Sanna's Post

Last updated
Battle of Sanna's Post
Part of Second Boer War
Date31 March 1900
29°9′26″S26°32′8″E / 29.15722°S 26.53556°E / -29.15722; 26.53556 Coordinates: 29°9′26″S26°32′8″E / 29.15722°S 26.53556°E / -29.15722; 26.53556
Result Boer victory
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Flag of the Orange Free State.svg Orange Free State
Commanders and leaders
Brigadier General Broadwood Christiaan Rudolf de Wet
12 guns
(1,600 distantly engaged)
Casualties and losses
155 dead or wounded
428 prisoners
7 guns
3 dead
5 wounded

Sanna's Post (a.k.a. Korn Spruit) was an engagement fought during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) between the British Empire and the Boers of the two independent republics of Orange Free State and South African Republic.

Second Boer War War between two Boer Republics 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 the Boers to terms.

British Empire States and dominions ruled by the United Kingdom

The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. It originated with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1913, the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23% of the world population at the time, and by 1920, it covered 35,500,000 km2 (13,700,000 sq mi), 24% of the Earth's total land area. As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was often used to describe the British Empire, because its expanse around the globe meant that the sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.

Boer descendants of Dutch-speaking settlers in Southern Africa

Boer is the Dutch and Afrikaans noun for "farmer". In South African contexts, "Boers" refers to the descendants of the proto-Afrikaans-speaking settlers of the eastern Cape frontier in Southern Africa during the 18th and much of the 19th century. From 1652 to 1795 the Dutch East India Company controlled this area, but the United Kingdom incorporated it into the British Empire in 1806.



In early 1900, the British army, in overwhelming strength, had occupied Bloemfontein, capital of the Orange Free State, and were preparing to drive north to Pretoria, capital of the Transvaal. Field Marshal Lord Roberts, commander in chief of the British forces, believed that with the capture of the capitals of both republics, the war would be all but over. While the Burghers of the South African Republic prepared to defend their capital, with little prospect of success, the Free State Boers, inspired by President Martinus Steyn, the spiritual heart of the Boer resistance, and Christiaan de Wet, their foremost field general, regrouped and prepared to continue the conflict through unconventional means. Their action at Sanna’s Post was the first large-scale use of guerrilla tactics in this conflict.

Bloemfontein Place in Free State, South Africa

Bloemfontein is the capital city of the province of Free State of South Africa; and, as the judicial capital of the nation, one of South Africa's three national capitals and is the seventh largest city in South Africa. Situated at an altitude of 1,395 m (4,577 ft) above sea level, the city is home to approximately 520,000 residents and forms part of the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality which has a population of 747,431.

Pretoria Administrative capital of South Africa

Pretoria is the administrative capital of 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 Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), University of Pretoria (UP), and the University of South Africa (UNISA), also home to 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.

South African Republic Former republic in southern Africa

The South African Republic, also referred to as the Transvaal Republic, was an independent and internationally recognised state located in what is now South Africa, from 1852 to 1902. The ZAR defeated the British Empire in what is often referred to as the First Boer War and remained independent until the end of the Second Boer War on 31 May 1902, when it was forced to surrender to the British. After the war the territory of the ZAR became the Transvaal Colony. During World War I, there was an attempt at resurrecting the republic in the Maritz rebellion.

On 30 March 1900 a 2,000-man Boer force led by Christiaan De Wet advanced in the direction of Bloemfontein. Reconnaissance indicated the presence of a small garrison of British troops at Sanna’s Post, 23 miles east of Bloemfontein, which held Bloemfontein's water works. A British mounted force under Brigadier General Robert George Broadwood which had earlier attacked other Boer positions at Thaba 'Nchu, was withdrawing there. Broadwood's force consisted of Q and U Batteries of the Royal Horse Artillery, a composite regiment of the Life Guards, the 10th Hussars, the Royal Irish Regiment, [1] the New Zealand and Burma Mounted Infantry, and Roberts's Horse and Rimington's Guides (which were light horse units raised from English-speaking South Africans). De Wet sent 1600 of his men under his brother Piet to attack Broadwood from the north, while he himself occupied Sanna's Post to intercept their retreat.

Robert George Broadwood British Army general

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

Thaba Nchu Place in Free State, South Africa

Thaba 'Nchu is a town in Free State, South Africa, 63 km east of Bloemfontein and 17 km east of Botshabelo. The population is largely made up of Tswana and Sotho people. The town was settled in the 1830s and officially established in 1873. The town grew larger following the 1913 Natives' Land Act that stated Thaba 'Nchu as a homeland for Tswana people. It was known among the Voortrekkers as Blesberg.

Royal Horse Artillery part of the Royal Regiment of Artillery of the British Army

The Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) was formed in 1793 as a distinct arm of the Royal Regiment of Artillery of the British Army. Horses are still in service for ceremonial purposes but were phased out from operational deployment during the 1930s.

The action

During the darkness De Wet infiltrated a force of riflemen into the ravine created by the Modder River, setting the kill zone of the ambush. At first light on 31 March, Piet de Wet's artillery opened fire from a set of small hills to the north as the British troops were striking camp for the morning. Tactical surprise was complete and all were sent into a state of confusion. The British force began to retreat as expected, in the direction of the ravine where the blocking force awaited with orders from De Wet to hold their fire. The civilian wagon drivers preceding the soldiers were seized by the Boers and told if they warned the British they would be shot. Therefore, the British soldiers suspected nothing and approached the river in small groups. As they did so De Wet’s troops ordered them to surrender, and approximately two hundred were captured, along with the six guns of U Battery.

Modder River river in South Africa

The Modder River is a river in South Africa. It is a tributary of the Riet River that forms part of the border between the Northern Cape and the Free State provinces. The river's banks were the scenes of heavy fighting in the beginning of the Second Boer War at the Battle of Modder River.

Kill zone

In military tactics, the kill zone, also known as killing zone, is an area entirely covered by direct and effective fire, an element of ambush within which an approaching enemy force is trapped and destroyed. The objective of the ambush force is to quickly kill or capture all enemy soldiers inside the kill zone. The trapped soldiers may respond by counterattacking.

Ambush military tactic

An ambush is a long-established military tactic in which combatants take advantage of concealment and the element of surprise to attack unsuspecting enemy combatants from concealed positions, such as among dense underbrush or behind hilltops. Ambushes have been used consistently throughout history, from ancient to modern warfare. In the 20th century, an ambush might involve thousands of soldiers on a large scale, such as over a choke point such as a mountain pass, or a small irregular band or insurgent group attacking a regular armed force patrol. Theoretically, a single well-armed and concealed soldier could ambush other troops in a surprise attack.

An alert British officer noticed what was happening and ordered Q Battery to gallop away. De Wet's men then opened fire. The British fell back on a railway station which offered substantial cover, while Q Battery under Major Phipps-Hornby (joined by one gun from U Battery whose team managed to break away from de Wet) deployed in the open and opened fire.

Edmund Phipps-Hornby Recipient of the Victoria Cross

Brigadier General Edmund John Phipps-Hornby, was a British Army officer and a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

This fire, combined with accurate rifle fire from the railway station, pinned down Christiaan de Wet's men, but Piet de Wet's forces were increasing their pressure. Broadwood's ammunition was running out, and he decided to retire to the south. His guns had first to be recovered. Five were hooked up and towed away, but two had to be abandoned. Many British soldiers were killed crossing the 1300 yards of open ground to retrieve the guns, but unit integrity was maintained.

Eventually, Broadwood managed to break contact. Approximately three hours later the 9th Infantry Division commanded by Major General Sir Henry Colville arrived to relieve the mounted brigade, but de Wet’s men had withdrawn to highly defensible positions across the Modder River and both sides retired from the field. This nevertheless left Bloemfontein's water works in Boer hands.

Henry Edward Colvile British Army general

Major-General Sir Henry Edward Colvile, was an English soldier.

In all, the British suffered 155 men killed or wounded. 428 men, seven field artillery pieces and 117 wagons were captured. The Boer force suffered three killed and five wounded. But even more serious than the losses in the action was the loss of Bloemfontein's water supplies. This greatly aggravated an epidemic of enteric fever dysentery and cholera among the occupying British army, which eventually caused 2000 deaths.


Private H. L. Reece of the 1st Contingent of the Queensland Mounted Infantry was killed in the Battle of Sanna's Post StateLibQld 1 100280.jpg
Private H. L. Reece of the 1st Contingent of the Queensland Mounted Infantry was killed in the Battle of Sanna's Post

In recognition of the conspicuous gallantry displayed by all ranks of Q Battery on this occasion, Field Marshal Lord Roberts decided to treat the case as one of collective gallantry, under the Rule 13 of the Victoria Cross Warrant. Accordingly, direction was given that one of the officers should be chosen by the other officers, one noncommissioned officer by the noncommissioned officers and two gunners or drivers by the gunners and drivers for the award of the Victoria Cross.

The men from Q Battery awarded the Victoria Cross were: Major Edmund Phipps-Hornby, Sergeant Charles E. H. Parker, Gunner Isaac Lodge, and Driver Horace Henry Glasock.

Q Battery was officially granted the Honour Title "Sanna's Post" on 18 October 1926 in commemoration of this action. [2] As of 2015, it continues to serve as Q (Sanna's Post) Battery in 5th Regiment Royal Artillery. [3]

Field Marshal Lord Roberts also awarded the Victoria Cross to Lieutenant Francis Aylmer Maxwell who voluntarily made five incursions into open terrain under heavy rifle fire to recover two guns and three limbers, one of which was dragged back by hand by himself, another officer and some gunners. Lieutenant Maxwell also attempted to save a third gun from capture, remaining with it until the proximity of the enemy made further efforts impossible.

See also

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  1. Gretton 1911, p. 362.
  2. Clarke 1993, p. 155.
  3. "5th Regiment Royal Artillery". Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom) . Retrieved 8 December 2015.