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British Failure in the Second Boer War: Analytical Essay

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Sir Redvers Buller, was a British Army officer, which some historians argue that is to be blamed for the British failure in the Second Boer War of 1899, this would, however, be unrealistic due to the external effects that were on the attack strategies. Some of these issues Buller, was not able to address because he was unaware, for example, the lack of reconnaissance gathering before an attack is what brought the first defeat to the British, Buller was unable to do anything about this because he had not figured this out until it was too late. For these reasons and others, it is unfair to evaluate that Buller’s tactics are to be blamed for the criticism the British Army faced after its failure at the ‘quick victory’ in 1899. Firstly, Buller was known to have great logistical management and preparation skills before the start of and during campaigns. Before his landing in the Army in 1899, the Army lacked topographical information and basic military supplies and provisions. This put the army at a major setback because if their current supplies were to be used up or destroyed, they would most likely die.

Buller saw these issues and constantly tried to rectify them, for example, at Pietermaritzburg, before the battle of Colenso, he spent 10 days organizing transport, supply, and most crucially, medical arrangements for his force. Despite this, Buller’s credit wasn’t seen and in fact, given to the likes of Marshal Sir Frederick Roberts, who hailed as the hero of the Cape. However, even though Roberts was seen as the ‘hero’ he had some major deficiencies in his management of logistics. Before the victory at Bloemfontein in 1900, Marshal Sir Robert forced marched his troops through searing heat on half rations which resulted in hundreds dead due to the spreading of typhoid by consuming foul water. This was the result of Roberts’ lack of sufficient interest in supply. In addition to this, Robert ordered an attack on an area that had a single-track railway line which slowed down the response to supplies even further, this meant that basic necessities such as food and water were unavailable to the standing soldiers as well as lack of effective transportation for the wounded soldiers.

On the contrary, Buller was teeming thoughtful of his force, evidently, he waited to have supplies in order to battle in a hostile environment unlike Robert, the reason for this was because Buller was a professional who was aware of the needs of his men, and acutely aware of the requirements of battle. For this reason, Buller’s tactics cannot be considered the reason why British Army failed their quick victory in 1899, because there were other factors such as unenthusiastic marshalls whom were not willing to put in the effort in order to insure the safety of his troops as well as be well coordinated. In addition to this, Buller was able to see and understand the importance of topographics, this proved to be significant enough for him to visit the battlefield with Lord Dundonald. During his visit, he was able to gain basic topographical knowledge of the area in order to start planning with. This shows the importance Buller paid to intelligence and meant that his preparation was exemplar, therefore it shouldn’t be the reason why the Army’s ‘quick victory’ failed. Due to his dedication to preparation, Buller was able to battle with reason over logic, this was most evidently seen before the battle Tel el Kebir in 1882, where Buller once again ventured off onto the battlefield with a small group of men at night and carried out a detailed approximate of the area. This resulted in a decisive British victory on September 6th.

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On the contrary, at the Battle of Magersfontein, the commanding officer; Lord Methuen, attacked with all the Boer positions intact, this was seen as problematic because the Boers, despite usually digging in on the hill, realized that they would avoid the British artillery fire if they were on the flat veld at the foot of the hill. As an unfortunate result of Lord Methuen not conducting proper reconnaissance, he had directed his force into the empty hill slopes, and when the highland brigade attacked the intact Boer positions they were defeated. From this, Buller can be categorized as the most superior for logistical prep in comparison to both Robert and Kitchener. Kitchener’s arrogance in thinking he knew best, by replacing Buller’s proven system, showed the volume of lack of organization that Kitchener held.

During the Second Boer War, at the Battle of Colenso, when Britain was under fire by Boer rifles, Lord Dundonald had noted that Buller’s presence and cool nature instilled confidence in the men and restored self-control. This shows that Buller’s reputation was outstanding within his military profession. However, his overall military commander reputation had been tarnished by the notorious ‘Black Week’ (10 December - 17 December 1899), and because of this event, Buller’s overall abilities of engagement with the war were highly criticized, which have led to many accusing him for the British army’s failure to a quick victory in 1899. However, these accusations were false, primarily because the main ‘Black Week’ events which took place were because of other commanders, for example, the battle of Magersfontein massacre was because Lord Methuen was careless in preparation. In addition to this, the second event - Stormberg - was because Major general Gatacre was arrogant and caused the death of 690 men because of an ill-planned attack on Boer positions on a hill called Kissieberg.

This attack was carried out despite Buller ordering it not to take place with his current force. Both this events show that it is highly unfair to criticize Buller for the ‘Black Week’ losses because both losses were the result of the respective commanders rushing their preparation and not using the right tactics required for the situation. Similarly, in Colenso, the Second Brigade was supported by twelve artillery pieces under the command of Colonel C J Long, whose exact position had been pointed on the map Buller in person the night before. Buller took time to present this because the Boers would have had an easy target at the artillery if they were in close proximity. Nevertheless, Colonel Long pushed the guns to within a thousand yards of the river crossing and was soon fired upon by Boer rifle fire. As a result of this Buller was forced to intervene himself, ordering the men to withdraw and leave their artillery behind. He was heavily criticized for having left the artillery behind rather than recovering them as the reverence crews had their guns. However, Buller recognized that there was a greater chance at casualties and wasting lives, therefore his awareness of the battlefield allowed him to successfully preserve the lives of many soldiers, not only this but he also proved his capabilities and judgment by saving lives. Ultimately shows that criticizing him for the British Army’s failure at the quick victory is inadequate and highly unfair because most of the issues caused in the Second Boer War were due to incompetent commanders who did not follow given orders. Overall, Buller was able to analyze the needs of his men and provide efficient and better tactics than any other Officer, showing that his tactics were not flawed but rather underestimated and strange because strategies such as topography were highly unknown and unused, especially in the Boer. Also, Buller recognized the value of intelligence and always factored this in when preparing, unlike other officers such as Lord Methuen, therefore, Buller can easily be said to not be the reason for the failed quick victory criticism that took place in Britain in 1899.

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