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The military rifle cartridges of South Africa: "vertrou in god en die mauser": Part 2.

In the late 1890s imperialists in the British government were trying to find a way of annexing the Boer republics in South Africa, the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR--better known as the Transvaal) and the Oranje-Vrijstaat (OVS--Orange Free State), along with their lucrative diamond and gold mines.

But in doing so, the British army would come up against a group of independent minded, stubborn, tough and wily marksmen the likes of whom they had not encountered since their less than pleasant interaction with the riflemen of the Southern colonies during the American Revolution.

Realizing war with Britain was imminent, both the ZAR and OVS began purchasing additional arms including Martini-Henrys, Lee-Metfords and Lee-Enfields from English sources and a mixed bag of new and obsolete military rifles from the Osterreichische Waffenfabriks Gesellschaft of Steyr, Austria.

* .303 Mark I Cordite--was the first smokeless cartridge issued to British troops. It used a 56mm rimmed, bottlenecked case loaded with 30 grains of Cordite which propelled a 215-grain round-nosed FMJ bullet to a velocity of 1970 fps.

The Steyr-made Portuguese Mo. 1885 Guedes was the first smallbore military rifle adopted by any army, and the first to use FMJ bullets. The Boers purchased ammunition loaded with both black and smokeless powders.

* Cartucho com bala 8mm m/85--used a rimmed, bottlenecked case 60mm long loaded with '247-grain round-nosed FMJ bullet driven to 1700 fps by 70 grains of compressed blackpowder.

* Cartucho com bala 8mm m/96--was identical to the m/85 cartridge except it was loaded with smokeless propellant that produced a muzzle velocity of 1900 fps.

The Boers obtained a few thousand m/1894 Krag-Jorgensen rifles and carbines that Steyr had left over from a Norwegian contract. Reportedly they were usually issued to officers.

* 6,5mm skarpe Gevasrpatron M/94--consisted of a rimless, bottlenecked case 55mm in length, loaded with a 156-grain FMJ, round-nosed bullet that was propelled to 2380 fps.

Steyr also provided numbers of Osterreichisches Repetier-Gewehre M.88 Mannlicher straight-pull rifles.

* 8mm scharfe Patrone M.90--was based upon a rimmed, bottlenecked case 52mm long whose 244-grain bullet was backed by a 43-grain charge of semi-smokeless powder that produced a velocity of 1950 fps.

In 1896, the OVS and the ZAR ordered 70,000 M1893/95 Mauser rifles and carbines from Ludwig Loewe of Berlin and DWM, about 55,000 of which were actually delivered before the British interrupted shipments from Germany. (1)

* 7x57 Mauser--consisted of a rimless, bottlenecked case 57mm long whose 173-grain full metal-jacketed (FMJ) bullet was propelled to 2300 fps by a charge of smokeless powder.

In 1899, the Boers mounted preemptive strikes into British Natal and the Cape Colony, besieging the British garrisons at Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley. They went on to win a series of tactical victories against the British at Colenso, Magersfontein and Spion Kop.

The Mauser became the favorite weapon of the Commandos, and with it they would inflict a series of embarrassing defeats upon the British army that showed the true capabilities of the smallbore, smokeless powder rifle in the hands of capable marksmen. This led to the Boer commandos attributing their victories to Vertrou in God en die Mauser ("Faith in God and the Mauser").

As the war dragged on into a prolonged guerrilla conflict, many Boers re-equipped themselves with captured Lee-Enfield rifles, although the British rifles were held in low esteem by Boer marksman, and the Mauser remained the preferred weapon whenever ammunition was available.

The ZAR and OVS Commandos never numbered more than about 55,000 men, and after three years of hard fighting, the British began to gain the upper hand. (3) Finally, even the most diehard of the Bittereinders (those Boers who swore to fight to the "bitter end") agreed to negotiations.

In May 1902, the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed whereby the Boer republics came under British control in return for guarantees of political and personal rights for the Afrikaner people (as the Boers came to call themselves). (4)

After the war, each of the four provinces of South Africa--Cape Colony, Natal, Transvaal and the Orange Free State--maintained small cadres of regular troops and militia units patterned after the Commandos. British garrisons were also maintained throughout the country until 1914.

In 1910 the Union of South Africa was established with Jan Smuts--a former Boer commando leader of great repute--as its first Prime Minister. Two years later the Union Defense Force (UDF) was established. It was trained, equipped and armed to British army standards.

Originally equipped with various models of the Long Lee-Enfield, during World War I, they began receiving No. 1 Mark III Short Model Lee-Enfields, better known as the SMLE.

* .303 Mark VI--adopted in 1904, its 215-grain FMJ bullet was backed by a 32.5-grain charge of Cordite for a muzzle velocity of 2050 fps.

* .303 Mark VII--adopted in 1910, this round was loaded with a 174-grain FMJ, flat-based spitzer bullet that 37 grains of Improved Cordite drove to a velocity of 2440 fps. It would remain in service with the UDF well into the 1960s.

With the outbreak of World War I, South Africa was once again thrown into turmoil. While most of her citizens, English and Afrikaner alike, stood by Great Britain, the bitter feelings left over from the Boer War led to a number of recalcitrant Boers to rebel against the Union government. Led by Gen. Manie Maritz, the rebels eventually numbered in excess of 12,000 men. (5)

The rebellion proved short-lived, and by February 1915 South African Prime Minister, Gen. Louis Botha, had defeated the rebel commandos piecemeal, although some of them escaped to German Southwest Africa (now Namibia). (6)

Unable to obtain sufficient SMLEs from Britain, the Union government purchased 25,000 Espingarda Portugueza Mod. 1904 (Mauser-Verguiero) rifles from Portugal for issue to Commandos.

* Cartucho cal. 6,5 com bala m/04--consisted of a rimless, bottlenecked case 58mm long whose 155-grain round-nosed, FMJ bullet was propelled to 2350 fps.

The UDF went on to conquer Deutsch-Sudwestafrika and then spent four frustrating years chasing the forces of Col. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck around Deutsch-Ostafrika (now Tanaznia). South African troops also fought on the Western Front and in Palestine. After the war, the League of Nations gave South Africa a mandate to rule the former Deutsch-Sudwestafrika.

The intra-war years saw economic growth accompanied by severe labor unrest and the rise of the African National Congress (ANC) and Natal Indian Congress, which demanded political rights for South Africa's black, Indian and Coloured residents.

When World War II erupted, South Africa sided with Great Britain against the Axis, and the UDF served in the East and North African and Italian campaigns. During the war, the British supplied the UDF with the new No. 4 Lee-Enfield rifle, which was adopted as standard issue in the late 1940s.

The primarily Afrikaner National Party won the 1948 elections and instituted a series of laws that insured that whites would maintain political power. Known as apartheid, it called for strict segregation of the races in all aspects of day to day life. The ANC was outlawed and most of its leaders went underground to pursue a guerilla war.

In 1957. the UDF was renamed the South African Defense Force (SADF). Shortly afterwards, it adopted the FN-FAL rifle as the R1.

* 7,62mm Ball Mark I--is identical to the 7.62mm NATO with a rimless, bottlenecked cartridge 51mm long loaded with a 147-grain FMJ spitzer bullet traveling at 2733 fps. After 1973 this round was known as the 7,62x51 Bali R1.M1.

South Africa left the British Commonwealth in 1961 and two years later the UN established a voluntary arms embargo because of apartheid. As a result, a native arms industry, Armscor (later absorbed into the Denel Corporation) was established in 1968 to produce military small arms, including the R1 rifle.

In 1966 the UN terminated South Africa's mandate over South-West Africa, a change South Africa rejected. A national liberation group, SWAPO, began a guerilla war which would drag on until 1989.

The SADF intervened in neighboring Angola, first helping the Portuguese fight nationalist guerillas and, after independence, to pursue SWAPO guerillas and assist western-backed UNITA forces against the Soviet supported MPLA and its Cuban mercenaries during that country's long civil war.

During the so-called "Border War," the SADF obtained Heckler & Koch G3A3 rifles, reportedly from Portugal. Known as the R2, they were issued to Commandos (as reserve units are still called) and local auxiliaries.

A UN-brokered cease-fire in 1988 saw the SADF units leave Angola. Further negotiations led to Namibian independence two years later. The SADF provided support to Rhodesia during its 1964-1979 war against black nationalist guerillas. They also raided into neighboring Mozambique in pursuit of ANC guerillas and to support anti-communist RENAMO guerillas in that country's civil war.

In 1982, the Denel Corporation began licensed production of the Israeli-designed Galil rifle, which was adopted by the SADF as the R4.

* 5,56x45 Ball Ml A3--similar to the U.S. Ml 93 cartridge with a rimless, bottlenecked case 45mm long containing a 56-grain FMJ spitzer with a muzzle velocity of 3165 fps.

In response to increasing local and international opposition to apartheid, in 1990 the ANC was unbanned and allowed to function as a political party. Four years later, the first universal suffrage election in South Africa's history saw the ANC victorious and Nelson Mandela became the country's first black president. The SADF and South African Police (SAP) were racially integrated and the former renamed the South African National Defense Force (SANDF).

The Denel Corporation has developed several variants of the R4: the carbine-length R5 and the R6 a compact, personal defense weapon for vehicle crews.

* 5,56x45 Ball M1A4--identical to the NATO-standard SS109 with a 62-grain FMJ boattail spitzer bullet with a hardened steel insert in its tip for improved long range performance and better penetration of body armor and light vehicles. Muzzle velocity is 3000 fps.

In recent years the SANDF has participated in UN and African Union peacekeeping missions in Burundi, Central African Republic, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Rwanda and Sudan.

I would like to thank the following for providing information and materials used to prepare this report: Ron Bester, Gregor Woods, Jim Curlovic, Rob Kassab, Ron Anger, John Wall, Garry James, Stuart Mowbray, JoAnn Langlois, Bill Woodin, Karl Egil Hanevil and Brigadier B. Redelinghuys--former Military Attache of the South African Embassy, Washington, DC.

(1) Boer Mausers were also known as M1895, M1896 and M1897 depending on the manufacturing dates marked on the rifles.

(2) Lott, Jack. The 7mm Kortnek Mystery. Magnum Magazine, Northway, RSA: January 1992.

(3) The Boer forces included in excess of 6000 foreign volunteers from France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden and the United States. A small number of Australians also served on the Boer side.

(4) Instead of surrendering, many Bittereinders resettled in Deutch-Sudwestafrika.

(5) Union forces consisted of 32,000 men, 20,000 of whom were Afrikaners.

(6) The Germans organized some of these Boers, and others who had fled to SWA after the Boer War, into the Burenfreikorps which fought alongside German forces until they surrendered in 1915.

THE MYSTERIOUS 7MM KORTNEK

While all Boer Mausers were chambered for the 7x57 cartridge, there is some controversy over the little-known 7x53 cartridge--referred to in Afrikaans as the "Kortnek" ("short neck"). This was apparently an attempt by the Loewe firm to sell ammunition made from stockpiles of 7.65x53 cartridge cases they had in their warehouses. These were necked down to 7mm and loaded with a 7mm bullet whose crimping cannelure was closer to the bullet's base then was usual. In most cases they functioned as expected, but there were disturbing reports of burst barrels.

Burst barrels were apparently caused when the lower portion of the bullet's brittle steel jacket separated behind the crimping cannelure while the projectile was moving across the unsupported 4mm section of chamber and remained in the barrel. Firing another round led to the expected results. This happened often enough that many Boers refused to use the Kortnek ammunition. (2)

7mm Kortnek--the infamous 7mm Kortnek used a 54mm cartridge case. (Bill Woodin photo)

Photos by: James Walters, Nathan Reynolds & Lou Behling (unless otherwise indicated)
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Author:Scarlata, Paul
Publication:Shotgun News
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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