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Army Data: South Africa

This OB covers only those South African units which actually saw action outside their native state. In addition, South Africa organized a bewildering array of other units including 8th through 12th Infantry Brigades, 1st Mounted Commando Division (horsed), 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions, 3rd Infantry Division, 4th Armored Car Division, 5th Commando Division, and assorted unbrigaded battalions.

Most of these other units were, when not entirely notional, understrength cadres whose warlike regimental titles and traditions belied the fact that they were poorly equipped and manned largely by part-time reservists and volunteers whose enlistments were valid only for service in South Africa itself.

Although South African leaders at the very highest levels of the military and the government (including Field Marshal Smuts) blindly refused to face facts until late in the war, there was never any chance that the Army could realistically maintain more than one full-strength division operating in the field and incurring casualties. The problem was threefold. First, conscription was never instituted, so the Army relied on volunteers. Second, volunteers were not required to serve outside Africa against their will. Third, units were carefully segregated as "European," "Cape (Colored) Corps," "Indian and Malay Corps," and "Native Military Corps." Only "Europeans" were permitted to serve in "combatant" roles, and there proved to be, as the South African official historian so aptly puts it, a "chronic shortage of white men."

Even the destruction of three brigades at Sidi Rezegh and Tobruk and the constant cannibalization and amalgamation of formations at home failed to shake the South African insistence upon converting the expeditionary force into a corps of two armored divisions, but the shifting of the scene of action from Africa to Italy, and the failure of large numbers of soldiers to volunteer for European service, finally settled the issue.

The OB, then, tracks 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions through their component brigades (1st through 6th) operating in East and North Africa; 7th Motorized Brigade (originally part of 3rd Infantry Division) which took part in operations on Madagascar; and 6th Armored Division in the Italian campaign.

The South African Army used the British-style regimental system. The following abbreviations are used in the OB.

2 Botha      2nd Regiment Botha
1 CityRegt   1st City Regiment
CTH          Cape Town Highlanders
1 DEOR       1st Duke of Edinburgh's Own Rifles
1 FFB       1st Field Force Battalion
2 FFB       2nd Field Force Battalion
1/2 FFB      1st/2nd [amalgamated] Field Force Battalion
ILH          Imperial Light Horse
KaffRif      Kaffrarian Rifles
NMR          Natal Mounted Rifles
2 NMR       2nd Natal Mounated Rifles
PretHigh    Pretoria Highlanders
PretRegt    The Pretoria Regiment
1 RDLI       1st Royal Durban Light Infantry
2 RDLI       2nd Royal Durban Light Infantry
RLI          Rand Light Infantry
1 RNC       1st Royal Natal Carbineers
1 SAIrish    1st South African Irish
1 SAP       1st South African Police Battalion
2 SAP       2nd South African Police Battalion
1 TS         1st Transvaal Scottish
2 TS         2nd Transvaal Scottish
3 TS         3rd Transvaal Scottish
1/3 TS       1st/3rd [amalgamated] Transvaal Scottish
UMR          Umvoti Mounted Rifles

More resources

Books about South African armies and and ground forces

South African units on file

6th Armored XX
7th Motorized X
1st Infantry X
2nd Infantry X
3rd Infantry X
4th Infantry X
5th Infantry X
6th Infantry X

 

 

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21:30 on 30 August 2014