Relief of Kimberley - 1900
15 February 2018
Relief of Kimberley.
As a result of the setbacks suffered by the British during Black Week, the British Cabinet appointed Field Marshal Lord Roberts as Commander-in-Chief to replace General Sir Redvers Buller VC.
After Roberts had disembarked in Cape Town he set about redistributing his forces and building up supplies and a massive concentration of troops and supplies began between the Orange River and the Modder River.
General Piet Cronjè expected to be attacked from the direction of Modder River but when Roberts arrived at the front, he decided to outflank him using General Sir John French’s cavalry division, which was ordered to proceed to the Riet River via Ramdam, cross at Waterval and de Kiel’s Drifts, head northwards past Jacobsdal to Klip Drift on the Modder River and then advance on Kimberley, followed by the infantry.
French’s cavalry crossed at de Kiel’s Drift, while General Christiaan de Wet tried to work out what French’s intentions were. Cronjè sent his bother Andries from Magersfontein to reinforce de Wet but because he only arrived in the evening, he was unable to be of much support.
Roberts’s force then halted at Ramdam while French reconnoitred north of the Riet River and reported that there was a shortage of water for the 40 km between the Riet and the Modder, which would of course have an impact on the horses. At this stage, de Wet warned Cronjè of Robert’s intentions but Cronjè appeared to be convinced that Roberts was heading for Bloemfontein.
At 10h30 on the 12th February 1900, French moved northwards towards the Modder, bearing eastwards at Klipkraal Drift but then suddenly crossing the Modder at Klip Drift. His only opposition came from a small party of Boers under the command of Commandant Lubbe. This cleared the way for the Infantry to join him and accordingly the 6th Division marched up to Klip Drift in the final advance on Kimberley.
Cronjè remained convinced that the British would advance via Modder River and that this eastwards movement was a feint but he ordered General CC Froneman and Commandant Tollie de Beer to take 800 burghers and some guns to harass French. Froneman occupied the ridges north of Klip Drift and on the 15th February 1900, French moved out to attack him, sending the 9th Lancers to the north-east while some squadrons of cavalry probed the flanks. Once under the cover of the koppies, French suddenly changed direction and headed for Abon’s Dam, where the parched horses could be watered. The Boer artillery opened fire at a range of 3000 metres but this fire – as well as the that provided by Froneman and de Beer – was countered by five field batteries of the Royal Horse Artillery. Nonetheless the Boer artillery was extremely accurate and the British casualties with the first salvo were 4 killed and 21 wounded, as well as several horses put out of action.
76th and 81st Batteries RFA and two Naval 12-pr guns were then brought into action and they managed to silence the Boer guns while the RHA advanced.
French then noticed that the nek between the two ridges was lightly held and he decided to attack it. He ordered Colonel Gordon to gallop his 3rd Brigade (comprising the 9th Lancers, 16th Lancers and Q & R Batteries RHA) through the nek, followed by Colonel Broadwood’s 2nd Brigade (the Household Cavalry, 10th Hussars, 12th Lancers and Q & R Batteries RHA). Colonel Porter’s 1st Brigade (The Carabiniers, Scots Greys, Inniskillings and New South Wales Lancers as well as G and T Batteries RHA) was ordered to launch a feint movement to the north and to form the reserve. The remaining artillery would provide covering fire.
Gordon deployed four squadrons in extended order with 8 yards between files; the 9th Lancers were on the right and the 16th Lancers on the left. Seven men were sent ahead to cut the wire fences and they suffered heavy casualties. Gordon ordered the charge to commence and the squadrons came under heavy fire, but suffered remarkably few casualties. The cavalry charge took the horsemen through the nek and the Boers put up a half-hearted fight before withdrawing and the cavalry lost 1 killed and 14 wounded.
French then pushed on to Abon’s Dam which he reached at 11h45 on the 15th February 1900. Boer resistance melted away and French pushed on, reaching Kimberley at 18h00.
French’s relentless charge took a massive toll on his horses, and hundreds of them lay dead and dying along the route of his advance.
At 22h00, Cronjè abandoned his positions at Magersfontein and moved his burghers straight across the British front. His route was indicated by clouds of dust and his rearguard skirmished repeatedly with the main British army. When Roberts realised that Cronjè was heading eastwards, he ordered French to pursue him. French set off on the 17th and caught up with the Cronjè at Paardeberg, setting the scene for one of the biggest battles of the Anglo-Boer War, and culminating in the surrender of Cronjè on Majuba Day, the 27th February 1900.
Source : Ken Gillings