The British eventually subjugated the Boers in the same manner as the Northern States under Lincoln subjugated the American South, with overwhelming military and economic might, but not superior fighting ability or leadership. Within twenty years of their victory over the Boers, the British were again fighting in a desperate war which cost a total of 40 million lives. Of that number, nearly 900,000 British and colonial troops died in trench warfare, hopeless infantry charges against machine guns and terrifying artillery barrages. With American assistance, the British and French were victorious, imposed a punitive defeat upon Germany, and set the stage for a nationalist leader to seek revenge for his defeated country.
Machine Guns and Poor Tactics
“Almost a year after the successful conclusion of the Sudan campaign, the British Army found itself at war again in Africa, right at the other end of the continent, and this time the enemy was not natives armed with spears and a grasp of tactics which was straight out of the Dark Ages, but Europeans with Mauser repeating rifles and Maxims of their own, who proved themselves to be masters of mobile warfare.
This is considered the first time machine-gun-armed armies had faced each other . . . and it was, as Rudyard Kipling was to comment presciently in The Captive, published in 1903, ‘A dress parade for Armageddon.’
The Boers 37mm ‘pom-pom’ Maxims proved to be particularly effective against British field artillery detachments, often reducing them completely before they could get into action.
British infantry sent into the set-piece battles such as Magersfontein, Colenso and Paderberg with no better tactics (though considerably better discipline) than the Khalifa’s Dervishes had employed against them in the Sudan; they advanced over open ground with fixed bayonets, and were cut down in swathes by the machine guns of defenders they couldn’t even see.
The tactics of close-quarter battle which General James Woolf had devised after Culloden in 1746 and used so successfully against the French in Canada, and which successive British generals had adopted throughout the nineteenth century, were finally beaten, though few in London – or, indeed, in any of the other capital cities of the world – would yet acknowledge the fact, and it was to take further decade and the bloodiest, most costly war the world had ever seen to drive the message firmly home.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is incredible that the British Army, which had been instrumental in obtaining proof that the machine gun was absolutely lethal when deployed in defensive positions, had not itself learned the lessons it had taught so widely and so effectively, but that was true not only in 1899, but also in 1914.”
(The World’s Great Machine Guns: 1860 to the Present, Roger Ford, Barnes & Noble Books, 1999, pp. 32-33)