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A Handbook of the Boer War

Kitchener ordered an assault on the donga


Colvile was pushing upstream from the west. On that side the Boers had an advanced position in a big donga, which runs into the right bank, about two miles below the laager, and upon which a few companies of the Highland Brigade, having waded the river, had already made a gallant but unsuccessful attack. Colvile, under orders from Kitchener, placed himself astride the river, sending the Brigade under Smith-Dorrien across to the north bank, while the Highland Brigade acted on the left of the frontal attack; and when Gun Hill, which outflanked the donga, was occupied, Kitchener ordered an assault on the donga, to be carried out simultaneously with Hannay's attack on the left flank. The order, however, was not communicated to Smith-Dorrien on Gun Hill, and he was not aware of it until he saw some troops of his own Division, supported by a few companies sent across by Kitchener from the left bank, charging across the open. In a few minutes, the gradual retardation of the rush, and then its extinction under a heavy fire, showed that the attempt had failed. It is said that Smith-Dorrien had been so imperfectly made acquainted with Kitchener's plan, that he was under the impression that he had been sent to the north bank to prevent the Boers breaking out of the laager, and not to attack them upstream.

The frontal attack was initiated by Kelly-Kenny with the 13th Brigade under C. Knox, the 18th Brigade having been detached to support Hannay's flank attack.

The main body of the Boers was north of the river, but strong detachments held the left-bank dongas. Colvile was dealing with a demonstration against Paardeberg Drift when an oral message from Kitchener reached him, which he interpreted as an order to go to Knox's assistance with his Division, which was thus withdrawn from the flank and lent to the frontal attack. He was doubtfully carrying out what he believed to be his instructions when an order reached him to send the 19th Brigade, under Smith-Dorrien, across the river. A few companies of his Highland Brigade succeeded in establishing themselves on the right bank, and Knox drove the enemy out of the left-bank dongas, but was forbidden by Kelly-Kenny to cross the river, as the enemy was too strongly posted. The frontal attack was spent, but the troops remained on their ground until the approach of night released them.

Two miles S.E. of Vendutie Drift, a hill, to which the name of Kitchener's Kopje was afterwards given, rises out of the veld. In the tactics of the assault on the laager, it was not a position of much importance, but in the Paardeberg drama it was a striking scene. The detachment of infantry which Kelly-Kenny sent early in the day to occupy it had been withdrawn without his knowledge by some wandering staff officer, who thought he had found a better use for the little garrison, and replaced by a few mounted men. These, while watching the progress of the fight, and perhaps regretting that they were not taking a more active part in it, were suddenly called upon to defend themselves.

De Wet, with two guns and 600 men, had arrived from Koffyfontein at the opportune moment of the crisis of the flank attacks. He soon carried the kopje, and when at 4.30 p.m. he opened fire, the shells which he pitched into the VIth Division baggage and artillery were the first intimation of his intervention received by the Head Quarter Staff, absorbed in their attack on the laager; and for the second time the troops were called away from the work in hand, to deal with an unexpected attack from the rear, and the dwindling hope of carrying Cronje's position before nightfall passed away.

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