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The one that could have!

October 13 2015 at 9:03 AM
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Jacques  (no login)
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Response to Re: Nordenfelt 37mm auto cannon


Never had a bubble to burst about the pompom - I've read enough to know of its limitations but I still think that another forty years of development could have resulted in a very useful infantry support weapon. But, let's leave it at that, it didn't happen. Have a look at this fearsome piece - now, if only the ZAR had a few more of these!

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A 150mm mortar in use by Boer forces at the siege of Ladysmith, listed as being in the hands of the Transvaal at the outbreak of the war. (Captain Reichmann -Reports on Military Operations in South Africa, p.130)

From Henry Woodd Nevinson's "Ladysmith - Diary of a Siege" (pg. 245): "To-day we enjoyed a further variety, well worth the risk. At the foot of Surprise Hill, hardly 1,500 yards from our position, the Boers have placed a mortar. Now and then it throws a huge column of smoke straight up into the air. The first I thought was a dynamite explosion, but after a few seconds I heard a growing whisper high above my head, as though a falling star had lost its way, and plump came a great shell into the grass, making a 3ft. hole in the reddish earth, and bursting with no end of a bang. We collected nearly all the bits and fitted them together. It was an eight or nine-inch globe, reminding one of those “bomb-shells” which heroes of old used to catch up in their hands and plunge into water-buckets. The most amusing part of it was the fuse—¬a thick plug of wood running through the shell and pierced with the flash-channel down its centre. It was burnt to charcoal, but we could still make out the holes bored in its side at intervals to convert it into a time-fuse. This is the “one mortar” catalogued in our Intelligence book. It was satisfactory to have located it. Two guns of the 69th Battery threw shrapnel over its head all morning; then the Naval guns had a turn and seem to have reduced it to silence." The complete text available at:

It is well known that the Boer republics were well equipped with modern artillery before the war. The "Staatsartillerie" of the ZAR and the "Oranje Vrijstaat Artillerie Corps" were also very well trained and possessed the latest field guns and howitzers available from German manufacturer Krupp and the French company of Creusot, not forgetting the Nordenfelt Maxims made in England. The Staatsartillerie was apparently the first modern artillery unit to use indirect fire (Battle of Spioenkop 24 January 1900) and the first to use their guns as fire support to the infantry. Their outstanding service led to Winston Churchill to comment "These are the finest gunners in the world....they can teach the Royal Artillery a lesson or two!"

Anyway, with all this modern artillery and tactics, where on earth did this ancient old black powder muzzle loader come from - can you identify this piece? It is described as a 150mm mortar and therefore probably German or French in origin. From the picture it appears that a wooden frame with block-and-tackle was used to remove the wheels and then to lower it in place, pointed in the general direction of the enemy. Nothing else is known about this peculiar weapon and I think that it was only ever used during the siege of Ladysmith.

An observation with regards to the photos posted by Jim, of the memorial and grandfather Thomson's troop - comparing the cartridge belts and the way they were worn, US forces at the time always had them around the waist whereas the Boers (and British) in South Africa wore their cartridge belts (bandoliers) over the shoulder. Care to comment?

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General Ben Viljoen and staff. My grandfather pictured sitting in front, holding a shotgun.



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