Military heraldry
November 2006 / December 2013

Army heraldry

THE Army is the senior service and also the largest. The present organisation was established in 1994, by merging the four homeland armies and the two liberation armies into the 'old' SA Army, which had been formed in 1912-13.

Headquarters and formations

From the early 1970s to 2003, the Defence HQ coat of arms, as worn by Army personnel serving there, depicted the SADF emblem on two crossed swords. Individual branches were identified by means of gold Roman numerals in base, e.g. I for Personnel, II for Intelligence, III for Operations.

Army headquarter coats of arms Headquarters : SA Army (old) - Western Province Command - 7 SA Division - 8 SA Armoured Division.

Army HQ's original arms, introduced in 1965, depicted a springbok head on crossed swords. The present arms, representing "a pride of lions", were introduced in 2000.

Each command HQ had a differenced version of the AHQ arms, the difference being a chief depicting an appropriate regional symbol, e.g. Table Mountain for Western Province Command

7 SA Division's arms continued the tradition of the World War II shoulder patches, while 8 SA Armoured Division's were in the armoured corps colours.

Combat units

Coats of arms of some South 
African artillery regiments Artillery : Artillery School - Cape Garrison Artillery - 6 Field Regt - 28 Field Regt.

Coats of arms of some South African infantry units Infantry : Infantry School - 7 SA Infantry Battalion - 11 Commando - 32 Battalion - Regiment Boland - Regiment de Wet.

The combat branches of the army are the artillery, the anti-aircraft, the infantry, and the armoured corps.

The artillery colours of red, gold and dark blue can be found in many unit arms, such as those of the Artillery School. Dancetty lines or fesses, derived from the "lightning bolt" on the old helmet flash, are found in the 6 Field Regiment and 28 Field Regiment arms, among others.

The anti-aircraft corps colours are red and sky blue. A good example is the arms of the Cape Garrison Artillery.

The infantry is the largest corps within the Army. Its colours of green and black (and, formerly, gold) can be found in many unit arms, such as those of the Infantry School and 7 SA Infantry Battalion.

Some arms are derivative. 11 Commando's arms were based on those of the Supreme HQ Allied Expeditionary Forces. Regiment de Wet's arms are clearly derived from those of Olof de Wet (although the regiment is named after someone who was not descended from him).

32 Battalion's arms depicted six interlaced arrows representing the six ethnic groups from which its members came. Regiment Boland's reflected the unit's home in a mountainous wine-making region.

Units of 44 Parachute Brigade bear coats of arms of a uniform design. The basic design, used by the brigade HQ, depicts an eagle's head. Individual units place charges above the eagle's head to identify themselves.

Special forces unit arms also follow a uniform pattern : a compass rose as the principal charge, and a chief containing additional charges to identify the unit.

Coats of arms of some South African armoured regiments Armour : School of Armour - 2 Light Horse Regt - Regt Moorivier - Regt Oranjerivier.

Coats of arms of some South African military units Supporting services : 19 Field Engineer Regt - Western Province Comd Signals - Personnel Services School - Ordnance Services School - 72 Field Workshop - Witwatersrand Comd Detention Barracks.

The armoured corp colours are orange, white (silver) and blue, while the corps beret is black. These colours are found in most unit arms.

A World War I tank features in the arms of the School of Armour and 2 Light Horse Regiment.

Regiment Mooirivier's arms feature the central portion of its cap badge. Those of Regiment Oranjerivier are canting.

Elephants and rhinoceri appear in some other armoured corps arms.

Supporting units

Most engineer unit arms are in the corps colours of red, gold and dark blue. Those of 19 Field Engineer Regiment are an example ; the Roman numeral XIX represents the girders of a Bailey bridge.

Most signals units are in the corps colours of green, sky blue and navy blue, derived from the old helmet flash. Command signal units, such as Western Province Command Signal Unit, display the charge from the chief of the command HQ arms.

The Personnel Services School arms are in the personnel corps colours. The Ordnance Services School arms depicted a torch (for education) and the corps colours.

Most technical services unit arms are red and blue, with the unit number in gold. 72 Field Workshop's arms are typical. Military police unit arms are red and black, with a central charge in gold ; Witwatersrand Command Detention Barracks's arms depict a double-warded key symbolising "the removal of liberty on one hand and the unlocking of the doors of knowledge on the other."

The standard design for maintenance unit coats of arms is a blue shield displaying a cogwheel between two ears of wheat. Command maintenance units have the charge from the command HQ arms in chief, while other units have their numbers in the centre of the cogwheel.

The units which were controlled by the Quartermaster-General in the 1970s and '80s all bore coats of arms of a uniform pattern depicting the QMG emblem on a blue field The arms were differenced by adding in chief the unit's number between two appropriate charges, e.g. trowels for works units, an ear of wheat issuing from a wheel for supply and transport units, and crossed artillery shells for ammunition depots.


Coats of arms of some South African commandos Commandos : Group 3 - Boegoeberg - Alexander Bay - Broederstroom - Caledon River - Cape Flats.

Coats of arms of some South African commandos Paarl - Swartland - Umgeni - Kruger National Park - Heidelberg - Swellendam.

The commandos (district-based home defence units) were the largest branch of the Army, with more than 250 units, organised into 'groups'. They were disbanded a few years ago. Nearly every group and unit had its own arms. Many featured the branch colours, which were green and gold. Black was also widely used.

Most group HQ's arms followed the same pattern : quartered in green and gold, with a local flower or animal or other charge in the middle. Namaqualand-based Group 3's arms, for instance, had a jakkalsblom flower.

The Boegoeberg Commando had canting arms : two buchu ('boegoe') flowers and a stylised mountain ('berg').

Some unit arms alluded to the districts in which they were based. For example, Alexander Bay Commando was in a diamond-mining town ; the Broederstroom Commando protected a uranium refinery ; the Caledon River Commando covered an area on the border between the Orange Free State (gold) and the Cape province (red) ; cobras were common in the Cape Flats Commando's area.

Paarl Commando's arms depicted a gryphon for Paarl, wagon wheels for Wellington, the arches from the Huguenot Monument, and Cape Dutch gables. Swartland Commando's arms left no doubt that it was in a wheat-farming district. The Umgeni Commando was based on the shark-infested Natal south coast.

The Kruger National Park Commando's arms depicted a lion's pawprint, probably the first time this was used as an heraldic charge. .

Some arms, such as those of the Heidelberg Commando and the Swellendam Commando were derived from municipal arms.

References :
  • African Military Connection website.
  • Bid or Buy ('Militaria' category).
  • Calendars, illustrated with unit arms, published by Castrol in the 1980s and '90s.
  • Curson, H.H.; Colours and Honours in South Africa (1948) ; 'Pagri Flashes: 1900-1962' in Africana Notes & News (Dec 1962).
  • Keene, J.L.; 'The Scottish Tradition in the SA Army' in Museum Review (June 1990).
  • Owen, C.R.; Military Badges and Insignia of Southern Africa (1990).
  • SA Military Collectors Society; Omnia Militaria (journal) (1980-89).
  • SA Special Forces League website.
  • Smith, H.H.; Army, Air Force and Naval Colours and Flags in SA (1980) ; Flags of the UDF and of the SADF 1912-93 (SAVA Journal No 2/93) (1993) ; SA Military Colours 1664-26.04.1994 (SAVA Journals Nos 7/98, 8/99, 9/05) (1998-2005).

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