December 10th 1899 – “Black Week” in South Africa

The Second Anglo-Boer War (sometimes referenced simply as the Boer War in the UK although there was an earlier conflict fought between 1880 and 1881) was fought between the British Empire in Africa and the Boers, a combined force from the South African Republic and the Republic of the Orange Free State. The Boer Republics declared war on Britain on October 11th 1899 after years of escalation and fears of Britain attempting to annex their territories for their gold and diamond deposits. The war would last until May 31st 1902 with a British victory and the absorption of their defeated foe’s lands in to the British Empire.

In 1899, Britain was overconfident regarding the state of her imperial security in the south African region and as such was woefully under-prepared for when the Boers struck. The Boer forces moved through much of the sparsely defended countryside while laying siege to the fortified British positions in towns like Kimberley and Ladysmith.

Then in one disastrous week beginning on December 10th 1899, the British Army suffered three devastating defeats by the forces of the Boer Republics. This week would become known as “Black Week”. The first came at Stormberg where Sir William Gatacre’s exhausted forces were beaten after undertaking a night march through heavy rain.

Second 2nd Anglo Boer War South Africa Black Week 1899 1902The next day on December 11th, an expedition under Lord Methuen that had been attempting to relieve the besieged town of Kimberley was also defeated by Boer forces at Magersfontein. Among the 1,000 British casualties at Magersfontein was Major-General Andrew Gilbert Wauchope CB CMG whose loss exacerbated the sense of disaster regarding the battle in Africa and back home.

On the following Friday, Commander-in-Chief of British forces in South Africa General Sir Redvers Henry Buller VC GCB GCMG was defeated attempting to relieve the town of Ladysmith. The battle at Colenso cost over 1,000 British casualties and forced Redvers in to retreat. This defeat brought an end to the “Black Week” and proved a wake-up call to the British who began a massive build-up of reinforcements.

There were several factors that led to these disasters. Firstly, the British forces in Africa were used to fighting rebel tribesmen armed with spears rather than a well disciplined force armed with equivalent weapons to themselves. The British also struggled to organise themselves effectively beyond the immediate battlefield which meant opportunities to take advantage of weaknesses in the Boer lines were missed. Finally, the Boers were fighting in territory they had grown up in whereas much of the British force consisted of troops brought in from across the Empire such as Australia and New Zealand as well as Britain itself.

All these lessons would be learned and through 1900 and 1901 the Boers would be beaten back until their final defeat in 1902.


Reservists deployed to Falklands

Falklands sign

120 reserve paratroopers have been deployed to the Falkland Islands. It is the first time that a reserve force has been deployed to help garrison the islands since the British government was forced to fortify them in the wake of the 1982 Falklands War. The paratroopers are said to all hail from Lincoln in the East Midlands.

A source in the MoD told the Express;

This is a great opportunity to give them a focus. In the past we’ve pennypacketed reservists. You’d have a group of 20, including a sergeant, put in among regulars. It meant reservist officers never got to command. This allows them to experience duties which are difficult to do here.

The deployment reflects the British Army’s growing trend towards greater use of part-time forces to complement full-time personnel. Known as “Future Army 2020”, the aim is to integrate regular and reserve personnel in to a more harmonious force than has been the case in the past. This would consist of a planned 82,000 regular personnel supported by 30,000 trained reservists. A consequence of this will be that reserve troops will be deployed more frequently on operations in the future. The plan was conceived in 2012 as a response to the then coalition government’s sweeping reforms in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.

The MoD admits however that recruitment and retention of personnel is becoming an increasing problem. Recently, the Army introduced gift vouchers to soldiers who could convince friends to sign up indicating just how serious the problem is. Unfortunately, personnel shortages affect all branches of the armed forces and this will no doubt only further the use of reserve personnel in order to maintain the UK’s operational commitments.


NEWS: US General now serving in British Army

Emphasizing the special relationship between British and American forces a US Army General has assumed the role of Deputy Commander, 3rd (UK) Division at Bulford Camp, Wiltshire. Addressing the men and women under his new command Brigadier General Michael J. Tarsa said;

This is a distinct honour and I couldn’t be more delighted to be stood here abrest with you. I wear my nation’s uniform as a member of the US Army, but I now have the privilege to be part of the British Army and 3rd United Kingdom Division. I hope to serve both with great distinction and I’m proud to be stood here in your ranks.

The 3rd (UK) Division has a rich heritage as the oldest fighting division in the British Army having earned the nickname The Iron Division in the trenches of the Western Front during the First World War. Among its battle honours are Waterloo and Normandy while today it commands more than 16,000 troops forming the British Army’s high-readiness ‘Reaction Force.’

This latest appointment is only the most recent example of just how intermixed and closely coupled British and American forces. In the past RAF pilots have been the only foreign pilots to fly the F-117 Nighthawk ‘stealth fighter’ while during operations over Iraq Tornado missions were flown entirely by US crews on exchange. The US Navy regularly send officers to take part in the Royal Navy Submarine Corps’ infamous ‘perisher’ command training course considered by many to be the most intensive submarine training course in the world.

NEWS: Army reduction ahead of schedule

British soldier army 2013 defence images

The reduction in strength of the British Army is almost three years ahead of schedule according to Ministry of Defence personnel figures released this week as the culture of returning to civilian employment grows within the ranks. In July 2010 the British Army stood at 102,260 active military personnel but the subsequent defence review following the coming to power of the coalition government saw the Army having to cut the number of active personnel down to around the 82,000 mark by 2018 as part of a major restructuring program known as “Army 2020”.

However that figure has already been reached ahead of the next review due later this year thanks largely to the Army’s efforts to encourage voluntary redundancies. Nearly every issue of the Army’s Soldier magazine in recent years has offered advice and help to those who would chose to leave and now it seems the effort has been too effective with current numbers for active duty personnel being 81,700. The drop off in the number of active service personnel was meant to be made up by an increase in part time reserve forces however the number of applicants for reserve units has not been as high as hoped. By April of this year the trained strength of the volunteer Army Reserve had reached 21,030, an increase of 1,000 on the same time last year but still well short of the 30,000 target set for 2018 when the Army was supposed to be at its current strength.

This has lead many analysts and observers to question whether the British Army has the manpower to meet all of its requirements in the coming years while the number of reserve forces are built up. The MoD issued a statement to address the concerns saying;

This government is committed to an army of 82,000 and the funding is in place to deliver it. We have the manpower we need at the moment and, working with the army, we are taking clear action to keep driving recruitment upwards.

27th July 1880 – Battle of Maiwand


The Battle of Maiwand on 27 July 1880 was one of the principal battles of the Second Anglo-Afgan War. Under the leadership of Ayub Khan the Afghans defeated two brigades of British and Indian troops under the command of Brigadier General George Burrows. Their success was at a high price however with between 2,050 and 2,750 Afghan warriors killed and another 1,500 wounded. British and Indian forces suffered 969 soldiers killed and 177 wounded.

The battle dampened morale for the British side, but was also partly a disappointment for Ayub Khan because he had lost so many men to gain a small advantage. Ayub Khan did manage to shut the British up in Kandahar, resulting in General Frederick Roberts’s famous 314-mile relief march from Kabul to Kandahar in August 1880. The resulting Battle of Kandahar on September 1 was a decisive victory for the British.

(Source: Wikipedia)