A Military History of Modern South Africa

Ian van der Waag

A century of South African military history in a single volume, the first of its kind. Includes the Second Anglo-Boer War, the two world wars, and also the South African Border War.
Date Published :
April 2018
Publisher :
Illustration :
12 Illustrations/Maps
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781612005829
Pages : 420
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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Twentieth-century South Africa saw continuous, often rapid and fundamental socioeconomic and political change. The century started with a brief but total war. Less than ten years later Britain brought the conquered Boer republics and the Cape and Natal colonies together into the Union of South Africa.

The Union Defence Force (UDF, later SADF), was deployed during most of the major wars of the century as well as a number of internal and regional struggles: the two world wars, Korea, uprising and rebellion on the part of Afrikaner and black nationalists, and industrial unrest. The century ended as it started, with another war. This was a flash point of the Cold War, which embraced more than just the subcontinent and lasted a long, thirty years. The outcome included the final withdrawal of foreign troops from southern Africa, the withdrawal of South African forces from Angola and Namibia, and the transfer of political power away from a white elite to a broad-based democracy.

This book is the first study of the South African armed forces as an institution and of the complex roles that these forces played in the wars, rebellions, uprisings and protests of the period. It deals in the first instance with the evolution of South African defense policy, the development of the armed forces and the people who served in and commanded them. It also places the narrative within the broader national past, to produce a fascinating study of a century packed full of episode and personality in which South Africa was uniquely embroiled in three total wars.

About The Author

Ian van der Waag is Professor and head of Department of Military History at Stellenbosch University and a fellow of the United States Military Academy West Point Summer Program. He completed an MA at the University of Pretoria, and a PhD at the University of Cape Town and has published widely on South African military history.


list of maps
list of figures
list of tables


Chapter One: South Africa, 1899–1902: The Last Gentleman’s War?
The geopolitical landscape and the rival strategies
Boer and Briton
The Boer offensive and the battles of the frontiers
The British invasion of the republics
The change in Boer strategy
The British counterinsurgency strategy: logistics, blockhouses, mobile columns, camps
Drives: mobile columns and armoured trains
Boer tactics
Political warfare
The butcher’s bill

Chapter Two: Integration and Union, 1902–1914
Empire, military organisation and the threat perception
Pacification of the highveld and creation of the Transvaal Volunteers
The politics of military integration: the forging of the Union Defence Force

Chapter Three: The First World War, 1914–1918
The politics of participation
A bad beginning: gambits and crises
Military reform and the second invasion of South West Africa
Raising and dispatch of expeditionary forces
German East Africa, 1915–1918
The Middle East: Egypt and Palestine
France: mud and trenches

Chapter Four: The Inter-war Years, 1919–1939
Defence policy, strategic calculations and threat perception
Demobilisation, rationalisation and reorganisation
Technology, military innovation and organisational politics
Politics: domestic and Commonwealth
Revised threat perception and policy change
Political opposition and mobilisation

Chapter Five: The Second World War, 1939–1945
Politics, domestic and imperial
A house divided: subversion, propaganda and secret agents
The mobilisation of the Union Defence Force
Home waters: the expansion of an air force and the creation of a navy
Production and consumption
Military operations in Africa, June 1940 to November 1942
The 1943 election and the politics of reorganisation
Military operations in Europe, April 1944 to May 1945
Human impact of a total war: prisoners, partisans, pregnancies

Chapter Six: Change and Continuity: The Early Cold War, 1945–1966
Defence policy, threat perceptions and counterstrategies
Deployment: Berlin and Korea
Erasmus and the SADF: force design and military capability
The revitalisation of the SADF

Chapter Seven: Hot War in Southern Africa, 1959–1989
The changing strategic landscape and threat perception
PW Botha, ‘total strategy’, and the shaping of defence policy
The strategic and tactical conditions of the Angolan war
Internal security and a renewed armed struggle
External security, 1978–1984: cross-border raids, envelopments
Revolt in the townships
External security, 1984–1986
Incipient revolution, 1986–1989

Chapter Eight: The South African National Defence Force, 1994 to circa 2000
Toward a post-apartheid defence policy
The transformation of the military: integration, rationalisation and demobilisation
The National Peacekeeping Force (NPKF): the first integration test
The politics of integration and transformation
New roles for the armed forces
Conclusion: (Dis)Continuities



covers colonial actions, the two world wars, and the Cold War era through to post-apartheid

- Christopher Miskimon, Military Heritage, September 2019

“Any volume that provides such spectacular knowledge about military forces in a country has to be of some use - my only knowledge of South Africa concerns the politics of apartheid and Mandela. This superb book goes a long way to providing me with extra knowledge about this extraordinary nation.”

- Books Monthly

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