Print version ISSN 0018-229X
SPIERS, Edward M.. The learning curve in the South African War: Soldiers' perspectives. Historia [online]. 2010, vol.55, n.1, pp. 1-17. ISSN 0018-229X.
The British military performance in the South African War not only confounded prewar expectations but also aroused controversy about what had caused the underestimation of a well-armed, mobile enemy and the failure to anticipate the tactical challenges posed by fire zones, swept by smokeless magazine rifles. Although the sweeping criticisms of Leo Amery, which held sway for over 70 years, have been modified by more recent historiography, this essay uses the correspondence of British soldiers to argue that the British victory was not simply a product of numerical superiority and an ability to deny any foreign intervention on behalf of the Boers. It claims that the British army, and its much-maligned soldiery, proved resilient and adaptable in South Africa, capable of learning in the field, and of conducting counterguerrilla operations across a vast terrain in a way that would ultimately undermine the enemy's will to resist. While the more perceptive Boers recognised that the British had improved in their field craft and tactical skills neither the British press, disenchanted with a protracted war, nor the military themselves, valued this learning process inasmuch as the war seemed to be largely anomalous with only limited lessons for the future.
Keywords : British army; learning curve; army reform; South African War; counter-guerrilla operations..