How The English Won The Boer War In South Africa

How The English Won The Boer War In South Africa Fleming 01James M. Fleming22 March, 2001How Great Britain won the Boer War in South Africa in 1902 On October 11, 1899, the forces of the Boer republics, Orange Free State and South African Republic, responded to Great Britain’s dismissal of an ultimatum against the placement and reinforcing of British troops in South Africa by laying siege to cities in northern Cape Colony occupied by the then outnumbered British troops. The British were able to gain superiority and eventually win the Boer War by brute force, vastly superior numbers and the cessation of rights for those deemed the enemy and its collaborators. It would take three years and drastic changes in “the gentlemanly art of war” for Great Britain to achieve victory. Leading up to the end of the nineteenth century there were massive efforts by European countries to expand the boundaries and influences of each individual nation. Great Britain, with it’s blossoming industrial capabilities and the unsurpassed size and strength of its naval force, was at the zenith of her power, wealth and prestige which allowed distinct advantages in the colonization efforts that were being carried out at the time.

Much of the useful land on the continent of Africa was under British control and the imperialistic need to gain even more would be the driving force in England’s foreign policy. This would bring them into direct conflict with the Boers, who were predominantly farmers and herders and had previously left Cape Colony en-masse to escape British control and establish a country under their own rule. As the Boers moved further north across the Vaal River into the Transvaal, they stumbled onto the richest gold deposits known to exist. This new found source of wealth, and the imperialistic fervor that was prevalent at the time, set the stage for war between the British and Boers. Fleming 02 In September of 1899 the British dispatched military units to South Africa to reinforce those already in Cape Colony, to the south, and Natal, to the east of The South African Republic and the Orange Free State.

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This action, the Boer leaders justly feared, was the build up of the military power necessary to conquer the Boer nations by force, and an ultimatum was issued on the 9th of October calling for the removal of all British troops from the republic’s borders within 48 hours or it would be viewed as an act of war and dealt with accordingly. Ignoring the ultimatum, the British maintained their positions and at 17:00 on the 11th of October war was declared. The fighting for the next three years of the war was characterized by three distinct phases of battles and styles of warfare. In the first phase, from October of 1899 to February of 1900, there was obvious superiority in the Boer troop’s numbers and abilities. This was evident in the ease with which they corralled the British troops into the cities of Mafeking on the 13th of October, Kimberley on the 14th, and Ladysmith on the 1st of November.

The Second phase, February to November of 1900 was marked by steady British advances into the Boer territories and the taking of all major cities including the capital, Pretoria. The third and final phase of the war, from November of 1900 until its end in May of 1902, was notable for the Boer tactical switch to small groups of men called commandos, and their guerilla style of warfare, and the British employment of a scorched earth policy that necessitated rounding up all civilians and destroying any structure of conceivable use to the Boers. At the beginning of hostilities it is estimated that there were approximately seven thousand British troops in South Africa that were in position and ready to fight. There were, however, an equal number in India that were being prepared for effective deployment by mid-October and there were also the troops being sent from England, which were part of the initial concern of the Boers, but they were not expected to be capable of entering combat until well into Fleming 03November. The Boers had approximately thirty five thousand troops fully prepared for battle when the war started and soon after their numbers swelled to almost fifty five thousand.

They set out knowing full well that all of their aspirations as a young nation resided on their ability to defeat the British at any cost. Their devout nationalism would serve to be a highly effective motivator throughout the conflict. As the Boers took the initiative in the opening days of the war, they had great success against the outnumbered British. They attacked on two fronts, to the east was Natal and it was this direction that lay the nearest achievable seaport for the Boers. To the west lay the northern regions of Cape Colony on the grassy plains of the Transvaal, and it was here that the first successes were to be had.

On the very day war was declared the Boer forces under General De La Rey engaged British troops on a train in Kraaipan that was loaded with weapons and ammunition bound for Mafeking, to the north. The Boers easily overcame the British troops and having gained all the destructive potential of the weapons aboard the train, immediately set off for Mafeking. Within 2 days the Boers laid siege to Mafeking under Commandant Cronje with six to eight thousand troops. The siege of Kimberley, approximately two hundred miles to the south west of Mafeking, was had with similar ease. The siege of the town of Ladysmith would prove to be an even greater success for the Boers.

On the 12th of October twelve hundred British troops would be surrounded by over forty thousand Boers and surrender while the remaining troops were to fall back to Ladysmith. Advancing steadily the Boers would eventually lay siege to Ladysmith also, which they would hold until late February of the following year. From the 10th to the 15th of December 1899, a series of British losses prompted the nickname “Black Week” for the depth of damage and the loss inflicted by the Boers. The three disastrous battles for the British were “Gatacre’s mishap at Stromberg” on the 10th, “Methuen’s repulse at Fleming 04Magersfontein on the 11th and “Buller’s first reverse at Colenso” on the 15th as named by the British. During these battles they would end up losing almost three thousand troops and suffer the humiliation of the defeat of the mighty British armies by a loosely regimented group of farmers. One of the primary reasons for the Boers ability to repel the British in these early battles was the introduction of smokeless gunpowder and the repeating rifle that allowed the Boers to attack advancing troops while remaining hidden at a great distance.

There was no smoke from the discharge of the weapon and the accuracy was infinitely better than that of the black powder rifles of just a few decades prior. These advantages, coupled with the Boers’ intimate knowledge of the South African terrain and the highly mobile, commando style of engaging the enemy, were to confound and frustrate the British army continuously throughout the conflict. The British were not able to gain an authoritative grasp of the situation until the early months of 1900. In January there was a tremendous influx and regrouping of British military and a change of leadership as Field Marshall Frederick Roberts replaced General George White, who was put in charge of the forces in Natal, and Horatio Herbert Kitchener became Roberts’ chief of staff. With their increasing numbers and better understanding of the tactics with which the Boers were succeeding, the British would begin a sweep northward that would not stop until they reached the capital of the South African Republic, Pretoria.

The numbers of troops they eventually put into service in South Africa reached almost four hundred and fifty thousand by wars end, which was just a few thousand more people than the Boer republic’s entire white population of man, woman and child combined. The Boers were only able to muster one fifth that number of soldiers and the age group ranged from teenage boys to old men with more and more women joining the commandos as the British began their final phase of scorched earth and concentration camps for Boer civilians. It is interesting that many of the black Africans Fleming 05took up arms with the English to aid in the fight against the Boers because they believed the English to be the lesser of two evils in that their policy towards blacks did not involve slavery yet it also did not give them the right to vote or have any say in the manner in which their ancestral land was managed. . In a communiqu from General Piet Cronje to Colonel Baden-Powell on the 29th of October, during the siege of Mafeking, Cronje expressed his dismay at the use of black Africans in the British defense of the city:”It is understood that you have armed Bastards, Fingos and Baralongs against us- in this you have committed an enormous act of wickedness..reconsider the matter, even if it cost you the loss of Mafeking..disarm your blacks and thereby act the part of a white man in a white man’s war.” (03)Due to inaccurate records that were kept pertaining to them, though, only a vague estimate of the number of blacks can be made. It is believed that roughly one hundred thousand were utilized in various manners in the British army and about ten thousand assisted the Boers’ endeavors, be it their desire to or not.

There would also be a rally to the British flag from her colonies around the globe. The Australians would be largest of supporters of the Empire and sent in over sixteen thousand troops and twenty five thousand horses. New Zealand also came to the call of the Queen with six thousand four hundred troops sent and Canada had the third greatest show of support with six thousand men and fourteen thousand horses. Throughout the war over three hundred fifty thousand horses would be sent to South Africa, with almost one hundred thousand coming from the United States alone, and over one hundred thousand mules were sent, of which around seventy five thousand were from the U.S. These animals would become increasingly important as the war moved into its later stages and the Boers small, agile commando groups spread out across the vast plains of the veldt.

There were one thousand twenty seven ships Fleming 06actively engaged in the constant resupply of the British war efforts and they were recorded to have moved more than thirteen billion tons of goods and supplies, excluding troops and their gear, throughout duration of the war. By the end of the war, Great Britain’s cost will have reached two …


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