Sunday, 8 July 2012

Graut Kop, 1900

A gallant action was fought by General Brassick's 6th Division today at Graut Kop, by the meeting of the Gebeer and Harrison rivers. The Irish (South Irish Regiment, Ulster Light Infantry, Connaught Fusiliers), Royal (King's Own Royal Borderers, Royal Sherwood Rangers, Royal Scots Fusiliers) and Light (New Zealand Volunteers, Queen's Northern Lancers, Canadian Mounted Rifles) Brigades advanced in column from the east, the Irish Brigade moving alone on the southern bank of the Harrison River. The Light Brigade deployed before the marsh, and the Royals took the northern flank.
Starting set up. Graut Kop is the triangular hill.

In order to secure a good artillery position for further assaults on Boer positions closer to Pretoria, General White's orders were to secure Graut Kop, the steep central hill, by the end of the day. Despite the keenness of General Brassick's staff however, the advance began late, with the King's Own leading the Royal Brigade in its advance.

The Irish Brigade moved en masse on the other flank, the Connaught Fusiliers moving their flank companies into skirmish order as they approached the Gebeer bridge.
The British advance.

The change of formation had barely been completed when fire from Plat Kop, the flat hill that split the rivers, took an almighty toll on that brave regiment, killing a third of their number in one terrible ambush. Men of the South Irish were also caught, but the greatest storm fell upon the Fusiliers leading the Irish Brigade's advance.

Having begun the Royals' advance, the King's Own were now slowed by terrible circumstance. Determined to assault Graut Kop without coming too near the northern hills, they found Harrison River near impassable, having great difficulty in crossing short of the bridge that stood in those hills' shadows.

Only two hundred and fifty-odd effectives remained of the Connaught Fusiliers, and the ravaged remnants of the regiment began to pull back. They were several hundred yards behind the front lines when General Brassick managed to rally them into some sort of order.

Finally making it across Harrison River, the front elements of the King's Own began storming Plat Kop, enfilading the murderers of the Connaught Fusiliers. Unfortunately, their supporting line was itself enfiladed by a Boer position set up to protect the Harrison River bridge, which they had so wisely avoided.
The King's Own take the rear of Plat Kop.

Crossing the Gebeer while the King's Own distracted Plat Kop's defenders, the front companies of the Ulster Light Infantry made a gallant assault on the hill, but were shot down in droves on the slopes and the few dozen survivors fell back across the river. The King's Own charged the Boers from the rear, but were themselves thrown back by these martial paragons of Afrikaner virtue. The support line arrived for a second assault, but yet another ambush from the banana-shaped Pinang Hill destroyed it with mercilessly accurate enfilading fire.

Fortunately for British pride, the infantry's sacrifices had given the Queen's Northern Lancers time to navigate the marshes, and they fell upon the Boers with great shouts and flashing steel, sending the greyclad farmers fleeing in terror. Seeing the objective taken, the QNL's second line instead charged Pinang Hill, seeking revenge for the winnowing of the King's Own. Their gallant charge took the hill, but over a hundred troopers fell in the charge. As this war progresses it becomes more and more apparent that the antiquated cavalry tactics of some of our Crimea-blooded generals are inadequate for the modern age of rifles. In a perfect example, the volunteers of the Canadian Mounted Rifles cleared Bridge Kop by the banks of the Harrison of the Boers who had enfiladed the King's Own advance across the river for fewer than fifty casualties.

The lancers regrouped on the now-pacified Plat Kop, and moved to assault the remainder of Pinang's defenders. By luck or Brassick's inept design however, the cavalry were interrupted in their charge by fire from the Royal Artillery. While few men were killed, the horses were so spooked by the close fall of shells that the lancers were of no use for the rest of the battle.

For an hour or so around 3pm, the battle stalled into a series of long-range sniping matches. The Royal Sherwood Rangers, advancing in open order, had been ambushed by artillery which flensed their leading companies from Craggy Hill. The orders went back, and soon the Royal Artillery had opened on the suspected source of fire, pouring down lyddite in an attempt to clear the way. All down the line, the British held their ground, restoring their calm and confidence before another push for Graut Kop.

The Irish began the afternoon's great effort, the South Irish and Ulsters moving on the Gebeer. Unfortunately, patient and cunning Pom-Pom gunners were waiting on deVoer's hill and the South Irish were driven back under fire from them and the riflemen on the hill south of Mikel's Kraal, shattered and dying and broken beyond repair.

The Ulsters at least made it across the river, but were caught in the kraal's fields and decimated over the next hour or so as their advance slowed to a crawl. By the end of the battle, the South Irish and the Ulsters had both been forced to retire in the face of the enemy with extremely heavy losses.

There was better news on the northern flank however, as the Royal Sherwoods & Canadians took Craggy Hill and the Boer artillery positions on it after several abortive moves forward. At the same time, the New Zealand volunteers crossed the Harrison and stormed towards the kraal in column, only to be ambushed twice, once from Graut Kop and once from Bak Hill, costing them three of their four hundreds before they even saw the enemy.

The Royal Scots Fusiliers during all this advanced as an epitome of the British infantryman. They crossed the Harrison, consolidated Bridge Kop and then stormed the entrenched Boer positions on the north of Bak Hill despite the defenders' superior numbers. Alas, their time held in reserve by Brigadier Mordaunt cost the battle dearly. Despite all the sacrifices and all the advances by the British, the Boers still held Bak Hill and Mikel's Hill by fall of night.

With so many Boers still in the close vicinity, the risk of bringing up the guns was far too high, and so reluctantly, and with great passing of the buck, Brassick gravely put his name to a telegram informing General White of his division's failure in the day's operations.

Mark Abelard, esq.
The Eastern Times 
The end of play. Boers to the left, and hidden at the back.

Butcher's Bill
British: 800 dead, 1,400 wounded. 3 battalions routed.
Boers: 500 dead, 700 wounded, 4 guns lost. 400 dispersed into the countryside.

This was a real see-saw of a battle. The early British successes made it seem like things would be over by 2pm, but by nightfall at 7pm, things had gone too slowly for victory. The problem, of course, was shock. Initiatives spent moving men forward were lost when it came to keeping them there, and eventually, great things fell apart (not withstanding the amazing sprint by the Royal Scots that took them from the reserve to the Boer board edge in only a couple of turns.

The Brits took 48% casualties in this battle, but Barbarossa and I both really enjoyed it. Despite being in charge of Brassick's division, he was pleased to see that both sides could achieve tactical victory.

Man-of-the-match: Royal Scots Fusiliers, for storming Bak Hill in such magnificent style.
Anti-man-of-the-match: Royal Artillery, by special request.

It seems that no-one has yet quite grasped using the British artillery, especially with only one Staff card in the deck!


  1. What a great report! It reads as it came with last century's Transvaal Times!

    I can well sympathise with the see-saw nature of the action - especially with well sited pom-poms and Boer defences. Coordinating the British attacks is very difficult once cohesion starts to be eroded with "shock" and losses mounting.

    I was very interested in the role of the Queens Northern Lancers - at times highly effective, at other times a distraction or blown. Very, very typical of fixed actions in the Boer War!

    1. Thanks!

      This is the first time that I've really got the hang of defence in depth, and I really enjoyed building cliffs to break the British waves.

      The QNL were quite unlucky in that their charge rolled short due to shock, and they were then caught in a Royal Artillery blast zone, tripling their shock and making them a complete liability - it just wasn't worth the initiative to rally them.

      The crazy thing was that at the start of the battle, the turns were quite long, and then the Outspan card kept shuffling higher and higher up the deck as the day went on - particularly around 3pm, where there were three consecutive turns of negligible value. Except to me as the time-dependent defender!