Paperback: 80 pages
Publisher: Osprey Publishing (27 July 2017)
Conan Doyle wrote that no enemy of Britain had done her so much damage as the Boer’s with their ancient theology and their very modern rifles. This book gets to the heart of that statement.
This is a capsule of tactical thought. Proving that this Osprey series retains its core strength of highlighting fighting experience from ground level and how actual combat can drive change in doctrine.
The Boer Wars are fertile ground for this discussion, and Ian Knight is as usual a capable guide to South African military history. It will I think rest rather neatly alongside his previous title about the Zulu war, and the other combat about the fighting in east Africa between Askari forces in ww1 as a very useful and accessible study of colonial warfare in Africa.
One of the main selling points of any Osprey book is by detailed maps, unit breakdowns and examinations of weapons and tactics in a very specific area, and this book delivers on all points. Can one ever tire of seeing photos of flinty looking Boer’s and comparing them to the at first neat but increasingly capable looking British forces?
The pages are replete with fascinating images, in addition to Johnny Shumate’s full page spreads, and the added bonus of one of Woodville’s paintings deployed as a double page layout.
Knight utilises some key eyewitness sources to bring realism to bush warfare in the Boer War. All in all the British come off the worst, even with their attempts to match Boer mobility and firepower with their own mounted infantry tactics.
It seems almost like if the Boers had been able to match British industry and supply they would probably have won the second war. Not that winning the first one wasn’t a brilliant feat on its own. But although efforts were made to make the Victorian army more “irregular” it was not really troops in the open that turned the tide.
It was economics, it was constriction, and ultimately the power of a rich industrial nation versus a poor agrarian one. In the end Boer Commandants could raid as far into British territory as they liked, and it still wouldn’t change the writing on the wall.
It’s not even as if the army kept any of the lessons learned in South Africa past the actual fighting. By WW1 very little remained of the keys of dispersal, concealment and manoeuvre that had been present during the Boer War.
Though many would cite the excellent marksmanship of the BEF in 1914, learned so the enemy supposed, in many colonial campaigns it was lucky they did not encounter a Boer Commando who, though mythologised as crack shots, were indeed experts at practical marksmanship when opposed to a European foe, demonstrated here in the final action and Elands Neck.
Of note is the fact that the war in east Africa only swung in favour of the allies when some ex Boer commandants took over in the theatre. A sharp, highly enjoyable addition to the series by Ian Knight.