Jameson’s Gun by MC Heunis

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Jameson’s Gun by MC Heunis: The colourful career of a Maxim Nordenfelt field gun

On 29 December 1895, Dr Leander Starr Jameson crossed into the Transvaal with a few hundred Rhodesian mounted policemen, six Maxim machine guns and one 75mm or 12½-pounder Maxim Nordenfelt field gun. Under directive of Cecil John Rhodes the raiding party planned to ride hard to Johannesburg where they were to be joined by thousands of disgruntled pro-British miners who would join the attack on Pretoria to overthrow Paul Kruger’s Boer government. At Malmani, Jameson’s party was reinforced by Bechuanaland border policemen, with a further two 7-pounder mountain guns and two more Maxim machine guns.

By the 1st of January 1896 Jameson’s Raiders were approaching Krugersdorp, where a small commando of Boers had hurriedly dug in on a low ridge which commanded the road to Johannesburg. Jameson opened fire with his three artillery pieces and pounded the Boer positions. The accuracy of their bombardment and the silencing of the Boer snipers must have been encouraging to the raiders, but in reality it had no effect on the well protected Boers and did not cause a single casualty. The bombardment lasted for 30 minutes, after which a troop of raiders, supported by Maxim machine gun fire, launched a frontal attack on the Boer position. When the Boers opened fire from all over the ridge the ineffectiveness of the artillery shelling became all too evident. The Raiders were immediately stopped in their tracks and only about half of the attacking force could extricate itself under cover of fire from the artillery to re-join the main group in the rear. Although no-one realised it at the time, this engagement was a dress-rehearsal of the not too distant Anglo-Boer War. The ineffectiveness of an artillery barrage prior to a frontal infantry attack would again be realised at great cost at Colenso, Magersfontein and many other places.

Having run into a wall at Krugersdorp the raiders now turned south-east attempting to flank the Boer force by taking a southern route to Johannesburg. The Boers, however, pre-empted the move and reinforcements were already digging in on Doornkop, a hill commanding this route. The Boer reinforcements included a section of the Transvaal’s State Artillery, which had arrived from Pretoria that morning. Although the Transvaal had recently taken delivery of a battery of new Krupp field guns, the ammunition for these was still at sea and therefore they had to rely on one small old mountain gun and a single Maxim machine gun.

Read the full article in the October 2017 issue of Magnum.

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