Wednesday, December 15, 2004

On this day in military history....1899

On this day in military history....1899. The Boers defeat the British at the Battle of Colenso during the Boer War. The British were trying to cross the Thukela Rivier to relieve the Boer siege of the city of Ladysmith when they were ambushed by Boer forces occuping the heights above the river. 1,100 British soldiers lost their lives with only 8 Boers being killed.

There are wars in history where the prevailing tactics of the day are turned upside down when confronted by more modern tactics. World War II is a prime example where the British and French tactics of World War I (trench warfare and fixed positions) were turned upside down by the German's use of blitzkrieg (manouver warfare). The Boer War was just such a war. The Boer's, the Afrikans-speaking white settlers of South America fought and defeated the British during the first part of the war due to their superior field craft and their use of rifles which fired smokeless cartridges. At the time, the British were still using somewhat modified tactics from the Napoleonic Wars, i.e., shooting volleys of shots at rows of troops on the other side. The Boers, however, used the tactics of cover and concealment and long-range rifle fire to decimate the British forces. Eventually, as is the case, the British adopted the Boers tactics and added some of their own, such as the "concentration camp", and they eventually prevailed.

During this war, both Sir Winston Churchhill and Mahatma Ganhdi were involved, Churchhill as a reporter (he was eventually captured by the Boers) and Gandhi as a stretcher bearer.

Another piece of military trivia. The Boer War was the last war where the Scots Highlanders actually went into battle wearing kilts. After the Boer War they wore normal military uniforms when going into battle. The reason is that during the Boer War, unlike previous wars, they spent much time laying down on the ground to avoid being shot by long-range rifle fire. This exposed their legs to sunburn by the sun's rays and cause them to decide to wear the kilt when only in garrison.


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