Battle of Groenkop

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Battle of Groenkop
Part of the Second Boer War
Date25 December 1901
LocationGroenkop, Orange Free State
28°14′11″S28°39′28″E / 28.23639°S 28.65778°E / -28.23639; 28.65778 (Battle of Groenkop) Coordinates: 28°14′11″S28°39′28″E / 28.23639°S 28.65778°E / -28.23639; 28.65778 (Battle of Groenkop)
Result Boer victory
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom Flag of the Orange Free State.svg  Orange Free State
Commanders and leaders
Major Williams Christiaan de Wet
550 (mostly 11th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry) 600
Casualties and losses
68 killed
77 wounded
206 captured
11 killed
30 wounded

In the Battle of Groenkop (Battle of Tweefontein) on 25 December 1901, Head Commandant Christiaan de Wet's Boer commando surprised and defeated a force of Imperial Yeomanry under the command of Major Williams.

Christiaan de Wet Boer general

Christiaan Rudolf de Wet was a Boer general, rebel leader and politician.

Imperial Yeomanry

The Imperial Yeomanry was a volunteer mounted force of the British Army that mainly saw action during the Second Boer War. Created on 2 January 1900, the force was initially recruited from the middle classes and traditional yeomanry sources, but subsequent contingents were more significantly working class in their composition. The existing yeomanry regiments contributed only a small proportion of the total Imperial Yeomanry establishment. In Ireland 120 men were recruited in February 1900. It was officially disbanded in 1908, with individual Yeomanry regiments incorporated into the new Territorial Force.



By late 1901, de Wet's guerilla force based itself near the settlements of Lindley, Bethlehem and Reitz in the northeast part of the Orange Free State. On 28 November, de Wet called a krijgsraad (war council) of the still-active Boer leaders near Reitz. They determined to strike back at their British tormentors, who numbered 20,000 men.

Orange Free State independent Boer sovereign republic in southern Africa

The Orange Free State was an independent Boer sovereign republic in southern Africa during the second half of the 19th century, which later became a British colony and a province of the Union of South Africa. It is the historical precursor to the present-day Free State province. Extending between the Orange and Vaal rivers, its borders were determined by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1848 when the region was proclaimed as the Orange River Sovereignty, with a seat of a British Resident in Bloemfontein.

As part of Lord Kitchener's strategy, the British constructed lines of blockhouses and barbed wire across the veld. The blockhouse lines were designed to restrict the movements of the Boer guerillas so they could be trapped by British mobile columns. One line of blockhouses reached from Harrismith to the Tradoux farm, 25 miles (40 km) east of Bethlehem. To protect the construction, Major General Sir Leslie Rundle deployed four dispersed forces. Rundle with 330 men and one gun guarded the wagon road; the end of the blockhouse line was held by 150 infantry; a 400-man regiment of the Imperial Light Horse lay 13 miles (21 km) to the east at Elands River Bridge; Major Williams with 550 men, mostly of the 11th Battalion, Imperial Yeomanry, a 15-pounder gun and a pom-pom held the 200-foot (61 m) high Groenkop. [1]

Harrismith Place in Free State, South Africa

Harrismith is a large town in the Free State province of South Africa. It was named for Sir Harry Smith, a 19th century British governor of the Cape Colony. It is situated by the Wilge River, alongside the N3 highway, about midway between Johannesburg, about 300 km to the north-west, and Durban to the southeast. The town is located at the junction of the N5 highway, which continues westward towards the provincial capital Bloemfontein, some 340 km to the south-west. This important crossroads in South Africa's land trade routes is surrounded by mesas and buttes. It is located at the base of one of these called Platberg.

Leslie Rundle British Army general

General Sir Henry Macleod Leslie Rundle, was a British Army general during the First World War.


De Wet carefully scouted the Groenkop position for three days. He noted that the British posted their sentries atop the sheer west side of the kop, instead of at the bottom where they could give timely warning of an attack. The Boer leader determined to scale the west side using the trace of a gully.[ citation needed ]

At 2:00 am on Christmas morning, de Wet's commando clambered up the steep slope in single file with their boots removed so as to minimise any noise. The surprise was nearly total. Challenged by a single sentry when they were over halfway to the top with a few scattered shots, the Boers, who were ordered into battle by de Wet shouting "Stormt Burgers" swarmed up and over the crest. They began firing downhill into the British tents, inflicting a "massacre." [2] Savage fighting lasted about 40 minutes before the British gave up. [3]


The next morning, one of the 206 British prisoners of the Boers noted that his foes were so short of clothing that some wore women's attire. The 250 unwounded British prisoners of war were stripped literally naked before they were turned loose the next day. [3] Kitchener wrote, "It is very sad and depressing that the boers are able to strike such blows, but I fear ... we shall always be liable to something of the sort from the unchecked rush of desperate men at night." [4]

By 5 February 1902, Kitchener's blockhouse lines were completed and he sent 9,000 men on a massive sweep through the countryside. In this first operation, 285 Boers were captured but de Wet and President Marthinus Steyn and their men escaped the trap. The second drive lasted from 16 February to 28. Again, de Wet got away, but this time he had to abandon most of his cattle. On 27 February, Colonel Henry Rawlinson's column encircled and captured a 650-man Boer commando at Lang Reit, a few miles from Tweefontein. This brought the British "bag" in the successful sweep to 778 surrendered Boers. The third drive by Major Elliott's division, from 4 March to 11 March, was a failure, with only about 100 Boers captured. Worse, de Wet escaped to join Fighting General Koos de la Rey in the Western Transvaal. [5]

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  1. Pakenham, p 575
  2. Pakenham, p 576
  3. 1 2 Evans, p 154
  4. Pakenham, p 577
  5. Pakenham, p 579-582