South African Battle: 25 February 1902

A huge ‘haul’ of guns and ammunition for the Boers

At the beginning of 1902, with the war over two years old, the Boer guerrilla forces were short of ammunition and could not engage the enemy on any large scale. Late in the afternoon of 24 February 1902 a convoy, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Anderson, decided to set camp at the farm Elandslaagte, on the banks of Ysterspruit, a tributary of the Vaal River. Elandslaagte was about 25 km south west of the town Klerksdorp in the Western Transvaal – now North West Province. The convoy was on its way from Wolmaranstad to Klerksdorp, and comprised, according to ‘The Times History of the War’ (page 497 – Vol V) “150 wagons, mostly empty, and three carts loaded with small-arms ammunition”.

Early the following morning Anderson and the convoy set out for Kleksdorp, unaware of General de la Rey and a force of about 1 200 Boers, who were concealed nearby. The convoy was being escorted to Klerksdorp by a combination of men of the 5th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry, the Northumberland Fusiliers, and a few other troops amounting to about 500 in total. De la Rey started with a frontal assault from the nearby wooded area which concealed the Boers. However the British artillery was brought into action and briefly contained the Boer attack.

In the book, ‘De la Rey, Lion of the West’ by Johannes Meintjies, the action is described as follows (page 34) – “As the British drew abreast through the darkness, the scrub seemed to burst into flame. De la Rey’s lieutenants, Liebenberg, Cilliers and Kemp, respectively bore down on the convoy, rear and centre. Despite the surprise the British rallied, the Royal Artillery in particular repeating the steadiness which they displayed more consistently throughout the war than any other arm. But the commander of the convoy made the mistake of ordering it to push on. Terrified Native drivers lashed their animals wildly, a wagon stuck, the following vehicles piled up, and de la Rey precisely gauged his moment to unleash an all-out charge with fire from the saddle. The escort was ridden down in a tumultuous gallop. Dawn broke on an unmitigated scene of disaster.”

What de la Rey’s book fails to note is that the first two attacks on the convoy were repulsed. Following heavy rains the night before, thick mist made visibility poor and the attacks by Liebenberg and Kemp, who were closest to the track along which the convoy moved, were forced to withdraw. It is believed that had Anderson halted, and taken up a defensive position, that the attack could have been contained, and that help could have arrived. However he ordered to convoy to continue, and the leading wagons became bogged down in the steep drift, due to the rains the night before. It was only when Cilliers arrived that the Boer attack gained momentum and succeeded with the mission.

Anderson was eventually forced to surrender, being totally outnumbered. The whole affair lasted less than two hours. British losses were 187 either killed or wounded, with the remainder being taken prisoner. Boer casualties were 51 men.

De la Rey, being aware that help for the British would soon be arriving from Klerksdorp, escaped with 170 horses, several hundred rifles and half a million rounds of ammunition.

This massive haul of rifles and ammunition enabled de la Rey to resume operations in the Western Transvaal, however the war was only to last another 3 months.

As was the case during the whole of the guerrilla phase of the war, the Boers could do nothing with prisoners captured, so the British being disarmed were set free.

‘The Times History’ records (page 499) – “Sunrise shone upon a complete disaster. Save a few men who escaped to Klerksdorp, the whole force, with its artillery and material, was in de la Rey’s hands. Five officers and 48 men were killed: 6 officers and 124 men wounded; the rest were prisoners. While Kemp covered operations, de la Rey took all the plunder that he wanted – half a million rounds of ammunition and some hundreds of mules and horses were the principal prizes, with the guns and prisoners, to the north-west.”


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