Guerrilla tactics allowed the Boers to defeat the British, who fought according to the old military canons that had already outlived themselves.
The Boer War was the first new type of conflict. It was there that massive smokeless powder, shrapnel, machine guns, protective-color uniforms (khaki) and armored trains were massively used for the first time. Together with block-houses, barbed wire is also included in the circulation, X-rays are used to find bullets and fragments from wounded soldiers. Special sniper units are being created, and the Boer tactics themselves — fighting by small mobile units — will later become the basis for the formation of special forces groups.
In this war, the young correspondent Winston Churchill - First Lord of the Admiralty during the First World War will be captured and made a daring escape. The future chairman of the State Duma, Alexander Guchkov, along with other foreign volunteers, will fight in the ranks of the Boers, and the young lawyer Mahatma Gandhi will lead the Indian sanitary squad and receive a gold star from the British for bravery. The war itself, exactly 100 years before NATO’s military operation in Yugoslavia, will be one of the first conflicts motivated by the defense of “human rights and freedoms” and the defense of “the values of a civilized community”.
Background to the conflict
The Dutch East India Company imported colonists from the Netherlands to develop and manage their lands in southern Africa. After the Napoleonic wars, these territories finally passed to Great Britain, which deprived the descendants of the Dutch and French colonists, who later formed the Boer people, of self-government, the opportunity to receive education in their native language and impose their ideological guidelines on them.
In protest, many Boers leave the fertile lands of the Cape Colony. Moving to the north, they make a great track, or a great resettlement, as a result of which, not without conflicts, they occupy the territory of local tribes and establish several states. However, all this happens under the vigilant eye of the "big British brother." In 1867, the world's largest diamond deposit is discovered on the border of the Orange Republic and the Cape Colony. Later, the company will emerge De Beers - the diamond empire of the British colonial romance and capitalist Cecil John Rhodes (Rhodesia was named after him), who in 1890-ies took the post of Prime Minister of the Cape Colony and was one of the supporters of the hawkish policy with the Boer Republics. Cecile Rhodes sought to expand the network of British possessions in Africa "from Cairo to Cape Town", carrying the idea of building a trans-African railway, and the independent Boer states interfered with these plans by the very fact of their existence.
Cecil John Rhodes and his partner Alfred Beit. 1901 year. Photo: Imperial War Museums
As a result of the first war between the Boers and Britain 1880 – 1881, agreements are being concluded that contain a number of intricate laws on Britain’s suzerainty over the Transvaal - in particular, the agreements included a clause on the British Queen’s mandatory approval of all treaties concluded by the Transvaal government or nations.
However, the main problems began at the end of the 1880s and were associated with the discovery of huge deposits of gold on the territory of the Boer states. Its mining is quite difficult, as it requires special tools, skills and investments, so the Boers, mostly engaged in cattle grazing, were not able to do this. Tens of thousands of Outlanders, pioneers of British expansion, arrive in the country. In a matter of years, entire cities populated by foreigners appear in the Boer colonies. The period of internal tension between the “long-standing” and “local” begins.
The active mining of minerals increases the bureaucratic apparatus and budget expenditures. The government of President Transvaal Paul Kruger in order to replenish the treasury goes to the issuance of concessions to foreign companies and entrepreneurs. Mindful of the English threat, they tried to give out concessions to anyone, but not to the British. Then the British colonial authorities in South Africa, provoked by the restless businessmen, recall the queen's right to the suzerainty of the Transvaal and demand to grant civil rights to the British living in the Transvaal. Of course, the Boers do not want to give the electoral rights to the oitlanders, rightly fearing for the future of their states, since the latter are quite openly acting as agents of British politics. Thus, during the arrival of Paul Kruger in Johannesburg, the crowd of his Outlanders who met him began to sing the anthem of Great Britain, God save the Queen, and defiantly tore off the flag of the Transvaal.
It cannot be said that the Boers did not attempt to incorporate the Outlanders into their society. Gradually, reforms were carried out that allowed labor migrants to address state issues. In particular, the second chamber of parliament (Lower Folksraad) of Transvaal was created, where representatives of naturalized oytlanders could be elected, while the first chamber was formed only from born citizens of the republic. However, the constant intrigues of the Outlanders and their influential patrons like Cecil Rhodes did not contribute to the onset of detente.
President of Transvaal Paul Kruger (Stefanus Johannes Paulus Kruger). Around 1895 of the year. Photo: Leo Weinthal / Getty Images / fotobank.ru
The final boiling point was the incident that later became known as the Jameson raid - an invasion by a Rhodesian and Bechuanand police unit in Johannesburg, organized by Rhodes with the aim of raising the Outlander uprising against the Kruger government. Before the invasion, mass protests against the Boer government were organized, during which a list of claims was initiated in an ultimatum. However, no support was given to the rebels from the population of Johannesburg. Justly fearing the Boer’s army and seeing the solution to their problems in the war that the Government of Her Majesty should lead, the settlers did not want to risk their lives. The insurgency was crushed, and its leader Dr. Jameson himself was arrested.
It becomes obvious to the parties that only a big war can solve their contradictions. The British with might and main unleash a propaganda campaign about allegedly unprecedented pressure on British citizens who are deprived of fundamental human and civil rights. At the same time, the British military contingent is growing at the border of the Boer colonies. The Transvaal government does not stand aside and begins to purchase modern weapons, builds defenses, signs a military alliance with the fraternal Orange Republic.
It is necessary to say a few words about the Boer militia. Contrary to the military doctrines prevailing at the time, the Boer’s army was not divided into corps, brigades, or companies. The Boer army was not at all familiar with military doctrines and military science. There were commando squads that could consist of a dozen or a thousand people. The Boer commandos did not recognize any military discipline, they even refused to be called soldiers, seeing in it an insult to their dignity, as the soldiers, in their opinion, fight for money, and they are citizens (burghers) who only fulfill their duty to protect the country .
They did not have the Boer commandos and military uniforms; with the exception of gunners and several detachments consisting of the Boers-townspeople, the burghers fought in the same clothes that they used in peacetime. The democratic spirit of the Boers permeated the whole society, and the army was no exception. Everything was decided by voting: from the election of officers to the adoption of the military plan of the upcoming campaign, and each fighter had the right to vote along with the officer or the general. The Boer generals were not very different from the ordinary soldiers, there was no military education for either of them or others, so they often changed places: the fighter could become a general, and the general could easily be demoted to an ordinary fighter.
In battle, the burgher did not follow the officer, did not execute his decrees, but acted in accordance with the situation and at his discretion. Therefore, the death of the officer did not change anything, the burgher was an officer himself, and if necessary, the general. The role of the officers was simple - to coordinate the actions of the burghers and help them with advice, but no more. In a traditional army, soldiers were accustomed to obey an officer and act only if there was a corresponding order, thus the death of the latter was deprived of the control unit and fettered the fighters.
It was this anarchist spirit that caused the victories and defeats of the Boer’s army.
After the failure of the Jameson raid, the parties switched to military preparations, the British began to concentrate troops on the border with the Boer Republics, troops from all British colonies were forced into South Africa. President of Transvaal Paul Kruger sent an ultimatum, demanding to stop military preparations against the Boer republics during 48 hours, and resolve all disputed issues between the countries with the help of an arbitration court. The British rejected the ultimatum and October 11 1899, the Boer militia units crossed the border of the British provinces of Natal and the Cape Colony. The war has begun.
The lack of clear plans for the campaign, the squabble between the Boer generals, and the prolonged siege of some key cities, in particular Kimberly, the city where Cecil Rhodes himself took refuge, and Mafeking, led by the founder of the scouting movement, Colonel Baden-Powell, bound the main forces of the Boers, and they were unable to develop a further offensive. More precisely, they simply did not know what to do. Historical the chance to occupy the Cape colony and arouse local Boers against the British was irretrievably lost, and the initiative naturally passed to the British, who significantly increased and strengthened their contingent in the region.
Already the first weeks of the war show the relative backwardness of the British army and its inability to effectively combat the Boer commandos, using technically more advanced weapons, fighting in general without uniform, in earthy-colored suits merging with the surrounding terrain. The bright-red British military uniform itself, which in the midst of the battle helped to instantly determine who (friend or foe) next to you after revolutionary improvements in firearms, which improved accuracy and firing range, made the soldier an excellent target for an enemy sniper. In addition, thanks to improvements in shooting accuracy, the maneuverability of troops increases (shot out and retreated) and the aimed fire at enemy soldiers. The columns, in which soldiers of all European armies were traditionally built, no longer fulfilled their original functions. The rifle chains come to replace the columns, allowing you to more effectively fire at the enemy, which also significantly reduces your own losses.
John Denton Pinkston French, 1 Count Ipres, Viscount Ipres and Heileik. Around 1915 of the year. Photo: British Library
The khaki military uniform was first introduced (as an experiment) for individual units of the British colonial forces in India in the second half of the 19th century. As always, the main opponents of the transition to the new uniform were the conservative British military, who did not want to change their current form, but the losses from the use of the classic uniform spoke for themselves and the military gave up. Britain forever abandoned the bright red uniform. New uniforms of the British army has become a cult for the military of the whole world up to the present; so, the classic English military uniform became known as a French jacket, on behalf of the British General John French, one of the participants in the war in South Africa. During the First World War, the French Expeditionary Force will head in France.
Raising the qualitative component, the British did not forget about the quantitative. By the end of 1899, the total number of British troops in the region reaches 120 thousands, then, constantly rising by the end of the war, it reaches 450 thousands. As for the Boer militia, during the entire war its number could hardly have exceeded 60 thousands of fighters.
Gradually, the British push back the commandos from the Cape colony and Natal, transferring the war to the land of the Orange Republic and Transvaal, the Boers losing all major cities - a guerrilla war begins.
Speaking of the Boer War, it is impossible not to mention foreign volunteers. In the literature (especially the British) the participation of foreigners in the Boer War is noticeably exaggerated. Despite the fact that some individual volunteers provided really invaluable assistance to the Boer troops, in general, they did not leave a noticeable trace. Moreover, sometimes they only interfered with the Boer command, trying to teach the Boers the rules of warfare, while the latter considered their tactics and strategy to be as effective as possible under these conditions and did not heed the words of visiting experts.
The first such detachment was the German Legion, almost completely defeated in the battle of Elandslaagte. After this defeat, the Boers did not allow the creation of national volunteer units for a long time, and only the deterioration of the situation on the fronts changed their position. As a result, detachments of American, French, Irish, German, and Dutch volunteers were formed.
Russian volunteers, many of whom were residents of Johannesburg, fought as part of the Boer commandos. At one time, the Russian detachment under the command of Captain Ganetsky acted, but the Russian detachment was only in name. Of the roughly 30 people who fought in the Russian unit, there were less than a third.
In addition to the Russian Johannesburg residents, there were also volunteers who arrived directly from Russia, whose society supported the Boers. The most distinguished lieutenant colonel Evgeny Maximov, who, thanks to his merits, rose to the rank of “combat general”, and during the battles in the Orange Republic even became deputy commander of all foreign volunteers - Vilbua Morel. Subsequently, the “military general” Maximov will be seriously wounded and evacuated to Russia, he will meet his death in 1904 already during the Russian-Japanese war.
It is also worth noting the Italian volunteers Captain Richiardi, who, however, were perceived by the Boers as a predatory gang rather than a combat detachment. Captain Richiardi himself became known for conducting a search of the captive Winston Churchill and found in him the “dum-dum” bullet prohibited by the Hague Convention. It was during the Boer War that Winston Churchill became widely known to the British public thanks to his captivity and escape. Later, at the age of 26, he will be elected to the British Parliament. By the way, the British Dum-Dum bullets will continue to be used, despite their official ban on the Hague Peace Conference in 1899.
Winston Churchill on horseback while working as a journalist in South Africa. 1896 year. Photo: Popperfoto / Getty Images / fotobank.ru
Omitting the numerous robberies and robberies perpetrated by this formation, it should be noted the significant contribution of the Italians to the implementation of the sabotage war. They greatly helped the Boers, covering their retreat through the explosions of bridges and the attack on British troops to divert the attention of the latter.
Partisan concentration camps
Already by the autumn of 1900, after the defeat of the main units of the Boer militia and the transfer of the war to the Boer republics, the war passes into a partisan phase that will last two years. Raids of the Boer guerrillas inflicted significant losses on the British. Tactical superiority due to good knowledge of the terrain and the best individual training of the fighters remained with the Boers until the end of the war, but this could not compensate for the overwhelming superiority of the British in men and weapons. In addition, the British used a lot of know-how, including the notorious concentration camps.
They drove the civilian population, whose farms were burned by the British, and cattle and crops were destroyed. Ironically, these camps were called refugee camps - refugee camps. Then they began to send those families that helped the Boer resistance to food, medicine, etc. In total, about 200 thousands of people were gathered in concentration camps - roughly 120 thousands of Boers and 80 thousands of black Africans, for whom separate camps were created.
Unsanitary conditions reigned in all the camps without exception, food was delivered to prisoners irregularly, about a quarter of the inhabitants of these camps died, of which the overwhelming majority were women and children. British men were sent to other colonies in conclusion: to India, to Ceylon, etc.
Another element of the counter-guerrilla war was the large-scale use of blockhouses. The Boers, using classical partisan tactics, made deep raids to the enemy's rear, destroyed communications, carried out sabotage, attacked garrisons, destroyed small British troops and with impunity left.
To counteract such activity, it was decided to cover the territory of the Boer states with a whole network of block-houses. Blockhouse is a small fortified point, involved in covering the most important areas or objects.
The Boer General Christian Devet described this innovation in the following way: “Many of them were made of stone, usually had a round shape, sometimes quadrangular and even multi-faceted. Holes were made in the walls for shooting at a distance of six feet one from another and four feet from the ground. The roof was iron. ”
In total, about eight thousand blockhouses were built. The British began to use telephone communications at the front, and many blockhouses supplied telephones in case of an attack by commandos. When the telephone wires were broken, the staff of the blockhouse reported on the attack using a signal flare.
The use of armored trains played a role in the victory over the Boer partisans who were actively attacking the British routes. These "blockhouses on wheels" consisted of cars of two types - open roofless and with roofs. Also used conventional cars with sides, which are made of steel sheets with embrasures.
The shelter of locomotives was made of two types - either from steel ropes or from steel sheets. Usually the armored train consisted of three or four cars. The conning tower of the commander of the armored train ran into the locomotive tender. To disguise such a train painted in the color of the area. It was very important to provide an inspection of the area from an armored train. For this purpose, special observation towers or even balloons were used. The balloon was attached to the train with a cable that was wound on a winch shaft.
Armored train of the British Army. Between 1899 and 1902 for years. South Africa. Photo: Imperial War Museums
Final and the outcome of the war
Realizing that the map is no longer just a defeat in the war, but the death of an entire nation, the Boer warlords were forced to conclude a peace treaty on May 31. According to him, the Boer republics became part of the British Empire, receiving in return the right to broad self-government and three million pounds sterling in compensation for farms burned by the British during the war.
The magic of the date 31 in May will again affect the Anglo-Boer relationship: 31 in May 1910, Transvaal and Orange unite with the Cape Colony and Natal in the British dominion of the Union of South Africa (SAS), and 31 in May 1961 of the year SAS becomes a completely independent state - South -African Republic.
None of the British generals and military analysts suspected that the war would last so long and take so many lives of British soldiers (about 22 thousand people against eight thousand killed by the Boers), because the enemy of the British Empire was a "bunch of ignorant farmers", as it was declared by the English propaganda. The most interesting thing is that it was the lack of professional military training and basic ideas about the basics of military tactics and strategy that allowed the Boers to defeat the British, who had fought according to the old military canons that had outlived themselves.
However, the lack of a strategic war plan did not allow the Boer militia to achieve victory, although the time for the start of hostilities was chosen very well and the British forces in the region were not enough to repel the attack. The Boers, having no discipline, a proper level of organization and clear plans for the military campaign, failed to take advantage of the fruits of their early victories, but only delayed the war to the advantage of the British side, which managed to concentrate the required number of troops and achieve both a qualitative and numerical advantage over the enemy.
The war in Africa, along with the subsequent Moroccan crisis of 1905 and 1911 and the Bosnian crisis of 1908, had every chance of becoming a world war, as it once again exposed the contradictions between the great powers. Boers and their unequal struggle caused sympathy not only in the competing countries of Great Britain, such as Germany, the USA or Russia, but also in the most foggy Albion. Thanks to Englishwoman Emily Hobhaus in the UK, we learned about concentration camps and the cruel treatment of civilians in South Africa, and the country's authority was seriously undermined.
In the 1901 year, before the end of the war, in South Africa, the legendary Queen Victoria, who ruled the country of the 63 of the year, died, and with it the relatively prosperous Victorian era. The time of great wars and upheavals is coming.