Battle of Nooitgedacht

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Battle of Nooitgedacht
Part of Second Boer War
Date13 December 1900
Location Transvaal, South Africa
25°51′36″S27°33′11″E / 25.86000°S 27.55306°E / -25.86000; 27.55306 (Battle of Nooitgedacht) Coordinates: 25°51′36″S27°33′11″E / 25.86000°S 27.55306°E / -25.86000; 27.55306 (Battle of Nooitgedacht)
Result Boer victory
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom Flag of Transvaal.svg  South African Republic
Commanders and leaders
R. A. P. Clements Koos de la Rey, Christiaan Beyers
1,500 2,100
Casualties and losses
650 killed, wounded and captured [1] 30 killed

In the Battle of Nooitgedacht on 13 December 1900, Boer commandos led by Generals Koos de la Rey and Christiaan Beyers combined to deal a defeat to a British brigade under the command of Major General R. A. P. Clements during the Second Boer War.

Koos de la Rey South African general

Jacobus Herculaas de la Rey, better known as Koos de la Rey, was a Boer military officer who served as a general during the Second Boer War. De la Rey also had a political career and was one of the leading avocates of Boer independence.

Second Boer War war between South African Republic and the United Kingdom

The Second Boer War was fought between the British Empire and two Boer states, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, over the Empire's influence in South Africa. It is also known variously as the Boer War, Anglo-Boer War, or South African War. Initial Boer attacks were successful, and although British reinforcements later reversed these, the war continued for years with Boer guerrilla warfare, until harsh British counter-measures brought them to terms.



Lord Roberts captured Pretoria on 5 June and the armies soon passed to the east. After the guerrilla war began, a force under Clements harried the Boers in the Moot, a valley in the Magaliesberg mountains. By the end of the year, the British grew careless. On 2 December, De la Rey's commando ambushed an ox-wagon convoy east of Rustenburg, killing and wounding 64 British soldiers and capturing 54 men and 118 wagons. De la Rey's deputy, Jan Smuts had a close call when a bullet intended for him killed another Boer. The raiders appropriated the boots and clothing and burned the rest of the supplies, while setting their prisoners free. [2]

Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts British soldier

Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, was one of the most successful British military commanders of his time. He served in the Indian Rebellion, the Expedition to Abyssinia and the Second Anglo-Afghan War before leading British Forces to success in the Second Boer War. He also became the last Commander-in-Chief of the Forces before the post was abolished in 1904. He was known and referred to as "Bobs". His son was called "Young Bobs".

Pretoria National administrative capital of South Africa, located in Gauteng province

Pretoria is a city in the northern part of Gauteng province in South Africa. It straddles the Apies River and has spread eastwards into the foothills of the Magaliesberg mountains. It is one of the country's three capital cities, serving as the seat of the administrative branch of government, and of foreign embassies to South Africa. Pretoria has a reputation for being an academic city with three universities, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Human Sciences Research Council. The city also hosts the National Research Foundation and the South African Bureau of Standards making the city a hub for research. Pretoria is the central part of the Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality which was formed by the amalgamation of several former local authorities including Centurion and Soshanguve. There have been proposals to change the name of Pretoria itself to Tshwane, and the proposed name change has caused some public controversy.


Magaliesberg is a mountain range extending west and north from Pretoria, Gauteng to just south of Pilanesberg, and extending for some 50 km (31 mi) east of Pretoria where it peters out just south of Bronkhorstspruit. The highest point of the Magaliesberg is reached at Nooitgedacht, about 1,852 metres (6,076 ft) above sea level.

De la Rey scouted Clement's camp at Nooitgedacht for three days. The camp had good water supply and a nearby mountain allowed communication by heliograph with Major General Robert Broadwood at Rustenburg. However, the site was dominated on the north by a 300-metre (980 ft) mountain. A 1500-man commando led by General Beyers soon arrived, giving the Boers numerical superiority over their adversaries. Smuts later wrote, "I do not think it was possible to have selected a more fatal spot for a camp." [3]

Heliograph communication device

A heliograph is a wireless telegraph that signals by flashes of sunlight reflected by a mirror. The flashes are produced by momentarily pivoting the mirror, or by interrupting the beam with a shutter. The heliograph was a simple but effective instrument for instantaneous optical communication over long distances during the late 19th and early 20th century. Its main uses were military, survey and forest protection work. Heliographs were standard issue in the British and Australian armies until the 1960s, and were used by the Pakistani army as late as 1975.

Robert George Broadwood British Army general

Lieutenant General Robert George Broadwood, CB was Commander of British Troops in South China.


The Boer leaders soon agreed on a plan. Half of Beyers' men would stay behind to keep Broadwood from marching to the rescue. The remainder, about 1500 men, were split into three attacking groups. Beyers would lead his commando against 300 British pickets on the mountaintop. Beyers detached Commandant Badenhorst to attack the camp from the west. De la Rey would capture several kopjes in the Moot to the south. If all went well, Clements' brigade would be trapped and destroyed. [3]

In the event, Badenhorst's column blundered into the British picket lines in the pre-dawn darkness. In a brief fusillade at close range, the Boers were driven back, with losses on both sides. The alerted British now manned their defensive positions. Beyer then launched his attack on the mountaintop, but his tired men were soon stopped by sturdy resistance from the Northumberland Fusiliers. After witnessing De la Rey's initial attack being repulsed in the valley below, Beyer's men became inspired and stormed the British positions on the mountaintop. [4] After losing about 100 casualties, Captain Yatman surrendered at about 7:00 am. Reinforcements climbing the mountain lost heavily when Beyers' men suddenly poured fire into them.

That morning it was too hazy to flash a message to Broadwood, so Clements was entirely on his own. Meanwhile, De la Rey and Smuts had managed to capture all the kopjes in the Moot except one, Yeomanry Hill (Hartebeestfontein). Clements alertly and swiftly concentrated his survivors on this position. At 8:00 am, the British drove away a group of Boers who had gained a foothold on Yeomanry Hill. They then worked furiously to make the hill defensible. A 4.7-inch naval gun was even saved by rolling it downhill from its original perch and dragging it back to the main British position. [5]

Meanwhile, the men under Beyers turned aside to loot the British camp and nothing the Boer general could do would get them back to the battle. One Boer remarked, "We were refitted from head to heel." [1] At 4:00 pm, Clements and the remnant of his brigade rode off with his artillery toward Pretoria. Their retreat was virtually unopposed because the Boers were exhausted and by this time De la Rey's men had joined the other Boers in plundering the enemy camp. [6]


Thanks to his quick response to the crisis, Clements saved his brigade from annihilation. However, the general lost half his brigade due to his poor choice for a camp. The Imperial forces suffered no consequences from their defeat aside from the casualties suffered and the supplies lost. Within a short time, a column under Clements was again harassing the Moot.


  1. 1 2 Evans, p 133
  2. Pakenham, p 504
  3. 1 2 Pakenham, p 505
  4. Evans, p 132
  5. Pakenham, p 506-507
  6. Pakenham, p 508

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