Britain had fought the Boer settlers in South Africa in the Anglo-Boer wars (1880-1, 1899-1902), so in 1914 many Afrikaaners sympathised with Germany. While Prime Minister, Botha was raising an expedition to invade German South West Africa, pro-German Boers raised a rebellion against British authority. This was not fully suppressed until early 1915 and only then could the invasion of South West Africa be fully launched. On 5 March 1916 South African Troops, led by General Jan Smuts, invaded East Africa in their confrontation with German forces.
More than 146 000 Whites, 83 000 Blacks and 2 500 people of mixed race and Asians served in South African military units during the war, including 43,000 in German South-West Africa and 30 000 on the Western Front. An estimated 3,000 South Africans also joined the Royal Flying Corps. The total number of South African casualties during the war was approximately 7000 dead and 12 000 wounded by 1918.
South Africa greatly assisted the Allies, and Great Britain in particular, in capturing the two German colonies of German West Africa and German East Africa (although many South African troops were tied down by the failure to capture all the German East Africa forces) as well as in battles in Western Europe and the Middle East. South Africa's ports and harbors, such as at Cape Town, Durban, and Simon's Town, were also important rest-stops, refueling-stations, and served as strategic assets to the British Royal Navy during the war, helping to keep the vital sea lanes to the British Raj open.
Military action against Germany during World War IThe South African Union Defence Force saw action in a number areas:
- It dispatched its army to German South-West Africa, later known as South West Africa, and now known as Namibia. The South Africans expelled German forces and gained control of the former German colony. (See German South-West Africa in World War I.)
- A military expedition under General Jan Smuts was dispatched to German East Africa (later known as Tanganyika) and now known as Tanzania. The objective was to fight German forces in that colony and to try to capture the elusive German General von Lettow-Vorbeck. Ultimately, Lettow-Vorbeck fought his tiny force out of German East Africa into Mozambique then Northern Rhodesia, where he accepted a cease-fire three days after the end of the war (see East African Campaign (World War I)).
- 1st South African Brigade troops were shipped to France to fight on the Western Front. The most costly battle that the South African forces on the Western Front fought in was the Battle of Delville Wood in 1916. (See South African Army in World War I and South African Overseas Expeditionary Force.)
- South Africans also saw action with the Cape Corps as part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in Palestine. (See Cape Corps 1915–1991)
- (2003) Focus: Milestones, The Star, 5 March.
- The First World War, combatant states, South Africa [online]. Available at: channel4.com [accessed 27 February 2009]