BP (short for Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell) became the Commanding Chief of her
Majesty's Forces in South Africa during the late 1800's. He was an excellent soldier, and was
well known for his ability as a spy and a commander.
The English Colony in Africa was heading quickly to a war with their dutch neighbors, the Boers. Historians debate about the events that led up to the siege of Mafeking, but the 217 day siege is
one of the most fascinating stories in military strategy.
BP was supposed to have a highly trained commando force under his command to use in fighting the Boers. But things didn't work out in his favor. He found himself quickly trapped in the small town of Mafeking with a terribly inadequate force.
Mafeking was a trade center for its area, and had been the center for the region's government. It had a railway line running to it, but was located in the bottom of a valley, which made it very difficult to defend. What made it worse, there were no natural defenses in the town like rivers, hills, or forests.
England came to watch this town with interest during the siege, and BP's incredible game of bluff won him a hero's status. But things did not look good during the siege. BP was hopelessly outgunned, out manned, ill equipped, and hopelessly outnumbered. If Mafeking was to hold hold out, it would only be through BP's skill as a military strategist.
It was not long before BP ran out of barbed wire to protect the city. One Saturday evening as he watched the Boer soldiers leave their trenches for the Sunday cease fire (no one fought on
Sunday), he saw them crawling carefully through the barbed wire, but at that distance, he couldn't actually see the rolls of wire. All he could see were soldiers twisting, ducking, and crawling as they moved back toward their camp.
BP instructed his men to continue putting up posts, pretending to string rows and rows of barbed wire around Mafeking. From their observation points, the Boers wouldn't know the difference! He taught his men to pretend they were crawling through barbed wire as they left the trenches. This fooled the Boers, who decided that they wouldn't be able to get through barbed wire if they attacked.
Lacking land mines, BP filled small boxes with sand and had the soldiers bury them all around the outside of the town during daylight so that the Boers would think they were burying land mines.
To make sure the trick worked, he took some of the dynamite he actually had and pretended to test his "land mines". Again, the Boers kept their distance, not wanting to run into BP's extensive mine fields.
BP worried about spies in his town. If the Boers found out about his fake defenses, Mafeking would fall. So BP got up early one morning and posted this sign in the village square:
One thing Mafeking really lacked was cannons. The Boers lobbed shells from their cannons for days on end, destroying much of the strangled town. Once again, BP feared that the Boers would storm his town any day. It was then that he came up with another terrific idea.
He had trenches dug all around the town, and built cannon bunkers along Mafeking's perimeter. His soldiers would fire the few cannons they had, and then the town's boys would drag the cannons through the trenches to the next empty cannon bunker, where the soldiers would fire them again. To the Boers, it appeared that Mafeking had dozens of cannons that soldiers were firing at their leisure!
When Troops arrived to liberate Mafeking 217 days into the siege, BP returned to England a hero. The country watched his every move, eager to see what the brilliant soldier would do. Boy's organizations all over the country asked him to visit them or write them letters.
Through his fame and concern for boys, he eventually started Boy Scouting, and tens of thousands of boys joined to follow their hero, Baden-Powell.