Fact file: The Ordnance Service Corps

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Until recently – but allowing for the Romans – armies normally lived “off the land”, meaning they looted townsman and peasant, stripping the countryside bare as they went along. In pre-industrial times there was usually little surplus agricultural production, and what there was could not be easily moved.

Pic: The SANDF Mobilisation Centre at De Brug. A typical depot.   

This limited the size of armies and the time of year they could fight. From there the term “campaigning season” – in Europe, this was August and September: just before or after harvest time. While soldiers did forage, much of the logistics function was left to “camp followers”, the large crowd of men and women that followed field armies around, providing the troops any manner of domestic and related services. Industrialisation – and Napoleon’s insistence that a better way be found, led to the invention of margarine and tinned food – and the establishment of a more regular establishment to purchase, store, carry and distribute these supplies.

 

Hamish Paterson and Mark Levin observe in their excellent Through Desert, Veld and Mud, a History of 15 Maintenance Unit (1899-1999)1 that the historical roots of South African logistic units derive from those of the British Army. “One of the characteristics of a primitive army is the absence of a logistic apparatus. The more advanced a military force, the more advanced its logistic operations.

 

Paterson & Levin argue that plunder is both inefficient and counterproductive. Indiscriminate plunder gradually made way for organised pillage and finally for compensated requisitioning. The official in charge of the purse was variously called a “harbinger” or “purveyor” and later a “commissary”.

 

Efforts, successful and otherwise, were made from the time of Henry V (1413-1422) to better organise supply and transport. Highlights included the success of the Royal Waggon Train in the Peninsula (Spain) and at Waterloo under Wellington, while a low-light was the negligent handling of logistics in the Crimean War, where half of the deployed field force died of malnutrition or disease.

  • Mission: To keep the fighting soldier supplied. According to an SA Army recruiting pamphlet the primary role of the OSC “is the effective acquisition, receipt, storing, safekeeping, preservation, maintenance, accounting, distribution and disposal of clothing, accommodation, ammunition, vehicles, fuel and spares within the SA Army. The OSC also delivers specialised services to the SA Army, which includes computer services, Air Supply and Nature Conservation. The OSC keeps the forces moving!”

 

  • Corps colours: Blue & silver

 

  • Beret colour: Blue

 

  • Motto: Fons sine qua non (The indispensable fountain)

 

  • Brief history in SA: The provision of supply and transport remained largely ad hoc in SA until the establishment of the Union Defence Force on April 1, 1913, which included the SA Service Corps. This was, however, disbanded on November 10, 1939, along with the SA Ordnance Corps and the SA Administrative, Pay and Clerical Corps. Out of the ashes arose a new “Q” Services Corps (QSC) as well as a “T” Services Corps. In July 1950 the QSC merged into the Administrative Service Corps (ASC) and on August 1, 1975 the responsibility for supply and transport migrated to the current Ordnance Service Corps2.

 

 

Structure

 

All OSC units are assigned to the SA Army Support Formation under the charge of a General Officer Commanding (GOC).

 

The Corps is structured as follows:

  • SA Army Ordnance Service School, Kimberley3

  • 4 Maintenance Unit, Cape Town

  • 11 Maintenance Unit, Johannesburg

  • 15 Maintenance Unit4, Durban

  • 16 Maintenance Unit,

  • 17 Maintenance Unit

  • 44 Maintenance Unit

  • (Special Forces Supply Unit, formerly 1 Maintenance Unit; part of the Special Forces Brigade)

 

 

1 Published in 22002v by 15 Maintenance Unit (PO Box 806 Durban, 4000).

2 Also established out of the ASC were the Personnel Service Corps and Corps of Professional Officers. Paterson & Levin, p188.

3 Units marked in BLUE are regular fulltime service and those in RED are Reserve Force



4 The senior OSC unit: Should correctly be 1 Maintenance Unit.