Durban or bust…

Defenders of the Myth entertain me in so many ways, that it is sometimes hard to decide which is their most amusing feature. Could it be their complete and utter ignorance of South African history? Maybe it’s the way they will argue that black is white, and up is down, in defence of a regime even more ghastly than the later Apartheid government? Or perhaps it is just their sheer pig-headed stupidity?

In response to my article comparing the mistakes made in Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine, to those of Kruger’s invasion of British South Africa (, a particularly deluded fellow felt the urge to pen the following email to a friend:

Very poor analogy – the Russian attack over multiple points comprises a range of strategic necessities; that it has struggled and in some places been reversed has nothing to do with the strategic rationale thereof, but the result of superior Ukrainian morale[1] and purpose and their successful deployment of the best NATO anti-tank weapons. The Boer war declaration hope was to achieve another Majuba which the Boers gambled would bring the war to an early close – that might have occurred, the Boers also hoped, on any of the three fronts. No concentration of Boer forces at one spot was practical and in any event, the OFS were determined to operate outside their own borders. [err – that’s kinda essential when you are invading someone’s territory] There was no unified Boer command either – certainly not in 1899. The Boers never intended to take Durban – that would have been beyond their style of fighting – and seizing a major city in the Cape Colony would have been impossible for them – such operations were completely outside their military culture – in resources, training (or complete lack thereof in a formal sense), equipment and logistics.

He is markedly ignorant regarding these kinds of topics and stupid enough to broadcast the same to the whole world. This is just an attention-seeking little scribble; evidence of his limited reading and appreciation of the most basic fundamentals of what kind of military appraisal was realistic for the Boers in 1899 – let alone his understanding of the Russian military plans.

Though happy to call me ‘ignorant’ and ‘stupid’, you will note that he didn’t dare send his nonsense to me, or have the balls to post it as a comment on my blog… as he obviously knew his bizarre claims and half-baked theories would be absolutely torn to shreds.

In truth, it is not me that lacks ‘the most basic fundamentals of what kind of military appraisal was realistic for the Boers in 1899’ – that was the Boer Commanders themselves. With matchless over-confidence, and total ignorance, Kruger and his minions jauntily picked a fight with the Greatest of the Great Powers, ridiculously dissipating their combat power by attacking in all directions, and brainlessly getting sucked into three sieges which they proved totally incapable of winning. They then got chased out of Natal and all the other places they had snatched, and weren’t even able to mount a meaningful defence of their own capitals.

Quite what ‘The Boer war declaration hope was to achieve another Majuba’ means is anyone’s guess, but the Battle of Majuba in 1881 was a tiny skirmish in which only 92 British troops were killed. More importantly, it was fought after the spineless Gladstone had already resolved on peace with the Boer rebels: it did not ‘force’ the British to the negotiating table.

But the funniest part of his self-pitying rant is the hopelessly incorrect claim that the Boers ‘never intended to take Durban’. Amusingly, I had not even mentioned Durban in the article which caused him to throw a little tantrum, but this is exactly the sort of post-facto far-fetched excuse that True Believers dream up to explain away each and every Boer military defeat; when one points out that the Boers were incapable of capturing Kimberley, for example, one will be told they didn’t want to; when one points out that the Boers were incapable of holding their positions at the Modder River, one will be told they didn’t want to. It is an all-too-predictable, though highly entertaining, way of explaining away any beating Kruger’s men took.

Likewise, and though it is obviously upsetting for this particular True Believer, the fact is that Durban was very much a target of the Boer invasions – it’s just, thanks to a mixture of ineptitude, incompetence, ill-discipline / cowardice and a preference for looting, they failed utterly to achieve it.

In December 1899, a few weeks after Kruger launched his hare-brained attack on the British Empire, Count Adalbert Graf Sternberg, the illustrious Austrian war correspondent, travelled to both Pretoria and Bloemfontein, in a quest to ‘discover the ultimate objects of the Boers’. Sternberg spent a good deal of time with Kruger, a man he appears to have admired. Tellingly, he reported that ‘Kruger himself only wanted Natal, with the port of Durban’[2]. So there we have it: straight from the old troll’s mouth.

None other than Commandant-General Joubert admitted that detailed invasion plans had been drawn up by a German staff officer as early as March 1898,[3] plans which were then finalized by Jan Smuts in early September 1899,[4] before the arrival of any meaningful number of British reinforcements. It was envisaged that Boer invasion forces would shatter the small and scattered Imperial garrison in a thunderous blitzkrieg and then press on to the ports of Natal and the Cape. It was further assumed that the capture of these ports would prevent any additional British reinforcements from landing.

As Pakenham put it: ‘Smuts… launched into a feverish plan for a military offensive. Its keynote was a blitzkrieg against Natal before any reinforcements could arrive. The numerical advantage would then lie in their favour by nearly three to one that is, forty thousand Boers against fifteen thousand British troops. By throwing all their troops against Natal, they could capture Durban before the first ships brought British reinforcements. In this way they would capture artillery and stores ‘in enormous quantities’. They would also encourage the Cape Afrikaners in the interior to ‘form themselves into a third great republic’.’[5]

And if you don’t believe that, then perhaps you’ll take the word of Jan Smuts himself. Writing in 1952, Smuts’ son (and biographer) confirmed that his father told him he had ‘a careful plan drawn up’ which envisaged:
‘the Boers to strike down swiftly at Durban and the other ports upon the outbreak of hostilities, in order to prevent the British landing reinforcements. That phase completed, the mopping up of troops in the country would begin’[6]

So no matter what this laughable Defender of the Myth wants to believe, it was Smuts’ the man who actually finalised the invasion plans – stated aim to capture Durban.[7] How can my critic have missed this one!? Seems like evidence of this buffoon’s ‘limited reading’ on the subject… D’Oh!

And so in October 1899, Kruger’s ‘crusaders’ poured into Natal, supremely confident of victory and that they would soon be ‘eating fish in Durban’. The young Deneys Reitz vividly remembered the reaction of the invading Boers as they splashed through the Buffalo River and into Natal: ‘General ‘Maroola’, with a quick eye to the occasion, faced round and made a speech telling us that Natal was a heritage filched from our forefathers, which must now be recovered from the usurper. Amid enthusiastic cries we began to ford the stream. It took nearly an hour for all to cross, during this time the cheering and singing of the Volkslied was continuous, and we rode into the smiling land of Natal full of hope and courage.’[8]

After their chastening defeats at Talana Hill and Elandslaagte, however, some of the more intelligent Boers must have started to have doubts about getting to the sea. Faced with the unbowed forces of General Sir George White dug-in at Ladysmith, their leaders considered their next move, as usual, ponderously exercising command by committee:

A Krijgsraad, at which all the Boer generals and commandants attended, had assembled in front of Ladysmith on 1st November to decide whether the main effort of the Boer army should be concentrated on the attack of that town [Ladysmith], or whether, leaving a detachment to hold Sir G. White’s troops, they should at once advance on Maritzburg and Durban. Some of the younger leaders, including Louis Botha, as yet only plain commandant, were in favour of the latter course. The majority of the council decided that, so long as 12,000 effective British troops remained at Ladysmith, the commandos were not numerous enough to allow them to win the much-coveted prizes of the capital and seaport of Natal.[9]

Oh dear – there’s that inconvenient talk of ‘Durban’ and ‘seaport of Natal’ again… how can my infantile critic have missed this too? Yet more evidence of his ‘limited reading’ perhaps?

A poorly coordinated, and timidly delivered, attempt to storm Ladysmith on 9 November was easily repulsed by the Imperial garrison, and, after the bloody nose his men had been given, Joubert seemed more content than ever to starve Ladysmith into submission. Needless to say, every day Joubert (who had always opposed Kruger’s insane attack on the British) dithered helped the hard-pressed Imperial forces, so this delay was a God-send. Not everyone agreed with his policy of inactivity, however, and after much pleading, Louis Botha persuaded Joubert to leave enough men behind to maintain the siege and press on toward Durban with the others.[10] The size of this force is reckoned to have been somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 men, with Louis Botha’s commando leading the way, and David Joubert (a relative of the Commandant-General) leading a raiding party of about 600 towards the village of Weenan, which they intended to loot.[11] Presumably the cunning plan was, that by looting Weenan, they would inflict ‘another Majuba’?

Pushing south into Natal, and flushed with the arrogance of youth, General Louis Botha assured Kruger that the Transvaal’s flag would soon ‘wave over a free harbour’.[12] Later he also claimed that only General Joubert’s timidity had prevented him from ‘coming to Durban to eat bananas in 1899’.[13] In reality, his forces – laden down with enormous quantities of loot – fled back north again after the Battle of Willow Grange. The arrival of meaningful Imperial reinforcements had prevented the loss of Durban.

And so the wild, self-pitying claims of this entertaining Defender of the Myth not only completely ignore the war aims that Steyn and Kruger confessed to Count Sternberg: ie. to annex the Kimberley diamond fields, all of Natal, and snatch a sea port,[14] but they similarly disregard wartime statements made by leading Boer generals, and brush under the carpet the post-war memoirs of Jan Smuts and a volksraad member called P. C. Joubert,[15] both of whom confessed that the real war aims—as discussed in various secret sessions of the two volksraads—had been to capture the ports of Natal and the Cape Colony, including Port Elizabeth, East London, and Cape Town itself.[16]

In his ‘The War for South Africa’, Professor Bill Nasson devotes much attention to Smuts’ plan to invade Natal and capture Durban[17] but obviously not wishing to admit any fault on the part of Kruger – still frantically tries to assure his readers that, even though they wanted to capture all of Natal, including Durban, ‘on the Boer side, the war which came was entirely defensive’ and then farcically ties himself in knots by saying, ‘even if the chosen method of defence would be the invasion of British colonial territory, it was widely understood to be a defensive enterprise.’[18] Presumably this was not ‘widely understood’ by anyone in Natal at the time. You will note that, even when the Boers invade, capture, annex and loot someone else’s territory, there are some who will still try to pretend this was ‘defensive’.[19]

Writing in the 1900, the eminent American historian, Captain A. T. Mahan USN, was unencumbered by the modern-day, woke desperation to blame absolutely everything bad that has ever happened on the British Empire, and was thus a lot more straight and to the point than Nasson dared to be, stating that Kruger’s objectives were ‘to force the British out of Natal, thus closing access by Durban from the sea, and at the same time to seize the pass of Cape Town known as Hex River’.[20]

And perhaps the best description of the initial Boer plan of campaign is that given by Leo Amery in 1902:
‘A large force was to invade Northern Natal from west, north and east, crush the little garrisons at Dundee and Ladysmith, and then rapidly overrun Natal down to Durban[21]. Other forces, drawn from the burghers of the western frontier of both States, should capture the British towns strung along the Bechuanaland railway, Mafeking, Vryburg and Kimberley, and should then advance southwards to help the general armed uprising of the Cape Dutch which would follow upon the successes in Natal and the West. With Natal and almost the whole of the Cape Colony in their hands, with 70,000 or 80,000 mounted men in the field, the Boers had every reason to hope that they could hold their own till the European Powers interfered or till England abandoned the contest.’[22]

So there we have it: this chap’s frantic (indeed, pathetic) attempts to claim the Boers never wanted to capture Durban have been shown to be nothing more than the normal rubbish his ilk spew out. Yes, capturing a major city certainly proved to be well beyond the abilities of the Boers Christ, they couldn’t even take Mafeking – but they didn’t know that at the time; they were sure they were God’s Chosen People, after all, South Africa was theirs for the taking, and they would effortlessly drive the Rooineks into the sea.

The simple fact is that the Boers’ dream of eating bananas in Durban was foiled by the British army and Natalian forces. Why is it so hard for some people to admit this blatant reality?


[1] Yes folks – you read it here first: Russian AFVs have been abandoned due to lack of fuel, troops have no ammunition, 50% of the Russian troops who were surrounding Kiev had frost bite, and others have been reduced to eating dogs rather than 20-year-old Rat Packs… and all because the Ukrainians have superior morale and NATO anti-tank weapons… nothing to do with a totally flawed strategy… as, indeed, the Russians themselves are now admitting, as they pull their forces back from Kiev, and focus on the Donbas region… so suddenly these are not ‘strategic necessities’ after all… and yet, according to this complete Muppet, I am the one with no understanding of the war in Ukraine… work that one out

[2] Sternberg & Henderson, My Experiences of the Boer War, p. 88

[3] War Office, Military notes on the Dutch Republics of South Africa, p. 52

[4] Pakenham, The Boer War, p. 105

[5] Ibid, p. 102

[6] Jan Christian Smuts by his son, p. 90, quoted in O’Connor, A Short Guide to the History of South Africa, 1652-1902

[7] Nasson, The War for South Africa, p. 108

[8] Reitz, Commando, p. 26

[9] Maurice, History of the War in South Africa 1899‒1902, Vol.1, p. 264

[10] Rethman, Friends and Enemies, p. 139

[11] Ibid, p. 141

[12] Stalker, The Natal Carbineers: The History of the Regiment from its Foundation, 15th January, 1855, to 30th June, 1911, ch. 9

[13] Pakenham, p. 168

[14] Amery, The Times History of the War in South Africa, Vol. 2, p. 123

[15] not to be confused with General Piet Joubert

[16] Scholtz, Why the Boers Lost the War, p. 19

[17] Nasson, The War for South Africa, p. 109

[18] Ibid, p. 65

[19] Presumably, unless he is a shocking hypocrite, Nasson also believes the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a defensive enterprise, and it’s just that Putin’s chosen method of defence is the invasion of Ukrainian territory

[20] Mahan, The Story of the War in South Africa, p. 9

[21] It is important to understand that the pre-war border of northern Natal was very different from that drawn after the war, and retained in today’s Kwa-Zulu Natal. Part of Natal jutted north between the OFS and the Transvaal in a slim wedge and was thus vulnerable from both east and west. Vryheid, Paulpietersburg and Utrecht were in the Transvaal pre-1899, whereas after the war the border was re-drawn so as that area became part of Natal

[22] Amery, Vol. 2, p. 122


  • James Grant Posted April 13, 2022 8:16 pm

    Classic, mate! Any idea who this bloody idiot is? Sounds like he needs to do a bit of reading up. Or just keep his mouth shut!

    • Bulldog Posted April 14, 2022 5:49 am

      James, I’ve no idea who he is – other than someone with a chip on his shoulder, absolutely no knowledge of the Boer War, and the stupidity to ‘broadcast the same to the whole world’.

  • Paul Quinn Posted April 14, 2022 7:10 am

    Well that was a thorough thrashing!
    Well said and good news for the Ukrainians.

    • Bulldog Posted April 14, 2022 8:27 am

      Mr Quinn! Not seen you in years – trust you’re doing well and glad you enjoyed the thrashing… though it was more like shooting fish in a barrel.
      I read today that the Ukrainians have crippled / sunk the Moskva – one of Russia’s three Slava-Class Cruisers. How much longer can Putin survive this fiasco?

      • Bulldog Posted April 15, 2022 9:44 am

        Oh, and just in case this clown still thinks he is an expert on the War in Ukraine, here is an extract of an interview with General Petraeus (US Army 4-Star General, former commander of Coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan before being appointed Director of the CIA), which featured in the Spectator magazine:

        ‘…you can’t give Russia anything but a failing grade. Russia has realised that by attacking everything they attack nothing, and therefore have achieved very little so far. They appear to have withdrawn just about everything that they had in the north and north-east. The Russian command, control and communications have failed, too. That’s why generals have to go up to the front, where they get killed by these very skilful Ukrainian snipers. I’d give an ‘incomplete’ grade on what Russia is seeking to accomplish now: shifting focus to the south-east, trying to reinforce the one area in which they’ve had a modest degree of success. Then they’ll attack to the south-west and perhaps even try to trap some of the Ukrainian forces that are defending against the Russians coming out of the Donbas.’

        Hmm – pretty much exactly what I said…

  • Simon Green Posted April 20, 2022 12:24 pm

    Ah Ha the elusive “German Staff Plan” I hear it mentioned, quoted and cited – but where is said plan ? – from primary sources please – that we could as armchair military experts pour over and examine. We can all do Google translate if it’s in German or Dutch – if it in fact actually exists as a written down plan ? Or is it all ABW folk lore ? In other word to mis-quote a famous film line “SHOW ME THE PLAN!”

    Quoting Pakenahm doesn’t add much either – “blitzkrieg” on horse back – really? Not actually shock and awe when the animal gets tired and has to stop and eat and pee is it? I assume ‘the plan’ had a map and timelines and all as those Germans were pretty clever and astute planners right… I’ll wait for the plan….

    Love the concept from Nasson of attacking defensively – sounds more like the Oaky Koaky – one foot in and one foot out, or were they ‘planning’ shock without the awe ?

    Two things for sure much like covid for the experts, also military strategy and tactics also for the experts please. Experts being those, who served, planned and execute military plans from ‘a military appreciation’.

    One thing I do agree on that is similar, and as a Cold War vet rather gratifying, is much like the Boers, the Russians (still want to call them Sovs!) don’t to Strategy or tactics or logistics or discipline very at all. However…. hope you all have a mask and can “Mask in Nine”………. Hope Putin doesn’t have a plan to the bitterend…. like the Boers…. then claim to be a victim of NATO aggression….. OMG – Chris may just be right !! ….. to be continued I am sure as the Special Operation continues…

    • Bulldog Posted April 20, 2022 1:25 pm

      Oh yes, the old ‘mask in nine’, “Gas! Gas! Gas!”… let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

      Re. the plan… a very valid point indeed, and, no – I have not seen an actual copy of it… though I imagine it could have been pretty hastily disposed of and as it was quoted in the War Department’s Military Notes (written prior to the war), and referenced by Smuts himself, I see no reason whatsoever to doubt its existence. That said, I would certainly love to see a copy of it – I imagine it makes for interesting reading.

      But the bit of Boer War ‘folk lore’ I would really love to see evidence for is the oft-spouted claims that the invading Boers ‘only ever wanted to take up defensive positions, just over the border’.

      I am, however, suitably ashamed of myself for quoting from Pakenham… though, to be fair, he didn’t really claim the Boer ‘blitzkrieg’ would actually work – only that this was their plan. One must also remember that much of the German army of WW2 relied on horses to haul supplies and guns, and the Mongol hordes also did pretty well!

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