The elephant-mounted mobile mortars of the Transvaal Free State were employed to devastating effect against Imperial troops during the early engagements of the Second Transvaal War in 1899.
The guerilla fighters of the Transvaal would strike at supply convoys and camps in short, sharp raids whilst avoiding traditional mass engagements with Imperial forces. The elephant mortars were loaded with shells designed to scatter shrapnel over a large area, killing few but injuring many. In the hot, fetid conditions these injuries would quickly become infected, and the resulting numbers of incapacitated troops threatened to overwhelm the limited Imperial hospital provision.
Following his succesful defence of the town of Mafeking, Colonel Robert Baden-Powell was charged by Imperial Army Command with responsibility for ending the Transvaal elephant threat by any means possible. Baden-Powell was to pioneer the use of 'defoliant tactics' where forested areas believed likely to harbour guerillas would be subject to aerial bombardment with incendiary chemical mixtures. Whilst resulting in the unfortunate extermination of much of the region's wildlife, this aggressive 'scorched earth' strategy quickly neutralised the Transvaal elephant menace.
Without mortar support, the Free State troops became much less effective at disrupting Imperial movements and supplies, and although a limited insurgency continued to cause order issues throughout Southern Africa for years, the Second Transvaal War was effectively over. Victory in the conflict ensured Imperial control of the massive Cavorite mines of Witwatersrand, at the time the largest deposits of the mineral to have been identified.
A collection of further photographic images, many of them reproduced in full colour, may be viewed here.