The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging



"ORANJE VRIJSTAAT ARTILLERIE CORPS"

by M C Heunis

Address to SAMHS Jhb branch on 10 August 2006

INTRODUCTION AND HISTORY

The original corps dates back to 1854 when the Orange Free State gained its independence from Great Britain. Although the corps took part in two wars during the 1860's, it was only after 1880, when a decorated Prussian artillery officer, Capt. FWR Albrecht, was appointed in command that the unit started taking shape.

Under Albrechts competent leadership the corps grew extensively and by the time war broke out in 1899 it consisted of 5 officers and 159 gunners and NCOs; reservists included, some 400 men. These ranks included a 25 man strong military band and a signals and heliograph section. Their armament consisted of fourteen 75mm Krupp breech loaders, five 9-pounder Armstrong rifled muzzle loaders, one 6-pr Whitworth rifled muzzle loader, a 37mm Krupp single-load quick firing gun, three 3-pounder Whitworth rifled muzzle loading mountain guns and three Martini-Henry calibre Maxim machine guns.

During the Anglo-Boer/South African War, the corps gained an impressive reputation for itself and was greatly respected by both friend and foe alike. It took part in most of the early battles and sieges of the war; Ladysmith, Kimberley, Stormberg, Modderrivier, Magersfontein, Vaalkrantz and Paardeberg being the best known. Although Albrecht, three guns and some gunners were forced to surrender with Cronje at Paardeberg, the rest of the corps, manning individual guns, stayed in the veldt with the commandos. These gunners, with their limited resources, improvised by using captured British equipment and did invaluable work to keep General CR de Wet and President MT Steyn out of British hands during the "New Model" drives. Even later, after they had lost most of their artillery, the remaining gunners regrouped into mounted infantry units, and fought to the Bitter End.

THE MODERN DAY RE-ENACTMENT GROUP

The modern day O.V.S.A.C. is a non-political, South African based group with members from Pretoria, Johannesburg and Bloemfontein. As a group we strive to research and re-enact the history of the artillery corps of the Free State. The idea started when one of our founding members was fortunate enough to obtain an 87mm Turkish Krupp, which only differs in calibre from the 75mm version used by the original corps. It has since been restored to its former glory and aptly renamed after President MT Steyns famous wife, 'Tant Tibbie'.

To date the corps consists of a Luitenant (Lieutenant), one Sergeant, one Onderofficier (Corporal) and 7-8 Artilleristen (Gunners) as well as a doctor and two nurses from the "German Red Cross". We have also recently obtained an authentic carriage of a Boer War 15-pr Armstrong gun limber, which will be restored for use with our Krupp, while a heliograph and signals team is planned for the near future. The present day corps was formed with the following objectives in mind:

Extensive research has been done on the uniforms, weapons, ranks and uses of this "Little Prussia in the Veldt". Our re-enactors are dressed in Prussian style field uniforms and our officer and senior NCO in the "interim" khaki as worn by the original crews. For comparison, some members dress up in Boer civvies and even British uniform for some events. Prussian blue parade tunics complete with imported German litzen were recently manufactured, while pickelhaube helmets are a future objective.

A typical re-enactment weekend does not only consist of firing the gun, but also of camping out historically. We sing contemporary war songs, sleep in bell tents and blockhouses and eat braaivleis, stormjaers, biltong and captured British bully beef and knock-me-down-stew. The finer details of live in the veldt can only be appreciated fully when one use and cook with contemporary items and ingredients! Since 2000 the O.V.S.A.C. appeared in both local and international publications and television programs, while our study pieces have been included in no less than three international publications.

THE STUDY GROUP

While researching and restoring our beloved 'Tant Tibbie', we realized that no proper research has ever been done on Boer artillery. The few articles that do exist contradict one another and even the most respected historical works on the Boer War contain mistakes when it comes to this field. A few members of our re-enactment group therefore decided to take on this challenge and started researching the subject. Since then a number of our "Study Pieces" have been published both locally and abroad.

Where possible, we only work from primary sources. We prefer diaries, photos, official lists of guns and original archive letters and documents. In the past some Boer War researchers spoke only English or Afrikaans and therefore they were forced to rely on only British or Boer sources respectively, but since our researchers are bilingual, it enables us to study both English and Dutch/Afrikaans works.

Our main objective is to identify the exact numbers and types of artillery pieces employed by the Boer forces. Studying surviving guns has the added advantage of identifying finer details and variations on each type of gun, something that was quite impossible in the past.

To enhance our re-enactment group and to assist fellow Boer War re-enactors, we also research the uniforms, clothing, insignia, food and live in the veldt of other units of the Boer War. Re-enacting the Boer War is a fast growing hobby and requests for information on how to correctly relive the Boer forces have been received from all over the world.

If you are interested in more information, want to join the O.V.S.A.C., or have any Anglo-Boer War related queries; please feel free to contact us at:

P.O.Dox 324, Ferndale, 2160, South Africa
kruppgun@yahoo.co.uk
+27 (0)82 870 4448
www.heilbroncommando.com

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South African Military History Society / scribe@samilitaryhistory.org