Archive: Artillery – The God of War


Traditionally — and statistically — the artillery has been the major killer on the battlefield. Simply put, the task of the infantry and cavalry — and latterly the armour — have been to fix the enemy in place long enough for the artillery to destroy them with massed fire.

The God of War

September 19, 2003

Traditionally — and statistically — the artillery has been the major killer on the battlefield. Simply put, the task of the infantry and cavalry — and latterly the armour — have been to fix the enemy in place long enough for the artillery to destroy them with massed fire. Traditionally the horse and foot artillery did the job with field guns and howitzers. Horse artillery accompanied the cavalry and foot artillery the infantry. Guns fired at the enemy using a low trajectory, typically below 45 degrees, while howitzers lobbed shells at the enemy using a high trajectory. In this regard it is similar to a mortar. Guns and howitzers have since merged into the gun-howitzer of which one of the finest examples remain the G5 system and its derivatives. Since World War One (WW1) the bulk of that fire has been indirect, in other words fired from out of sight of the enemy, as a result of advances in technology and man’s understanding of ballistics.

It is well to dwell on technology when considering the artillery. More than any branch of the Army, the artillery is dominated, saturated and entirely dependent on “hi-tech.” It is that branch of the ground forces, that, like the air forces and navy “man the equipment” rather than “equip the man”, as is the case with, for example, the infantry.

Like the main battle tank (MBT), the artillery has also become heavy and ponderous. Many modern gun-howitzers are self-propelled (SP) and are even larger than most MBTs. The global trend towards lightness and deployability has also hit the artillery. In the US, the Crusader SP gun was cancelled for being too large and too difficult to rapidly deploy — despite its many state-of-the-art and new generation leap-ahead

technologies. Many peacekeeping pundits also see little scope for artillery in peace support operations and see area weapons such as tube artillery, missiles and rockets as “disproportionate”. In additions,

several apostles of airpower, citing Bosnia, Kosovo and the 2002 Afghan war, see little role for ground forces in future conventional war and less for the artillery — super-accurate bombs, they argue, can do the

job better. Rot!

The South African Artillery Corps (SAA)

The bulk of the SAA is to be found in the Reserve component of the SA Army. The SA National defence Force Annual Report 2001/2 indicates that the regular component of the SAA consists of one school at Potchefstroom in addition to a co-located composite artillery regiment (4 Artillery Regiment, 4 Art Regt), a parachute artillery battery with 44 Parachute Regiment at Bloemfontein and an Artillery Mobilisation Centre. The Air Defence Artillery is a separate corps.

The Reserve, according to the 2002 SANDF Reserve Force publication, musters seven regiments. They are:

n      the Cape Field Artillery

n      the Natal Field Artillery

n      the Transvaal Horse Artillery

n      the Vrystaatse Artillerie Regiment,

n      Regiment Potchefstroom University,

n      the Transvaalse Staatsartillerie, and

n      18 Light Artillery Regiment.

As is the case with all reserve units, none are at more than cadre strength and deploying even a modest slice of the unit for a few weeks will be beyond the capacity of most. The 2002/2003 Department of Defence annual report notes that the Reserve Force capability within the Artillery Formation “is on the brink of extinction.” Of the seven units listed above three have effectively stopped function for a lack of sufficient personnel (and finances).    

The present SAA is constructed around a range of SP and towed gun-howitzers, rocket launchers and medium mortars. These include the G5 towed 155mm gun-howitzer, the G6 SP gun-howitzer, the M5 120mm medium mortar as well as the 127mm 40-barrel Bateleur medium multiple rocket launcher system (MLRS).


Many pages can be written about artillery systems. The pertinent details of those currently in use by the SAA are provided in sidebars. Not mentioned there is that the World war Two (WW2) era G1 88mm, 25-pounder, field gun-howitzer and the G2 140mm medium gun have finally been withdrawn into reserve. Both still served during the 1966-1989 Bush war. Some G2s were presented to Namibia as a gift some years ago. The Israeli-manufactured Soltam 155mm G4 has also disappeared from view. As far as new systems is concerned, not much seems to be happening beyond the 105mm light experimental ordnance (LEO), likely to be known as the G7. The LEO is essentially a scaled-down G5 using scaled down ammunition. As its range is phenomenal and its ammunition as lethal as standard 155mm rounds — the G7 has the potential to change the face of artillery worldwide — if marketed properly. And that’s the rub. Although the manufacturer’s marketing department would disagree, their ability in this field has been consistently poor. In the meantime, the G5 and G6 have both been upgraded with 52-calibre barrels to exact greater range. (The length of a gun’s barrel is determined in “calibres.” A 52-calibre barrel is 52 times 155mm long, a total of 8060mm.) Another aspect to remember is that despite the slick sales talk little of the intellectual property (IP) behind the technology of even the G5/6 and the LEO is South African. It is now conveniently forgotten that the IP was smuggled into the country by Dr Gerald Bull, a controversial Canadian scientist who developed the long-range gun and ammunition technology with NASA, the US space agency’s money. Bull sold the same IP to Austria, China and Iraq.

There are currently no cruise- or surface-to-surface missile systems in the SAA inventory. All ammunition is unguided and no precision-guided munitions (PGM) are known to be in service — although the Russian Krasnopol PGM has been qualified on the G5/6 and a fuze fitted with a “spoiler” device (to influence the shell’s range) manufactured by Germany’s Diehl concern has been fitted to and fired with the 155mm Assegai ammunition range. Common shell types include high explosive (HE), the most common type, smoke, illuminating and carrier. Smoke shells are used to provide cover to own troops on the battlefield while illumination shells contain a parachute flare used to light up the battlefield at

night. Carrier shells can carry a variety of cargo such as bomblets, landmines, chemicals, propaganda leaflets and the like. The shells can be fitted with a variety of fuzes, from a simple contact fuze, that

detonates a shell on impact to a delayed action fuze that delays exploding for up to a few seconds — good for blowing craters or destroying bunkers, to a radar-equipped proximity fuze that is used to obtain airburst explosions above a target — which enhances the effect of HE and smoke and is essential for carrier shells as well as variable time fuzes turn shells into time bombs.


The SAA’s artillery systems are organised, in descending order, into regiments, batteries and troops. In the past a SAA regiment (equivalent to an infantry battalion) included four batteries (equivalent to an

infantry company) divided into two troops with four guns/MLRS each. In addition the regiment fielded a headquarters and attached signals, light workshop and medical troops. A regiment fielding 32 G5s would be a towed medium regiment. A regiment with 32 G6 would be a SP medium regiment while one with 120mm medium mortars would be a “light artillery regiment.” The MLRS would be assigned to a rocket regiment. The Reserve regiments are likely to be organised along these lines.

4 Art Regt, by contrast, is a so-called composite regiment, meaning it includes weapons of different calibres and types, mainly to keep at least a battery of each in regular service. It should therefore include

batteries that can field the G5, G6, Bateleur MLRS and the 120mm mortar. The mortar battery may have been seconded to 44 Para Regt. A composite regiment normally also includes a target acquisition battery, which, along with the headquarters includes a number of radars and other devices to determine the location of enemy mortars and artillery for attack. One such device, not yet in service, is the Vulture unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which will return to SAA control an airborne target spotting capability lost in the 1960s when a squadron of Cessna 185 piloted spotter planes was transferred from SA Army to SA Air Force control. Aerial spotting, always a hazardous undertaking, has been used successfully since WW1 to locate targets and bring accurate fire to bear. In the past the SAA included at least one locating regiment entirely devoted to the subject. However, with advances in technology and the small size of the SAA, it is not clear that there remains a need for such a unit.

South African artillery played a major role in every conflict involving the country since the 1899-1902 Boer war, including the 1906 Bambatha rebellion, World War 1, the 1922 mineworkers’ strike, WW2 and the Border war. During the events of 1922 Union Defence Force artillery engaged rebels in Cottesloe from a position near the present intersection of Jan Smuts and Empire Roads in Johannesburg as well as dissidents in Fordsburg from a position on Brixton Ridge, near where the present Brixton tower stands. Reserve artillery units were mobilised for South Africa‘s intervention in Angola in 1975/6 and it was their rude experience at the hand of longer-ranging Soviet-made artillery and BM21 rocket launchers

that convinced the country to hastily acquire the G4 and “develop” the G5 and MLRS.


South African artillery doctrine seems to follow the international pattern. Doctrine is the plan, reality is the performance, James F Dunnigan says in the 1993-edition of his book, How to Make War. A former artillerist himself, he gives a vivid description of life on the gun line and what the artillery does. “Modern indirect fire is delivered in two forms: barrage and concentration. Beyond this are many variations, but they are of interest only to artillerymen. A barrage is laterally a wall of fire — shells exploding in a line — that is employed to screen troops from enemy observation or to prevent enemy movement. A rolling barrage moves forward at a preplanned speed in front of an advance. If this is done properly, the advancing troops will reach the defending positions right behind the exploding shells, leaving the enemy little opportunity to fire back. A concentration is high-density fire for the purpose of destroying a specific target,” Dunnigan writes. Barrages and concentrations, he adds, are fired at three levels of intensity:

n      Harassment: up to 10 percent destruction, enough to keep heads down.

n      Neutralisation: about 30 percent destruction, causing a temporary inability of the targeted unit to perform.

n      Destruction: 50 to 60 percent destruction, resulting in disintegration of the unit or long-term ineffectiveness.

While artillery effects are never a sure thing, the function of artillery fire is to kill or wound enemy personnel and to destroy or damage their equipment. Beyond that, artillery fire is meant to psychologically neutralise and demoralise enemy units by rendering them “shell-shocked” and unfit for combat. Dunnigan remarks that this is more likely to happen to “green” troops rather than veterans or to troops in the open rather than those who are well entrenched.

The SAA in the 21st Century

Artillery will remain the primary engine of destruction on the 21st Century battlefield. Despite improvements in airpower such as PGM and the advent of UAVs with longer loitering times, the availability, volume and accuracy of air-delivered ordnance will remain secondary to that of artillery. Guns and rockets are available and safe to fire en masse under conditions aircraft can either not fly or cannot obtain clearance to drop their weapons. Bad weather often prevented aircraft from delivering weapons during the Kosovo war and in Iraq in 2003.

Until this changes — and adverse weather is unlikely to be abolished soon — the artillery remains vital on the battlefield. In fact, the rule of thumb of vampire fighting — that you can never have enough garlic is equally true of artillery on the battlefield. Even so, the South African approach of placing the bulk of the artillery in the reserve cannot be faulted, save to say those resources must be found to fund recruiting and training in order to recreate the Reserve regiments. Whether for humanitarian reasons or for the purpose of cutting the cost associated with massive bombardments, it may be time for the SAA to consider PGM as well as man-in-the-loop fibre-optic PGM such as the light-weight (125kg at launch) EADS Polyphem cruise missile. With the emphasis today on highly manoeuvrable, rapidly deployable “expeditionary” forces, the LEO, along with the 60km Polyphem and a C130 Hercules-transportable MLRS could form the basis for a truly lethal fire support team across the entire spectrum of conflict.

When considering the future shape of the SAA, it may necessary to take a look at the shape of ground forces generally in coming times. Two useful models to study in this regard are An African Answer to an African Problem (AAFJ, March 2003) and A New Model Army (AAFJ April 2003.) The latter calls for a number of new model regular and reserve brigades, all including a composite artillery regiment.


n      Herman Acker, A New Model Army, African Armed Forces Journal, April 2003.

n      Eric H Biass & Terry J Gander, Self-Propelled Artillery, Autoloading and 52 are the Trend, Armada International 4/2003, Zurich, Switzerland.

n      Eric H Biass & Terry J Gander, Towed Artillery, Range and Light Weight is the Motto, Armada International 4/2003, Zurich, Switzerland.

n      Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, An African Answer to an African Problem, African Armed Forces Journal, March 2003.

n      Department of Defence, Annual Report, 2001/2002, Department of Defence, Pretoria, 2001.

n      James F Dunnigan, How to Make War, William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1993.

n      SANDF Reserve Force 2002, Part-time soldiers making a difference for a better life for all, Government Printing Works, Pretoria, 2002.


M5 Mortar

n      Type:                              Medium mortar

n      Calibre:                           120mm

n      Weight:                          350kg

n      Air transportability:        Transportable in all helicopters and aircraft

n      Crew:                             5

n      Range:                            6,250m

>10,000m (Rocket Assisted Projectile)


n      Type:                              Towed gun-howitzer

n      Calibre:                           155mm x 52

n      Weight:                          13,700kg

n      Weight of shell:              47.7kg

n      Air transportability:        Transportable in a C130 or larger

n      Crew:                             8

n      Range:                            3,000 to 70,000m (indirect: using very long-range artillery projectile)

1,000 to 3,000m (direct)        


n      Type:                              Wheeled self-propelled gun-howitzer

n      Calibre:                           155mm x 52

n      Weight:                          47,000kg

n      Weight of shell:              47.7kg

n      Air transportability:        Not air transportable

n      Crew:                             5

n      Range:                            3,000 to 70,000m (indirect: using very long-range artillery projectile)

1,000 to 3,000m (direct)        


n      Type:                              gun-howitzer

n      Calibre:                           105mm x 57

n      Weight:                          3,500kg

n      Weight of shell:              15.8kg

n      Air transportability:        Transportable in a C130 or larger

n      Crew:                             nn

n      Range:                            30,000m


n      Type:                              Self-propelled MLRS

n      Calibre:                           127mm

n      Weight:                          Visarend: 6,440kg

Batteleur: nn

n      Weight of warhead:       60kg

n      Air transportability:        Visarend: Transportable in a C130 or larger

Batteleur: Not air transportable

n      Crew:                             Visarend: 4

Batteleur: nn  

n      Range:                            7,500-22,000m


n      Type:                              Piston-engined tactical short endurance UAV

n      Weight:                          410kg

n      Weight of payload:        65kg

n      Endurance:                     3hrs

n      Crew:                             nn

n      Range:                            32 nautical miles

n      Ceiling:                           16,400 feet

n      Features:                         Requires no ground pilot or runway.

Automated launch, flight and recovery.

Designed specifically to perform target acquisition, fall-of-shot localisation and artillery fire correction.

Deploys within 30 minutes.

Training in operation limited to twenty days.

By comparison:::

US M777 Ultra-lightweight

n      Type:                              Towed gun-howitzer

n      Calibre:                           155mm x 39

n      Weight:                          3,745kg

n      Weight of shell:              43.5kg

n      Range:                            30,000m

USM109A6 Paladin

n      Type:                              Tracked SP gun-howitzer

n      Calibre:                           155mm x 39

n      Weight:                          28,850kg

n      Weight of shell:              43.5kg

n      Range:                            30,000m

German PzH2000

n      Type:                              Tracked SP gun-howitzer

n      Calibre:                           155mm x 52

n      Weight:                          55,330kg

n      Weight of shell:              45.3kg

n      Range:                            39,600m