Tuesday, February 5, 2013

This Day in History: Feb 5, 1900: Battle of Vaal Krantz in South Africa

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The night prior to the battle the majority of the Boer Commandos were still on their way from around Ladysmith but by the time the British were ready to attack the Boers had taken up their positions, having managed to muster around 3600 men. 
Buller’s plan was to make a feint attack across the Tugela at Potgieters Drift with the Lancashire Brigade, where he ordered the Royal Engineers to site number 1 pontoon bridge. The bulk of his Infantry and Royal Field Artillery were meanwhile grouping below Swartkop. The Lancashire Brigade crossed the Tugela and made camp on the other side along with several Batteries of Royal Field Artillery and remained there inactive. 
On the morning of the 5th February the Royal Engineers sent up a balloon to spy the land and the battle started with the Lancashire Brigade deployed astride of the Ladysmith road towards Brakfontein. The Yorks and Lancs and South Lancashire regiments were in the front line followed by the Royal Lancaster (King’s Own) in the second with the Lancashire Fusiliers in reserve to hold the bridgehead at no 1. Pontoon Bridge. Meanwhile the Royal Field Artillery Batteries of 7th, 19th, 28th, 61st, 73rd and 78th were directing their fire onto the hills at Brakfontein where the Boer Commandos of Vrede, Senekal, Windburg and Harrismith were entrenched.
At 1.30pm, having achieved their objective to make the Boers think this was the main attack, the Lancashire Brigade began to pull back to the hills by Potgeiters Drift where they remained until the following day. The Boers under General Prinsloo now arrived in force and began to deploy along Krantzkloof in the north down to Vaalkranz in the east. Their guns on the Brakfontein hills began to bombard the British, with the guns in the vicinity of Spioenkop and Twin Peaks joining in. At the same time the British artillery, which far outnumbered the Boers, were sending over a terrible barrage into the Boer lines. The Boer Long Tom nicknamed “Fiddling Jimmy” had been moved from Middle Hill at Ladysmith to Doorkop for this battle.

By about midday on the 5th the British, crossing the Tugela at no.3 pontoon bridge were met with a murderous fire from the Boer marksmen and artillery. Eventually the Durham Light Infantry and Rifle Brigade got across and made their way towards Vaalkranz, the Durhams going straight to the Hill whilst the Rifle Brigade toward Mungers Farm to the east. The British guns concentrating their fire on Vaalkranz which someone has since described as a smoking furnace. The Rifle Brigade having cleared Mungers re-joined the Durhams, both fixed bayonets and charged Vaalkranz successfully taking and clearing the top at around 4.30 in the afternoon. 

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By noon the next day it was once again Louis Botha to the rescue as he arrived to personally direct Boer operations and his presence instilled renewed energy. The Boer artillery threw even more effort into the bombardment of Vaalkranz, attempting to take the hill with infantry but repulsed by the fixed bayonets of the Durhams, Kings Royal Rifles, Rifle Brigade and the Scottish Rifles. By 4 pm on the 7th February the Boer bombardment from Twin Peaks and Brakfontein had become so heavy that Buller decided to pull his troops down from Vaalkranz and back across the Tugela which was done the following morning returning to Chieveley by the 10th. 
The cavalry brigade with the Yorks and Lancasters, Imperial Light Horse, ‘A’ Battery Royal Horse Artillery and two naval 12 pounder remained at Springfield, under the command of Burn-Murdoch.

This battle cost the British dearly with 25 killed, 344 wounded and 5 missing.

The Boers on the other hand, had 39 killed, 45 wounded and 4 missing. 


Although the records kept by the Boers are very sketchy it generally recognised that a total compliment of 3600 is a reasonably accurate one for the battle of Vaalkranz. 

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The Senekal Commando of 250 men were to the west of the Ladysmith road at Brakfontein whilst the Vrede and Frankfort Commandos of 650 men were to the east of the road up to Krantz Kloof. The Soutpansberg Commando of 50 men under a Veldt Cornet and the Johannesburg/Standerton Commandos of 800 men under Commandant BJ Viljoen were positioned from Krantz Kloof in the north to Doorn Kloof in the east. The overall command was in the safe hands of Tobias Smuts. To the west of the Senekal Commando and up to Spioenkop and Twin Peaks were the Ermelo, Rustenburg, Vryheid, Carolina and Lydenburg Commndos with the German Corps on Spioenkop. Other Commandos such as the Heilbron and Heildleburg were deployed between Krantz Kloof and Doorn Kop to the east.

The Boer records of their weaponary at Vaalkranz is even more sketchy but it is known that there were 2 Creusot and 2 Krupp 75mm field guns, a Krupp field canon from the Freestate Artillery and a pom pom and were sited at between Brakfontein and Spioenkop. Several other 75mm field pieces are shown on various maps to the north and east of Vaalkranz but whether these are the same ones moved later during the battle is not confirmed. A long Tom, “Fiddling Jimmy” was brought from Ladysmith and sited on Doorn Kloof on 6th February 1900.

167th Troop Royal Garrison Artillery; 1st Cavalry Brigade held in reserve 

2nd Battalion Devonshires; 2nd Mounted Brigade held in reserve; 3rd Battalion Kings Royal Rifles; 4th Mountain Battery

‘A’ Troop Royal Horse Artillery; Bethunes Mounted Infantry held in reserve; 1st Battalion Border Regiment

1st Battalion Connaught Rangers; 2nd Battalion Dorset regiment held in reserve; 1st Battalion Durham Light Infantry

2nd Battalion East Surreys; Imperial Light Horse held in reserve; 2nd Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers
2nd Battalion Middlesex regiment held in reserve; 2nd Battalion West Surreys (Queens); 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade.

1st Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers; Royal Engineers 17 coy, ‘A’ Pontoon Troop, 37 company
Royal Field Artillery 7th, 19th, 28th, 61th, 63th, 64th, 73th and 78 Batteries

1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers; 2nd Battalion Royal Lancaster; Royal Navy 12 pounders and 4.7 guns

2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers; 2nd Battalion Cameronian (Scottish Rifles); 2nd Battalion Somerset Light Infantry held in reserve
1st Battalion South Lancashires; 2nd Battalion West Yorkshires; 1st Battalion Yorks and Lancs

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