The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Second Phase of the Second South African War of Independence

by John Bleloch

Shortly after Roberts and his army occupied Bloemfontein, a krygsraad was held by the Boer leaders in Kroonstad. A decision was made to lean down the commandos by ridding them of or reducing the baggage trains and number of guns. The fighting unit was to be very mobile; the boer his rifle and saddle and 3 to 5 days simple rations, a preferably 'salted' horse, with one or two spare horses. Involvement in set-piece battles with Robert's 220 000 strong army would in future be avoided if possible. The commando with superior mobility would attack the British piecemeal and repeatedly and disappear. A guerrilla war.

Thus little resistance was offered to Robert's advance from Bloemfontein to Pretoria. A set piece battle developed on the British advance to Middelburg at Diamond Hill but the Boers melted away Eastwards on the second day.

Roberts ordered French and Buller to push on along the Delagoa railway to Middelburg where they were forced to halt, to deal wth the Boer depredations on the tenuous supply line along the railway from the Cape over the bridge at Norval's Pont. The centre spans of the bridge had been destroyed with explosives The rail line had been cut 25 times in one month.The Boers were in strength in the Western OFS. Eight British columns of 500 to 1200 men each, mostly mounted, were sent South back across the Vaal river to clear the Western part of the OFS of Boers and force them Eastwards to the Basutoland border. They were forced to seek refuge in the Brandwater basin, centred on Fouriesburg. Gen. Hunter was in charge of this advance. He delayed in Bethlehem for 2 days allowing de Wet to escape from the basin with 2 200 men, horses, cattle and wagons. Prinsloo, who remained in command of the rest, surrendered 4 300 men to Hunter. This was more than the number captured at Paardeberg on the Modder river.

De Wet and President Steyn and their convoy with 2 200 men were closely pursued by the British columns to beyond the Magaliesburg. There he sent Steyn with an escort to join Botha at Machadadorp and returned himself to the OFS along a little used passage across the Magaliesburg. This became known as the first DeWet hunt.

The boers were finally pushed East to Komatipoort. Viljoen with 2 500 of the best men, rifles and horses, escaped with Steyn and Botha. A krygsraad decided then to invade the Cape to perhaps gain support from the many burghers there and to avoid farm burning and to reduce pressure on the 2 republics.

Several commandos crossed the Orange river into the Cape with varying success. The commandos continued with raids on the British in the OFS and Western Transvaal. Pursuit of de Wet on 2 occasions at this time were known as the 1st and 2nd de Wet hunts. He eluded capture in all 3 hunts.

Kitchener, who had taken over command when Roberts returned to England, decided to cut the war short as he anticipated a post of C-in-C of the army in India and the government and voters in Britain were getting tired of the war and its losses and huge expense. To do this Kitchener intensified a scorched earth policy; burning farm building, destroying crops, animals and food stores.He instituted punitive measures in the resultant overcrowded concentration camps mostly to do with rations He increased the army intelligence service employing surrendered Boer and Black scouts. He issued proclamations offering amnesty to Boers who surrendered or signed allegiance to Britain. He ordered 8 000 block houses to be built forming, with interlinking barbed wire, barriers to free passage of the enemy. He formed vast lines of men, mostly mounted, into lines 30 to 50 miles long to advance across areas between the block house lines. These were called 'drives', as in game driving, and reduced the number of Boers in the field by 100 to 2 000 a month on average.

These measures gradually reduced the Boer will to fight as they realised that to continue would destroy their budding nationhood. Peace was signed on May 31st 1902.

Address to SAMHS Jhb branch on 10 February 2011

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