Topic: BatzB - Karee Siding
The Battle of Karee Siding
South Africa, 29 March 1900
Karee Siding, an action during the Second South African War, fought on 29 March 1900, some 30 kilometres north of the Orange Free State capital, Bloemfontein. After the British army under Field Marshal Lord Roberts entered the town on 13 March, Boer forces under General J.H. De la Rey continued to occupy the hills through which the railway line passed to Brandfort. Deciding to eliminate the menace which the enemy presence here presented, and having selected Karee Siding as a suitable place for an advanced supply base, Roberts began concentrating troops at the Glen Siding-the point eleven kilometres south of Karee where the railway crossed the dodder River.
By 28 March 9,000 British troops were at the Glen, comprising the 7th Infantry Division of 6,000 men, two cavalry brigades totalling 2,000 horsemen and a 1,000-strong mounted infantry brigade. Supporting this force were 30 field-guns and two pom-pom quick-fire weapons. Lieut.-General John French had been sent to take command of the cavalry, but Lieut.-General C. Tucker held command of the infantry and the brigade of mounted infantry led by Colonel PWJ. Le Gallais. Among the regiments of Le Gallais's brigade was the New South Wales Mounted Rifles under Lieut.-Colonel G.C. Knight, while the 1st Cavalry Brigade led by Colonel T.C. Porter contained a squadron of the New South Wales Lancers commanded by Captain Charles Cox and another of the 1st Australian Horse (also a New South Wales unit) commanded by Captain Elworthy.
Generals French and Tucker both arrived at the Glen on the evening of the 28th, the day before that set for the advance to begin. Although lacking reconnaissance information regarding enemy positions - or even whether any enemy actually remained - they determined on making an infantry advance directly along the rail-line accompanied by turning movements on both flanks, by the cavalry on the west (left flank) and mounted infantry on the east respectively. Though unknown to them, available to oppose this plan were 3,500 Boers led by General Tobias Smuts in the absence of De la Rey. The bulk of the enemy forces were deployed east of the railway, in three parallel ranges of hills running across the proposed line of advance, but a portion also held a plateau called Houtenbeck on the other side of the tracks.
When launched the next morning, the British advance initially met no resistance. The flanking movements encountered no opposition, and consequently Tucker's infantry set off to take the first of the ridge lines, finding it already abandoned by the enemy. The second parallel was also seized by 1.30 p.m., after the leading battalion had only a few shots fired at it. It was only on the last ridge that the Boers disclosed their presence in strength, opening a heavy fire from positions concealed in the brushwood covering the hillside. For about an hour a fire fight took place on this front, and also on the left where the British line had now encountered the Boers on the Houtenbeck feature. Artillery was brought up to deal with the enemy on both sides of the railway, and shortly after 4 p.m. a bayonet charge against the Houtenbeck trenches found the Boers already in flight across the bare open plain towards Brandfort.
Meanwhile, the cavalry and mounted troops - whose movement had been intended to smooth the infantry's progress and ensure that any enemy encountered were not merely dislodged but severely dealt with - remained effectively out of the battle. In the judgement of The Times History Of The War, French's movements had been 'unaccountably slow' while on the eastern flank:
Le Gallais had chased some parties of Boers from the outlying ridges .... but only with the result of sending them to reinforce the main body opposed to Tucker; and in the afternoon he had allowed his whole brigade to be delayed by a small party of Boers on an outlying spur. The consequence was that he never got round.
In this whole poorly managed operation the British sustained 189 casualties (including members of the New South Wales Mounted Rifles and Australian Horse), compared to Boer losses of only 34. The victory was important, nonetheless, in opening the way for Roberts to resume his advance across the northern half of the Free State and on to the Transvaal.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 71-72.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
L.S. Amery, (ed.) The Times History of the War in South Africa 1899-1902, Vol. 3 (1905), London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co.
John Stirling (1907) The Colonials in South Africa, 1899-1902. Edinburgh: W. Blackwood & Sons.
Citation: The Battle of Karee Siding, South Africa, 29 March 1900, Outline