[Sidenote: Many previous cases compare with Boer resistance.]

[Sidenote: Inherited faculties.]

Any force of irregulars which offers a prolonged resistance, not unmarked by tactical successes, to a regular army of superior strength is apt to be regarded as a phenomenon. Yet, from the earliest times, history has shown how seasoned troops may be checked by an enemy who is inferior in numbers, discipline and armament, but possessed of certain counterbalancing resources, due either to the nature of his country, to his own natural characteristics, or to a combination of both.[65] Of such resources the Boers at the close of the nineteenth century possessed, largely by inheritance, a full share. With their forefathers, the early Afrikanders, loneliness had been a passion to which their very presence north of the Orange river was due. Flying from society, from burdens and responsibilities which they considered intolerable, from pleasures which seemed to them godless, from a stir which bewildered them, and from regularity which wearied them, they had penetrated the wilds northward in bands as small as possible, each man of which was wrapped in a dream of solitude, careless whither he went so long as he went unseen. It troubled these pioneers little that they were plunging into a sea of enemies. Society, with its conventions and trammels, and most of all, perhaps, with its taxes, was the only enemy whom they feared, the only one they could never escape. But before it caught them up, their combats with corporeal foes were incessant and deadly. Wild beasts prowled round their herds; savages swooped upon their homesteads; all animated nature was in arms against them; every farmhouse was a fortress, usually in a state of siege. In the great spaces of the wilderness the cry for help was but seldom heard, or if heard, only by one who had his own safety to look to. The Boer farmer of the forties, therefore, had to work out his rescue, as he worked out every other problem of his existence, for himself, acquiring thereby, a supreme individuality and self-reliance in the presence of danger. He acquired also other characteristics. The fighting men of his nation were few in number; every mature life was little less valuable to the State than it was to the homestead whose existence depended upon it. The burgher's hope of injuring his enemy was therefore subordinated to solicitude for his own preservation, and he studied only safe methods of being dangerous. Even when in later days the Boer expeditionary bands, reclaiming to the full from the blacks the toll of blood and cruelty which had been levied on themselves, were more often the attackers than the attacked, their aggression was always tempered by the caution of the individual Boers, who would still forego a chance of striking a blow should it contain an undue element of hazard. The republican warriors relied, indeed, less on attack than on defence. They trusted yet more to that weapon, perfected by many small races which have been compelled to work out their own methods of warfare, the weapon of evasion. Nearly always outnumbered, never sure of victory, the burghers always provided, then kept their eyes continually upon, a loophole of escape, for if that were closed they felt themselves to be lost. These characteristics, with many more which will be noted, the early Boer bequeathed to his sons and grandsons; a legacy so strangely composed that many of the very qualities which brought temporary victory to the campaigners of 1899 foredoomed them to ultimate defeat.

[Footnote 65: E.G., the revolt of La Vendée, the resistance of the Maories, the Red Indians, the Achinese, the Montenegrins, of the Trans-Indus Highlanders, of Andreas Hofer's Tyrolese, of Shamyl's Caucasians.]

[Sidenote: Value of these in present warfare.]

Self-reliance and individuality are factors of extraordinary military importance under any conditions, but especially under circumstances involving such dispersion of combatants, such distances between commanders and commanded, as were brought about by the conjunction of long-range arms, an open terrain and the clearest atmosphere in the world. South Africa was a country which gave the freest play to the deadly properties of small-bore rifles. The new weapons fitted into the Boer's inherited conceptions of warfare as if they were a part for which his military organisers had long been hoping and waiting. He had an antipathy to fighting at close quarters, but he knew the value and necessity of striking; the Mauser enabled him to strike at the extreme limit of vision, multiplying tenfold the losses and difficulties of the enemy who attempted to close with him. The portability of the ammunition, the accuracy of the sighting, the absence of betraying smoke, all these increased the Boer's already great trust in himself, and he took the field against the British regular infantryman with more confidence than his sires had felt when they held their laagers against the Zulu and the Matabele. The modern rifle, moreover, still further increased his self-reliance by rendering avoidance of close combat, which alone he feared, a much simpler matter than hitherto. His father had escaped the bayonets of the British at Boomplaats; he himself was no more willing or likely to be caught by the steel fifty years later, when he could kill at two thousand yards instead of two hundred, or failing to kill, had hours instead of minutes in which to gain his pony and disappear. Yet the long-range rifle had improved his weapon of retreat until it had become a danger instead of an aid to his cause. Failing so completely to understand the military value of self-sacrifice, that he actually pitied, and slightly despised it, when he saw it resorted to by his enemies, his refusal to risk his life often proved disastrous to his side at times when more resolution might have turned the scale of battle in his favour.

There was much to be admired in the Boer defensive; up to a certain point it was stubborn and dangerous. The musketry from a position, poured upon zones of ground over which the British troops must pass rather than upon the troops themselves, was heavy and effective, and not easily quelled by bombardment. In battle, artillery may do its work without causing a casualty; but so long as he had cover for his body, the soul of the Boer rifleman was little shaken by the bursting of projectiles; fierce firing came often from portions of a position which appeared to be smothered by shrapnel, and invisible in the reek of exploding lyddite.

[Sidenote: Special habits of fighting.]

Nor did the Boer armies, as regular armies have done, cling to strong positions simply because they were strong. They considered a position as a means to an end, and if it ceased to be the best, they discarded it without hesitation, no matter with what toil it had been prepared. Nevertheless, on ground of their own choosing, the abandonment without a shot of strong, laboriously entrenched, positions by no means always meant retirement. Much as they dreaded being enveloped, their flanks, or what would have been the flanks of an European army, might be threatened again and again only to be converted each time into new and formidable fronts. The nature of the country, and the comparative mobility of the opposing forces rendered these rapid changes of front easy of execution, but they demanded promptness, and a genius for the appreciation of the value of ground, not only on the part of the Boer leaders, but also on that of the rank and file. In the ranks of the commandos persuasion had to take the place of word of command; the Boer soldier, before he quitted one position for another, had to be convinced of the necessity for a repetition of the severe toil of entrenching which had apparently been wasted. But his eye was as quick, his tactical and topographical instinct as keen as those of his commander, and if the new dispositions were not selected for him, he often selected them himself.

[Sidenote: Their defences: strong points.]

Once on the ground the burghers' first care was to conceal themselves quickly and cunningly, cutting deep and narrow entrenchments, if possible upon the rearward crest, leaving the forward crest, of which they carefully took the range, to the outposts. Upon the naked slope between, which was often obstructed with barbed wire, they relied to deny approach to their schanzes. A not uncommon device was the placing of the main trench, not at the top, but along the base of the position. Here the riflemen, secure and invisible, lay while the hostile artillery bombarded the untenanted ridge lines behind them. Such traps presented an enhanced danger from the fact that the Boers would rarely open fire from them until the front of the attack was well committed, though, on the other hand, they seldom had nerve or patience to withhold their musketry until the moment when it might be completely decisive. As regards the Boer artillery, its concealment was usually perfect, its location original and independent, its service accurate and intelligent. Dotted thinly over a wide front, the few guns were nevertheless often turned upon a common target, and were as difficult to detect from their invisibility, as to silence from the strength of the defences, in the case of the heavy ordnance, and in the case of the lighter pieces, from their instant change of position when discovered.

[Sidenote: A weakness in defence.]

Nevertheless, with all these virtues, the Boer defensive, by reason of the above-mentioned characteristics of the individual soldiers, was no insurmountable barrier, but only an obstacle to a determined attack. Many of the positions occupied by the Republicans during the campaigns seemed impregnable. Prepared as skilfully as they had been selected, in them some troops would have been unconquerable. But at the moment when they must be lost without a serried front, the reverse slopes would be covered with flying horsemen, whilst but a handful of the defenders remained in the trenches. Nor, except on the feeblest and most local scale, would the defenders at any time venture anything in the nature of a counter stroke, though the attack staggered, or even recoiled, upon the bullet-swept glacis, and victory trembled in the balance.

[Sidenote: A weakness in attack.]

If the Boer defensive was force passive, their general attack became force dissipated as soon as it entered the medium rifle zone. Excessive individuality marked its every stage, the thought of victory seldom held the first place. In the old days, when an assault had to be attempted, as at Thaba Bosigo and Amajuba, it had been the custom to call for volunteers. But when President Kruger pitted his burghers against large armies, this expedient was no longer available; instead of a few score such affairs required thousands, and they were not forthcoming. The desire to close, the only spirit which can compel decisive victory, entered into the Boer fighting philosophy even less than the desire to be closed with; the non-provision of bayonets was no careless omission on the part of their War department. During an assault the Commandants might set, as they often did, a splendid example of courage, but they could never rely on being followed to the end by more than a fraction of their men. The attack, therefore, of the Boers differed from that of a force of regulars in that it was never made in full strength, and was never pushed home; and from that of the Afghans, Afridis or Soudanese in that there was no strong body of spectators to rush forward and assure the victory half won by the bolder spirits in front. Their attack was, in consequence, little to be feared, so long as the defence was well covered from the incessant rifle fire which supported and accompanied it; for none but a few gallant individuals would ever venture to close upon a trench or sangar whose defenders yet remained alive behind it. Both in attack and defence, therefore, the Boer army lacked the last essentials to victory.

[Sidenote: As partisans.]

It was in the warfare of the partisan that the Boer excelled, in the raid on a post or convoy, the surprise and surrounding of a detachment, the harassing of the flanks and the rear of a column, and the dash upon a railway. Their scouting has not often been excelled; their adversaries seldom pitched or struck a camp unwatched, or marched undogged by distant horsemen. How little the Boer generals and Intelligence department knew how to utilise the fruits of this constant watchfulness will be fully shown elsewhere, but the lack of deductive power on the part of the leaders detracts nothing from the unwearied cunning of their men.

[Sidenote: Use of ground.]

The combinations of scattered bands at a given rendezvous for a common purpose were not seldom marvellous, effected as they often were by rides of extraordinary speed and directness by night, when the men had to feel with their hands for the goat and Kaffir tracks if astray, but rarely astray, even in the most tangled maze of kopjes, or, still more wonderful, on the broadest savannah of featureless grass. With the Boer, direction had become a sense; not only were topographical features, once seen, engraved indelibly on his memory, but many which would be utterly invisible to untrained eyes were often detected at once by inference so unconscious as to verge on instinct. He knew "ground" and its secrets as intimately as the seaman knows the sea, and his memory for locality was that of the Red Indian scout.

[Sidenote: Mixed qualities.]

Thus the Boer riflemen possessed many of the characteristics of the same formidable type of irregular soldier as the backwoodsmen of America or the picked warriors of the Hindustan border. Yet an exact prototype of qualities so contradictory as those which composed this military temperament is not to be recalled. No fighting men have been more ready for war, yet so indifferent to military glory, more imbued with patriotism, yet so prone to fight for themselves alone, more courageous, yet so careful of their lives, more lethargic, or even languid by nature, and yet so capable of the most strenuous activity. Such were the Boers of the veld. In one particular they had never been surpassed by any troops. No Boer but was a bold horseman and a skilled horsemaster, who kept his mount ready at any moment for the longest march or the swiftest gallop, in darkness, or over the roughest ground. In camp the ponies grazed each one within reach of its master; in action every burgher took care that his perfectly trained animal stood, saddled and bridled, under cover within a short run to the rear. In remote valleys great herds of ponies, some fresh, some recouping their strength after the fatigues of a campaign, roamed at pasture until they should be driven to the front as remounts.

[Sidenote: Mobility.]

The unrivalled mobility of the Boer armies, therefore, and the vastness of its theatre of action, gave to them strength out of all proportion to their numbers. A muster roll is little indication of the fighting power of a force which can march three or four times as fast as its opponent, can anticipate him at every point, dictating the hour and place of the conflict, can keep him under constant surveillance, can leave its communications without misgivings, and finally, which can dispense with reserves in action, so quickly can it reinforce from the furthest portions of its line of battle. Yet in this particular again, the Boers' constitutional antipathy to the offensive robbed them of half their power. They employed their mobility, their peculiar strength, chiefly on the defensive and on tactics of evasion, often, indeed, resigning it altogether, to undertake a prolonged and half-hearted investment of some place of arms. Amongst their leaders there appeared some who did all that was possible, and much more than had seemed possible, with a few hundreds of devoted followers. But the Republics possessed no Sheridan. Men who foresaw that in this mobility might lie the making of a successful campaign, that the feats of the raider might be achieved tenfold by large well-mounted armies, were missing from their councils.

[Sidenote: Organisation.]

The Boer forces which took the field in 1899 were composed of two divisions:--

(I.) The Burgher Commandos.   (II.) The Regular Forces.

Of the former the whole male population, black and white, between the ages of sixteen and sixty, formed the material,[66] the "Wyk" or Ward, the lowest electoral unit, the recruiting basis. Upon the Field Cornet, the chief officer of a Ward, elected by its votes for a term of three years, devolved many responsibilities besides the civil duties of collecting the taxes, administering the law, and maintaining order in his small satrapy. He was also the sole representative of Army Headquarters. One of the most important of his functions was that of compiling the registers of burghers liable to war service.[67]

[Footnote 66: Exemptions similar to those which obtain in European schemes of universal service were sanctioned by the military law of the Boer Republics.]

[Footnote 67: These lists were of three kinds, comprising:--

(I.) Youths under 18 and men over 50.   (II.) Men between 18 and 34.  (III.) Men between 34 and 50.

In the event of war, Class II. was first liable to service, then Class III., and, as a last resort, Class I.]

[Sidenote: Field cornet.]

It was his business, moreover, to see that each man of his levy took the field with clothing, rifle, horse and ammunition in good and serviceable order; and if, as was rarely the case, means of transport were insufficiently contributed by the burghers themselves, to provide them by commandeering from the most convenient source. The whole military responsibility, in short, of his Ward fell on him; and though the men he inspected annually were rather his neighbours than his subordinates, their habitual readiness for emergencies smoothed what, in most other communities, would have been the thorniest of official paths, and rendered seldom necessary even the mild law he could invoke.

[Sidenote: Ward levy.]

The first acts of the Ward levy at the rendezvous were to elect an Assistant Field Cornet and two or more Corporals, the former to serve their commander during the campaign, the latter to serve themselves by distributing rations and ammunition, and supervising generally their comfort in laager, by performing, in fact, all the duties performed by a section commander in the British infantry except that of command.

[Sidenote: The commando and commandant.]

The Field Cornet then rode with his burghers to the meeting-place of the commando, usually the market town of the District. There a Commandant, elected by the votes of the District, as the Field Cornet had been by those of the Ward, assumed command of the levies of all the Wards, and forthwith led them out to war, a Boer commando.

[Sidenote: A nation in arms.]

Thus, at the order to mobilise, the manhood of the Boer Republics sprang to arms as quickly, as well prepared, and with incomparably more zeal than the best trained conscripts of Europe. Not urged to the front like slaves by the whips of innumerable penalties, their needs not considered to the provision of a button, or a ration of salt, shabby even to squalor in their appointments, they gathered in response to a call which it was easy for the laggard to disobey, and almost uncared for by the forethought of anyone but themselves.

[Sidenote: Defects of system.]

[Sidenote: In Boer army doubly dangerous.]

In so far, therefore, as it applied to the actual enrolment and mobilisation of the commandos, the military system of the Boer Republics appeared well-nigh perfect. Yet it had radical and grievous defects, and these, being in its most vital parts, robbed it of half its efficiency. The election of military officers by the votes of the men they were destined to command would be a hazardous expedient in the most Utopian of communities; it was doubly dangerous with a people trained in habits formed by the accustomed life of the Boers in the nineteenth century. Its evil effects were felt throughout their armies. Officers of all grades had been selected for any other qualities than those purely military. Property, family interest, and politics had often weighed more heavily in the balance than aptitude for command. In the field the results were disastrous. Few of the officers had sufficient strength of character to let it be seen that they did not intend to remain subject to the favour which had created them. The burghers were not slow to profit by the humility of their superiors. Jealous of their democratic rights, conscious of their own individual value in a community so small, the rank and file were too ignorant of war to perceive the necessity of subordination. Especially were these failings of leaders and led harmful in the Krijgsraads, or Councils of War, which, attended by every officer from corporal upwards, preceded any military movement of importance. Since most of the members owed their presence to social and civic popularity, sound military decisions were in any case not to be expected. Moreover, as the majority of the officers truckled to the electorate which had conferred upon them their rank, it followed that the decisions of a Krijgsraad were often purely those of the Boer soldiers, who hung on its outskirts, and did not scruple, when their predilections were in danger of being disregarded, to buttonhole their representatives and dictate their votes. Finally, there were not wanting instances of unauthorised Krijgsraads being assembled at critical junctures, avowedly in mutinous opposition to a lawful assembly, and actually overriding the latter's decision.

[Sidenote: Forms of discipline.]

[Sidenote: Uncertain number in units.]

There was, however, discipline of a theoretical kind in the commandos. Two authorised forms of Courts-Martial existed to deal with offences committed on active service. But Courts-Martial were an empty terror to evil-doers. They were rarely convened, and when they were, the burgher of the close of the nineteenth century knew as many methods of evading the stroke of justice as did his father of escaping the stalk of a lion or the rush of a Zulu spearman.

A serious defect inherent in this military system was the inequality of the strength of the units created by it. A commando was a commando, of whatever numbers it consisted; and these, contributed by districts greatly varying in population, ranged from 300 to 3,000 men. Thus the generals, placed in command of forces composed of many commandos of which they knew nothing but the names, were ever in doubt as to the numbers of men at their disposal, a difficulty increased tenfold by the constantly shifting strength of the commandos themselves. Straggling and absenteeism are evils incident to all irregular or hastily enrolled armies, however drastic their codes of discipline, or however fervent their enthusiasm; with the Boers these maladies were prevalent to an incredible degree. Many and stringent circulars were promulgated by the Boer Presidents to cope with this disastrous source of weakness. But one and all failed in their object, from the impotence of the officers whose duty it was to enforce them, and at every stage of the campaign many more than the authorised 10 per cent. of the fighting line were absent from their posts.

[Sidenote: Untrained staff.]

If such were the faults of the machine, those of the motive power were not less glaring. No provision had been made in peace for the training of men for the duties of the Staff. At Pretoria, the Commandant-General, forced to reign alone over the twin kingdoms of administration and command, had not unnaturally failed to govern either. The chain of authority between Commander-in-Chief and private soldier, a chain whose every link must be tempered and tested in time of peace, was with the Boers not forged until war was upon them, and then so hurriedly that it could not bear the strain. When prompt orders were most needed, there was often no one to issue them, no one to carry them, or, even if issued and delivered, no one present who could enforce them. Nor were the ramifications of departmental duty, which, like arteries, should carry vitality to every portion of the army, of any more tried material. In most existing departments there was chaos; many that are indispensable did not exist at all.

[Sidenote: Arms.]

The service arms of the burgher forces were the Mauser ·276 rifle and carbine.

The exact number of Mauser rifles brought into the Boer States is, and will probably be always, uncertain. At least 53,375 can be accounted for, of which 43,000 were imported by the Transvaal and the remainder by the Orange Free State, the latter drawing a further 5,000 from the stores of the sister Republic. These, with approximately 50,000 Martini-Henry and other rifles known to have been in the arsenals and in possession of the burghers before the commencement of hostilities, made up over 100,000 serviceable weapons at the disposal of the two countries.[68] Ammunition was ample, though, again, it is idle to discuss actual figures. Neither the stock in the magazines, nor that in the possession of the farmers, was for certain known to any man. The most moderate of the Republican officials in a position to form a credible estimate placed it at seventy millions of rounds; it was more probably nearer one hundred millions. The Boer farmer, still uncertain of security in the outlying solitudes of the veld, still unaccustomed to it in the more frequented districts, never wasted ammunition even though a use for it seemed remote. He hoarded it as other men hoard gold; for deeply rooted in him was the thought, sown in the perilous days of the past, that cartridges, with which to preserve the lives of himself and his family, might at any moment become of more value than gold pieces, which could only give to life the comfort he somewhat despised. Thus the arsenals of the larger towns were not the only, or even the chief, repositories of small-arm ammunition. Every farm was a magazine; lonely caves hid packets and boxes of cartridges; they lay covered beneath the roots of many a solitary tree, beneath conspicuous stones, often beneath the surface of the bare veld itself. Whatever were the actual amounts of arms and ammunition at the disposal of the Republican riflemen, it was plain they were not only adequate but extravagant. There was significance in the excess. The Boers possessed sufficient munitions of war to arm and equip 30,000 or 40,000 men over and above their own greatest available strength. It will be seen in due course for whose hands this over-plus was designed.

[Footnote 68: The following is a fairly accurate estimate in detail:--

Mausers 53,375   Martini-Henry 35,875   Westley-Richards  9,780   Guedes   6,049   Lee-Metfords  2,850   Krag-Jörgensen  200 ------- 108,129

Besides the above, there were about 6,000 Webley pistols in store.]

[Sidenote: Rifle practice.]

The Republican Governments had not been satisfied with the mere issue of arms. As early as 1892 in the Transvaal, and 1895 in the Orange Free State, rifle practice, at the periodical inspections of arms and equipment, called Wapenschouws, had been made compulsory for the burghers. For these exercises ammunition was provided free, and money appropriated from the State funds for prizes. Every effort, in short, was made to preserve the old skill and interest in rifle-shooting, which it was feared would vanish with the vanishing elands and gemsbok. If the skill had diminished, the interest had not. A rifle had at all times an irresistible fascination for a Boer. The Bedouin Arab did not expend more care upon his steed of pure Kehailan blood, nor the medieval British archer upon his bow, than did the veld farmer upon his weapon. Even he who kept clean no other possession, allowed no speck of dirt on barrel or stock. On the introduction of the new rifles, not only had shooting clubs sprung up in all quarters, but, in aiding them with funds, ammunition, and prizes, the Republican authorities, before they disappeared, had given at least one lesson to Governments, that of fostering to the utmost any national predilection which may be of service to the State.


Regular forces of similar, if not identical, composition were authorised by the constitutions of both Republics, consisting in the Transvaal of artillery and police, and in the Free State of artillery only. These differed in no respects from similar units of any European organisation, being raised, equipped, officered, instructed, and paid in the ordinary manner, and quartered in barracks or forts.

[Sidenote: Regulars.]

The regular forces of the Transvaal consisted of:--

(a) The State Artillery.   (b) The South African Republic Police.   (c) The Swaziland Police.

[Sidenote: Artillery.]

The State Artillery of the South African Republic was as complete and efficient a unit as any of its kind in existence. Originally incorporated with the Police at the inception of both in 1881, it was reorganised on a separate footing in 1894, in which year it also first saw active service against Malaboch in the Blue Mountains. At this time the strength of the Corps was but 100 gunners, 12 non-commissioned officers and 7 officers. After the Jameson Raid, however, the force was quadrupled and reorganised; the field and fortress departments were differentiated, larger barracks built, and steps taken generally to ensure the greatest possible efficiency and readiness for instant service, the avowed object of the Government being to make the Corps "the nucleus of the military forces of the Republic."[69] The only qualifications necessary for the 300 additional men required by the scheme were citizenship, either by birth or naturalisation, age not to be less than 16, and the possession of a certificate of good conduct from the Field Cornet. Service was for three years, with the option of prolongation to six years, after which followed a period of service in the reserve until the age of 35 was reached.[70]

[Footnote 69: Law of Reorganisation, 1896.]

[Footnote 70: Pay of Officers of the State Artillery:--

Commandant  £700 per annum.   Major   600    "   Captain 500    "   First Lieutenant 350    "   Second Lieutenant     275    "

All ranks received a horse from the Government, a special board supervising the purchase and issue of remounts. Rations and uniforms were also free issues, and on a most generous scale to officers and men alike.

The pay of non-commissioned officers and men was as follows:--

Warrant Officers    £180 and £150 per annum.   Farriers and Sergeants  6s. 6d. a day.   Corporals  5s. 6d.   "   Gunners    5s. 0d.   "]

[Sidenote: Military courts.]

For the maintenance of discipline the Corps had three Military Courts of its own, whose powers extended from detention to death. They differed in no way from similar tribunals in the British army save in one respect, that convicted prisoners had a right of appeal from a lower Court to that above it. Drill was on the German model, but the language was Dutch. The Boer gunners were ready pupils, having much the same natural aptitude for the handling of ordnance as is observable in British recruits. Only 20 rounds per gun were allowed for the yearly target practice.

[Sidenote: Artillery divisions.]

The State Artillery was divided into the following principal departments:--[71]

(a) Field Artillery.   (b) Fortress Artillery.   (c) Field Telegraph.

[Footnote 71: There were in addition an Intendance Service, Medical, Educational, Farriery, and Artificer staffs, and a band of 20 performers; all maintained in a high state of efficiency.]

[Sidenote: Artillery weapons.]

At the date of the outbreak of hostilities the modern armament of the field artillery was as follows:--

6 Creusot Q.F. 75 m/m (about 3 inches), supplied with 11,009[72] rounds.   4 Krupp Howitzers 120 m/m (4·7-in.), supplied with 3,978 rounds.   8 Krupp Guns Q.F. 75 m/m, supplied with 5,600 rounds.   21 Vickers-Maxim (pom-pom) 37·5 m/m (about 1-1/2 inches),     supplied with 72,000 rounds (14,000 pointed steel, 58,000     common).   4 Vickers Mountain Guns 75 m/m. Ammunition not known.   4 Nordenfeldts 75 m/m, supplied with 2,483 rounds,   1 Armstrong 15-pr. Ammunition not known.   1 Armstrong 12-pr. Ammunition not known.

[Footnote 72: During the war about 26,000 projectiles of various patterns were manufactured in Johannesburg. Both at that place and at Pretoria an immense amount of manufacturing and repairing of war material was effected, including the making of a new 120 m/m Howitzer and the shortening of a 6-in. Creusot.]

In addition to this the field artillery possessed 12 Maxims for ·303 rifle ammunition, and 10 for the ·450 Martini-Henry. For the latter 1,871,176 rounds of nickel-covered ammunition were in store. The total modern armament of the field artillery, therefore, capable of service in the field, was--excluding the 22 Maxims--49 pieces. The following more or less obsolete weapons were also in charge of the Corps:--

4 Krupp Mountain Guns, 65 m/m.   6 7-pr. Mountain Guns.   3 5-pr. Armstrong Guns.

[Sidenote: Manning of artillery.]

The personnel of the field artillery was, on a peace footing, 12 officers and 394 N.C.O.s and men, but in the field this was found to be very inadequate, and was eked out by the incorporation of volunteers from the commandos.[73]

[Footnote 73: As many as thirty-nine ordinary burghers were noticed doing duty with a battery in action.]

The fortress artillery had 9 officers and 151 N.C.O.s and men, but, like the field artillery, drew many willing helpers from the burgher ranks. Its armament consisted of:--

  • 4 Creusot 155 m/m (about 6 inches),[74] supplied with 8,745 rounds.
  • 6 Hotchkiss 37 m/m on parapet mounting, supplied with 3,663 rounds.
  • 1 Mortar 150 m/m. Ammunition not known.
  • 1 Howitzer 64-pr. Ammunition not known.

[Footnote 74: The 6-in. Creusots were of somewhat peculiar construction, having narrow iron wheels, not at all promising the mobility which the Boers attained from them. The shell weighed 94 lbs., charge 20 lbs. black powder, bursting charge for shrapnel 5 lbs. melinite. Recoil was absorbed pneumatically.]

Besides these, a few guns of odd and mostly obsolete patterns, including three Krupp, were on the books of the Fortress department.

The third division of the State Artillery, the field telegraph section, comprised 2 officers and 65 N.C.O.s and men.

The State Artillery of the Transvaal, to sum up, was (excluding Maxims) armed with 61 effective and about 20 semi-effective weapons, manned by a personnel of about 800 men (including reservists).


[Sidenote: The Police, Transvaal.]

The Transvaal Police consisted of two bodies:--

(a) The South African Republic Police.   (b) The Swaziland Police.

The former, whose sobriquet of "Zarps" war made more famous with the British than peace had rendered it infamous, numbered some 1,200 whites and 200 blacks under 13 officers and 64 non-commissioned officers. In peace time they were stationed chiefly in Johannesburg, with detachments at Pretoria, Krugersdorp, and a few outlying stations. Qualifications for service were an age of 21 years, with burgher rights by birth, and the term for three years, with subsequent yearly renewals.

The S.A.R. Police, who were a purely regular force, were divided into foot and mounted organisations of about 800 and 500 respectively. They were thoroughly drilled, their fire discipline being on the most approved German model. Their rigid training, however, had apparently robbed them of much of the individual initiative which safeguarded the persons and lost the battles of their less educated compatriots in the ranks of the commandos.

[Sidenote: Police, Swaziland.]

The Swaziland Police were a small body of some 300 white and black men, commanded by eight officers and 27 of non-commissioned rank. Their formation was much more that of an ordinary commando than that of the Europeanised "Zarps," and, in fact, from the commencement of the war, they operated as a wing of the local commando.


[Sidenote: Free State Regulars.]

These consisted of artillery only, numbering some 375 men (including 200 reservists), and possessed of the following armament:--[75]

[Footnote 75: Three Krupp and three Maxims were on order in Europe, but were not delivered in time to reach the Free State capital.]

The Project Gutenberg e-Book of History of the War in South Africa, Vol. 1 of 4; Author: Sir Frederick Maurice.
  • 14 Krupp Guns 75 m/m, with 9,008 rounds.
  • 5 Armstrong Guns 9-pr., with 1,300 rounds,
  • 1 Krupp Q.F. 37 m/m. Ammunition not known.
  • 3 Armstrong Mountain Guns 3-pr., with 786 rounds.
  • 3 Maxim Guns.

With all furniture and wagons complete.

[Sidenote: Inferior organisation.]

The Corps was by no means so thoroughly organised as the artillery of the Transvaal. There was no division into batteries, the guns being entrusted to the care of any commando which "liked to have a gun with it."[76] Yet there was considerable esprit de corps amongst the gunners, who maintained their material, as well as their discipline, in surprisingly good order considering the lack of officers, and the general slovenliness of their surroundings. The conditions of service for the men were the same as those which obtained in the Transvaal Corps.

[Footnote 76: Boer Account.]

The Corps also possessed a small but efficient telegraph section. The barracks, at Bloemfontein, compared most unfavourably with the fine buildings which housed the Transvaal artillery at Pretoria.


[Sidenote: Uncertainty of Boer figures.]

Figures of exact accuracy are, and must be for ever, unobtainable, for none of the data from which they could be compiled were either precisely recorded, or can be remembered. The Field Cornets' books, and consequently the State lists, of those liable to service were all alike full of errors and discrepancies. The statistical machinery of the Republics, too primitively, and it may be added too loosely, managed to be equal to the work of even a complete census in time of peace, made no attempt to cope with the levy which crowded around the Field Cornets in every market place at the issue of the Ultimatum in October, 1899. Muster rolls of even those actually and officially present in the field do not exist. Only one leader in either Republican army ventured to call a roll of his command, and the loud discontent of the burghers, scandalised at the militarism of the proceeding, did not encourage other officers to follow his example.

[Sidenote: Total engaged.]

The estimate, however, of 87,365, has been arrived at after the collation of so much independent testimony, that it may be taken as fairly accurate.[77]

[Footnote 77: See Appendix 4.]

The grand total does not, of course, represent the number of men in the field at any one time. It is an estimate of the numbers of all who bore arms against the British troops at any time whatever during the campaign. The Boer army numerically was the most unstable known to history,[78] varying in strength as it varied in fortune in the field, varying even with the weather, or with that mercurial mental condition of which, in irregular forces, the numbers present at the front best mark the barometer. Those numbers, even in the heroic stages of the campaign, ranged from about 55,000 men to 15,000, with every intermediate graduation. It is impossible to trace the vicissitudes of an army which lost, regained, then lost again fifty per cent. of its strength within a week. Nor is a periodic enumeration of vital military interest. With the Boers the numbers actually present in the fighting line were not, as with European troops, the measure of their effective force. For the Boer, whether as absentee at his farm, or wandering demoralised over the veld, was often little less a portion of the strength of his side than his comrade who happened to be lying alert in a shelter trench at the same moment. He intended to fight again; and instances were not wanting of parties of burghers, thus deserting their proper front, being attracted by the sound or the news of fighting in a totally different direction, and riding thither to form a reinforcement, as little expected upon the new battle ground by their friends as by their enemies.

[Footnote 78: The armies during the war between North and South in America ran it close in this respect.]