From 1870s on British interests in South Africa was being threatened by the expansion of Boer settlers, A small war had been fought between the two groups in 1880-81 which ended in a stalemate. The standoff didn’t last long and in 1899 a large military force was sent to deal with the problem of the Boers.

“The men of the Queen Victoria’s Regular Army were tough, well trained and believed themselves to be equal of any professional army of the world. The problem was, the Boers were not a professional army, and no one had informed them that they should agree to be beaten by the British.”

In reality the Boers were not any kind of army. It was an alliance of farmers. All of them expert horseman who owned the latest cutting edge bolt action rifles. All of them excellent shots. They knew their home turf and how to use the terrain to their advantage.

The British had no concept of the type of war they were about to wage in Africa, and if they expected a short, sharp decisive battle, they were soon to find out different. “Despite marching hundreds of miles in pursuit of their enemy, the soldiers almost never saw a Boer, yet frequently came under devastatingly accurate rifle fire, from positions so distant their attackers could not be identified.”

F.M. Crum was serving as a lieutenant in the 60th Rifles. Crum was a rifle enthusiast himself and made early comments on the marksmanship of the Boers.

“it was a new kind of war. The invisible, galloping crack shot Boer, with the modern quick firing long range rifle, was thoroughly at home. While we, to make up for our slowness of movement, often had to make long and exhausting night marches over difficult ground.”

The Boer shooting was so effective that nigh movement became the norm. “The lines of soldiers and straggling baggage trains made pitifully easy targets for the Boer marksman in the daylight.” The Brits had no means to deal with the problem. While the British had expert shots in their ranks, they had no training in long range shooting or guerrilla warfare tactics. In head to head traditional fighting the Brits showed their skill on the battlefield. On the whole, the British were out shot and outmaneuvered.

“the Boers were above us..Peeping over the crest, I counted 500 ponies and many Boers. What was the range? Major Greville thought it was 1.200 yards, I put it at more, We called for a range finder, but it had been left behind..”

Over than their shooting ability, another reason for the Boers’ success was in their use of natural cover and their personal clothing. They understood the benefit of using the terrain to its best advantage and were used to the problems of shooting up and down hill and the difference it makes in bullet trajectory. They could also judge the distance of the veldt very accurately as they lived and worked on it all of their lives. Boer clothing was useful green and brown colored jackets and pants with large brimmed hats to protect them from the hot African sun.

“…they did not waste water by daily shaving, and most had thick beards as well as being tanned from years of living in the open. As a result, they did not have that tell tale pale facial disc, which normally provides such a good target for rifleman. When hidden in scrub or dug into a ridge they were practically invisible.”

It pretty quickly became obvious that the British could not beat them militarily so they did what invaders always have to do and went after their families, destroyed their farms, burned crops and put survivors into concentration camps. “still the fighting continued, with the British taking unpalatable heavy casualties from accurate Boer rifle fire at battles such as Spion Kop, where the photographic images of huddled British dead piled in inadequate trenches shocked the nation.”

1 Comment

  1. In the words of Lieutenant Harry “Breaker” Harbord Morant, they we’re operating under “rule .303”


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