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recognise the difficulties of an unexampled campaign, the vast distances which neutralised the advantage of numbers, and the great tracts of rugged country admirably adapted to defence by a people reared to the life of hill and veldt. The Boers have never been able to maintain more than about 50,000 men actually in the field, and from losses and gradual defections their numbers have latterly dwindled greatly. Of capacity for the conduct of war and of generalship they have shown little. In a theatre of war less extended and less rich in natural defensive positions, they would have been quickly overpowered. On the other hand, they have exhibited to the full the dogged tenacity of a race which more than any other tested the mettle of the navy of England, and in minor tactics they have frequently proved our superiors. Rarely surprised, they have often surprised and outwitted our leaders. To formalism they opposed individualism. The keen instincts of the hunter and his ingrained knowledge of the life of the field have been confronted by the artificial methods derived from a rigid and unintelligent training, the numbing effects of which could not easily be eradicated. As marksmen the Boers have not greatly shone, or our losses would have been much increased. Their ubiquitous artillery has proved singularly ineffective. On the other hand, their mobility as a wholly mounted force, and their marked proficiency as horse-masters, combined to give them definite advantages as soon as the war passed out of the stage of deadlock into operations ranging over great tracts of country. These advantages were not turned to full account, partly because the Boers as a whole were insufficiently disciplined to push home an attack, and partly because their leaders lacked strategic perception. From the time when the long but inevitable halt at Bloemfontein encouraged a policy of raiding, they were still able to score points in the game. Even when Lord Roberts had established a grip upon the railway and telegraph systems, so that combined movements were almost impossible, individual leaders like De Wet showed powers of initiative, and, risking little, were quick to recognise a weak point. Lastly, the politico-military conditions favoured the resistance and the methods of the Boers. Every farmhouse might be a centre of intelligence, a depôt of supplies, or an armoury. The whole countryside being in sympathy with the enemy, the British commanders bad great difficulty in obtaining information, and could be plentifully supplied with false news. The clemency of Lord
Roberts permitted Boers who took the oath of neutrality to obtain more than the ordinary privileges of non-combatants, and to resume their arms at any favourable opportunity. Such men would have been shot without scruple by any European army; but stringent measures were at first avoided as being calculated to prejudice future conciliation, and thus, by example or by threats, a moving commando could reinforce itself locally for any special purpose.
An armed people occupying a difficult country have always proved awkward antagonists to a regular army. La Vendée, a little territory of 1,100 square miles, withstood veteran troops for a full year, and at one period 200,000 men were brought to bear upon it. The task of Lord Roberts was to subjugate a La Vendée of 167,000 square miles, defended by a population numerically far smaller than that which long defied the armies of the French Republic, but infinitely better armed, better prepared for war, and much more united, while the methods which, in the one case, secured tardy success after about 130,000 persons of both sexes and all ages had perished, were, in the other, impossible. The parallel is not complete, but it serves to illustrate difficulties which have not been adequately recognised in this country, and it is well to remember that our reverses in South Africa have been trivial affairs in comparison with the defeats ivflicted on the French troops by the gallant fanatics of La Vendée. It was the opinion of experts whose impressions were mainly formed at Johannesburg that moderate losses would suffice to break up the Boer forces. The nature of the country, and the tactics adopted in most cases, precluded heavy losses in individual engagements, and the total number of Boers killed in action has probably not been large; but the surrender of two large bodies, each exceeding 4,000 men, the failures at Ladysmith, Kimberley, and Mafeking, and the occupation of every town of any importance, failed to bring about immediate demoralisation. A people more highly organised, more imaginative and less patriotic would have admitted defeat after the fall of Pretoria. Inability to realise the overwhelming superiority of force opposed to them, and false statements sedulously propagated by their leaders, may in part account for the protracted resistance offered by the Boers; but in their dogged tenacity of purpose there is something which the British people cannot fail to admire. Irregular forces, not wholly amenable to discipline, not even commanded in the sense understood in all professional armies, and containing in their ranks selections
from the scum of Europe, would inevitably commit acts contrary to the usages of war, and calculated to arouse bitter resentment. On the other hand, such leaders as Joubert, Louis Botha, and De Wet, as well as some of the rank and file, bave proved chivalrous foes. When calm judgement has supplanted political rancour, the popular estimate of the character of the Boers will probably undergo favourable modification. Only a people imbued with the spirit of true patriotism would have so strenuously upheld their independence.
To the British Army the war has brought many painful lessons. An imperfect organisation, indifferent training, and want of political and military foresight terribly hampered the operations at the outset. Heavy losses, national humiliation, and extravagant expenditure were the inevitable penalties. Our military system, as has been pointed out, was totally unable to meet the emergency which arose in September 1899. At a crisis when the despatch of an organised field force to South Africa was urgently needed, the system proved hopelessly wanting, as had been foretold. And when the machine had at length ground out an army corps lacking the essential attributes of its German prototype, the result was a force which had to be taken to pieces and reconstructed before it was fit for offensive war. The army which marched from the Modder to Bloemfontein and onwards by rapid strides to Pretoria was organised by Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener in South Africa, not by the War Office in London. Even inferior units were partly destroyed by additions and subtractions till the British infantry battalion, as it should have been, almost ceased to exist.
Our system of mounted infantry was based upon the disintegration of battalions by robbing them of some of their best officers and men, whose places had to be filled by Militia reservists and Volunteers imperfectly trained. To meet an urgent need for mounted troops, the Imperial Yeomanry was hastily improvised, consisting principally of men who were not yeomen. The Militia alone could reinforce the regular army by organised units, and the wholesale volunteering of its battalions for active service showed the high spirit of the old constitutional force. The Militia had, however, suffered from years of cold neglect, and its battalions were undermanned and indifferently trained. Ten thousand individual volunteers responded to the call of patriotism; but even companies had to be created afresh for the purposes of the
The fine contingents from Canada and Australasia VOL. CXCII. NO. CCCXCIV.
were in many respects better fitted for the special requirements of the campaign than our auxiliary forces at home, and the local knowledge of the South African volunteers was capable, as Lord Roberts was quick to recognise, of being turned to excellent account.
Field training in this country offers certain difficulties which only a drastic Maneuvres Act could wholly overcome; but the training which the army was accustomed to receive was unnecessarily defective. Scouting, which does not come by nature to the class from which our cavalry is drawn and requires the most careful practical instruction, was neglected, and this essential duty had to be learned in South Africa at a heavy cost of life and prestige. The British cavalryman was too heavily equipped for irregular warfare, and the horse's ration, even when it could be provided, was insufficient for the work expected. As in previous wars, the art of the horse-master, in which the Boers excelled, proved to be wanting, with the result of an immense expenditure of horseflesh. Formal movements had consumed too much of the time of the infantryman, and tactics proper suffered accordingly. The individual training which sharpens the wits of the soldier, and teaches him to exercise his judgement in the use of ground and on outpost and patrol duties, was quite inadequate. Mechanical volleys had usurped the place of intelligent skirmishing. Examinations entailing an extensive system of cramming were regarded as trustworthy tests of the proficiency of officers, and applied military science consequently languished. The many costly mistakes committed in South Africa had their counterpart in peace manœuvres in which the rules of the game of war were not enforced with sufficient rigour. The artillery, more carefully instructed and more practically trained than the other arms, has distinctly increased its reputation. Alike for shooting power, for discipline, and for resourcefulness, it has earned high praise. The effect of shrapnel fire on an enemy sheltered by entrenchments, or crouching behind the boulders which strewed the tops of the numberless kopjes, was necessarily slight, and the natural conditions of the country were rarely favourable to artillery action. In such cases, all that can be expected of this arm is to keep down the enemy's fire. So well was this task performed that both cavalry and infantry learned to lean upon the guns to an extent previously unknown. Neither will again incline towards teachers who underrate the value of horse and field artillery. In the handling of
the heavy batteries extemporised for the purposes of the war, equal skill was shown, and, except in the unfortunate battle of Colenso, no blame has been thrown upon the artillery. In this case the facts remain to be elicited. The handling of the guns by the generals in the field was at first conspicuously defective. In the battle at Modder River, mainly an artillery action on the British side, and elsewhere, no proper orders were forthcoming, and artillery officers practically made their own dispositions. On the other hand, in the attack on Pieter's Hill, and later at Bergendal Farm, the guns were employed in accordance with sound principles, and their effect in supporting the infantry attack was marked.
In an army in which exalted rank could be attained by officers who had never given practical proof of their capacity for handling a brigade, it was inevitable that the rude test of war should disclose incompetence. Even in the case of minor posts, social and other influences have played far too great a part in so-called selection. When to these sources of weakness was added an improvised staff, not knowing and unknown by the troops which it was to direct, much is explained. It is a British habit to trust overmuch to improvisation as a substitute for method, and in this respect the army is not singular among our national institutions. The South African war has given occasion for improvisation on a great scale. The forces now in the field bear little resemblance to those which our military system prescribes. Many causes have combined to break up units and to destroy their solidarity. A somewhat loose aggregate of troops has thus arisen, and has happily been opposed only by a still looser military organisation. The natural adaptability of our race went far to mitigate disadvantages which in other circumstances would bave entailed danger, and a process of weeding brought to the front many capable young officers who will exercise an important influence upon the future training of the army.
Painful as are some of the aspects of the war, there is a bright side which must never be forgotten. The British soldier has again manifested the sterling qualities which have shone on a thousand fields. The regimental officers, with few exceptions, have led their men with conspicuous gallantry, and the heavy loss of nearly 74 per cent.* from
* The corresponding loss of officers in the Franco-German War was about 6 per cent. ('The Times,' September 1).