Blog

~Where Are All the Horses?~

A long time ago, to be a properly equipped soldier, you had to be equipped with two to four … horses. 

Boer taught Brit very quickly the value of a highly mobile force with two horses to a man some 840 years later.

Due to poor Boer War preparations by the British, they deployed less than 15,000 cavalry from 1899-1900 in South Africa. The Boers scored many a victory due to their far greater mobility. Boer horses (and many captured British horses) fueled their riders’ resistance far beyond December 1900 when  British Field Marshal Lord Frederick Roberts declared victory prematurely.

Eventually, the British caught up. 

Eventually, they fielded a force of nearly a quarter million calvary.

Eventually, their blockhouses, their barbed wire fences, their many mounted men could consistently frustrate Boer attempts to cut supply and communication lines.

Capturing Boer horses hurt the Boer cause more than British burning of Boer homes according to Boer commando leader Jan Smuts.

Buying British cavalry to defeat the Boers came at high costs that rippled worldwide. 

£22 million spent amounted to 10% of the British’s tab for winning the war. The British War Office spent over 400,000 horses, mules, and donkeys from all over the world. The Basotho tribe neighboring the Transvaal(?) happily sold nearly 20,000 of their best horses to the British. These sales profited some Basothos, but drove prices up so dramatically that Basotho’s leaving their land doubled during the war. The Basotho horse stock quality and quantity never recovered after selling their best to the British and after losing much of the rest to diseases like rinderpest. 

Argentina, Australia, and Britain exported hundreds of thousands of horses to the South African front. 

Scandal broke in Russia, a nation largely sympathetic to the Boers and at odds with the British, when its people discovered that their port city Odessa had become a horse hub for the British right under their noses. Forty thousand British bought horses at wholesale prices flowed through Odessa before the Russian War Ministry did its best to “complicate and sabotage” these sales. New Orleans shipped nearly 200,000 horses and mules in 65 steamships making over 150 voyages each at the cost of nearly $600,000 per month to the British.

The British not having these horses sooner came at a high human cost for both they and their enemy as the war dragged on longer as a result. 

Buying these horses came at a great financial cost to the British.

Shipping these horses led to “a holocaust” in the words leading British military veterinarian Major-General Sir Frederick Smith. 

Perishing at a rate exceeding 60%, these horses met awful ends in the field or often even before the field. 

Traveling from New Orleans, horses made the voyage standing below decks with excrement reaching above their hocks (think “horse knees”) and temperatures eclipsing 114 degrees. 

Blinding and then craning these horses onto smaller vessels,  then craning them onto the pier at Port Elizabeth was a necessary, terrifying (for the horses) evil since the steamships couldn’t dock there.

Further reading available in the following sources:

Egorov, Boris. “Why Russia wanted but couldn’t save the Boers from the British.” Russia Beyond. Last modified January 17, 2020. https://www.rbth.com/history/331562-why-russia-helped-boers.

Homan, Philip A. “American Horses for the South African War, 1899–1902.” Environment & Society Portal, Arcadia (Spring 2016), no. 2. Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society. doi.org/10.5282/rcc/7418

Nasson, Bill. The Boer War: The Struggle for South Africa. Stroud, United Kingdom: The History Press, 2011.

The Oxford History of the British Army, edited by David G. Chandler and Ian Beckett, 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. In Chapter 1 THE ENGLISH MEDIEVAL ARMY TO 1485 by MICHAEL PRESTWICH.

Robinson, Peter. “THE SEARCH FOR MOBILITY DURING THE SECOND BOER WAR.” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 86, no. 346 (2008): 140-57. Accessed June 5, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/44231577.

Warwick, Peter. Black People and the South African War: 1899-1902. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

~Women in Demand~

Boers were broken, not in 1900 but in 1902. For more than five years, South African viceroy Alfred Milner had longed for and schemed for this. The British at the cost of millions of pounds and hundreds of thousands of men and four years of reduced international prestige had finally won the Boer War. Women had to be a part of winning the peace so argued Sir John Ardagh, head of the South African Compensation Commission. Ardagh and the Colonial Office agreed that remaining Boer power and influence in South Africa must continue to be broken by British settlement.

Almost 100,000 British men in South Africa currently had no hope of finding a British spouse.

The British Women’s Emigration Association was already trying to address this British concern. 

To “transform” South Africa into a colony loyal to the crown and bring the colony out of “barbarism”, 10,000 British women each year needed to emigrate to South Africa. 

Milner agreed to provide £15,000 per year (approximately $3.5 million in today’s dollars) to fund his Women’s Immigration Department in conjunction with the South African Colonisation Society’s (S.A.C.S.) mission of bringing thousands more British women to South Africa. The S.A.C.S. originally looked ominous to already suspicious Boers with its original name, the South African Expansion Committee; so the South African Colonisation Society (SACS) name was adopted instead in 1903.

The S.A.C.S. was only meeting half of its quota for the former Transvaal, sending 50 women per month beginning in October 1902. Even with additional funding and support from the Colonial Office, S.A.C.S. saw their average women sent per month dip to 32 to the Transvaal and 64 to South Africa at large by early 1904. Narrow character and medical requirements did not help their efforts. Applicants with illegitimate children, any pattern of intemperance or dishonesty, or significant family disease history on their record were rejected. The S.A.C.S. rejected these women lest the program fall into disrepute or fail to make the cultural difference in South Africa the British authorities wanted. Who was the prototype the S.A.C.S. was looking for? Middle class, educated governesses or lady-helps only needing a husband to help them realize their potential as good mothers and wives were who the S.A.C.S sought. However, it was mainly domestic servants that they got. Upon their arrival, 80-86% of female emigrants were judged morally satisfactory or higher by the S.A.C.S. Undesirables who slipped through the cracks caused considerable consternation within the S.A.C.S. 

British in and outside the S.A.C.S. criticized the siphoning of domestic servants in high demand in Britain to South Africa, and argued there was a surplus of educated women who should be emigrating instead. Perhaps not surprisingly, not enough of these educated women wanted to emigrate to such a radically different and dangerous place. 

S.A.C.S. program collapsed at the granting of responsible government to the Transvaal and Orange River Colony in 1907. British authorities determined it was impossible to continue the program without Boer support. The SACS tried to survive by arguing for the broader “need” to strengthen the “white element” in South Africa and opened up emigration to Dutch as well, but still only managed 300 emigrants per year from 1907 until the outbreak of WWI. In this failed effort first crystallized by Ardagh, only 5,748 women and children emigrated to South Africa between 1902 and 1914. Due to this and many other significant factors, the British did not make South Africa into the image they desired.

Further reading on this subject can be done in the following article available on Jstor: 

Blakeley, Brian L. “Women and Imperialism: The Colonial Office and Female Emigration to South Africa, 1901-1910.” Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 13, no. 2 (1981): 131-49. doi:10.2307/4049046.

Farwell, Byron. The Great Anglo-Boer War. W. W. Norton & Company: New York, 1990.

~Russia’s Support and Undermining of Boer Freedom Fighters~

Years of simmering tensions between the British and the South African republic of Transvaal finally came to a culminating boil in October 1899. The Boer War began with the British fighting for South African paramountcy against the Transvaal (ZAR) and their republican ally, the Orange Free State (OFS). The struggle of these two Boer republics struck a cord in Russia. Just before Boer forces dealt British forces their first bloody nose near Dundee, the Novoye Vremya newspaper of Russia wrote fondly about the Boers in an October 16th article. “These God-fearing farmers spilling blood for the freedom of their Fatherland will forever be closer to the heart of the Holy Rus than our sworn enemy, the cold and haughty England.” 

As October passed, the Boer national anthem was hummed throughout Russian pubs and taverns. Many Russian men saw much in common with the deeply religious, very tall and tough freedom fighters of the ZAR and OFS. Churches took up collections for the Boer forces. A captured Boer general was even sent a humongous silver wine bowl carrying sheets of paper imprinted with over 70,000 Russian well-wishers’ signatures. The Russian government even made at least ostensible efforts to create an anti-British alliance with France and Germany after war erupted. However, France and Germany had other fish to fry. Both were embroiled in a dispute over regions that should ring familiar: Alsace and Lorraine. Russian Emperor Nicholas II also made a transparent bluff towards the British by partially mobilizing their Caucasus Army Corps near Britain’s Asian holdings. The sorry bluff was to no avail.

Only 225 Russians were willing and able to afford the journey to fight alongside the Boers. Subordination to military command was not a hallmark of Boer armies at the time or in the past. Boers would come and go as they pleased to their units, and were much more prone than their British counterparts to retreating without authorization. Russian volunteer Lieutenant Colonel Evgeny Maximov rose to the rank of general and greatly improved Boer reconnaissance. Maximov helped instill more needed subordination to military command, at least where he operated. Two Russian Red Cross units earned Boer respect-respect that was rare for Europeans-for their work as the largest contingent of European medics in South Africa.

One animal would undermine all of this Russian heroism and support. Scandal broke in September 1901 bringing the sale of 40,000 Russian horses to British forces to light. The Russian government tried as much as possible to “sabotage” these sales, but they remained legal.

Further reading on this subject can be done in the following works, primarily in Egorov’s:

Davidson, Apollon. “The Study of South African History in the Soviet Union.” The International Journal of African Historical Studies 25, no. 1 (1992): 2-13. Accessed June 15, 2020. doi:10.2307/220141.

Egorov, Boris. “Why Russia wanted but couldn’t save the Boers from the British.” Russia Beyond. Last modified January 17, 2020. https://www.rbth.com/history/331562-why-russia-helped-boers.

Pakenham, Thomas. The Boer War. London: Abacus, 1979.

~Balloons Against Brits then Boers~

Over 130 hot air balloons evoke amusement and wonder each year in Bristol, England during the Bristol International Balloon Festival. And that isn’t even the largest balloon festival. To commemorate the French Revolution, Mondial Air Balloons has launched balloons annually in Lorraine, France since 1989. They broke the world record in 2017 launching 456 balloons within an hour. Two hundred years before, France made a name for itself as the first nation to use balloons for military purposes during the Revolutionary Wars. But the use of the balloons didn’t achieve much success. Then all the French balloon equipment was destroyed aboard a ship when British and French forces clashed in the Battle of the Nile in 1801. Napoleon abandoned military balloons when he returned to France from the campaign. 

Balloon use during the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War inspired further investigation of the balloon’s military potential to where British, French, and German engineering branches introduced balloon troops. All three nations eventually deemed Hydrogen gas the most efficient lifting force. During the Anglo-Boer War, British balloons were crafted uniquely from all other nations’ military balloons in that British balloons used Godlbeater’s skin “prepared from the membrane of the lower intestine of the ox.” 

One soldier’s diary*, based on events experienced by his No. 1 Balloon Section, Royal Engineers from November 4, 1899 to February 27th, 1900 sheds more light on how these balloons were used. The balloons, at least of the No. 1 section, could carry two men in a “wickerwork basket or car.” Boer positions were photographed from balloons. Balloons would signal to field batteries to direct their fire. General Lord Paul Sanford Methuen expressed that reports transmitted from a No. 1 balloon were very “valuable.” 

As one can imagine, the balloons were far from invincible.  Sudden gusts of wind would not only drive the balloons off-course but sometimes into the ground causing balloon punctures. Sometimes these winds would bring landed balloons up and then crash them down to the ground causing balloon damage. However, the balloons weren’t as fragile as one might assume. Boer bullets were not fatal, but instead, the bullet holes were quite fixable.

Further reading can be done in the following Jstor article and Travel.com article:

Cormack, Andrew. “NO. 1 BALLOON SECTION, ROYAL ENGINEERS, IN THE BOER WAR.” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 68, no. 276 (1990): 253-61. Accessed June 15, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/44227207.

https://www.travelchannel.com/interests/outdoors-and-adventure/photos/12-amazing-hot-air-balloon-festivals-around-the-world

*Diary excerpts likely penned by Captain H.B. Jones, but we cannot be certain