Sunday, 20 May 2012

Jan and John

The (Second) Boer War, famously touted as being “over by Christmas”, lasted from 1899 to 1902. Its lessons were ruinous on a personal level and important on an institutional one. Thousands of British and Imperial citizen-soldiers died needlessly carrying out antiquated tactical manoeuvres against modern weaponry, but under the hot African sun, the British army learnt the lessons that would carry it through the maelstrom of 1914. 

The Boer War bridged the 19th and 20th centuries in more ways than the simply chronological. The British went into battle holding to the Napoleonic forms of the Crimea, albeit with khaki uniforms. By now too used to fighting native forces with more courage than bullets, the Boers with their German rifles and French artillery were a nasty shock. Battalions shook out into looser and looser formations as the war went on. The creeping artillery bombardment made its debut, as did the horror of the concentration camp once the war hit its guerilla phase. The Irish Brigade that fought for the Boers brought home valuable experience to the Republican Army. The African school born in the Sudan and brought to fruition here included French, Haig, Gough and Kitchener. It is in some ways fair to say that, in commanders as well as tactics, the British Army of 1914 was created on the bushveldt in 1900.

I've always enjoyed transitional periods, struggling with tactics in the same way (hopefully) as contemporary commanders. That is why I was delighted when Richard Clarke of the Too Fat Lardies very generously gave me the chance to playtest his Kop That! Rules for the Boer War. It was as fascinating as the war itself to see the interplay of TFL mechanics with the asymmetric nature of the conflict. Though in the early months the Boers took the strategic offensive, they were tactically defensive for the greatest part of the war, only attacking in small scale raids.

Another thing about the Boer War, as alluded to in the title, is the fellow-feeling and hatred between the participants. Both sides were white, northern European Protestants who felt a certain level of kinship, which made the war all the crueller as both sides ground towards their inevitable bloody conclusion – almost like a civil war.

Apart from the fact that the Boers took on the British Empire on purpose, the scale of the veldt is one of the most eye-opening things about the conflict. The terrain was totally unlike the cramped fields and hedgerows of European warfare – wide, open, and studded with flat, rocky hills. Mr Clarke uses 6mm to display the grandeur of the African terrain, but I have only small tables, so I stuck with my 2mm.

Irregular Miniatures provided me with quite a lot for my £25. Despite a lot of spare cavalry, limbers, wagons, officers and a few un-based infantry, I already have 128 stands, which represent approximately 1,700 Boers with officers and 6 guns, against 4,300 British and officers with 9 guns. This of course does not count off-table artillery! I'll be adding plenty more cavalry to both sides, and using some of my modern 2mm to provide maxim guns to everybody.
In game terms, this gives five full-size British battalions with artillery and four squadrons of cavalry in support. The Boers fought in irregularly sized formations called commandos, so further labels than numbers aren't really helpful outside a specific battle. As the start of a collection, not at all shabby! And as ever, Irregular's turnaround was exemplary.
The Boers and British at their staging posts on Plas Ticktrey Kop.

I've decided to test Kop That! before putting my African scenery together. If anyone knows where to get cheap coir matting or stiff carpet in the Nottingham, UK area, please do say. Therefore, my inaugural scenario will take place not in the Bush, but in the agricultural areas around Ladysmith, during Buller's pushback after Spion Kop and the bloodshed over the Tugela. More on that story, later...


  1. Just tracked back to this post from your later (excellent) battle reports. Well done indeed, Sir, for going for it in the Boer War. I am sure you'll really enjoy the games. I am very impressed with your 2mm collection - and all for an unbeatable £25. And very, very nice they look too ! Did they take long to paint?

  2. Not to paint, it's a very simple and enjoyable process at this scale. Basing them takes as long as for any other scale though, which dramatically increases the prep time.

    Thank you for your praise, by the way. I've been following Roundwood's World for quite some time, so it means a lot.