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Anglo Boer War

The Anglo Boer War 1899 - 1902

The year is 1899. Queen Victoria has recently celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. The British Empire was at its zenith in power and prestige. But the High Commissioner of Cape Colony in South Africa, Alfred Milner, wanted more. He wanted to gain for the Empire the economic power of the gold mines in the Dutch Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. He also wanted to create a Cape-to-Cairo confederation of British colonies to dominate the African continent. And he wanted to rule over it.

To do this, Milner precipitated a war with the Boers. As always, over-confident generals and politicians predicted the war would be over by Christmas. And again, as frequently happened with the British in their colonial wars, they only win one battle - the last one. But they would have to wait two and a half years for that. Until then, disaster was piled on disaster, military careers were destroyed, 22,000 Tommy Atkins are laid to rest in some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England, and the Empire muddles on in the heat and dust of the South African veldt.

In October of 1899 the Boers, starting the war with the maxim the key to a good defense is a good offense, invade Natal and Cape Province and quickly invest three towns: Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberley. This forces the British to abandon their original offensive plans in order to lift the sieges. The subsequent set-piece battles to free these cities only highlight the problems of the British Army. It is after achieving overwhelming superiority in the field that the British manage to lift the sieges and capture the capital cities of the two Boer republics in May/June, 1900.

Britain considers the war over. But the Boers have a long and proud tradition in South Africa and are not about to give up so easily. Some Boer commando units, the bitter-enders, escape into the vast bush country and for 2 more years continue to wage unconventional guerilla warfare by blowing up trains and ambushing British troops and garrisons. The British Army, unable to defeat the Boers using conventional tactics, adopt many of the Boer methods, and the war degenerates into a devastating and cruel struggle between British righteous might and Boer nationalist desperation. The British criss-cross the countryside with blockhouses to flush the Boers into the open; they burn farms and confiscate foodstuffs to prevent them falling into Boer hands; they pack off Boer women and children to concentration camps as collaborators; they literally starve the commandos into submission. The last of the Boer commandos, left without food, clothing, ammunition or hope, surrender in May, 1902 and the war ends with the Treaty of Vereeniging.

The Boer War is a watershed event for the British Army in particular and for the British Empire as a whole. Their last European (i.e. white) opponents were the Russians in the the Crimean War (1853-56). Since then, for the previous 40 years, the Empire had been fighting ill-equipped and ill-organized (albeit brave) native forces. Easy victories made for an over-confidence that was quickly shattered by the opening battles in South Africa. The British generals had a difficult time adjusting to the different tactics of a different war. The Boers were a fast and highly mobile guerilla force, using the new smokeless cartridges in their German Mauser rifles which greatly concealed their positions; and they employed hit-and-run tactics that not only caused losses the British couldnt afford, but thoroughly frustrated the Empires view of a fair fight. As costs and casualties mounted, with the generals continually professing that the end was near, and the war taking a bitter and brutal twist in the last two years, British public opinion soured. Thus began the long slow decline of support for the Imperial idea.

Anglo Boer War

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