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The Second Boer War: Its Effects on Military and Diplomacy

A good overview of the Second Boer War of 1899 to 1902, with specific insights into diplomacy and the military during the war.

In what ways was the British Empire challenged both militarily and politically by the Transvaal and the Orange Free State?

“The war proved to be a long and bitter struggle and, for the first time, the effects of war were felt in social and political divisions at home.” This quote sums up the true costs of the war to the authority of the British over their vast subjects upon whom the sun never set. The Second Boer War demonstrated that the outdated British tactics of “formal war” had no place in the new world which the turn of the twentieth century foreshadowed. It was also recognised that the disregard which the British afforded to inter-imperial politics was no longer backed up by a strong, unbreakable empire.

At the beginning of the Second Boer War, the British had not been involved in a large-scale war for about eighty years, since the Napoleonic Era. The British had suffered a humiliating defeat in the battle of Isandluana to the native African Zulu army in the 1870’s, which sparked sporadic military reform. However, the Second Boer War was one of the first which involved an enemy, armed with the most innovative military technologies, who operated in completely alien system, the Commando. The Boer Army was made up simply of Boer farmers, without uniform, who grouped together and went on raids to attack British groups and positions. From the British, the Boers took their provisions; often enough for three days, ammunition and weapons. Once raids were over, the Boers could return to their farms and continue their normal lives, often concealing their military equipment.

Another advantage which the Boers had was their extensive knowledge of the terrain on the Veldt. They had often been called together to protect their towns from raiding Zulus in the past. One British explained their tactics; “It is the practice of the Boers you see to hide behind the rocks and not move until we are right on top of them… then they open fire.” The Boers could manoeuvre, and have swift victories over the stunned British troops on the unique landscape of the Veldt. The Boer tactics worked best to harass the enemy rather than take on the mighty British army head-on in battles or sieges. However, due to both outdated tactics and colossus blunders by the British, the Boers had a series of tactical victories at the battles of Colenso and Spoin Kop.

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User Comments
  1. william

    On August 30, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    Absolute inaccurate and anti-British tosh

  2. a

    On September 9, 2008 at 2:19 pm


  3. Francois

    On October 4, 2008 at 10:29 am

    Thanks Miltonian, great article.

    @ William: Do you actually know something about the subject or are you just making an emotional statment?

  4. Robert

    On November 29, 2008 at 4:35 am

    I do know something about this subject as I teach the Boer War. It is usually true of all history that people come to historical events armed with prejudices they wish to confirm. If one gives an account that another disagrees with, the academic furthers the account through intellectual debate. The non-academic, prejudiced individual invariably makes insulting non-statements like William. Pity him!

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