N12 Battlefields | 325km

Magersfontein Battlefield.


This route is situated on or just off the N12. Visitors on a South African holiday should explore the battlefields where British and Boer forces clashed during the advance on Kimberley of Lord Metheun's Relief Column from Orange River Station. The route incorporates battlefields, cemeteries, war memorials and museums of the South African War in the Northern Cape, and also comprises wine farms and cellars, game farms and a variety of accommodation options, from cottages and bed-and-breakfasts to self-catering establishments.


Within days of the outbreak of the South African War, Boer forces laid siege to the British garrisons at Kimberley and Mafeking on the Cape border. On 14 October 1899, the Boer forces surrounded Kimberley, cutting off all outside supply lines. Contrary to expectations, the Boers did not attack, preferring the option of starving the garrison into surrender. They resorted to shelling the town, and fired 8 500 artillery rounds at Kimberley during the siege. Vist The Honoured Dead Memorial on your South African holiday, which commemorates those who lost their lives during the 124-day siege. Commissioned by Cecil John Rhodes and designed by Sir Herbert Baker, the memorial was built from sandstone quarried near the Matobos in Zimbabwe. Dominating the base is 'Long Cecil', the field gun built in the De Beers workshops during the siege. Weighing 1 625 kg, the 104,14-mm calibre Long Cecil had a range of 7 300 m and inflicted considerable damage on the Boer positions.


...was the scene of the largest and bloodiest single battle of the South African War, and culminated in the surrender of General Piet Cronje - a major blow to the morale of the Boer forces. When the Cavalry Division of General John French outflanked Cronje's positions at Magersfontein, the Boers abandoned their defences and made for Bloemfontein. But at Paardeberg, French cut off their retreat and the Boers dug in along the Modder River. On 18 February, Lord Kitchener made a concerted attack on the Boer laager, but after suffering heavy casualties the attack was called off. The Boers were reinforced when General Christiaan de Wet arrived with 300 men and seized what is today known as Kitchener's Kop, opening up a possible escape route for Cronje's men. Fearing that the lives of the Boer women and children would be endangered, Cronje remained entrenched. When Lord Roberts arrived and took over command from Kitchener, he was appalled by the British losses, cancelled all further attacks on Cronje's positions and instead resorted to shelling the Boers. De Wet withdrew when the British attacked Kitchener's Kop. With the only possible escape route closed, Cronje was forced to surrender on 27 February 1900. The British lost 258 men, 1 211 injured and 68 captured, while the Boer losses were 100 dead, 250 wounded and 4 069 taken prisoner.


Petrusburg, established in 1891 as a church centre and to serve as a commercial centre for this sheep farming district, was named after Petrus Albertus Venter, who left money in his will for the purchase of the farm Diepfontein where the town was laid out. Guest on a South African holiday can visit the nearby Grove battlefield, where General Christiaan de Wet withdrew after a brief battle on 7 March 1900, opening the way for the British forces under Lord Roberts to continue their advance on Bloemfontein.


...developed around a diamond-digging camp which sprung up after the discovery of a diamond by a transport rider in June 1870. A diamond rush followed and the town was officially proclaimed in 1892. The source of the diamonds, a kimberlite pipe, is mined by De Beers. The town came under siege during the South African War, but it is better known for its role as an internment camp for Nazi sympathisers during World War II. The site of the camp, at the entrance to the town, now serves as an open-air museum.


The Kimberley Relief Column began its advance from Orange River Station, southeast of Hopetown, on 21 November 1899, but at Witput their way was blocked by a 2 000-strong Boer force under General Marthinus Prinsloo. On 22 November, the British force camped at Thomas's Farm, where an artillery battle was fought until dark. General Metheun planned to launch a dawn attack on the Boers, and at 02:00 the British force left Verner's Hill. Inaccurate intelligence and a poorly drawn map caused considerable confusion in the deployment of the British troops during the battle, but they nevertheless managed to capture the Belmont Hills, forcing the Boers to abandon their positions. The capture of the deserted hills came at a high cost to the British, who lost 75 men in the battle, and 220 injured. By comparison, the Boer losses were minimal - at least 15 dead, 30 wounded and 36 captured.


After retreating from Belmont, the Boer forces, under General Prinsloo, joined up with General Koos de la Rey's men and occupied the hills between Graspan and Enslin sidings. On 24 November 1899 there was a brief skirmish, but General Metheun launched his main assault early on the following morning when the artillery opened fire. Metheun's battle plan was based on intelligence reports that the hills were weakly held, but when the Naval Brigade and the infantry advanced on the hills they came under heavy fire. He then ordered the Naval Brigade and the infantry to attack the eastern koppies, which they seized only to find out that the Boers had long since withdrawn. The British cavalry, sent out to cut off a Boer retreat, was ambushed by a Boer rearguard and retired to Enslin. The engagement left 18 British soldiers killed and 143 injured, while the Boers suffered at least 19 dead, 41 wounded and 43 men taken prisoner.


After abandoning their positions on the Modder River on 28 November 1899, the Boer forces occupied Spytfontein and then set up a new defence line around the Magersfontein Hills. The British artillery pounded the Boer positions on 10 December 1899 to little effect, and during the night the Boers took up positions in the 16-km-long network of trenches they had dug on the plains. At first light, they opened fire on the advancing Highland Brigade, inflicting heavy casualties on the Highlanders and pinning them down in the open. A staggering total of 948 British soldiers were killed, wounded or taken prisoner, and among the dead was Major-General Andrew Wauchope, the brigade commander. Boer losses totalled about 87 killed, 168 wounded and 21 taken prisoner. Among the numerous monuments in the area are the Highland Regiment Memorial, dedicated to the 211 officers and men who were killed in the battle, or died of wounds, and the Black Watch Memorial.

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