I just finished reading Churchill's book from "London to Ladysmith via Pretoria" on my Kindle. A great book. But, I got a little frustrated with reading about the generalship of Sir Redvers Buller. It seems he was fond of taking his time to prep for battle (worse than Monty in WWII), too much time it seems, and letting the initiative pass to the Boers.
With regards to the Relief of Ladysmith, he never had a clear understanding of the terrain/physical geography that he was facing. Never had a clear understanding of how to use recon and intel resources. Was fond of the frontal assault. His troops would take one hill, and then find there is a taller one behind it with more Boers or not. His artillery was never as good as the Staats Artillerie. The Boer artillery and riflemen always seemed to find the senior British officers and kill them. Furthermore, it seemed he was fond of taking a ridge or a hill, then sitting there, entrench, and resume "offensive" operations in a day or two. Thus, the giving plenty of time for the Boers to re-entrench and fortify new positions ahead of their troops.
Were most British Generals in this war like Buller? or is he a unique situation?
I think Buller and other British generals were slow to adapt to the new type of warfare they faced in South Africa in 1899. They had little regard for the Colonial mounted infantry under their command and used these men for patrolling and scouting only. I find it surprising that Buller was so hidebound, given his experience as a light infantryman in the Zulu War.
The value of light or mounted infantry in aggressive actions did eventually penetrate the minds of the British generals, hence the later order for such units to be trained in many, or most British infantry regiments serving in South Africa. It was largely a light horseman's war and there was little use for the British cavalry regiments and their by then antiquated method of engaging the enemy. Only the emergence of armoured vehicles in World War I saved the cavalry from the extinction that had been heralded by the Boer War.
I also think that the British high command greatly underestimated the determination and abilities of the Boers, an arrogance probably born of earlier experiences in putting down the opposition in so many of Victoria's little wars.
Brett makes some good points and I agree with him that the British generals were slow to realise the capabilities of the Boers and consequently started the war as they had done other Victorian conflicts, with an arrogant disregard of their foe. This can be seen in the approach of Generals such as Methuen, Penn Symons and, of course, Buller.
Some say that the generals who had fought in India were better prepared than the commanders who had experienced African warfare. Penn Symons had spent a long time in India and this does not hold true for him and there were other generals with very little field experience and were thus less prepared than their peers.