The Defence of DUFFER'S
E. D. Swinton, D.S.O., R.E.
Major General Sir Ernest
K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O.
classic in small unit tactics in the British and US Army. I recommend
this small book, without qualification, to the modern Infantry soldier.
What would you do?
Lieutenant Backsight Forethought
(BF to his friends) has been left in command of a 50 man reinforced
platoon to hold Duffer's Drift, the only ford on the Silliasvogel River
available to wheeled traffic. Here is his chance for fame and glory. He
has passed his officers courses and special qualifications.
"Now if they had given me a job," says BF, "like fighting the Battle of
Waterloo, I knew all about that, as I had crammed it up..."
While BF's task appears simple enough, the Boer enemy causes a
multitude of problems, but you, smart reader, with a quick mind and
sharp intellect will, no doubt, solve the problem before the first shot
ARMY COMMAND AND GENERAL STAFF COLLEGE
FORT LEAVENWORTH, KANSAS
Originally printed in the British United Service Magazine
(now incorporated in The Army Quarterly)
under the pseudonym N. Backsight Forethought
Reprinted by the United States Infantry Association, 1916
from the Infantry Journal, April, 1905
About the Author:
General Sir Ernest D. Swinton, K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O., was a noted
English soldier, author, and professor. Considered by Field Marshal
Earl Wavell as one of the most far-sighted officers the British Army
has produced, he wrote before World War I on the effects of air
warfare, mining and of psychological warfare. In 1914 Sir Swinton
completely revolutionized warfare by his invention of the tank; he,
more than anyone else, was responsible for its introduction and
development. He served as Professor of Military History at Oxford from
1925 to 1939, and later as Commandant of the Royal Tank Corps from 1934
to 1938 - earning the rank of Major General.
Captain, shortly after service in the Boer War, he wrote "The Defence
of Duffer's Drift," using the pseudonym, Lieutenant Backsight
Forethought, or BF. Duffer's Drift has become a military classic on
minor tactics in this century. In addition to Duffer's Drift, and
contributing to many journals, he authored The Green Curve in 1909 and
The Great Tab Dope, in 1915, under the pseudonym O'le Luk-Oie (Olaf
Shut-eye). His other works include The Study of War in 1926 and his
final publication, An Eastern Odyssey written in 1935.
(THE BOER WAR)
The Boers, Dutch for farmer, first settled
what is now Cape Province, Republic of South Africa in 1652. After
Great Britain annexed this territory in 1806, many of the Boers
departed on the "Great Trek" and created the Republic of Natal, the
Orange Free State, and the Transvaal. Gradual commercial control by the
British and discovery of gold and diamonds, among other things, served
to create hostility between the Boers and British, resulting in the
South African War or Boer War from 1899 to 1902.
The Boers initially outnumbered the British and were well
equipped, scoring impressive victories in the areas adjacent to their
territories. Even though the Boer armies finally surrendered, apparent
victory for the British was retarded by extensive and coordinated
guerilla warfare. The war was finally ended by the systematic
destruction of the Boer guerrilla units and hostilities were terminated
by the Treaty of Vereeniging in May 1902. The Boer territories were
annexed by Great Britain and were organized into the Union of South
Africa eight years later.
ABATIS: A barricade of felled trees with branches facing the enemy.
ANT HILL: A large cone-shaped mound of earth.
BOER: Descendents of Dutch Colonists in South Africa.
DONGA: South African gully or ravine.
DRIFT: A ford, a shallow place in a stream or river that can be crossed by walking or riding on horseback.
DUFFER: An incompetent, awkward or stupid person.
KAFFIR: A fierce black tribe of South Africa (19th Century).
KOPJE: A rocky hill or butte of South Africa usually 200- 800 meters high.
KRAALS: A village of South African natives surrounded by a stockade for protection.
QUI VIVE: Fr., a sentry’s challenge; "who goes there?"
SUBALTERN: A British officer holding a commission below that of captain; a lieutenant.
VELD: A grassy plain of South Africa, similar to the Western Tableland of the United States.
VC: Victoria Cross, highest British medal for valor.
"It was our own fault, and our very grave fault, and now we must
turn it to use. We have forty million reasons for failure, but not a
single excuse." KIPLING.
This tale of a dream is dedicated to the
"gilded Popinjays" and "hired assassins" of the British nation,
especially those who are now knocking at the door, to wit the very
junior. It embodies some recollections of things actually done and
undone in South Africa, 1899-1902. It is hoped that its fantastic guise
may really help to emphasize the necessity for the practical
application of some very old principles, and assist to an appreciation
of what may happen when they are not applied, even on small operations.
This practical application has often been lost sight of in the stress
of the moment, with dire results, quite unrealized until the horrible
instant of actual experience. Should this tale, by arousing the
imagination, assist to prevent in the future even one such case of
disregard of principles, it will not have been written in vain. The
dreams are not anticipations, but merely a record of petty experiences
against one kind of enemy in one kind of country only, with certain
deductions based thereupon. But from these, given the conditions, it is
not difficult to deduce the variations suitable for other countries, or
for those occasions when a different foe with different methods of
fighting and different weapons has to be met.
Upon an evening after a long and tiring trek,
I arrived at Dreamdorp. The local atmosphere, combined with a heavy
meal, is responsible for the following nightmare, consisting of a
series of dreams. To make the sequence of the whole intelligible, it is
necessary to explain that though the scene of each vision was the same,
by some curious mental process I had no recollection of the place
whatsoever. In each dream the locality was totally new to me, and I had
an entirely fresh detachment. Thus, I had not the great advantage of
working over familiar ground. One thing, and one only, was carried on
from dream to dream, and that was the vivid recollection of the general
lessons previously learnt. These finally produced success.
The whole series of dreams, however, remained in my memory as a connected whole when I awoke.
as I have been able to ascertain, The Defence of Duffer's Drift
is not copyrighted and is considered in the public domain. There are various versions of this
document on the Internet, I merely formatted it for ease of navigation. Feel free to
use the text and images for educational purposes and wargaming