South African Military History Society


The war that began in August 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait ended early the following year in one of the most overwhelming and decisive defeats suffered by an aggressor in all military history. Given by Dr Walter Murton, the Gulf War was the subject of the curtain raiser at the society's 13th July meeting.

The Iraqi President, Suddam Hussein, explained his attack on neighbouring Kuwait in terms of his country's need for the emirate's oil deposits. Possession of these would double Iraq's oil reserves to 20 per cent of the world's total, and thus its influence in OPEC, the world oil-producers' price-fixing cartel. It would also give Iraq access to oil-terminal capacity on the Gulf coast, an advantage not shared by its own shallow and restricted coastal waters.

Led by the USA, the industrial world's reaction to the invasion was swift and determined. Iraq ignored an order from the UN Security Council to vacate its aggression, and instead began to strengthen the occupied territory's coastal defences and along its border with Saudi Arabia. In retaliation, US President George Bush formed a military coalition comprising, in addition to US forces, units from Britain, France, Kuwait and eight Arab countries. The combined force numbered around 540 000 men.

The second phase of the war began on 16th January 1991 with concerted air operations against Iraqi industrial and military targets. Drawing on experience accumulated in eight years of war with Iran, the Iraqis were able to blunt the effectiveness of these attacks by a combination of careful camouflage, well-constructed shelters, and mobile air defences. The Iraqi air force was flown to Iran and interned there. Altogether, the allies' six-week air offensive was a failure, and Iraq's military capability survived virtually intact.

The third phase of the war opened on 24th February with a co-ordinated offensive by the allies' combined land and air forces. The strategy was one of the oldest known to warfare -- outflank, surround and destroy. Two arms of the four-pronged attack were launched directly into Kuwait from Saudi Arabia along the coast road, and on the shortest route to Kuwait city. To the west, and directly into Iraq, a thrust mainly by British armour was aimed at cutting the road out of Kuwait along which the Iraqi forces could be reinforced, or would have to retreat. Further west still, mainly French reconnaissance units swept northward to destroy a strategic bridge over the Euphrates river, and then turned eastward along the only escape route out of the south-east Iraq. Throughout the entire theatre the air attacks were murderously efficient.

Within 100 hours it was all over, with Iraqi resistance completely eliminated. Saddam Hussein submitted to all UN Security Council demands and relinquished his claims on Kuwait. The comparative numbers of the human toll underline the extent of the Iraqi defeat in this most one-sided war of the 20th century. Iraqis 80 000. UN forces 400.

Boer rifles in the Anglo-Boer War was the subject of the main lecture given by Dr Ron Bester of the SA Arms and Ammunition Society.

The commando laws of the Boer Republics required all able-bodied males between 16 and 60 to possess a rifle and the necessary ammunition. After regaining its independence in 1884, the ZAR sought to make this obligation more affordable by contracting with agents Thomas Barnsley and George Kynoch for the exclusive import of firearms for burghers and the government. Three years later Kynoch signed a further contract giving him right of first refusal on future government arms purchases.

In 1888 General Joubert decided ZAR citizens were still inadequately armed, and the government began importing large numbers of Martini-Henry rifles which could be bought for four pounds sterling. In total, 13 000 were ordered in the two years to 1890. In 1893 the general took a liking to the Guedes rifle, and 5 305 of these were bought up to the end of 1895. In the closing months of that year, the Jameson Raid, and the growing inevitability of war with Britain, once again alerted the ZAR to how poorly its citizens were armed. In the first few weeks of 1896 a frenzied search ensued throughout southern Africa for all available Guedes and Martini rifles. Eventually the dust settled, however, and in more calculated deals a further 2 200 Guedes were acquired.

The Norwegian Krag-Jorgensen rifle was brought to General Joubert's attention around this time, and received a favourable reception. But owing to supply difficulties only 300 of these were bought, along with 20 carbines. Also in 1896 the general's attention was drawn by Dr Leyds, who was in Europe at the time, to the model 93 Spanish Mauser. This also found favour with the ZAR authorities, and on 2nd June of that year an order was placed for 20 000 Mauser rifles and 5 000 carbines. In the following year a further 10 000 Mausers and 2 000 carbines were ordered. A total of 500 sporting Mausers were acquired in 1899, but a final order for 4 000 Mauser rifles could not be delivered owing to the British blockade of Laurenco Marques. One of the reasons for the size of these orders was the ability of the Berlin-based manufacturer to deliver.

In the three years prior to the outbreak of war the ZAR bought a total of more than 33 000 Martinis from the Birmingham firm of Westley-Richards. Of these, 28 000 or so were of the well-known type with "Made specially for the ZAR" stamped on the receiver. Throughout this period burgher were still able to buy firearms privately, and this was why the Boers were armed with such a variety of weapons when the war broke out.

The Durban branch of the society recently changed its name to the KwaZulu-Natal branch. This was in recognition of the fact that its "catchment area" stretched well beyond the confines of Durban itself, and that members living outside the city were just as welcome as those inside, and would be appropriately catered for. In accordance with this commitment, the 10th August meeting of the branch will be held for the first time in Pietermaritzburg.



10 August
CR Martin Ayres One day in Military History
ML Rob Milne Anecdotes of the Aglo-Boer War
12 September
CR John Murray Nelson meets Wellington - 1805
ML Peter Goodship The political battle of Nooitgedacht


10 August
DDH Glenn Flanagan The Prince Imperial
ML Steve Watt A Statistical Analysis of the deaths of Imperial Soldiers in the Anglo-Boer War

Cape Town

10 Aug
D-I-Y Evening. Contributions from a variety of speakers

George Barrell (Scribe) (011) 791-2581

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