The BOER WARS

 

The Boer Wars (1880-1902)

The First Boer War ('First Farmer's War') also known as the First Anglo-Boer War or the Transvaal War, was fought between the British Empire and the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics, the South African Republic (Transvaal Republic) and the Orange Free State from 16 December 1880 until 23 March 1881. After Transvaal formally declared independence from the United Kingdom, the war began on 16 December 1880 with shots fired by Transvaal Boers at Potchefstroom. This led to the action at Bronkhorstspruit on 20 December 1880, where the Boers ambushed and destroyed a British Army convoy. From 22 December 1880 to 6 January 1881, British army garrisons all over the Transvaal became besieged. Although generally called a war, the actual engagements were of a relatively minor nature considering the few men involved on both sides and the short duration of the combat, lasting some ten weeks of sporadic action.

The Second Boer War was fought from 11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902. It ended with a British victory and the annexation of both republics by the British Empire; both would eventually be incorporated into the Union of South Africa, a dominion of the British Empire, in 1910.  The conflict is commonly referred to as The Boer War but is also known as the South African War outside South Africa, the Anglo-Boer War among most South Africans, and in Afrikaans as the Anglo-Boereoorlog or Tweede Vryheidsoorlog ("Second War of Liberation" or lit. "Second Freedom War") or the Engelse oorlog (English War).  The Second Boer War and the earlier, much less well known, First Boer War (December 1880 to March 1881) are collectively known as the Boer Wars.

Troop Strengths

British

450,000–500,000 (347,000 British, remainder were colonial troops)

Boers
88,000 (25,000 Transvaal and 15,000 Free State Boers at the start of the war)

Casualties and losses

British Military casualties

7,894 killed
22,828 wounded
13,250 died of disease
934 missing

Boer Military casualties

9,098 died (4,000 in combat)
(24,000 Boer prisoners sent overseas)
Civilian casualties: 27,927 Boer civilians died in concentration camps , plus an unknown number of black Africans (107,000 were interned).

War was declared on 11 October 1899 with a Boer offensive into the British-held Natal and Cape Colony areas. The Boers had no problems with mobilisation, since the fiercely independent Boers had no regular army units, apart from the Staatsartillerie (Afrikaans for 'States Artillery') of both republics. As with the First Boer War, since the Boers were civilian militia, each man wore what he wished, usually his everyday dark-grey, light-grey, neutral-coloured, or earthtone khaki farming clothes—often a jacket, trousers and slouch hat. Only the members of the Staatsartillerie wore light green uniforms.

When danger loomed, all the burghers (citizens) in a district would form a military unit called a commando and would elect officers. A full-time official titled a Veldkornet maintained muster rolls, but had no disciplinary powers. Each man brought his own weapon, usually a hunting rifle, and his own horse. Those who could not afford a gun were given one by the authorities. The Presidents of the Transvaal and Orange Free State simply signed decrees to concentrate within a week and the Commandos could muster between 30,000–40,000 men.

It rapidly became clear that the Boer forces presented the British forces with a severe tactical challenge. What the Boers presented was a mobile and innovative approach to warfare, drawing on their experiences from the First Boer War. The average Boers who made up their Commandos were farmers who had spent almost all their working life in the saddle, both as farmers and hunters. They depended on the pot, horse and rifle were skilled stalkers and marksmen. As hunters they had learned to fire from cover, from a prone position and to make the first shot count, knowing that if they missed, the game would either be long gone or could charge and potentially kill them.  At community gatherings, target shooting was a major sport, and they practiced shooting at targets such as hens' eggs perched on posts 100 metres (100 yd) away. They made expert mounted infantry, using every scrap of cover, from which they could pour in a destructive fire using their modern, smokeless, Mauser rifles. Furthermore, in preparation for hostilities, the Boers had acquired around one hundred of the latest Krupp field guns, all horse-drawn and dispersed among the various Commando groups, and several Le Creusot "Long Tom" siege guns. The Boers' skill in adapting themselves to becoming first-rate artillerymen shows them to have been a versatile adversary. The Transvaal also had an intelligence service that stretched across South Africa, and of whose extent and efficiency the British were unaware.

The Boers struck first on 12 October at Kraaipan, an attack that heralded the invasion of the Cape Colony and Colony of Natal between October 1899 and January 1900. With elements of both speed and surprise the Boer drove quickly towards the major British garrison at Ladysmith and the smaller ones at Mafeking and Kimberley. The quick Boer mobilisation resulted in early military successes against the scattered British forces. The British government took these defeats badly and with the sieges in the cities of Mafeking, Ladysmith, and Kimberley still continuing, Britain was compelled to send two more divisions plus large numbers of colonial volunteers. By January 1900 this would become the largest force Britain had ever sent overseas, amounting to some 180,000 men with further reinforcements being sought.

At the Battle of Paardeberg from 18 to 27 February, a pincer movement involving both French’s cavalry and the main British force attempted to take the entrenched position, but the frontal attacks were uncoordinated and so were easily repulsed by the Boers. In Natal, the Battle of the Tugela Heights, which started on 14 February was a fourth attempt to relieve Ladysmith. Despite reinforcements his progress was painfully slow against stiff opposition. However, on 26 February, after much deliberation, in one all-out attack for the first time at last defeated outnumbered forces north of Colenso. After a siege lasting 118 days, the Relief of Ladysmith was effected, but at a total cost of 7,000 British casualties.

After a succession of defeats, the Boers realized that against such overwhelming superiority of troops, they had little chance of defeating the British and so became demoralised. The British then advanced into the Orange Free State from the west, putting the Boers to flight at the Battle of Poplar Grove and capturing Bloemfontein, the capital, unopposed on 13 March with the Boer defenders escaping and scattering.

By September 1900, the British were nominally in control of both Republics, with the exception of the northern part of Transvaal. However, they soon discovered that they only controlled the territory their columns physically occupied. Despite the loss of their two capital cities and half of their army, the Boer commanders adopted guerrilla warfare tactics, primarily conducting raids against infrastructure, resource and supply targets, all aimed at disrupting the operational capacity of the British army.  Towards the end of the war, British tactics of containment, denial, and harassment began to yield results against the guerrillas. The sourcing and coordination of intelligence became increasingly efficient with regular reporting from observers in the blockhouses, from units patrolling the fences and conducting "sweeper" operations, and from native Africans in rural areas who increasingly supplied intelligence, as the Scorched Earth policy took effect and they found themselves competing with the Boers for food supplies.

The last of the Boers surrendered in May, 1902 and the war ended with the Treaty of Vereeniging signed on 31 May 1902.