and for the defence of mercantile ports.

(e) Subject to the foregoing considerations, and to their financial obligations, to aim at being able, in case of necessity, to send abroad two complete army corps, with cavalry division and line of communication. But it will be distinctly understood that the probability of the employment of an army corps in the field in any European war is sufficiently improbable to make it the primary duty of the military authorities to organise our forces efficiently for the defence of this country."—(Report of Royal Commission on the War in South Africa, p. 225.)]

[Sidenote: The scheme of mobilisation.]

The scheme for mobilisation had been gradually developed during many years. The earliest stage was the appearance in the Army List of an organisation of the army in various army corps. This was chiefly useful in showing the deficiencies which existed. It had been drawn up by the late Colonel Home, R.E. In August, 1881, it was removed from the Army List.

[Sidenote: Various stages of scheme.]

Practically no mobilisation scheme really took shape until 1886, when Major-General H. Brackenbury,[3] on assuming office as head of the Intelligence branch, turned his attention to the question. The unorganised condition of our army and the deficiency of any system for either home defence or action abroad formed the subjects of three papers,[4] in which he showed that, at the time they were written, not even one army corps with its proper proportion of the different departmental branches, could have been placed in the field, either at home or abroad, while for a second army corps there would have been large deficiencies of artillery and engineers, and no departments. For horses there was no approach to an adequate provision. The urgent representations contained in these papers were strongly taken up by Lord Wolseley, then Adjutant-General, and pressed by him on the Secretary of State for War,[5] with the result that a committee of two, Sir Ralph Thompson[6] and Major-General H. Brackenbury, was appointed to investigate the matter.

[Footnote 3: Now General the Right Honourable Sir Henry Brackenbury, G.C.B.]

[Footnote 4: Mobilisation reports, Numbers I., II. and III.]

[Footnote 5: The Right Honourable W. H. Smith.]

[Footnote 6: Then Permanent Under-Secretary of State.]

[Sidenote: Sub-division to carry out.]

Their enquiry was entirely confined to the question of obtaining the maximum development from the existing cadres. Their report was divided under three headings, the first of which dealt with the "Field Army," and laid down that two army corps and lines of communication troops was the field army which the regular troops, as they then stood, were capable of producing. The subjects of "Garrisons" and "Mobilisation for Foreign Service" were dealt with under the other two headings. Ultimately a Mobilisation sub-division, which was transferred from the Intelligence department to the Adjutant-General's department in 1889 and to the Commander-in-Chief's office, in 1897, was created.

[Sidenote: 1890 to 1898.]

Working on the lines laid down, the mobilisation section first produced a complete scheme in 1890. Mobilisation regulations were issued in 1892. Further revised editions followed in 1894, and again in 1898. All were worked out on the basis of using what was available, and not what was needed.

[Sidenote: Scheme in 1899.]

In the spring of 1899, in anticipation of possible events, the mobilisation section turned their attention to the requirements of a force for South Africa. Seeing that the regulations of 1898 dealt principally with the mobilisation of the field army for service at home or in a temperate climate, considerable modifications, relating to such points as regimental transport, clothing, equipment, and regimental supplies, were necessary to meet the case of operations carried on in South Africa. Special "Regulations for the Mobilisation of a Field Force for Service in South Africa" were accordingly drawn up, with the object, not of superseding the Mobilisation regulations of 1898, but "in order to bring together, in a convenient form, the modifications necessary in those regulations." These regulations were completed, printed, and ready for issue in June, 1899. In their general application they provided for the preparation in time of peace of all that machinery which, on the advent of war, would be set in motion by the issue of the one word—"Mobilise."

[Sidenote: Success in practice.]

The mobilisation, thus carefully prepared in all its details beforehand, proved a complete success. Ninety-nine per cent. of the reservists when called out presented themselves for service, and 91 per cent, were found physically fit. The first units, twenty companies of the Army Service Corps, were embarked on the 6th of October. The embarkation of the remainder of the expeditionary force was begun on the 20th of October, and, with the exception of one cavalry regiment, delayed by horse-sickness, completed on the 17th November.

[Sidenote: Fresh units needed.]

At an early stage in the war it became very plain that mere drafts of details to replenish units would not suffice, but that organised reinforcements would have to be sent. Even before the embarkation of the field force was completed, orders were given for reinforcements to be despatched; and within three months from that time the mobilisation of four more divisions, fifteen extra batteries of artillery and a fourth cavalry brigade, was ordered.[7]

[Footnote 7: The following extract from the Statement of the Mobilisation division gives the details and dates:—

"21. While the embarkation of the field force was proceeding, news of the loss of the greater part of two battalions of infantry and a mountain battery at Nicholson's Nek reached England. Orders were accordingly given on 31st October for the despatch of one mountain battery and three battalions of infantry, to make good this loss. All this reinforcement went from England, except one battalion. The embarkation from England was finished on 16th November.

"22. On 3rd November it was decided to organise and send out a siege train. It embarked on 9th December.

"23. Orders for the mobilisation of a 5th infantry division (the troops under Sir G. White, in Ladysmith, being counted as the 4th division) were issued on 11th November. An extra brigade division of artillery (three batteries horse artillery) was added on 20th November.

"The embarkation of this 5th division began on 24th November, and was completed on 13th December. That of the three batteries horse artillery took place between 19th and 21st December.

"24. Orders were given for the mobilisation of a 6th infantry division on 2nd December, i.e., as soon as the embarkation of the 5th division was well under way. Mobilisation began on 4th December, and was completed by 11th December. All combatant units were embarked between 16th December and 1st January, 1900.

"25. The order to mobilise the 7th infantry division was issued on 16th December. Mobilisation began on the 18th, and was completed on 27th December.

"Embarkation began on 3rd January, and was completed on 18th January.

"26. Meanwhile, on 16th and 22nd December, it had been decided to mobilise and prepare for embarkation four additional brigade divisions (twelve batteries) of field artillery, one brigade division being armed with howitzers. These were all embarked between 21st January and 27th January, 1900.

"28. The order to mobilise an additional brigade of cavalry (the 4th cavalry brigade) was issued on 26th December. Mobilisation began on 28th December, and was completed on 2nd January, 1900.

"The embarkation of this brigade was held back pending the arrival of Lord Roberts in South Africa, and the receipt of a communication from him.

"Embarkation began on 8th February, and was completed on 17th February.

"29. Orders were issued for the mobilisation of the 8th infantry division on 19th January, 1900. Mobilisation began on 20th January. Embarkation began on 12th March, and the last unit embarked on 18th April, 1900.

"30. With the despatch of the 8th division, the last organised and mobilised regular formation left this country, and the work of the Mobilisation sub-division, in connection with the despatch of reinforcements to South Africa, came to an end."

The executive work of organising, equipping, and despatching drafts of Militia, Volunteers, and Imperial Yeomanry was carried out entirely by the Adjutant-General, Quartermaster-General, and Director-General of Ordnance.]

[Sidenote: Smooth working.]

[Sidenote: Inadequate reserve.]

The machinery of the Mobilisation sub-division was equal to the task and continued to work smoothly, while the Adjutant-General's department was enabled, with little difficulty, to find men to complete units on mobilisation.[8] All these units were brought up to their establishment from their own regimental reserves. In order to keep them up to their strength it was estimated that it would be necessary to send out a series of drafts, calculated on a basis of 10 per cent. for every three months.[9] This was the system which was put into operation from the first, and subsequently adhered to as far as possible, drafts being detailed from regimental reserves. It was, however, soon found necessary to introduce modifications in accordance with the wastage which varied in the different arms, as well as in the different units.[10] In addition to the regular stream of drafts, special drafts had occasionally to be sent out to make good instances of abnormal loss. Especially was this the case with infantry battalions.[11] Consequently, the regimental reserves of some units were exhausted before those of others, and it became necessary to draw on the reserves of other corps which had more than they required, their militia reserves being selected for the purpose. By the time the war had lasted a year the equivalents of five drafts on the 10 per cent. basis had left England. But a limit had been reached. "By the end of a year's campaigning our infantry reserves proper, including the now non-existent militia reserve, were exhausted, a point which was emphasised by Lord Lansdowne in the following words in his minute of 2nd June, 1900....:

"'Two points stand out clearly: (1) That in future campaigns we must expect demands on a vast scale for infantry drafts; (2) that our reserve is not large enough and must be increased.'"[12]

[Footnote 8: Some difficulty was experienced in finding certain specialists, such as farriers, &c.]

[Footnote 9: Of this original force from England, all cavalry and artillery units and eleven infantry battalions went out with a "war establishment, plus excess numbers," which were calculated at 10 per cent. to make good casualties for the first three months. It was decided to adopt this standard in all cases.]

[Footnote 10: The reserve of the artillery fell short almost at once, whereas the entire reserves of the cavalry were not called out until the end of February, 1901.]

[Footnote 11: For one battalion alone, the 2nd battalion Royal Irish Rifles, 1,831 duly qualified soldiers left England in six months, without having to draw on any reserves outside its own corps.]

[Footnote 12: Memorandum on Drafts prepared in the Adjutant-General's department, 30th September, 1902. See Appendix volume, Royal Commission, p. 86.]

Short service had made it possible to build up a reserve substantial enough to minister to the unprecedented requirements of the regular army for a year. Without it, the end of our resources in trained men would have been reached at a very early stage.

[Sidenote: Borrowing, with results.]

One difficulty arose. Staffs of many formations, such as those of mounted infantry, ammunition columns and medical field units, did not exist. The completion of these new creations for the original field force necessitated the borrowing of officers and men from other bodies, which, as was supposed at that time, would not be mobilised. As the strain continually grew more severe it was found necessary to mobilise successive divisions and additional batteries. Then, not only had the loans to be made good to those depleted, but nearly the whole of the personnel had to be found for the further number of fresh organisms which were called into existence. This could only be done by yet more borrowing. The difficulty, therefore, progressively increased. More particularly was this the case with the ammunition columns, the creation of which, together with the additional batteries of artillery, caused a drain on artillery reservists, which resulted in their being absorbed more quickly than those of the other branches of the service.[13] All these special bodies, though essential for war, were outside the peace establishment of the army. It became, therefore, necessary to call out "the whole of the remainder of the Army Reserve, in order to be able to utilise the services of reservists belonging to Section D., none of whom could, by law, be called out until all the reservists of all arms, in Sections A. B. and C. had been called up."[14] This was done by special Army Order on December 20th, 1899.[15]

[Footnote 13: The experiences of a particular battery, Royal Field artillery, afford an illustration of the consequences detailed above. From this battery, by the end of November, 1899, there had been drafted off to staff, service batteries, ammunition columns, or excess numbers, the captain, the senior subaltern (the only one who had had four months' service in field artillery), five sergeants, one corporal, one bombardier, four shoeing smiths, two trumpeters, the wheeler, six gunners and five drivers. In December, 1899, the battery commander, with the whole of one sub-division, was taken away as the nucleus of a new battery to be formed. Ten days after this the mobilisation of the battery was ordered. Rather more than 50 per cent. of the battery when mobilised were men of Section D. of the Reserve, of whom about half had seen the gun which they were to work, while none had seen it fired.]

[Footnote 14: Statement of the Mobilisation sub-division.]

[Footnote 15: The effect of this, as regards the cavalry, was that some 2,000 reservists, over and above immediate requirements, were prematurely placed at the disposal of the department.]

[Sidenote: Mr. Stanhope's two corps exceeded.]

There was little breathing time between the successive embarkations of the mobilised divisions from the commencement on 20th October, 1899, to the completion on 18th April, 1900, with the result that in the space of six months more than the equivalent of the two army corps and the cavalry division, laid down in Mr. Stanhope's memorandum as that which we should be prepared to send abroad in case of necessity, had left our shores. By the despatch of these troops, followed by later demands for reinforcements, our organised field army was practically exhausted, and home defence, "the primary duty" of the whole army, was enfeebled to a dangerous degree. In place of the army corps, "partly composed of regulars and partly of Militia," required by the memorandum, there remained for home service a few regular troops, some hastily formed "Reserve Battalions," and such of the embodied Militia, the Yeomanry, and the Volunteers, as had not already gone abroad—all being for the most part unorganised, partially trained, and not fully equipped.

[Sidenote: Demand exceeds supply of units.]

Mr. Stanhope's view of the "improbable probability"[16] of the employment of "an army corps in the field in any European war"—and if not in Europe, then where else?—certainly not in South Africa—had had its effect. In respect of numbers, it imposed a limit on the powers of preparation; and the condition of affairs was precisely expressed by the following sentence: "The war conclusively proved, therefore, that Mr. Stanhope's memorandum did not make sufficient allowance for the general needs of the Empire."[17]

[Footnote 16: "... But it will be distinctly understood that the probability of employment of an army corps in the field in any European war is sufficiently improbable to make it the primary duty of the military authorities to organise our forces efficiently for the defence of their country."—Mr. Stanhope's memorandum. See pp. 5, 6.]

[Footnote 17: Extract from note placed before the Royal Commission by Lieutenant-General Sir William Nicholson. A. 18,245.]

Intelligence and Maps.

Whatever interpretation might be placed as between the Governments on the accumulation of warlike stores in the Transvaal and Free State, it had been obviously the duty of the Intelligence department of the War Office to watch these as closely as the prevailing conditions permitted. This had been done ever since 1896, when the Commander-in-Chief had directed the department to undertake the investigation. The material thus obtained was collated in June, 1898, in the form of a handbook, entitled, "Military Notes on the Dutch Republics of South Africa," which set forth in a concise form the military strength, armament, organisation and tactics of the Boer army. A revised edition of this book was issued in June, 1899. Other handbooks, containing special reconnaissances executed in the more important strategical localities of South Africa, and summaries of information as to the various states and colonies, were also prepared with a view to the possibility of active operations. The Royal Commission on the South African War was able to pronounce in its Report (paragraph 257) that the information contained in these handbooks, as well as in a "valuable" series of memoranda extending over several years, was in many respects remarkably accurate.

[Sidenote: Maps—Transvaal and Free State.]

Adequate military maps of the vast theatre over which the operations of the 1899-1902 war subsequently spread could only have been produced by the employment for many years of a large survey staff. The production of correct maps of the Transvaal and Free State on a scale of four miles to the inch would alone have taken five years to complete, and would have cost L100,000. The state of tension existing between Great Britain and the two republics in the years immediately preceding the war rendered it impossible to undertake any serious work of this description within those States.

[Sidenote: Maps—Cape and Natal.]

As regards the Cape Colony and Natal, the survey of all self-governing colonies has been, and still is, regarded by the Imperial Government as a matter for the Colonial Governments. The survey of Cape Colony alone on a scale large enough for tactical purposes would have cost L150,000, and it would have been perfectly useless to ask the Treasury to sanction the provision of any such sum. A map, on a scale of twelve and a half miles to an inch, had been produced by the Survey department of the Cape Government, covering Cape Colony, Natal, Orange Free State, and part of the Transvaal, and arrangements were made with the Colonial Government for supplies of this for issue to the troops on the outbreak of war. Of the northern parts of Natal two military maps, produced during the previous wars on a scale of four miles and one mile to an inch were available. But, though copies of one of these maps were subsequently reproduced by the Boers and used by them in their operations on the Tugela, it was well known that they were not accurate and had not been corrected up to date. By arrangement, therefore, with the Natal Government and at their expense, the Director of Military Intelligence sent Major S. C. N. Grant, R.E., from England, in 1896, to execute a more careful reconnaissance of the portion of Natal north of Ladysmith. Recognising that the map thus produced might prove insufficient, Sir J. Ardagh, in 1897, urged personally on the Right Hon. H. Escombe, the Prime Minister of Natal, the importance of continuing this survey, and the latter promised to endeavour to make such arrangements as he could, although he stated that political considerations rendered it difficult for him to ask the Natal Parliament to provide funds for a survey of the colony avowedly for military purposes. Sir H. Escombe's Ministry subsequently went out of office, and the only map of Natal existing at the outbreak of war, besides those above referred to, was one on a scale of five miles to an inch prepared locally for educational purposes.

[Sidenote: Intelligence map and Jeppe's.]

For the Transvaal and Orange Free State the compilation, from all the material available, of a map on a scale 1-250,000 was commenced in January, 1899, by the Intelligence division; twelve sheets were completed and issued before October, 1899, and the remainder shortly afterwards. In the same year a map of the Transvaal, compiled by C. Jeppe from farm surveys, was produced under the auspices of the Government of that State. A limited number of copies of this map were obtained by the Intelligence division and issued on the outbreak of war to the higher staffs. Subsequently in January, 1900, Colonel G. F. R. Henderson, Lord Roberts' Director of Military Intelligence, was fortunate enough to seize at Capetown a thousand copies of this survey, and maps were compiled from them by the Field Intelligence department. These proved of great service in the advance northward.

[Sidenote: A large question.]

The provision of maps for the many possible theatres of war in which British troops may be employed is a difficult question. In the present case the above statement will account for the fact that the maps provided by the War Office at the outbreak of the South African war were pronounced by the Royal Commission on that war to have been, "with perhaps one exception, very incomplete and unreliable" (paragraph 261).

* * * * *

These matters preparatory to the war were not, in the ordinary work of the departments, separated by any distinct break from the routine necessary after hostilities had begun.

The Distribution of responsibility between the several offices in regard to the despatch of an army to the field was as follows. The Adjutant-General's department was charged with all that affected the actual personnel—the flesh and blood—in such matters as the necessary qualifications of age or service, the completion of cadres with specialists, and the maintenance of recruiting. It was the province of the Military Secretary's department of the Commander-in-Chief's office to select the staffs and allot the commands. The provision of equipment, clothing, and ordnance supplies was the duty of the Director-General of Ordnance; with the Quartermaster-General rested the provision of animals to complete the war establishment, supplies of food, and, in conjunction with the Admiralty, arrangements for sea transport. The two departments of the Director-General and Quartermaster-General, long before the final sanction was given, had worked out on paper the details of future requirements.

[Sidenote: Personal action at War Office.]

Apart from those proposals of the Commander-in-Chief to which it had not been possible for Her Majesty's Government to accede, for the reason already given, the several officers at Headquarters had done what they could to make for possible future events such preparation as did not involve expenditure. Sir Evelyn Wood, both as Quartermaster-General and as Adjutant-General, carried on a vigorous private correspondence with the several General Officers Commanding at the Cape, and it was at his instance that as early as the autumn of 1896 contracts were made with Messrs. Weil, who had complete command of the Cape market, for the supply of horses, mules, and wagons at short notice when called for. He sent for one of the firm to come to England, but a decision was given in the spring of 1897 against immediate action. In April, 1898, he again asked that the whole subject, both of transport and of the despatch of cavalry and artillery to South Africa, should be taken up. Moreover, in 1897, he had pressed for horse-fittings for shipping, fearing the trouble in this matter, which subsequently actually occurred. On taking over the duties of Adjutant-General on October 1st, 1897, he, in view of the extensive territory lately acquired in Rhodesia, proposed the addition of 9,000 infantry to the army. The Commander-in-Chief, in forwarding this memorandum, added to his request an additional 4,000 men beyond what Sir E. Wood had recommended. As late as February, 1898, the transport, necessary to make the troops in South Africa fit to take the field, was refused, though pressed for by the Commander-in-Chief, in consequence of a private letter to Sir E. Wood, which showed Sir A. Milner's anxiety on the subject. To suppress a small rebel Basuto chief it would have required a month to get transport ready. At a time when a man so intimate with South African affairs as Mr. Rhodes was deriding all fears of Boer power, war was not believed to be imminent, and the long habit of saving the public purse during peace time was operative against expenditure, which would not be needed if there were no war and no need for suppressing Basuto rebels. The same cause had delayed till April, 1897, the necessary supply of horses to infantry regiments, at which date L36,000 was granted for this purpose. Both these horses and the training of mounted infantry at home had been repeatedly asked for by Sir Evelyn Wood as Quartermaster-General, by Sir Redvers Buller as Adjutant-General, and by Lord Wolseley as Commander-in-Chief.

Equipment and Transport.

From the great variety of countries and climates, in which it has been the fate of the British army to be engaged for the last hundred years or more, it has always been impossible to foresee what the particular equipment required for any given expedition would be.[18] To keep up permanently all the transport animals and the large reserves of food supplies needed for both animals and men would have been wasteful extravagance. In one campaign, only human porterage had been possible; in another, only transport by river boats; in another, it had been necessary to rely chiefly on camels; in another, on the development of canal and railway communication. Therefore, much time is always needed before it is possible so to prepare a British army that it is ready to wage war. An army is as little able to march till it is supplied with the necessary transport as a man would be without proper shoes, or a cavalryman without his horse. For such a war as was in prospect in South Africa, ranging possibly over tens of thousands of square miles, immense quantities, both of animals and vehicles, would be needed. A considerable proportion of these could no doubt be procured in the country itself, but from the numbers required it was necessary to extend our purchases over almost all the civilised world. This was another of the cases in which the necessity not to provoke war tended to prevent preparations for war.

[Footnote 18: See also Chapter V.]

[Sidenote: Land transport S.A.]

The question of land transport, on which so much of the conduct of a campaign must depend, was one of the highest importance. The nature of the South African country, and the absence of roads, rendered it necessary that transport vehicles, intended for horse-draught, should be adapted for draught by animals suitable to the country and likely to be obtainable—namely, oxen and mules. The form of the wagons in use had been settled twenty years before on South African experience, by a committee consisting of Sir Redvers Buller and Colonel H. S. E. Reeves, but the South African brake, not being convenient for home service, was no longer used, so that this had to be supplied. Moreover, it was necessary to convert the carriages to pole draught for mule traction. The Director-General of Ordnance[19] asked, on July 26th, 1899, for authority to carry out this change, involving an outlay of L17,650, but at this time, for reasons already given, sanction was refused to any expenditure on preparations for despatching an army to South Africa.

[Footnote 19: General Sir H. Brackenbury.]

"On the 1st September the Director-General of Ordnance again asked for authority. On the 5th September, in putting forward a schedule of requirements, he pointed out that this service would take ten weeks, and said the sanction of those items should be given at once, on account of the time required to manufacture and obtain them, and that if put off till the force is ordered to mobilise it would be impossible to guarantee their being ready in time."[20]

[Footnote 20: Extract from Minute by the Director-General of Ordnance to the Commander-in-Chief, dated October 10th. See Vol. I. Minutes of Evidence, Royal Commission, p. 76.]

[Sidenote: Delay.]

In the still existing circumstances, neither the importance of the demand, nor the smallness of the sum asked, saved the requisition from sharing the fate of others, and authority for the expenditure was not received until the partial grant of September 22nd.[21] Once begun, the work was actually carried out in sixteen days less than the estimated time, but the delay was sufficient to prevent sixteen or more units from being accompanied by the vehicles of their regimental transport.[22]

[Footnote 21: See p. 6.]

[Footnote 22: Water carts and ammunition carts.]

[Sidenote: Q.M.G. provides vehicles.]

Early in September an arrangement had been come to between the Director-General of Ordnance (who, under normal conditions, was responsible for the provision of all transport vehicles and harness) and the Quartermaster-General, whereby the latter undertook the furnishing of transport wagons and harness for supply trains and parks. This in fact was carried out in South Africa.

[Sidenote: Q.M.G. and supplies.]

The Quartermaster-General, in response to demands from the General Officer Commanding in South Africa, had sent two months' reserve supplies from time to time since the beginning of June for the troops already there. On receipt of the authority of September 22nd, one month's reserves for 50,000 men, 12,000 horses and 15,000 mules were ordered, and these were shipped by October 30th. Further expenditure was sanctioned on September 29th. Another month's supplies for the same numbers were therefore ordered to be despatched about November 18th. The provision of such quantities took time and, in consequence of the delay in obtaining sanction for expenditure, the Quartermaster-General was hard pressed in furnishing the supplies early enough, but succeeded in doing so.

Remount Department.

The provision of horses and mules to complete the war establishment for mounted units was one function of the Quartermaster-General. The Inspector-General of Remounts was charged, under him, with the detail work connected therewith. As far back as 1887 a system of registration of horses had been established in order to form a reserve to meet a national emergency. With the aid of this reserve, it was calculated that horses could be provided in sufficient numbers to complete the mobilisation of the force laid down in Mr. Stanhope's memorandum and to make good the wastage of the first six months. The number estimated for these purposes was 25,000.[23] No difficulty, it was thought, would be experienced in obtaining this number and, with the supply for six months' wastage in hand, time would be available to arrange for meeting further demands if they arose.

[Footnote 23: "On mobilisation being ordered, horses to the number of 3,682 were bought from the registered reserve, the remainder required being obtained in the open market, and all units received their full complement with 10 per cent. of spare horses. No units were delayed for want of horses." (Court of Inquiry, Remount department, 5,344-5).

The number of horses actually purchased from the registered reserve, and in the open market at home, amounted to 73,000 by the end of 1901.]

[Sidenote: Purchase of mules and horses.]

Transport mules would in any case have to be purchased abroad and records were preserved of the resources of different mule-producing countries; but there had been no expectation of having to supplement, to any extent, the home supply of horses. The Inspector-General of Remounts had personal experience of horse purchase in Argentina, and the success which had attended his transactions there, coupled with his knowledge of the market, led him to believe that there would be no difficulty in obtaining from that country a supply of good and suitable horses, sufficient to meet any demand that might be reasonably expected.[24] Information regarding the horse markets of other countries did not go beyond such personal knowledge as a few individuals in the department happened to possess. So enormous did demands eventually become, that it is open to question whether, had all possible information been at command, there existed for sale anywhere a sufficient number of horses of the right age and stamp, trained to saddle and in condition, to furnish the numbers required.[25] Purchases of horses were, indeed, made in South Africa before the war, under the orders of the General Officer Commanding in that country. This was done as a mere matter of local convenience, not as a preparation for war. Furthermore, in the middle of September financial approval was given for the purchase "of 260 Australian horses to replace the next year's casualties."[26] Illusions as to the sufficiency of the home supply were speedily dispelled by the unforeseen conditions accompanying the transition from peace to war. Not only was the Remount department required to provide horses and mules for a far larger British army than had ever before taken the field, but that army was operating at an immense distance from its base over a larger extent of country than any over which a British army had ever before been called upon to act. Besides this, no force previously sent into the field by any nation has included in its composition such a large proportion of mounted men. Consequently, the demands on the Remount department were of unprecedented magnitude.[27]

[Footnote 24: A proposal to send 700 Argentine horses and mules "to acclimatise, anticipating next year's casualties," was sent to the General Officer Commanding S. Africa, in April, 1899.—Tel. Q.M.G. to G.O.C., S.A., 28th April. (S.A. Series No. 3.)]

[Footnote 25: The total number of animals furnished by the Remount department up to August, 1902, was as follows:—

+ -+ -+ + Horses. + + + Mules and Donkeys. Total. With units. Remounts. + + + -+ + 20,251 450,223 149,648 620,122 + + + -+ +]

[Footnote 26: Court of Enquiry on Army Remounts. Q. 8, Minutes of Evidence.]

[Footnote 27: Court of Enquiry on Army Remounts. Report, Para. 234.]

[Sidenote: Absence of depots.]

What contributed not a little to these demands was the absence of preparation in South Africa in establishing beforehand depots from which a regular supply could be maintained, and in which imported animals could rest after the voyage and become to a certain extent acclimatised before they were used in the field.

[Sidenote: Partial provision of depots.]

In June, 1899, the Inspector-General had represented the necessity of sending out a proper remount establishment to receive animals, and a supervising staff. This proposal was only adopted to the extent that, on June 22nd, sanction was given for an Assistant-Inspector of Remounts, accompanied by a small staff, to go to South Africa. In August, 1899, approval was given for the retention of the existing depot at Stellenbosch as a temporary measure, while on the Natal side "the present depot" was reported by the Officer Commanding troops as being "sufficient for all that the War Office had sanctioned."[28]

[Footnote 28: Telegram General Officer Commanding South Africa, to Secretary of State, 3rd September. (South African Series, No. 200.)]

[Sidenote: Mules and oxen.]

Estimates of the number of mules which would be required to be purchased abroad for regimental transport had been worked out in June. A limited number had already been obtained in South Africa, and before the war broke out the General Officer Commanding there had entered into contracts for the supply of 1,470 additional animals. This met the immediate necessity, and the subsequent purchases from all parts of the world enabled every unit landing in Cape Colony to be completely equipped with regimental transport when it reached its concentration station.[29] In Natal ox-transport was principally used as being more suitable for the country.

[Footnote 29: There were three concentration stations in the Cape Colony, viz.: De Aar, Naauwpoort and Queenstown.]

[Sidenote: Animals from abroad.]

In order to supplement this supply and "with a view to possible contingencies, about the middle of July, 1899, commissions of officers, to make preliminary enquiries, were sent to the United States of America, to Spain and to Italy."[30] In order that these preparations, indispensable if war was declared, should not tend to excite war, the Secretary of State had given instructions that these officers should not attract attention to their mission. They were not allowed to make any purchases until they received instructions. These were telegraphed on 23rd September, 1899, authorising the buying of 1,000 in Spain, 3,000 in Italy, and 4,000 at New Orleans.

[Footnote 30: Report, Court of Inquiry, Remount department, p. 3, para. 12.]

[Sidenote: Ships for mules.]

The conveyance of mules (but not horses) from ports abroad was carried out by the Admiralty, and some difficulty was experienced at first in chartering ships suitable for the purpose. The first ship-load did not arrive in South Africa until 8th November. Mules for troops from India were shipped under arrangements made by the Indian Government in conjunction with the Admiralty Transport Officer.

[Sidenote: Demands fully met.]

The department succeeded in furnishing, and even in exceeding, the numbers demanded from time to time. It had undertaken the transport of horses purchased abroad, an arrangement which, while relieving the Admiralty, caused no competition, as a different class of ship was required. Horses and mules purchased in various countries were poured into South Africa. They were used up almost as soon as they arrived.

[Sidenote: Difficulties of Remount department.]

There was no arrangement made for easy and rapid expansion. "The Inspector-General of Remounts could do no more with the organisation with which he was furnished; his functions were strictly limited, and his staff even more so. It was inevitable that when a department so equipped, and with no provision for expansion, was called upon to extend its operations largely, there must be some lack of system."[31] In addition to these difficulties, the department had to face others. It was from the first made the object of attacks in the Press and in Parliament. It was scarcely possible that the circumstances as here recorded should be understood. To the labours of the officials, already worked to breaking strain, was added the duty of preparing constant written explanations of their actions, and this to an extent that seriously interfered with the despatch of their current business.

[Footnote 31: Report of Royal Commission, Para. 187.]

Army Service Corps.

There was no difficulty in bringing the personnel of the transport companies and supply detachments of the Army Service Corps up to the war establishment laid down for them. Yet the total strength of the corps, with its reserves called up, was far below what was required to meet the calls which were eventually made on it. "After withdrawing nearly every officer of the corps from England and stations abroad it was necessary to employ in South Africa 126 additional officers of other corps up to June, 1900, which number was increased to nearly 250 later on in the war. To replace officers in England and stations abroad, 98 retired and reserve officers were employed. The transport personnel (non-commissioned officers and artificers) of the companies in South Africa, when they were subsequently divided into two, was hardly sufficient to carry on the work, but a large number of promotions were made to fill up the deficiencies. With the supply branch in South Africa, 364 civilians were engaged as clerks, bakers, and issuers, and civilians were employed at every station at home to take the place of Army Service Corps clerks."[32]

[Footnote 32: Statement of Quartermaster-General, 23rd September, 1902.]

[Sidenote: Local Drivers relieve A.S.C.]

On the other hand, the nature of the transport in South Africa rendered the employment of native mule and ox drivers almost imperative. A surplus of Army Service Corps drivers was thus created sufficient to enable 600 to be lent to the Royal artillery, leaving enough to be retained for duty at home and abroad. The duties of four remount depots in Cape Colony and one in Natal were also carried out by the Army Service Corps during the first part of the war until relieved by remount depots from England and India.

[Sidenote: Early despatch of A.S.C.]

A notable feature in connection with the Army Service Corps was its employment, before the outbreak of hostilities, in a role that was essentially preparatory. For the first time in the history of the corps, transport companies and supply detachments were sent in advance of the troops whom they were to serve, and prepared the way for them. With the despatch of two companies in July to make good the transport of the existing force in South Africa, five officers also proceeded to South Africa to assist in organising the supply and transport duties in the event of a large force being sent out.[33] Further embarkations took place in September and October, and the remainder of the Army Service Corps units, detailed for duty with the army corps, embarked before war had actually been declared, and before any of the troops of the army corps had sailed. The advantages attending these measures were that not only did all units on arriving at their concentration stations in South Africa find their transport ready for them, but the transport and supply services generally were organised and in working order for their share of the operations.

[Footnote 33: The General Officer Commanding South Africa had applied for special service officers acquainted with "B." duties.]

Royal Army Medical Corps.

In respect of preparations, even up to the two army corps standard, the Royal Army Medical Corps was weak in numbers. Barely sufficient in its personnel even for peace requirements, it possessed no organisation for expansion in war. The establishment of officers was designed to provide for the bearer companies and field hospitals of two army corps and a cavalry division, with seven stationary and three general hospitals on the lines of communication. This only allowed for under 3 per cent. of the troops having beds in general and stationary hospitals. Without withdrawing officers from the colonies,[34] the aid of 99 civil surgeons would be required. These gentlemen were to be selected when their services were needed, but as there was no registered list, no claim on the service of anyone could be exacted. When the field army was provided for, the home hospitals were entirely denuded of personnel. The work was carried on by retired officers and civil surgeons. The establishment of non-commissioned officers and men was designed only for peace purposes, and beyond the reserve there was no estimate for additions in case of war. A state of war was to be met by civilian assistance, increased employment of women nurses, and active recruiting. An increase of establishment which had been proposed for the estimates of 1893-4 and successive years had gradually obtained complete sanction by 1898.[35] The increase of the army as a whole and the known weakness in South Africa caused demands for yet larger numbers in the estimates of 1899-1900. The Army Board were not disposed to recommend more than a portion of these additions.[36] The difficulty of obtaining sanction for expenditure on measures of greater urgency required that that which was considered of less importance should be dispensed with, so the hospital orderly had to be rejected in favour of the soldier to fill the ranks. To provide the general and stationary hospitals that accompanied the First Army Corps with complete personnel, it became necessary to denude the bearer companies and field hospitals of the Second Army Corps. It is not surprising, therefore, that "war having been declared, and practically the whole available personnel having been swept off to South Africa with the first demands, it became necessary to seek for other means of supply."[37] Hospital equipment was dealt with by the Director-General of Ordnance, but with surgical and medical stores the Army Medical Department was itself concerned. Funds to replace the old-fashioned instruments then in use were asked for in 1896, and between that date and the outbreak of war great improvements had been made. The change, however, had not been universally completed, and on the outbreak of war a few instruments of comparatively antiquated type were still to be found in South Africa. A similar argument to that which prevailed against the increase of personnel met the several requests for storage room. It was represented that the indifferent storage available deteriorated the instruments and made the drugs worthless. On the other hand, the perishable nature of drugs renders it inadvisable to keep a large amount in store, besides which, ample supplies can always be purchased in the market. The subsequent experience went to prove that there was no difficulty in this matter. Throughout the war the department was wonderfully well equipped as regards drugs and instruments, and no branch was more successful than that concerned with medical supplies.

[Footnote 34: The establishment for India is distinct.]

[Footnote 35: An increase of 212 was asked for, and was obtained by successive grants of 54, 53, 52 and 55—total, 214.]

[Footnote 36: The estimate was for 400 of all ranks, and 150 were granted. The balance was granted in November, 1899, and the men were of course untrained.]

[Footnote 37: Statement by Surgeon-General Jameson, Royal Commission on South African Hospitals.]

Army Veterinary Department.

On the outbreak of war the Director-General of the Army Veterinary department was responsible to the Adjutant-General for the efficiency of his department and the maintenance of veterinary supplies. The superior control was subsequently transferred to the Quartermaster-General. The proportion of the veterinary service which should accompany a force on active service was not laid down. Not only was there no organisation to admit of expansion but, owing to the unattractive conditions attaching to service in the department, the number of officers was actually below the authorised establishment. In addition to the discharge of ordinary duty, heavy demands were made by the Remount department for veterinary officers to assist in the purchase and transport of horses and mules. It was necessary, therefore, almost from the first, to engage civilian veterinary surgeons.[38] The personnel of the department did not include any subordinate staff. The Director-General[39] of the department was in process of adopting, with improvements, the Indian system of equipment, for which he had himself been responsible. The amount of this equipment which it had been possible to prepare before the outbreak of war was insufficient, but the deficiency was remedied by indenting on India for four field veterinary hospitals and 100 field chests, which enabled the supply to be kept up to the subsequent demands.

[Footnote 38: The home establishment of the department was 63; 121 civilian veterinary surgeons were employed in South Africa, besides those engaged by local Volunteers.]

[Footnote 39: Veterinary Colonel F. Duck, C.B., F.R.C.V.S.]

Inspector-General of Fortifications.

This officer was responsible for engineer stores. The nature of those required depends largely on the country in which the campaign is to be carried on; therefore, practically no reserve was maintained of such ordinary items as can easily be bought in the market. Of manufactured goods, such as railway plant, telegraph material and pontoons, which require time for production, there was an insufficient reserve, notably of the last named. In order to send out a number sufficient to meet the probable requirements in South Africa, all reserve pontoons, including some of questionable value, were collected, and the country was denuded. This deficiency had been represented on different occasions, but for want of funds nothing could be done towards the provision of new pontoons until October, 1899.


Of all the departments, this was subjected to the greatest strain and was the least prepared to meet it. The reasons were as follows. For some years previous to 1897 the system in force was that, although the Director-General of Ordnance was charged with the supply of stores to the army, the financial control and the entire direction of the ordnance factories rested with the Financial Secretary to the War Office, who belonged to the Ministry of the day. No supplies could be obtained by the former unless with the permission and by the order of the latter. The system conduced to a lack of sympathy of motive, which caused a disinclination on the one part to ask for what on the other there would be more than a disinclination to give. This tended to crystallise the national proneness to defer until the emergency arose the measures necessary to meet it. It followed, then, that while attention was given to the needs of the moment, practically all provision for the requirements of the future was relegated to the background. A further defect in the system was that it resulted in there being no proper understanding between those who had intimate knowledge of what was required by the army and those who were responsible for manufacture.

[Sidenote: Sir Henry Brackenbury's appointment.]

During the three years that Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Brackenbury had been President of the Ordnance Committee at Woolwich he had been impressed by the unsatisfactory working of the system and, on being offered the appointment of Director-General of Ordnance, in November, 1898, he urged that the direction of the ordnance factories should be transferred to the holder of that appointment. The matter was discussed by the Cabinet and, on its being decided to make the transfer, Sir H. Brackenbury took up the appointment in February, 1899. The transfer was effected by the Order in Council of March 7th, 1899, which enumerated the duties with which the Director-General of Ordnance was charged,[40] and included in them that of the direction of the manufacturing departments of the army. The financial control of the factories still remained with the Financial Secretary.

[Footnote 40: The duties are detailed in Sir Henry Brackenbury's reply to the Royal Commission, A. 1,555.]

[Sidenote: State of ordnance stores.]

The Secretary of State himself had felt some concern as to the condition of affairs in the Ordnance department and it was on his initiative that Sir Henry Brackenbury was selected to set matters right. On taking up the duties of Director-General of Ordnance, the new chief commenced an enquiry into the condition of the armament and the state of reserves of all ordnance stores. In the early months of the year the greater part of his time and attention was taken up by the important question of replacing the obsolete armament of our sea defences. From June onwards the whole energies of the department were directed towards meeting the requirements of the force which might possibly have to take the field. It was not until the despatch of this force that the true barrenness of the land came to be revealed, and melancholy was the outlook it presented.

[Sidenote: Warning to G.Os.C.]

Early in 1899 the Director-General of Ordnance issued confidential instructions to General Officers Commanding districts regarding special scales of clothing and equipment for the field force contemplated for service in South Africa. These instructions enabled demands to be prepared, so that they could be put forward without delay on the order to mobilise.

[Sidenote: Method of keeping equipment.]

Wherever storage buildings were available the war equipment of units was kept on their charge. In other cases it was apportioned to units but held in store for them by the Ordnance department. When mobilisation was ordered, there was war equipment practically complete to enable two army corps, a cavalry division, and lines of communication troops to take the field.

[Sidenote: Clothing.]

The special clothing prescribed for South Africa entailed an entire change of dress—helmet, body-clothing, and boots. Sanction had been given in April, 1899, for the storage of a reserve of khaki drill suits,[41] of which the amount authorised would have been insufficient, but fortunately the Clothing department had a surplus which enabled a complete issue to be made on mobilisation. It had been represented from South Africa, with the support of the Director-General of the Army Medical Service at home, that serge was more appropriate to the climate than cotton drill, and the substitution had been approved by the Commander-in-Chief on August 18th. No steps towards effecting the change could be taken until the grant of September 22nd, and the first three divisions embarked with cotton drill clothing.[42] It is probable, however, that even had the money been forthcoming when the change was first approved, not more than half the amount required could have been obtained in the time. One difficulty experienced in connection with the issue of clothing was that of providing each unit with the right number of suits of particular sizes. Many of the reservists who presented themselves on mobilisation were found to have increased considerably in figure, and consequently much fitting and alteration was necessary. This caused delay. At that time the boot for foreign service differed in pattern from that for home service, and an issue of the former was made. The supply on hand was only sufficient to allow a complete issue to men of the mounted services, while dismounted soldiers had one pair of each pattern, reservists having home service pattern entirely. The sudden demand on the market for the materials necessary for these articles of clothing entailed a considerable increase of cost, without, at the outset at least, ensuring provision of the best quality.

[Footnote 41: This reserve consisted of 40,000 suits; the number actually issued was sufficient to equip the force completely.]

[Footnote 42: At the time of year this was suitable, and serge clothing was eventually sent out. Troops subsequently, up to May, 1900, took one suit of drill and one suit of serge. Later each man took two suits of serge.]

[Sidenote: War equipment.]

At the outbreak of war the authorised war equipment was practically complete, and there remained the equipment for a third army corps, but suitable only for service at home. Beyond this, there was no provision of special reserves to meet the continual drain by service in the field abroad. Such reserve material as there was for batteries of both horse and field artillery was speedily exhausted; while to provide heavier ordnance it was necessary to draw upon the movable armament for home defence. More speedy still was the exhaustion of gun ammunition, and not even the suspension of Naval orders in the factories, with loans from the Navy and from India, could enable demands to be complied with quickly enough. Similarly, the deficiencies in other stores, such as camp equipment, vehicles, harness, saddlery and horse-shoes, made themselves apparent at a very early date in the war.[43]

[Footnote 43: In the matter of hospital equipment previous to mobilisation there had been stores for field hospitals of three army corps; but there was no reserve of equipment for stationary hospitals or general hospitals, except for one general hospital and two stationary hospitals, which were not included in the army corps organisation.]

[Sidenote: Purchases abroad.]

[Sidenote: Mark IV.]

Any idea that may have existed that the ordnance factories and the trade would be able to meet all demands from week to week was quickly dispelled. The supply could not keep pace with the need, and in some cases the exhaustion of the home market necessitated large purchases in Europe, Canada, and the United States. Of rifles and other weapons at this time the store was ample, except in the case of sabres, of which, owing to a contemplated change in pattern, the reserve had been allowed to fall very low. There was a complete reserve of ball ammunition of the kinds approved for use in the earlier part of 1899, viz.: Mark II. and Mark IV., the latter having an expanding bullet. During the summer of 1899 it was found that under certain conditions the Mark IV. ammunition developed such serious defects that, apart from the inexpediency of using a bullet which the signatories to the Hague Convention[44] had condemned, it was deemed advisable to withdraw this particular kind of ammunition as unsuitable for war purposes. This meant that two-fifths of the reserve was unserviceable.

[Footnote 44: The British Government was not a party to this clause.]

[Sidenote: Alarming minute from D.G.O.]

On 15th December, 1899, as the result of his enquiry, Sir Henry Brackenbury put forward his report to the Commander-in-Chief, in which he enumerated in detail the various deficiencies of stores brought to light by the war in South Africa. The condition of affairs was such as to cause grave apprehension. To use his own words: "That war has now disclosed a situation as regards armaments, and reserves of guns, ammunition, stores and clothing, and as regards the power of output of material of war in emergency which is, in my opinion, full of peril to the Empire; and I, therefore, think it my duty, without waiting to elaborate details, to lay before you at once the state of affairs, and to make proposals, to which I invite, through you, the earnest and immediate attention of the Secretary of State." These proposals dealt with the provision of armaments, reserves of ammunition, stores and clothing, and the improvement of factories and storage-buildings, with the object of putting the country in a condition of safety and preventing the possibility of the recurrence of the state of affairs disclosed.[45]

[Footnote 45: Sir H. Brackenbury's representation was laid before the Cabinet and resulted, on the recommendations of the Mowatt and Grant Committees, in a grant of L10,500,900 to be distributed over a period of three years.]

[Sidenote: A free hand.]

In his minute Sir Henry Brackenbury also insisted on the necessity of a free hand being given in time of war to the Inspector-General of Fortifications as regards works and buildings, and to the Director-General of Ordnance as regards armaments, stores and clothing. He had, through the Army Board, on the 22nd September, brought to the notice of the Secretary of State the difficulties and delays inseparable from the financial system which obtained in peace time, and had been granted practically what he asked in his expenditure for the supply of the army during the war. On this point Sir Henry Brackenbury remarked in his report:—

"It is only by such a free hand having been given to us since the outbreak of war in October that it has been possible to supply the army in the field, and even so, owing to the want of reserves, we have been too late with many of the most important articles."

The tale of deficiencies was thus summed up by the Secretary of State:—

[Sidenote: Lord Lansdowne's note.]

"It is, I think, abundantly clear from Sir H. Brackenbury's Report, that we were not sufficiently prepared even for the equipment of the comparatively small force which we had always contemplated might be employed beyond the limits of this country in the initial stages of a campaign. For the much larger force which we have actually found it necessary to employ our resources were absolutely and miserably inadequate. The result has been that the department, even by working under conditions which have nearly led to a breakdown, has been barely able to keep pace with the requirements of the army."[46]

[Footnote 46: Extract from memorandum of May 21st, 1900, by the Marquess of Lansdowne.]


Offers of assistance had poured in from Greater Britain from the moment that the imminence of war in South Africa was realised. It was not the first time that our kinsmen had sent their sons for the general service of the Empire. In 1881, within twenty-four hours of the receipt of the news of the action at Laing's Nek, two thousand men of the Australian local forces had volunteered for employment in South Africa, but were not accepted. Four years later, eight hundred colonists from New South Wales were welcomed for service at Suakim, while a special corps of Canadian voyageurs was enlisted for the advance up the Nile. But on neither of these occasions was the tender of patriotic help so welcome to the Mother Country as in the present instance, for it was felt that the whole Empire was concerned in the contest for the establishment in South Africa of equal rights for all white men independent of race, and that it was, therefore, peculiarly fitting that the younger States of the great Imperial Commonwealth should make the quarrel their own. As early as July, 1899, Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales, the Malay States and Lagos, had tendered their services, and Her Majesty's Government, though not then able to accept the offers made, had gratefully acknowledged them. In September, Queensland and Victoria renewed their proposals, and further offers of assistance were received from Canada, New Zealand, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, and Hong Kong. The majority of a squadron of the New South Wales Lancers, which had been sent to England to undergo a special course of training at Aldershot, also volunteered for South Africa. As regards Natal and Cape Colony, it was assumed as a matter of course, both by the Colonial troops themselves and by the Imperial and Colonial Governments, that they would cheerfully do their duty if called out for local defence. The whole of the Natal local forces were mobilised for active service on 29th September,[47] the day after President Kruger commandeered his burghers. A portion of the Cape Volunteers were called out on 5th October, and the remainder during the first month of the war.[48] On the 3rd October the Secretary of State for the Colonies telegraphed to various Colonial Governments a grateful acceptance by Her Majesty's Government of the services of their contingents, indicating in each case the units considered desirable. It was not found possible to take advantage of the offers of some of the Crown Colonies, but from the self-governing Colonies, troops numbering about 2,500 of all ranks were accepted.[49] These proved but the advance guard to the total force of nearly 30,000 men from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and Ceylon, who at various times represented Greater Britain in the army of South Africa.

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