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The "Battle of Isandhlwana" by Charles Edwin Fripp. Fought between the Zulu of South Africa and the British Empire.

Colonial war is a blanket term relating to the various conflicts that arose as the result of overseas territories being settled by foreign powers creating a colony. The term especially refers to wars fought during the nineteenth century between European armies in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

The wars may be split into several categories.

First, a revolt of the indigenous population against rule by the Imperial power. In the 19th century these were rarely successful due to the technological and organisational superiority of the Imperial forces. One notable success was the Haitian slave revolt against French rule. In the 20th century these types of conflict were often termed "Wars of National Liberation" and due to better armaments and a heavily politicised leadership strategy achieved much better results by wearing down the will of the Imperial power to continue with an expensive and politically unpopular struggle rather than militarily defeating them, although the Vietnamese also managed the latter against the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 leading to their expulsion from Indo-China.

Second, war of self-determination by settlers and descendants of settlers against rule by the "mother country". This did not necessarily involve what was left of any indigenous population but often took the form of a civil war between supporters of the status quo and separatist revolutionaries. The prime example of this was the American War of Independence against British rule followed by the various Latin American wars of independence against the Spanish Empire. Success was often dependent on external factors and alliances; the rebellious North American colonists were helped by their French allies winning naval superiority at a crucial time.

Third, a conflict with neighbours of the colony as part of Imperial policy, either expansionism such as the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer wars of the late nineteenth century and the Italian invasion of Abyssinia or as part of a wider conflict such as the World War I campaigns between British/Belgian/French colonial forces and their German neighbours in Africa and Asia.

Victory against colonial powers[edit | edit source]

Although colonial wars usually resulted in victory for the European forces in the long term, there were several defeats for their forces, especially in the early stages of a conflict, when the Imperial power had not brought its full force to bear. These include the Battle of Isandhlwana and the Battle of Adowa, where overconfident European forces were defeated by native African soldiery. In both of these battles, the African armies greatly outnumbered the European armies, suffered heavy casualties but overwhelmed their enemy.

Italian Troops firing on the Turks in Tripoli. 1911

Examples[edit | edit source]

Examples of colonial wars include the Java War, the Indian Rebellion, and various conflicts waged during the Scramble for Africa, such as the Anglo-Zulu War and the Mahdist War. The Anglo-Ashanti Wars of the late 1800s were a typical example of colonial warfare, in which small British armies, equipped with modern artillery and machine guns, repeatedly defeated much larger forces of local warriors. During the 19th century and early 20th century colonial period there was endemic warfare on the frontiers of many colonies in tribal areas, notably for the British Empire on the North West frontier of India, for the French and Spanish in their North African colonies and for the United States in North America.

See also[edit | edit source]

Other uses[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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