Boer War

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Boer War:

see South African WarSouth African War
or Boer War,
1899–1902, war of the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State against Great Britain. Background
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Boer War


(1899–1902), an imperialist war waged by England against the Boer republics—the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State Republic.

V. I. Lenin considered the Boer War one of the main historical signposts marking the onset of the era of imperialism (see Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 30, p. 164). The Boer War was unleashed by the English government in the interests of the English monopolists, the owners of gold and diamond mines in South Africa. England attempted not only to expropriate the Boer Republics’ richest natural resources—mainly the gold fields—but also to secure British hegemony over the vast territory from Capetown to Cairo. The most decisive representatives of England’s imperialist policy were C. Rhodes and J. Chamberlain. At the same time, plans were being developed in Germany to annex the Boer Republics to Germany’s colonial possessions. The Boer Republics and Transvaal, in particular, became the object of imperialist competition between England and Germany.

The Boers strove to maintain the independence of their republics. At the same time, predatory tendencies toward the African territories bordering on the Boer Republics were growing among Boer ruling circles: demands to seize the Cape Colony, Natal, Bechuanaland, Basutoland, Swaziland, and Southern Rhodesia to create a united Boer South African Republic were being voiced ever more persistently. The refusal of Transvaal’s president P. Kruger to grant voting rights to the British Uitlanders (colonists who had settled in the Boer Republics in the 1880’s and 1890’s) was the pretext for the Boer War. Taking the military initiative into their own hands, the Boers began military actions on Oct. 11, 1899.

The Boer forces were made up from a militia system: male Boers from 16 to 60 years of age were obliged to appear for military service with their own rifles and ammunition. In all, the Boers could mount a force of up to 60,000 men. They were armed with the latest repeating rifles, 40 machine guns, and 80 rapid-fire guns. The Boers were outstanding marksmen, and they skillfully exploited the local areas, with which they were very familiar, supplementing natural cover with field works. They did battle in loose order. The weapons and tactics of the English troops were largely obsolete. They operated in dense parades without maneuvering or camouflage, and they suffered great losses. Thanks to the superiority of their weapons and tactics, the Boers (40,000–45,000) inflicted a number of defeats on the English forces (about 30,000). In October 1899 on the Natal front the Boers seized the cities of Charlestown, New Castle, and Glenko. However, the initial success they had achieved was not followed up, since the Boers, instead of decisively attacking, shifted to seiges of the cities of Lady-smith, Mafeking, and Kimberley. The effort of the English expeditionary force of over 45,000 men under the command of General R. H. Buller in November-December 1899 to move to the counteroffensive and liberate the besieged cities ended in complete failure. By the end of January 1900, the British had concentrated more than 200,000 men under the command of General Roberts. In February they moved to the offensive and lifted the sieges from the cities. Overwhelming numerical superiority permitted the English forces to defeat the Boers. In March 1900, the British occupied Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Republic; in June they occupied Pretoria, the capital of Transvaal. Both republics were annexed to the British Empire. However, about 20,000 Boers commanded by Generals L. Botha, C. de Wet, and J. de la Rey unleashed a stubborn partisan war. The English command brought its army up to 250,000 men. The families of Boers were driven to specially constructed concentration camps on a mass scale. Boer farms and cattle were destroyed.

Having concluded an agreement in 1899 with Germany and the USA on the Samoan Islands and an agreement with the French on a demarcation of territory in Central Africa, England achieved freedom of action in South Africa. This made it more difficult for the other great powers to offer the Boers assistance in their struggle against England. Thus, in February 1900, Germany and France refused to support Russia’s attempt to organize the powers’ intervention in order to end the Boer War. The war was concluded by a peace treaty signed in Pretoria on May 31, 1902. By the treaty, the Boers recognized England’s annexation of the South African and Orange Republics. Wishing to strengthen their rule in South Africa, the English colonialists soon made a deal with the Boers directed against the Africans. In 1910 they arranged for the creation of the Union of South Africa, which included the territory of the former Boer Republics.

In the sphere of military art, the use of smokeless powder, repeating rifles, machine guns, and rapid-fire guns in the Boer War had a great influence on the development of tactics. Dense and effective firing required the abandonment of closed military formations and frontal attacks. The infantry began to attack in extended lines, utilizing different formations for maneuvering and adapting themselves to the terrain with the support of artillery. Success was guaranteed for the side that won superiority in firepower. In defensive battles, the organization of the system of fire control, entrenchment, and camouflage became important. The use of rapid-fire guns sharply increased the demands on the logistical services, which were responsible for military supplies. The importance of morale was sharply demonstrated in the Boer War.


Lenin, V. I. “Imperializm, kak vysshaia stadiia kapitalizma.”Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 27.
Lenin, V. I. ‘’Imperializm i raskol sotsializma.” Ibid, vol. 30.
Lenin, V. I. “Kitaiskaia voina.” Ibid., vol. 4.
Vinogradskii, A. N. Anglo-burskaia voina v luzhnoi Afrike, issues 1–3. St. Petersburg, 1901–03.
De Wet, C. Vospominaniia burskogo generala. Bor’ba burov s Angliei. St. Petersburg, 1903. (Translated from Dutch.)
Erusalimskii, A. S. Germanskii imperializm: istoriia i sovremennost’. Moscow, 1964.
Nikitina, I. A. “SShA i anglo-burskaia voina.”Novaia i noveishaia istoriia, 1960, no. 1.
Nikitina, I.A. “Imperialisticheskaiabor’bazaportugal’skiekolonii v luzhnoi Afrike na rubezhe XIX i XX vekov.” Novaia i noveishaia istoriia, 1963, no. 3.
Marais, J. S. The Fall of the Krüger’s Republic. Oxford, 1961.


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