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Encyclopedia > Spion Kop
Killed British soldiers lying in trenches
Killed British soldiers lying in trenches

The Battle of Spion Kop (Afrikaans: Slag van Spioenkop) was fought about 38 km (21 miles) west-south-west of Ladysmith on the hilltop of Spioenkop(1) along the Tugela River, Natal in South Africa. The battle was fought between Boer and British forces from 23-24 January 1900 as part of the Second Boer War, and resulted in a famous British defeat during the War.


The battle

A killed Boer sniper
A killed Boer sniper

General Sir Redvers Buller,VC, commander of the British forces in Natal, was at the time still overshadowed by Lieutenant-General Louis Botha and the fate of Ladysmith undecided. Buller gave control of his main force to General Sir Charles Warren, who would decide to attack the Boers along two fronts. On the night of 23 January, Warren sent a force under Brigadier General Woodgate to secure Spioenkop, a rocky outcropping which looked like the key to the Boer right center flank, which they found virtually unprotected.

When daylight came, they discovered that the plateau they occupied was not in a commanding position and offered little protection. The steepness of the hillside had precluded bringing artillery, leaving them poorly prepared for the ensuing battle. Being exposed to Boer sharpshooters and artillery fire from all sides, the British took heavy fire and suffered over 300 casualties, including Woodgate, and 1653 injuries before retreating that night. The Boers only counted 50 dead and 120 injured.

Note about the name

Although the common English name for the battle is Spion Kop throughout the Commonwealth and its historic literature, the official South African English and Afrikaans name for the battle is Spioenkop, which is in common use in South Africa and is the correct English spelling of the borrowed Afrikaans name; spioen means "spy" or "look-out", and kop means "hill" or "outcropping". Another variant that is sometimes found is the combination into Spionkop.


The Kop Stand at Anfield Stadium — home of the English football team Liverpool — is named in honour of the battle.

Further reading

  • Oliver Ransford, Battle Of Spion Kop, (John Murray, London, 1971)
  • H. G. Castle, Spion Kop: The Second Boer War (Almark, London, 1976)
  • CHAPTER XV Spion Kop (http://www.pinetreeweb.com/conan-doyle-chapter-15.htm), "The Great Boer War", By Arthur Conan Doyle (pub 1902) ISBN 1404304738
  • Chapter IX The Battle for Spion Kop (http://www.ourcivilisation.com/smartboard/shop/reitzd/commando/chap9.htm), "Commando: A Boer Journal Of The Boer War" by Deneys Reitz (first pub in GB 1929) ISBN 0571087787
    • "Boer Commando: An Afrikaner Journal of the Boer War" (same book different edition), ISBN 0962761338


  • The 7 volume "The Times History of the War in South Africa", ed L.S. Amery,(pub 1900-1909)
  • An Illustrated History of South Africa, Cameron & Spies, Human & Rousseau publishers, 1986 (ISBN 1868121909).

  Results from FactBites:
Battle of Spion Kop - The Boer War (2772 words)
Of all the Boer War battles Spion Kop retains an appalling notoriety for the incompetence of British leadership and the slaughter of the small number of men engaged on each side in the struggle for the top of the hill.
Warren’s plan was to climb and capture the hill of Spion Kop, which he considered to be the key to the Rangeworthy position.
On Spion Kop the mist prevented the British force from realising that the area occupied was insufficient to hold the summit and that their position was overlooked by higher features.
Kop - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (234 words)
Kop or Spion Kop is a generic reference to a standing area in a football stadium, named after the South African mountain Spion Kop, scene of a battle in the Second Boer War.
Built in 1906 and named 'Spion Kop', it could hold up to 24 000 rabid 'Kopites' (supporters placed in the Kop) and was the largest terrace built in an English ground.
The supporters would 'suck' the ball into the Kop while they were singing and chanting, making Anfield famous for it's atmosphere, supporters enthusiasm, and making a match day atmosphere so intense and fiery that no other ground could match, even arch-rival Manchester United's Stretford End.
  More results at FactBites »



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