South Africa Zulu & Boer Wars

The wars in Africa

British military operations, like those of the other major European powers, in the years prior to the First World War were operations in support of Imperial expansion  -  effectively land grabs.  In some cases the local population accepted British rule or control, in others they fought to retain their independence.  

The Zulus and the Boers in southern Africa were two national groups who fought.

Anglo-Zulu War

The Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 was a comparatively short war lasting from 11 January to 4 July but it has two battles that stand out in military history over 130 years later.  The British defeat at  Isandlwana in the hot summer of January 1879 was in part the reflection of the hubris of the commander Lt General Lord Chelmsford in under-estimating the tactical skill and courage of the Zulus under  Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza.  The British forces lost over 1,300 killed and their weapons and equipment.  

At the small community of Rorke's Drift a tiny force of British soldiers and Natal Native Contingent held off between 3,000 and 4,000 Zulus.  The victory was in part because the force had prepared a defence and broken open ammunition for their reliable and accurate Martini Henry rifles.  When the fighting was over 11men were awarded the newly instituted Victoria Cross for conspicuous gallantry.

Other actions followed and in the brutally one sided battle of Gingindlovu in April saw a force of nearly 6,000 British troops defeat 11,000 Zulus inflicting over 1,000 killed for the loss of 11 killed and 62 wounded.  

The Zulus were forced to sue for peace within three months.

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Boer War, 1880-1881 & 1899-1902 

There were two Boer Wars – the first from 1880-81 and the second from 1899-1902.  The latter was driven by the British desire to control the Boer controlled gold rich area of the Transvaal where it was asserted British miners were being discriminated against by the Boers.  The Boers had a well equipped and trained army and last time British forces had fought a conventional army was in the Crimean War. 

The Boers scored significant victories at Magersfontein and Colenso 1899.  A year later huge reinforcements including men from the British colonies had given the British strength in numbers and the British seized Johannesburg and Pretoria in the Transvaal in the summer of that year.  The Boers however continued to wage guerrilla warfare with their fast moving and lightly equipped Commandos tying down British and Imperial

troops for another two years. 

A ruthless counter-insurgency campaign that saw the rural civilian population moved into concentration camps and the countryside covered with blockhouses and barbed wire fences destroyed the guerilla forces and in May 1902 British sovereignty was recognised by the Boers in exchange for a large indemnity and other concessions.

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Choose your guide: Christopher NewbouldJohn Ross

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