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If the British infantry had to learn the lessons of modern warfare the hard way, the British cavalry were also in for a shock when it came to putting the spit and polish of her classic cavalry methods into practice on the plains of South Africa. The cavalry officer class, perhaps above all others within the British army, were particularly slow at learning from the lessons of their own campaigns, to say nothing of not studying anything of the mounted tactics of the American Civil war. Even with the more enlightened writings of George Henderson and Colonel George Denison, both of whom understood the changes that had occurred in cavalry organisation and tactics as a result of the American experience, the majority of the cavalry officer class considered that they could learn nothing from a war in which there had been no cavalry charges at Gettysburg because the mounted forces available were not disciplined enough to engage in one, and that nothing much could be done with volunteer horsemen who preferred the pistol and carbine to the sabre.

In there had been steps taken by the War Department in ordering many of the County battalions to form detachments of mounted infantry because it was easier and quicker to train infantrymen to a basic standard of horsemanship than to try and retrain a regular cavalryman, who not only resented the task in the first place, but also had the full support of his colonel in not wasting his talent on such unnecessary gimmicks. The real irony for the British cavalry in South Africa was that it could have provided a real theatre of war for the demonstration of a well-trained mounted force.

The great expanses of open terrain were ideally suited to wide sweeping raids in which the Boer could have been fought on his own terms from the very start. Not only this, but also the Boer battlefield tactics of digging themselves in and awaiting a frontal assault could have led to their undoing. Here was the chance to use the British cavalry to full effect.

A mobile mounted force, together with a light and modern horse artillery could not only have turned the Boers out of every position they occupied but also, given enough strength, could have surrounded them completely and cut them off from any retreat to yet another defensive position. No British cavalry commander in his right mind could have seriously considered a frontal charge against prepared positions, especially when they had witnessed the damage inflicted upon their own infantry.

However the Boers were heavily outnumbered, and upon retiring the Dragoon Guards and the 10 th Lancers struck them in the flank as darkness was setting in. They made three charges sabreing and skewering at will, but the troopers found that the fight had lost some of its exhilaration. There were cavalry commanders who had taken the trouble to train their men for dismounted action, and these were to prove of real value.

Here Airlie was able to hold off a much superior enemy force because he had dismounted his men and posted them in excellent positions. When the Coldstream Guards finally arrived to take over, Airlie re-mounted his troopers and moved to another covering position. During the American Civil War British made breech- loading cannon had been in use, but never in great numbers. Because of the poor performance of some of the breech-loading guns during active service in desert conditions, The New Ordnance Department, which had replaced the old Board of Ordnance in , in its infinite wisdom, decided to rearm the whole of the Royal Artillery with muzzle-loading cannons in By there were only two breech-loading batteries left, and those were in the Army in India, and by even those had gone.

None of this took into account the development of new propellants, which gave a greater range and also enabled larger and larger shells to be fired. The barrels of artillery pieces had to be lengthened and tapered to fit and adjust to each change in modification, and before there was time to complete the whole change, along would come yet another improvement making these changes obsolete.

Here it was found that as battleship firepower had increased so the Garrison Artillery had to respond in like fashion in order to keep pace. As guns became larger so the difficulty of using muzzle-loaders became ever more apparent especially when gun crews had to climb up to swab out a massive casemate-installed cannon each time it was fired, and then reload at the muzzle. The problems of facing the technological changes in armament was one thing, but how to use these new developments to better effect on the battlefield was quite another matter for the muddle-headed thinkers of the British high command.

This in itself was bad enough but, even when smokeless powder had been introduced, the atmosphere and heat on the South African plains allowed for a haze to be set-up over each gun.

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This would not have been so bad for single cannon as this haze was not so discernable from a single gun, but when six or more were aligned and firing together, the Boer spotters soon homed-in on the heat-haze above the British batteries which developed after only a few minutes. Another outdated tactic used by the British artillery commanders was to push their batteries too far forward.

This praiseworthy, but ultimately suicidal mode of supporting an infantry attack is highlighted by the actions of Colonel C. Long at the Battle of Colenso 15 th December True to their training the gunners formed up and aligned their cannon in parade ground fashion, which would have earned them high praise at Woolwich, and they even managed to allow the British infantry to reach the outskirts of Colenso village.

This, of course, was just what the Boers had intended, and once the foot soldiers where trapped inside the bottleneck of Colenso they opened such a devastating fire that within a matter of minutes Long was wounded and most of his command either suffered the same fate as their chief or were dead.

He now forgot all about crossing the Tugela River and concentrated on recovering the guns, which was a failure, and only resulted in still more casualties and only two guns being brought back. Buller presented an air of Victorian calm. He described the heroism of the attempts to save the guns, but he did not mention the collapse of his infantry.

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The strange thing about the use of artillery in the manner described above is that even with this glaring evidence before them the British army still continued to consider that close support was the most effective method of pinning down the enemy during an infantry attack. Colonel C. The nearer they get to their work the better. If they are required to prepare the way for the infantry they should, as far as circumstances permit, be in action at the point where the infantry has come to a standstill, and this is the principle upon which, when the regular forces are acting on the offensive, the artillery usually does act if in efficient hands.

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The account above is typical of the way in which the British army reverted to archaic methods which had proven inadequate in actual battlefield situations; indeed the more one reads about the army over the years since its inception, the more one sees that time and time again after a war, it seemed to fold- in on itself, and batten down the hatches, only emerging into the real world when a crisis was imminent. This is true of the High Command structure as within everything else. The Generals in charge of the British army in the Boer War were skilled in the principles of fighting savages and tribesmen.

Years of Imperialist expansion had tested them against almost everything and every country where Britannia wished to plant her flag. The problem was that, although acquitting themselves well in small wars, where a little technology could be absorbed to help defeat the enemy, while allowing traditional methods of drill and training to win the day, now the boot was being placed firmly on the other foot, and it was the new improvements in machine-guns, rifles and artillery firepower, together with entrenchments and barbed-wire, that made it imperative to revaluate strategy as well as tactics.

The British Army and the Second Boer War.

Even with the arrival of Lord Roberts as commander-in chief of the British forces in South Africa, it was yet another case of employing a commander who had never before seen action against Europeans, or for that matter had never come up against an enemy armed with modern rifles and artillery; not only this but he had not been at the head of an army since What he soon grasped was that there were sever limitations to the accepted tactics of the British infantry when confronted by modern firepower and sophisticated entrenchments.

Kitchener was placed in the position of operational commander, and although he was a great organiser and administrator, he had little or no understanding of the tactical realities of modern warfare. His assaults on the Boer position at Modder River cost the British infantry over 1, unnecessary casualties, and only when Roberts came back to take over, were the infantry withdrawn and the artillery used to smother the Boer position with shellfire. Generals and Commanding Officers are therefore not only to encourage their subordinates in doing so by affording them constant opportunities of acting on their own responsibility, but they must also check all practices which interfere with the free exercise of their judgment, and will break down by every means in their power the paralysing habit of an unreasonable and mechanical adherence to the latter of the orders and to routine. The war in South Africa grew into a very serious conflict, which, while it brought volunteers from every part of the Empire to the assistance of the mother country, seriously strained its resources and exhibited to the military critics on the continent of Europe the numerous shortcomings of the British army.

Although it was the Boers who had declared war, the sympathy of the continent was behind the Boers. The skill and tenacity with which a group of farmers had resisted the professional forces of a great Empire were very much admired. Every victory of the Boers was received with rapturous enthusiasm by both the French and the Germans, and even the Tsar of Russia, whose own domestic government was no model for freedom, proposed a general alliance of the continental powers against Britain.

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  • As luck would have it Europe was powerless to intervene, but could only look on as Roberts and Kitchener retrieved the early reverses of the British army and wore down the Boer resistance. Occasionally, the process is reversed and military technology has impacted society in a positive way. Weapons can have a profound impact on society. Gunpowder weapons, for example, were an important factor in ending the era of the armed knight and the Feudal Age.

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    Top 10 Weapons That Changed the History of Warfare

    Synopsis Addressing its technical evolution as well as its military and social impact, this comprehensive reference shows how historic leaders such as Dionysus of Syracuse, the Ottoman sultan Mohammad II, Oliver Cromwell, and Napoleon Bonaparte were successful in battle because of their innovative use of artillery. Excerpt Weapons both fascinate and repel. Dastrup Greenwood Press, Read preview Overview. Brown; Samuel J. Murphy; William G.