Second Boer War

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Aug 22, 2022

Table of Content


The Second Boer War (Afrikaans: Tweede Boereoorlog, more often referred to as Tweede Vryheidsoorlog, "Second Freedom War"), also called the Great Boer War, South African War, or Second Anglo-Boer War was a military conflict fought between October 11, 1899 and May 31, 1902 by the British Empire against the two independent Boer republics, the Transvaal Republic and the Orange Free State.

The war, which originated mainly from British imperialistic and economic aims, was characterized by some unexpected initial successes of the Boers that put the British garrisons in great difficulty. After the arrival of numerous reinforcements and the new commander-in-chief, Field Marshal Frederick Roberts, the British army went on the offensive, invaded the Boer republics, and by mid-1900 occupied Bloemfontein and Pretoria.

The war did not end after the conquest of the Boer capitals, however, but turned into a wearisome struggle characterized by guerrilla warfare by Boer commandos who, led by skilled leaders, inflicted repeated defeats on the British. The new commander-in-chief, General Horatio Kitchener, resorted to the ruthless methods of round-ups, deportation of civilians, destruction of territory and concentration camps to overcome the Boer resistance.

The war, which partly ruined the international prestige of the British Empire, ended after direct negotiations in 1902 with the official annexation of the Boer republics, which nevertheless retained their national identity.

Boer republics and the British Empire.

After the founding in 1652 of a naval port of call near the Cape of Good Hope by the Dutch East India Company, the settlement had slowly developed with the arrival of Dutch settlers, German Protestant emigrants, and French Huguenot immigrants. This white population, the Afrikaners ("people of Africa"), developed their own way of life with their own language, Afrikaans, a variant of Dutch. The Trekboers, or Boers ("wandering farmers") were the poorest settlers who gradually moved inland, abandoning the coastal strip.

In 1806, during the Napoleonic Wars, Britain seized the Cape colony to make it a strategic linking base on the route to India; however, the emigration of British settlers was limited in the following years and Afrikaners remained the majority; new developments occurred in 1834 when British Governor Benjamin d'Urban decreed the emancipation of black slaves in the Cape colony; in opposition to this decision, some 5,000 Boers decided on the Great Trek. The resolute and uncompromising so-called voortrekkers, "pioneers," abandoned their Cape appropriations and established, after bloody struggles against indigenous tribes, new appropriations in the interior, across the Orange and Vaal rivers, forming a society based on agricultural farms, militia and strict racial segregation of mixed blacks and bloods.

The British Empire, under the leadership of the new governor Harry Smith, at first opposed Boer independence; in 1843 the territory of Natal, inhabited mainly by Zulus, was annexed to the Cape Colony, then the governor decided to expand British rule beyond the Orange and Vaal and defeated the Boers at the Battle of Boomplaats. However, the British government did not approve of Smith's aggressive policy; the governor was recalled, his conquests were annulled, and the Sand River and Bloemfontein Conventions were concluded in 1852 and 1854, which recognized the independence of the two Boer republics: the Transvaal Republic and the Orange Free State.

In the following decades the British colony of the Cape experienced a major expansion favored by the discovery in 1870 at Kimberley, on the border with the Orange Free State, of the world's largest diamond deposit; railways and economic activities were developed; white emigration from Britain increased; and in 1872 the colony was granted autonomy of government on a par with the dominion of Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand and the five Australian colonies. From 1877 Governor Henry Bartle Frere then developed, with London's authorization, an ambitious new project to unite the two Boer republics, at that time in severe financial crisis, with the two British colonies into a great white confederation of Southern Africa under the control of the Empire. The British plans seemed favored by the plight of the Boer republics, which were threatened by the expansionism of the Cetshwayo Zulus; the Boers asked Britain for help and seemed to favor the white confederation; the British army entered the Transvaal and in 1879 won, after some initial defeats, the Zulu War.

Political contrasts between the British parties, however, caused Bartle Frere's plans to fail; the Liberals, led by William Gladstone, opposed the annexation of the Boer republics, and South Africa's economic development programs were blocked; in addition, resources rose from the nationalistic opposition of the Boer leaders, who in 1880, under the leadership of Paul Kruger, decided to rebel against the British occupation of the territory and fight for the independence of the Afrikaner republics. The First Boer War ended in a bitter British defeat at the Battle of Majuba on the Natal border on Feb. 27, 1881; Gladstone, back in government in Britain, decided to forgo revenge, had British reinforcement forces sent to Africa recalled, and decided to grant independence to the two Boer republics, provided that British control over their foreign policy was officially retained. Kruger and the other Boer leaders preferred to accept this compromise proposed by Gladstone, which was sanctioned by the Pretoria Convention of 1881 and confirmed, in a more favorable sense to the Boers, by the London Convention of 1884.

The Jameson Expedition

In 1886 the discovery of the giant Witwatersrand gold deposits in the Transvaal Republic completely changed the economic and political situation in South Africa. In a short time, the Transvaal became the world's leading gold producer and the richest nation in the region; above all, there was the continuous and massive influx of mainly British immigrants into the Boer republic. Within a few years the so-called uitlanders, "foreigners," became the majority of the population of the Transvaal outnumbering the Boers, took over the management of the mines, and founded the new city of Johannesburg, the ever-expanding gold capital of the world. The deposits allowed huge profits for the British capitalist companies that controlled the mines; in particular Alfred Beit and Julius Wernher assumed a role of economic dominance in connection with other mining companies, the so-called goldbugs. In South Africa these monopoly companies received powerful political backing from the British Prime Minister of the Cape, the unscrupulous and ambitious diamond billionaire Cecil Rhodes.

Transvaal President Paul Kruger regarded the continued arrival of Uitlanders in the Boer republic with growing concern; the Transvaal collected huge mining rights from foreign mining capitalists but white immigration risked undermining national cohesion and taking away Boer political dominance over the republic. Kruger therefore and the Afrikaner nationalists refused to grant full political rights to Uitlanders who, although they were a majority in the white population, did not, on the basis of a restrictive suffrage law enacted in 1888, obtain the right to vote until after fifteen years of residence.

In 1895 Cecil Rhodes thought it was time to organize a coup d'état to shake the solidity of the Transvaal Republic and facilitate a new annexation to the British Empire. It now seems established that Rhodes was in contact with the Witwatersand capitalists, especially Wernher-Beit, and that British Colonial Minister Joseph Chamberlain was also aware of his plans for action, which he tacitly approved. Rhodes' plans involved provoking an uprising of the Uitlander colonists from the newly formed so-called "reform committee" in Johannesburg through a daring raid by an improvised mobile column led by Leander Starr Jameson and some British officers. Jameson's expedition ended in disaster; the alleged Johannesburg conspirators did not go into action, the Uitlanders did not rise up at all, and Jameson's column was intercepted by Boer commandos led by General Piet Cronje, encircled and easily forced to surrender at Doornkop near Johannesburg on January 2, 1896. The failed raid had important consequences; Kruger was re-elected president of the Transvaal and strengthened the dominance of the nationalist Afrikaners over the Uitlanders; Rhodes was forced to resign because of the scandal caused by the background of the affair; Colonial Minister Chamberlain himself risked being swept aside; and the British government temporarily had to follow a policy of appeasement. In addition, the raid crisis aroused international complications; Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany sent a telegram of congratulations to President Kruger and diplomatically supported the Boer republics; the British public rose up against German interference, and Anglo-German relations deteriorated.

Alfred Milner to the Chief

In 1897, the able and ambitious Alfred Milner was sent to the Cape as the colony's new high commissioner; he was a firm believer in the need to develop the British Empire, to foster the supremacy of the white race, and to radically and permanently resolve the dispute with the Boer republics by resuming annexation programs within an imperial South Africa. Although the British government and Minister Chamberlain seemed intent on avoiding new complications in South Africa and had affirmed their interest in peace, Milner on the contrary was determined to carry out an aggressive policy to "stir up a crisis."

Milner believed that, contrary to the views of London politicians, time would favor the final consolidation of Kruger's regime; he therefore intended to pursue his imperialist project rapidly by seeking agreement with the loyalist settlers at the Cape, coordinating his action with the Ministry of Colonies, and, thanks to his important friendships in the British establishment, fostering a favorable attitude to his demands on the part of public opinion in the two parties. In November 1898 Milner returned home where he outlined his plans to Minister Chamberlain; he stated that Kruger was "more autocratic than ever," and that it was important to obtain by appropriate pressure decisive concessions from the Boers with regard to Uitlander rights. Minister Chamberlain counseled caution and patience, but Milner was determined to press ahead "of his own accord" and try to put Kruger on the spot by insisting on the issue of civil rights for white foreigners from the Transvaal.

After Jameson's raid effectively the Transvaal Republic appeared politically strengthened; Kruger increasingly assumed the role of national leader and spiritual protector of the Boer volk, relations were consolidated with the leaders of the Orange Free State where in 1896 the intransigent Martinus Steyn was elected president, who fostered a process of rapprochement between the two republics. In 1897 a regular military alliance was concluded. In addition, the administrative structure of the Transvaal began to be modernized through the actions of an Afrikaner from the Cape, Jan Smuts, the young legal adviser to the government.

While Milner was still in London for consultations with Minister Chamberlain, the incident of the killing on December 23, 1898 under unclear circumstances of Uitlander Tom Edgar, a laborer in Johannesburg, by the Boer police, gave the political representatives of the "foreigners" an opportunity to ratchet up tensions and raise a strong controversy against the Transvaal government and its alleged harassment of white immigrants. James Percy FitzPatrick, the main leader of the Uitlanders, was then able to organize the protests, in conjunction with mining company capitalists who aimed to obtain a reduction in mining fees. After the January 14, 1899 protest demonstration, marked by riots with Boer workers, the Uitlander committees led by FitzPatrick then appealed to the British Empire for support for their claims and "protection" against Boer abuse. Kruger and Smuts tried to counter the growing Uitlander protest orchestrated by FitzPatrick with the support of the Wernher-Beit by proposing the so-called "grand bargain," a general agreement to reduce mining taxes and introduce a suffrage law with voting rights after only five years of residence.

FitzPatrick and the mining capitalists succeeded in scuppering this attempted agreement by making further demands which, risking transferring control of the Transvaal to the Uitlanders in a few years, were unacceptable to Kruger. Milner then, having returned to the Cape, was able to continue to develop his aggressive policy by emphasizing the problem of alleged Boer harassment of immigrants of British descent and urging the British government, especially with the famous "hilot despatch" in which he compared the Uitlanders to the hilots of Sparta, to intervene with all its might against the Boer republics.

On May 9, 1899, the British cabinet met in London and made the final decisions; despite the British public's lack of interest in South African problems, the cabinet, under pressure from Colonial Minister Chamberlain who, urged in turn by Milner, proposed to politically support the Uitlanders' claims, decided to support the high commissioner's aggressive policy and to "clamp down" on Kruger in order to make him "duck." Chamberlain actually disagreed with Milner's annexationist intentions and for the time being intended only to force the Boers to be given the right to vote after five years of residence retroactively. As tensions rose between the Boer republics and Britain, representatives of the Cape Afrikaners proposed mediation and managed to arrange a direct meeting between Milner and Kruger to seek a general agreement. Milner, though opposed to compromise, had to agree to the meeting where, he told Chamberlain, he intended to show himself "studiously moderate."

The Bloemfontein conference between High Commissioner Milner and Transvaal President Kruger began on May 31, 1899, and continued for four days but ended in complete failure. Milner behaved formally but was essentially intransigent; Kruger after some delaying tactics presented on the third day a proposal to grant Uitlanders the right to vote after seven years of residence in exchange for some minor concessions. The high commissioner actually did not want an agreement and rejected the plan, responding with a demand for complete administrative autonomy for the Witwatersrand territory. After the president's exasperated response, Milner abruptly interrupted the conference, which closed "without any commitment on the part of the parties."

Alfred Milner after the failure of direct negotiations was determined to pursue his imperialistic designs and accelerate the crisis; he believed the time had come to switch to a threatening policy of military pressure toward the Boer republics. The British military commander in South Africa, General William Butler, on the other hand, was personally in favor of an agreement with the Boers and believed that the Empire's 10,000 soldiers in Cape Colony and Natal were sufficient to ensure defense in the event of aggressive initiatives by the republics. In contrast, Milner presented three main demands to the British government at the end of May 1899 in total contrast to General Butler's optimistic assessments. Milner first and foremost demanded precisely the replacement of the general, who was considered pro-Boer, with a new authoritative commanding general; he also recommended the immediate dispatch of experienced officers to organize the defense of the colony's border towns, and above all the establishment, with the influx of reinforcements from the metropolis of "a preponderant force" of at least 10,000 men in Natal for intimidation and precautionary purposes. On June 8, 1899, the commander-in-chief of the British Army, Field Marshal Garnet Wolseley, even requested the mobilization at home to impress the Boers of General Redvers Buller's entire I Corps consisting of three infantry divisions and one cavalry division with 35,000 soldiers in total.

Minister of War Lord Lansdowne immediately rejected these warlike plans, and on June 21, 1899, communicated that for the time being it was sufficient to alert General Butler to keep watch over Boer activity, provide equipment to troops already in place, and send a dozen experienced officers to the colonies. Field Marshal Wolseley, who was highly critical of the minister whom he regarded as his opponent and an advocate of the faction of the army linked to his rival, Field Marshal Frederick Roberts, protested and in July presented some detailed studies in which he again proposed the mobilization of the I Corps, the allocation of the necessary funds in case of war, and finally the immediate dispatch to South Africa of at least 10,000 reinforcements. Lansdowne however for the time being avoided making any radical decisions and merely appointed General William Penn Symons to command the British forces in Natal.

After the failure of the Bloemfontein conference meanwhile, political negotiations had continued between the British Empire and the Boer republics. After an ominous speech by Minister Chamberlain on June 26 in which the politician claimed that "we have put our hand to the plow" to resolve the Boer question, Kruger made new concessions on July 18 to which the British government responded by requesting a commission of inquiry to ascertain in detail how well these proposals corresponded to the needs of the Uitlanders. On July 28 the British Parliament overwhelmingly approved the government's actions and Minister Chamberlain's firm demeanor. On August 19 Kruger presented further concessions, but by then Chamberlain had decided to follow the extremist policy of Milner and the British gold-mining capitalists; in a speech on August 26 he called Kruger a "wringing sponge" trying to stall with ever new and ambiguous reforms, and the Transvaal president withdrew his final offers on Uitlander rights, returning to less accommodating positions.

In August, as the diplomatic crisis deepened, the sharp contrast between the War Minister and Field Marshal Wolseley continued; it was not until the meeting of September 8, 1899, that the British government, under pressure from Chamberlain and despite the doubts of Lansdowne and Chancellor of the Exchequer Michael Hicks Beach, decided on the first concrete military measures. Field Marshal Wolseley then received orders to transfer to South Africa, 10,000 reinforcement troops with contingents mainly from India and regiments stationed in Alexandria, Cyprus and Crete. General Butler was recalled home and General George Stuart White, a follower of Field Marshal Roberts, was appointed in charge of field forces in Natal. Initial organizational arrangements were also planned for the mobilization and transfer of the 1st Army Corps, which, under the command of General Redvers Buller, Field Marshal Wolseley's principal lieutenant, was to launch a major decisive offensive by invading the Boer republics.

While Field Marshal Wolseley and most of the British military were optimistic and devalued Boer military efficiency, General Buller, during an unhappy preparatory meeting with Minister Lansdowne, criticized the plans and the lack of coordination; he stated that more troops needed to be sent immediately to avoid being taken by surprise by a Boer attack and advised that General White assume a defensive deployment in Natal behind the Tugela River without exposing his troops. The minister did not seem alarmed by General Buller's predictions; the designated commander, a follower of Field Marshal Wolseley's "African faction," was not held in high esteem by Lansdowne; the latter thought it necessary to wait for Boer moves before further reinforcing the forces and gave confidence to Wolseley's assurances that with the troops already planned Natal could be defended without difficulty.

On Sept. 16 General White embarked with his officers for South Africa; on Oct. 3 he arrived in Cape Town where he met High Commissioner Milner who seemed particularly nervous and concerned, then headed by sea to Durban where he landed on Oct. 7 and where he learned that since Sept. 25 General Penn Symons, contrary to warnings he had received, had moved part of his forces into northern Natal at Dundee, north of the Tugela. General White preferred, mainly for reasons of political expediency and fears of an uprising by the natives in the event of a retreat, to maintain General Penn Symons' forward deployment. Meanwhile, the British government, after news of the breakdown of negotiations with the Boer republics, had finally activated the next military preparations, and on September 22, 1899, it was decided to send General Buller's I Corps to South Africa.

By September 2, Paul Kruger had realized that, despite his repeated concessions, war with the British Empire was now inevitable and imminent; at that time the imperial forces on the borders were particularly weak: there were 500 irregular soldiers in Mafeking, another 500 in Kimberley, and 2,000 soldiers under the command of General Penn Symons in northern Natal. The able young Jan Smuts, aware of the inevitability of war, had therefore proposed a bold offensive by exploiting the temporary weakness of the opponent; having a total of about 40,000 fighters, the Boer republics could have reached Durban before the arrival of the British reinforcements that were already on their way. However, these proposals were opposed by the prudent commander-in-chief of the Transvaal army, Piet Joubert, and especially by the president of the republic of Orange, Martinus Steyn. It was only after news came in late September of the arrival of 8,000 British soldiers in Natal and the London government's decision to send an entire army corps that the Boer republics decided to take the initiative.

On Sept. 28 the Transvaal Republic mobilized its militia, followed on Oct. 2, 1899 by the State of Orange; on Oct. 9 an ultimatum was presented to British agent Greene by Secretary of State Francis William Reitz proposing "arbitration" and demanding that Britain "instantly" withdraw its troops that had arrived in South Africa after June 1, 1899, and not disembark the contingents en route. The following day a grand military parade of Boer mounted troops was organized in the presence of Joubert. Finally on October 12 Boer commandos went into action by penetrating Natal and starting the war. The Boer ultimatum of Oct. 9 arrived in London just as Minister Chamberlain was about to send in turn, after obtaining government approval, his own document abruptly demanding that the Transvaal grant Uitlanders the right to vote after only one year's residence and giving them 24 hours to give a final answer. Chamberlain, learning of the surprising and unexpected Boer ultimatum, was able to avoid making his document known and in this way shift the responsibility for the rupture onto the republican authorities.

Meanwhile, by October 9 most of the convoys with British reinforcements, led by General White and his officers, had arrived in Durban; after learning of the ultimatum Field Marshal Wolseley appeared fully confident, the mobilization of the reservists assigned to the I Corps was being carried out with order and precision, and on October 14 the vanguards of the 47. 000 soldiers assigned to General Buller; however, the latter maintained his concerns about the development of the strategic situation in South Africa until his troops arrived.

The Boer Offensive

Despite widespread optimism among British political-military leaders, High Commissioner Alfred Milner had no shortage of concerns about the immediate security of Natal and Cape Colony frontier positions. In the first week of October, the town of Mafeking was defended by only six hundred Rhodesian soldiers under the command of Colonel Robert Baden-Powell, while at Kimberley were, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Kekewith, part of a British battalion and several thousand local volunteers. The colony after the arrival of reinforcements had at its disposal five infantry battalions that had occupied the railroad bridge over the Orange River and the communication centers of Stormberg, De Aar and Naauwpoort. In Natal, on the other hand, General George White now had at his disposal a field force of 13,000 soldiers of whom 4,000 men, under the command of General Penn Symons, were deployed in a dangerously advanced position at Dundee.

The Boer republics had concentrated most of their forces in Natal; 15,000 militiamen from the Transvaal and 6,000 from the state of Orange began the invasion on Oct. 12 divided into four groupings under the command of General Joubert and General Martinus Prinsloo; the Boers, extremely mobile thanks to their horses, were able to quickly surprise the British positions and initially threaten the communications of the Dundee garrison. General Symons tried to counterattack and achieved local tactical success by capturing Talana Hill on October 20 but was killed during the battle, and his successor, General James Yules, fearing that he would be encircled in Dundee by the converging Boer columns, began on October 22 a disastrous retreat to Ladysmith where General White's main forces were located. The latter had sent part of his forces northeastward on October 21 to support General Yule and to recognize the positions reached by the Boers. The British troops of General Ian Hamilton and General John French were brilliantly successful in the Battle of Elandslaagte, but strategically the victory did not change the situation and the Boer commandos continued to advance in a semicircle from the west, north and northeast toward Ladysmith where General Yule's exhausted soldiers retreating from Dundee arrived on October 26.

General White had concentrated his forces at Ladysmith but lacked accurate information on the position of the Boer columns; finally on October 30 he decided to launch an attack to block the enemy advance. The Battle of Ladysmith ended in disaster for the British; on so-called "Mournful Monday" General White's brigades were surprised and pushed back inside the town while Lieutenant Colonel Carleton's secondary column was forced to surrender at Nicholson's Nek. The commander of the Natal forces, much demoralized, fell back with all his troops to Ladysmith where the British, nine battalions, four cavalry regiments and six batteries of guns, were besieged by General Joubert's Boers beginning Nov. 2, 1899.

Meanwhile, the Boers had also invaded the Cape Colony; by October 14 Mafeking was besieged by more than 6,000 Orange State militiamen under the command of General Piet Cronje, while on the same day Kimberley was also cut off and encircled by more Boer commandos under General Ferreira. News reached Cape Town on November 4 that the Boers had also crossed the Orange River and seemed intent on pushing deep into the colony, which at the beginning of the war was defended by only 7,000 British soldiers in addition to volunteer militias recruited from among the settlers. In fact, the two border towns defended themselves valiantly; at Kimberley Lieutenant Colonel Kekewich who was joined by Cecil Rhodes himself arrived on the scene in his capacity as administrative director of De Beers who controlled the diamond mines, reinforced his small garrison with Cape policemen and several thousand local volunteers. At Mafeking Colonel Baden-Powell successfully countered General Cronje's forces and, after the latter's departure for Kimberley, also resisted the siege of the remaining Boers under the command of General Jacobus Snyman.

Despite the valiant defense of the two border towns, in Cape Town Alfred Milner was increasingly worried. General Redvers Buller finally arrived at the Cape on November 1, 1899, preceding the first convoys of I Corps troops that arrived on November 8; the British supreme commander found a situation of considerable confusion and great depression; Milner seemed to fear above all a Boer invasion of the Cape colony, which he believed could trigger a general uprising by settlers of Dutch origin. The high commissioner also considered it a priority to unlock Kimberley where Cecil Rhodes was located. Milner therefore proposed to General Buller to keep the entire I Corps concentrated in the Cape Colony and to march immediately on Kimberley, neglecting for the time being the liberation of Ladysmith and the defense of Natal.

General Buller thought it impossible to abandon the 12,000 British soldiers besieged at Ladysmith; from reports from Natal, he learned that the situation of the garrison was critical, that the Boers seemed free to reach Durban, and that General White had shown serious command deficiencies. The British commander-in-chief therefore made the decision on November 4 to split his army corps and distribute the various divisions to the most threatened sectors to stop a possible Boer invasion and thus free the besieged British forces at Ladysmith and Kimberley. General Buller successfully carried out major organizational work at the Cape, and by the third week of November most of the I Corps troops had arrived and were on the move to reinforce the British deployment in both the Cape Colony and Natal. Two brigades of General Francis Clery's division were in position at Estcourt to protect Pietermaritzburg and Durban, while General Paul Methuen's division was ready at De Aar to march on Kimberley; General William Gatacre's division and General French's cavalry divisions controlled Queenstown and Colesberg. General Buller left on November 22 for Durban where he intended to personally assume command of the Natal sector and direct the advance toward Ladysmith.

Meanwhile, during the council of war on November 9, the Boer leaders had decided to forgo attacking Ladysmith immediately and to entrench themselves in defensive positions along the banks of the Tugela River; a raid was also initiated on November 13 with some 2,000 fighters who, led by General Joubert and his deputy, General Louis Botha, advanced south and on November 15 surprised an enemy armored train and captured several prisoners, including young Winston Churchill. General Botha's attackers continued south, bypassed Estcourt and made contact with British reinforcements. General Joubert, very fearful, preferred to order a retreat north of the Tugela, where the Boers deployed to await the expected British counteroffensive.

The failure of the first British counteroffensive

The British counteroffensive began in the third week of November on the Western Front where General Methuen's reinforced division began its advance along the Western Railway to try to reach and liberate the garrison at Kimberley; in this sector of the front the Boer defenses were initially weak and the Orange Free State commandos under the command of General Prinsloo were defeated at the battles of Belmont on November 23 and Graspan on November 25. General Methuen then continued the advance and reached the Modder River where he faced the enemy who had been reinforced by the arrival of the commandos of General Piet Cronje and Koos de la Rey; at the Battle of Modder on November 28, 1899, the British, attacking the Boer trenches in the open, suffered heavy losses but eventually forced the enemy to retreat.

The Boers, despite setbacks, neatly fell back to a strong defensive position established on a line of hills; on the instructions of General de la Rey, trenches were dug for the riflemen at the foot of the ridges from where the Boers could open surprise fire by structuring vast fields of fire. General Metheun had decided to launch a difficult night attack on Dec. 11, 1899, but the British maneuver ended in a bloody defeat at the Battle of Magersfontein; the British soldiers suffered heavy losses and were pinned down in the open; by the next morning they fell back en route, abandoning the positions they had reached. The heavy defeat marked the end of General Metheun's attempt to reach Kimberley; the British forces suspended further attacks and remained stationary on the banks of the Modder. The previous day, December 10, 1899, General Gatacre had also suffered a defeat in the central sector of the Western Front in an attempt to attack a rail junction along the line to Port Elizabeth. The Battle of Stormberg ended with a new retreat by the British, who had been caught in the open by Boer commandos.

The second week of December 1899, "Black Week," ended with a third British defeat on the Natal front. General Buller had arrived in Estcourt and assumed command in Natal on Dec. 6, 1899; the general did his best to boost the morale of his troops and organize his forces before going on the offensive to unlock the Ladysmith garrison. The mission presented itself difficult; the Boers, led by the able General Louis Botha, were deployed on entrenched positions sheltered by the Tugela River and exploited an unbroken series of hilly reliefs that dominated the course of the river from the northern bank and stretched for many kilometers. General Buller was aware of the defeats suffered by his subordinates on the Western Front; he felt that, because of the general situation and tactical difficulties, it was risky to attempt to overcome the Boer defenses on the Tugela by a vast and complicated circumventing maneuver, and so he decided to organize a force attack in the center of the lines, at Colenso, to try to advance along the direct road to Ladysmith. On Dec. 15, 1899, the four brigades of General Clery's division attacked General Botha's Boer positions, but the Battle of Colenso ended in a serious British defeat; under fire from the Boer militia, the British troops were unable to cross the river and were driven back with serious losses; General Buller had to suspend operations and return to Estcourt.

The disastrous news of the repeated defeats of the so-called "Black Week" and especially of General Buller's severe defeat at Colenso aroused great emotion in British public opinion and caused decisive politico-military consequences in Britain. On December 16, 1899, after learning of General Buller's defeat, Field Marshal Frederick Roberts, commander-in-chief of Ireland, sent a confidential missive to Minister of War Lansdowne in which he stated that a radical change in strategy was needed and advanced his candidacy as the new supreme commander in South Africa. The War Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Balfour had already decided to remove General Buller, who, from the tenor of his messages appeared morally shaken and lacking resolve, and to appoint, despite the opposition of Field Marshal Wolseley, Field Marshal Roberts as the new commander-in-chief. Prime Minister Lord Salisbury also decided to place alongside Field Marshal Roberts, General Horatio Kitchener, recent victor at the Battle of Omdurman, as chief of staff of the expeditionary force.

In the atmosphere of excitement and concern that followed the defeats of "Black Week," steps were taken, in addition to revolutionizing command structures, to mobilize, organize, and transfer to South Africa large quantities of soldiers and reinforcement armaments. In an atmosphere of national and imperial cohesion, Queen Victoria showed confidence and optimism, and the leaders of the Liberal Party supported the Conservative government. The War Ministry and Field Marshal Wolseley sought to remedy the serious shortages of materiel and to adapt logistical facilities to the needs of a major war in Africa. Significant contingents of volunteers were recruited by government decision on December 20, 1899, to serve as mobile mounted troops, the so-called Imperial Yeomanry, and the White Dominions supported the Empire and sent units to South Africa. Most importantly, a second regular army corps was mobilized on Dec. 18, 1899, and three new infantry divisions, with another 45,000 soldiers, left immediately for the theater of war, arriving by January 1900.

Field Marshal Roberts embarked for South Africa on December 23, 1899; he arrived in Cape Town, along with General Kitchener, on January 10, 1900, and immediately assumed supreme command of the British Expeditionary Force, which was being strengthened and reorganized after its defeats. In the meantime the Boers had been unable to capitalize on their brilliant and unexpected victories; on the Western Front Generals Cronje and de la Rey had remained stationary on the Modder line, while a violent attack launched on January 6, 1900, by General Joubert's Natal Boer forces against the besieged garrison at Ladysmith had been repulsed by the British after a series of dramatic night battles.

Instead, General Buller's second attempt to overcome the Boer defenses led by General Botha on the Tugela River and unlock the British garrison at Ladysmith commanded by General White, which was in a precarious situation, ended with another heavy defeat. Despite Field Marshal Roberts' calls for caution, General Buller, after the arrival in reinforcement to his field force of General Charles Warren's newly landed division, resumed the initiative and carried out on January 10, 1900, a large circumventing maneuver to cross the Tugela River west of Colenso. After initial success, the British were again defeated on January 23 and 24, 1900, at the Battle of Spion Kop and, due to tactical errors and Boer counterattacks, surrendered the positions they had gained; General Buller preferred to fall back and return with his army to its original positions.

After the severe defeat, from London Field Marshal Wolseley and the War Ministry also at first speculated about the possibility of giving up on unlocking Ladysmith and authorizing the surrender of the garrison; instead, Field Marshal Roberts ordered General Buller to "keep strictly on the defensive" pending the start of the major offensive being prepared on the Western Front.

Field Marshal Roberts' offensive.

Field Marshal Roberts' great offensive began on February 11, 1900; it had taken the new commander-in-chief nearly a month to regroup a powerful mass of maneuver with the help of the new troops constantly pouring into South Africa and to reorganize the British Army's logistics and transportation system in order to improve its efficiency and speed of movement. General Kitchener, chief of staff of the field force, had been responsible for restructuring the convoy system by centralizing the distribution of supplies to troops and amassing large quantities of slaughter and transport livestock. Field Marshal Roberts had also established an efficient command structure with the input of young officers and had initially planned a daring offensive maneuver that, momentarily neglecting the towns besieged by the Boers, was to take the army from the railroad bridge over the Orange River directly south to Bloemfontein, capital of the Free State.

Field Marshal Roberts had concentrated more than 40,000 soldiers with a hundred guns along the Western Railway; the commander-in-chief had also sought to improve the mobility of his troops by establishing new divisions of mounted infantry and irregular cavalry to be used in scouting and reconnaissance ahead of the mass of infantry forces. It was the so-called "Rimington Tigers," a unit of white colonial guides recruited locally, that first entered Ramdam, the first Boer settlement across the border, paving the way for the army. The main British forces consisted of the cavalry division of General John French, the newly arrived infantry divisions from Britain of General Thomas Kelly-Kenny and General Charles Tucker, and the newly formed division of General Henry Colvile. Field Marshal Roberts also had left behind on the Modder River line a number of brigades under the command of General Methuen; the new commander-in-chief had reorganized the command structures by dismissing or relegating to secondary roles a number of officers deemed incompetent.

On Jan. 27, 1900, Field Marshal Roberts decided to change his plan of operations and, because of the expected logistical difficulties of an advance across the veld, bad news from Natal where General Buller had suffered fresh defeats, and pressing calls for help from Kimberley, to abandon the bold march on Bloemfontein. Instead, the field marshal's new plan called for the army to march along the railroad by crossing the Riet and Modder rivers, while General French's cavalry division would precede the infantry and head immediately for Kimberley. As Generals Tucker's and Kelly-Kenny's divisions arrived at Ramdam, General French's cavalrymen then began their advance northward on the night of Feb. 12; the cavalry division, consisting of about 5,000 soldiers, easily crossed the Riet and, despite supply shortages due to disorganized convoys, they also crossed the Modder on Feb. 15, quickly routed some weak Boer divisions and galloped on Kimberley.

Field Marshal Roberts reached the banks of the Riet with his headquarters on February 15, 1900, and controlled the advance of the infantry divisions north of the river; the army's march continued with some difficulty mainly because of logistical deficiencies. Convoys and ox herds left behind at a ford on the river were attacked by surprise by Boer commandos under commander Christiaan de Wet. Despite these difficulties, the field marshal managed to resolve the supply crisis and the army continued its advance toward the Modder, while General French's cavalry reached Kimberely as early as 3:30 p.m. on February 15 and made contact with Colonel Kekewich's garrison, which had steadfastly resisted the long siege.

General Cronje was defending the Modder line with about 5,000 Boer fighters; faced with the massive British offensive, he decided on February 15, 1900, to abandon his positions and try to fall back eastward along the northern bank of the river toward Bloemfontein; then the Boers began a difficult disengagement maneuver, made particularly slow and dangerous by the presence along with the Miltians of all the laager's wagons and cattle. Commanders Ferreira and De Wet preferred not to follow General Cronje's bulk and scattered into the veld with their small units. Initially General Cronje's retreat was successful and the Boers escaped the infantry of General Kelly-Kenny's division; however, the Boers' march was slowed by wagons, and on February 17 General Cronje's troops found their way barred at the ford on the Modder at Paardeberg by General French's cavalry, which had quickly moved south from Kimberley to cooperate with the main army.

Instead of trying to evade the British cavalry and resume his retreat eastward, General Cronje decided to halt on the northern bank of the Modder at Paardeberg and organize solid entrenched defensive positions; the Boer commander then gave the British infantry time to close the distance and catch up with him from the south. General Kitchener personally led the divisions of General Kelly-Kenny and General Colvile and decided to launch a massive general assault from the southern bank on February 18, 1900 to cross the river and rout the Boer laager. Despite clear numerical superiority the British were repulsed with heavy losses and the Boers held their positions. Field Marshal Roberts arrived on the battlefield on February 19 and decided to forgo further frontal attacks and commit all available artillery to systematically bombard the Boer camp. After several days of British cannon fire that caused heavy casualties and severely wore down the encircled Boers, General Cronje decided on February 27, 1900, to surrender to Field Marshal Roberts with all his troops. More than 4,000 Boers fell prisoner in the Battle of Paardeberg, which marked a decisive turning point in the war in favor of the British.

While Field Marshal Roberts' army was beginning its invasion of the Boer Republics, at the same time on the Natal front General Buller had suffered a third defeat at the Battle of Vaal Kranz on February 7, 1900; however, the weakening of the Boer defenses on the Tugela River made possible a new attempt to break through the lines and finally free General White's British troops besieged at Ladysmith since October 1899. On Feb. 14, 1900, General Buller began a complex maneuver to outflank the Tugela lines on the right; the divisions of Generals Neville Lyttelton and Charles Warren first captured the hills south of the river, then from Feb. 22 launched the decisive attack on the hill ridges north of the Tugela, which were captured after a long and bitter series of battles. General Botha's Boer army finally had to beat a retreat, and some of the troops had to be rushed to the western front. On February 27, British troops arrived at Ladysmith and the siege was broken; on March 1, 1900, a formal meeting took place between General Buller and General White, who had defended the town for more than three months with his troops.

March on Pretoria

After General Cronje's surrender, the Boers had tried to organize a new defensive position to protect Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State; about 6,000 fighters under the command of Generals de la Rey and De Wet were deployed on a line of hills along both banks of the Modder River about fifty kilometers west of the city. The two Presidents of the Republics, Paul Kruger and Martinus Steyn, went to the battlefield to galvanize resistance, but the superiority of the British army was overwhelming, and General Roberts, having resumed the advance, was able to attack on March 7, 1900, with the infantry divisions of Generals Kelly-Kenny, Tucker, and Colvile and the cavalry division of General French. The so-called Battle of the Poplar Grove ended in British victory; while the cavalry outflanked the Boer lines to the east, the three infantry divisions attacked on both banks. The Boers, threatened with outflanking, retreated precipitously; General De Wet managed to protect the retreat and the two presidents avoided capture partly because of the delayed pursuit of the British cavalry. After renewed fighting at Driefontein on March 10, Field Marshal Roberts was able to enter Bloemfontein on March 13, 1900 without encountering resistance.

After the conquest of the capital of the Orange Free State, Field Marshal Roberts expressed optimism in his communications to London; in an effort to pacify the territory as soon as possible, he promulgated an initial amnesty and occupied himself for a few weeks mainly with consolidating his positions, improving connections, and strengthening his deployment. The field marshal, convinced of the possibility of an imminent collapse of the resistance, did not work hard to destroy the enemy armies still in the field; General Olivier's 6,000 Boers, retreating from Colesberg and Stormberg, then managed to fall back northward without being intercepted by General French's cavalry, which had moved into Thaba Nchu on March 20. Despite the optimism of Field Marshal Roberts, much of the politico-military leadership, and public opinion, in reality the situation of the British Army in Bloemfontein was not without its difficulties especially because of serious logistical deficiencies that made a rapid resumption of the advance impossible. The transportation system was very disorganized and there was a great shortage of horses and oxen; the railway system was inadequate; consequently, the provision of food for men and animals was unsatisfactory; and a serious typhoid epidemic broke out in Bloemfontein that the military health service was unable to control adequately.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the Boer republics, after a momentary pessimism following the first defeats, had met on March 17, 1900, in Kroonstad to make new decisions; the meeting, at which Presidents Kruger and Steyn were also present, was of great importance and strengthened the cohesion and determination of the Boers. It was decided to continue the war and to take a series of diplomatic and propaganda initiatives to seek the practical help of the Great World Powers against the British Empire, which was described as an aggressive power aiming to destroy the Boer volk. There was widespread sentiment worldwide of sympathy for the Boer cause and aversion to British imperialist policy, but concretely this moral support was of no help to the republics, which could only rely on the contribution of a limited number of foreign volunteers. Kruger's mystic-religious appeals to resistance for the safety of Afrikaners instead bolstered morale, while some resolute leaders, especially Christiaan De Wet and Koos de la Rey, argued for changing war strategies and beginning a series of rapid raids to strike and disorganize the invading army's communication routes and rear.

The new strategy was partly approved by the two presidents, and at the end of March 1900 General de la Rey feigned an offensive movement in the direction of Bloemfontein with the aim of attracting the bulk of the British forces, while General De Wet with 2,000 Boers launched an initial attack on the enemy rear by striking by surprise at Sannah's Post where the aqueducts supplying the capital of the Orange Free State were located. General De Wet's commandos attacked Sanna's Post on March 31, 1900, and surprised a cavalry division under the command of General Robert George Broadwood; the British were heavily defeated, the Boers captured seven guns and 428 prisoners, and managed to escape the slow pursuit of infantry divisions sent to the rescue by Field Marshal Roberts. On April 3, General De Wet's Boers attacked a British battalion at Reddesberg and scored another success; finally after a failed attack on the Wepener garrison, the Boer raiders returned north.

General De Wet's brilliant action had demonstrated the effectiveness of guerrilla tactics against the enemy rear but, because of insufficient forces, had failed to disrupt the rail line that was the main British supply route, so Field Marshal Roberts attached little importance to these local chess pieces and continued to reorganize and prepare his forces for the invasion army's so-called "second tiger leap." Field Marshal Roberts believed that a major advance directly on Pretoria could deal a decisive blow to the political and military resistance of the Boer republics and secure victory for the British Empire; therefore, while General Buller was in charge of keeping on the defensive in Natal with 20,000 men, the field marshal concentrated the divisions of Generals Reginald Pole-Carew, Charles Tucker and John French with 20. 000 men under his direct command, supported on the left flank by the 8,000 soldiers of General Archibald Hunter's division; finally, General Ian Hamilton took command of a mobile column consisting of 15,000 infantry and mounted troops charged with marching on the right flank and paving the way for the main column's advance on Pretoria.

Field Marshal Roberts' great advance began on May 3, 1900, as Colonel Bryan Mahon's relief column advanced on Mafeking to finally break the siege, the 43,000 British soldiers of the invading army marched rapidly without encountering much resistance; General Louis Botha's Boers preferred to retreat and avoid an open field battle. The British crossed the Vaal and the Zand then, after long and tiring marches in the veld, entered Kroonstad where the central column halted for ten days to allow time to get the railroad line up and running again; at the same time General Hamilton on the right flank had arrived on May 18 at Lindley from where he headed for the left flank of the railroad on May 26. Field Marshal Roberts' army arrived in Johannesburg, which was occupied on May 31, 1900 after General Hamilton's brilliant victory at the Battle of Doornkop. Earlier, on May 17, 1900, Colonel Mahon had reached and liberated the garrison of Mafeking, which had sustained, under the command of Colonel Baden-Powell, siege since October 16, 1899.

The next objective of Field Marshal Roberts' main army was Pretoria, where there were signs of disunity and confusion among the troops and Boer leaders. Greatly demoralized by the continued enemy advance, General Botha's men were falling back to the north of the city; the city's four forts were evacuated. On June 1, 1900, President Kruger abandoned Pretoria with the entire government, and Generals Botha and Smuts themselves advised immediate surrender; only through the firm intervention of Orange Free State President Steyn, who affirmed a firm resolve to resist, did the Boer chiefs regain control and decide, as Kruger headed toward the Portuguese border, to continue the war to the bitter end. Parliamentarians were sent by Field Marshal Roberts to buy time, agreeing to surrender Pretoria without a fight and proposing negotiations. On June 5, 1900, Field Marshal Roberts entered Pretoria with his army without encountering resistance; the approximately 3,000 British prisoners were released.

After a brief stop in Pretoria, Field Marshal Roberts had to resume military operations; General Botha had broken off negotiations and was regrouping his remaining forces east of the capital. On June 10, 1900, the Battle of Diamond Hill was fought, which ended in British victory; however, the Boers maintained cohesion, once again managed to avoid destruction, and General Botha was able to withdraw his troops to the eastern Transvaal to continue the war.

Prolongation of the war

While Field Marshal Roberts' main army was advancing into the Transvaal and occupying Pretoria, the war had meanwhile resumed behind it; in the Orange Free State more than 8,000 Boers were still in arms, including the commandos of the able General Christiaan De Wet, who, after raids in March and April, launched a new series of successful attacks on isolated columns and garrisons in the British rear. On June 3, 1900, General De Wet's Boers surprised an enemy convoy headed for Heilbron, while a major raid on Roodewal along the main railroad line was successful on June 6; finally, De Wet's brother Piet De Wet scored a brilliant local victory on May 31, 1900, at Lindley.

Greatly concerned by these attacks behind him, Field Marshal Roberts, before embarking with the bulk of his forces on the final advance toward the eastern Transvaal border, therefore decided to send south of the Vaal a major contingent of troops to rake the Orange Free State territory that had been neglected during the march on Pretoria and to destroy the Boer commandos that were striking his rear. The command of these forces was assigned, after General Ian Hamilton fell from his horse, to the capable General Archibald Hunter. General Hunter maneuvered skillfully and managed to encircle in the Brandwater River basin by July 29 over 6,000 Boers under the command of General Martinus Prinsloo; by August 10, 1900, the British captured over 4,300 of the enemy and General Prinsloo surrendered; however, a portion of the Boer forces, led by commanders Cristiaan De Wet and Olivier, managed to escape General Hunter's trap.

Since July 15 De Wet with 1,500 men and Orange Free State President Steyn had passed the British circle and headed north; pursued by other enemy columns on August 6 they were forced to cross the Vaal and seek refuge in the western Transvaal beyond the Magaliesberg mountain range. General Kitchener, commanding a series of divisions with 20,000 soldiers with the task of intercepting Commander De Wet, failed to prevent him from crossing the Vaal, and in addition, the column led by General Ian Hamilton did not block Olifant's nek, the Magaliesberg pass from where De Wet and his men managed to escape by August 13, 1900 and resume guerrilla activity.

Despite General Hunter's success in the Brandwater Basin that seemed to end Boer resistance in the Orange Free State, Field Marshal Roberts understood that the failure to capture De Wet and Steyn constituted a major setback and risked prolonging the conflict; for the time being he decided to resume the advance with the bulk of his forces toward the eastern Trasvaal.

Meanwhile, General Redvers Buller had embarked, after a long pause following the liberation of Ladysmith, on the offensive in Natal; in May and June 1900 the British divisions of Generals Francis Clery, Neville Lyttelton, and Henry Hildyard overcame the rugged terrain of the Biggarsberg and Drakensberg ranges, repulsed the Boers led by Christiaan Botha, brother of Louis, and landed in the southeastern Transvaal. General Buller reached the Standerton communications junction, and on July 4, 1900, his troops first made contact with Field Marshal Roberts' army from Pretoria.

After a series of operations to reopen rail links between Natal and the Transvaal, General Buller's field force and Field Marshal Roberts' main army joined forces and led the final phase of the campaign together in August; on August 25, 1900, the British defeated General Botha's Boer troops at the Battle of Bergendal. The remnants of the Boer army, badly beaten and demoralized, dispersed into the veld, and President Kruger escaped to safety on September 11, 1900, by crossing into Mozambique and then going into exile in Europe; General Buller marched on Lydenburg and captured the Mauchberg passes, while Generals Hamilton and Pole-Carew made it as far as Komatipoort without being able to prevent two thousand Boers from trespassing into Portuguese territory.

Field Marshal Roberts was now sure that the war was "practically over"; on October 25, 1900, the commander-in-chief officially proclaimed the annexation of the Transvaal, and in November he informed London that he considered his mission over and was therefore willing to relinquish command on the spot to General Kitchener and return home. In reality, at least 30,000 Boer fighters were still active in the Orange Free State and the western Transvaal, and more importantly, despite the initial repressive measures taken by the British with destruction and burning of farms, Boer resistance had not been exhausted and key leaders had escaped death or capture and were still in action. In November 1900, High Commissioner Milner communicated in a secret report that the overall situation in South Africa seemed to be worsening and that despite Field Marshal Roberts' optimism, the war was not being exhausted but on the contrary had resumed in the form of guerrilla warfare and, in the absence of systematic measures to occupy territory, was in danger of being prolonged indefinitely. Milner also criticized General Kitchener's actions and proposed a military policy of gradual reinforcement of repression and roundup measures through mobile columns in action throughout the territory.

Boer guerrilla warfare

Beginning in the fall of 1900 the Boer commandos had resumed local raids with increasing effectiveness and had gradually expanded the territory under their control; while Field Marshal Roberts' army fought in the eastern Transvaal, the other British forces left behind in the regions already invaded found themselves in considerable difficulty. In the western Transvaal, Boer commandos led by the able commanders Koos de la Rey and Jan Smuts returned to action in the rugged valleys of the western Transvaal, while the feared commander Christiaan De Wet was able to begin a new round of raids and attacks in the veld north and south of the Vaal.

The so-called "resumption of the worm," as defined by High Commissioner Milner in a January 1901 letter to Richard Haldane, had stemmed mainly from decisions made in October 1900 by the leading Boer chiefs at an impromptu war council (krygsraad) held at Cypherfontein, an isolated farm about one hundred and twenty kilometers west of Pretoria. The krygsraad was attended by the new president of the Transvaal after Kruger's departure, General Louis Botha, the president of the Orange Free State, Steyn, and the two commanding generals de la Rey and Smuts; Commander De Wet was not in time to be present, and for security reasons the meeting had to be cut short before his arrival.

During the war council, the problems of the war were discussed and a common strategy was agreed upon between the representatives of the two republics; President Steyn was the most intransigent advocate of all-out resistance, while in the end even the Transvaal leaders, previously discouraged by the defeats and destruction wrought by the British, decided to adhere to the policy advocated by the president of the Orange Free State. It was then decided to pursue with the utmost energy the guerrilla strategy that had proved effective, despite the fact that it risked provoking reprisals against the civilian population exposed defenseless to enemy violence. Great concern also came from the ruthless British tactics of burning farms and destroying the resources of the territories, which was turning large areas of the republics into devastated and impassable areas for guerrillas. It was decided, in response to the British devastating tactics, to organize the daring invasion of the Cape and Natal colonies.

The Boer leaders split up soon after the end of the Cypherfontein krygsraad and returned to their areas of operations to intensify guerrilla activity, but on November 6, 1900, General De Wet suffered an unexpected defeat at the Battle of Bothaville and was unable to take part in the planned incursion into the Cape Colony although he was able to avoid pursuit by General Kitchener's forces trying to blockade him in the southern territory of the Orange Free State. It was the commandos of Commanders Kritzinger and Hertzog who were instead able to break through the barrages and enter Cape territory on December 16, 1900, causing great concern to the British leadership; earlier, Generals Smuts and de la Rey had achieved a brilliant success by inflicting a heavy defeat at Nooitgedacht on December 13 on General Clements' columns ravaging the western Transvaal territory.

On December 10, 1900, Field Marshal Roberts had surrendered supreme command in South Africa to General Kitchener and embarked on his return journey to Britain to assume command-in-chief of the British Army, but despite the new commander's energy and determination, the actual situation on the ground still appeared difficult to High Commissioner Milner. Milner, also concerned about the ongoing raids in the Cape Colony, considered it essential to proceed with a slow systematic and methodical occupation of the territory of the two Boer republics, which had already been officially annexed, strengthening military control of each district and avoiding destruction and reprisals. General Kitchener, on the other hand, impatient to conclude the war as soon as possible, initially maintained a policy oscillating between strengthening military measures of repression and seeking a quick agreement with the enemy leadership by exploiting as mediators some Boer chiefs who had previously accepted submission. Talks held in Middelburg in February 1901 between the British commander-in-chief and General Botha reached no result due mainly to the intransigent conditions imposed by High Commissioner Milner, and so General Kitchener decided from March 1901 to begin a new, more aggressive strategy to hasten the end of the conflict using increasingly harsh methods.

General Kitchener's new program was based on organizing systematic "passes" over the territory by mobile columns to search out and destroy active Boer groups, and on rounding up, deporting, and clearing out women, children, and livestock in order to isolate the enemies and deprive them of the resources needed to prolong resistance. General Kitchener planned to herd Boer civilians, forcibly evacuated from their homes, into so-called lagers, veritable concentration camps poorly fed and organized where malnutrition and disease would soon spread.

Repression and deportation

General Kitchener believed that the deportation and concentration of civilians in the camps allowed for the isolation of the Boer fighters; furthermore, in this way women and children would receive protection; in reality the internees were herded into militarily administered camps and supplied with minimal food rations lacking meat, vegetables, milk and fruit. The British general initially showed no humanitarian concern, defended his decisions in the face of doubts from the War Ministry, and claimed that the camps were functional and the internees were "happy."

While he proceeded with the deportations of women, old men and children, General Kitchener instead showed concern about the military development of the war; he told the new War Minister St John Brodrick that achieving victory was "a most difficult problem" and that even with his new strategies only slow progress was being made; he also believed that he did not have sufficient troops. His mobile columns employed to hunt down the Boer groups, estimated at 20,000 guerrillas, were numerically meager; the general therefore called for new cavalry and mounted infantry units.

In fact, the new system of warfare adopted by General Kitchener involved the use of a series of mobile columns to search for and destroy scattered Boer groups in the veld; these British units were led, under the higher command of General John French, by a number of young and resolute officers, such as Lieutenant Colonels Julian Byng, Edmund Allenby and Herbert Plumer and Colonels Douglas Haig and Henry Rawlinson, who conducted continuous raids especially in the eastern Transvaal. The war was gradually transforming; no longer were major battles being fought and there were no definite fronts; British operations of repression on the ground were interspersed only with small combats and ended with a detailed statistical balance sheet submitted by each column to headquarters enumerating enemies killed, captured, or spontaneously surrendered. Despite the great efforts of the British mobile columns, by the end of April 1901 General Kitchener had to draw a first, disappointing balance of his new strategy. In four months, the so-called "carniere" of neutralized Boers had risen from 859 fighters in January to 2,437 in April, but these figures were wholly insufficient and did not suggest a rapid conclusion to the war.

General Kitchener believed it was necessary to make the so-called "beating" of the mobile columns more effective by devising a system to hinder the Boer groups' movements and restrict their freedom of action. The commander-in-chief at the end of March 1901 spoke for the first time with subordinates about his new plans, which called for the construction of a complex system of casemates, small concrete and sheet-metal forts defended by garrisons, linked together by barbed-wire barriers. In this way, according to General Kitchener, it would be possible to block and destroy the Boer commandos trapped between the lines of casemates and barbed wire and the mobile columns that would "beat" the territory between the forts.

In addition to planning in detail methods to try to crush the guerrillas, at this time General Kitchener was again in sharp conflict with High Commissioner Milner. The commander-in-chief reiterated that the only alternatives for ending the war quickly were either further harsher and more terroristic measures such as confiscating the property of the Boers in arms or even deporting all resistant Boers, including family members and servants, overseas, or engaging in negotiations to seek a compromise peace. In early July 1901, the British government was faced with a choice between the so-called "protection" policy advocated by High Commissioner Milner and the "devastation" policy advocated by General Kitchener. on July 2, the commander-in-chief was informed that, in the absence of decisive results by the end of the South African winter, Milner's strategy of slow occupation of territory was to be adopted; it was also requested to substantially reduce the forces engaged in South Africa, which were to be reduced from 250,000 to 140,000 troops.

As time passed, Kitchener's plan was effective in limiting guerrilla movements, but the war had not yet come to an end. This new tactic soon broke the morale and supply lines of the Boer fighters, finally forcing them to surrender with the Treaty of Vereeniging in May 1902. In the treaty, the United Kingdom agreed to pay £3 million to help rebuild the two African colonies. In addition, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State would lose their independence from the United Kingdom.

The British Army

By June 1899, the regular British troops present in South Africa amounted to just 10,000 soldiers with 24 guns; after the arrival of reinforcements from India and the Mediterranean, the British contingent had risen by the start of the war to 22,000 men with 60 guns, of which about 14,000 were deployed in Natal under the command of General White. These forces were initially outnumbered by the theoretically mobilizable Boer militia from the two Afrikaner republics, but an influx into South Africa of General Buller's army corps, consisting of 47,000 soldiers from the best and most famous regiments of the British Army, was planned. The expeditionary force, consisting of 33 infantry battalions, seven cavalry regiments and 19 artillery batteries, had been organized by mobilizing reservists who made up about half of the force.

The British Army entered the war fully relying on the tactics and traditions developed and successfully applied during the many colonial wars fought and won in the Victorian period against poorly armed indigenous peoples. The tactics adopted generally involved a rigidly schematic combat characterized by a preliminary bombardment followed by the infantry attack in close array and the final cavalry charge; provision was made for the use of rifle discharges that had often devastated the primitive tribes launched to the attack. Also adopted in theory was the orderly attack, and some battalions engaged in India had some experience of fighting in mountainous terrain against lurking rebel fighters. In general, however, the tactical teachings assigned preeminent importance to strict discipline, did not provide for the development of individual soldier initiative, and gave little importance to marksmanship training; there was no full awareness, due to lack of direct experience, of the deadly effect of concentrated fire from modern weapons.

In fact, the British Army, subjected in 1881 to the major Childers Reform that had changed the regimental system by grouping battalions recruited in the same geographical area, had for some years introduced some innovations: the dazzling red uniform had been replaced by the less conspicuous khaki uniform, individual equipment had been rationalized, officers and soldiers wore colonial helmets with small departmental insignia, modern Lee-Metford and Lee-Enfield repeating rifles had been introduced, and finally two Maxim machine guns had been distributed to each infantry and cavalry battalion as a support weapon.

British artillery, on the other hand, would show, despite its historical traditions, some shortcomings; the field regiments were equipped with 15-pounder guns while the horse artillery employed 12-pounder guns; these artillery pieces were efficient and reliable but would reveal their inferiority in firepower and range compared to modern French and German guns imported by the Boers. British artillery during the war had to rely on improvised 4.7-inch and 12-pounder naval gun divisions to counter enemy heavy pieces. British artillery tactics also were still based on massive direct-aimed bombardment while the techniques of indirect firing and mobile barrage to support infantry advance were not developed.

Another weakness of the British army was its cavalry, which was trained to intervene with its shock power during the pitched battle, but was unable to perform the functions of scouting, raiding, covering and controlling territory performed by the Boer mounted infantry. Soon the British Army would supplement its mounted forces by forming irregular volunteer divisions partly recruited in South Africa; these divisions included the South Africa Light Horse, Imperial Light Horse, Cape Mounted Rifles, Natal Carbineers, and Mounted Police.

Boer forces

The two Boer republics entrusted their defense to town militias recruited under the commando system on the basis of administrative districts; able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60 could be mobilized in the event of war and were required to join organic military structures with their own equipment and mounts; the state provided individual and heavy armament instead. The Boers, accustomed to life in the veld and to fighting against the natives, were excellent horsemen and formidable marksmen; they constituted an efficient army of mounted infantry that was extremely mobile and had high morale; in addition, the Boers were adept at organizing entrenched positions from which to fight at a distance with rifles while avoiding close combat.

The Boer militia completely lacked the characteristics of a modern professional army; the fighters had no uniforms and wore in war the sturdy clothes of civilian life; the commandos, each consisting of about 1,000 militiamen, elected a commandant who disposed to exercise command over a number of veld-kornets, administrative officers who acted as officers in war; finally, a number of non-commissioned officers were elected who were responsible for individual groups of fighters. The commandant issued orders but legally did not possess the authority to compel obedience; the Boers were volunteer fighters who on occasion acted independently even contrary to the orders of higher commands. The command structure of the republics' armies included a general commander and a series of vecht commandants, operational commanders; the most important decisions were generally made during the krygsraad, the war council. The Boer militias had no logistical services, but could rely on the contribution, for transportation and victualling tasks, of thousands of black natives; the so-called agterryers were often the African servants whom the Boers took with them to war and who played an important role in maintaining the efficiency of the commandos.

After the Jameson raid, the two Boer republics had begun an extensive program of military reinforcement, especially strengthening the armament of the militia; since 1880 the Orange Free State had established a regular artillery corps under the direction of Major Albrecht, a German volunteer, while the Transvaal had a Staatsartillerie. On the eve of the war the Boers had at their disposal modern cannons imported from the European powers; in addition to four heavy 155-mm French Creusot guns (the so-called Long Toms), which, after initially being deployed in the large forts built to defend Pretoria, were transferred to the war fronts, about 50 mainly 75-mm Creusot and Krupp guns and twenty one-pound Maxim-Nordenfeld pieces were available. The Boers did not employ the guns in batteries but preferred to deploy them isolated behind fortified positions. The commandos also were rearmed with the excellent Mauser repeating rifles imported from Germany. Regular components of the Transvaal Mounted Police, the so-called ZARP (Zuid Afrikaanse Rijende Politie), and the Orange Free State formed a small body of trained troops that were employed in battle. Finally, the Boers were able to rely during the war on the contribution of some foreign volunteer contients, either from abroad or recruited in the British colonies; thus, volunteer divisions of Irish, Italians, Americans, Germans, Scandinavians, and Dutch were established.

Sure enough, more than 6,300 foreigners took part in the conflict as volunteers: 1. 550 Germans, 690 Swedes, 593 Norwegians, 59 other Scandinavians, 300 Americans, 250 Italians framed in the Italian Volunteer Legion (of which Colonel Camillo Ricchiardi was a member: the latter during the war captured a train on which was the young Winston Churchill who was in South Africa as a British journalist; during the capture, Churchill turned out to be too compromised with the enemy army and, found in possession of a Mauser C96 pistol with forbidden dum-dum bullets, risked being shot, but the prompt intervention of Commander Ricchiardi saved his life), 225 Poles, 200 Irish, 250 French, 200+ Russians or Russian speakers, and a number (unknown) of Australians.

The war involved not only military and diplomats. Civilians in the British colonies and Afrikaner states experienced great hardship. Life under siege exacted its share of deaths among both defending soldiers and civilians in the towns of Mafeking, Ladysmith and Kimberly. As is typical of any siege, food supplies began to run low after a few weeks. In Mafeking, Sol Plaatje wrote, "For the first time I saw horse meat treated as if it were food for people." The towns under siege also had to cope with constant artillery shelling, which made the roads dangerous. Toward the end of the siege of Kimberly it was expected that the Boers would intensify their shelling, so a warning was issued encouraging people to go down into the mines to seek protection. The town was panicked and people constantly flowed into the mine shafts, for periods of 12 hours. The fact that the bombing never came did not diminish the specter of fear that hovered over the civilians.

Even worse than the sieges were the concentration camps, which were part of Kitchener's harsh tactics to end the conflict. The camps were opened when the British understood that women and children could not take care of them and be in the middle of the fighting. The camps were also a safe place for Boers who were not interested in taking part in the war. However, from the moment Kitchener assumed command, he changed the nature of the camps, which at that point detained whatever people lived in guerrilla-controlled areas. His plan was to destroy all support from the remaining Boer fighters. The tragedy of the concentration camps can be described through the account he asked of the people who were detained there. More children died in the camps than the sum total of fallen soldiers on either side. Up to 28,000 women and children died in 1901. It was an atrocity that would tarnish Kitchener's reputation in the years to come, but it must also be seen in the context of the diseases that mowed down 16,000 British soldiers and the general inadequacy of the British military medical apparatus of the time.

By December 1901, many of the internees in the camps were allowed to leave, and many of the men joined two new regiments that fought alongside the British, the Transvaal National Scouts and the Orange River Volunteers, in order to end the war. It is not difficult to see how all this led to the Boer surrender of Vereeniging.

President Kruger's statement regarding the discovery of gold in Witwatersrand turned out to be correct. His nation was indeed steeped in the blood, soldiers and children. The wealth from the gold attracted men who wanted to mine it, and their presence in a foreign land led to war. The Boer War changed the political landscape of South Africa forever. The British gained control of the world's largest gold mines, causing a sense of resentment to grow in the hearts and minds of Afrikaners. People on both sides mourned the loss of sons, daughters, husbands and wives, as no one was immune from the atrocities of the war. Although the parties involved did not fight directly over gold mines, the race for riches precipitated the causes of the war.


  1. Second Boer War
  2. Seconda guerra boera
  3. ^ Larger numbers of volunteers came from the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden-Norway. Smaller forces came from Ireland, Australia, Italy, Congress Poland, France, Belgium, Russia, the United States, Denmark and Austria-Hungary.
  4. ^ 5,774 killed in battle; 2,107 died of wounds; 18,211 died of disease[7]
  5. ^ 3,990 killed in battle; 157 died in accidents; 924 of wounds and disease; 1,118 while prisoners of war.[8]
  6. ^ Salisbury felt that the Transvaal, the Orange Free State, and Cape Boers aspired to a "Dutch South Africa". The achievement of such a state would damage British imperial prestige
  7. ^ a b c South African War (British-South African history) – Encyclopedia Britannica. (1902-05-31). Retrieved on 2013-07-23.
  8. ^ a b Pakenham, p. 684.
  9. C.R. De Wet, De strijd tusschen Boer en Brit. De herinnering van den Boeren-generaal.
  10. Bossenbroek, p. 505
  11. (en) Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War, New York, Random House, 1979, 450 p. (ISBN 978-0-380-72001-9).
  12. (en) Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War, Johannesburg et Cape Town, Jonathan Ball Publishers, 1997, 2e éd. (ISBN 1-86842-037-X).
  13. Annuaire statistique du Canada, éditions de 1899, 1902 et 1903.

Please Disable Ddblocker

We are sorry, but it looks like you have an dblocker enabled.

Our only way to maintain this website is by serving a minimum ammount of ads

Please disable your adblocker in order to continue.

Dafato needs your help!

Dafato is a non-profit website that aims to record and present historical events without bias.

The continuous and uninterrupted operation of the site relies on donations from generous readers like you.

Your donation, no matter the size will help to continue providing articles to readers like you.

Will you consider making a donation today?