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"Boer War “Trenches” For REAL?" Topic

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19th Century

1,269 hits since 23 Jan 2018
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Cacique Caribe Inactive Member23 Jan 2018 11:12 p.m. PST

I came across this picture by accident.

Was this type of "fox hole" a fairly common practice?


deflatermouse24 Jan 2018 2:13 a.m. PST

Not sure about the image although I have seen it (or something similar) before. I always had the impression that more commonly Boer field fortifications were quick affairs, taking advantage of the numerous watercourses on the Veldt (such as Modder River, entrenched into the sides of the riverbank.) The trenches around Maefking and on Spion Kop seemed to be more simpler scrapes, like early ACW.

(The regiment I served in ( the Cameronians) had historically been at Spion Kop and being a scout leader, you hear a bit about BP and his time at Maefking.)

goragrad24 Jan 2018 3:39 p.m. PST

Looks like a spider hole at a siege.

Not something I'd want to be occupying if there was a good chance of an enemy advance.

GreenLeader Inactive Member25 Jan 2018 4:16 a.m. PST

The Boer trenches at Modder River were actually dug to the south and north of the river, rather than using the banks of the river which would have given little protection against artillery fire. The unreliable Free Staters were put in trenches on the southern side primarily to make it harder for them to run away. The entrenchments were by no means quick scrapes – before the battle the Boers boasted to local farmers that the position was 'impregnable'… which proved not to be case.

Their defences at the Tugela line were more impressive still, and, in some cases at least, do indeed seem to have been similar to the illustration. After Buller's men captured Monte Cristo and Green Hill on the southern side of the Tugela, for example, the defences were described thus:

‘…the surface soil was extremely shallow, not 6" in places, and as the trenches were sunk to the depth of about five feet, they had for the most part to be hewn out of the solid rock. This seemed to have been done entirely by manual labour, as mark of picks were apparent on the stone … although there were some two miles of trenches, none of them were straight, but cut in zigzag fashion to avoid enfilading fire … the width of the trenches at the top was never more than two feet, and they widened out at the bottom to nearly four feet, being, in fact, so hollowed out as to afford excellent protection against shell-fire. The clay and rocks removed to make the excavation were thrown up in front in the form of a solid embankment, which was in many cases surmounted by sacks full of clay, with sods, cut grass, and bushes in front to conceal the ridge.'

When the Tommies broke through the defences on the northern bank, the republican trenches were examined by the Royal Engineers and described as being:

‘about four feet deep, with a parapet three feet in height, and several feet in thickness. Their occupants had stood up to fire through small loopholes. In selecting sites for these entrenchments, the Boers had shown their usual skill in camouflage and scattered bushes, rocks, and boughs of trees in front of them to blur their outlines. Good use was made of dummy trenches, ostentatiously built in open ground to draw artillery fire'.

Spion Kop was only occupied the night before and the British troops (lacking entrenching tools) were unable to dig much in the way of trenches before dawn broke.

Quotes taken from 'Kruger's War' by Chris Ash

Baranovich27 Jan 2018 9:33 a.m. PST

Very interesting topic.

I have a dumb question. What is that thin, secondary hole/shaft for? Extra air circulation and ventilation?

GreenLeader Inactive Member27 Jan 2018 7:26 p.m. PST

That's what I assumed too, though I am struggling to see how it could have been dug through solid rock. Even if (for some bizarre reason) it was bored, it would have been a straight hole, not deviated as in the picture.

mrinku Inactive Member27 Jan 2018 10:35 p.m. PST

Could be relatively soft rock. Mudstone or sandstone.

GreenLeader Inactive Member28 Jan 2018 2:19 a.m. PST

OK – but how to drill / bore a small, deviated hole through it? Not sure the Boers had too many 2" Rotary Steerable assemblies and drilling rigs to hand!

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