Monday 4 February 2013

The Battle of Bergendal

On Sunday Posties Rejects gathered for another 10mm Boer War game organised by one of our group, John. We were re-fighting the Battle of Bergendal which took place on the 21-27 August 1900 and was the last pitched battle of the Anglo-Boer War. It was a very interesting game and as the C-in-C of the British forces the pressure was on to achieve a 'win' following my recent run of bad dice and bad luck.

The Historical Battle of Bergendal
Five thousand Boers under the command of General Louis Botha faced twenty thousand British Empire forces led by General Sir Redvers Buller in this battle which took place on the farm Bergendal near the town of Belfast. Buller advanced along the main railroad line, with the aim to occupy the temporary South African Republic (ZAR) government seat of Machadodorp. The Boer ZARPs (Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek Politie or South African Republic Police) held a strong defencive position along a ridge-line and amongst a collection of huge boulders and hastily thrown up breastworks which straddled the railway line. 

On 26 August, Buller marched his troops from Geluk to the farm Vogelstruispoort. His initial intention was to advance on the farm Waaikraal. However information was received that the extreme left of Botha's line was positioned on Bergendal farm and after receiving the information, Buller changed direction and advanced directly north across Bergendal. In his report to Lord Roberts after the battle Buller wrote:
"During the day, I became convinced that Bergendal Farm, a very strong position at the junction of the ridge we were on, that which runs from west to east from Belfast to Dalmanutha, was the key of the Boer position, and that if we could gain that ridge we would pierce the centre of the enemy's defence and probably get in rear of the defence on both his flanks with but little difficulty. I therefore concentrated the whole force at Vogelstruispoort with a view of attacking Bergendal the following day..." (Source)
Buller's plan was a success and his forces were able to breach the defencive line and take the position with relatively light casualties. British troops were marching into Machadodorp within a matter of days and on 1 September, Lord Roberts proclaimed the entire South African Republic a British territory.This did not end the war however as although the British had won the battle Botha's main force had managed to stay intact. The Boer commandos subsequently dispersed and the next phase of the war, guerrilla warfare, started and would drag the war out for the best part of a further two years. 

2nd Battalion The Rifle Brigade at Bergendal

The Rejects recreation of the Battle
Our forces were slightly beefed up for our recreation but the tactical situation was set up the same. Three Brigades of Infantry and one of Artillery entered the table on the far right of the Boer Line with a fourth mounted Brigade already on the table providing an advance guard towards the centre of the table. The Boers held a line joining three hills (Suikerboskop, Witrandskop and Elandskop) with prepared defences in between.

Before the game started the British players discussed the tactical situation and the options for attack. It was quickly agreed that a localised attack on the Boer left flank (our right and near our deployment area) was preferable despite the unfavourable terrain. One Brigade of infantry would attempt to pass behind the Boer line but this meant traversing heavy brush at reduced movement (4" instead of a regular move of 10"). It was decided that the growing threat of being outflanked would draw off defenders and weaken the line in the area of the British main thrust. The two main infantry Brigades would then loop round to hit the defended pass across the railway line with close artillery support. The Fourth mounted infantry Brigade would act as a flank guard to stop the Boers from getting behind our own lines.

It is said that no plan survives contact with the enemy but on this occasion that was not the case. The British Brigade commanders initial orders remained in place throughout the battle and the plan needed very little alteration during play.

British Natal Field Force
  • Lee - General Redvers Buller - C-in-C Natal Field Force - 18th Brigade (10th Hussars, Royal Iniskilling Fusiliers, Gordon Highlanders, Black Watch)
  • Richard - o/c 3rd Mounted Brigade, Natal Field Force (South African Light Horse, Imperial Light Horse, 20th Imperial Yoemanry)
  • Stuart - o/c 5th Brigade, Natal Field Force (Kings Royal Rifle Corps, Durham Light Infantry, South Lancashire Regiment, Royal Northumberland Regiment)
  • Mark - o/c 7th Brigade, Natal Field Force (Kings Liverpool Regiment, Manchester regiment, Devonshire Regiment, Rifle Brigade)
  • Surjit - o/c Royal Artillery (Inc Maxim and Pop-Poms)
Men of the Krugersdorp Commando
Boer Forces
  • Fran - Louis Botha - C-in-C (Standarton, Johannesburg Commando's, Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek Politie)
  • David - o/c (Ermelo Commandos, Krugersdorp Commandos and Carolina Commandos)
  • Ray - o/cBoksburg, Middelburg and Heidelburg commandos plus Long-Tom's)

The Natal Field Force enters the right flank
The heavily defended position of the Boers. Flanked by high ground and fronted with breastworks
The full table (6' x 10') but most of the fighting took place on the right flank
The British advance in the face of Boer artillery which cost many casualties and a few moral checks. 
The Boers better marksmanship also took its toll on the British 
Thankfully our table is robust! One of the biggest problems the British faced was disentangling our infantry without blocking Line-of-sight for the Artillery. 
The Boer  officers don't look very happy...
British fire cleared the heights of Boer marksmen and the artillery started to destroy the prepared earthworks of the defenders at the farm. 
The dice records damage to the earthworks, each section would take three hits to be destroyed
The British infantry close in and prepare to bayonet charge the defenders 
The Boer defenders are swept from their earthworks and the British occupy them and consolidate their line.
The Boers fall back along the line of the Railway and prepare for the inevitable final assault
The British infantry swing round and bayonet charge the Boers in their new position... This is enough for the Boer commanders and they concede defeat. 
The Angry Lurker makes his displeasure known!
Don't be fooled by his gruff demeanour, he's sweet and cuddly in real life. 

Victory was sweet, especially after the run of bad dice and bad generalship I have endured in the last few games. Having said that the Boers were massively outnumbered and their only asset was the terrain and their prepared positions. Victory or defeat always lay in the hands of the British and if we had bungled our plan or taken risks with fancy manoeuvring we could have been mauled enough to have lost the battle. But we had a firm plan from the beginning of the battle and then stuck to that plan as events unfolded exactly as we had predicted.

The British Artillery in particular were handled well throughout the battle and systematically destroyed the defenders earthworks and then started on the Boer artillery. Their close support was vital to softening up the defenders in advance of our infantry reaching the Boer line. Special mention should also go to the 3rd Mounted Brigade out on our left flank. Although they didn't take part in the main assault they were instrumental in keeping Boer re-enforcements occupied and out of the action far to our left. By the end of the game they had suffered heavy casualties but had done their job admirably.

As for the Boer players it would be unfair to say they did anything wrong, because they didn't. Their best hope was to deal enough damage to the British as they advanced to blunt their inevitable assault on the defended line. In the end their static positions and need to defend the Railway line, combined with some unlucky dice rolls, meant that victory was always going to be a tough objective. 


  1. Nice one Lee!!! It was a great game, if only Fran and Dave had thrown well for the artillery strike just before Dave left the game, that would have changed things, we may have stopped Postie in his tracks, but it wasn't to be. And the dice gods have certainly returned for you anyway!!!

  2. It all looks a bit Boering (you see what I did there!?). Only joking - looks fantastic Lee. Never played the period but looks like a good one to try.

  3. Wow, you guys don't do things by halves do you? Great rep and pics!

  4. Well done, well said and I am not!

  5. Sounds like a good game. I especially like Fran's "V for victory" gesture at the end... oh, wait, that's not a "V"... More like half a "V"... does that mean it was really a draw?

  6. Hahaha - who'd a thought - a Boer with attitude! Good one Fran! You could just imagine the exasperated Brits: 'I say, we just won - shouldn't you chaps give up or something?' and the Boers galloping away across the Veldt on their ponies giving raspberries and the fingers!


    1. That's just about what happened in all truth!

    2. That pretty much sums up my impression of the Boer War. Like trying to fight scotch mist, it must have been bloody frustrating to say the least.


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