The Second Anglo Boer War centenary celebrations took place in 2001, and since that time we saw a flow of new historical writings on the subject. These articles just illustrate how the great fight between the South African Boers (Burghers) and the British of more than a hundred in years past continue to exercise a fascination. The Anglo Boer war was not yet another war. It was a war that happened in a very exciting time in our own history, the beginning of the technological age group. The most fascinating question of this war was probably how the 60, 291 Boer Burghers (untrained, unskilled and undisciplined) could hold the 458, 610 well trained soldiers of the British at bay for so long. The answer might sit in the fact that the British seriously underestimated the fire power of the BIG GUNS of the Boers.
The secret weapon of the Boers that made a huge difference was the legendary LONG TOM. The 155mm Creosot gun, earned this nickname (given by the British) because of due to the long barrel and its long firing range. President Paul Kruger was not very pleased with this name, but it soon became a popular word upon everybody’s lips and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. Kruger imported these guns from Schneider & Co in Creosot (France) in 1886, mainly to serve as castle guns to protect the city of Pretoria from enemy attacks. Each of the four Long Toms ordered was supplied complete with 8000 shells. This was a great fortress gun, because when elevated, the 94 lb (42, six kg) shells could fired far away of about 11 000 yards (10 154 m), which was the longest range of any gun in use in that time.
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Each of the four guns received a name based on the name of the hill on which the fortresses were positioned, intended to defend the main approaches to Pretoria, namely Wonderboompoort, Klapperkop, Schanzkop, and Daspoort. Recoil goes hand in hand with a heavy firing power. To keep the big gun in position after a photo it had to be mounted on a special foundation plate with the brakes bolted straight down. Later during one of the wars the particular Boers used these pieces in action without a base plate, which deliver the gun running backwards regarding 40 meters. The Boers after that realized that this was a good strategy to use whenever they need to retreat quickly.
When battle broke out between Britain and the Boer Republics in September 1899, the Boer War Council worked out their careful plans to strike the British forces. They chose to attack the two main forces in Ladysmith and Dundee. It was just then that the council decided to send two Long Toms to the battlefront. These guns were certainly not created as a field gun and the Uk nowhere nearly imagined to find them selves end up in a duel with these guns.
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome was the weight of these heavy guns, because each gun weighed nearly seven tons. The ammunition of a Long Tom was just as heavy since the gun itself, weighing about 40kg each. It was beyond everybody’s creativity that these guns could be transported over rough terrain to the battlefield, and naturally not up a mountain. 12 to fourteen oxen were necessary to pull these guns on degree ground, and up to another twenty to forty oxen were required for large angles or difficult terrain. But the Boers made a plan. They were at first transported by rail as far as possible and only later pulled by a buggy and oxen. These guns after that arrived in Natal by rail during October 1899, and they were ultimately dragged to the battle fields with great success and with the admiration from the British gunners.
Already during the initial battles in Natal, the British forces realized that their own artillery were much inferior to the long range Boer guns. After the successes on Elandslaagte and Rietfontein, Joubert and the State Artillery were moving to Ladysmith across form Dundee, as well as the Free Staters were to the north and west. The two forces ultimately united to attack General White in Ladysmith. The main difficulty that will both armies experienced in this area was of course the geography. There are plenty of hillsides, up’s and down’s, with the Tugela river twisting through the area. To maneuver the LONG TOMS was not easy, but they did it. To make things even worse, they also had to reckon with an occasional thick blanket of mist that caused bad visibility, and then the normal rain, hail and thunderstorms. They even had to cross a river! This of course did not discourage their state Artillery and they reached the area associated with Ladysmith. The next challenge was to haul the heavy guns in the steep and slippery hills. Astonishingly the also succeeded with this operation, and the Boers soon occupied a number of strategical positions on the hills close to Ladysmith.
The siege of Ladysmith was slowly falling into place.
The commandos soon occupied Umbulwana, Pepworth, and Nicholsnek. From this high ground they had a good view on the town of Ladysmith during fine plus clear days. The initial position from the State Artillery was upon among the spurs of Signal Hill, exactly where they had two 75mm Krupp guns and three other lighter weapons Commandant S. P. E Trichard was in charge of the 1st Battery power of the State Artillery and Mayor Wolmarans in charge of the 2nd Battery. Because the day went on, the artillery power on the hills around Ladysmith improved steadily. Some guns were positioned on Pepworth Hill, including a Long Tom. The activities on Pepworth (3 mls away) were clearly visible from Ladysmith, and the British observed the particular operations with astonishment. The British did not have guns that were the match for the BIG GUNS from the Boers. White did order a few long range Navel guns from Captain Percy Scott, but they were still underway. The Republican makes of Joubert were positioned in the half circle from the north towards the south east of Ladysmith. During the day Common Joubert joined up with Christiaan sobre Wet. On his arrival it was settled that the Transvalers should proceed to the north of Ladysmith and take up positions on the east of Nicholson’s Nek, whilst the Free Staters were to go to the west and north-west of that town.
Surrounded by Boer commandos and artillery, the town associated with Ladysmith was captured in a siege, a typical Boer strategy.
The LONG TOMS unfortunately had a big drawback, it still used black powder. A cloud of white smoke could be seen from a long distance after each shot. This, unfortunately, revealed its position. It has been said that the Long Tom that was used to lb the besieged town of Ladysmith, took 30 seconds from the period that its white puff was sighted by a lookout, to when the heavy projectile slammed into the town. It was not long before the smoke in the LONG TOM revealed it position to the British. The State Artillery guns on Pepworth hill showed incredible courage during this battle. They kept their positions at a stage once the British artillery managed to launch an extremely fierce and intensive attack on them. The crest of the hill was literally transformed into a continuous blaze of exploding bombs, bursting shells plus flying shrapnel. The gunners kept on serving the guns until extremely badly or mortally wounded. Some of them even continued fighting even though these people lost an arm or hand.
Dr Holhs, from the medical staff of the State Artillery was desperately helping the wounded gunners till he was also killed by a cover. With only a few guns, the State Artillery managed to hold their ground across the fighting front of almost eleven kilometers long. They became both feared and famous during the conflict, and many stories about these weapons still remain to this day. It afterwards became evident that the heavy shooting power and long range of the particular Long Toms made life very hard for the British Army.
story often told is how, on Xmas day, the Boers had photo a Long Tom shell off to Kimberley. Upon digging up the cover from the place where it experienced struck, the souvenir-hunters discovered, for their utter astonishment, a small token from the Boers’ unique sense of humor. The shell contained a Christmas pudding, perfectly wrapped in an Union Jack, with all the words: “Compliments of the Season, inch written on it!
The Boers also had a mournful day on the 9th of December. During the nights, categories of British soldiers would sneak out from the besieged town to try and harm the Boers. During the night of 9 December, such a party of daring troops had snuck out and was able to sneak up Lombards Hill. The State Artillery gunners were taking a break from the long day of offering the Long Tom near Weapon Hill and the Bronkhorstspruit Commando were to take over the watch. They fell asleep themselves, leaving the Long Tom unguarded and allowing the particular British soldiers to sneak passed them and capture the gun. Luckily (due to its size) the British soldiers could not proceed it, but only removed the particular breech screw and then damaged the particular breech and muzzle by shoving a bundle of gun cotton down its throat and firing it off. To add insult to injuries they then absconded with its sponges, the particular immensely heavy and all-important breech-block, and the gun sight, still sighted at 8, 000 metres! The Boers had to send their large weight champion off to Pretoria, where the damaged part was cut off, and the barrel shortened.
These fixes were done by the workshop of the Dutch South African Railway Corporation. After that, this Long Tom grew to become widely known as “The Jew! inch
Since then the night of 9 Dec was remembered as the “night of disgrace”. As punishment the State Artillery members had to abstain from sleeping on the night of 9th December. This “punishment” is still one of the voluntary traditions of the Transvaal State Artillery today.
During the early stages of the Anglo Boer War, the British were outranged with the guns of the State Artillery. This took the commanding officers (e. g. Buller) some time to realize which they were hampered with this out-of-date military strategy, and that this strategy did not work against the Boer strategies. It often resulted in many casualties and deaths as the Boers were equipped with quick shooting rifles and were excellent marksmen. The British also had the disadvantage that some of their weapons were fast becoming obsolete. At this stage they required the navy’s assistance. The re-enforcement of the forces with naval weapons was later described as ‘the weapons which saved Ladysmith. ‘ Later, the heavy guns were used, but in penny packets ‘because these were there’, and not in their proper roles.
Captain Percy Scott was the navy’s foremost gunnery expert at that time, and he had to decide which gun to provide. This had to be a gun with a greater variety than that available to the army at that stage and which could deal with the Boer guns. Among his options was to use weapons held in the various depots on land and guns mounted in the ships of the Cape Squadron, although these types of guns were not normally considered for use ashore. His first choice was the 12-pounder 12-cwt Quick Firing gun. This gun was specially designed for use against torpedo boats. With a selection of 8000 yards (7385 m) for common shell and 4500 yards (4154 m) for shrapnel, it will be able to hold its own against the contemporary guns of the State Artillery. Scott bought a pair of Cape wagon tires, and an axletree. The carpenter, shipwrights and blacksmiths worked around the clock and in 24 hours the first gun had been ready. Although the result looked amateurish, it worked, and some trial rounds were fired to ensure that all was well. In the face of some official blockage, Scott produced four guns simply by 25 October. Longer in the barrel (and in range) than the army’s 12-prs, these guns were shortly to be known as ‘Long 12s’.