The Guerrilla War

Lord Kitchener saw the final phase of the war as "insensate resistance". It was to continue for nearly two years - from March 1900 to the end of the war. While the very mobile Boer riflemen could avoid capture and secure the necessary ammunition and basic foodstuffs - in most cases from the British army itself, they could exist indefinitely as the "gadfly of regular armies". For the Boers in the veld it was a feat of endurance. All semblances of conventional military activity disappeared.

Destruction of British Communication Lines

General JH (Koos) de la Rey by Philip Terblanche - War Museum of the Boer Republics

The Boers launched their extensive guerrilla campaign against the occupying British forces after a decisive military council meeting held at Kroonstad on 17 March 1900. Here they decided that one of their main objectives would be to try and destroy the British lines of communication. Railway depots and bridges were continually destructed and assaulted. The Boers also regrouped their forces in small, mobile units that lived off the land. They achieved remarkable success in evading capture, seizing British supplies and disrupting railway communications. One hundred and thirty-five train-wrecking incidents were recorded between December 1900 and September 1901. Some battles fought in the Free State during during this period were Rooiwal (7 June 1900), Doornkraal at Bothaville, (6 November 1900), Groenkop (25 December 1900) and the hot pursuit operations aimed at General De Wet in February and March 1902. Although De la Rey's half-hearted siege of the British camp at Elands River was a failure, he and his generals harassed the British at Nooitgedacht (13 December 1900), Tweebosch (7 March 1902) and Roodewal (11 October 1902) during the final months of the war.

In the eastern Transvaal a period of comparative calm followed the Battle of Bergendal. However in a nocturnal attack on 29/29 December 1900 General Ben Viljoen overwhelmed the British garrison at Helvetia. On 28 Janaury 1901 Kitchener launched the first great drive. His target was the Transvaal highveld between the Delagoa Bay and Natal railway lines. Most of the commondos offered little or no resistance since they knew they were outnumbered. However they did manage to break through the British lines in smaller numbers. Behind the lines they were safe though the destruction brought about by the advancing British brought great shortages of food. Among those who broke through the lines was General Louis Botha who attacked Major-General Smith Dorrien at Chrissiesmeer on 6 February 1901.

During the latter stages of the war Natal was quiet and it was only General Louis Botha's failed attempt at an incursion from September to October 1901 that disrupted the newly established tranquillity.