Before Restoration
March 13, 2018
April 30, 2014

The 6.3-inch howitzer history

During the early 1880's the South African Republic (ZAR or Transvaal) conducted a number of small campaigns against rebelling native tribes, many of these ending up in mountain sieges. To assist, a 6.3-inch howitzer and a mortar were bought from the British Cape Colonial Government; the howitzer arriving in Pretoria from King Williams Town on 7 April 1882.

In the Transvaal the howitzer saw service during the 1882-1883 Nyabêla campaign under Commandant Henning Pretorius; later CO of the Staatsartillerie (State Artillery). During the same campaign it was used to fire the salute at Paul Kruger's first presidential inauguration in May 1883, thereby gaining a link to this famous Boer leader.

Read more Unlike most of the Transvaal's other obsolete RML guns, the 6.3-inch howitzer was not posted at Fort Hendrina or Pietersburg in the Northern Transvaal during the 1890s. Instead it remained at the artillery camp in Pretoria and ammunition usage reports during this time indicate that it was probably used for training. Ammunition stock-takes and order requests from 1886 to 1896 specified the use of common and star shells, case shot as well as Boxer time fuzes of 15 and 30 seconds and Pettman percussion fuzes. Although obsolete, this howitzer remained the Transvaal's largest artillery piece until the arrival of the well-known 155mm Schneider Creusot Long Toms.

No evidence could be found suggesting that the Transvaal’s 6.3-inch howitzer saw action during the Anglo-Boer South African War of 1899-1902. On 29 October 1899 Captain Kroon of the Staatsartillerie reported that it was standing in the Johannesburg Fort, complete with 100 filled and 100 unfilled shells. It is not sure exactly when the howitzer was sent to Johannesburg, but it was somewhere between August 1898 and January 1899.

On 31 May 1900 the British Army marched into Johannesburg and found the fort and a number of obsolete guns therein, including the 6.3-inch howitzer, abandoned. General Marshall's list identified this howitzer as a Mark I gun, serial number 33, manufactured at the Royal Gun Factory (RGF) in 1879.

An earlier Staatsartillerie letter, dated 19 July 1886 also identified the howitzer's foundry number as "Vickers Steel No. 3699". With the gun was its carriage and limber (ammunition wagon), all made at Woolwich, as well as 50 fuzes, 180 common shells and 90 case shots. There were also a large number of black powder cartridges roughly made up in unmarked bags of various materials.

After its capture the Boer 6.3-inch howitzer was used as the one o'clock gun in Johannesburg. Although its capture is listed in War Office documents on captured Boer guns, no mention could be found in British trophy gun lists of it being sent to England in 1902/1903, as was done with most other Boer trophy pieces.
Fortunately this historic piece stayed behind in South Africa and today it can be viewed outside the Ladysmith Town Hall where it rests next to a British howitzer of the same calibre and design. It is not known how No. 33 ended up in Ladysmith and until 2004 it was generally accepted that both were British howitzer.

As opposed to the Boer piece, the British 6.3-in howitzer standing next to it (No.48) did see action during the Boer War. It was one of two sent from Port Elizabeth in the Cape Colony to Ladysmith shortly before the siege of the town commenced.

During the siege the pair was dubbed "Castor and Pollux"; after the mythological twin sons of Zeus. They became famous for damaging a Boer Long Tom on Middle Hill, subsequently forcing the Boers to move it to Telegraph Hill. A few weeks later the Long Tom took revenge by scoring a direct hit on Castor (the mortal son who fell in battle…), necessitating the replacement of its breast transom.

In total the two British howitzers fired 765 rounds during the war, mainly in defence of Ladysmith and, although obsolete, therefore played an important role in the war.

Today only one of the original British pair still guards the entrance to the Ladysmith Town Hall. Its left trunnion inscriptions identify it as also being a Mark I gun manufactured at the RGF in 1879.

The two former foes both carry the same weight marking on the breech "17-2-23" (17x112 + 2x28 + 23 = 1983 lbs). It is suspected that the second British howitzer was replaced with the captured Boer piece, possibly due to the damage caused by the Long Tom's direct hit. However, contradicting this, No.48’s carriage still carries battle damage, which indicates that this probably was Castor, the gun damaged by the Long Tom's direct hit.

So, it seems today, in stead of Castor and Pollux, we have Castor and Paul guarding the Town Hall! What became of Pollux after the war remains a mystery…