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The Klapperkop Long Tom at Pretoria

Original caption reads "Franse Creusot kanon of Long Tom op pad na Ladysmith, 7 November 1899". I have cropped the photo to focus on the detail of the foreground.

The photograph shows one of the ZAR Staatsartillerie's 155 mm Creusot siege guns at a Pretoria railway siding on its way back to the Ladysmith front. This particular Long Tom was originally mounted in Fort Klapperkop, southeast of Pretoria before the war, and after the commencement of hostilities, it was sent to Natal to participate in the Boer siege of Ladysmith. To increase its accuracy and reduce the flight time of its shells, this Long Tom was relocated to Middle Hill, southeast of Ladysmith, very close to the British lines. However, this brought it within effective range of British artillery, namely the two 6.3-inch RML howitzers that the British garrison stealthily maneuvered into range during the night of 30 November - 1 December. By morning, the two howitzers, named Castor and Pollux after the mythological progeny of Zeus, opened up a heavy bombardment on the Long Tom and damaged the breech of the gun, forcing its momentary abandonment by the startled Staatsartillerie gunners.

The crippled Long Tom was subsequently withdrawn from the Ladysmith front and immediately sent back to the NZASM railway workshop in Pretoria for repairs under the direction of the Swedish engineer A.C.H. Uggla. A steel band was fitted around the breech where it met the barrel for reinforcement, and within ten days it was back at the Ladysmith front on 11 December, suggesting that the photo's original caption was mistakenly labeled 7 November in lieu of 7 December. The steel band can be faintly seen in the photograph, along with the canvas muzzle "sock" used to prevent water or dust from entering the barrel during transport.

The Long Tom is laid flat on its gun carriage for transport, with two ox-wagon style wheels attached to the rear of the carriage to turn it into a more mobile four-wheel configuration, and the whole assembly is placed on a railway flatbed for transport to Natal. Remarkably, it appears that the gun's rear tangent sight (the "opzet") is mounted in place on the breech, visible as the short length of metal perpendicularly protruding straight up from the very rear of the gun. The tangent sight was removable and usually installed only during battle, as it was too valuable and delicate a component to risk being left exposed and potentially damaged during transport. Where railway transport and roads were unavailable, the Long Toms were often manhandled into place over mountains, rivers, and valleys by the brute muscle power provided by teams of sturdy oxen and burghers, a rough and tumble affair that required the removal of all but the sturdiest elements of the gun system. Here, it is likely that the Staatsartillerie gun crew has temporarily attached the tangent sight to demonstrate its use to the crowd of sightseers that has gathered around.

Among the onlookers admiring the Long Tom, it is possible to identify the members of the Staatsartillerie gun crew due to their distinctive light colored field jackets with blue stand-up collars, uniform trousers with blue piping, Mauser bandoleers, slouch hats, and rifles. The man at the far right with the cap appears to be a uniformed NZASM employee, or perhaps a ZARP policeman. The man standing behind him is evidently a cyclist. Although bicycles were employed by the commandos of both republics by scouts and dispatch riders, they were also very popular with affluent townsmen across South Africa during this period as a convenient means of personal transport in urban areas. A large number of Pretorian women are also present among the crowd, dressed in the modern fashion of urban Boers.

The fame and reputation of the Long Tom guns always preceded their arrival, and large numbers of Boers, both civilian and commandeered, turned out to marvel at the famous guns whenever they were nearby. The sheer size of the 155 mm guns was impressive enough to the crowd of onlookers here and at many other railway sidings in the Transvaal and Free State, but quite often Boers also traveled to the front with the express intention of observing the guns in action. Due to their unparalleled maximum range, the Long Tom guns were often placed well beyond the effective reach of British counter-artillery fire, allowing parties of picnicking Boer men, women, and children to safely enjoy front row seats during the firing of the guns.

The freshly repaired gun pictured here was to provide several more months of excellent service during the remaining days of the Ladysmith siege, the last defensive battles at the Tugela Line, and the withdrawal of the Boer forces across the Transvaal. After the last great battle at Dalmanutha, this Long Tom was withdrawn overland by ox team to the north. For several months, it successfully evaded pursuing British forces, but on 16 April 1901 near the farm of Rietfontein in the northeastern Transvaal, it was destroyed by its Boer gunners as part of a greater effort to free the Boer commandos of their cumbersome logistical train in the preparation for guerrilla campaigning. Although only the gun and carriage are visible here, several more accompanying wagonloads of additional materiel such as shells, charges, fuzes, priming tubes, tools, and a mounting crane were required to bring the gun into a minimum state of working order, and these burdensome accoutrements were incompatible with the mobile style of warfare being adopted by the remaining commandos in the field.

I have seen this photo reproduced in two books, but the most highly detailed version can be found online here:…

To view the original instruction and drill manual for the Boer Long Tom, see here:  155 mM., Lang. Systeem SCHNEIDER (1897 Manual) by ColorCopyCenter
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Is this public domain?
ColorCopyCenter's avatar
probably, it is 118 years old
Wow! Thanks for the history lesson. I had heard of the Long Tom but didn’t know anything about it. The only I knew was one Doc Savage’s sidekicks was named after it. How did you develop your interest in this part of history?
ColorCopyCenter's avatar
The Long Tom guns had a huge psychological impact on both the besieged and besiegers during the conventional phase of the war due to their tremendous physical effect, so almost every account from both sides always make special note of the respect, awe, and fear commanded by the guns. So much so that the guns were elevated to a kind of celebrity status on both sides, and it is impossible to read firsthand accounts without being struck by the deep impression left by the guns on all who witnessed them in action.

Long after the war, the Long Tom remained a defining cultural and historical icon in South Africa, so there is some good literature out there written about them that drew my interest.
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