Topic: BatzB - Driefontein
The Battle of Driefontein
South Africa, 10 March 1900
[Click on map for larger version.]
Driefontein, an action of the Second South African War, fought on 10 March 1900 during the advance on Bloemfontein by a large British force under field Marshal Lord Roberts. Following the fiasco at Poplar Grove on 7 March, Boer General Christiaan De Wet succeeded in persuading 5,000 - 6,000 burghers to mount a further delaying effort about 30 kilometres east, along a line of ridges south of the Modder River. Although aware that the enemy was holding the hills near Abraham's Kraal beside the river, and those a little further to the south-east at Damvallei, the British did not initially realise that other parties were occupying the Driefontein - Boschrand ridges as well. This fact only became apparent during the morning of the 10th, as elements of the British force progressively scouted and probed the enemy lines.
From 3.30 p.m. the British began steadily pressing in against the 1,500 burghers holding the Driefontein kopjes (hills), judged to be the key to the position, until from about 5 p.m. it was observed that there was a growing trickle of Boers leaving the battlefield in twos and threes. This led to the mounting of a final charge at 6 p.m. which carried the position and sent the Boers streaming away to the north-east. Although British mounted troops (including some Australians) attempted a pursuit from the southern flank, these were unable to intercept a withdrawal in such a direction - because of the poor condition of their mounts - and returned empty-handed as dusk fell. Although the Boers were still in possession of the northern hills, the retention of these was now pointless and they were evacuated, too, during the night. The day's fighting cost the British 424 casualties, 82 of whom were killed or died of wounds; the Boers lost about 300 men, including about 100 killed.
In the morning's fighting, Captain John Antill's squadron of New South Wales Mounted Rifles was engaged in reconnoitring the limits of the enemy's right (north) flank near the river. While performing this work, the Australians had one man killed by a shot fired from a farmhouse flying a white flag of neutrality. Also during the morning, the squadrons of the New South Wales Lancers and 1st Australian Horse (another New South Wales unit) were active on the same flank-both units being attached to the cavalry brigade commanded by Colonel T.C. Porter. Shortly before midday, however, these were switched to Colonel R.G. Broadwood's brigade opposite the enemy's left flank. Here, they took part in the later cavalry movement to follow up the Boer retirement, until forced to retire by enemy artillery and pom-pom fire.
Also among the British casualties for the day was a Victorian, Lieut.-Colonel C.E. Umphelby, serving as a special service officer with the artillery, who was mortally wounded by a sniper late in the afternoon and died three days later.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 70-71.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
R.L. Wallace (1976) The Australians at the Boer War, Canberra: Australian War Memorial & Australian Government Publishing Service.
Further Reading:The Battle of Driefontein
Citation: Driefontein, South Africa, March 10, 1900