Under The Union Jack, No. 9, Vol. 1, January 6th 1900

Jan. 6, WOO.] UNDER THE UNION JACK. 195 BATTLING FOR EMPIRE. THE RESPONSE OF GREATER BRITAIN. I theN hands of a more active enemy the reverses whic'i we have sufTered in South Africa would have been turned seriously to our disadvantage. Fortunately, we have not had a monopoly of the blunders of the campaign. The faults of the Boers may have been faults of omission, but they have lost them many opportunities. It is not from this cause, however, that we derive our confidence, but from the spontaneous loyalty and resolute determination manifested in every part of theE m p ire to “seethe thing through.” W e cannot but feel as Britons that we have passed through a trying time of unfamiliar character, for the week that ended with our retirement from the T u gela was the darkest within two generations. It is now only too clear that the task to be accomplished had been greatly underrated, and that the particular tactics of the Boers had not been mastered by those who had to meet them. The position on the northern bank was one of very great strength, and the enemy was so well entrenched that he was practically invisible, and neither his force nor his precise position seems to have been known. It does not appear to have been ascertained that our astute adversary had dammed the river below Bridle Drift, and had thereby rendered the passage doubly difficult. The Boers themselves say that their artillery preserved absolute silence until our guns came within rifle range, and did nothing to disclose their position. According to their official return the enemy had only 30 killed and wounded, while our list of casualties and missing officers and men has swollen to about 1,150 ,including 8 officers and 140 men killed. This terrible disparity illustrates very plainly the advantages that lie with the defence, the fearful losses that attend an attack upon a prepared position, and the greater need of effecting turning movements and there is the further conclusion, which came as a revelation, that we have never developed our road transport to enable us to make such movements or even to approach the Boers in mobility, but have been practically bound to the line of advance opened by the railway. That everyman in the British force displayed the traditional gallantry of the Army need scarcely be said, but the work was impossible of accomplishment, and when the Royal Dublin Fusiliers led General Hart’s attack on December 15th over an absolutely open plain under a front and enfilading fire towards Bridle Drift, which is at the apex of a horseshoe curve of the river, where the Boers were well entrenched all round the bend, the loss was terrible. Some of the men reached the river, and a few were drowned in the attempt to cross, and when the order was given to retire the suffering was still more serious, and the Connaught Rangers were caught under a shrapnel fire before they had time to deploy. General H ild yard’s attack on the right was led by the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, supported by the D evons, but, although the men approached the river, the position of the enemy was really impregnable. The loss of guns and prisoners is very keenly felt. The 14th and 66th Batteries were ambushed by Boers in rifle pits to the east of Colenso, when both were actually within 700yds of an entrenched position. Captain Dick, of the Scots Fusiliers, seeing the batteries advance, shouted to the commanding officer of the 66th, “Where are you going ?”The reply was that they were ordered to advance to the edge of the wood and halt. In that position they were enfiladed, and Colonel Lon g, who was in command of the guns, was seriously wounded in two places. It is now known that the disaster was inevitable. The precautions which are directed to attend the movements of guns seem to have been neglected, and the ammunition column did not come up. Through the energetic efforts of Captain Schofield two guns were got away, but the heroic attempts o f Captains Congreve and Reed, and of Lieutenant Roberts and others, did not avail to secure the others, which fell into the hands of the enemy. The last- named officer, who is the son of the new Comm ander-in-Chief, died from the wounds he received. What is very keenly felt is that 2 1 officers and 311 men were compelled to surrender. There can be no doubt as to the courage of everyone concerned, but very much as to the wisdom of placing them in a dangerous position from which they could not extiicate themselves. TheRe su l ting Conditions. The effect of our reverses at Storm berg, Mat agersfontein, and, lastly, upon the Tug e la ,has been to impose a period of inaction upon us, pending the arrival of reinforcements in the three spheres of action. The movements of our commanders will depend entirely upon their transport, and upon the adequacy of their forces. Happily, as wr e write, troops are rapidly arriving, and have already more than made goodall our losses, and new confidence begins to be felt. A parallel is suggested between the Boer positions, both at Colenso and Mat agersfontein, with the famous fortification by the Turks of the lines of P levn ina, the assaults upon which the Russians lost so heavily. In the three cases the assailants under-estimated the difficulties before them, while the defenders made such excellent use of the ground they occupied, that it has been said, though without real justification, that new methods of warfare were introduced. The operations which Lord Roberts is to conduct, and the provision for which will be directed by that master organiser, Lord Kitchener, will be of extreme difficulty, wand e must not expect even the gallant general who led that famous march from Cabul to Candahar to develop his combinations rapidly. Dangerous as maybe delay from many points of view ,it yet has its advantages, for while wre are gathering our inexhaus­tible resources, the Boers seem likely to suffer severely from want of supplies, and the horse sickness which is showing itself will effect them even more seriously than ourselves. It was our misfortune at the outset of the campaign that we were led by circumstances, which may yet demand enquiry, to enter upon aline of strategy which subjected us to para- lising repulses in the three theatres of war, instead of giving us the advantage of operating with a single purpose, and with forces united indirect co-operation. Lord Met iiu none theM odder River .The position of Lord M ethuen at his camp on theM odder is reported b they correspondents to be rapidly improving. It does not appear that the Boers are inadequate strength as yet to effectually threaten or interrupt his communications. Their trenches Mat agersfontein extend now over a range of some twelve miles, and the position is undoubtedly one of very great strength, but it has the disadvantage that it calls for the services of avery large force, thus withdrawn from active operations, and there is the further difficulty of supplying the commandos with food and ammunition. Here, at least, the Boers have no railway behind them, and, though their ox transport is, no doubt, as good as it can be, it appears likely that they maybe yet driven to modify their plan of operations. Those on the spot declared, after experience of the attempt to carry the position, that to take such trenches by direct assault is scarcely practicable. The Boer trenches are upon such a system that the front line is commanded by others THE BACK NUMBERS OF “UNDER THE UNION JACK” CAN BE HAO OF GEO. NEWNES, LTD.
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