The Second Boer War, known variously as the Boer War, Anglo-Boer War, South African War or Anglo-Boer South African War, started on 11 October 1899 and ended on 31 May 1902.
Britain was opposed by two Boer States, the South African Republic, also known as the Republic of Transvaal, and the Orange Free State. Britain was aided by the Cape Colony, The Colony of Natal and some native African allies.
The British war effort was further supported by volunteers from the Empire, including Southern Africa, the Australian colonies, Canada, India and New Zealand. The other Empire and Colonial nations maintained a neutral stance, but public opinion there was largely hostile to Britain. Inside Britain and there Empire there also was significant opposition to the war.
At the start of the war Britain was overconfident and under-prepared. The Boers were very well armed and struck first, besieging Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley in early 1900, and winning important battles at Colenso, Magersfontein and Stormberg.
Staggered by these defeats, Britain brought in large numbers of soldiers and fought back. The unsuccessful commander, General Redvers Buller, was replaced by Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener. They relieved the three besieged cities and moved into the two Boer Republics in late 1900.
The onward marches of the British Army were so overwhelming that the Boers did not fight staged battles in defence of their homeland. Britain quickly seized control of the Orange Free State and Transvaal, whose civilian leadership went into hiding or exile. In conventional terms, the war was over. Britain officially annexed the two territories in 1900.
However, the Boers refused to surrender. They reverted to guerrilla warfare under new generals Louis Botha, Jan Smuts, Christiaan de wet and Koos de la Rey. Two more years of surprise attacks and quick escapes followed. As guerrillas without uniforms, the Boer fighters easily blended into the farmlands, which provided hiding places, supplies and horses as well as a supportive population in Boer-settled areas.
Britain’s solution was to set up complex networks of block houses, strong points, and barbed wire fences, partitioning off the entire conquered territory. The civilian farmers were then relocated into guarded camps where very large numbers died of disease. This lack of care for the captive population, in what can be considered to be the first concentration camps, was considered a national disgrace, even being used by a later despot, Adolf Hitler, in Nazi propaganda against Britain during the Second World War.
As the war developed, Britain’s mounted infantry units systematically tracked down the highly mobile Boer guerrilla units. The battles at this stage were small operations with few combat casualties (most of the dead were victims of disease.) The war ended in Boer surrender and their acceptance of British terms at the Treaty of Vereeniging in May 1902. The British then successfully won over the Boer leaders, who now gave full support to the new political system. Both former republics were incorporated into the Boer controlled Union of South Africa, formed in 1910.