Anglo-Boer War 2: The Battle of Silkaatsnek begins

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Wednesday, 11 July 1900

There is a pass in the Magaliesberg known as Silkaatsnek It was here that the two 12-pounder guns of 'O' Battery, Royal Horse Artillery (RHA), were placed and ultimately captured in the first battle of Silkaatsnek on 11 July 1900.

After the fall of Pretoria on 5 June 1900, the British forces found themselves in command of most strategic points, but with enormously extended lines of communication. In the then 'Western Transvaal', communications were maintained through huge tracts of inhospitable country, which were difficult to fight in; rough hills, tenacious bushes and hard stony ground with infrequent sources of water, especially in the southern winter.

Conditions were ideal for guerrilla warfare conducted by tough, unsophisticated fighters who were brought up as horsemen and marksmen, who knew the country intimately and who could adapt themselves to harsh conditions using the topography to their advantage.

11 July 1900 marked the beginning of this type of war with four Boer actions, of which the action of Silkaatsnek was but one of three successes, with resultant timely encouragement to Boer morale in the Western Transvaal, and dismay amongst English garrisons and outposts.

General De la Rey had commanded the northern sector of the Boer forces at Diamond Hill. After this battle, De la Rey, who also commanded the Western Transvalers, fell back to the Bronkhorstspruit-Balmoral area. On lO July, De la Rey was travelling north of Silkaatsnek towards Rustenburg with some 200 men, when his scouts brought information that the Nek was lightly held and that the commanding shoulders of the Nek had been ignored. He decided to attack.

De la Rey launched a three-pronged attack on the small British force commanded by Colonel HR Roberts. De la Rey personally lead the frontal assault from the north and sent two groups of 200 men to scale both shoulders of the pass, where the British had placed small pick­ets. The burghers surrounded and captured two British field-guns, but the British put up a gallant fight that lasted the entire day. Colonel Roberts surrendered the next morning. 23 British troops were killed, Colonel Roberts and 44 others were wounded and 189 (including the wounded) were captured. The Boers casualties are unknown, but De la Rey's nephew and his adjutant were both killed, and a known 8 men were wounded. The Boers captured two field-guns, a machine gun, a num­ber of rifles ammunition. De la Rey used these weapons to rearm several burghers who returned to duty.

Read SAHO's Anglo-Boer war feature.

References:
• Cloete, P G (2000). The Anglo-Boer War: a chronology. ABC Press, Cape Town, pg 169.
• Wallis, F. (2000). Nuusdagboek: feite en fratse oor 1000 jaar, Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau).
• Kormorant, (2009), ‘The Battle of Silkaatsnek 11 July 1990 -  ARMAGEDDON OF THE MOUNTAIN’, from Kormorant, 18 February [Online], Available at www.kormorant.co.za [Accessed: 10 July 2013]

Last updated : 10-Jul-2013

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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