The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 15 No 4 - December 2011


By Hentie Joubert

About the author
Hentie Joubert was born in 1946. He was admitted as an advocate in 1972 and has been practising as such since then. He is married with two children. He is interested in the history of Mpumalanga, particularly during the Anglo-Boer War and has published a history of Tonteldoos near Dullstroom.

The Long Tom on its platform at Mafeking


The battle of Bergendal took place near Belfast (in Mpumalanga) in August 1900. It was the only occasion on which all four Long Toms were used in the same battle. Since then, five authors have attempted to show where the guns were placed, but none of them has succeeded completely.

The first map appeared in 1906 (Amery, 1906, after p 456). The map purported to illustrate the battle as at 27 August 1900 and show the position of all four Long Toms. Unfortunately every position was wrong. In the same decade, Boer War Operations in South Africa 1899-1901 was published. It contained extracts from the reports of Captain Carl Reichmann, the American military attache with the Boer forces. His report is the most accurate to date and was used as the starting point for this article. In 1937 Dr Gustav Preller wrote an article about the Long Toms. He made a few mistakes as well. In 1974 B G Schultz obtained a master's degree for his dissertation, 'Die slag van Bergendal (Dalmanutha)'. He incorrectly claimed that one Long Tom was still on the railway truck on 26 August 1900 and was then moved to Elandskop. He also incorrectly claimed that one gun was the furthest south on the farm Elandsfontein (Schultz, 1974, pp 26-30). The latest attempt was by Louis Changuion in his book, Silence of the Guns, published in 2001. He correctly states that a Long Tom was at Witrant, but his Witrant is the same as Amery's hillock on Steynsplaats. The third gun remained, he claimed, on the railway truck, while the fourth was deployed on Elandskop. He does not mention the Long Tom on Driekop.

The Shorter Oxford Dictionary defines an emplacement as a platform for guns with epaulements (shoulder defences) to protect the gunners. The Long Toms were indeed mounted on wooden platforms and some fortification was usually built around them. The platform's dimensions were 4,5 by 4,5 metres and 22,5 cm high (Hall, 1994, p 11). The platform was usually placed in a pit so that the top of the platform was level with the surrounding earth. This feature of the emplacement is important because, when one looks for the emplacement, one will look for a rectangular pit measuring about 4,5 by 4,5 metres and about 22 cm deep. If the gun was placed on the reverse slope of a crest, the pit would be much deeper at the front end. The second feature to look for in front of the pit is any remnant of the stone wall used as an epaulement.

The guns fired three kinds of projectiles: common shells, shrapnel (granaatkartets in Afrikaans) and case shot. The range of the common shells was 9 000 m, the shrapnel 7 500 m and the case shot 400 m.

In propounding his theory, the writer has named the guns after the first place where they were deployed during the battle. to the missing platform, one will not find a gun pit at Suikerboskop.

Suikerboskop A Before the battle started, this gun was at Dullstroom. It was then moved to a hill south of the farm De Zuikerboschkop, whence it was driven away on 26 August.
Witrant B This gun was placed on the farm Waterval on a ridge called Witrant. On 27 August it was moved forward.
Railway truck C Initially this gun was mounted on a railway truck. On around 7 August it was moved to the Elandskop vicinity (C1). Before 23 August it was moved to a place south-west of Dalmanutha Station (C2). Thereafter it was moved to Hill 1881 behind the ZARPs (C3).
Driekop D This gun remained on the farm Driekop throughout the battle.

The Long Tom gun emplacements (A, B, C and D) on Major Jackson's map of the area

Reichmann wrote that one of the Long Toms was mounted at Grootsuikerboschkop next to Dullstroom (Reichmann, 1901, p 231). This was probably the case before the battle started (Smit, 2000, p 91). On the advice of Ben Viljoen, the commandant-general ordered the Lydenburg Commando (and the Long Tom) to advance to the place where Jan [Kwaaiman] Grobler's road goes out to Belfast (Breytenbach, 1996, p 318). Incidentally, this was close to the farm De Zuikerboschkop, so it appears that Reichmann probably did not realise that the Long Tom had been moved before the battle started, since the Boers probably spoke of the Long Tom at Suikerboskop. (The road to Belfast is shown on the map below).

A map showing Kwaaiman's road towards Belfast

On 22 August, the Lydenburg Commando was at Pannetjies on its way to Suikerboskop. On the same day, somebody from Pannetjies sent a telegram to the commandant-general, enquiring as follows: 'Is de platform tog nog niet aangekomen? Antwoord tog dadelik. Twee wagen staan op MC wachten daarop' ('Has the platform not yet arrived? Please answer immediately. Two wagons are waiting for it at Machadodorp') (Leyds, 758-B, telegram from 'OVERSTE', Pannetjies, to Commandant-General, 22 August 1900). This identifies the gun as that nicknamed 'the Jew'. When the crew had fled from Kimberley, they had left the platform behind. The result is that, owing to the missing platform, one will not find a gun pit at Suikerboskop.

The only description of the location of the Long Tom emplacement comes from C S Goldman (1902, p 343). He describes General French's attack on 26 August as follows: 'Parties of the enemy met the advance column on the hills west and south-west of Langkloof farm, and opened fire with three guns from the stronghold of hills south of Zuikerboschkop ... The combined attack soon began to make an impression, and by about two in the afternoon the Boers began to falter under our concentrated fire, and at last gave ground before the 4th [B]rigade. About the same time the 1st [B]rigade took over a tall bouldered sugar-loaf hill about three miles south-west of Langkloof farm, where early in the action the Boers had placed their guns.'

If one wanted to find the Boer gun emplacements, one would have to look around the four or five hills on the farm Spitskop 383 JS, south of the farm De Zuikerboschkop 361 JS. The writer visited the farm Suikerboskop to inspect an excavation claimed by Changuion to be the pit of a Long Tom emplacement. The location is 2536.573'S, 2957.015'E (WGS84). There is no doubt that this is a terrace on which a black person had erected a hut and built a stone wall around it. In any event, no artillerist would have placed a gun there. The hills on Spitskop would have interfered with the gun's field of fire.

The view from Changuion's 'gun pit' to the hills on Spitskop

Amery's map shows the Long Tom on top of the middle hill on Suikerboskop. It would have been impossible to get the gun up there. The hill is too steep and rocky.

Reichmann wrote that one of the Long Toms was posted on Witrant, a commanding ridge south of Groot Suikerboskop and inside the Boer line (Reichmann, 1901, P 231). The contemporary Afrikaans spelling is 'Witrant', the word 'rant' meaning a ridge, while the spelling 'rand' denotes an edge. The underlying rock formation in the area is the light-coloured quartzite of the Transvaal system, giving the rocks on the ridge a whitish colour.

There is only one commanding ridge south of Dullstroom and that is the one on the farms Groenvlei 353, Waterval 351 and De Goedehoop 362, approximately 10 km west of Machadodorp. Here, the writer's main evidence comes from J G de Jager, who was a member of the Staatsartillerie (State Artillery) during the war and kept a diary. The Staatsartillerie left Machadodorp at 14.00 on 4 August 1900. After an hour and a half, they stopped and outspanned on the mountain. On 7 August they inspanned at 10.00 and trekked to Witrant, where Commandant Schroeder's commando was located. This must be the fortified laager that appears on Amery's map. De Jager records that the place was one hour by horse from Machadodorp (A 1 048A, p 113).

The first time De Jager mentions the Long Tom was on 13 August, when he records that the engineer, De Villiers, had arrived to give instruction about the platform and make calculations about distances (A 1 048A, p 116). The platform was constructed on 20 August and they placed the gun in its fort the next day. On the same day, Commandant-General Botha visited the emplacement and ordered Commandant Schroeder forward to the position held by the Middelburg Commando (A1048A, pp 120-1; Breytenbach, 1996, p 319).

At 14.00 on 26 August the Guards Brigade and the 4th Mounted Infantry left Monument Hill in the direction of Lakenvley. Shell and rifle fire followed them all the way to Lakenvley (Maurice & Grant, 1908, p 394). The Long Tom on Waterval fired a few shells as well (Goldmann, 1902, pp 344-5; LRP Volume 42, p 213). That night Roberts ordered French to 'compel the removal of a 100-pounder at Waterval' (Goldmann, 1902, p 345). A member of the Middelburg Commando, E J Weeber, recorded that they were ordered, that night, to go to Witrant to cover the removal of the Long Tom to a new position closer to the enemy (Weeber, 1940, p 37).

Early on Monday morning, 27 August 1900, Reichmann went riding. He saw that the Long Tom.on Witrant had been moved closer to the main position. As soon as it opened fire, the British replied with lyddite (Reichmann, 1901, P 235). At 08.50, Pole-Carew wrote to Roberts that the Long Tom had opened fire from a position south-east [he meant south-west] of that in which it was the previous night. The British guns had replied, but high wind had prevented accuracy of aim (LRP, Volume 42, p222: Telegram from Pole-Carew to Roberts, 27 August 1900). That afternoon, French's transport column was crossing Lakenvley when it came under fire from the Long Tom (Goldmann, 1902, p 346).

In his thesis, Schultz did not place a Long Tom on Witrant and thus had great difficulties in explaining the Long Tom fire on Pole-Carew and French's troops on 26 and 27 August (Schultz, 1974, pp 102,192). Changuion had other difficulties. His 'Witrant' was a tiny hillock just below Monument Hill. When the British forces occupied Monument Hill, he had to position the gun further back towards the east. His next problem was to explain the presence of a Long Tom just behind the police position at Bergendal. The only way in which he could do this was to let the Witrant gun cross the railway line (Changuion, 2001, pp 111-2). In this way, he exacerbated his problem because he could not then explain the Long Tom firing at Lakenvley, so he ignored it. To date, the writer of this article has not gained access to the emplacement. It will be found in the vicinity of 25 37.916'S, 30 09.033'E (WGS84).

Captain Reichmann (1901, p 231) writes: 'The fourth 6-inch gun was on a truck, and had, up to this time, formed the Boer rear guard on the railroad; it was now taken off and posted to command the approaches from Carolina, more particularly the bridge over the Komati; when it turned out that the British troops were not advancing in force by that road, the Long Tom was withdrawn and transferred to a position on the ridge overlooking the railway col from the east'. His version accords with this writer's theory, except that he skipped the brief stay at Hill 1766.

Amery, Preller, Schultz and Changuion agree that initially one of the Long Toms had been on the railway truck. Preller (1937, p 15) and Changuion (2001, p 110) claim that it remained there for the duration of the battle. Schultz (1974, p 28) claims that it remained on the railway truck until 26 August, when it was moved to Elandskop. Amery (1906, p 441) states that the gun was taken off the truck and moved to Elandskop.

Location of the Long Tom gun pit near Elandskop

The easiest claim to dispel is that of Schultz. Buller started his march towards Belfast on 7 August and by the time he reached Twyfelaar on 14 August, it was clear that he was not heading towards Machadodorp (Schultz, 1974, pp 16-19). Why would the Boers move the gun to Elandskop on 26 August, virtually in the heat of the battle?

Both Preller and Changuion claim not only that the gun remained on the truck, but also that there was another gun at Elandskop. This means that neither had enough guns to go around. Changuion did not have a gun left to place on Driekop and Preller did not have one to place on Witrant. In mitigation, it should be mentioned that Preller's Elandskop gun first moved to Von Dalwig's position and then to Bergendal.

The writer believes that the gun was 'in the vicinity' but not on top of Elandskop for the following reasons:
Firstly, although he has not been on top of Elandskop, Changuion, who has, did not report seeing any signs of a gun pit or epaulements. Secondly, having had a good look at Elandskop, the writer feels that it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to get a Long Tom to the top of it. Thirdly, Preller does not actually state that the gun was on Elandskop. He states (1937, p 15) that, left of Machadodorp, an emplacement was prepared for this gun 'teen 'n skuins rant' ('against a sloping ridge') near a lot of blue gum trees (Preller, 1937, p 15). It is unlikely that there were any blue gums on top of Elandskop. Furthermore, the writer visited a Long Tom gun emplacement that matches Preller's description a mere two kilometres from the top of Elandskop, although there were no signs of blue gums. It is situated close to the trigonometrical beacon on Hill 1801 on the farm Dalmanutha 376 JT. The co-ordinates are 25 46.214'S, 30 12.829'E '(WGS84). The interesting point is that it was higher than Elandskop and the gun could, presumably, have hurled its projectiles slightly further. There is no doubt that, from that position, the Long Tom would have commanded the approaches from Carolina, more particularly the bridge over the Komati, but it is doubtful whether a common shell would have reached the bridge.

Some time after 14 August (the date on which it became obvious that Buller was not advancing towards Machadodorp), but before 23 August (the date on which the gun fired its first shell), this gun was moved to Hill 1766 on the farm Waaikraal. The writer's reasons for saying so are the following: Firstly, Preller states that this is what happened. Secondly, two British maps place the Long Tom there. Thirdly, on 23 and 24 August two Long Toms fired at the British (one on Driekop and the other most certainly this gun, because theother two were out of range) Finally, evidence of the remains of the gun pit was found at 25 46.225'S, 30 09.079'E (WGS84).

Preller described the move from the Elandskop vicinity thus: 'Dit is gedurende die geveg nader gebring na 'n laer gelee stelling, wat die meeste hulle sal herinner as "kapt von Dalwig se posisie", links van die sentrum (wat die spoorlyn was), waar die ou veteraan en sy kranige' artilleriste hulle so dapper gedra het.' ('During the battle it was brought in closer to a lower lying position, that most will remember as 'Captain von Dalwig's position', left of the centre [the railway line], where the old veteran and his crack artillerymen served so bravely.)

Wilhelm Mangold was a member of the Heidelberg Commando. On the morning of 23 August 1900, his commando moved to their position somewhere on the reverse (eastern) slope of the Geluk Plateau. He wrote that the Long Tom (on Driekop) was directly behind them and that, on another mountain, 6 000 yards (5 500 metres) from them, was Captain von Dalwig and his artillery (Van Rensburg, 1988, p 238). If one studies the map of the area, there can be little doubt that he is referring to Hill 1766. The map in Amery (1906) after p 456 shows a Long Tom south-west of Dalmanutha Station. Goldmann's map concurs. According to archival sources (TAD, A1048A, p 123), J G de Jager recorded on 23 August that the Long Tom which stood near the railway line fired five shells on that day. The only target at that time was Buller's men on the Geluk Plateau. De Jager recorded that the same Long Tom again fired a few shells on the following day (A 1 048A, p 124). This is confirmed by British sources. Goldmann (1902, p 340) writes that, on 24 August, detachments of Dickson's brigade were out north and north-west and met up with Pole-Carew, who was then within reach of Belfast. According to Amery (1906, p 447) Dickson's outposts on the left of his line were fired at by a long-range gun. On the same day, Pole-Carew advanced from Wonderfontein to Belfast. That night he placed, inter alia, two 5-inch guns, well protected by fortifications, on high-lying ground south of the railway line (Schultz, 1974, pp 83-4). The writer believes that these two guns would have been located in the vicinity of Hill 1936 at approximate coordinates 25 43.643'S, 30 02.685'E (WGS84).

Map (Goldmann) showing a Long Tom position near Dalmanutha

This may explain the next movement of the Long Tom. Captain Reichmann described the new position as being 'on the ridge overlooking the railway col from the east'. According to Preller, it was just behind the 'Police-position'. The likeliest place would have been just behind the crest of Hill 1881 on the farm Bergendal. On two occasions, the writer hunted for the remains of the gun pit. The likeliest location is 25 44.163'S, 30 06.999'E (WGS84) The distance from Hill 1881 to Hill 1936.4 is seven kilometres.

The only fighting that took place on 25 August was between the big guns. According to Breytenbach (1996, p 326; see also Seiner, p 289) it began in the early morning and ended at sunset. Maurice & Grant (Volume III, 1908, P 393) describe the day as follows: 'Whilst the British generals conferred at Belfast, their troops remained motionless throughout the 25th; Sir R Buller's at Geluk, those of Pole-Carew to the east and south of Belfast. Both were, from dawn to dusk, under shell and rifle fire, which caused but few casualties owing to the cover thrown up during the previous night. Moreover, the enemy had by no means the better of the exchanges with the heavy guns of both divisions, one of the 6-in Creusots near Bergendal being reduced to silence by a 5-in shell from Pole-Carew's position'. The authors are very clear what they mean: A particular shell from a particular gun reduced the Long Tom to silence. They wanted to convey that the Long Tom was damaged by the shell and could no longer be used. Schultz (1974, p 86, footnote 59) is the only person who has picked up the above quotation, writing that Maurice and Grant had to be wrong because Long Toms were on Elandskop and Driekop and therefore too far away. Schultz, of course, was wrong because the Long Tom was no longer at Elandskop.

There is some evidence to support the writer's contention that this Long Tom was indeed damaged. On 26 August at 10.55, someone in Machadodorp sent a telegram to Commandant-General Botha which read as follows: 'Long Tom komende van Komatie juist hier gepasseerd' ('Long Tom from Komatie has just passed here') (see TAD: Leyds 731 (d), Telegram 16 [the second 16]). At 11.45, Botha wrote to the military commissioner at Machadodorp: 'Ik sie uit een telegram dat Long Tom juist Mcdorp gepasseerd is. Geliewe toch zorg te dragen dat zy direct naar hier opkom' ('I saw in a telegram that a Long Tom had passed Machadodorp. Please ensure that it comes straight here') (TAD: Leyds 731 (d), Telegram 33 [the second 33]). At 12.24 the military commissioner replied as follows: 'uEd tel re Long Tom. Het kanon passeerde juist rigting Schroeder's kamp. Waar moet dit heen? Ik het geen order aangange. Verwag orders langs welke weg vervoer moet geskiede' ('In reference to your telegram about the Long Tom. The gun passed here on its way to Schroeder's camp. Where must it go? I have no orders about it. I await orders about which way it should be transported.') (TAD: Leyds 731 (d) Telegram 34 [the second 34]). Another telegram came from Major Wolmarans, but unfortunately without a time recorded on it: 'Long Tom vertrokken van MC naar DMa. Het myn wagen gezonden na sta om platform te vervoeren .. .' ('Long Tom left Machadodorp for Dalmanutha. I had sent my wagon to the station to transport the platform') (TAD: Leyds 758B, Telegram, 26 August 1900). Major Wolmarans was on the Boers' right flank (Amery,1906, p 453), probably with the Long Tom on Witrant. Surely the only reasonable inference to draw from these facts is that the Long Tom was indeed damaged and was taken back for repairs (which were executed) and the gun was then returned to Bergendal.

The gun was not taken back to its old position. Early on the morning of 27 August, Captain Reichmann went riding. He found that a Long Tom had arrived at the rear of the ridge overlooking the railway col. He writes (1901, P 235) that 'a pit had been dug for it on the crest, but on second thought the gun was taken about 500 yards [457 m] to the rear of the crest, whence it used indirect fire'. Preller (1937, p 15) confirms that the gun used indirect fire from a position behind the Johannesburg Police.

Captain Reichmann (1901, p 236) reports that on 27 August the British bombardment of the ZARPs position commenced at 10.00. At 14.00 the Long Tom in their rear fired about three shots before retreating. Preller, on the other hand, claims that the gun was used from early morning and it did excellent work (Preller, 1937, P 15). According to Amery (1906, p 450; see also Breytenbach, 1996, p 335) 'the two Long Toms south of the railway had the range of Buller's ridge'.

Remains of Long Tom epaulements at Rietfontein

The Long Tom emplacement on Driekop is the least contentious of the four. The gun was placed on Hill 1762 on the farm Driekop (Van Rensburg, 1988, p 238). The writer climbed Hill 1762 in July 2008. On the eastern side of the hill, he found an excavation that may have been a gun pit facing south. The location was 25 48.5'S, 30 10.417'E (WGS84). On 5 October 2010, he again climbed Hill 1762, this time locating the gun emplacement facing west at 25 48.187'S, 30 10.366'E (WGS84). Changuion is the only author who did not place a Long Tom on Driekop. He claimed that it was the Long Tom on Elandskop that fired at the British troops on the Geluk Plateau between 21 and 25 August (Changuion, 2001, P 111). The problem is that the Geluk Plateau is about 16 km from Elandskop and the gun's range is only nine kilometres. Changuion also claimed that the Long Tom on Witrant shot at the 'British at Geluk' (Changuion, 2001, p 111). The distance from Witrant to Geluk is 24 km.

Strangely enough, very little is known about the type and deployment of Boer guns during the battle of Bergendal. It is hoped that this article will contribute towards understanding Boer strategy during the battle.


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