The Great Boer War 1899-1902

(Boer War or South African War)

[ 1899 - 1902 ]

South African War... also called Boer War, or Anglo-boer War (Oct. 11, 1899-May 31, 1902), war fought between Great Britain and the two Boer (Afrikaner) republics--the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State. Although it was the largest and most costly war in which the British engaged between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I, it was fought between wholly unequal protagonists. The total British military strength in South Africa reached nearly 500,000 men, whereas the Boers could muster no more than about 88,000. But the British were fighting in a hostile country over difficult terrain, with long lines of communications, while the Boers, mainly on the defensive, were able to use modern rifle fire to good effect, at a time when attacking forces had no means of overcoming it.

The war began on Oct. 11, 1899, following a Boer ultimatum directed against the reinforcement of the British garrison in South Africa. The crisis was caused by the refusal of the South African Republic, under President Paul Kruger, to grant political rights to the Uitlander (foreigners; i.e., non-Dutch and primarily English) population of the mining areas of the Witwatersrand, and the aggressive attitudes of Alfred Milner, 1st Viscount Milner, the British high commissioner, and of Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, in response to this obduracy. An underlying cause of the war was the presence in the Transvaal of the largest gold-mining complex in the world, beyond direct British control, at a time when the world's monetary systems, preeminently the British, were increasingly dependent upon gold.

The course of the war can be divided into three periods. During the first phase, the British in South Africa were unprepared and militarily weak. Boer armies attacked on two fronts, into Natal from the Transvaal and into the northern Cape from the Orange Free State; the northern districts of the Cape Colony rebelled against the British and joined the Boer forces. In the course of Black Week (December 10-15) the Boers defeated the British in a number of major engagements and besieged the key towns of Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberley; but large numbers of British reinforcements were being landed, and slowly the fortunes of war turned. Before the siege of Ladysmith could be relieved, however, the British suffered another reverse at Spion Kop (January 1900).

In the second phase, the British, under Lord Kitchener and Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, relieved the besieged towns, beat the Boer armies in the field, and rapidly advanced up the lines of rail transportation. Bloemfontein was occupied by the British in February 1900, and Johannesburg and Pretoria in May and June. Kruger left the Transvaal for Europe. But the war, which until then had been largely confined to military operations, was by no means at an end, and at the end of 1900 it entered upon its most destructive phase. For 15 months Boer commandos, under the brilliant leadership of generals such as Christiaan Rudolf de Wet and Jacobus Hercules De la Rey, harried the British army bases and communications; large rural areas of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State (which the British annexed as the Orange River Colony) remained out of British control.

Kitchener responded with barbed wire and blockhouses along the railways, but when these failed he retaliated with a scorched-earth policy. The farms of Boers and Africans alike were destroyed and the Boer inhabitants of the countryside were rounded up and held in segregated concentration camps. The plight of the Boer women and children in these camps became an international outrage--more than 20,000 died in the carelessly run, unhygienic camps. The commandos continued their attacks, many of them deep into the Cape Colony, General Jan Smuts leading his forces to within 50 miles (80 km) of Cape Town. But Kitchener's drastic and brutal methods slowly paid off. The Boers had unsuccessfully sued for peace in March 1901; finally, they accepted the loss of their independence by the Peace of Vereeniging (see Vereeniging, Peace of) in May 1902.

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Vereeniging, Peace of 

(May 31, 1902), treaty that ended the South African War, or Boer War; it was signed in Pretoria, after initial Boer approval in Vereeniging, between representatives of the British and ex-republican Boer governments. It ended the independence of the South African Republic (i.e., Transvaal) and the Orange Free State, which came under British military administration. A general amnesty was declared, burghers were to be disarmed, and a commission was appointed with a grant of £3,000,000 to reconstruct the Transvaal. Clause VIII left the question of a voting franchise for nonwhites to be settled after the defeated Boers had been granted self-government. Thus, black Africans were left without the vote (except in the Cape Colony) when South Africa was unified in 1910.

<table class='table table-bordered col-lg-12 col-md-12 col-sm-12 col-xs-12 margin20 row-30' border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="100%" style="font-family: 'Times New Roman'; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);"><tbody><tr><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">State</font></td><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Entry</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Exit</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Combat Forces</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Population</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Losses</font></td></tr><tr><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Boers</font></td><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1899</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1902</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">35000</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1200000</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">5000</font></td></tr><tr><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Britain</font></td><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1899</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1902</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">50000</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">42000000</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">20000</font></td></tr></tbody></table>

Total Casualties 25000 Killed and Wounded
Casualties Killed / Wounded
Military Casualties Killed 25000 /Wounded
Civilian Casualties Killed / Wounded
Note
Belligerents Initiation Date Termination Date
Boers and United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1899 1902 View
Weapon Name Weapon Class Weapon Class Type
Ordnance BL 12-pounder 6 cwt Vehicle Towed Artillery
Ordnance QF 12-pounder 8 cwt Vehicle Towed Artillery
7.7 cm FK 96 Vehicle Towed Artillery
Type 86 Vehicle Armoured Fighting Vehicle
Long Cecil Vehicle Towed Artillery
BL 5-inch howitzer Vehicle Towed Artillery
BL 5.4-inch howitzer Vehicle Towed Artillery
BL 6-inch 30 cwt howitzer Vehicle Towed Artillery
RML 2.5 inch Mountain Gun Vehicle Towed Artillery
RML 7 pounder Mountain Gun Vehicle Towed Artillery
Nachstbereichschutzsystem MANTIS Vehicle Towed Artillery
Maxim gun Vehicle Specialty
Lancaster pistol Manportable Handguns
Mauser C96 Manportable Handguns
Kropatschek rifle Manportable Rifles
Lee Speed Manportable Rifles
Martini–Enfield Manportable Rifles

Related Conflicts

No Releted Conflicts