Siege of Mafeking

From Academic Kids

The Siege of Mafeking was the most famous British action in the second Anglo-Boer War. It took place at the town of Mafeking (now Mafikeng) in South Africa over a period of 217 days, from October 1899 to May 1900, and turned Robert Baden-Powell into a national hero. The Siege of Mafeking was a decisive victory for the British and a crushing defeat for the Boers.



Shortly before the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899, Lord Wolseley, Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, who had failed to persuade the British government to send troops to the region, instead sent Colonel (later Lord) Baden-Powell, accompanied by a handful of officers, to the Cape Colony to raise two Regiments of Mounted Rifles from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The aims were to resist the expected Boer invasion of the Natal Colony (now KwaZulu-Natal Province), draw the Boers away from the coasts to facilitate the landing of British troops, and, through a demonstrable British presence, deter the local tribes from siding with the Boers.

Like the British government, the local politicians feared that increased military activity might provoke a Boer attack, so Baden-Powell found himself having to obtain many of his own stores, organise his own transport and recruit in secret. With barely trained forces and aware of the Boer's greatly superior numbers, commando tactics and the failure of the earlier Jameson Raid, Baden-Powell decided that the best course of tying down Boer troops would be through defence rather than attack. Consequently he chose to hold the town of Mafeking due to its location - both near the border and on the railway between Bulawayo and Kimberley - and because of its status as a local administrative centre, which he also found to have good stocks of food.

The Mafeking forces comprised the Protectorate Regiment of around 500 men, around 300 from the Bechuanaland Rifles and the Cape Police, and a further 300 comprising men from the town. A cadet corps of boys aged 12 to 15, later to be one of the inspirations for the Scouting movement, was also formed to act as messengers and orderlies, so releasing men to fight and bringing the total engaged in the military effort to around 2000.

The siege

Work to build defences around the six mile perimeter of Mafeking started on September 19 1899, and the town would eventually be equipped with an extensive network of trenches and gun emplacements. President Kruger of the Boer Transvaal Republic declared war on October 12 1899. Under the orders of General Cronje the Mafeking railway (railroad) and telegraph lines were cut the same day, and the town began to be besieged from October 13. Mafeking was first shelled on the October 16 after Baden-Powell ignored Cronje's 9 o'clock deadline to surrender.

Although wholly outnumbered by over 8,000 Boer troops, the garrison withstood the siege for 217 days, defying the predictions of the politicians on both sides. Much of this was attributable to some of the cunning military deceptions instituted by Baden-Powell. Fake landmines were laid around the town in view of the Boers and their spies within the town, and his soldiers were ordered to simulate avoiding barbed wire (non-existent) when moving between trenches; guns and a searchlight (improvised from an acetylene lamp and biscuit tin) were moved around the town to increase their apparent number. A howitzer was built in Mafeking's railway workshops, and even an old cannon was pressed into service. The morale of the civilian population was also given attention, and Sunday ceasefires were negotiated so that sports, competitions and theatrical performances could be held.

Having decided that the town was too heavily defended to take, on November 19 4,000 Boers were redeployed elsewhere, although the siege remained and shelling of Mafeking continued. Aware of the approaching British relief columns, the Boars launched a final major attack on the evening of May 11, succeeded in breaching the perimeter defences and setting light to some of the town, but were finally beaten back.

The Relief of Mafeking

The siege was finally lifted on May 17 1900, when British forces commanded by Colonel B T Mahon of the army of Lord Roberts relieved the town after fighting their way in. Among the relief forces was one of Baden-Powell's brothers, Major Baden Fletcher Smyth Baden-Powell.

Impact and Aftermath

Until reinforcements landed in February 1900, the war was going poorly for the British. The resistance to the siege was one of the positive highlights, and it and the eventual relief of the town excited the liveliest sympathy in Britain. There were immense celebrations in the country at the news of its relief (briefly creating the verb to maffick, meaning to celebrate both extravagantly and publicly). Promoted to the youngest Major-General in the army, and awarded the CB, Baden-Powell was also treated as a hero when he finally returned to Britain in 1903.

Three Victoria Crosses were awarded as a result of acts of heroism during the siege, to Sergeant Horace Martineau and Trooper Horace Ramsden for acts during an attack on the Boer Game Tree Fort, and to Captain Charles FitzClarence for Game Tree and two previous actions.

In September 1904 Lord Roberts unveiled an obelisk at Mafeking bearing the names of those who fell in defence of the town. In all, 212 people were killed during the siege, with over 600 wounded. Boer losses were significantly higher.

See also

External links

fr:Siège de Mafeking


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