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Saturday, 12 June 2010
The Battle of Wilmansrust, South Africa, 12 June 1901, Outline
Topic: BatzB - Wilmansrust

South African (Second Boer) War

The Battle of Wilmansrust, 12 June 1901

Outline

 

Location of Wilmansrust from Google Maps.

 

Wilmansrust, a humiliating disaster suffered by a portion of the 5th Victorian Mounted Rifles (5 VMR) on 12 June 1901 in the eastern Transvaal, during the Second South African (or Boer) War. Since arriving the previous March, the Victorian regiment had been divided into two battalions and British officers placed over the unit's own commanders. While containing a leavening of officers and men with military training, including some veterans of' earlier contingents who were on a second tour, the great majority of its members were civilian recruits. In just two months the regiment's strength had also been heavily reduced by sickness, from over 1,000 to little more than 700 - a proportionately far higher rate than experienced in other Australian contingents.

On 10 June a column led by Major General Stuart Beatson, an Indian Army regular, arrived at Olifant's River 40 kilometres south-west of Middelberg. Here Beatson sent off a flying column, comprising 270 men of the 2nd Battalion, 5 VMR, with two Vickers-Maxim quick-firing guns (popularly known as pom-poms) mounted in Cape carts, to look for a small Boer force reportedly at Boschmansfontein, 40 kilometres to the east. While Major William McKnight was the senior Victorian officer present, the detachment - totalling about 350 men - was under the command of Major Morris, a British artillery officer who had arrived from India with Beatson.

After finding that the Boers had already evacuated their camp, Morris began making his way back to rejoin the main body. At about 5 p.m. on 12 June, while still some eighteen kilometres east of Beatson, Morris established a night bivouac on the Middelburg - Ermelo road close to a farm named Wilmansrust. The camp was sited on a slight rise about 100 metres square, with a steep-sided gully all round, and overlooked by higher hills at a distance. The guns were sited in the centre, most of the horses tethered down one side, and the mule wagons secured in the farm's cattle-kraal nearby which had strong stone walls 1.5 metres high.

Outlying picket posts were established by Morris' adjutant, another British artillery officer. The largest post - comprising an officer and 30 men - occupied a small hill about 1,500 metres to the south-east of the camp. In all, including a party of a dozen men posted within the kraal, some 70 of the camp's personnel were nominally on guard duty at any one time. (The Times History of the War in South Africa gives a figure of 120, but other accounts contradict this.) The posts, however, were too few in number and spaced too widely apart to effectively provide advance warning. Moreover, they had been positioned during daylight hours when their location was easily noted - both by local Boers and a group of General Ben Viljoen's commando who had been shadowing the column throughout the day at a distance of about two kilometres and frequently engaging in sniping.

Having observed the camp's disposition and security arrangements, the trailing force of Boers-numbering about 170 men under Vecht-General C.H. Müller - decided to attack. Leaving 30 men with their horses, the Boers were guided through the darkness by the farm's owner along a slight depression between the hills and reached the foot of the camp without being detected. Their approach was also apparently aided by coinciding with the replacement of the personnel manning the daytime observation posts with the night pickets at about 7 p.m., the noises of this changeover having cloaked the enemy movement.

By 7.30 p.m, the camp was at rest, the troopers having settled down to sleep or read mail just received from Australia. Despite the known proximity of an enemy force, the VMR's weapons were neatly stacked in piles near where they slept, rather than right alongside them. This was allegedly at Morris' order, in compliance with drill regulations which were rarely observed during operations on the veldt. The 120 Boers, advancing in extended line, got to within 40 metres of the front of the camp before a whistle blast at 7.45 p.m. signalled the attack.

The first Boer volley, fired from the hip as the attackers ran forward, turned the surprised camp into a shambles. Many horses were killed or wounded in this opening fusillade, but the rest stampeded and knocked down men and tents. Some of the VMR reached their rifles but were shot down before they could use them. The fight was over in less than ten minutes, leaving at least fourteen Australians killed and 42 wounded (some accounts refer to eighteen dead and 60 wounded. About 50 men as many a evaded capture by fleeing into the darkness, but the remainder of the camps occupants were taken prisoner.

Taking up lanterns, the Boers collected their own casualties (claimed by McKnight to number ten dead and 30 wounded) then began looting the camp of its two prized guns, plus the Victorians' rifles, ammunition and stores. Since they did not have the facilities to hold prisoners, the Boers marched their captives nearly two kilometres out onto the veldt and simply released them before themselves making off. They took with them, too, over 100 of the column's horses, all that had not been killed or broken loose and bolted. Throughout this, the outlying pickets made no attempt at intervention, although their combined numbers nearly matched the remaining Boer strength.

The action at Wilmansrust was the most serious reverse to befall any overseas colonial force sent to the conflict in South Africa, and unfortunately was taken as an indictment of the courage and soldierly qualities of Australian contingents generally. There was no denying that a deplorable lack of vigilance and attention to security had been displayed-although the responsibility for this rested squarely on an Imperial and not an Australian officer. Moreover, when the Boer attack began, the camp was overtaken by a mass panic which defied commanders' efforts to rally the men.

Compounding the serious embarrassment engendered by the affair back in Australia was news which became public late in September that three members of 5 VMR had been tried at court martial for inciting mutiny, found guilty, and sentenced to death; these sentences had been subsequently commuted to gaol terms, however, and the men were already in military prisons back in England. Outrage at the secrecy surrounding these proceedings - of which the new federal government was initially ignorant - was fuelled by further press reports that the mutineers had actually been provoked by the 'hostile. and offensive attitude' shown by General Beatson, who had referred to the defenders of Wilmansrust as 'a lot of white livered curs' and uttered other grossly disparaging remarks. These revelations caused debate to refocus on the competence of Imperial officers to command irregular corps, and raised concerns over the situation where Australian soldiers were subject to British military justice - an issue which was a foretaste of the controversy soon engendered by the executions of two other Australians, Lieutenants P.J. Handcock and H.H. Morant, in February 1902.

In the case of the Wilmansrust mutineers, there was a happier outcome. A review of the court martial discovered flaws in the trial proceedings (the charges having been laid under the wrong sections of the Army Act) and the War Office consequently quashed the convictions on 26 October. The men were immediately released from prison and returned to Australia by the end of the year, albeit still under a cloud of ignominy.



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.M. Field (1979) The Forgotten War, Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press.

Gavin Souter (1976) Lion and Kangaroo, Sydney: William Collins.

R.L. Wallace (1976) The Australians at the Boer War, Canberra: Australian War Memorial & Australian Government Publishing Service.

 

Further Reading:

Wilmansrust, South Africa, 12 June 1901

Boer War, 1899 - 1902 

South African (Second Boer) War, 1899 - 1902, Australian Forces, Roll of Honour 

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: Wilmansrust, South Africa, 12 June 1901, Outline

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 15 June 2011 9:23 AM EADT
Friday, 11 June 2010
The Battle of Diamond Hill, South Africa, 11 - 12 June 1900, Contents
Topic: BatzB - Diamond Hill

The Battle of Diamond Hill

South Africa, 11 - 12 June 1900

Outline

 

Map detailing the Battle of Diamond Hill

 

Diamond Hill, an action fought on 11 - 12 June 1900, during the Second South African War, between British forces under the direct command of Field Marshal Lord Roberts and the main Boer army of the Transvaal republic under General Louis Botha. The latter, comprising 6.000 men and 23 guns was menacing the Transvaal capital, Pretoria, which the British had entered with 25,000 men on 5 June, by occupying a 50-kilometre front east of the town. To deal with this threat Roberts moved out on 11 June with 14,000 men and 70 guns - all he could spare from the protection of his lines of communication. His plan called for attacks by Lieut.-General John French's cavalry and mounted infantry in the north and Lieut.-General Sir Ian Hamilton's infantry and mounted infantry in the south, which were intended to tie up both enemy flanks before a main attack was attempted against the centre.

Botha had accurately anticipated Roberts' tactics, and was ready to deal with both flanking movements. French's force comprised only 1,400 horsemen (including ten members of the 1st Australian Horse and 35 of the New South Wales Lancers) and, although supported by a dozen field guns, was easily stopped by General J.H. De la Rey and forced to remain in defensive positions for the night. In the opening moments on this flank, a troop of the New South Wales Lancers which was sent forward on scouting duty was mistaken for Boers and shelled by the British guns, fortunately without any of the Australians being hit. Not so lucky was the New South Wales Ambulance, which was later struck by an enemy shell and damaged while moving about in the front-line.

 

Diamond Hill overlooking the War Cemetery

 

On the right flank, meanwhile, Hamilton found himself strongly opposed by Boers under General Piet Fourie who occupied a long rocky ridge line dominated by Diamond Hill. In attempting to press ahead in the face of fierce resistance, part of the British force was almost surrounded when night ended the first day's operations. In the face of the situation which now confronted him, Roberts was reluctantly forced to contemplate a costly frontal attack in the centre against enemy positions which had been barely touched. Reports during the night, however, persuaded him to lend his support for a main thrust to be mounted by Hamilton against the Boer strong point at Diamond Hill.

The assault which was finally launched shortly after noon the next day entailed five battalions moving against the western slopes leading onto the Diamond Hill plateau. Although successful, the effort soon became bogged down when the Boers retreated to covering positions and the attackers were exposed to murderous fire from high ground on both flanks. This pressure was only relieved when the brigade under Colonel H. De Lisle, which contained a battalion of British mounted infantry along with both the New South Wales Mounted Rifles and West Australian Mounted Infantry, made an assault onto the Rhenosterfontein kopje on the British right. This position was effectively the eastern extension of the Diamond Hill ridge line, and the source of much of the fire which pinned down the main assault force.

De Lisle, sent to concentrate his efforts against the Rhenosterfontein position during the morning, had used the two pom-pom guns with his force to cover the men of the 6th Mounted Infantry Battalion as they began steadily working their way forward on foot until they were close under the hill. By 2 p.m. De Lisle ordered the Mounted Infantry to advance. As soon as he saw that the leading troops had gained a foothold, he moved his pom-pours up to within 1,300 metres and in the words of The Times history of the war - 'let go the New South Wales Mounted Rifles'.

 

The Australian plaque commemorating the Battle of Diamond Hill.

 

The four squadrons of the New South Wales regiment, commanded by Lieut.-Colonel G. Knight, came under fire as they galloped in long well-spaced lines across the broad grass-covered valley to where the local farmhouse stood among a grove of gum trees. Leaving their horses in dead ground here, they rushed forward still widely spaced-27 metres between men and 45 metres separating the ranks formed by squadrons. According to The Times account:

Extended in this way the 350 men of the corps created the appearance of a much larger force, and as they swarmed over the crest of the hill with fixed bayonets, the Boers without waiting for the attack retired to a second position some 1,200 yards away.


With darkness now beginning to fall across the hill, the Boers opened up a 'furious fusillade' along the whole line of the position. Botha, however, upon hearing of De Lisle's success, realised that that part of the ridge line which his men still held would be untenable as soon as Hamilton brought up heavy artillery onto the plateau. He accordingly gave orders for his commandos to disperse during the night, the retirement commencing at 11 p.m, and being carried out so quietly that it went undetected until the next morning. Roberts was therefore initially unaware of the victory which his force had obtained, at a cost amounting to less than 200 casualties (including two officers killed and six men wounded among the New South Wales men engaged), Boer losses were probably heavier than the 24 killed and wounded that were admitted but were still minor nonetheless.

The only pursuit of the retreating enemy was carried out on 13 June by a detachment of 150 Australians, mainly men of the West Australian Mounted Rifles under Major Hatherly Moor with come members of "C" Squadron of the New South Wales Mounted Rifles. This force followed the Boers for nearly seventeen kilometres, to near Bronkhorst Spruit station, and fought a brief action with an enemy rearguard in a laager (camp). The role of the Australians during the action at Diamond Hill - the last great defensive battle fought by the Boers - was much praised, and during a review at Elands River on 14 June Knight's men were cheered by British troops for the gallantry they had displayed there.

 

Battle of Diamond Hill War Memorial.

 

Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, p. 78-81.

 

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.

R.L. Wallace (1976) The Australians at the Boer War, Canberra: Australian War Memorial & Australian Government Publishing Service.

 

Further Reading:

The Battle of Diamond Hill, South Africa, 11 - 12 June 1900

The Battle of Diamond Hill, South Africa, 11 - 12 June 1900, Roll of Honour

Boer War, 1899 - 1902  

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Battle of Diamond Hill, South Africa, 11 - 12 June 1900, Contents

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 10 April 2011 6:43 PM EADT
Thursday, 10 June 2010
The Third Battle of Morlancourt, France, 10 June 1918, Outline
Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front

The Third Battle of Morlancourt

France, 10 June 1918

Outline

 

Map outlining the attack at Morlancourt.

[Extracted from Bean, Vol. VI, p. 234.]

 

Third Morlancourt, an attack carried out on 10 June 1918 by 7th Brigade of the 2nd Australian Division against the southern portion of the Morlancourt spur which overlooked the village of Sailly-Laurette on the Somme. Launched at dusk under cover of an accurate barrage, the operation was a complete success and resulted in the taking of 325 German prisoners at a cost of 400 Australian casualties.


Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, p. 148.

 

Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:

C.E.W. Bean (1937) The Australian Imperial Force in France during the Main German Offensive, 1918, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.

 

 

Further Reading:

The Third Battle of Morlancourt, France, 10 June 1918

The Third Battle of Morlancourt, France, 10 June 1918, Roll of Honour

Western Front Battles

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Third Battle of Morlancourt, France, 10 June 1918, Outline

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 9 June 2011 6:52 PM EADT
The Third Battle of Morlancourt, France, 10 June 1918, Contents
Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front

The Third Battle of Morlancourt

France, 10 June 1918

Contents

 

 

Items

Outline

Bean's Account of The Third Battle of Morlancourt, France, 10 June 1918

 

 

Roll of Honour

The Third Battle of Morlancourt, France, 10 June 1918, Roll of Honour 

Lest We Forget

 

Further Reading:

The Third Battle of Morlancourt, France, 10 June 1918, Roll of Honour

Western Front Battles

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Third Battle of Morlancourt, France, 10 June 1918, Contents

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 9 June 2010 11:46 PM EADT
Monday, 7 June 2010
The Battle of Messines, Belgium, 7 - 14 June 1917, Outline
Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front

The Battle of Messines

Belgium, 7 - 14 June 1917

Outline

 

Aerial photograph of operations on 7 June 1917. Note the smoke haze right of Oosteverne Wood.

 

Messines, a major action in the Flanders region of southern Belgium, undertaken on 7 Jun 1917 for the purpose of' capturing the Wytschaete - Messines ridge south of the British salient at Ypres. Since these low heights-part of the crescent of high ground running east of the battered town-were occupied by the Germans and overlooked British positions, the ridge's capture was essential to plans for an offensive to occupy the Belgian coast. Three army corps were allocated to the task, one of these being II Anzac commanded by Lieut.-General Sir Alexander Godley which comprised three divisions: the 25th British, the New Zealand and the 3rd Australian (Major-General John Monash). In addition, the 4th Australian Division (Major-General William Holmes) was sent to reinforce the corps.

 

Map detailing the Battle of Messines

 

A seven-day preliminary bombardment began on 31 May At 3.10 a.m. on 7 June mines containing a million pounds of ammonal, placed in nineteen tunnels which had been dug under and behind the German lines during the preceding two years by Canadian, Australian and British miners, were detonated. The resultant explosions created massive craters, obliterated enemy front-line positions and left survivors stunned and demoralised. The British advance was rapid and largely unopposed, so that by 5.30 a.m. the heights had been easily occupied in one of the most complete local victories yet seen in the war.

Stunning though this success had been, there was drama in the 3rd Division when Monash's men were caught in a German attack using phosgene shells while on approach through Ploegsteert Wood to its start-lines. Some 500 men were gassed and temporarily put out of action, and hundreds more fell to shrapnel rounds, but the division proceeded and was in its correct position for the attack. A further hitch developed that afternoon, when reserve formations moved through to press the advance down the eastern slopes against the German depth positions known as the Oostaverne Line. Delays held back the British corps moving in the centre, forcing the 4th Australian Division to attempt to plug a widening gap so that by the end of the day it was effectively holding half the battlefront.

 

 Engineering plans and actual placement of an observation tree by the Australians at Hill 63 during the Battle of Messines.

 

During this battle the Australians also encountered for the first time the German innovation of concrete blockhouses, which were dubbed 'pillboxes'. Despite strong enemy counter-attacks the next day, and heavy casualties due to artillery fire-from both German and Allied batteries which mistakenly targeted friendly troops-the attacking forces were able to continue expanding their gains to the final objectives laid down for them. For the Australians, success in this operation came at the price of nearly 6,800 casualties, close on two-thirds of these in the 3rd Division. Total losses in II Anzac Corps were about 13,900 - slightly more than the combined total of the two other British corps involved. German losses for the same period were about 23,000, including 7,548 missing.

 

The beautiful gardens of Messines Ridge today over which the men fought in June 1917.

 

Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 129-130.



Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:

C.E.W. Bean, (1933), The Australian Imperial Force in France 1917,  Sydney: Angus & Robertson.

P.A. Pedersen, (1985), Monash as Military Commander, Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press.

 

Further Reading:

The Battle of Messines, Belgium, 7 - 14 June 1917

The Battle of Messines, Belgium, 7 - 14 June 1917, Roll of Honour

Western Front Battles

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Battle of Messines, Belgium, 7 - 14 June 1917, Outline

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 9 June 2011 5:33 PM EADT

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