Topic: BatzB - Bakenlaagte
The Battle of Bakenlaagte
South Africa, 30 October 1901
Map detailing the Battle of Bakenlaagte
[From: John E Price, Southern Cross Scots, Melbourne 1992, p. 59.]
[Click on map for larger version.]
Bakenlaagte, an action during the Second South African War, fought on 30 October 1901 some 35 kilometres north-west of Bethal in eastern Transvaal, in which Boers attacked and crippled a British column commanded by Lieut.-Colonel G.E. Benson. The column, comprising 600 infantry, 800 mounted infantry (including several squadrons of Scottish Horse, which had been partially raised in Victoria) and 300 wagons, had paused on 28 October at Zwakfontein, 24 kilometres from Bethal. Low supplies prompted Benson to make for Brugspruit on the Delagoa Bay railway, setting off at 4.30 a.m. on the 30th across the open veldt that was still soggy after heavy rain the day before. By 8 a.m. the column came under heavy sniping fire from 500 Boers of the Bethal commando under their commandant, H.S. Grobler, and under this harassment and accompanied by cold wind-driven rain showers the advance continued.
[From: John E Price, Southern Cross Scots, Melbourne 1992, p. 64.]
At about 1 p.m. another commando of 500 burghers arrived under General Louis Botha after a forced ride from near Ermelo. This additional force immediately placed the British rearguard under severe pressure, forcing Benson to return from the main body at the head of two squadrons of Scottish Horse totalling just 96 men (nearly all of them Australians). Realising the gravity of the situation, he ordered a defensive position be taken up on a bare ridge some two kilometres short of where the main body had stopped to establish a new camp. Two 15-pounder guns occupied the centre of the ridge, with mounted infantry and an infantry company hastily adopting posts at some distance on each flank; the 64 gunners crewing the guns were protected by the Scottish Horse and the 30 members of their original escort, making a total of 190 men on what became known as Gun Hill.
The Boers concentrated their fire on the guns and within minutes had accounted for all but three of the men manning them. They then charged forward, before dismounting in an area of dead ground just 40 metres in front. Two companies of infantry sent to relieve this pressure failed to reach a position from which they could intervene before the end of the Boer assault came. The enemy simply rose in lines and fired from where they stood, then swept forward to seize the hill from the few defenders still capable of resisting. Despite the efforts of other British guns in the main camp to prevent the Boers carrying away the two 15-pounders, once darkness came these weapons were quickly removed. The Boers also took anything of value from their prisoners, and even from the dead and wounded, leaving most of the British casualties stripped naked on the ground.
[From: John E Price, Southern Cross Scots, Melbourne 1992, p. 61.]
British losses in the action totalled 238 killed and wounded, and another 120 taken prisoner - about a quarter of the columns original strength-while Boer casualties were reportedly about 190, including 60 killed. British losses were worse on Gun Hill, where the defence was practically annihilated; only seventeen of the 190 troops there got away unwounded. Of the Scottish Horse, 33 were killed and another 57 were wounded. Also among the wounded was Benson, who died from his injuries the following morning. The rest of the column remained holed up in the main camp, and succeeded in beating off a night attack after hastily digging trenches and throwing out barbed wire defences. Their position was relieved on the morning of 1 November by the arrival of a column which comprised 700 mounted infantry (including some South Australians) who had made a forced ride of nearly 90 kilometres from Standerton.
Although the battle became known as Bakenlaagte after a Boer farm in the vicinity, the position of the main camp was actually at the junction of the boundaries with two other farms - Schaapkraal and Nooitgedacht - and the action at Gun Hill took place wholly on land within the latter. While the Scottish Horse was a unit privately raised by the Marquis of Tullihardine, and the Victorians in it were not members of an official contingent of the colonial government, the disaster suffered at Gun Mill was later commemorated by a memorial erected by the Victorian government at Primrose near Germiston, about ten kilometres east of Johannesburg.
[From: John E Price, Southern Cross Scots, Melbourne 1992, p. 66.]
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 90-92.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
L.S. Amery, (ed.) The Times History of the War in South Africa 1899-1902, Vol. 4 (1906), London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co.
John Button (1905) Tasmanians in the Transvaal War, Hobart.
R.L. Wallace (1976) The Australians at the Boer War, Canberra: Australian War Memorial & Australian Government Publishing Service.
John E Price, Southern Cross Scots, Melbourne, 1992.
Citation: The Battle of Bakenlaagte, South Africa, 30 October 1901, Outline