The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 11 No 5 - June 2000

Training doctrines of the Staatsartillerie
of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek

by Demetri Friend
SA National Museum of Military History

Shortly after their formation in 1881, a question arose regarding the training and training doctrines of the fledgling ZAR Staatsartillerie. No formal military training facilities existed in the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) at the time. This meant that the first regular training for the men of the Staatsartillerie, which commenced after the Malaboch War of 1894, was reliant on the experience and knowledge of foreign officers who had been recruited to assist in building up a structured force.(1) The Staatsartillerie recruited and appointed any trained artillery officers who were willing to serve. Most of these officers were from Austro-Hungarian, Dutch and German batteries. Many were professionals who regarded it as an honour to serve in a foreign army. The foreign soldiers included veterans who had come to South Africa because they saw service here as a personal challenge and the means of creating a new life for themselves. Some might even he described as mercenaries. The system of recruitment used by the Staatsartillerie was largely based on the German military system, whereby employment was created or reserved for ex-servicemen.(2)

Adolf Schiel, who was to play a major role in the manifestation of German military influence in the ZAR, was responsible for the construction of the Johannesburg Fort. A member of the Black Hussars of the Duke of Brunswick, Schiel came to the ZAR as a teacher in the Rijdende Artillerie en Politie in 1888. His appointment as a teacher was an early attempt by the government of the ZAR to deal with the low level of formal education in the republic. In accordance with the German military model, the Staatsartiilerie would also provide its soldiers with some formal education, thereby preparing them for later appointment in the civil service. Thus, the German sphere of influence in the ZAR extended to the field of education and the value of the Staatsartillerie was not limited to military deployment, but also contributed to social upliftment in the ZAR.(3)

The principle of having a full-time military organisation in the ZAR was alien to the culture of the Boers.(4) They were acquainted with the democratic commando system which determined that all able-bodied burghers were members of a commando and could be commandeered for service in the event of war. This commando system was based on the loosely-knit Cape-Dutch commando or levee system, which ensured the defence of the Cape through the use of volunteers.(5) This system had been utilised on the eastern frontier and had formed the cornerstone of burgher military operations, and it had been brought into the interior during the Great Trek.(6) This method of recruiting able-bodied fighters in the event of war required very little if any formal military or tactical training as the commando usually operated in areas with which the members were familiar.

Before the recruitment and appointment of Otto Riedl in January 1874, the practice and use of artillery in the ZAR had been uncoordinated and very informal.(7) In the event of war, there were usually enough volunteers who were able to operate the archaic guns then in the hands of the burghers. Even though these individuals may have deployed their guns skilfully, they had not undergone any formal training in the handling of the weapons. The appointment of a gun commandant was done in much the same fashion as that of a commando commandant. However, the appointment of foreigners as officers in a full-time artillery unit was problematic, especially as these foreigners were not burghers. Not having been born in the republic, or even elsewhere in southern Africa, and having no official ties to the land, it was feared that they would not defend the country with the same amount of vigour and determination as would a burgher. To neutralise this perceived threat, H P N Pretorius and S P E Trichard, both born in South Africa, were appointed as the heads of the Staatsartillerie, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel.(8) This was done in spite of the fact that neither officer had received any formal military training. Indeed, Trichard had no artillery experience at all.(9)

First photo

A non-commissioned officer of the ZAR Staatsartillerie in uniform
(Photo: SA National Museum of Military History)

The government was very much aware of the problem of the lack of training facilities in the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek. In an attempt to eradicate this problem, two members of the Staatsartillerie were sent to the Netherlands to be trained there as artillery officers at the Koninklijke Militaire Academie(10) at Breda in September 1890.(11) They were F E Erasmus and J F Wolmarans (both of whom would later hold the rank of major). Erasmus began his training at Amersfoort, where he served as a member of the field artillery at Oldebroek from September 1890 to June 1892, in order to gain some practical experience in the deployment of guns by a field battery. He received his theoretical training at the Koninklijke Militaire Academie from September 1892 to August 1893. He returned to the ZAR in August 1893 and was appointed as lieutenant in the Staatsartillerie on 10 October 1893.(12) It may be noted with interest that, despite having failed the officer's exams at Breda, both Erasmus and Wolmarans were still appointed as officers in the Staatsartillerie. This was clearly due to their being the most thoroughly trained gunners in the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, with the exception of the foreign artillery officers.(13)

During 1890, another attempt was made at improving training conditions for members of the Staatsartillerie. The first teacher was appointed on 26 November 1890 and Act No I of 1896 declared that the subjects taught in the Staatsartillerie would be the same as those taught in schools in the republic. Thus, members ofthe Staatsartillerie would not only receive training as gunners, but, after they had completed their compulsory period of service, they would be equipped to take over posts in the civil service.

The men of the Staatsartillerie were not only trained in the art of warfare in general, but also in the handling of the equipment for which they were responsible. All ranks were also frequently given drill instruction according to Dutch doctrines.(12) Much of the knowledge regarding artillery and related topics was based on Dutch material. For example, the gunners used manuals and guides on nineteenth century artillery, which had been imported from the Netherlands. According to Trichard, there were only manuals for the training of infantry and these manuals were available in a mixture of Dutch and German.(13) However, this situation would have been remedied by 1898. Guides were printed by the Koninklijke Militaire Academie in Breda and included most of the topics used by the academy itself.(13) They covered all military topics which might be relevant to a gunner. In effect, therefore, the training provided by the Staatsartillerie was on a par with the training of Dutch artillery regiments. However, while the training might have been excellent, much of it was theoretical and related to conditions experienced in times of peace. Tactical training was neglected and lessons were inaccurate.(14) Fortunately, the training officers of the Staatsartillerie understood this shortcoming and took steps to correct it in times of deployment in quelling unrest amongst the black tribes in the northern and eastern Transvaal. It was during these campaigns that the field telegraph section rendered excellent service, indicative of the level of training they had received. An important lesson learned during these deployment periods was that the force should remain concealed for as long a time possible before unleashing the artillery. Thus it becomes clear that, even though Dutch doctrines were being followed, the burghers of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek adapted these doctrines to suite their own specific situation.


1. O J O Ferreira (ed), Geschiedenis Werke en Streven van SPE Trichard, p 83.
2. H Herwig, Luxury Fleet (London, 1980), p 132.
3. D G Friend, 'The Staatsartilletje of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek hefore the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902' (unpublished BA(Hons) dissertation, University of Pretoria, 1990), p 22.
4. O J O Ferreira, 'Die Staatsartillerie van die ZAR' in Militaria, 6(2), p 1.
5. J L Pretorius, 'Die Suid-Afrikaanse militêre tradisie' in Die Brandwag, 1(3), p70.
6. Pretorius, 'Ons Suid-Afrikaanse militêre tradisie' in Die Brandwag, 1(3), p70.
7. Ferreira, 'Die Staatsartillerie van die ZAR' in Militaria, 6(2), p 2.
8. C J Nötling (ed), Ultima Ratio Regum, p 57; Ferreira, 'Die Staatsartillerie van die ZAR' in Militaria, 6(2), p 6.
9. Ferreira (ed), Geschiedenis Werke en Streven van SPE Trichard, p xiv.
10. It is important to note the correct name of the academy. C D Scholtz uses the name 'Nederlandse Krygsakademie' in Kommando, June 1954. This is a far cry from the correct name 'Koninklijke Militaire Academie'.
11. Pretorius, 'Die Suid-Afrikasnse militêre tradisie' in Die Brandwag, 1(5), p145.
12. J Ploeger, 'Uit die geskiedenis van die Corps Staatsartillerie van die ZAR' in Militaria, 15(4), p 5.
13. S L H Slocum and C Reichmann, 'Boer War operations in South Africa, Reichmann C, 1899-1901'. Extracts from the reports of Captain S L H Slocum and Captain Carl Reichmann. (Facsimile reproductions by Scripta Africana, Johannesburg, 1987), p 126.
14. Nöthling(ed), Ultima Ratio Regum, p57; Slocum and Reichmann, 'Boer War operations in South Africa. Extracts from the reports', p 136.
15. Ferreira (ed), Geschiedenis Werke en Streven van S P E Trichard, p81.
16. Examples ofthese guides maybe found in the archives of the South African National Museum of Military History in Saxonwold, Johannesburg.
17. J B A Bailey, Field Artillery and Firepower, p 37.

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