The Second Anglo Boer War centenary celebrations took place in 2001, and since then we saw a flow of new historical writings on the subject. These articles just illustrate how the great fight between the South African Boers (Burghers) and the British of more than a hundred years ago continue to exercise a fascination. The Anglo Boer war was not yet another war. It was a war that happened in a very exciting time in the history, the beginning of the technological age group. The most fascinating question of this war was probably how the 60, 291 Boer Burghers (untrained, unskilled plus undisciplined) could hold the 458, 610 well trained soldiers of the British at bay for so long. The answer might are located in the fact that the British seriously underestimated the fire power of the LARGE GUNS of the Boers.
The secret tool of the Boers that made a big difference was the legendary LONG TOM. The 155mm Creosot gun, earned this particular nickname (given by the British) due to due to the long barrel and its long firing range. President Paul Kruger was not very pleased with this name, but it soon became a popular word on everybody’s lips and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. Kruger imported these guns from Schneider & Co in Creosot (France) in 1886, mainly to serve as castle guns to protect the city of Pretoria from enemy attacks. Each of the four Long Toms ordered was provided complete with 8000 shells. This was a great fortress gun, because when elevated, the 94 lb (42, six kg) shells could fired far away of about 11 000 yards (10 154 m), which was the greatest range of any gun in use in that time. Each of the four guns received a name based on the name from the hill on which the fortresses were positioned, intended to defend the main methods to Pretoria, namely Wonderboompoort, Klapperkop, Schanzkop, and Daspoort. Recoil goes together with a heavy firing power. To maintain the big gun in position after a chance it had to be mounted on a special foundation plate with the brakes bolted down. Later during one of the wars the particular Boers used these pieces in action without a base plate, which send the gun running backwards for 40 meters. The Boers after that realized that this was a good strategy to use if they need to retreat quickly.
When battle broke out between Britain and the Boer Republics in September 1899, the Boer War Council figured out their careful plans to attack the British forces. They decided to attack the two main forces in Ladysmith and Dundee. It was only then that the council decided to send two Long Toms to the battlefront. These guns were certainly not created as a field gun and the Uk nowhere nearly imagined to find themselves end up in a duel with these weapons.
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome was your weight of these heavy guns, as each gun weighed nearly seven tons. The ammunition of a Lengthy Tom was just as heavy since the gun itself, weighing about 40kg each. It was beyond everybody’s imagination that these guns could be transported more than rough terrain to the battlefield, and definitely not up a mountain. Twelve to fourteen oxen were required to pull these guns on degree ground, and up to another twenty to forty oxen were required for steep angles or difficult terrain. However the Boers made a plan. They were initially transported by rail as far as achievable and only later pulled by a carriage and oxen. These guns after that arrived in Natal by rail throughout October 1899, and they were eventually dragged to the battle fields along with great success and with the admiration of the British gunners.
Already during the first battles in Natal, the Uk forces realized that their own artillery had been much inferior to the long variety Boer guns. After the successes on Elandslaagte and Rietfontein, Joubert as well as the State Artillery were moving to Ladysmith across form Dundee, as well as the Free Staters were to the north and west. The two forces ultimately united to attack General White in Ladysmith. The main difficulty that both armies experienced in this area has been of course the geography. There are plenty of hills, up’s and down’s, with the Tugela river twisting through the area. To relocate the LONG TOMS was not easy, but they did it.
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To make things even worse, they also had to reckon with an periodic thick blanket of mist that caused bad visibility, and then the normal rain, hail and thunderstorms. They will even had to cross a lake! This of course did not discourage their state Artillery and they reached the area of Ladysmith. The next challenge was in order to haul the heavy guns up the steep and slippery hills. Astonishingly the also succeeded with this procedure, and the Boers soon occupied some strategical positions on the hills around Ladysmith.
The siege of Ladysmith was slowly falling into location.
The commandos soon occupied Umbulwana, Pepworth, and Nicholsnek. From this higher ground they had a good view on the city of Ladysmith during fine plus clear days. The initial position of the State Artillery was upon one of the spurs of Signal Hill, exactly where they had two 75mm Krupp guns and three other lighter guns Commandant S. P. E Trichard was in charge of the 1st Battery of the State Artillery and Gran Wolmarans in charge of the 2nd Battery. As the day went on, the artillery power on the hills around Ladysmith improved steadily. Some guns were positioned on Pepworth Hill, including a Long Ben. The activities on Pepworth (3 kilometers away) were clearly visible through Ladysmith, and the British observed the operations with astonishment. The Uk did not have guns that were the match for the BIG GUNS of the Boers. White did order a few long range Navel guns from Captain Percy Scott, but they were still underway. The Republican makes of Joubert were positioned in a half circle from the north to the south east of Ladysmith. During the day Common Joubert joined up with Christiaan sobre Wet. On his arrival it was satisfied that the Transvalers should proceed to the north of Ladysmith and occupy positions on the east of Nicholson’s Nek, whilst the Free Staters were to go to the west and north-west of that town.
Surrounded by Boer commandos and artillery, the town of Ladysmith was captured in a siege, a typical Boer strategy.
The LONG TOMS unfortunately had a big drawback, it still used black powder. A cloud of white smoke cigarettes could be seen from a long distance right after each shot. This, unfortunately, uncovered its position. It has been said that the Long Tom that was used to pound the besieged town of Ladysmith, took 30 seconds from the period that its white puff was sighted by a lookout, to once the heavy projectile slammed into the city. It was not long before the smoke from the LONG TOM revealed it place to the British. The State Artillery weapons on Pepworth hill showed remarkable courage during this battle. They kept their positions at a stage when the British artillery managed to launch a very fierce and intensive attack to them. The crest of the hill has been literally transformed into a continuous blaze associated with exploding bombs, bursting shells and flying shrapnel. The gunners maintained serving the guns until very badly or mortally wounded. Many of them even continued fighting even though they will lost an arm or hand.
Dr Holhs, from the medical employees of the State Artillery was frantically helping the wounded gunners till he was also killed by a shell. With only a few guns, the State Artillery managed to hold their ground along the fighting front of almost 11 kilometers long. They became both feared and famous during the turmoil, and many stories about these guns still remain to this day. It later became evident that the heavy shooting power and long range of the Long Toms made life very difficult for the British Army.
story often told is how, on Christmas day, the Boers had photo a Long Tom shell off to Kimberley. Upon digging up the cover from the place where it got struck, the souvenir-hunters discovered, to their utter astonishment, a small token from the Boers’ unique sense of humor. The covering contained a Christmas pudding, neatly wrapped in an Union Jack, with the words: “Compliments of the Season, ” written on it!
The Boers also had a mournful day on the ninth of December. During the nights, groups of British soldiers would sneak out from the besieged town to try and harm the Boers. During the night of 9 December, such a party of daring troops had snuck out and managed to sneak up Lombards Hill. The State Artillery gunners were taking a crack from the long day of providing the Long Tom near Gun Hill and the Bronkhorstspruit Commando would be to take over the watch. They fell asleep themselves, leaving the Long Tom unguarded and allowing the British soldiers to sneak approved them and capture the weapon. Luckily (due to its size) the British soldiers could not proceed it, but only removed the breech screw and then damaged the particular breech and muzzle by shoving a bundle of gun cotton lower its throat and firing this off. To add insult to injuries they then absconded with its sponges, the particular immensely heavy and all-important breech-block, and the gun sight, still sighted at 8, 000 metres! The particular Boers had to send their weighty weight champion off to Pretoria, where the damaged part was cut off, and the barrel shortened.
These repairs were done by the workshop from the Dutch South African Railway Corporation. After that, this Long Tom grew to become widely known as “The Jew! ”
Since then the night of 9 December was remembered as the “night associated with disgrace”. As punishment the State Artillery members had to abstain from sleeping on the night time of 9th December. This “punishment” is still one of the voluntary traditions of the Transvaal State Artillery today.
During the early stages of the Anglo Boer War, the British were outranged with the guns of the State Artillery. This took the commanding officers (e. g. Buller) some time to realize which they were hampered with this out-of-date military strategy, and that this strategy did not function against the Boer strategies. It often led to many casualties and deaths as the Boers were equipped with quick firing rifles and were excellent marksmen. The British also had the disadvantage that some of their weapons were quick becoming obsolete. At this stage they called for the navy’s assistance. The re-enforcement of the forces with naval weapons was later described as ‘the guns which saved Ladysmith. ‘ Later on, the heavy guns were used, but in penny packets ‘because they were there’, and not in their proper tasks.
Captain Percy Scott was the navy’s foremost gunnery expert at that time, and he had to decide which gun to provide. It had to be a gun with a greater variety than that available to the military at that stage and that could deal with the Boer guns. Certainly one of his options was to use weapons held in the various depots ashore and guns mounted in the boats of the Cape Squadron, although these types of guns were not normally considered to be used ashore. His first choice was the 12-pounder 12-cwt Quick Firing weapon. This gun was specially designed to be used against torpedo boats. With a selection of 8000 yards (7385 m) regarding common shell and 4500 yards (4154 m) for shrapnel, it would be able to hold its own against the contemporary guns of the State Artillery. Scott bought a pair of Cape wagon wheels, and an axletree. The carpenter, shipwrights and blacksmiths worked around the clock and in 24 hours the first gun has been ready. Although the result looked amateurish, it worked, and some trial models were fired to ensure that all was well. In the face of some official obstruction, Scott produced four guns simply by 25 October. Longer in the barrel (and in range) than the army’s 12-prs, these guns were quickly to be known as ‘Long 12s’.