The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 2 No 2 - December 1971

Guns in South Africa 1899-1902 Part III and IV

by Major Darrell Hall

Parts I and II in this series appeared in Vol.2 No.1, June 1971

Just as the Spanish Civil War provided a testing ground for German and Italian equipment before World War II, so did the South African War provide a similar opportunity for the proving of French and German Artillery, with which the Boers were equipped.

These guns were superior to those being used at the time by the British Army. At the beginning of the war, British Artillery was frequently outranged by Boer Artillery, and British gunners were surprised at the way in which the Boers moved their heavy guns about the countryside.

These developments required rapid action by the British. In an age not normally known for quick thinking and efficient action, these qualities were nevertheless displayed by the Royal Navy as they rapidly adapted their guns for service in the field.



 Boer Artillery consisted of a mixture of obsolete guns and the latest that Europe had to offer. There were several different types in use. For example, by October 1901 the British had captured as many as 21 different models. In addition, numbers were increased by guns captured from the British Army.

Guns were used in typical Boer fashion. They were usually deployed individually. They were seldom organised in batteries and, more often than not, they were simply used as long range rifles. There was little co-ordination between guns, and this made the concentration of fire on specific targets very nearly impossible.

Cover was used skilfully, and the Boers made the most of the superior range (in most instances) of their guns. They would hold their fire until the enemy had been lured into an ambush. Their guns did not normally require an escort, as they would be withdrawn if the enemy got too close. The Boers were reluctant to risk their guns in the open. Being outnumbered 4:1 by the British Artillery, this caution was understandable.

It is not possible to cover here the complete range of Boer guns. This review is restricted to those acquired from Europe shortly before the war, and which were most prominent on the battlefield. These were:

75 mm Creusot QF
75 mm Krupp QF
120 mm Krupp Howitzer BL
155 mm Creusot BL
37 mm Maxim Automatic Machine Gun ('Pom-Pom')

First photo

75 mm Creusot QF - the sights are prominent. The rear tangent sight has a moveable cross-head to allow for deflection for wind, etc.

 75 mm CREUSOT QF:

Calibre 75 mm/2.95 in.
Weight of gun 7 cwt
Weight of gun carriage packed 20 cwt 1 qtr 1lb
Weight behind the gun team 35 cwt 2 qtrs 12 lbs
Ammunition Common, shrapnel, case
Weight of shell: Common 11 lbs 8 ozs
Weight of shell: Shrapnel  14 lbs
Range: Time fuze  6,800 yds
Range: Percussion 6,800 yds

This was a pioneer of modern QF equipments. It was specially designed to give a far-reaching zone of shrapnel effect, and so it had a flat trajectory and high MV (1951 ft/sec for common shell compared with 1574 ft/sec for the 15 pr). However, this MV strained the carriage. The buffers gave trouble and these guns were often in need of repair.

Mention of the buffers is a reminder that this gun had a proper recoil system which was still unusual at this time. The function of a buffer is to absorb the force of recoil. The Creusot's hydraulic buffer allowed 11.5 ins of recoil. This was insufficient, so an axle spade and drag shoes were also fitted to help control recoil. Spring recuperators then returned the gun to the run-out (normal) position.

Also unusual for guns of this period was a traversing system. This allowed two degrees traverse either way.

The gun had a high rate of fire of 10 rpm. Shrapnel and common shell were of different weights and this caused them to range differently. At 11.5 lbs common shell was too light for this calibre gun. On the whole, ammunition proved unsatisfactory.

The centre of gravity was low and cross country performance was good.

Although the gun had its weak points, in design principles it was ahead of its time. Its successor, the famous French '75' of World War I, was generally considered to be the best gun of that war. To a large extent, this resulted from the battle-testing of the 75 mm Creusot in the Boer War.

Second photo

75 mm Creusot QF - the top drawing illustrates the low centre of gravity.


 75 mm KRUPP QF:

Calibre 75 mm/2.95 in
Weight of gun 4 cwt 2 qtrs
Weight of gun carriage packed About 104 cwt
Ammunition Common and shrapnel
Weight of shell Common 13 lbs 8 ozs
Weight of shell Shrapnel  11 lbs
Range: Percussion 4,400 yds
Note: These are The Times figures. Other reports give maximum ranges as follows:
Range: Time fuze 3,850 yds
Range: Percussion 6,600 yds

Third photo

75 mm Krupp QF - the gun is being laid for line by the man on the right.

 Krupp guns were identifiable by their horizontal sliding block breech systems, whereas the French Creusots had the interrupted screw system. The sliding block method is in use to this day in modern QF equipments. As it does not provide as effective a gas seal as the other, a cartridge case is used to help in obturation, i.e. to prevent the escape of gases to the rear. This system does, however, allow a rapid rate of fire.

Krupp ammunition was said to be more trustworthy than that of the Creusot. Shrapnel was of cast iron and, therefore, held fewer bullets (103 compared with 234).

The carriage was rigid with no buffer.


Calibre 120 mm/4.7 in.
Weight of gun 8 cwt 3 qtrs
Weight of gun carriage packed 19 cwt 1 qtr 15 lbs
Weight behind the gun team 35 cwt 3 qtrs 10 lbs
Ammunition Common, shrapnel, case
Weight of shell 35 lbs
Range  6,300 yds

Fourth photo

120 mm Krupp Howitzer QF - the horizontal sliding breech block and the disctinctively angled traversing handspike mark this as a Krupp.

 Although shell weight was light for the calibre, accuracy was good to 6,000 yds. The gun had the normal Krupp horizontal sliding block. The carriage was a plain, rigid one with no buffer. It was considered to be a good gun.

It should be noted that, although a howitzer, it nevertheless outranged British Field and Horse Artillery.


Calibre 155 mm/6 in
Weight of gun 49 cwt
Weight behind the gun team 108 cwt
Ammunition Common, shrapnel, case
Weight of shell 94 lbs
Range  11,000 yds

 This was a 'Gun of Position' in the terminology of the time. It was destined for the fixed defences of Pretoria and Johannesburg. It was intended for use on a wooden platform, the carriage being connected to a pivot plate on the platform.

Fifth photo

155 mm Creusot BL ('Long Tom') - note the fittings on the trail to receive the trunnions when the gun was prepared for movement.

The Boers, however, decided to take their 'Long Toms' into the field. This they did with considerable success, surprising the British Army with the skill and efficiency with which they moved them about. This mobility was aided by the ability to move the gun to the rear along the carriage, and by the provision of a further pair of wheels to help take the weight (as illustrated).

It should be pointed out that this was not the first time that 'Guns of Position' were used in the field. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 the fortress guns of Belfort were removed and used in the fighting on the Lisaine.

The 'Long Tom' outranged the guns the British deployed in the early stages of the war. At first the Boers had difficulty in using the shrapnel properly, but the fuzes were modified and later they got good results at about 10,000 yds.

Boer ingenuity was also displayed in the repair of a 'Long Tom' which was damaged at Ladysmith. A new breech block was made for it and the damaged barrel was cut short and, with efficiency only slightly impaired, it was returned to the field.

Sixth photo

155 mm Creusot BL ('Long Tom') - crossing a river in Natal.


Calibre 37 mm/1.5 in
Weight behind the gun team 27 cwt
Ammunition Explosive rounds
Weight of round 1 lbs
Range  3,000 yds approx

This was simply a large, belt-fed machine gun, firing explosive rounds. The moral effect was considerable although the material effect was small. The aggravating bark, coupled with the fact that one burst meant more were on the way, was trying on the nerves. Light and easily concealed, it did not throw up a cloud of dust when it was fired. It fitted in well with Boer methods. It was the only gun in South Africa fitted with a shield.

The 'shells' were cast iron, filled with powder and fitted with a nose percussion fuze. They were fixed in brass cartridge cases and 25 of these were placed in a belt. The limber carried 12 of these belts.

The 'Pom-Pom' was taken into service with the British Army, and will appear again in Part 6 of this series.

Seventh photo

37 mm Automatic Machine Gun ('Pom-Pom') - the only equipment in South Africa with a shield.




 It was soon appreciated that Boer Artillery outranged British Artillery. Immediately a call went out to the Royal Navy to provide guns and detachments to redress the balance. Although the heavier guns of the siege train would provide an answer to the enemy's guns, they were not due to arrive in South Africa until the New Year.

In a remarkable display of ingenuity, guns were provided with makeshift field carriages or mountings, and were despatched to the battle-front.

These guns were invaluable. Their relatively long ranges provided an answer to the Boer Artillery. It was with some justification that the Royal Navy claimed that the 4.7 was the gun which saved Ladysmith. Even if this was a slightly exaggerated claim militarily, there is no doubt that the moral value of the Naval guns was of the greatest importance.

Prominent at this critical moment was Captain Percy Scott of HMS Terrible. He was largely responsible for adapting the Navy's guns for land service.

Early in 1900 the Royal Garrison Artillery arrived in strength with the siege train, and with additional men to relieve the sailors who were able to return to their ships.

Naval guns deployed ashore were:

12 pr 8 cwt
12 pr 12 cwt QF ('Long 12')
4.7 in QF
6 in QF

12 PR 8 CWT QF

Calibre 3 in
Weight of gun 8 cwt
Weight of shell 12 lbs approx

Eighth photo

12 pr8 cwt QF - a good illustration of a gun being laid; while one man operates the traversing handspike to theother's directions, the latter also lays carefully for elevation as he looks along the sights.

 This was the normal artillery equipment of naval landing parties and there was, therefore, no need to design an ad hoc carriage for it. It had a short range and a light shell, and was not very effective. Nevertheless, it played its part in the early stages of the war in Natal.

Ninth photo

12 pr8 cwt QF - drag shoes have been fitted. Elevation is by arc and pinion.


 12 PR 12 CWT QF ('Long 12'):

Calibre 3 in.
Weight of gun 12 cwt
Ammunition Common, shrapnel, case
Weight of shell Common 12 lbs 8 ozs
Weight of shell Shrapnel 14 lbs 1 oz
Range Time fuze 4,500 yds approx.
Range:Percussion 9,000 yds approx.

 The carriage for this gun was designed by Captain Scott. The design was completed and the first gun mounted in less than 48 hours. The trail was a 12 ft long log beam -- the wheels were wagon wheels. Drag shoes were fitted to limit recoil, although the gun also had an oil and spring buffer.

Tenth photo

12 pr8 cwt QF - this illustrates clearly the carriage designed by Captain Scott.

Although the makeshift carriage was sufficient to get the gun into the field, there were various flaws. The wheels and axles were all of various types and, therefore, not interchangeable; and most were too narrow and high which caused several to overturn on difficult ground. There were no brakes and wheels had to be lashed until brakes could be devised. If the gun was elevated over 7,000 yds, the oil cylinder hit the trail and pits had to be dug. But there was seldom any trouble with the gun itself.

In spite of these problems, full credit must be given to Captain Scott for producing a workable carriage at such short notice. The 'Long 12' performed yeoman service in Natal and the western theatre where it boosted the fire support available from the Royal Artillery.

 4.7 in QF:

Calibre4.7 in
Weight of gun2 tons 2 cwt
Weight of gun carriage packed6 tons approx.
AmmunitionCommon and shrapnel
Weight of shell45 lbs
Range: Percussion9,800 yds (Navy and Army III)
 12,000 yds at 24 degrees (Burne)
Time fuze6,500 yds

Eleventh photo

4.7 in QF - the two guns in Ladysmith fired from platforms such as this.

 Both a wooden beam platform and a travelling carriage were designed by Captain Scott. The former is similar to the 'Pile platform' produced for semi-mobile 3.7 in AA guns in World War II. When there was no requirement to move the gun, this platform was quite adequate, and the 4.7 mounted like this was invaluable in the Defence of Ladysmith, where its range was needed to counter the Boer 'Long Tom'.

On its mobile carriage the 4.7 performed well with the army in the field. Weighing more than the 'Long Tom', and with all its weight bearing on one pair of wheels, it was more difficult to move than that gun. On occasion as many as 32 oxen were required to move the 4.7.

Twelfth photo

4.7 in QF - mounted on Captain Percy Scott's mobile carriage.

The construction of the travelling carriage was very simple. The large timber beams forming the trail were needed to provide stability with their weight and to prevent the gun overturning on recoil. Drag shoes were also used, and the carriage was attached by cable to a strong point in front of the gun to help control recoil.

With the arrival of the Army Corps, some of these guns were handed over to the army and others were returned to the navy.

 6 in QF:

Calibre6 in
Weight of gun7 tons 8 cwt
Weight of gun carriage packedAbout 11.5 tons
AmmunitionCommon and shrapnel
Weight of shellAbout 100 lbs
Range15,000 yds at 28 degrees

Thirteenth photo

6 in QF - this gun joined Buller just before the Tugela Heights battles.

 Captain Scott received an urgent request from General Buller for a naval gun with an even greater range than those which he had already provided. The request came on a Wednesday; by the following Monday this gun was ready on a field carriage. It appeared on the Natal front a fortnight before the Relief of Ladysmith.

Two 6 in guns were put on rail mountings by the Royal Naval Dockyard, Simonstown, assisted by the Cape Government Railways. These guns could be fired broadside to the line, and they appear to have been very successful. A few rounds were fired at Magersfontein, one of the guns was at Fourteen Streams before the Relief of Mafeking, and both were used on several occasions during the last year of the war in the Orange Free State.

The guns were fired at all ranges from 3,000 yds to 12,000 yds. The larger angles of elevation were achieved by firing sidings which were inclined upwards to the front. The range of 15,000 yds was reported of the gun on a field carriage operating in Natal.

Common shell and shrapnel were fired. In the words of a contemporary report, 'the burst of a 100 pr shrapnel appeared to leave little to be desired.'

Fourteenth photo

6 in QF - these Naval guns on rail mountings were manned by men of the
Royal Garrison Artillery who were already in South Africa at the outbreak of war.

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