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The Battle of Chrissiesmeer

The Battle of Chrissiesmeer on February 6, 1901

(Short Version)

By January 1901, the British troops were in Pretoria and the remaining forces of the South African Republic were split into two main groups, one in the Western and the other in the Eastern Transvaal, with smaller groups operating in the Orange Free State and the Cape Province.

Although the official history and the contemporary histories of the Anglo-Boer War shed little real light on the overall plan of the British strategy, it seems clear that the British had given the Eastern Transvaal their first priority, in an attempt to capture General Louis Botha and his forces operating in the Eastern Transvaal. By the beginning of February, a number of British columns with a total effective force of some eight thousand men under General Sir John French were poised in an arc to the west of Ermelo and another column, under General Horace Smith-Dorrien, was operating with a force of four thousand men between Wonderfontein and Carolina. If British forces could reach Meppel, to the east of Ermelo, the trap would have been closed. Botha and half of the remaining forces of the South African Republic would have been trapped, outnumbered six to one. The Anglo-Boer War would have been over. But the greatest weakness of the British Army in those days was its lack of adequate cavalry because, in mobile warfare, the British Army could only advance as fast as the cavalry could scout the land.

By the afternoon of February 5, Smith-Dorrien's column had reached Chrissiesmeer, known as the town of Bothwell in those days, and the next day he planned to march on Meppel when the trap would have been closed. Louis Botha must have seen the danger created by Smith-Dorrien's movements and the need to stop Smith-Dorrien's advance.

In the afternoon of February 5, Botha left a token force screening Ermelo while he marched with about two thousand men to Chrissiesmeer. At about 2:30am on the morning of February 6 the Suffolks, forming Smith-Dorrien's north and eastern defensive lines, came under intense fire drawing attention away from the real target of Botha's attack. While the British concentrated on the defense of the north-east flank Botha sent groups of commandos to creep through the West Yorkshire Regiment forming Smith-Dorrien's north and western defensive lines. Once inside the British camps these commandos cut the ropes picketing the cavalry horses when, in the confusion that followed, the British cavalry horses stampeded and they were driven out of the British camp. By 4:30am the job was done, Smith-Dorrien's cavalry was paralysed as an affective fighting force until new horses could be obtained and Smith-Dorrien advance had been halted in its tracks. The estimates of the Boer casualties vary, but at the cost of between forty and seventy casualties Botha had defeated the British plan to trap him, he had defeated the objective of the British columns numbering some twelve thousand men.

General Horace Smith-Dorrien, whom many consider to be the best of all the British generals of that period, later wrote his memoirs he consider Louis Botha the best general he had ever met, on either side, in all his 48 years of soldiering.

J.P.Reid. © Copyright reserved 2002

 


 

Die Slag van Chrissiesmeer op 6 Februarie 1901

(Verkorte weergawe)

Teen Januarie 1901 was die Britse troepe reeds in Pretoria en die oorblywende magte van die Zuid- Afrikaanse Republiek was verdeel in twee groepe: een Wes-Transvaal en die ander een in Oos-Transvaal, met kleiner groupies wat bedrywig was in die Oranje Vrystaat en die Kaap provinsie.

Hoewel die amptelike geskiedenis en die moderne verslae van die Angio-Boere-oorlog min lig werp op die algehele doel van die Britse strategie, is dit duidelik dat Oos-Transvaal Brittanje se eerste prioriteit was, in 'n poging om generaal Louis Botha en sy magte wat in Oos-Transvaal doenig was, gevangc te neem. Teen die begin van Februarie was 'n aantal Britse kolonne met 'n effektiewe strydmag van sowat agtduisend man onder generaal Sir John French in 'n halfsirkel wes van Ermelo in posisie, terwyl 'n ander kolon, onder bevel van generaal Horace Smith-Dorrien, met 'n mag van sowat vierduisend man bedrywig was tussen Wonderfontein en Carolina. Indien'die Britse magte Meppel, oos van Ermelo, kon bereik en daardeur Louis Botha se terugtog afsny, terwyl French die sirkel om Ermelo kon voltooi, sou die slagyster toegeklap het. Louis Botha en helfte van die oorblywende magte van die Republiek sou vasgekeer wees, met ses teen een in getalle oortref. Dit sou die einde van die Anglo-Boere-oorlog beteken het. Die grootste swakheid van die Britse weermag in daardie dae was egter die gebrek aan 'n behoorlike kavailerie, want in mobiele oorlogvoering kon die Britse magte slegs so vinnig beweeg as wat die kavailerie die gebied kon verken.

Teen die middag van 5 Februarie het Smith-Dorrien se kolon Chrissiesmeer bereik, in daardie dae nog bekend as Bothwell, vanwaar hy beplan het om op te ruk na Meppel, waar die slagyster sou toegeklap word. Louis Botha moes die gevaarvan Smith-Dorricn se bewegings besef het en hy son die aantog moes stuit.

Teen die middag van 5 Februarie het Louis Botha 'n klein groepie burgers gelaat om Ermelo af te skerm, terwyl hy met sowat tweeduisend man na Chrissiesmeer vertrek het. Omstreeks halfdrie die oggend van 6 Februarie het die Suffolks, Smith-Donien se noordelike en oostelike verdedigingslinies, onder hewjge geweervuur deurgeloop om die aandag van Botha se werklike aanvalsteiken af te lei. Terwyl die Engelse gekonsentreer het op die verdediging van hulle noord-oostelike flank, het groepices van Botha se kommando's deur die linies van die West Yorkshire-regiment gesluip, Smith-Dorrien se noordelike en westelike verdedigingslinies. Binne die Engelse kamp het die kommando's die vasmaaktoue om die kavailerie se perde afgesny. In die harwar wat gevolg het, is die perde uit die kamp gejaag. Teen halfvyf was die taak afgehandel en Smith-Dorrien se kavailerie was as gevegseenheid nutteloos totdat hulle weer perde kon bekom - en Smith-Dorrien se aantog is in sy spore gestuit. Die skatting van die Boere se ongevalle wissel tussen veertig en tagtig, maar dit was die prys wat betaal is om die Engelse se plan om hom vas te keer te verydel, En die hoofdoel van die Engelse mag van sowat twaalfduisend man was ook daarmee heen.

Generaal Horace Smith-Dorrien, wat deur talle beskou is as die knapste van al die Britse generaals van daardie tydperk, het later in sy biografie geskryf hy beskou Louis Botlha as die beste generaal wat hy ooit mee te doen gehad het, ook aan die vyand se kant, in sy 48 jaar as militaris.