In the early hours of the 22nd of June 1941, the German Ambassador to the USSR, Friedrich-Werner von der Schulenberg, explained ‘with the deepest regret’ that his nation had been left with no choice but to invade the Soviet Union in response to the build-up of the Red Army on the frontier[i]. Of course, aside from a handful of neo-Nazi conspiracy theorists, no one today gives any credence to this bullshit, and everyone sees the German invasion of the USSR for exactly what it was: a naked act of aggression.
While virtually no one takes Nazi Germany’s ludicrous excuses seriously, an extraordinary number of people (including certain South African ‘academics’) still fall for the post-facto lies and propaganda which were put about to explain away and excuse Kruger’s equally unjustified invasions in 1899, invasions which began the Boer War. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told that the poor old Boers were only ‘forced’ to invade British territory because the wicked Brits were ‘poised on the border, ready to invade’. One can even read this (unreferenced, of course) rubbish in books written by the usual Rogues Gallery of irrational Brit-hating apologists.
But let’s look at it a bit more rationally.
When the Boers started the war by invading British territory on the 11th of October, 1899, they had between 50,000 and 60,000 men in the field. It is a matter of historical fact that both republics had commenced mobilisation[ii] before Great Britain called out her reserves[iii] (which were vital for bringing her home-based battalions up to full strength). The total Imperial force in Southern Africa (including British regulars, local volunteer forces, Mounted Police and other paramilitary forces) at the time start of the war was under 20,000 men.
And not only were the HM Forces significantly outnumbered in the theatre, and thus in no position to invade anywhere at any time in the near future, the vast majority of the widely scattered garrison were also nowhere near the borders of either republic.
The main British force in Natal, for example, was at Ladysmith – which was not on the border of either republic and which had long been a garrison town; indeed, it was known as ‘the Aldershot of the South’. Aside from that, and only due to intense pressure exerted by the Government of Natal, a Brigade group (under Major-General Penn Symons) had been pushed up to defend the coal mines at Dundee – which was hardly an aggressive act, and, given that it took the invading Boers 9 days to get to Dundee, also cannot reasonably be considered to have been in a jumping off point ‘on the border’ either. ‘Poised to invade’? Hardly.
Indeed, when one strips away all the Apartheid-era bullshit and propaganda (bullshit which is still slavishly and unthinkingly churned out by certain History Professors even today), the only British troops anywhere near the border of either republic were four companies (ie. half a battalion) of the Loyal North Lancs who were garrisoning Kimberley… and they were only ‘near the border’ because the town of Kimberley was itself, well, ‘near the border’. Additionally, and though not British troops, the locals of Baden-Powell’s hastily-raised ‘Protectorate Regiment’ were garrisoning Mafeking which was, of course, also near the border.
But are we really meant to believe that the poor old Boers invaded and annexed vast swathes of Natal, the Cape Colony and Bechuanaland in response to four companies of Tommies (with virtually no supporting artillery or cavalry) being stationed in Kimberley? You would have to be clinically insane to actually believe this hogwash. Are we really supposed to believe that Britain had no right to garrison her border towns? Should the valuable diamond fields have been left open to attack? In what other war in the history of mankind would this be seized upon by so-called academics as justification for an invasion?
Put simply, the notion that the Boers only invaded Cape Colony and Natal because of ‘British troops, massing on their borders’ is every bit as mindless as the justifying the German invasion of the USSR for the same reason. It is high time for some to take off their blinkers, stop banging away on their little drums of self-pity, look at the evidence in front of them, and accept reality.
Not that that shows any sign of happening soon.
[i] Moorhouse, ‘The Devils’ Alliance’, p. 258
[ii] The ZAR mobilised on the 27th of September, and the OFS on the 3rd of October.
[iii] Britain called out her reserves on the 7th of October: Cook, ‘The Rights and Wrongs of the Transvaal War’, p.241