Nelson Mandela Artillery Regiment is a Reserve Regiment in the South African National Defence Force, and forms part of the South African Army Artillery Formation. It is currently based at Fort iKapa Military Base, in Goodwood. The regiment was formed at the Old Town House, Greenmarket Square, Cape Town on 26 August 1857 as the Cape Town Volunteer Artillery. Major the Chevalier Alfred du Prat, K C C, former Second in Command of the Cape Town Rifle Corps, was its first commanding officer. The regiment enjoys the unique distinction of being the oldest operational volunteer artillery regiment in the British Commonwealth.
The Duke of Edinburgh was so impressed with the bearing of Cape Town’s volunteer soldiers that, a few weeks later on 3 October 1867, the name changed to Prince Alfred’s Own Cape Town Volunteer Artillery. The words “Cape Town” were later dropped and the title became Prince Alfred’s Own Volunteer Artillery. In 1896, the title was changed again, to Prince Alfred’s Own Cape Artillery.
Over the 160 years of its history, the Regiment has fought courageously and honourably in many theatres of war.
Although the Regiment did not serve on the European continent during World War I, it did take part in the South-West Africa Campaign. The unit took part in the South African invasion of German South-West Africa in 1915 where it earned the battle honour “South West Africa 1915”. The battery was renumbered “1st” in 1926. In 1932, the name was changed to Cape Field Artillery (Prince Alfred’s Own). From 1934 until the outbreak of World War II in 1939, and formed part of the Coast Artillery Brigade.
During World War 2, the Regiment was sent to as far afield as East Africa, North Africa and Italy.
The Regiment fought during Operation Crusader at Bardia, Sollum, Halfaya Pass and at Gazala during the Battle of Gazala. It fired the first and last rounds before the Fortress at Tobruk surrendered on 21 June 1942.
1 and 3 Field Batteries, joined by 14 Field Battery, fought in the First Battle of El Alamein in July 1942 and in the Second Battle of El Alamein that lasted between 23 October and 11 November 1942. After these engagements the regiment returned to South Africa briefly in December 1942.
The regiment returned to North Africa in 1943 where it merged with 6th Field Regiment to form 1/6 Field Regiment (V), South African Artillery (P.A.O.C.F.A.). It joined the South African 6th Armoured Division and moved to Italy in April 1944 where it fought in the Battle of Monte Cassino and all other battles that the 6th Division was involved in.
The title was changed again, in 1960, to Regiment Tygerberg. This title, imposed on the regiment, was not popular, and in 1963 it was changed back to Cape Field Artillery, but without the princely style, which was no longer appropriate as South Africa had become a republic.
During the post-war period, the Regiment was mobilised several times for duty in the South African Border War (1966 to 1989), including Operation Savannah in 1976. In August/September 1988 the Cape Field Artillery provided a 140 millimetre (5.5 in) battery for 10 Artillery Brigade in order to counter Forces who were threatening the South-West African Border.
The Regiment has three regimental mottos, namely, Ubique (Everywhere), Quo Fas et Gloria Ducunt (Whither Right or Glory Lead) and Spes Bona (Good Hope), all of which are incorporated into its unit badge.
The Regiment also fulfils many ceremonial duties:
- At the annual Opening of Parliament in central Cape Town, the Nelson Mandela Artillery Regiment Ceremonial Gun Troop fires a 21 Gun Salute with its well-maintained GV1, 25-pounder guns.
- These are also fired to signal the start of the annual KFM Gun Run, which is a popular half-marathon that starts and finishes at Hamilton’s Rugby Club in Green Point.
- The ceremonial guns are also fired at the annual Gunners’ Memorial Service in the Company’s Garden in Cape Town.
- The Ceremonial Gun Troop was part of the opening of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and the firing of its 25-pounder guns on Friday 11 June marked the opening of the 2010 World Cup in Cape Town and was part of an unforgettable heritage moment. The guns were fired once more on Sunday 11 June in front of the Castle, marking the final day of the 2010 World Cup.
- The highlight of the Cape Town Military Tattoo at the Castle of Good Hope is when the Guns of Nelson Mandela Artillery Regiment provide the gunfire during the playing of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
The gun crews, many of whom come from the Western Cape towns of Robertson, Ashton and Montagu, are all volunteers who train in their own time during training sessions and weekends at the Headquarters in iKapa (Goodwood).
Members regularly undergo refresher training to ensure that they are well versed in the use of the R4 rifle and that their physical fitness levels are kept high, in view of the strength required to operate their guns. Members also receive training in various aspects of Military Skills.
Members of NMAR also attend a variety of courses as well as the Artillery Orientation and GV5 Crew Member courses. At the end of such a course, the students are expected to demonstrate their standard of training and display their newly acquired skills for evaluation.
Because of the high level of skills and training, NMAR is often tasked to do ceremonial shoots at various other occasions, such as salutes for visiting state presidents as well as state funerals. In recent years the ceremonial troop, had to travel several times as far as the Eastern Cape to perform such tasks. On one very memorable occasion the ceremonial troop was honoured to fire the 21 Gun salute in Operation Uxolo, the funeral of the late President Mandela in Qunu.
The Regiment possesses a keen sense of conservation and is active in preserving our heritage, flora and fauna and specifically items of artillery. Collecting old field guns from both World Wars and restoring them to their former glory is both challenging as well as rewarding. The work is carried out by members of the regiment over weekends and evenings, mostly using their own resources. Currently the regiment has the following restored guns at its Head Quarters: 13 Pounder gun and limber; 18 pounder gun; 3,7inch Howitzer gun and a 140mm (5.5 inch) gun. The latter is in the process of being restored.
The name changed from Cape Field Artillery to Nelson Mandela Artillery Regiment in 2019.