Boer War 1899 - 1902

Boer War 1899 - 1902

Introduction

The Anglo Boer War was fought by Britain and her Empire against the Boers.  The Boers were comprised of the combined forces of the South African Republic and the Republic of the Orange Free State.  The Boer Republics declared war on 11th October 1899 and the conflict ended on 31st May 1902, a duration of 2 years and 8 months.

There were three distinct phases to the War:

Stage 1 -  Boer offensive.  At first, the Boer republican fighters were successful in three major offensives.  Their commandos invaded northern Natal and besieged the town of Ladysmith, invaded Cape Colony to lay siege to the British garrisons in Kimberley and Mafeking.  While the British did achieve some tactical victories at Talana and Elandslaagte, there were serious defeats for the British at Stormberg, Magersfontein and Colenso which became known as 'Black Week' (10th - 15th December 1899).

Stage 2 - British response.  With heavy reinforcements and the assumption of overall command by Lord Roberts with Lord Kitchener as his Chief of Staff, the British turned the situation around.  Imperial troops eventually relieved the besieged towns of Ladysmith (28th February 1900), Kimberley (15 February 1900) and Mafeking (18th May 1900).  On 13th March 1900 Roberts occupied Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State, and on 28th May the province was annexed and renamed the Orange River Colony.  On 31st May, British troops entered Johannesburg and, on 5th June, Pretoria was taken. The Transvaal was annexed on 1st September 1900.  To many it seemed that the was was over.  At the end of November, Roberts made a triumphal return to England.

Stage 3 - Guerrilla war.  Under the leadership of Louis Botha, Christiaan de Wet, Jan Smuts and de la Rey, the Boers abandoned the British style of warfare and increased their reliance on small and mobile military units.  The mobility of these units enabled them to capture supplies, disrupt communications and undertake raids on the army of occupation.  They were very successful in evading capture.  In response, the British embarked on a scorched earth policy to deny supplies to the fighters.  Approximately 30,000 farms were burnt.  In March 1901 the need to restrict the movement of the Boers brought the development of 8,000 blockhouses and 3,700 miles of wire fencing guarded by 50,000 troops.   This was followed by a number of 'drives' which had the intention of cornering the Boers but the operations mainly produced large numbers of displaced Boer and African families.  These refugees were sent to concentration camps around South Africa.  These measures were largely responsible for bringing the Boers to the negotiation table to end the War.

 

Additional information