Until The Bitter End


The Boer War would challenge British superiority of South Africa. The United Kindgom at their apex of imperialism and global influence would struggle against a lesser equpied, trained, and resource ready enemy. The Boers who are Dutch decsendts from the Cape Colony would move into the interior of South Africa, and live with tense and violent relationships with both the British and Native Africans. Diamonds and Gold would further press the agenda of the United Kingdom to annex two indepedent Boer Republics, Transvaal and Oranje Free State. Consequently the Boer War would be fought from 1899-1902 both conventionally and unconventionally for the control of the republics.

This webiste will provide a quick synopsis of several major themes discussed in my History Capstone paper. Along with acompanying images to provide visual context missing in the paper form.

The Boer Struggle

Cause of War

Diamonds and gold sparked the powder keg of South Africa, Uitlanders who are English speaking migrants would flood the Boer Republics in hopes of finding their fortune. However this would only exasperate the anti-Anglo sentiment in the Boer population and measures would be taken to weaken any Uitlander influcne in the republics. Headed by Paul Kruger, the influx was seen as another atempt by The United Kindgom to extened their influence in the area, and fulfil their bigger imperialist agenda of a united South Africa under British control.

Jamesons Raid, a failed attmped coup against Kruger in 1895 supported by Cecil Rhodes the Prime Minister of Cape Colony would push tensions past the breaking point. Rhodes who orehcestrated the raid would be relieved of his duties soon after, however Kruger and the Boers were more irritated now then ever of British advances. The writing was on the wall and a war was coming, Boers and Anglos could not tolerate each others ambitions for the region.

The Black Week

The war itself would not come for another four years. renewed interest in the Boer Repubilics by an imperialist goverment in London would come to a head with a British ulitmatem being issued to the Boers.

However the ultimatem would expire, and the long awaited war would begin. Black Week or the Boer Offensive would begin on 12 October 1899 with the combined forces of Transvaal and the Oranje Free State laying siege to Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberly. The switfness and readiness of the Boers stunned British garrison forces, and tarnished the public opinion of the war immediately. The goal of the Boers was simple, overwhelm the current smaller colonial British forces before the empire can mobilize.

Boer Resources

The Boer war chest was not as extensive as that of their British counterparts, the main issues at hand was that of manpower, finances, and weapon quality. Armed with outdated weapons and only supporting about 1,000 trained gunners, 75 modern artilery pieces, and 30 Maxim-Vickers machine guns the army had to rely on volunteers and police men.

These volunteers would be known as Kommandos and consist of the bulk of Boer forces. Their organization was based off squad tactics, often with them voting a leader for each Kommando group, which could vary from 60-3000 men. They supplied themselves, often times buying weapons and ammunition at reduced prices from the state which could vary from new 7mm Mauser M1896 smokless powder, magaznine loaded carbines to single shot black powder Martini-Henry rifles.

The Imperial Factor

British Counterattack

Britain despite being on the defensive would rally, breaking the sieges of Mafeking, Kimberly, and Ladysmith and marching into the Boer Republics The counterattack and siege reliefs would ultimatly ensure a British victory, but the occupation of a irrepressible Boer would be the real battle.Annexation would be declared but the war would contine for another 18 months as occupation turned insurgency.

Empire of Resources

Britain would have astronimical advantage against the Boers. Manpower was an advantage of the Boers at first, however as the British moblized their empire over 110,000 soliders would be deployed to South Africa, and by the end of the war over 358,000 men would have been sent over. Their empire was another advtange, as many men came from Canada, Australia, and India would be armed by the goverment with new .303 rifles and carbines, leaving equipment and horses to be provided by their dominions.

Other advantages like extensive raillines, telegraphy wires, and naval supremecy would allow for communication and supplies to be distrubuted quickly and effeciantly. Telegraphs in speicifc were able to relay information of battles and occupations faster than messanger. However often being targets of guerrilla tactics patrols, armored train cars, and baloons would be used to protect their infrastructureand communication advantage.

Boer Resilience

Following the annexation of Transvaal and the Oranje Free State a guerilla war would follow, with sabatage of infastrucure, hit and run attacks, and ambushes highligting the Boer last ditch effort for autonomy. These Kommandos who continued to fight would be known as the Bitter Enders, and would force the United Kingdoms advantages null, and patience thin.

Guerilla Warfare

Blowing of raillines, cutting of telegraph lines, and unconventioal warfare would characterize the later half of the Boer War. Counter tactics such as patrols, blockhouse builidng, and armored trains would combat the Kommandos, but being trained as horse-riflemen and being on familiar terrain would be an advantage the Empires forces could not match.

Total Warfare

However when military tactics were resulting in unmeaningful progress for the British, a total war aspect was brought forth. The civilian population was now targeted, often times supplying the Bitter Enders British policy was now to cut off that supply chain. However this would be done by burnnig of farms and homes, often times then sending the women and childern into internment camps were the goal was to convince the guerillas to quit fighting and return to their families. This however backfired and enraged the Kommandos who would hit harder and faster now that their family responsibilities were gone.

These camps were often ill equipped for the amounts of people that would reside their. Food, medicine, and housing shortages were common and as malnuturtion and disease spread, so did the public outcry for the camps to be improved. Emily Hobbes exposed the camps through pictures of dying childern and inhuman conditions,this would eventually lead to the public forcing the military command of the camps to be hadned over to civlian command, improving the conditions but ultimatley leaving the camps in place.

Failure of Technology or Failure of Man

The Boer War was a British victory, the republics would eventually be fully annexed and Kommandos would go home following a lack of leadership, supplies, and motivation, as well as pardons would be granted to most Boers. However the advantages numbering on the United Kingdom versus Transvaal and the Oranje Free State was apparent from the start, so why did Imperial forces struggle to subude the Boers, and were the Boers who were under equppied, and para military in nature manage to stave off full British control for three years? The application of British advantages were in practice smart, railroads allowed for fast movement of men and material and telegraphs would allow for even faster communication. However it is when that practice breaks down, in this case railraod bombings and wire cutting would force soliders into areas where they could be ambushed or further sabotaged. For all the advantages Britain had, the Boers were able to adapt and use British strategy, and technology to their advantage in Guerilla warfare.


B.A. Austin. 2017. “Wireless in the Boer War.” IEEE Electromagnetic Compatibility Magazine Volume 6 (Issue 1): 30-35.

Baker, Duncan. n.d. “Telecommunications in the Boer War.” The Australian Boer War Memorial. https://www.bwm.org.au/telecommunications.php.

Baker, Duncan C. 1998. “Wireless Telegraphy During the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.” Military History Journal. http://samilitaryhistory.org/vol112db.html.

Evans, Martin M. 1999. The Boer War: South Africa 1899-1902. N.p.: Osprey Publishing.

Meredith, Martin. 2007. Diamonds, Gold, and War. New York: PublicAffairs.

Morgan, Kenneth O. 2002. “The Boer War and the Media.” Twentieth Century British History Volume 13 (Issue 1): 1-16.

National Army Museum. n.d. “Boer War.” Boer War. https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/boer-war.

Tucker, Frederick. 1980. Private Tucker's Boer War diary: the Transvaal War of 1899, 1900, 1901 & 1902 with the Natal Field Forces. Edited by Pamela Todd. N.p.: Elm Tree Books.