Strategy, Logistics, & Morale

There was an interesting article in the Telegraph a few days ago:

Strategy, logistics and morale: Why the fundamentals of war haven’t changed

The way to destroy an enemy hasn’t altered since we fought as bands of hunter-gatherers on the African savannah – and Ukraine proves it

By Dr Mike Martin, of Kings College London

Every time there is a war, commentators and pundits love to tell us that this war is different to all other wars. This conflict, they tell us, heralds a shift in warfare, and it will never be the same again. You might expect this from the punditry, who often know little about fighting. But a surprising number of generals and politicians also make this mistake as they seek to explain the battles that they are involved in, or instigated.

Ukraine – the war that we are in now – follows this pattern. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – drones – have made the tank obsolete, we are told. We are on the brink of nuclear weapons being used in Europe. And information and cyber warfare have fundamentally changed the nature of conflict. All of these assertions have elements of truth in them, which is why they get repeated. 

But they are far from the whole story.

Take drones, for instance. The availability of cheap commercial drones that you can buy on Amazon, not to mention the Turkish attractively priced Bayraktar TB2 drone ($1m, if you’re interested), has, without doubt, made the job of a tank commander more difficult. 

Tanks are certainly more vulnerable now there are so many missile-firing UAVs in the sky, and Russia has unquestionably suffered heavy losses in this department. But that can partly be explained by employment mistakes, insufficient infantry support and other errors by Russia.

In truth, though its defences need upgrading, the tank still has a crucial role to play in modern warfare.

Then there is the near-hysteria around whether Putin will use a so-called tactical nuclear weapon. Putin’s back is against the wall, the argument goes; he’ll get desperate when his position is challenged; Russia’s military doctrine – like that of the Soviet Union – is based on an “escalate to de-escalate” concept where nuclear weapons are used to make the point that Russians should not be pushed too far.

The reality, of course, is that ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons do not exist – they are all strategic weapons – and, as such, come under the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction which ably governed the nuclear relationship between the superpowers during the Cold War. Putin won’t use a nuclear weapon, because he can’t be sure that it won’t mean the end of him, and possibly of Moscow. 

Finally, we come to information and cyber warfare. Many warned that Ukraine’s critical infrastructure could be destroyed by Russian cyber attacks in the first weeks of the war. But, in fact, we have seen that moderate cyber defences, as enacted by the Ukrainians, are sufficient to protect critical systems. 

And as for the importance of information—or propaganda as it used to be called: is President Zelensky any different to a Churchill or De Gaulle in the way he uses technology to rally his country and generate support around the world?

The reality is that all of these things – and more – are changes of degree. They are changes of mode in the manner of prosecution of war. But they are not changes to the substance of warfare. The nature of war has not changed since man fought as bands of hunter-gatherers on the African savannah. It is still – primarily and fundamentally – a deeply psychological phenomenon. It is still a contest between evolved human brains. 

The same dynamics of advance, retreat, feint, ruse, confidence and fear decide the outcomes of battles, and of wars. The physicality of war – the bombs, bullets and bayonets – are merely there to affect your enemy’s state of mind, as was illustrated so clearly two weeks ago when Ukraine’s recapture of Russian-occupied territory prompted many frightened Russian soldiers to surrender or flee their positions.  

This fundamental psychological truth about warfare tells us some other things as well. It tells us that strategy – how you change your enemy’s psychology and make them do what you want – is supreme. It also tells us that logistics – your resources or tools for the job – are of crucial importance. And it tells us that morale – that ancient intangible of camaraderie and esprit de corps – is a battle winner. 

The side that has these three things right – strategy, logistics and morale – will win the war. And this was as true in the Neolithic Period as it is in the new millennium. And this is exactly what we see in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

On the Russian side, the strategy was poor and based on a flawed understanding of what Ukraine was, and is. Putin imagined that the population would rise up and welcome Russian soldiers as liberators, helping them to overthrow the elected government of Ukraine. Putin also imagined that the West would dilly and dally, much as it had done before. 

But he did not take into account that Ukraine was and is a real country that wanted to be free, and the Europeans and Americans would see his invasion as a direct threat.

Logistically, and perhaps because of the aforementioned strategic misjudgments, Russia invaded with a quarter of the troops that it should have done. And once in Ukraine, their logistics have been poor, with troops running out of vital supplies.

As for morale, it is hard to motivate poorly trained conscripts to invade another country that they see as a brother nation. On the other side of the fence, meanwhile, the Ukrainians have had a crystal-clear strategy: evict Russian armed forces from the sovereign territory of Ukraine. They are well supplied logistically through Nato countries, and have sky-high morale as they are defending their homeland, and liberating their kith and kin.

It is because of these three factors – strategy, logistics and morale – that Russia will lose the war. Not because Ukraine had some drones that it bought from Amazon, and not because Putin has rashly called up some reservists to the front line. Unfortunately for them, without, you guessed it, strategy, logistics or morale, they will go the way of those who have gone before them: into the Ukrainian meat grinder.

There is a deeper question about why we constantly seek to reimagine war – to say that it has changed, or that it is something that it is not. It is a very difficult question to answer, but as humans we like to imagine that new technology will help us win wars, or will help us avoid wars. Perhaps we want to avoid the brutally chaotic nature of war, or ignore the reality that it is a fight to the death. Perhaps it is something particular to democracies, whose populations like to imagine that technology can help us fight wars at arm’s length, so that they will not touch our lives. 

Paradoxically, this thinking makes us more likely to fight wars, rather than less. And it is a trap that we have fallen into in the UK. In 2021, the British Government released its Integrated Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy Review. Broadly speaking, it argued for a pivot away from the Nato and Euro-Atlantic area, towards the Far East and China. And it argued for a rebalancing of defence spending towards cyber, artificial intelligence and automated weapons systems, and away from tanks, artillery and infantry. 

In fact, the infantry – that backbone of military force – was to be cut, and the number of tanks reduced by one-third. In November 2021, Boris Johnson, the then-Prime Minister, even went so far as to mock the chair of the Defence Select Committee, Tobias Elwood, saying: “We have to recognise that the old concepts of fighting big tank battles on European land mass are over”. Three months later Russia invaded Ukraine with, er, lots of tanks. 

The truth is, the UK has badly misread the strategic environment. We have misjudged. It is not just a question of having the right capabilities focussed on the right area of the globe – it is also a question of sending signals to all your potential adversaries about what capabilities you have, and which area of the globe they are focussed on. 

Prime Minister Truss has pledged to increase spending on defence to three per cent of GDP by 2030. Good. But what this money is spent on, and where we focus as a nation is equally as critical as the cash. We need an understanding of the UK’s strategic position – and our defence – that is rooted in the reality of how the world is, rather than how we would wish it to be. As one surveys the geo-strategic landscape, the big threats to the UK come from the European periphery: instability caused by the collapse of Russia; tensions in the Middle East over Iran; and climate-change-induced conflicts and migration from the Sahel region, to name but three. 

All of these threats require a mixture of traditional – hard – military power, as well as some new technologies. All of them require us to be able to deploy well-resourced contingents of highly-trained troops, set within the right strategic posture. 

It is as it ever was: the fundamentals of war have not changed, and we should base our defence on this fact.


He raises some excellent points, and it is remarkable just how true these are when applied to the Boer War, and the failure of Kruger’s plan to drive the British from the region.

Let’s take each of the three aspects he raises in turn:

‘Tactics without Strategy is the noise before defeat’

The simple reality is that the Boer commanders – for all their later reinvention as military geniuses – proved to be hopelessly inept at Strategy.
Most choose to ignore the fact that the Boers’ first – and biggest – mistake was to start the war in the first place. Quite simply, it was almost inconceivably stupid of Kruger and his claque to pick a fight with the British Empire at its peak. Arrogantly under-estimating the Greatest of the Great Powers of the Age was an incredible blunder, on par, indeed, with Hitler’s later claims of how easy it would be for his ‘master race’ to defeat the USSR: ‘We have only to kick in the door’, claimed the onebollocked nutcase, ‘and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down’.

And not only that, but the Boer Generals hopelessly mishandled the war from the get-go, with the preponderance of their forces dedicated to the invasion of staunchly-loyal Natal. Writing in 1952, Jan 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’[1]

When one remembers the invading Boers proved incapable of capturing tiny Mafeking, the notion that they could ever have seized Durban from under the big guns of the Royal Navy was farcically far-fetched. What is more, a strategy which called for the invaders to prevent British reinforcements from landing by suddenly seizing all the ports in the region was truly ridiculous. In an area the size of South Africa, such a feat would be nigh-on impossible even with modern-day paratroopers, helicopters etc, so the idea of grabbing them all with horsemen was beyond laughable.    

Had Kruger instead screened the easily-defensible border of Natal, and thrown the vast majority of his men into an invasion of the Cape, however, it is just about conceivable (if highly unlikely) that the invaders might have sparked some sort of uprising from the large population of Afrikaans-speakers there.

As Professor Bill Nasson put it, instead the Boer leaders were ‘…beguiled by the reclamation of the spiritual lower plain of Natal, by the harvesting of Durban, and by the lure of an artery to the sea. Had more weight been added to the western front, the unleashing of between 30,000 and 40,000 well-prepared riflemen into the Cape Colony might conceivably have radically altered the course of the war.’[2]

Instead their strategy was hopelessly flawed, and there was no thought of a main effort; just like the Russians more than 120 years later, the Boers started the war by trying to invade everywhere at once (Natal, Rhodesia, Zululand, Cape Colony etc), and, as a result – and just like Putin’s men – proved incapable of getting terribly far.

‘Amateurs talk tactics; professional study logistics’

From the very start of the war, problems of supply were a serious issue for the republics. Hemmed in on all sides by British territory and that of her ally, Portugal, there was no way for Kruger to replenish his war machine from overseas once the balloon went up. Even if Kruger’s fantasy of gaining support from one of the other Great Powers had come true, the Royal Navy’s undisputed command of the seas meant that (unless he could somehow persuade Russia to invade India or, in his wildest dreams, the USA to invade Canada) no nation could really help in any case. For Kruger’s gang to simply ignore this geo-political reality, and instead trust to the Almighty to fling a few thunderbolts to help his ‘Chosen People’, was sheer insanity.

The Boers had little grasp of logistics, and its increasing importance as warfare entered the ‘modern’ age, with the voracious appetites of rapid-fire artillery, machine guns and magazine rifles. This was especially telling given their apparent obsession with siege warfare – operations that require enormous quantities of munitions to be effective.

As Nasson again observed, ‘As with the other misguided and drifting investments of garrison towns, what the Kimberley attackers lacked as much as anything were the banks of heavy artillery and reserve shell supply necessary to resolve stubborn sieges successfully.’[3]

A nimble, fleet-footed force might be effective against groups of poorly-armed tribesmen, but cannot possibly have a vast siege train and commissariat. It was thus nonsensical that their commanders engaged in such supply-intensive, static warfare so readily, or indeed, that they became so ‘hypnotised by sieges.’[4]

With the long-held plan to attack the British in mind, the Transvaal had established a nascent arms industry in the run-up to the war, but with the loss of their towns, even this could no longer support those who wanted to continue the fight; those today who mindlessly claim that the loss of cities was inconsequential to the Boers completely overlook this point.

Other than small bullet-making cottage industries on farms, the bittereinders soon had no way of replenishing their ammunition or explosives other than stealing from Imperial troops. Some bittereinders later claimed that bullets were actually relatively easy to obtain and could be picked up in the wake of British columns as the Tommies carelessly dropped or discarded them.[5] While this might have proved enough to sustain small bands of guerrillas / terrorists fighting a fairly low intensity war, it was hardly the sort of solid logistical plan required to embark on a war against Great Britain in 1899.

Their latter-day apologists claim that the republicans might have been unencumbered by siege equipment and ammunition stocks, but they more than made up for it by being a fast-moving force able to deploy their commandos on a whim and not tied to the railway lines like the British were. This all appears sound at first glance, but despite any fleetness of foot on a tactical level, on a strategic scale, the reality is that the invading Boers plodded through the conventional war. The invasion of the Cape Colony proper was inexplicably delayed by several weeks, and Joubert’s men probed slowly into Natal, taking over a week to get to Dundee.

To have any chance of success, and to capture ports before imperial reinforcements could arrive, Kruger’s invasions called for a thunderous blitzkrieg, with self-reliant columns bypassing Imperial strongpoints and slicing deep into Natal with no regard for their flanks. Instead, in what was a failure of both republican strategy and logistics, the Boer generals opted for a slow, steady and looting-binge-punctuated advance forward, paying no heed to the enemy reinforcements by then pouring in from across the Empire, and getting sucked into sieges which their logistical support structure was not set-up for.

‘An army’s effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience, and morale; and morale is worth more than any of the other factors combined’

Morale, or ‘esprit de corps’, is a bit of an amorphous concept, and obviously not entirely measurable. In a military sense, morale is perhaps best described as being the enthusiasm, discipline, spirit, confidence, cohesion and loyalty of a formation, though is also used as a catch-all term for the willpower, obedience, and self-discipline of a group tasked with performing duties assigned by a superior. According to the sociologist and psychiatrist, Alexander H. Leighton, ‘morale is the capacity of a group of people to pull together persistently and consistently in pursuit of a common purpose’. The great military thinker, von Clausewitz, considered the most important contributors to high morale to be moral and physical courage, the acceptance of responsibility and the suppression of fear.[6] 

Of the three aspects raised in Dr Martin’s article, morale was probably the one where the Boers proved to be weakest.  This will surprise those raised on the Apartheid-regime reinvention of them as a race of invincible Titans, but the truth is that the Boers proved to have incredibly brittle morale, and few were inclined to display the courage, loyalty, stoicism and self-sacrifice which were commonplace in the British army. Just as the Russians are struggling to convince their men that the invasion of Ukraine is worth dying for, so – at least once the care-free fun of the initial looting spree was over, and the starry-eyed rubbish of eating bananas in Durban was shown to be nonsense – it was difficult for the Boer Generals to motivate their pressed men to die for Kruger’s lunatic dreams of Empire.

Unlike the all-volunteer Imperial forces, where tens of thousands of unsuitable candidates were rejected on medical grounds or weeded out during training each year[7], Commando service in the republics was compulsory, meaning the quality of men called-up was understandably mixed. There were a handful of reserved occupations in the republics (such as the railways and telegraph technicians) and those with major health issues were, technically at least, exempt from service—but this system collapsed after a few months and medical certificates were routinely ignored.[8]

Overall, and as General Ben Viljoen recalled,

‘…immediately martial law is promulgated the entire Boer adult male population is amenable for military service. In the ranks of a commando one finds men of every profession, from the advocate and doctor to the blacksmith and plumber.’[9]

So unless one believes that simply by virtue of living in the republics, men were transformed into some sort of master race, one has to accept that plenty of burghers were cowardly, argumentative, reluctant, short-sighted, asthmatic, dim-witted, contrary, flat-footed, and generally totally unsuited to military life—just as with any other nation. It is therefore not surprising that the morale of the Boer forces proved time and time again to be far poorer than that of Imperial units.

One observer summed up these differences in terms that would never have made it into the National Party approved school text books which are still adored by some today:

‘The military qualities of the Boers, like those of Cromwell’s men, were useful but not showy. They came by instinct and not by acquisition, and they cannot be sufficiently accounted for as the outcome of experience in the pursuit of game on the veld. They were neutralized partially by characteristics the reverse of military. The Boers were not remarkable for personal courage. If there had been in the Boer Army a decoration corresponding to the Victoria Cross it would have been rarely won or at least rarely earned. There is scarcely an instance of an individual feat of arms or act of devotion performed by a Burgher. On the few occasions when the Boers were charged by cavalry they became paralysed with terror. They were incapable of submitting themselves to discipline, and difficult to command in large numbers. They could not be made to understand that prompt action, which possibly might not be the best under the circumstances, was preferable to wasting time in discussing a better with the field cornets. They were subject to panics and, for the time, easily disheartened: and their sense of duty was not conspicuous. The principles of strategy were unknown to them, their tactics were crude, and with the exception of a very few who had fought in 1881, they were without experience of the realities of war.’[10]

Before the first shot had even been fired, morale issues within the republican ranks were obvious, with many Boers failing to live up to their latter-day reputation as gallant patriots, eager to lay down their lives for their (ahem) ‘independence’[11]. Commandant (later General) Ben Viljoen was tasked with raising the Johannesburg Commando in September 1899, but quickly found that the burghers dreamed up all manner of excuses to avoid commando service. When he moved to the front on the 29th, he only had 400 men instead of the 750 he had counted on.[12]Similar reports came from other towns in both republics, and the Transvaal Government went as far as to set up a special commandeer commission to ‘root out the burghers who were in hiding’.[13] Before long, there were cases of Boers at the front trying to get medical certificates issued to get away on home leave—a practice referred to by their more stout-hearted comrades as ‘bangsiekte’ (fear-sickness). Others took the more rather more drastic route of self-inflicted wounds.[14]

Contemporary observers noted the lack of discipline / poor morale of the Boers:

‘The Boers had certain qualifications which gave them great superiority in defence, but they had also certain weaknesses, chiefly due to want of discipline, which rendered their defence weak in one respect, and made them almost powerless in the attack. While their mobility, elasticity, and intelligence made it safe for them to trust to individual initiative for the prompt strengthening of a threatened spot, their general discipline was not good enough to allow of an orderly movement to a flank of a large body in the stress of battle, and thus our flank attacks were rarely opposed. Again, the feebleness in attack allowed us to hold a front with a handful of men, who would have been powerless against such a counter attack as might reasonably be expected from European troops.’[15]


‘The Boer was never willing to sacrifice his personal property for the common good, neither would he instantly and implicitly obey the orders of his commanders. He was a shining example of the ultra-individualistic idea, which is both a fault and a virtue. In the early days of the war it was almost impossible for the Boer commander to extract obedience from his men. Every project of any importance had to be talked over and argued about at length that the moment for its successful execution often passed.’[16]

Despite the latter-day myths, this ill-disciplined and unruly free-for-all was far from effective. Time after time, burghers flatly refused to join assaults or took it upon themselves to abandon outlying positions. Others simply disappeared when it suited them, and pickets went to sleep or wandered off. Demoralised and with little in the way of formal military discipline to prevent it, the reluctant burgher would simply vanish when he had had enough. In March 1900, for example, the men of the Jacobsdal Commando were expressly forbidden to go on leave, but many just disappeared and took the chance to surrender to the British, and to take the Oath of Neutrality.[17]

Contrary to the burghers’ reputation as sturdy and unflappable, this brittle morale and almost complete lack of discipline was an issue from the very beginning. In the first significant action of the war, Talana Hill, hundreds of republicans simply ran away as soon as the Royal Artillery opened up on them[18]. At Colenso, a republican unit had refused to occupy outlying positions, and a lack of discipline caused Botha’s trap to be prematurely sprung. The same thing had happened at Modder River, and even at Spion Kop, many of the republicans decided they had had enough and started trekking off midway through the battle.

And it got even worse: as soon as the tide started turning against them in ‘Black Month’[19], Boer morale collapsed quickly and whole units came and went as they pleased, vanishing or re-appearing on a whim. An exasperated General J.C. Smuts wrote:

‘The Rustenburg Commando with its 2,000 men almost entirely disappeared, and it was a pleasant surprise to us afterwards to hear that some 130 burghers under Assistant-Commandant Caspar du Plessis had refused to surrender, and were marching eastwards in order to effect a junction with the main Boer forces under General Louis Botha.’[20]

Following the mass surrender of Cronjé’s force at Paardeberg on 27 February 1900, de Wet (who Pakenham would have us believe was one of the ‘great Generals’ of the war…) attempted to stop Roberts’ advance on Bloemfontein. De Wet commanded in the region of 14,000 men with 20 guns holding blocking positions in the area of Poplar Grove, perhaps forty miles from Kimberley and fifty miles west of Bloemfontein. The positions were in a run of kopjes on either side of the Modder River, extending perhaps 25 miles in all.[21]

At the first sign of Imperial troops, however, de Wet’s Boers began to abandon the Poplar Grove position and his disordered and demoralised men were soon streaming away toward Bloemfontein. President Kruger, on a morale-boosting visit to the front, joined the panic-stricken retreat in his Cape cart,[22] rather unsportingly giving orders to his escorting ZARPs to shoot the horses of any burghers who tried to follow his flight.[23] Just the appearance of French’s cavalry on their flank was sufficient to spook the Boers, and in their haste to get away, they abandoned large quantities of ammunition, cooking utensils, food, and tents.[24] As one war correspondent put it:

‘De Wet had been for at least ten days preparing the position from which he was ready to defy the whole British Army. He had, in fact, abandoned it on the mere approach of the Cavalry Division; he had not only abandoned it, but had only narrowly escaped from it with his guns and his transport wagons, and these last got off at the expense of a considerable portion of their loads.’

Next, de Wet desperately tried to rally his demoralized forces for a last stand before Bloemfontein. At Abram’s Kraal, some 35 miles from the capital, de Wet, de la Rey, and Kruger himself tried to stop the rout. In scenes which are glossed over by most modern histories, witnesses recalled that Kruger was almost frantic as he moved among the fleeing Boers: ‘he lifted his heavy stick against the fugitives whom no one seemed able to check; at last he ordered the ZARPs to shoot anyone who attempted to flee.’ It was to no avail though; the ZARPs would not open fire and the retreat continued in a cloud of dust.[26] Some were made of sterner stuff, however, and de Wet managed to establish a defensive line on three kopjes, the central one being on a farm called Driefontein, while one flank rested on the Modder River.[27] His forces had been reinforced by a commando under his brother Piet de Wet, and some 1,000 ZARPs under de la Rey.

After being summoned back to Bloemfontein to advise on preparing entrenchments for the defence of the capital[28], De Wet returned to the Driefontein position on the morning of 10 March to find his troops in a state of complete disorder. Of the 380-strong Ladybrand Commando, 265 had simply gone home, while another unit of 163 had only 17 men left at the front. The demoralised Boer army was disintegrating before de Wet’s very eyes in a way totally unthinkable for an Imperial force. Nevertheless, the timely arrival of his brother’s commando and the ZARPs still allowed the position to be held in some strength, and de la Rey had been busy in de Wet’s absence. Federal artillery consisted of two Krupp 75mm guns and a pair of 15-pounders, two of the guns captured at Colenso three months earlier.[29]

Elements of the Cavalry Division encountered the Driefontein defences early that morning, and alerted the 6th Infantry Division. The British had not fallen into the trap of frontally assaulting the position, and finding the cavalry working around his flank, de Wet was forced to hurriedly redeploy his force to counter this threat. At about midday, the 18th Brigade launched their attack, taking their initial objectives with ease as most of the Boers had already abandoned them. At 2pm, the infantry assaulted the main republican positions, with the men of the Essex Regiment driving the burghers before them at bayonet point. De Wet wrote bitterly of his men that ‘once more panic seized them; leaving their positions, they retreated towards Bloemfontein, now again only a disorderly crowd of terrified men blindly flying before the enemy’.

With de Wet’s force thus shattered, the way to Bloemfontein was open and Roberts made his formal entry into the capital of the Orange Free State on 13 March. Despite de Wet and Steyn’s plans, nothing could stop the fleeing, panic-stricken burghers and in the event no attempt was made to defend the city[30]. Unlike the Imperial troops who stoically endured months of siege to defend tiny outposts like Mafeking and Kuruman, thousands of Boers kept on trekking, passing through their capital city in their desperation to escape. Steyn himself had fled on the 12th, setting up a new capital in Kroonstad. Rather than facing house-to-house fighting, or weeks of siege warfare therefore, when the Imperial forces entered Bloemfontein, they marched through streets decorated with bunting and were greeted by cheering crowds.[31]

And even when they were not in the face of the enemy, there was still a chance that panic might spread through the undisciplined and demoralised federal forces:

‘One night before they came to the positions they took up, at Polfontein, about eight o’clock in the evening, the Boers were being harangued by the predikant. He was in the middle of his sermon when a stampede of horses took place. The noise of the horses’ feet sounded as if a charge of cavalry was coming on, the burghers raised a shout ‘heir kom de Engelsh’. Clergyman and congregation fled helter skelter to their wagons. Some could not find their rifles, others under the wagons, calling on the name of the Lord to deliver them from the enemy. One man, he told me, whom I know well, and a great warrior in his own estimation, clinging on to the wagon wheel, could not hold his rifle he was in such a shivering funk, calling for some whisky to steady his nerves. A young fellow he saw with an iron pot on his head, another instead of putting the cartridge into the magazine of his rifle was trying to push it down the muzzle.’[32]


As the saying goes, ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same’. Putin’s invaders are steadily being defeated due to their weaknesses in Strategy, Logistics and Morale. 120 years ago, Kruger’s invaders were defeated for much the same reasons; and all without a drone in sight.


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

[2] Nasson, The War for South Africa, p.129

[3] Ibid, p.121

[4] Ibid, p.129

[5] Lee, To the Bitter End, p.137

[6] Academic paper: The Importance of Military Morale

[7] For example, of the 77,648 men who applied to join the British Army in 1897, only 33,771 were finally accepted

[8] South African Military History Society, Military History Journal, Vo.8, No.6, December 1991

[9] Viljoen, My Reminiscences of the Boer War, p.275

[10] Butler and Tanner, A Handbook of the Boer War, 1910, Chapter 1

[11] The word ‘independence’ in this context is used by True Believers and certain South African academics to mean: “invasion of neighbouring territory in order to build an Afrikaans Empire from the Zambesi to the Cape, which would be ruled over by a tiny minority comprising a self-appointed Master Race”

[12] Grundlingh, The Dynamics of Treason, p.20

[13] Ibid, p.21

[14] South African Military History Society, Military History Journal, Vo.8, No.6, December 1991

[15] Minutes of Evidence taken before the Royal Commission on the War in South Africa, Vol.2, p.288

[16] Burnham, Scouting on Two Continents, p.277

[17] Grundlingh, p.23

[18] Kruger, Goodbye Dolly Gray, p.78

[19] In the month from mid-February to mid-March 1900, Buller smashed through Boer lines at the Tugela River and relieved Ladysmith, while on the Western Front, Lord Roberts had won a string of victories, capturing Cronjé’s army at Paardeberg, relieving Kimberley, and occupying Bloemfontein

[20] South African Military History Society, Military History Journal, Vo.8, No.6, December 1991

[21] Selby, The Boer War, A Study in Cowardice and Courage, p. 187

[22] Ibid, p. 187

[23] Maydon, French’s Cavalry Campaign, p. 106

[24] Maurice & Grant, History of the War in South Africa, 1899-1902, Vol. 2, p. 201

[25] Maydon, French’s Cavalry Campaign, p. 108

[26] Selby, p. 188

[27] Maurice & Grant, Vol. 2, p. 209

[28] Ibid, p. 210

[29] Ibid, p. 211

[30] This embarrassing reality was later ‘spun’ by True Believers, who like to tell one another that the Boers didn’t ever want to defend their capitals… which rather begs the question: so why did De Wet fight (and lose) two battles trying to do exactly that, and why was he summoned back to Bloemfontein to help oversee the siting of defence works?

[31] Selby, p. 188

[32] Lane, The War Diary of Burgher Jack Lane, 1899-1900, p.5


  • A M Sheffield Posted October 2, 2022 3:26 pm

    There are six factors that determine victory or failure in a war. They were the same in WWII, Malaya, Vietnam, Iraq, Rhodesia, SWA, and Afghanistan.
    These six war factors are: military; economic; political; psychological; social; and diplomatic. Lose ANY ONE of these and you lose the war. Perhaps thrse days cyber could also be included, but it really is a modern manifestation of a sub-set of most of the six.

  • Chris Posted October 6, 2022 9:07 pm

    “The reality, of course, is that ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons do not exist – they are all strategic weapons – and, as such, come under the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction”

    One wonders what the discussion and plan is should the Russians indeed Nuke – say Belgrade or Warsaw ?
    Would the US start a nuclear WWIII over such an incident ?
    Would the UK – without support from the US
    Would the French – again without support from the US
    As far as I know the only European power with Nukes that is in NATO is the UK
    France a nuclear European power is NOT a member of NATO !

    My contention is that the ONLY thing that would induce the US to start such a nuclear WWIII would be a DIRECT nuclear attack on the US mainland.

    Let us hope I never need to be proved correct.

    • Bulldog Posted October 7, 2022 4:11 am

      You raise a very valid point. And not just about the reaction to a ‘limited’ nuclear attack: how would ‘the West’ respond if, for example, Russia invaded Estonia? Sure, they are a NATO member, but would the USA really start WW3 over a conventional war in Estonia (or any other small, far away land)?

      After NATO wriggled out of defending Turkey when it came under attack from Iraq in the First Gulf War, the Turkish President rightly questioned whether or not the Alliance would have defended them from a Soviet invasion back in the day… or would they have bargained away part of Turkey, for the sake of peace?

  • ScotchedEarth Posted January 30, 2023 3:14 am

    wrt ‘Some bittereinders later claimed that bullets were actually relatively easy to obtain and could be picked up in the wake of British columns as the Tommies carelessly dropped or discarded them.’ Was just recently reading something about this. These ammunition losses might have been due to disposable bandoliers for refilling ammunition pouches being incorrectly used as ammunition carriers in their own right:
    ‘According to Albert Lethern, author of the M.E.Co. Golden Jubilee book, the choice of leather over Mills’ web was made because of a misunderstanding by the General Staff. During the war, the Mills Company had produced cheap, “single use” ammunition bandoliers made of very light woven webbing. The intention was solely for ammunition re-supply, cartridge pouches being re-filled and the bandolier discarded. In practice, these bandoliers were issued for wear by the growing numbers of Mounted Infantry then being deployed. Because of their very light construction, the cartridge sleeves stretched and the reloaded cartridges enthusiastically flung themselves in all directions. Denys Reitz, in his book “Commando”, describes how he and his comrades followed the columns of soldiers. Along the route and wherever the Brits had halted, plenty of lost ammunition could be picked up by the Boers, who were using captured Lee-Metford rifles This misuse, from the Mills Company’s viewpoint, prejudiced field commanders against all webbing. Amongst the “hide bound officialdom” (to use Lethern’s oh-so-appropriate phrase), who gave damning reports against web, were Generals French, Plumer, Baden-Powell, Lord Roberts, and Lord Kitchener himself.
    ‘This problem was known at the time and instructions were issued to modify the heavier web waistbelts, which were actually being used as bandoliers. Leather (sometimes fabric) flaps were stitched along the top edge, secured to brass studs. M.W.C.B.Co. also re-designed the heavier bandoliers to have a continuous web flap. However, mud had been thrown and it had stuck, at least in the minds of senior officers. The damage had been done.’

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