The final chapter of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Great Boer War draws upon observations made in the course of narrating specific military actions. I have summarized some of Doyle's recommendations, added a few observations made by others, and offered some of my own made with 20/20 hindsight:
England’s armed forces need civilian oversight, in large part because military leaders are too set in their ways and ignore technological developments, such as the one-piece artillery shell. Another case in point: failing to grasp the significance of the Maxim pompom for modern warfare, the army rejected a weapon that then devastated British forces. (They adopted it belatedly).
British and Imperial forces fought with great bravery, even when poorly led, and eventually adjusted to tactics required for fighting in South Africa.
Over-centralization of command not only harmed development of junior officers in the field but also led to unnecessary delay and consequent losses.
Larger numbers of troops and supplies, rather than outstanding tactics and strategies, won the war.
The Boers, who fought with great bravery and knowledge of the terrain, were most effective — and caused greatest number of casualties — in (a) guerilla warfare and (b) defending terrain with with kopjes (or rocky outcroppings), but did poorly with sustained attacks or sieges, which often degenerated into mere blockades.
Irregular and colonial forces fought with great bravery and sometimes surpassed long-standing units with honored traditions.
Modern infantry training, particularly marksmanship, is necessary, as are the skills required in fighting in different kinds of terrain.
Modern warfare and military technology requires more intelligent, better educated enlisted men.
For their own safety officers must not be so easily identifiable
Officers, who proved themselves extremely brave, require far more professional training.
As in the Crimean War, inadequate clothing, especially poorly made boots, hindered military operations and caused unnecessary discomfort.
Cavalry should be replaced by mounted infantry — that is, horses (or other means of transportration) should be used to move infantry. Cavalry, like the sword, has no function in modern warfare.
Machine guns and entrenchment give defenders enormous advantages over attackers — a lesson not learned until well into WW I.
The artillery, which has proved effective only against massed troops or fortifications, requires radically different tactics and improved weapons when used against dispersed targets. Guns should not always be grouped and should use cover where possible.
Accurate rifle- and machine-gun fire are far more effective against dispersed troops than artillery.
The army must develop ways to protect troops from friendly fire.
The engineers and sappers in every branch performed excellently.
Transport and our commissariat did a generally fine job.
The Medical Department needs new approaches. In particular, it must be prepared for epidemics as well as military casualties.
Germany, which had finer steel and better technology, sent troops and equipment to test against British and Imperial forces — a preparation for the first World War.
Civilians joined soldiers as victims of modern warfare — a return to pre-eighteenth-century warfare.
Created 23 December 2014