|Automatic weapons were used by the British usually mounted on
special carriages accompanying the cavalry.
Winner: The British.
The temporary British commander in chief, Major General Penn Symons, won the Pyrrhic victory of Talana on 20th October 1899 against an exposed Boer commando, the general being mortally wounded.
The British force at Ladysmith further south expected little
trouble from the Boers for a time, but Major General French
reconnoitering with his cavalry north of the town, encountered a
further stray Boer commando, the Johannesburg Commando under
Commandant Kock, far in advance of the main Boer advance, in breach
of General Joubert’s overall strategy.
A British infantry contingent; 1st Devons, 1st Manchesters and 2nd Gordons with the Natal Mounted Rifles and Natal artillery, rushed forward by train to join French’s squadrons of 5th Dragoon Guards, 5th Lancers and the Imperial Light Horse and 42nd Battery, Royal Artillery to attack the exposed Boer Commando. The troops detrained some miles short of the station at Elandslaagte.
The Battle of Elandslaagte: General Kock and a group of Boer burghers
The Boers lay encamped behind a horse shoe shaped line of hills to the north of the British position.
Commanded by General French, but under the general supervision of General Ian Hamilton, the British infantry moved forward to the attack, the Devons in a frontal assault, with the Gordons and the Imperial Light Horse making a right flanking advance on the Boer’s hill top entrenchments. Using his experience of the North West Frontier of India Hamilton directed the infantry to adopt an open formation, in contrast to the close order used by Symons at Talana.
||The battle began with a bombardment from three of the Boer’s
modern and highly effective Creusot French made guns, carefully
positioned on the peak of the ridge.
Under heavy fire the British infantrymen made their way up the hillsides until the summit was within striking distance, making the final assault in a rush. Many of the Boers did not wait for the charge but withdrew precipitately onto the far hillside. A white flag was shown causing the British to sound the cease fire, but the Boers immediately resumed firing and counter attacked the summit. A further assault by the Gordons drove the Boers back off the crest.
The Boer commando reached the lower slopes of the hill range and mounting the ponies waiting at the bottom of the hillside, rode off across the valley. The squadron of 5th Lancers emerging into the same valley launched a charge. Not expecting British troops to appear from that point the Boers assumed the charging cavalry to be a friendly force until it was too late to escape. The British cavalry made three charges through the Boer Commando from side to side killing numbers of Boer riflemen, who had no defence to swords and lances.
The surviving Boers escaped to the main Boer line.
Casualties: The British suffered casualties of 35 officers and 202 men. Boer casualties are thought to have been around 350. Commandant Kock was captured.
Follow-up: Following the battle Sir George White received unreliable intelligence that General Joubert was advancing on him with overwhelming numbers. White ordered a withdrawal to the British base at Ladysmith, that quickly degenerated into a panic stricken retreat in which prisoners and equipment were abandoned.
The 5th Lancers charging the Boers at the Battle of Elandslaagte
Regimental anecdotes and traditions:
The battle entered British military folklore with the title of “’Ell and Slaughter”, a reference to the devastating cavalry attack.
Elandslaagte showed that the British were capable of dealing with Boer riflemen if led by general officers of the capability and intelligence of Hamilton and French, particularly if the troops were experienced India hands, as the Gordons in particular were (see Dargai).
The Great Boer War by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Goodbye Dolly Gray by Rayne Kruger
The Boer War by Thomas Pakenham
South Africa and the Transvaal War by Louis Creswicke (6 highly partisan volumes)
Books solely on the fighting in Natal:
Buller’s Campaign by Julian Symons
Ladysmith by Ruari Chisholm
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