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▣ My Essay     Ryan's Warehouse 2018.03.22. 12:43 (2018.03.22. 12:38)

The Boer Wars

by Ryan Berry
Mrs. Macdonald (History 112)
December 9, 2012
The Boers were a race of white farmers, descendants of Dutch and German settlers in South Africa. The name Boer means farmer. The Boer people were oppressed by the British imperial might and over the course of many years retreated deeper and deeper into Africa. In the early 1800’s the Boer people developed free provinces outside of British rule known commonly as Transvaal and Orange Free State collectively known as the Boer Republics. The British expansion eventually reached far enough into Africa that the British began attempting to annex the Transvaal as a British colony. This was strongly opposed by the Boers and in 1880 the first Boer war began. The Boer wars where fought in two major conflicts between 1880 and 1901 with tens of battles and thousands of lives lost. The Boers are one of the few examples of resistance to British expansion and Anglo Boer grudges carried into World War 1.
By the early 1800’s, Britain had taken large tracts of land in South Africa as British territory. The people who lived in South Africa, resentful of British rule, were forced to trek farther and farther into Africa until even those lands were conquered by the British imperial might. By the mid 1800’s, even the Boer Republics were occupied by British soldiers. The Boer people resented the British rule but were powerless compared to the seemingly infinite British forces; they had no military and their government was run by the British. Another victim of British expansion was the Zulu; The Zulu, a tribe of African warriors, ruled a vast and organized kingdom in Africa. The Zulu had fought constantly against the Boers and one of the few benefits of British rule to the Boers was protection from Zulu raids. In the mid-late 1800’s the Zulu were engaged in multiple hostile conflicts with the British; though losses were heavy on both sides the British defeated the Zulu by mere military technology. This conflict left the Boer people with only one enemy. The several battles won by the Zulu inspired the Boers and the losses showed the early Boer extremists how not to wage war against the British.
In the late 1800’s, the Boer people in the Transvaal began to rise up and take arms against the occupying English forces. The British soldiers were equipped with advanced weaponry but continued to use outdated strategies, formations and fighting techniques. They had defeated the Zulu in the Anglo-Zulu war simply because spears proved no match for guns. At the break of war in 1880, Boer men formed small groups of armed resistance called commandos despite the lack of organization. These commandos were equipped with a variation of accurate hunting weapons and horses supplied by each individual farmer turned soldier. Commandos elected their own officers and moved quickly from town to town, being fed and resupplied by locals at each stop. Commandos were able to move quickly from place to place and used cover such as rocks to attack roads and supply lines. On open roads, British soldier with their primitive bright uniforms and organised marching formations posed easy targets for Boer marksmen; they couldn’t even fight back as the outnumbered Boer soldiers chose a hit and run strategy, firing unexpectedly from the advantage of high ground then quickly fleeing on horseback so as to conserve their forces. The British army did not know how to respond or fight this kind of war and the rest of the first Boer war reflected this disadvantage.
The first Boer war, also known as the freedom war, was fought from 1880 to 1881. The Boers began peaceful political resistance to British rule and annexation on the Transvaal they later resorted to armed resistance. The Boers reinstated the Transvaal as a province separate from Britain, led by a government of their own. Conflict first broke out on December 16th between a small group of Boers and a garrison of British regulars at Potchefstroom. This was followed promptly by Boer movements all over the Transvaal, attacking military convoys and besieging garrisons of British soldiers. The small groups of British regulars scattered throughout the Transvaal where trapped in their garrisons, with no communication, they had no way of retaliating but to wait for reinforcements to arrive. All Boer commandos not besieging the garrisons where allotted to preventing just this. The Boer forces repulsed three attempts by the British to get reinforcements into the Transvaal before peace talks started between governments. During this phase of waiting for the results of the peace talks one last attack tried to penetrate the Boer lines, under cover of night more than 400 British soldiers captured the vantage point of Majuba Hill, despite the vantage of high ground they had little cover; the Boers effectively surrounded and massacred the British forces stuck on the open plateau. The British suffered more than 200 casualties while the Boers only lost only two soldiers during the battle. This was such a devastating defeat that England concluded that the Transvaal was not worth their effort. The Pretoria Convention was signed on August third, 1881 declaring the Boer republic a free state and allowing them their own government but left Britain in charge foreign affairs and certain other aspects of legislature. Full internal independence was later granted in 1884.
The second Boer war was by far an unnecessary conquest, fueled by greed and perhaps old grudges. In the mid-late 1890’s, rich gold deposits were discovered in Transvaal and diamonds were found in the Free States. Britain felt economically threatened by the potential wealth and began plans to overthrow the Transvaal government. In 1899 after Britain refused to remove troops from the Transvaal border the second Boer war started. The British had learned many lessons from and since the first Boer war which they applied to the second Boer war firstly they had changed the regular British soldier’s uniform from an obvious red to khaki better suited for desert warfare. The British were now equipped with more advanced bolt action rifles and in later stages of the war they even applied the Boer’s hit and run technique.
The war started well for the Boers with attacks on garrisons in Natal and the British controlled Cape Colony being largely successful. Early in the war, President Paul Kruger received a telegram from the German Kaiser congratulating him on his victories against Great Britain; the Kruger telegram angered Great Britain but led to a lasting friendship between the Boers and the Germans. Germany sent supplies and even volunteer fighters throughout the second Boer war. Until the 1900 the Boers had the upper hand in most major battles winning several minor victories and repulsing several attacks from the British forces. In 1900 the war had a shattering turn in events; the British army increased their troops on the Boer front to more than 400 000 compared to the 88 000 Boers! The British relieved sieges along the border winning stunning victories and taking thousands of Boer soldiers captive. The British offensive moved virtually unhindered throughout South Africa, capturing the capital cities of both Transvaal and the Free States by early June 1900. For many this was the end, with the capital occupied by conquering forces, many Boer soldiers surrendered their arms and went home; but the war was far from over
In late 1900, the conquering generals ordered the Boer army disbanded after defeating the last of their resilient strong holds. But the Boers were not ready to revert back to the way it was before the first Boer war. Under the command of remaining officers, the commandos of soldiers returned to their individual communities, going into hiding, rallying more support, and converting to guerilla warfare. The British troops would assault a Boer controlled town to find nothing there, as soon as they left the Boers would come out of hiding and the town would remain in Boer hands. The Boer commandos followed the same strategies they had in the first Boer war using a strike and hide technique to inflict maximum damage to the occupying forces. The British did not know how to deal with this sort of guerilla warfare and used unorthodox methods to deal with their invisible enemy. In the last phases of the Boer war the British used a highly controversial “scorched earth” policy. The British soldiers would completely destroy Boer villages, farms and homesteads; they would kill or take all livestock and food stores, burn the fields, and imprison the inhabitants of the land in large concentration camps. (Please note these are not the same as concentration camps used in WW11.) This strategy was designed to prevent Boer guerillas from being resupplied by locals, hiding in villages or surviving off the land and maybe even inspire surrender to reunite families. Unfortunately, not enough care went into the concentration camps and more than 40 000 people died of disease or malnutrition in captivity. In May of 1902, the Boer forces finally surrendered. The British government paid 3 000 000 pounds reparations and promised to eventual reinstate a self-sufficient government in South Africa.
The Boer wars were of major importance leading into WWI. They force the British army to re-examine their old strategies and design new ways to deal with non-traditional warfare. These last minute changes potentially saved hundreds of lives in WWI. Some Boer veterans remained hateful of the British into WWI and many officers, despite being members of the Commonwealth, refused to go to war against Germany alongside England. Some of these men later attempted to start a third Boer war but the rebellion was quickly put down. The British kept their promise and in 1907, the Boer Republics became the Union of South Africa and remains to the present day.
The Boer wars rattled the foundations of the British Empire. The Boers stood up against the colonization of Africa and changed warfare forever. The first Boer war showed the world that England wasn’t the all-powerful and the second Boer war provided valuable foresight to how WWI was to be fought. Concentration camps shamed the British Empire and where put to sinister purposes later in the 1900’s. The Boer wars are far from the most famous engagement in history and aren’t necessarily remembered as the most important conflict of the 19th century; but upon examination they hold some of the most revolutionary military progressions of the century.

Canadian history, http://www.canadahistory.com/sections/war/South%20Africa/The%20Boers.html
December 8, 2012
B.B.C. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/boer_wars_01.shtml#two
December 8, 2012
B.W.M. http://www.bwm.org.au/site/About_the_War.asp
December 8, 2012
Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boer_Wars
December 8, 2012
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