Fact file: The SA Artillery


One of the more recent branches, the Artillery, often called the ultima ratio regum (last argument of kings), wears the same colours as the engineers, from which the branch derives.

Pic: The Denel G5 towed gun-howitzer in full recoil.

Modern artillery was made possible by the invention of gunpowder in the 12th Century. Early cannon were used by medieval engineers as siege weapons, replacing Roman-era catapults and other mechanically powered implements. It would be another three centuries before guns became light enough to accompany troops in the open field. Author James F Dunnigan1, a former artillerist, calls this branch “the killer”. He notes artillery “causes the most casualties and is the most unpredictable danger on the battlefield. … From the user’s point of view, artillery is an ideal weapon. It does enormous destruction without exposing the user to much risk. Better still; the users rarely suffer the dismay of seeing their mangled victims. However, artillery is a rich man’s weapon. A less wealthy army can be just as destructive, but at greater human cost to itself.”


  • Mission: It is the role of the artillery to destroy the enemy, preferably prior to contact with own infantry and armour, by means of firepower.

    • Indirect fire support – with the aim of obtaining the desired effect at the right time and place with the correct type and quantity of ammunition. “It may be accepted that the operational functions of the SAA in specific circumstances could include:

  • The deep attack and destruction, disruption or degradation of:

  • Enemy command and control,

  • Battlefield operating systems such as intelligence, air defence, firepower, etc.,

  • Enemy ability to sustain battle;

  • Isolation of the battlefield by interdiction to prevent reinforcement by fire or manoeuvre of reserves;

  • Shaping of the battlefield to own forces advantage by battlefield interdiction, deep attack, canalisation or denial; and,

  • Precision strikes on high value targets across the width and depth of the battlefield.2

  • “The primary tactical role of the SAA, irrespective of the type of warfare, is to destroy the enemy, preferably prior to contact with own manoeuvre forces. The functions related to the primary role are:

  • Artillery strikes with counter-bombardment as a high priority, (and)

  • Battlefield interdiction.

  • The secondary tactical role of the SAA is the execution of engagements not classified as artillery strikes or interdiction. Functions related to the secondary role are:

  • Fire support, (and)

  • Engagements aimed at creating special technical, tactical or psychological effects on the enemy.”


  • Corps colours: Corps colours: Guardsman Red (BCC49) and Oxford Blue (BSI105). The significance of the colours are no longer known. The earliest mention of their use dates to 1662. In 1699, gunners in Flanders wore crimson coats faced with blue.


  • Beret colour: Oxford Blue.


  • Collar badge: Bursting grenade with seven flames.


  • Motto: Ubique (Everywhere); Primus incidere exire ultimus (First in and last out)


  • Brief history in SA: The Cape Field Artillery (CFA), founded in 1857, is the fourth oldest Reserve unit in the SANDF, but is regarded as the senior regiment (as a corps, the artillery is senior to the infantry). The regiment is also the only unit still in existence that acted in defence of a direct attack on South African soil – defending Upington on January 24, 1915, against a German force that included rebel General Manie Maritz and Boer prophet “Siener” van Rensburg. The SAA was, however, only established as a corps, on February 1, 1922, when a new Defence Act came into effect. The SA Artillery Formation was founded on January 1, 1999.


  • Honours: Traditionally the artillery is not awarded colours (banners). Where regiments in other corps are granted colours in observation of the tradition of rallying to the flag on the battlefield, gunners rally to their guns. In effect, their guns substitute as colours and are saluted on parade – hence the disgrace that befalls a unit that loses a gun on the battlefield and the reluctance of gunners through the ages to abandon them even in the face of overwhelming odds. The Cape Field Artillery as well as the Transvaal Horse Artillery have the battle honour “South West Africa 1914-5”. In the Royal Artillery, many Regular Army batteries bear an honour title (in parentheses) commemorating an exceptional act of service, for example Q Battery of the 5th Regiment, RA, bears the name “Sanna’s Post” in honour of its defence of that water point, just outside Bloemfontein, against Boer general Christian de Wet one morning in 1900.


  • Artillery flash: Most artillery unit shields contain a “zigzag” device symbolising thunder and lightning – linked by some to the noise of the discharge and the muzzle flash. Others link it to the patron saint of the artillery, Saint Barbara, whose father was struck dead by lightning after executing her for having converted to Christianity. In the early gunpowder age her name was often invoked for aid against accidents resulting from explosions–since some of the earlier artillery pieces often blew up instead of firing their projectile.3





All artillery is assigned to the SA Army Artillery Formation under the charge of a General Officer Commanding (GOC).


The GOC answers directly to SA Army chief Lt Gen Solly Shoke. Assisting the GOC is a

  • Chief of Staff

  • Chaplain

  • Formation Warrant Officer

  • Personal Staff



The formation is structured as follows:

  • SA Army Artillery School, Potchefstroom4

  • Artillery Mobilisation Regiment, Potchefstroom

  • (Composite Regiment)

    • 4 Artillery Regiment, Potchefstroom

  • (Self-propelled Medium Regiments) (155mm G6)

    • Natal Field Artillery, Durban

    • Transvaal Horse Artillery, Johannesburg

  • (Towed Medium Regiments) (155mm G5)

    • Cape Field Artillery, Cape Town

    • Vrystaatse Artillerie Regiment, Bloemfontein

  • (Rocket Regiments) (127mm Bateleur MLRS)

    • Transvaalse Staatsartillerie, Pretoria

    • Regiment Potchefstroomse Universiteit, Potchefstroom

  • (Light Regiment) (120mm M5 mortar)

    • 18 Light Regiment, Pretoria


1 James F Dunnigan, How to Make War, A Comprehensive Guide to Modern Warfare in the 21st Century, 4th Edition, Quill, New York, 2003.

2 SA Artillery Formation response to an enquiry by the author, November 9, 2005.

3 The legend of Saint Barbara, US Army Field Artillery Association, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, http://sill-www.army.mil/pao/pabarbar.htm, accessed November 11, 2005.

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