Will Darden

The First Boer war was for Boer independence during the colonial era from Great Britain. The British allowed the colony to keep it’s independence after the cost of fielding the British army became to great a cost for the benefit of maintaining control over the poor colony. However, gold was found near the capitol shortly after the first Boer War. The Witwatersrand gold mine was extremely profitable, and was producing 2 billion dollars of gold a year when the British attempted to reassert their imperial power. The first half of the war was fought on fairly even terms, as the Boer’s had stocked up on modern military equipment after the first Boer War. Standard traditional warfare tactics were employed by both sides.

The British empire’s distant resources vastly outmatched what the Boer’s could draw from , however, and by 1901, two years after the start of the war, The British army and it’s new reinforcements outmatched the Boers army 430,000 to 30,000. The British began advancing and eventually captured the Boer capitol in 1900. The exiled Boer government now had to shift their tactics to those of guerrilla warfare. Supply routes were ambushed, infrastructure was targeted, and the dispersed Boer detachments constantly changed position.

This kind of fighting changed how Britain fought a war, and influenced future social ideas on politics, race, and rules of warfare. The second Boer war was very costly for Great Britain. Supplying 400,000 troops a quarter of the world away using late 19th century technology is extremely expensive. The gold mine helped fuel support in parliament, however it was harder to convince civilians the pricey war was justified when 40% of British recruits were unfit for service due to rickets and other poverty related diseases. Compounded on that, the war dragged on for 11 years, and support wained over time. This impatience changed how military theory decided how wars would be fought. The British began using a scorched Earth policy in an attempt to starve the Boer’s into submission. Resources were destroyed, towns were burned down, and Boer civilians were put into concentration camps. The policies were brutal, but the Boer tactics gave the British no choice. One army General said “We seem not to own any land we do not immediately occupy with troops”.

Politically, voter support became less conservative and more liberal. In a very similar way the Iraq war is shifting political views now, allocating so many resources abroad brought the publics attention to what those resources could do at home. The conservative party lost the power in parliament towards end of the war because of this shift towards more liberal and socialist thinking.

During the Asymmetric period of the war, the British established blockhouses to house soldiers along important rail and supply lines. Over 50 battalions were needed just to maintain the defensive infrastructure of these blockhouses against the Boer guerrilla army of 30,000. In fact, to accentuate the difference, The British supply train employed more support role soldiers than the entire fighting force of the Boers. Again though, stationing 50,000 troops for deffensive purposes is expensive. The British army began recruiting more native Africans to man the garrisons than they ever allowed before. The need for more troops initiated a shift towards a more racial balanced army, whereas before neither side had extensively fielded African soldiers.