The battle at Sandfontein / Zandfontein is long forgotten and it is an exception when a general history of the war dedicates a single line to the skirmish. Even in South Africa the action is largely forgotten although, it represents the Union's first active participation in the war in any numbers and although ending in a defeat for Colonel Grant's men, the soldiers of the Union were able to go into captivity with their heads held high.
One can wonder if the South Africans would have abandoned Sandfontein and its wells if they had realised in time just how outgunned they were. Traditionally Boer Forces would never hesitate to mount up and do a runner, there was no shame in leaving the battlefield when they thought that there was a chance of the enemy turning their flank or cutting off their path to the open veldt. At Sandfontein every element of the Boers worst tactical nightmare became reality. A body of men pinned down on a desolate kopje, cut off, thirsty, watching helplessly as the enemy killed their horses one by one. Although the men fought bravely the only possible successful outcome for the Union Troops would have been a timely withdrawal, but this was not to happen. Driving the attackers off was not possible and the position was not defendable for any length of time, especially after the Union's two artillery pieces had run out of ammunition.
The battle was lost the moment the possibility of withdrawal was lost.
History loves a fight to the death, a Camerone, an El Moungar, but the South Africans were not facing an enemy that offered no quarter.
It is impossible to say whether Grant took the following into account or if the German commander realised what an opportunity he missed: -South Africa stood on the eve of a rebellion. After Sandfontein the G.S.W.A. campaign was put on hold as a part of the citizen force army (under "Manie" Maritz) joined the Germans and some of the most popular Boer war leaders took up arms against the Govt. The desire to fight on Great Britain's side against the Germans (who had shown support for the Boers during the Boer war) was rather low for many South Africans of Boer origin. Officers like "Manie" Maritz, who would go into rebellion had complained that the South African forces had little chance against the Schutztruppe who were better trained and better equipped. A massacre at Sandfontein would have gone a long way to proving his point.
Barend Enslin, who had served in Danie Therons scouting corps in the Boer war along with "Manie" Maritz had been sent by Botha to join Maritz as his chief of staff in the period leading up to the rebellion. Enslin was ordered to keep an eye on Maritz and to gauge how close Maritz was to betraying the Union of South Africa.
In Enslin's testimony before the court on Maritz's role in the rebellion there is a mention of the Sandfontein affair. It serves well to illustrate the fine line the Govt of the Union of South Africa was walking when Botha took the country to war on the side of Great Britain.
"There is another important thing which I think I ought to mention. Before Col. Wylie arrived, in a discussion I had with Maritz he informed me that his information was that the Germans were advancing against Gen. Lukin with a force of 2000 men. I think it was a day or two afterwards that he received a wire from Gen. Lukin asking for reinforcements. I should say that this conversation was about the 29th or 30th of september, and then he subsequently told me that Gen. Lukin had wired for reinforcements, but he declared that he would see Lukin to blazes and would send him no reinforcements at all. Lukin was then at Ramans Drift. Maritz said that Lukin could stew in his own juice, but he was not going to send him reinforcements. I am not quite sure whether this was not the time of the Zandfontein affair, because afterwards I heard about the fight at Zandfontein, and then this conversation that I had with Maritz occurred to me. It was about the time, so it was quite evident that Maritz knew about this business at Sandfontein before our own Government did."
Above: A map of the battle
A link to a section on lt. W. Owen, maybe the first South African casualty of the war may be found here.
The Zandfontein disaster 1914 (by J.E.M. Atwell)
Zandfontein, in what was once known as German South West Africa, is a group of three wells situated on the route from Steinkopf in the Cape Province to Warmbad in German Territory. The road crosses the Orange River at Ramans Drift, the former being the boundary between British and German soil. The distance between Ramans Drift and Warmbad is about 45 miles and the Zandfontein wells are to be met with about midway between these points, making their possession to an invading force a necessity and a measure of the utmost importance.
In September 1914, a British column known as the A Force, under the command of Brig.-General H.T. Lukin, C.M.G., D.S.O., seized the drifts on the Orange River at Homs, Ramans, and Gudaus, and also the Zandfontein wells, prior to a general advance into the hostile territory. On September 25th the wells were garrisoned by a squadron of Police under the command of Capt. E.J. Welby, who had as troop leaders under him Lieuts. Grahame, Cowely, Owen, Gwatkin and Northway. In addition to these officers the detachment included Capt. Turner-Jones, of the Royal Engineers, who arrived on the 24th to report on the defensive capabilities of the position, and Capt. Genry, in command of an Intelligence Staff of ten Europeans and Natives, making a total combatant strength of 120 all ranks. On the evening of the 25th it was decided to reinforce the Zandfontein detachment by despatching a force from Ramans Drift. This force, under the command of Lieut.-Col. R.C. Grant, left the drift at about 6.30 p.m., and was comprised of the following: One section of the Transvaal Horse Artillery of two 13-pounder quickfirers under Lieut. F.M. Adler; one Machine Gun Section of two guns of the Police under Lieut. Butler; three troops of Police under Capt. P.E. Hale, with Lieuts. Scott, Clements and Austin - the fourth troop under Lieut. Allen was detached at the last minute to escort transport which had intended to follow as soon as the wagons were loaded with rations for the force. No Rations were issued to the details of the column before leaving the drift, reliance being placed on the transport being able to keep close up with the advance. The total strength of this reinforcement was 122, excluding a detachment of the S.A. Medical Corps with a field ambulance in charge of Capt. Holcroft, who accompanied the column on its night march. Capt. Dalton, with several medical orderlies, was already at Zandfontein. The eventual junction of the reinforcements and the detachment at Zandfontein resulted in an available combatant strength of 237 all ranks. The greater portion of this region consists of ridges and groups of rugged ironstone kopjes (hills) intersected by narrow sandy defiles, and movement for mounted troops in such an area is restricted to so called roads that follow the course of these defiles. The site of the wells is commanded by isolated conical-shaped kopjes of about 150 feet in height. In the plain situated at the western foot of the kopjes are three old buildings and a walled enclosure for kraaling animals. Access to the Zandfontein plain was only possible by means of the defiles that abutted on it, and the only outlet was the defile running south to Homs Drift. To an enemy operating from Warmbad the isolation and destruction of a force holding Zandfontein was quite a simple matter. By moving down the defiles to the north-west and north-east any force at the wells could be dealt with at leisure, and so it actually occurred.
Having nothing to fear on the south eastern border owing to the inactivity of Maritz, the Germans concentrated a large force of about 2000, four batteries of artillery and machine guns, at Warmbad, in close proximity to Zandfontein, who at dawn seized all the commanding points at Zandfontein. Such was the position at Sunrise on the 26th, when the reinforcements under Grant first sighted the Zandfontein Kopjes after an arduous night march from Ramans Drift, where only one halt was made of short duration and both men and animals were done up. The reinforcements sighted the wells at a distance of three miles, and unsuspectingly continued their march into the trap laid for them. There was nothing to indicate that large bodies of hostile troops were in the vicinity and that one party of the enemy were actually in rear of the. The advance, rear and flank guards had met with no opposition or seen anything to arouse suspicions. The column arrived at the wells at7.30 a.m., and formed up prior to watering the tired animals.
Now it is necessary to make some mention of the squadron garrisoning Zandfontein. Pickets had been posted the previous evening in the usual manner, and nothing occurred to cause any alarm. It was known that reinforcements were on their way from Ramans Drift and that the situation was, no doubt, in hand. The first event of a suspicious nature was the observance soon after dawn of dust rising from the north-east by Lieut. Cowely. On the matter being reported to Capt. Welby a patrol was sent out to reconnoitre and ascertain the nature of the movements indicated. This patrol was still absent when Col. Grants Force arrived at the wells, and this fact was made known to him by Capt. Welby. It was at this moment found that communication with Ramans Drift was interrupted and the matter was very serious. No sooner had Col. Grant assumed command than desultory rifle fire was heard to the north east, and a few minutes later the patrol under Sergt. Spottiswood was seen retiring before superior numbers of the enemy, whose mounted troops now emerged on the plain in large numbers, both from the direction of Homs Drift and Warmbad. It was thought the enemy were merely attempting some harassing tactics, and troops under Lieut. Gwatkin and Clements were sent to the assistance of Spottiswood. Colonel Grant and his Adjutant, Lieut. Wakefield, proceeded to the summit of a kopje, and on arrival there it was found that the attack from the north-east was more serious than was at first thought. Enemy mounted troops came pouring out from the ridge on the Homs Drift Road. The troops under Lieuts. Cowley, Owen and Grahame were now ordered into position around the base of the main kopje, the latter on the northern face and the two former on the eastern side. The fire from these units and of the troops under Lieuts. Clements and Gwatkin soon had the effect of checking the enemy's initial intention of rushing the position from that side. After the full strength of the enemy to the north east had revealed itself the troops under Clements and Gwatkin were withdrawn to man the northern face of the kopje. About the same time the troop under Capt. Hale was recalled from the Ramans Drift Road in order to reduce their defensive perimeter. This troop, under Lieut. Scott, finally took up a position among some sangars at the extremity of the spur that jutted out from the main kopje to the south west. The remaining troop, commanded by Lieut. Austin, occupied the rest of the ridge overlooking the wells, and between Lieut. Scott's troop and the kopje.
Events now occurred in such quick rotation that it is difficult to describe them in their proper sequence. While the enemy were being engaged in the north east the unexpected appearance of a body of troops advancing on the wells from the direction of Ramans Drift riveted the attention of all on the south western face of the kopje. Seeing that the column under Col. Grant had only just traversed it, it was thought that surely this could not be a hostile force. However, a diversion from the north-west removed all doubts as to the character of the movement in the south-west. Lieut. Northway, with a patrol of half a dozen men, was now observed retiring slowly before an extended line of enemy skirmishers, who had entered the plain from the main Warmbad Road. Line after line of mounted troops advancing in rear of the skirmishing line could be plainly seen driving Northway in. The latter made good his retirement, frequently checking the too bold advance of the enemy riflemen. Northway finally dismounted his men in some broken ground about five hundred yards from the western foot of the main kopje, and then sent his horses to join the remainder of his squadrons horses, which were still secured to the picket lines in the rear of the main well. About this time a patrol of the 2nd Squadron under Sergt. Major Barrett reappeared from the south-west, retiring in extended order. He safely made his way into the main position.
No mention has yet been made of the section of the Transvaal Horse Artillery. On the appearance of the strange force on the Ramans Drift Road the guns were unlimbered between the walled enclosure and the main well, and between the latter and the kopje. The mule teams were grouped against the north east wall of the enclosure. Up to now no more than half an hour had elapsed since the arrival of Col. Grant's small column at the wells, and the time was about 8 o'clock. The times must be taken as merely approximately, as much as half an hour one way or the other. Before proceeding to describe the main engagement, which may be said to have commenced at 8 a.m. by the discharge of the first two rounds of our artillery, it is perhaps necessary to review the tactical position as it stood. The whole of the force at the wells was now disposed around the Zandfontein Kopje in such a manner as to deny the enemy access to the valuable water that lay at its foot. This disposition may give cause for the remark as to why no offensive movement was attempted. In South African warfare water has played a very important part, and such was the case here. Against the first body of the enemy that appeared to the north east an offensive movement was commenced, and would have continued except for the appearance of the enemy on the exposed flank and in rear of the wells. The position was being attacked simultaneously from four widely different points by hostile troops, any one of which was vastly superior in numbers to the detachments at the wells. The withdrawal from the water was impossible when it is considered that the nearest water was 20 miles away. An equitable adjustment of the tactical situation could only have been brought bout two hours earlier by getting astride the main Warmbad Road and delaying the enemy in the defile to the north west, thus ensuring the safe retirement of the detachment guarding the wells. At 8 o'clock it might have been possible by leaving the water, abandoning the guns, transport and ambulance, and for the two hundred men to make a running fight of it to the west in the faint hope of evading destruction. At 8 a.m., as matters now stood, there was no doubt whatever that the situation of the force at the wells was quite hopeless tactically, and no amount of readjustment of the meagre numbers available could have brought about an improvement. After this digression the events that commenced at 8 a.m. may now be related. The rapidly advancing force to the south-west was still some four thousand yards distant when it was decided that it must be the enemy, and the order was given for the artillery to open fire. The gunners were not long in complying, and the simultaneous discharge of the two quickfirers echoed again and again among the surrounding hills, followed a few moments later by the burst of shrapnel. After a few shots the range was obtained, and the enemy at once opened well out and soon gained the shelter afforded by the lower range of hills to the south of Zandfontein. A new event now changed the whole complexion of affairs. A faint discharge of a gun was heard in the distance, and a shrapnel exploded over a building in rear of our guns. The gun teams were in the line of burst and a coloured driver and a mule were seen to fall. The animals were hastily transferred to the other end of the enclosure, and our guns were swung smartly round to meet this unexpected attack. Quite a stream of shells were now commencing to fall in and around the enclosure, close to which our guns had come into action, from which it could be inferred that at least a four gun battery was being utilised by the enemy. This battery came into action at a range of about four thousand yards, and occupied what is known as a semi covered position among the hills to the north-east. Our guns soon opened out on their new target, and, though outnumbered, the accuracy of their fire brought about a temporary cessation of the hostile fire. The enemy now commenced to find the range, and their shells began to drop with precision around our guns. While this artillery duel was in progress events in other portions of the position deserve attention. Immediately the enemy rifleman commenced to develop their initial attack from the north-east, the Machine Gun section under Lieut. Butler was ordered into position on a projecting knoll to the south east of the main kopje. The one gun under Sergt. Pizzey came into action almost at once against bodies of hostile riflemen who endeavoured to cross an open space about one thousand yards distant, in order to establish themselves amongst some rocky outcrops, which provided an easy approach for an attack on the main kopje. The fire from this gun together with the fire of the troops on that side of the position soon brought this movement to a standstill, and the majority of the enemy riflemen returned from whence they had emerged. In the meanwhile the remaining gun under Lieut. Butler himself was posted in a sangar, from where the plain to the west and the Ramans Drift Road could be commanded. The hostile artillery had now opened fire, and it was thought advisable to keep the machine gun pack animals and horses on the southern slope of the kopje, where they would be immune from shell fire from the north east. The majority of these animals were held by native horse holders, and stood in a compact group, when, without warning, an enemy machine gun from a position about 800 yards away, opened up on what must have been a splendid target. The natives abandoned the animals, and with a headlong rush sought refuge on the western slope of the kopje, where they remained under cover for the rest of the day. The horses then scattered in all directions, and soon fell victims to the murderous fire. Some succeeded in gaining the plain, where they started grazing between the opposing firing lines undisturbed by the fearful medley of sounds produced by the artillery, machine gun fire, and rifle fire. The hostile machine gun to the east, which was well concealed, now directed a searching fire over the south-eastern slopes of the kopje and the summit. It was one of these bursts that resulted in Lieut. Owen being dangerously wounded. It was subsequently found that this officer had permanently lost the sight of both eyes. The machine gun under Sergt. Pizzey endeavoured to cope with the hostile fire but with little success. Concealment was impossible, and Pizzey's gun was subjected to burst after burst of effective fire, with such effect that the gun was struck by a shower of bullets. the Continuous hostile machine gun fire from the east seemed to indicate that the enemy had many guns in action at this period. Their machine guns were well handled and their fire was one of the greatest factors in bringing about a situation that rapidly became more hopeless as the engagement progressed. The storm of bullets made any movement in the open impossible, and the control by fire of Unit Commanders was rendered very difficult. The cover on the kopje was very crude, comprised of sangars of loosely piled up stones and consequently far from bullet proof.
Mention has already been made of the enemy's appearance on the plain from the north-west and of the driving in of the patrol of Lieut. Northway. On this side the enemy provided another bolt from the blue by bringing into action a second battery at about 8.30 a.m. The situation was critical as it was, but the arrival of a string of shells from this direction made the western and north-western face of the position a death-trap, not only for our two guns but also for the three hundred horses and mules that were collected at the foot of the kopje on this side. On the sandy flat at the foot of the kopje there was not a vestige of cover except that provided by the low wall of the enclosure, and a single small building which could not give security to more than a dozen men. Up to the present the animals had been sheltered from the hostile battery to the north-east by the northern slope of the Zandfontein kopje, but now the position of the horses and horse holders was indeed precarious. However, their destruction was deferred for the moment, as the enemy devoted all their attention to silencing our two guns. Immediately fire was opened from the north-west the one gun under Battery Sergt. Harris was turned on to the new target: the two guns were now almost tail to tail, firing at right angles to each other, and furnished with the stupendous task of engaging a battery each- themselves in a position that was perfectly open to gun fire. The range to this second hostile battery was somewhere about 3000 yards, and the enemy guns were clearly visible, with the result that the fire of our gun made things so uncomfortable that they withdrew behind the ridge in order to resort to the indirect and more orthodox method of applying their fire. For some considerable time the shooting of the enemy battery was indifferent, but gradually their fire became more accurate and completely enveloped our gun position in a shower of exploding percussion shrapnel. Our guns were exposed to a most deadly enfilade fire, against which the steel shields were of little value. The first casualties among the gunners occurred about this time, and the medical staff were now requisitioned. Headed by Captains Holcroft and Dalton, the S.A.M.C. doubled across the shrapnel swept area and succeeded in getting the wounded under cover of the wall of the enclosure, where first aid was promptly applied. The gun teams again came under fire, and under the direction of Lieut. Adler they were got away to the remainder at the foot of the kopje, where they were grouped, but not before several drivers and animals were hit. Attention must now be withdrawn from the guns in order to describe the events to the south west or Ramans Drift side of the position. The initial advance had been checked by our fire, but only temporarily, for gaining the shelter of the hills to the south parties of the enemy presently emerged from round the base in skirmishing order at a distance of about 1500 yards. Numerous trees and bushes dotted the plain on this side, and they were able to approach to within 300 yards of their objective. Collective fire was at once opened on these skirmishers by the troops under Lieut. Scott and Austin with some effect, as after the first line had been reinforced by several lines of riflemen their progress was slow. The machine gun under Lieut. Butler was instrumental in checking their advance to a great degree, though their work was difficult. Between 10 a.m. and 10.30 a party of the enemy suddenly appeared over a neck in the hills to the south, and with their rifles slung over their shoulders commenced to descend a rough path leading to a watercourse that ran at the foot of the hills. The range was only 1200 yards and the target a splendid one for collective rifle fire. The opportunity was soon taken advantage of, with the result that the Germans suffered many casualties. Some of them gained the shelter of the watercourse, whilst the rest hastily disappeared behind a knoll. Our machine gun and rifle fire at these longer ranges brought the hostile rifle fire attack to a complete standstill for a period of three hours, and the forward movement was only recommenced about noon under machine gun and artillery covering fire. Meanwhile the artillery duel continued without cessation. The enemy had by now gauged the position of our guns and directed such a deluge of fire on our two guns that one wondered that they remained in action as long as they did. At 10.30 a.m. the enemy scored a direct hit on the gun under Sergt. Major Harris, who was killed on the spot and the remainder of the gun crew were disabled. By this time the crew of the gun were greatly reduced by casualties, yet those who remained continued to work their gun with the greatest vigour. Our other gun, through being temporarily silenced, now opened out again, being worked by two spare files. Only a few rounds of ammunition were left. The guns continued action for another ten or fifteen minutes, and through the gunners sustaining a number of further casualties this unequal contest had to come to an end. The guns were now abandoned, and the few remaining details withdrew to the main kopje, where they continued the defence with their rifles. Before retiring, Lieut. Adler inflicted as much damage on the guns as to render them useless to the enemy. The two guns had been in action for three hours in an open position against four times their number, and were only silenced after the detachment had sustained casualties, which compelled them to abandon their two guns. Apart from the great volume of artillery fire the coming into action of an enemy machine gun on the Ramans Drift Road made the continuation of fire by our guns quite out of the question, and would have resulted in complete annihilation. They abandoned their guns none to soon, as the appearance of the machine gun made the position untenable, and the S.A.M.C. had to seek shelter with their wounded in the enclosure. Once inside they were compelled to remain with the wounded all that day on account of the hostility of the heavy fire on the kopje in the near vicinity. Now that our guns were silenced the hostile battery to the south-east ceased fire, whilst the other directed attention to the lines of animals which were grouped at the base of the kopje. The horse holders were soon compelled to leave their animals and seek shelter on the kopje itself, but this was not accomplished before several men were killed and wounded. About two hours shell fire sufficed for the total destruction of the horses and mules. Thus the defenders were rendered quite immobile by the destruction of their mounts. This wholesale slaughter was certainly the most heartrending incident of the day. The animals were quite indifferent of their fate and instead of breaking away seemed to collect and huddle together. About 11 a.m. the hostile artillery was seen moving across the plain to the south-west, evidently having been detached from the body of the enemy to the north west. Crossing the Ramans Drift Road, two guns quietly unlimbered on the plain to the south. They opened fire, which continued for two hours. By noon the enemy machine guns had established itself among the stony outcrops lining the Ramans Drift Road, and it was difficult to locate. By the cover of their artillery the enemy approached to within 600 yards of our position. Lieut. Butler with his machine gun endeavoured to suppress their fire, but he was silenced by a rain of shrapnel fire from the German guns. Our riflemen were now compelled to resort to snapshooting, and by working in pairs did some admirable shooting, which time and again held up the German advance, although exposed to shell and machine gun fire. About midday distant machine gun fire was heard, but it grew fainter and fainter, showing that the attempt had failed.
It was at noon that Colonel Grant was wounded by machine gun fire from the south, and the command devolved upon Capt. Welby. Late in the afternoon Col. Grant again assumed command. In the early part of the afternoon Lieut. Northway, finding himself in danger of being cut off, endeavoured to gain the main column with three men of his command. They were all killed by machine gun fire and the remainder of his patrol were captured by the enemy. Between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. a distinct lull occurred. The enemy used the time for making new dispositions and having a meal. No such relief for our men. They had passed a sleepless night marching, and were hungry and thirsty. Owing to the sudden commencement of the action they had had no time to fill their water bottles. The heat of the sun on the ironstone rocks was terrific, and the situation was made almost unbearable owing to the absence of shade. At 2 p.m. the enemy again opened with their artillery, and they commenced a systematic search of the kopjes. The shelling was continued unceasingly throughout the afternoon, and although little material damage was caused excellent covering fire was provided for their skirmishers. The result of the artillery fire only accounted for two men being killed through a direct hit, though three thousand shells must have been directed on our position. By 5 p.m. matters became very critical for our troops. By this time the Germans had got to within three hundred yards of our position, and the only possible further progress to be made by them was an assault with the bayonet. This measure they seemed very adverse to undertaking against our troops, they were relying on their artillery and machine gun fire to bring the action to a conclusive end.
All kinds of fire at this period was very intense. About 5.30 p.m. the enemy advanced a section of mountain guns to within 1200 yards of the northern face of the kopje, and in conjunction with the other guns a terrific and concentrated bombardment on the summit of the kopje was commenced. The ten hours engagement thus entered on its last phase. The enemy now employed high explosive shell, and to those on the lower slopes of the kopje the summit appeared like an active volcano. The shells burst in salvoes of four at a time. Rocks of enormous size were flung in all directions, and dozens of boulders were sent rolling down the slopes, placing the defenders at the base of the kopje in every danger of being crushed to death. The effect of the shellfire on the summit of the kopje in a short space of time altered its appearance. Colonel Grant, Capts. Turner-Jones and Geary, and Lieut. Wakefield (and Owen) were wounded. Meanwhile the enemy machine gun and rifle fire was redoubled, and though every effort was made to reply to it the situation was now recognised to be hopeless. Hemmed on all sides, without food and water, with no hope of being relieved, no good purpose would seem to be served by continuing a contest in which the defending side had held on to an untenable position for ten hours against a much superior force in men and guns.
Shortly before 6 p.m. the raising of the white flag brought the action to a close. There was little or no demonstration on the part of the enemy. The last rays of the setting sun showed both sides making one dash for the well at the foot of the kopje, where British and Germans mingled together to quench their terrible thirsts. Every consideration was given the prisoners under the circumstances, an excellent example being set by Colonel Heydenbrecht, the German leader, who congratulated Colonel Grant on his gallant defence.
At 8 o'clock that night the prisoners were marched off into the interior under a strong escort. The rank and file walked, whilst the officers were provided with horses. Captains Holcroft and Dalton, assisted by Lieut. Cowley, remained behind to attend the wounded.
The British casualties amounted to sixty-seven, or twenty-two per cent of the force, sixteen were killed and died of wounds. The Germans published a casualty list of sixty, including fourteen dead, among whom was Major von Ruppart, one of the best known German officers.
The enemy forces that took part in the action amounted to ten guns, four machine guns and 1700 rifles.
The dead were buried the following day, the British being afforded the same honours as the Germans.
The Report by the commanding officer of "A" Force SECRET
19th August 1915
THE SECRETARY FOR DEFENCE
I have the honour to submit the following report on the operations of "A" Force, which was under my command, in the initial stages of the German South-West African Campaign. 1. MOBILIZATION
By August 25th 1914, mobilisation was effected and units concentrated as below
1. At Rosebank Show Ground, Capetown * Headquarters * 4th Permanent Battery (S.A.M.R.)(South African Mounted Riflemen) * T.H.A. Battery (S.A.M.R.) * Ammunition Column * 1st Regiment, South African Mounted Riflemen * 4th Regiment, South African Mounted Riflemen * 5th Regiment, South African Mounted Riflemen * Signal Section (S.A.M.R.) * 10th Infantry (Witwatersrand Rifles) * Section S.A.Engineering Corps * Water Boring Section, S.A. Engineering Corps * Details of S.A. Service Corps * Details of Railway Regiment * Details of Army Post Office Corps * Details of Ordnance 2. At Jacobs, Durban * 2nd Regiment, South African Mounted Riflemen * 3rd Regiment, South African Mounted Riflemen * 2nd Permanent Battery (S.A.M.R.)
Summary of total strength of "A" Force, as mobilised and concentrated. Officers Other ranks Natives Animals Fieldguns Machineguns Capetown 103 1871 406 3600 8 8 Durban 32 592 116 747 4 4 Totals 135 2463 522 4347 12 12 2. EMBARKATION
1. Units as enumerated in 1(b) embarked at DURBAN on 26-8-14 in following ships * S.S. "Commonwealth" as troopship * S.S. "Logician" as animal transport. 2. Units as enumerated in 1(a) embarked at CAPE TOWN, the following ships being allotted for the purpose * S.S. "Galway Castle" * S.S. "Monarch" * S.S. "City of Athens" * S.S. "Colonial"
On 26-8-14 I cancelled the orders which had been given for immediate embarkation, as the Administrative Services were unprepared.
On 27-28/8/14 preparations for embarkation were continued. On 29-8-14 reports were received from Magistrates at SPRINGBOK and PORT NOLLOTH to the effect that the Germans might be expected to cross SENDLINGS DRIFT at any moment and I therefore ordered immediate embarkation of personnel of the whole Force. Embarkation was commenced at 7 p.m. on the S.S. "Galway Castle".
On 30-8-14 the S.S. "Galway Castle" sailed at 9 a.m. with units as shown in 1(a).
Animals and vehicles remaining behind were embarked later on S.S. "Monarch", "City of Athens" and "Colonial" under an officer and a few details of each unit. 3. DISEMBARKATION
On 31-8-14 S.S. "Galway Castle" arrived off PORT NOLLOTH and the bulk of the personnel and stores were disembarked during the day.
Immediately on landing the 10th Infantry (Witwatersrand Rifles) were despatched to hold the Railway Line from PORT NOLLOTH to STEINKOPF.
By 3-9-14 all troopships had arrived and the troops landed, but arrival of animal transports and their disembarkation was not completed until the night 16-17/9/14.
Landing at PORT NOLLOTH had to be effected by means of tugs and lighters, the roughness of the bar frequently delaying disembarkation operations for considerable periods. All animals had to be twice slung, i.e., from the ship on to the lighter, and again from the lighter on to the jetty. It was found that the animals had suffered considerably from the effects of the voyage, a large percentage being lame from kicks and abrasions. 4. MOVEMENT TO STEINKOPF
On 4-9-14 the movement to STEINKOPF was begun, 1 Squadron 1st Regiment, S.A.M.R., and 1 Squadron, 4th Regiment, S.A.M.R. being despatched at intervals by route march to STEINKOPF, a three days march.
Temporary Supply Depots were established on the Rail at OOGRABIES (15 mile Station) and at ANENOUS (48 mile Station) and a Permanent Supply Depot at STEINKOPF. By 9-9-14, the 1st,4th and 5th Regiments, S.A.M.R., marching at intervals from PORT NOLLOTH had reached STEINKOPF. On 10-9-14 I established my Headquarters at STEINKOPF and the remainder of the Force was being moved up to the place, marching by units at intervals for watering purposes. The guns and wagons of the 4th Permanent Battery (S.A.M.R.) and T.H.A. Battery were railed to STEINKOPF.
The 2nd Permanent Battery (S.A.M.R.) was ordered back to PORT NOLLOTH and was thence detached from "A" Force. 5. MOVEMENT TO RAMANS, HOUMS, and GUDOUS DRIFTS and SANDFONTEIN
On 11-9-14 I despatched a patrol of 1 Officer, 25 other ranks, 1st S.A.M.R. to GUDOUS DRIFT, on the Orange River, and a non commissioned officers patrol, 5th S.A.M.R., to RAMANS DRIFT with instructions not to cross the ORANGE RIVER and to report the movements of any German troops.
On 12-9-14, on authority being received from the Union Government to cross the ORANGE RIVER into German Territory I despatched the 4th and 5th Regiments S.A.M.R., under the command of Colonels Dawson and Berrange, to RAMANS and HOUMS DRIFTS respectively, with object of gaining a footing on the high round North of these Drifts.
On 14-9-14 the 4th S.A.M.R. occupied RAMANS, taking four German prisoners, with slight opposition, our casualties being 1 man killed. HOUMS DRIFT was occupied by 5th S.A.M.R. ON NIGHT 14-15/9/14.
On 15-9-14 near HOUMS a patrol of the 5th S.A.M.R. came in contact with an enemy patrol, our casualties being 1 Rifleman killed, and 1 severely wounded. The Germans retired towards SANDFONTEIN.
On 16-9-14 I left for RAMANS, returning to STEINKOPF on 18/9/14. Reconnaissance of SANDFONTEIN having revealed the fact that it was held with a force of 30 to 40 Germans, after discussing the matter with Colonels Dawson and Berrange, I ordered the latter with 200 men of the 4th and 5th Regiments to occupy the position, on account of its water holes and the fact that it lay on the road to WARMBAD, my immediate objective. This was accomplished at daybreak 19-9-14, without opposition. SANDFONTEIN had been recently evacuated, stores destroyed, wells intact, but pumps broken, and recently killed dogs and goats thrown into the wells.
On 21-9-14 I despatched T.H.A. Battery, Signal Section, and 1 Squadron 1st Regiment, to RAMANS.
23-9-14 I marched with Headquarters, 1 Squadron 1st Regiment and Nos. 1 and 3 Sections Ammunition Column for RAMANS DRIFT. On 24-9-14 I sent 1 Squadron 1st Regiment to relieve the Squadron of 4th S.A.M.R. which was occupying SANDFONTEIN.
On 25-9-14 I considered it necessary, on account of the reports I had received, to reinforce the Squadron of 1st Regiment occupying SANDFONTEIN, and accordingly ordered out at 5 p.m. 1 Section T.H.A., Headquarters and 1 Squadron 1st Regiment, and Machine Gun Section 1st Regiment, the whole under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Grant, D.S.O., Commanding 1st Regiment, S.A.M.R.
On 26-9-14 the action at SANDFONTEIN was fought, of which a full report has already been despatched.
I ordered up 2nd and 3rd Regiments, S.A.M.R. from STEINKOPF to RAMANS. These Regiments arrived at RAMANS at 4 p.m. on 27-9-14. 6. OCCUPATION GUDOUS POSITION
On the evening of 27-9-14 on my return from SANDFONTEIN where I had obtained information of a large force Germans, estimated at 1800 men and 12 guns, being in the neighbourhood, I ordered the retirement of the whole force from RAMANS and HOUMS DRIFTS. The retirement commenced at 10 p.m. first halt being at VURDOOD, where the Force remained during the day 28-9-14.
4th Regiment S.A.M.R. retired via GUDOUS DRIFT.
5th Regiment S.A.M.R. retired via HOUMS DRIFT and NAROEPBERG to STEINKOPF, whereon account of the need of resting their horses this Regiment remained until joined by the rest of the Force on 15/10/14.
The retirement was continued from VURDOOD to WOLFTOON during night 28-29/9/14, and I diverted the 4th Regiment to HENRIESFONTEIN to protect the water supply there.
On 30-9-14 I advanced with the Force from WOLFTOON to GUDOUS DRIFT and brought up the 4th Regiment from HENRIESFONTEIN to the same place.
I took up a defensive position at GUDOUS.
The Force was now on half rations and great difficulty was experienced in the Supply and Transport Services on account of the very heavy condition of the road between STEINKOPF and GUDOUS.
1-10-14 to 13-10-14. The Force remained in the GUDOUS position. The 4th Permanent Battery (S.A.M.R.) was brought up from STEINKOPF and Section T.H.A. returned to STEINKOPF. Daily patrols were sent out on both sides of the ORANGE RIVER which on several occasions came in contact with enemy patrols, in the course of which several of the enemy were taken prisoners. 7. MOVEMENT GUDOUS-STEINKOPF
On 14-10-14 on instructions from the Union Government the Force moved to Steinkopf, which was reached on night 15-16/10/14.
From 17-10-14 to 22-10-14 the Force remained at STEINKOPF daily patrols being sent out. 8. MOVEMENT STEINKOPF - BIRDFIELD
23-10-14 The Force - less 10th Infantry (Witwatersrand Rifles), and a few Details S.A.M.R., who were left there for patrolling duty - left STEINKOPF at 12 noon en route BIRDFIELD via VAN RHYNSDORP. BIRDFIELD was reached at 8.30 a.m. on 1-11-14, a march of 233.5 miles, which was accomplished in 9 days.
I have the honour to be
Your obedient servant
BRIGADIER GENERAL Appendix "A"
19th August 1915
THE SECRETARY FOR DEFENCE
In connection with the attached despatch I beg to bring to the notice of the Honourable the Minister for Defence the names of the under-mentioned Officers, Warrant Officers, Non-commissioned officers and men. STAFF
Captain, temporary Lt-Col. N.H.M. Burne, Staff Officer Permanent Force A Staff Officer of high ability and sound judgment. He rendered me most valuable assistance. I recommend him for special advancement. Lt-Col G.H. Knapp, during the earlier stages of the campaign held the appointment of Senior Medical Officer being relieved later by Major F.Welsh. Both these officers performed their responsible duties with zeal and ability. Major Sir Abe Bailey,K.C.M.G.,D.A.Q.M.G. The 6th Mounted Brigade had reason to be entirely satisfied with its supply and transport services. These services reflected the greatest credit on Major Sir Abe Bailey and his assistants whose resource and foresight overcome all difficulties. Lieut. temporary Major M.Pike, assisted by Lieut. J.Scrutton, formed and trained a Signal Troop which rendered good service. Captain B.C.Judd, 1st Regt. S.A.M.R. and Lieut, temporary Captain W.M. Stewart, 3rd Regt. S.A.M.R., who at different periods held the appointment of Staff Captain, carried out their duties thoroughly well. They are capable officers and tireless workers. Captain E.A.Nobbs, 1st Rhodesian Regt. I consider an excellent Intelligence Officer. His intimate knowledge of the German language proved of great assistance. Captain Clark-Kennedy, S.A.P. and Lieut. P.R.Roseby, 3rd S.A.M.R. Aides-de-Camp are energetic and capable officers.
Lt.Colonel R.C.Grant, Commanding 1st Regt. S.A.M.R. A thoroughly good Commanding Officer, who takes the keenest interest in everything pertaining to the efficiency of his Regiment and the welfare of those serving in it. He is in no way responsible for the regrettable incident at Sandfontein, where his Command put up a fine fight against overwhelming odds. Lt.-Colonel W.J.Clarke, Commanding 2nd Regt. S.A.M.R. An officer of great experience, who during his 37 years of service has rendered valuable services to South Africa, which I have recommended for suitable recognition. Lt.-Colonel F.A.H.Elliott, D.S.O. Commanding 3rd Regt. S.A.M.R. A good Commanding Officer, who has left no stone unturned to ensure his Regiment being in an efficient condition. Lt.-Colonel S.Dawson, commanding 4th Regt. S.A.M.R. A keen and capable Commanding Officer Lt.-Colonel C.Berrange C.M.G., Commanding 5th Regt. S.A.M.R. A good Commanding Officer and a fine leader of men. Lt.-Colonel C.E.Ligertwood, Commanding I.L.H. During the two months the I.L.H. were attached to the Brigade under my command this officer carried out his duties to my satisfaction. Major temporary Lt.-Col. G.Curtis has commanded 1st Regt. S.A.M.R. since 5th November 1914 and he carried out his duties to my entire satisfaction. Captain J.M.Grant carried out the duties of Officer Commanding 1st Regt. S.A.M.R. in an efficient manner from September 27th
Office of the General officer Commanding "A" Force Report of the commanding officer "A" Force on action at Sandfontein
The Secretary for Defence
I have the honour to furnish for the information of the Minister, the following Report on the operation of a portion of my Force at and near SANDFONTEIN on 25th, 26th and 27th September, 1914 Operations at and around SANDFONTEIN 25th, 26th and 27th September, 1914.
Ref. Map General Staff Series - Sheet No. 29 Warmbad
At about 4 p.m. on the 25th September, 1914, the Intelligence Officer "A" (Captain Geary, S.A.M.R.) reported from SANDFONTEIN to the General Staff Officer at Ramans Drift that a body of the enemy, estimated at 150 to 200 were at AURUS on the night of the 24th/25th September, and had been seen on 25th September moving towards UMEIS down dry river bed, which adjoins the Orange River 8 miles East of HOUMS DRIFT.
Another party of the enemy, estimated at 40 strong and regarded as the advanced guard of the first mentioned body, was reported as having slept at UMEIS on the night of the 24th/25th September. This subsequently proved to have been a patrol of 25 men of the 5th Regiment, S.A.M.R. under Lieutenant Wimble. The report further stated that dust had been seen on the 25th of September moving in the direction WARMBAD-NORECHAB, but no estimate was given of what numbers had created this sign of movement. Two Officers (,,,) had been seen driving a cart at a fast pace in the direction of WARMBAD-SANDFONTEIN, and two wagons were seen moving into WARMBAD from SANDFONTEIN.
The movements on the SANDFONTEIN-WARMBAD road as reported were confirmed by an Officers patrol. Forming the opinion that a force was preparing to attack SANDFONTEIN.
I took the following precautions
1. One section T.H.A., M.G. Section and a Squadron 1st Regiment S.A.M.R.; the whole under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Grant, 1st Regiment, S.A.M.R. left RAMANS DRIFT at 5.30 p.m. on the 24th November to reinforce one Squadron S.A.M.R. at Sandfontein. 2. The Intelligence officer was instructed to endeavour to obtain further information with regard to movements North of SANDFONTEIN, particularly in respect to wagons proceeding towards WARMBAD, which it was thought were removing Stores abandoned by enemy during the evacuation of SANDFONTEIN. 3. Regular half hourly telephone calls were arranged between RAMANS DRIFT and SANDFONTEIN.
Shortly after 6 a.m. on the 26th September telephone communication between RAMANSDRIFT and SANDFONTEIN was interrupted. At about 8 a.m. guns in action were heard in the direction of SANDFONTEIN, and I immediately ordered out one squadron of the 4th Regiment, S.A.M.R. from HAMANS DRIFT, and one Squadron of the 5th Regiment, S.A.M.R. from GEIDIS, the mission of both being to reinforce COLONEL GRANT at or near SANDFONTEIN. At about 9 a.m. a wounded Rifleman (White) of the Squadron with Colonel GRANT returned to Camp, reporting that he was one of a party left behind to take on slow moving wagons, that they had taken the wrong road (main RAMANS DRIFT-NORECHAB-WARMBAD road) and had suddenly been confronted by a body of the enemy about 90 strong with a machine gun. This was the first intimation I had of the enemy being in rear of Colonel GRANT, but at noon the gun fire, which had not at any time sounded as if more than two guns were in action, became more and more indistinct, thereby giving me the impression that Colonel GRANT had repelled an attack on SANDFONTEIN. At 5 p.m. I received a Heliograph message from Colonel BERRANGE (BEIDIB) to the effect that a N.C.O.s patrol of his Regiment had reported from a position about 2 miles from SANDFONTEIN that the enemy were shelling our position with 4 guns. I moved out from RAMANS DRIFT with all troops, except a small Guard for Stores which I arranged to have augmented by a portion of a Squadron of the 4th Regiment, S.A.M.R. posted at GUDOUS.
The Force with me consisted of Force Headquarters, the remaining Section of T.H.A. and about 130 Mounted Riflemen.
I reached SANDFONTEIN NEK (5 miles South West of SANDFONTEIN and not shown on the Map) at 1 a.m. on the 27th September, and there found the Squadron of the 4th Regiment, S.A.M.R. which under Captain King had left RAMANS DRIFT on the 26th September. It had been met with strong opposition, but had succeeded in reaching a position, beyond which Captain King rightly decided not to advance. I subsequently learnt that the 5th Regiment, S.A.M.R. under Captain Davidson, which as previously mentioned, was despatched from GEIDIB, had been similarly held up by the enemy on the HOUMS DRIFT-SANDFONTEIN road.
At daybreak I reconnoitred the SANDFONTEIN position, and observed a white flag flying over it and ambulances being driven away in the direction of WARMBAD.
I then sent Major Hamilton, S.A.M.C. and two ambulances to the enemies lines to assist in tending our wounded, after which and in view of the presence of some numbers of the enemy I withdrew the Forces under my immediate command to RAMANS DRIFT.
As I did not arrive at RAMANS DRIFT, until the morning of the 24th September I had no opportunity of personally inspecting the SANDFONTEIN position, which had been reported to me as tenable. From the somewhat distant observation, however, which I was able to make on the morning of the 27th September I should regard it as untenable if a considerable force of artillery was brought against it. I am therefore, of opinion, that the Officer Commanding the Garrison at SANDFONTEIN was quite justified in surrendering when he, after ten hours fighting, found that he was opposed by a Force of 1800 men with 10 guns.
My reason for seizing and holding SANDFONTEIN was that it contained the only water supply on my line of advance to WARMBAD, (to which place the Government were anxious I should move forward, vide your telegram No G.92/29/9199, dated 23rd September) at which I could obtain water for my Force without breaking it up into smaller bodies, then engaged at SANDFONTEIN, moving at long intervals or distance apart.
It may be held that I was not in a position to adequately support the Force occupying SANDFONTEIN in the event of an attack, but I contend that the Force I placed at SANDFONTEIN and the support I could render it from GEIDIB and RAMANS DRIFT was sufficient to repel an attack by any Force which might reasonably at that time be expected to be available for the purpose.
The assembly of so large a Force as that employed by the enemy should have been discovered and reported to me by my Intelligence Scouts. Had such been the case I would have ordered the withdrawal of the Squadron at SANDFONTEIN, which could have been carried out in from 3 to 4 hours.
The enemy has shown that he can, probable by means of the North and South Railway, rapidly concentrate as far South as SANDFONTEIN a force of at least 10 guns and 1800 men.
The force under my command, exclusive of those essential for safe-guarding, as far as possible, my lines of communication, i.e., slow moving Infantry, consisted of two 4 gun Batteries, and approximately 1200 Mounted Riflemen.
I would draw attention to the extremely dangerous position in which my Force would have been placed had the enemy delayed action until I had reached WARMBAD with my whole force, with a long and vulnerable line of communication, the cutting of which would have been effected simultaneously with the delivery of an attack on my Force.
As long as the enemy holds the railway line, particularly that portion SEEHEIM-KALKFONTEIN, he can at any time bring a superior Force to oppose me at any point of his own choosing and at such a distance from his Base as will preclude the necessity of his establishing a line of communication for the forwarding of supplies, munitions, etc.
I append Annexure "B" being a list of casualties at and around SANDFONTEIN on the 26th September, 1914
Signed H.T. Lukin, Brigadier General
General Officer Commanding "A" Force Casualty list of the Union Troops
List of killed, wounded and captured at and about Sandfontein 25th, 26th and 27th September 1914.
Note: ($)- Wounded and captured but allowed to return in Ambulance sent by G.O.C. to enemy's lines.
* Lt. F.B. Adler * Sgt. S.E. Good * Cpl. H.C. van Diggelen * Br. P.M.B. Dunbar * Gnr. R.S. Brophy/ F.W. Brokenshaw/ P.A. Hanckom/ R. Langebrinck/ N.C.S. McMaster/D. McMillan /R.E. Pierce/ H.C. van Diggeln/ J. van Nuys/ J.J. Yates/ B.C. Webster (Shoeing Smith)/F. Williams * Native Cpl. Andries Goosen * Native Driver Joseph Alexander/ Andrew Brown/ Ruben Dube/ Thomas Du Toit/ Linde Gumzana/ !111 John/ John Ncongoza/ !11 Maartens/ Harry Marashe/ Joel Mbalo/ Harry Mitchell/ Freddy Manifeldt/ Philip Ncongola/ William Norris/ John Stableveldt/ Umfuna Zenzeli * Native constable Simon Letchaba
* Native Driver Paul
* Captain P.E. Hale/ E.J. Welby * Lt. W.G. Austin/ W.E. Butler/ A.J. Cowley/ P.C. Clements/ C.F. Graham/ R.S. Gwatkin/ D.G.S. Scott * Squadron. Sgt. Maj. A.H. Barrett/ G. Bolton/ O.H. Court/ H. Reilley * Sgt. Bolze/ Badderley/ Barry/ Curling/ Deans/ Dyer/ England/ Gane/ Nunn/ Pizzy/ Snell/ Saunders/ Spotswood/ F.J. Taylor/ Tyrell/ Verner * Cpl. Bartie/ Bates/ Breach/ Blyther/ Burt/ G. Brien/Cadiz/ Currie/ Coates/W. Clayton/ Corral/ Engelbach/Estment/ Garland/ Gray (Farrier)/ Gabillet/ Gibson (Farrier)/ Harding/ Holland/ J. Harding/ Higginson/ W.E. Jackson/ Jenkins/ J. Kelly/ McGregor/ W.Messina/ McDougall/ C. Norris/ J.G. Nell/ Pratt/ Pomphrey/ P.J. Young * Trumpeter Clapshaw/Elias/ Maker/ W.J. Mckay/ Trenchard * Rifleman T.L. Arnold/ Abbot/ S.H. Bennett/ H.D. Berry/ G.S. Brittnell/ Behm/ Barraball/ A.B. Barraball/ Boyd/ Basson/ Bones/ Blignaut/ Beukes/ Bryington/ J.T. Barrett/ J.P. Barendze/ Bailey/ Clifton/ Cochrane/ Copeling/ Carey/ J.P. Clarke/ Christie/ W.H. Crossman/ Chase/ De Ville/ A.G. De Villiers/ D.J. De Wet/ Develing/ J.P. Erasmus/ J.W. Erskin/ Ecclestone/ C. Farrell/ E. Ferreira/ Gear/ C. Greene/ P.V. Greene/ E.S. Heynes/ Hartzenberg/ Heath/ Hendrickson/ E.W. Hudson/ J.R. Hide/ P. How/ Hansemeyer/ Hood / T. Jennings/ P.J. Jacobs/ L.W. Jones/ R.W. Jones/ Joubert/ J. King/ R.R. Kobus/ F.E. Kirk/ Kenyon/ Kriel/ Kloppers/ C.L. Keal/ Lindsay-Bucknell/ M.H. Lewis/ H.P. Louw/ Lachenicht/ Levy/ A.E. Lambert/ Ledingham/ D.J. Logan/ J. Little/ J. Lewis/ W.H. Lea/ Magson/ Messina/ Maguiness/ A. Mitchell/ T.K.H. Muller/ O.J. Maritz/ J. Mundell/ Mullens/ F.J. Miller/ E. Marsh/ Nelson/ O. Nash/ D. Odea/ J. Osullivan/ B.P. Oosthuizen/ L.B. Poole/ Pankhurst/ E.V. Pinnock/ C.R. Powell/ M.J. Parkin/ Petrowski/ J.B.D. Robertson/ J.W. Ruddle/ Roets/ Scotten/ J.R. Stagman/ H.S. Schroeder/ R. Sharp/ Stralker/ Swart/ Smedly/ Smeeton/ N. Smith/ R.G. Thompson/ Turnley/ D.C. Uys/ J.D. Venter/ M.C. Van Heerden/ Van Heerden