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A Handbook of the Boer War

His scouting line came under fire from the Grobelaar slopes


On

February 21 Coke advanced in three lines, but soon after he had cleared the hilly ground, his scouting line came under fire from the Grobelaar slopes, and his right flank was also involved from the direction of Wynne's Hill. His Brigade was pinned to the ground by rifle and shell fire until nightfall, when it was retired to the Colenso Kopjes, where Wynne's Brigade of Warren's Division had arrived during the afternoon.

[Illustration: Map of the Final Advance on Ladysmith.]

The route march to Ladysmith was checked. Instead of a mere rearguard to be driven in, as Buller had fondly believed, a strongly posted line, extending nearly four miles S.W. from Wynne's Hill, had to be attacked. The enemy had been so much encouraged by the failure of Coke's movement, that Botha telegraphed to Kruger that he had hopes of a "great reverse."

Warren thought that it would be necessary to diverge from the advance and take the Grobelaar slopes, and White reported that Boer reinforcements were coming in from the north. Towards evening on February 21, it seemed not unlikely that another Colenso, Spion Kop, or Vaalkrantz would soon be debited to Buller. The line of approach to Ladysmith was held by the enemy, and the British Army of relief, the greater part of which had crossed to the left bank of the Tugela, was entangled in the Colenso Kopjes, and the river loop.

Warren's

general idea for the 22nd, of which Buller approved, was to attack Wynne's Hill with the 11th Brigade, leaving Horseshoe Hill to be dealt with by the artillery. Although the Boers on the Grobelaar slopes had been well pounded for some hours by the field batteries, Wynne considered that it would be unsafe to advance unless these slopes were actually taken, but he was overruled. He had also been promised support on his left rear, but only two of the battalions detailed for the purpose were at hand and these were fully occupied in offering a front to the Boers on Grobelaar, while the movement was in progress; and he advanced against the enemy's centre unsupported except by the long range fire of a brigade on Naval Hill across the river.

He had expected that the promised supports would secure his left flank by seizing Horseshoe Hill, and in default he was compelled to detach a portion of his own scanty force against it. At sunset the cutting edge of the advancing wedge was touching the enemy, but was unable to break into him, and Briton and Boer were face to face on Wynne's Hill and on Horseshoe Hill.

Reinforcements were brought up and defences were constructed during the night, while the Boers continually fired upon the confused units labouring in the darkness. The enemy had an entrenched position on Hart's Hill which enfiladed Wynne's Hill, and which Warren had not been able to take, as Buller hoped, with the 11th Brigade.

Next morning the 5th Brigade under Hart, which was in reserve near the river loop, was sent against Hart's Hill. He advanced, wherever possible, under cover of the steep left bank of the river along a trail so narrow that the men were compelled often to move in single file; and at one place, where the Langewacht Spruit enters the Tugela, it was necessary to make a detour and cross the spruit by the railway bridge, and to quit the dead ground and emerge on to a defile under heavy fire. The advance of the Brigade was retarded by the stringing out of the battalions, and from time to time Hart's Hill was shelled without seriously harming the enemy, who as usual was not posted on the apparent crest, but some distance in rear of it.


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