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Apr 7

Written by: The Ancient Armourer
2013/04/07 04:55 PM  RssIcon

The shooting range was such an ordinary part of an SADF soldier’s life that few fellows, if any, bother to discuss it in their books. Even at the height of the Bush War, the great majority of soldiers never got to shoot at the enemy. The only time they shot was on the shooting range. Since this is not a Border War blog, where much more exciting things occur, I may as well describe the shooting range in more detail here. The information given here will focus on the procedure and terminology on the range. I have described Boshoek in Ladysmith in another place, so I will focus on Schurweberg, just outside Voortrekkerhoogte, here. Bar the transport arrangements, the actual shooting procedure was very much the same, wherever you were in the SADF.
Shooting was usually a whole day affair. It included the usual quota of PT and opfoks, of course. After breakfast, you stood kit inspection in browns with staaldak, webbing en geweer, though in fact you took your bush hat with and wore it on the range. The tiffies checked your rifle. Then you climbed on to the Bedford and were driven to the range. One of our favourite songs on the journey was “Parlez-vous”. At the range, you shot in shifts, using live ammunition. You were supplied with two non-reusable wax earplugs in a little, blue-printed grease-proof packet. Lunch was brought out to the range in hot-boxes. Yes, you have guessed correctly: greasy brown stew and rice with shrapnel, which you ate out of your dixies! During live fire, the red flags on poles that demarcated the range were lowered. While they were down, the range was under the total command of the range officer, and no-one was allowed to approach until they were hoisted.
At the top end was a concrete bunker behind a massive sand wall to protect it from the shooting, universally known as the skietgat. Every 100 yards as one moved away, were small, flat, gravel-covered brick embankments from which one actually shot. The targets were mounted on pulley-slides, each with a black, full-sized human silhouette printed on a yellow background. Hitting the white patch over the heart earned five points; anywhere on the body within a red circle that surrounded the white patch, three; anywhere else on the body outside the circle, one. There were two ways in which the target was used; stationary, in which you simply fired your ten rounds at will, and what was called skyfskiet, in which the target was moved up and down. Five times it was raised for a period of five seconds, then lowered for ten, two shots being fired each time it appeared. The NCO in charge of the skietgat controlled the targets’ movements with a whistle.
We began with five rounds, prone, at 100 yards, after which the tiffies moved down the line and zeroed our sights. Then followed a standard shift – Table 3, if my memory serves me correctly – with 50 rounds of ammunition. We shot from 100 to 300 yards. At 100, it was 10 rounds stationary, standing and 10 rounds skyfskiet, kneeling; at 200 yards, 10 rounds stationary, kneeling and 10 skyfskiet, sitting; at 300 yards, 10 rounds stationary, prone. 50 rounds at a maximum of 5 points each allowed for a top score of 250 points. To earn your basic shooting badge you needed 175 points, for your sharpshooter’s badge, 212. One fellow in 81 TSD, a clerk, De Villiers by name, was a superlative sharpshooter. His best score was 248 – 49 fives and one three! At the bottom end of the scale, although the targets and shooting positions were carefully numbered, there were occasions when some fellow shot at the target next to his one. You can imagine the confusion for the troep marking in the gat!
Guys who did not shoot usually, though not exclusively, ended up in the skietgat. If you were in the skietgat and had to shoot (and most guys wanted to shoot) you were substituted by those who had already shot earlier in the day. On a stationary target, you had to point to where each shot had hit using a pole with a metal arrow-head that was red on one side (five), black on the other (three or one), thus helping the shooter to aim. If he missed the target (“wide”), you swayed the black arrow-head from side to side. With skyfskiet, you pulled the target up and down to timed whistle blasts. At the end of the round, you pulled the target right down and added up the score. The N.C.O. in charge of the skietgat recorded the scores, after which came the command “Plak toe!” and you pasted over the holes. When I started shooting at Schurweberg, we still used those messy paper strips with a pot of white glue. It was a great day when we started using the self-adhesive little round coloured dots!
When shooting was over, you all stood in rows on the embankments. The command “Vir inspeksie...hou…geweer!” was given. You slammed your right foot back, cocked your rifle to show an empty chamber, and extended it before you. The baanoffisier or a Corporal walked along the row behind you. As he reached you, you had to bellow, “Geen leë doppies, skerp ammunisie of enige deel daarvan in my besit nie, Luitenant/Korporaal!” And woe betide the poor sod who made a false declaration. It could land him in DB if he was caught stealing live rounds.
After this, you all climbed into the Bedfords and rode home, usually getting back about an hour before dinner. You had to clean your weapon under the beady eye of your Corporal. Finally, when he was satisfied, you oiled the barrel and locked rifle and moving parts away separately in your kas and trommel respectively. Then, at last, you could shower and go across to the mess to eat. Some guys would eat before showering to avoid the rush on our undersized ablutions block.
At 81TSD, our Adjutant Officer was a bright but pompous and officious captain. He was a sharpshooter, and very jealous of his reputation. He was a favoured target of our practical jokes, though we had to be careful, since he was liable to take great offence at what he perceived as a personal affront. I was given a great many strafwagdienste by him during my first year of diensplig. I suspect it was in part because some snoet told him that I referred to him as kaktein, which translates rather neatly into English as “craptain.”
But we could happily always give him his come-uppance on the shooting-range. When he shot, we would give him an occasional “wide” by swinging the arrow from side to side – but the unwritten rule was, only for shots which actually hit the white square. Denys, a G4 with bunions, was particularly fond of doing this. Did our kaktein get woes about it, especially since he knew that his shots were in die kol! On one occasion, when I was N.C.O. in bevel, he rushed up as soon as the flags were up, and demanded to know who the fool was who was marking him. Naturally, no-one could say, since we officially didn’t know which target he was using. And as I had already given the “Plak toe!” command, we certainly couldn’t adjust his score!
Once, when I was still a roof, a very kop-toe 2-striper was in charge of the gat. He always wore his staaldak in the pit, which was regulation, though in practice we never did. He was marking the end teiken on that day, and was sure he counted only nine shots. You’re crazy, we told him. But as he pulled down the skyf, and stepped up towards it to count, a shot was fired, which hit the bank. Stones went flying, some hitting his staaldak with a clang. Oscar was on the whole a pretty cool customer, but he was really shaken that day. Turned out the guy who saved the shot had a grudge against him. He was gone before shooting ended, as you can imagine.
The firearms drill I received in the SADF has remained with me ever since. A firearm is a deadly weapon. It must be handled with care, and never be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. This might seem an obvious thing to say, except that too many people do not avert to this simple fact when they purchase one. When they pull it out in an emergency and lack the will to fire it, they open themselves to being shot with their own weapon, which a perceptive criminal will simply remove from their hands and turn against them. A soldier, on the other hand, will never provide his opponent with a weapon, and will fire reflexively in a dangerous situation to prevent this happening.
I do not keep a firearm at home. I am afraid that the old military reflexes will kick in if I am confronted by a threat, and that I will pull the trigger, not because I am a hero, but because I might very well do it reflexively. Perhaps I won’t. It’s better not to put it to the test.

3 comment(s) so far...


Re: On the Shooting Range

I understand that every person has the passion in any aspects or things. If you love something and it came in front of you it completes your day and your mood turns into something you won't expected. I love your work and I want to read more about it.

By hanna on   2015/11/19 05:20 PM


Love it! Very interesting topics, I hope the incoming comments and suggestion are equally positive. Thank you for sharing this information that is actually helpful.

By ufgop.org on   2015/11/19 05:20 PM

Re: On the Shooting Range

Thank you for putting an effort to published this article. You've done a great job! Good bless!Yong

By Cindy on   2015/11/19 05:22 PM

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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early 70s – Part One
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