From Boer War to World War
Tactical Reform of the British Army, 1902–1914
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
The British Expeditionary Force at the start of World War I was tiny by the standards of the other belligerent powers. Yet, when deployed to France in 1914, it prevailed against the German army because of its professionalism and tactical skill, strengths developed through hard lessons learned a dozen years earlier. In October 1899, the British went to war against the South African Boer republics of Transvaal and Orange Free State, expecting little resistance. A string of early defeats in the Boer War shook the military’s confidence. Historian Spencer Jones focuses on this bitter combat experience in From Boer War to World War, showing how it crucially shaped the British Army’s tactical development in the years that followed.
Before the British Army faced the Boer republics, an aura of complacency had settled over the military. The Victorian era had been marked by years of easy defeats of crudely armed foes. The Boer War, however, brought the British face to face with what would become modern warfare. The sweeping, open terrain and advent of smokeless powder meant soldiers were picked off before they knew where shots had been fired from. The infantry’s standard close-order formations spelled disaster against the well-armed, entrenched Boers. Although the British Army ultimately adapted its strategy and overcame the Boers in 1902, the duration and cost of the war led to public outcry and introspection within the military.
Jones draws on previously underutilized sources as he explores the key tactical lessons derived from the war, such as maximizing firepower and using natural cover, and he shows how these new ideas were incorporated in training and used to effect a thorough overhaul of the British Army. The first book to address specific connections between the Boer War and the opening months of World War I, Jones’s fresh interpretation adds to the historiography of both wars by emphasizing the continuity between them.
"In this well-written, convincing study, Spencer Jones admirably demonstrates how the British Expeditionary Force was shaped by the lessons of the Boer War. He shows that the Boer War period is crucial in terms of military history and the transformation of ideas, and that it has been overlooked by historians of World War I for too long. This is an important work.”—Stephen M. Miller, author of Volunteers on the Veld: Britain’s Citizen Soldiers and the South African War, 1899–1902
“Spencer Jones’s thorough research, combined with a full awareness of the existing literature, makes this a valuable contribution to our understanding of the lessons learnt from the Boer War by the British Army and their importance for British tactical reforms before the Great War. As the author succinctly proves, the tactical foundations of the victories of 1914 were laid down by the bitter experience of the Boer War and subsequent reforms. Reading Jones’s work is an immense pleasure.”—Fransjohan Pretorius, author of Historical Dictionary of the Anglo-Boer War and The Great Escape of the Boer Pimpernel: Christiaan de Wet—The Making of a Legend
From Boer War to World War is on the must-read list for anyone with a serious interest in twentieth-century British military history—Journal of British Studies