1860 - Suggestions in Reference to Military Operations in New Zealand - [Text] p 3-16

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  1860 - Suggestions in Reference to Military Operations in New Zealand - [Text] p 3-16
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WAR having broken out in New Zealand, after twelve years of uninterrupted tranquillity, it has been suggested to the writer, that the following remarks, founded on personal experience and observation during former wars, would not be read without interest by the general public.

On entering upon a war in a country like New Zealand, the difficulties to be encountered by the Commanding Officer, are of a twofold character; (a) Political; (b) Natural. The former arise from the vacillation of the civil authorities, perhaps caused by the undue influence desired to be exercised by the Heads of the Church and Missionaries over the natives; the divided opinion as to the justice of the war; and, probably, the want of a good feeling between the settlers and troops.

Of the natural obstacles, first and foremost may be reckoned the transport, for in most cases, beyond the distance of a few miles from the settlements there are no roads, and the rugged nature of the country in general precludes the use of four-footed beasts of burden. In the attack, therefore, on any fortified Pah requiring heavy artillery for its reduction, considerable time must necessarily have elapsed before sufficient materiel could be

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collected. The experiment of employing friendly natives was tried in the Northern Wars of 1845-'46 with success, for the conveyance of wounded men, stores, &c., but they were not regularly organized as a corps; and in the event of their being so for the present war, a most careful selection must be exercised: they should not be supplied with arms, or suffered to participate in any way as combatants.

The rivers and creeks are available occasionally for boats, but an attacking force cannot proceed far inland without a strong escort on either side, (which generally would be found impracticable), in consequence of the high overhanging banks, &c.

Information, though seldom reliable, may always be obtained, either from whites or natives. Even that received from the missionaries themselves has proved false; leading, in one instance, nearly to the total destruction of the European force.

According to the opinion of Sir George Grey, the late Governor, and other authorities, New Zealand presents greater obstacles to military operations than the Cape of Good Hope, (the Maoris being better armed, and more intelligent than the Kaffirs); whilst the late Capt. Graham, when senior naval officer on the New Zealand station in 1846, characterised the country "as a d----d enchanted hole, impassable by land and impracticable by water, from which nothing was to be gained but disgrace and dishonour."

The country itself in general, consists of dense forest heavily timbered, with underwood composed of supple jack hanging in festoons from the trees, low scrub, and large roots two or three feet above ground; or of open undulating land covered with fern, six or seven feet high, which will burn during but one month (December) in the year, with here and there swamps and ravines, terminating in abrupt ridges, which are sometimes thickly wooded; on land of this nature, European troops properly handled, should have no trouble

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in maintaining their superiority, but in the forest or bush, the advantage is decidedly with the enemy.

The soldiers' present equipment, boots, and other such articles, which cannot be dispensed with, oblige him to struggle laboriously on; whilst the lightly clad native destroys him at pleasure, a perfect knowledge of the locality enabling him to shift his position unseen; and a double-barrelled gun and small hatchet alone impeding the rapidity of his movements.

I have known a column of seven or eight hundred men kept in check, and compelled eventually to retire, by a comparatively small number of the enemy, in a position where there was no means of advancing, or turning their flank.

With the experience of the former wars, I can remember but one occasion (not including attacks on pahs) being engaged with the New Zealanders, except on ground of their own choice, in positions unassailable at the moment, and generally when our troops were fatigued with the severity of the march.

From the density of the bush, it is almost impossible to preserve a front in an advance; a forced retreat before the enemy must become a rout, the men when out of sight of their officers, and separated from each other, soon become confused, and it is fortunate if a panic does not take place, to which the fear of torture, or certain death, if taken prisoner, contributes its due share. Under these disadvantages, the soldier is opposed on their own ground to the best skirmishers in the world.

Should a war party be followed up in the bush, by a force chosen and equipped specially for the purpose, provisions must be carried; whilst the enemy can live on fern roots, cabbage tree, &c., and therefore can rarely he overtaken, standing at bay whenever a position presents itself adapted to check the pursuers. They also if hard pressed, have the power of dispersing amongst other tribes, taking the field again at any favorable moment.

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Having thus briefly touched on these points, I proceed to offer some remarks suggested by personal experience in the wars of 1845, 1846, and 1847.

It is necessary that the officer who commands the force should be in full possession of bodily health and strength; he must be capable of undergoing fatigue and privation of every description, as not unfrequently he will be called upon to share in the same hardships with his men, and to accompany them on foot in long marches, over ground of the roughest and most broken description. He should be cautious at first how he leads untrained troops into the bush; nevertheless, after some alterations in their equipment, and instruction in the mode of manoeuvering and fighting best calculated to meet the occasion, which may be practised in the neighbourhood of the post, where it is unlikely to meet the enemy, I have every confidence that he can there be encountered with success. The 65th regiment, now many years in New Zealand, ought to have acquired all the necessary training; but a corps specially clothed and equipped, would best meet the emergency, both present and future. Considerable tact and determination may be requisite to counterbalance and steer clear of some of the obstacles of a political nature, before alluded to, but a generation of settlers must now have sprung up, who ought to prove most efficient auxiliaries to any regular force.

As armed allies, a few natives for scouts and to accompany advance guards, &c., would be found very useful; but I should prefer being without them in any numbers, even if of a totally different tribe to the enemy, and then I doubt if they are worth their rations or to be trusted, because some of their number are certain to be in the hostile interest, which ensures your movements being regularly made known. In the present war, a hitherto friendly chief with his followers has already gone over to the enemy, taking with him the government arms and ammunition. On one occasion a tribe in the southern settlements, whose assistance we were sup-

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posed to have secured, by holding their chief as a hostage, went through the form of fighting, and from their fire I thought they were hotly engaged, but on subsequent examination of the spot they had occupied, it was evident they had only fired blank cartridge--the bullets lying about, and not a mark being visible on any of the trees adjacent to the enemy's position.

The town of Taranaki or New Plymouth, situate on the beach, with an open roadstead, heavy surf frequently beating on the shore, which at times entirely cuts off communication with the shipping, may be supposed to constitute the present base of operations. A detachment should be posted some twelve miles off, at the Waitera, (a river admitting vessels of about 50 tons burden), with an intermediate or other station to keep open and protect the communications. In a Guerrilla war, however, which this must inevitably become, directly W. King, the insurgent chief, is driven from his present pahs and plantations, several depots may be required at different points. Taranaki, under any circumstances, must be retained as a post, to protect what remains of the settlement, and to intercept reinforcements attempting to join the enemy from the southward.

To operate against a strong pah successfully, a large force is necessary to surround it, with also a covering party; otherwise the natives escape at pleasure and interrupt your labours, even should they not have an outlying taua or war band in observation, which they are much too good tacticians to be without. Perhaps the most effectual scheme is to construct a slight stockade round the pah, or portions of the pah attacked, 1 a plan often adopted in the native wars amongst themselves; and then to breach or sap the defences, according to the nature of the ground. The knowledge, however, that any pah can be taken, will I fear prevent their again undertaking more than its par-

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tial defence, in which case it would be advisable not to advance to the attack till complete measures can be adopted to surround it. In future they will probably fortify positions at certain points in the bush, which they will occupy as our troops advance.

Bullocks, horses, and drays can be obtained at Taranaki and most of the settlements, for transport, (bullock drivers may be requisite) but for service in the interior it will be desirable to organise a corps of porters or coolies, composed of natives, very carefully selected, together with a train of horses and bullocks, furnished with pack saddles, panniers, &c. These would now be available, in certain parts, and it would seldom be difficult to cut bridle roads.

As Pioneers, which are much required in the formation of roads, &c., the natives will be found most useful and expert. With the axe they can clear more timber than twice the number of white men, as I have had an opportunity of seeing, when employed in making roads in the colony.

Light field pieces cannot breach the New Zealand pahs, the shot sticking in or passing through the heavy piles; the 32lb. ship guns were very effective, but from their weight, caused great labour and delay in being got into position; 24lb. howitzers on field carriages I should consider the guns of most useful calibre, answering for both purposes of shot and shell. Long range, as a rule, is of little use; and it is obvious that in expeditions in the bush, until the light armed columns have encompassed the enemy, the artillery had better remain at the nearest depot. 2

Rockets may be of great service, particularly with advance guards, for the detection of ambuscades, the tubes being easily carried; but on most of the occasions that we made use of them in the old wars, their effect was nearly neutralized by the interference of unscientific

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authority! They also proved to be very uncertain, which (it was said) arose from the moisture of the climate.

The soldier cannot be too lightly equipped for this service. When proceeding on short expeditions, his knapsack should be left in store, and I recommend his being provided with a sailor's blue shirt to cover his red coat and white belts in this evergreen isle, good boots (lace up) with waterproof tongues, tin plate and pannikin, shirts, a mixture of cotton and wool or colored cotton, forage cap with peak, together with a tomahawk and long clasp knife. In addition to these, a certain number of waterproof capes will be indispensable for the outlying pickets, &c., indeed, a waterproof cape and one blanket or great coat will be found sufficient at any season of the year for field operations, and quite as much as, with other necessary articles, the soldier ought to carry. I have mentioned capes because they are easily slipped off, a matter of paramount importance, since the climate, though mild, is, with the exception of some three months in the year, very wet.

In order to maintain the superiority of our arms in the forest or hush (as in open land, there should be no difficulty in the matter) a fact somewhat doubted by the natives of New Zealand, two courses of action appear to present themselves; either the old Roman style of making roads, and steadily clearing the bush; or the more expeditious and Parthian mode of light columns scouring the country. After due consideration I think the first would occupy years and immense labour, even though confined to the tract of land, at present the scene of action; and in undertaking the second alone, the troops according to their present constitution and organization would be liable to reverse without attaining the desired end.

Perhaps, therefore, as a combination of both these courses, the following remarks may be worthy of consideration. With a view to operations in the interior,

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I should recommend the commencement of roads, employing natives if possible, for many reasons, in the neighbourhood of, and towards the enemy's positions and plantations; as far as might be separating them from other native settlements. The issue of proclamations confiscating their lands, a portion of which might be set apart as prize money for the troops, and indemnification for the losses of the settlers; and calling upon all natives who might wish to be treated as friends, to surrender or give information where the plunder of the Europeans is secreted, and the property of the insurgent bands, such as bullocks, pigs, canoes, &c.; also forbidding all assistance by other tribes, in affording them supplies of any description, such as tobacco, blankets, &c. Furthermore I would offer rewards for the murderers of any of the white men. By these, and other such measures the enemy would soon become straitened and disheartened; although bold they are deficient in moral courage and endurance, and when once routed, if followed up, are easily destroyed.

Meanwhile the troops can be exercised in the hasty construction of stockades, and manouvres in the bush. The fighting for the most part will be a series of skirmishes, terminating in success or disaster, in proportion to the readiness and resources of those in command, and their natural aptitude for this kind of warfare.

From experience, I earnestly recommend that advance and rear guards be always strong, and accompanied by a rocket party, with a few trustworthy natives as scouts, for it is by no means easy to afford them support if attacked; indeed, before you could do so, in most cases, the affair would be over one way or the other.

Reconnoitring parties also should always be in force, being liable at any moment to come suddenly on the enemy, by whom a retreat is construed into a defeat, if it does not in reality become so. Nevertheless, if possible, I think it most advisable that a reconnaissance should be avoided. For as a general rule it would be

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a forced one, and therefore there can be little object in surrendering what has once been gained, perhaps at considerable loss and labour. But a still more forcible reason appears to be the certainty of discovering to the enemy the weak points of their position, causing them to strengthen them against your return, or to decamp and take up others less assailable.

It is most desirable that the troops should not be suffered to engage, unless fully prepared for all contingencies; doubtful affairs do a great deal of harm, -- they encourage the enemy, who thereby gain fresh support from the wavering, and also damage your prestige. For it is impossible to retreat without loss, whilst you can seldom inflict much in return.

Bugle sounds had better be avoided, and all petty skirmishes, since they lead to no tangible results, and the troops generally get the worst of them.

Night attacks and surprises of every description, can be had recourse to with good effect, provided they are properly planned and carried out. Such tactics would be novel to the natives, who are said to be afraid to move during the night, their favourite time for enterprise being a little before daylight. A detachment of the 58th regiment suffered severely from an attack of this description, although the enemy was repulsed.

On some occasions the natives have been allowed to patch up a truce during their planting season, resuming the initiative when it suited them; and by the last accounts from New Zealand they were stated to have dispersed for that purpose. In my opinion they ought at this period to be unceasingly harassed. It is a good time of the year for field operations, and would lead to their starvation.

William King and his immediate followers still remain on their own ground, and every exertion should be used to crush them during the absence of their allies, which, if only partially fortunate, would probably be the means of preventing many of them from returning.

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If on the contrary they maintain their positions, I have no hesitation in saying that W. King will gain the reputation of being (or having with him) a great fighting chief, and numbers will flock to his standard, for the ensuing campaign.

Notwithstanding the foregoing remarks, I think it most advisable not to interfere with the enemy at all unless it can be done with effect, as it would cause them merely to retreat still further into the bush, taking up stronger positions.

The force in New Zealand may appear large, when contrasted with that which has been before employed in that country, and with the number of the enemy. The latter however, may at any moment be doubled, for as I before observed, the tribe in insurrection has always the assistance of those who are not in open rebellion.

In the event therefore of any of these amateurs being killed or even wounded, their relatives at once take up arms to avenge their death; the idea also exists of reviving the Maory King, in which case the whole native population might rise against the whites on their sustaining any serious reverse.

I beg further to remark that garrisons have to be deducted from this amount for Auckland, Wellington, Wanganui, &c., that the movements of the enemy are so uncertain and difficult to ascertain, that it will often be necessary to operate on different lines at the same time, to ensure a probability of success, and that in order to prevent disaster, each column should be of such strength as to be able itself alone to contend with the enemy.

Auckland and Wellington, with the increase of the white population and other circumstances, may at present be left with a moderate detachment, each having a ship of war in its harbour, but Auckland is surrounded by the Waikatoes, the largest and most powerful tribe in the island, a party of whom are said to have joined W. King, though hitherto at peace with us. Wellington is surrounded by the tribe (Ngnatiawas), a

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section of whom are now engaged with Her Majesty's forces at Taranaki. Moreover, owing to the relaxation of the arms ordinance, the natives are said to be better supplied with arms and ammunition than formerly; they have also increased in intelligence by contact with the whites, and a generation of half breeds has sprung up uniting the bad qualities of both races.

Under these circumstances, if the insurrection spreads and it is desired to obviate a protracted war, 10,000 men may yet be requisite to bring it to a successful termination.

[Handwritten note]

Nov. 1863

There are now some 15,000 men under arms, Regular & Volunteers &c. & if the natives at the South join as many more will be requisite.

1865. The war still continues, little has been done towards its conclusion. The difficulties pointed out in 1860 have been experienced (political & natural) & neither have been overcome.

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A native pah is usually constructed on a ridge, or the edge of a gully, two or more of its sides being in or surrounded by bush. There is generally, however, at least one side open, either as a clearing for potatoes or waste land, (indeed the wood from which the pah is built will form a partial clearing), and the difficulty, as may be inferred, lies in taking up and maintaining your position on the former, with any regard to the recognised rules of European strategy.

Your rear and flanks will be liable to sudden attacks from an enemy whose presence you may not be aware of till he is actually felt, and your front to a sortie from the pah. Some artificial remedy must therefore be sought.

In order first to take up the requisite positions, two courses appear to present themselves. To proceed openly and deliberately, fighting your way against the enemy prepared to oppose you, or to attempt to gain them by a coup de main.

To the first, there are these objections, the loss of life and time to be probably sustained, and the chance of the enemy evacuating the pah when your object is understood.

I do not mean in consequence to suggest a rash advance, but when all preparatory measures are secretly and carefully taken, the movement should be made suddenly and without hesitation. Should it fail, the other course still remains. The required positions being however obtained, the question arises how to maintain them, subject to the before mentioned liabilities.

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To effect this, I would recommend a previous division of the disposable force for this portion of the attack into three parts, the first to he posted close up without being exposed to fire, in observation of the pah; the second, an armed working party; the third to cover both from any attack from the rear.

The first and third moving off right and left in front, so as to halt to the required front as the case might be; heads of columns covered by a line of skirmishers. Or the columns may move directly on the pah, extending to their flanks. On arriving at the required points, should the enemy break out and evacuate the pah, they must do so at considerable disadvantage; and thus the labor of the sap or breach is avoided.

The force having however gained their ground in this order, two, three, or more stockades (these stockades may be built in three or four hours), should be hastily constructed according to the length of the necessary line of circumvallation, or supposed lines parallel to the face or faces of the pah, to serve as rallying points, and to protect the guns from surprise. When finished connect them by a slight paling. The stockades had better be in echellon.

Doubtless the enemy will interrupt your labors, but only in proportion to the secrecy with which your plan has been prepared and executed. A similar modified course only will be requisite on the sides of the pah which are open, such as a slight breastwork easily thrown up at the moment.

Until the works are completed, the pah should not be interfered with, unless for the purpose of drawing the enemy's attention in a contrary direction.

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Whilst on this subject I omitted to mention that the difficulty of transport being great, due regard to the economy of ammunition is necessary.

In the operations against Heki's pah, "Rua peka peka," (or the bat's nest), every other man carried up a shot or shell, alternately relieving each other.

On this occasion I observed that the 32lbs. shot after passing through or cutting off the pile of the face against which the gun was immediately directed, also destroyed others, distant perhaps some 200 yards in the rear face. I think it advisable to place the guns in position, so as to cut across the angles, taking care to destroy the corner posts, which are generally of large dimensions and consequent support. By this method the same shot would breach two sides at the same time, besides partially enfilading the ditch inside, which usually runs parallel to the palisades: supposing therefore an assault to follow on a breach being pronounced practicable, the guns in this position, keeping up their fire to the last moment, would in great measure prevent the enemy from manning the trenches to oppose the assault. The fire should be low, so as to cut the palisades close to the ground, for otherwise in falling they break off in splinters, two or three feet high, forming a most unpleasant abattis for the assailants to penetrate.

1   Vide Appendix A.
2   Vide Appendix B.

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