Fact file: Natal Carbineers


The Natal Carbineers said to be the oldest volunteer regiment in the former British Empire and the senior regiment of the SA Army1. The unit has fought in every conflict “logistically possible” since its establishment as the Pietermaritzburg Irregular Horse at a meeting of volunteers in the Pietermaritzburg court house on January 15, 1855.

The unit was in action against Bushmen and Zulus within 12 months of being formed. It suffered serious losses – 21 killed – at Isandlwana in 1879 during a “most valiant rearguard action.”2 The unit took part in nearly every battle of the South African Anglo Boer War in the Natal theatre. While the bulk of the unit was trapped in Ladysmith for the siege, one squadron was part of the relief force. It was this squadron that raced to the assistance of the ambushed armoured train – but by then it was too late and its crew, including war corespondent Winston Spencer Churchill, were killed or captured. The squadron and another from the Imperial Light Horse led the relief force into Ladysmith. That part of the unit inside the town was not inactive, taking part in the night attack on Gun Hill and the actions at Wagon Hill and Caesar’s Camp. After that conflict, the Natal Carbineers were mobilised three times in 1906 and 1907 to help suppress the Zulu (Bambatha) rebellion.

The regiment was called to the colours on August 8, 1914 for service in German South West Africa, where its two battalions formed part of 7 Mounted Brigade landed at Luderitzbucht. The regiment fought at Gibeon on April 27 and entered Windhuk on July 5, 1915. Volunteers were then seconded to other units and some fought in Egypt, Libya (the Senussi rebellion), Palestine and France, but most served in East Africa.

Between the wars, the regiment received several rare honours, including having three reigning monarchs as successive Colonels-in-Chief. In 1935 it became the Royal Natal Carbineers. It was forced to drop the “Royal” from its title in 1961. During World War Two, the regiment again provided two battalions, the first fighting as infantry and the second forming the 6th Recce Regiment, SA Tank Corps and fighting in Egypt. As part of 1 SA Brigade, the regiment was present at the first South African action of the conflict, at El Wak, on the Ethio-Kenyan frontier and as part of 6 SA Armoured Division witnessed the surrender of German forces in northern Italy in late April 1945. Sergeant GM Quentin Smythe won the country’s only Victoria Cross of the war at Alem Hamza on June 5, 1942.

Post war, the Royal Natal Carbineers helped “restore order” during the 1960 emergency and later contributed troops to the Namibian border conflict.

Current role: Motorised infantry.

Current base:

Battle honours:

  • South Africa 18793

  • Defence of Ladysmith

  • South Africa 1899-1902

  • Natal 1906

  • Gibeon

  • South West Africa 1914-5

  • El Wak

  • El Yibo

  • The Juba

  • Combolcia

  • Amba Alagi

  • East Africa 1940-1

  • Sidi Rezegh 1941

  • Bir Sciafsciuf

  • Gubi II

  • Gazala

  • Point 204

  • Best Post

  • Tobruk 1942

  • Alamein Defence

  • Qattara Track

  • El Alamein

  • Western Desert 1941-43

  • Cassino II

  • Paliano

  • Bagnoregio

  • Citta della Pieve

  • Chiusi

  • Florence

  • The Greve

  • Gothic Line

  • Monte Vigese

  • Monte Stanco

  • Monte Pezza

  • Monte Salvaro

  • Po Valley

  • Italy 1943-5

Motto: Pro Patria (For fatherland).

1 Capt KC van Niekerk, Natal Command in Focus, Communications Section, Natal Command, Durban, c1996. The claim is, however, disputed.

2 Ditto.

3 Inherited from an earlier volunteer unit.