History of the War in South Africa 1899-1902 Part 14

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[Sidenote: Limit of striking force.]

On one other point the Naval triumph is of great importance to the Army. The pa.s.sage quoted above (page 111) from the report of the Commission on the War marks well the facts. "The s.h.i.+ps appear to have been ready as soon, or almost as soon, as the troops were ready to start." It follows that the s.h.i.+pping was just ready and no more for the Army, after mobilisation, when the reserves had been called in and incorporated. Moreover, it is to be noticed (page 100) that this result was only secured by a splendid audacity in expenditure by the Naval authorities, supplementing an admirable organisation. Now, as in every war we carry out abroad, the earliest time at which any armed force can move towards its object is the hour when the s.h.i.+ps are ready to convey it, it follows that no delay whatever was caused by the necessity for summoning to the colours trained men retained for service by a small fee. On the other hand very great delay was caused by the impossibility of preparing for the particular campaign without threatening those whom we desired to conciliate. It, therefore, further follows that if there were ready at all times a force which did not need to be ostentatiously prepared, we should avoid the crux of not being able to make war without preparing for it and of not being able to prepare lest we should provoke war. On the other hand, this instance admirably ill.u.s.trates the invariable law that the strength that can be so used is strictly limited by the number of properly fitted s.h.i.+ps that the Admiralty can have ready at any given moment. An examination of Captain Limpus' careful statement will show how very small this inevitably is, and how much time is needed to fit those that are not available. Moreover, there is, on the Army side, as has been shown in Chapter V., this further restriction, that the equipment and transport, without which a campaign cannot be carried on, must be of the kind suited to the particular case.



The task of the Navy in this matter lay so entirely outside the sphere of the military operations on land that it will be sufficient to say here that, despite the extreme delicacy of the situation created by the fact that it was only through neutral ports that the Boers could obtain supplies after the war had begun, the vigilance exercised was remarkably effective. The amount of contraband which reached the enemy was insignificant, yet very few claims for compensation were successfully sustained by neutrals. Ordinary trade, through Lourenco Marques, including, unfortunately, British trade, was uninterrupted till, towards the end of 1900, in consequence of the progress of the war, it died a natural death. In their careful watching of the coast and river-mouths the sailors, under Captain W. B. Fisher, of the _Magicienne_, had some trying experiences. Lieut. Ma.s.sy Dawson, of the _Forte_, and Lieut. H. S. Leckie, of H.M.S. _Widgeon_, who received the Albert medal, did most gallant service.


[Sidenote: The Navy on sh.o.r.e.]

This is incorporated in the accounts of the several campaigns and battles, but there were certain preparations made beforehand on board-s.h.i.+p which must here be recorded. During a cruise up the east coast in the month of July, 1899, Admiral Harris, the Naval Commander-in-Chief, was convinced that there would be war and that the Boers were only waiting till the gra.s.s was in fit condition for their cattle, to invade the colonies. He therefore took steps to have all the s.h.i.+ps ready for service. He concentrated the fleet within easy reach of call. Early in October he sent to the G.O.C. at the Cape a list of small guns, etc., which he could furnish if needful. He was then told that it was not antic.i.p.ated that such a.s.sistance would be necessary. Nevertheless, a Naval brigade of 500 men was exercised and prepared for landing. When the ultimatum was delivered it was clear enough that the troops were not in adequate strength to resist the forces the Boers could place against them, and that the enemy were bringing into the field guns of unusual calibre and range. The utmost numbers which it was possible to land were about 2,500, but heavy guns were the very weapons with which the sailors were most familiar. It seemed likely that these might prove to be of great value. On September 19th, the Admiral was informed that the _Terrible_, which was to have relieved the _Powerful_, via the Ca.n.a.l, would, instead, meet her on her voyage home at the Cape. On the 14th October the _Terrible_ reached Simon's Bay. By October 21st, Captain Scott, her commanding officer, had devised a field mounting for a long-range 12-pr. and, having put it through a satisfactory firing trial, was authorised by the Commander-in-Chief to make several more. When, on October 24th, the Admiralty telegraphed that the War Office would be glad of all the a.s.sistance that the Navy could render, and that all was to be given that would not cripple the s.h.i.+ps, the order had been so far antic.i.p.ated that the upper decks of the _Terrible_, _Powerful_, _Monarch_ and _Doris_, as well as the dockyard itself, had already a.s.sumed the appearance of a gun-carriage factory.

[Sidenote: Preparation of heavy guns for landing.]

On October 24th, the day when this message was received from home, the Admiral arranged with Sir A. Milner that the _Powerful_ should go to Durban on the 26th. On October 25th the Governor of Natal telegraphed to the Admiral that "Sir George White suggests that, in view of the heavy guns with Joubert, the Navy should be consulted with the view of sending a detachment of bluejackets with long-range guns firing heavy projectiles." He also revealed to the Admiral the gravity of the situation, and the scanty means available for defending Maritzburg and even Durban itself. The Admiral replied at once, saying, "_Powerful_ arrives Durban 29th. She can on emergency land four 12-prs. and 9 Maxims." He then saw Captain Scott of the _Terrible_, and enquired if he could design a mounting to take a 47-in. and have two ready for the following afternoon, 26th. This Captain Scott did. By the next evening two such mountings had been put on board the _Powerful_, and before midnight she sailed for Durban. These 47-in. mountings were meant for use as guns of position, and not as field guns. They consisted--briefly described--of four 12-in. baulks of timber 14 feet long, bolted together in the form of a double cross. This made a rough platform to which was secured the plate and spindle which was used to carry the ordinary s.h.i.+p mounting of the 47-in. guns. They were intended to be placed in a hole in the ground 15 feet square and 2 feet deep, and the ends of the timber baulks were to be secured with chains to weights sunk in the ground. But this securing of the timbers was found to be quite unnecessary when a mounting of this kind was put through a firing trial near Simon's Town, and so it was not subsequently employed with these "platform" mountings, as they came to be called. Sir George White, in Ladysmith, to which place the first two "platform" mountings had been promptly taken by the _Powerful's_ Naval brigade, was, on October 30th, informed by telegram of the result of the firing trial, also that no moorings had been found necessary.

[Sidenote: Scott's travelling carriage.]

Captain Scott now obtained permission to make a travelling carriage for a 47-in. gun. It consisted of a double trail of 14-inch timber fitted with plates and bearings to carry the cradle of the ordinary s.h.i.+p mounting. A pair of steel wheels and a heavy axle were required, and all the work was done in the dockyard under Captain Scott's supervision. This mounting was satisfactorily tried and embarked on the _Terrible_ for Durban on November 3rd.

In giving this brief description of the mountings which enabled long-range guns to be put at the disposal of the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, the events which led to their use have been antic.i.p.ated. The foregoing explanation is necessary, because, though the wars.h.i.+ps were already supplied with field mountings for the 12-pr.

8-cwt. and some smaller guns, and these were therefore available, and to a certain extent were used during the war, yet when more powerful guns were required it became necessary to extemporise a carriage for them.

[Sidenote: Numbers employed.]

The first long 12-pr. was tried on October 21st, and by November 3rd there were already prepared for use, or actually in use:--

21 field mountings for 12-pr. 12-cwt. guns.

3 platform mountings for 47-in.

1 travelling carriage for 47-in.

[Sidenote: Later developments.]

This number was, soon afterwards, largely increased, and a 6-in. Q.F.

7-ton gun was also mounted on a travelling carriage at the Durban Locomotive Works under Captain Scott's supervision. As more mountings were made and other people's ideas were enlisted, modifications were introduced; some mountings, entirely of steel, were indeed used for 4.7-in. guns; but in the main these mountings resembled those which were so hurriedly prepared in the last ten days of October.

To resume the sequence of Naval events at the Cape.

[Sidenote: Difficulties of Naval C.-in-C.]

The Commander-in-Chief found himself, when war broke out, with his small squadron of s.h.i.+ps ready for any service, and a Naval brigade of 500 of their crews ready whenever called for. He had informed the military Commander-in-Chief to what extent he could give help on sh.o.r.e, and his squadron was shortly increased as told above. He was none too strong for the purely Naval duties which war would involve, though a sufficient staff of officers was sent out to relieve him to a large extent of the Sea Transport duty. Still he found himself with the considerable responsibility of keeping the seaports--Table Bay, Simon's Bay, Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban, secure and available for our troops, and in the case of Durban, as the situation developed, this promised to be no light matter. The timely distribution of the coal supply, both for his own reinforced squadron and for the transports, had to be arranged. At one time the unfortunate grounding of a transport, the _Ismore_, caused extra work and anxiety. The enemy's supplies by sea had also to be stopped. There were precautions to be taken for the safety of H.M. s.h.i.+ps while lying in harbour, for the arriving transports, and the Naval establishments.

Later on there was the care of a considerable number of Boer prisoners until regular camps could be formed for them. Altogether, therefore, if the squadron was to be kept always fit for sea, some circ.u.mspection was required when determining to land men and guns for service on sh.o.r.e.

[Sidenote: The Naval brigades.]

Although in detail the record of the services of the men actually landed falls into its place in the course of the campaigns, it should here be noticed that these contingents resolved themselves eventually into three Naval brigades.

[Sidenote: Western brigade.]

First, the Western brigade, a force of 357 of all ranks and two short 12-pounders under Commander Ethelston of the _Powerful_. This was originally employed to garrison Stormberg, was then withdrawn to Queenstown, and finally recalled to Simon's Bay via East London, to be reorganised, strengthened, and sent up under Captain Prothero with four long 12-prs., and about 400 men, to join Lord Methuen's force for the relief of Kimberley. It left behind two short 12-pr. field guns at Queenstown for the use of the Army. After Graspan, where it suffered considerably, Captain J. E. Bearcroft was sent to replace Captain Prothero, who was wounded, and the brigade was much augmented. It then accompanied Lord Roberts' main advance; parties with guns being sent on various detached services--until by 17th October, 1900, the men of this brigade had all been recalled to their s.h.i.+ps.

[Sidenote: Ladysmith brigade.]

Second, the Ladysmith brigade. The _Powerful_ having been sent to Durban to comply with Sir George White's request for guns, there were landed on arrival on October 29th, and taken at once to Ladysmith, two 47-in. guns on platform mountings, three long 12-pounders, one short 12-pounder, and four Maxims, with 283 of all ranks under Captain the Hon. Hedworth Lambton. They arrived on the 30th October, 9.30 a.m., in time to take part in the action of Lombards Kop, and remained in Ladysmith during the siege.

[Sidenote: Natal brigade.]

The third, or Natal brigade, had its origin in the _Terrible_ being sent to Durban, where she arrived on November 6th. Her Captain, Percy Scott, at once became Commandant and organised--from the _Terrible_, _Thetis_, _Forte_, _Philomel_, and _Tartar_, the defence of that town.

Over thirty guns were placed in position and put under the command of Commander Limpus, of the _Terrible_, while a pair of 12-pounders, drawn from the _Powerful_, had been pushed on to Maritzburg and placed under Lieutenant James, of the _Tartar_, with the men of that s.h.i.+p already up there. It was from this force that, as troops arrived, Sir Redvers Buller drew the Naval brigade which accompanied the Ladysmith relief column. Captain E. P. Jones, of the _Forte_, commanded this brigade, with Commander A. H. Limpus, of the _Terrible_, second in command. After the relief of Ladysmith, Captain Jones reorganised the Naval brigade with ranks and ratings from the _Forte_, _Philomel_, and _Tartar_. The _Terribles_ and _Powerfuls_ rejoined their s.h.i.+ps by March 13th. So reconst.i.tuted, the brigade served on with the Natal Field Force until June 24th, 1900, when all but the _Philomel's_ and _Tartar's_ men, under Lieutenant Halsey, were recalled to their s.h.i.+ps.

Lieutenant Halsey, with four officers and thirty-eight men of the _Philomel_, one officer and eighteen men of the _Tartar_, remained until October, 1900, when they also returned.

[Sidenote: All Naval brigades within recall.]

Essential as were the services rendered on sh.o.r.e[84] it was always arranged that, if it had become advisable at any time to recall officers and men to their s.h.i.+ps, they should be able to rejoin them long before their presence was needed on board. Also as soon as any article, including guns and ammunition, was landed from the fleet it was replaced from England. When it became clear that the safety of Durban was a.s.sured, its naval defence force was re-embarked; but Captain Percy Scott remained on sh.o.r.e with his staff as Commandant until 14th March, 1900. His work there, in preparing and sending additional guns to General Buller--among them a 6-in. gun on a wheeled carriage--and also as an able Commandant of Durban under martial law, was highly appreciated.[85]

[Footnote 84: See despatches giving the views of Sir Redvers Buller, etc., on these.]

[Footnote 85: See despatch from the Governor of Natal to Admiral Harris, dated 9.3.00, and letter from the Colonial Office to the Admiralty, dated 7.5.00.]

[Sidenote: Natal Naval Volunteers.]

A welcome addition was made to the strength of the Natal brigade by a party of Natal Naval Volunteers, under Lieutenants T. Anderton and Nicholas Chiazzari, who with forty-eight men of all ratings, joined Captain Jones' force at Frere on 10th December, and reinforced the crews of the 47-in. guns. Lieut. Barrett, N.N.V., also joined the Naval brigade with the Natal Field Force after the relief of Ladysmith. The Natal Naval Volunteers proved to be a most valuable addition to the brigade, composed as they were of intelligent, resourceful men, who were familiar with the ways of the country, and many of whom spoke both the Taal and native languages. They were part of a corps which had its origin in the previous scheme for the defence of Durban, and possessed muzzle-loading 9-prs.

[Sidenote: Why they joined.]

They had been stationed at Colenso when the southward advance of the Boers compelled the evacuation of that position on 3rd November, 1899.

Although told to abandon their guns they had carried them bodily away with them in the retirement. Forced to recognise that such guns were quite useless in the field, and unable to obtain better weapons locally, they had eagerly volunteered to join the Naval brigade under Captain Jones. Fortunately they obtained their wish, and the Naval brigade gained the services of a body of men who soon proved their sterling worth, and whose traditions will henceforth always be closely a.s.sociated with those of the Royal Navy.



[Footnote 86: See maps Nos. 3, 5, and the panoramic sketch.]

[Sidenote: Connection with Chap. II.]

The last four chapters have dealt with subjects affecting the whole course of the war, the theatre of operations, the two opposed armies, and the British navy. The present one, which describes the first action in the campaign, connects immediately with the second, that on the outbreak of the war, taking up the narrative from the time when, as a consequence of the conference at Maritzburg between the Governor (Sir W. Hely-Hutchinson), Sir George White, Sir A. Hunter and Maj.-Genl. Sir W. Penn Symons, the latter officer had been despatched to take over the command at Dundee while Sir George White had gone to Ladysmith.

[Sidenote: Arrival, Oct. 12th/99 of Symons at Dundee.]

History of the War in South Africa 1899-1902 Part 14

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