South African Military History Society


March 2000 News Sheet No. 299

PAST EVENTS:Our March meeting started off with a graphic, if not hilarious account by our former Chairman and fellow member, Ken Gillings, of the Re-enactment of the Night March by the British forces up the south face of Spioenkop on 23-24 January to mark the centenary of that great battle. Our speaker, who was the leader of that intrepid band, told us how all twenty of them, (our Branch was conspicuous by its absence), formed up at 21h00 on the night of the 23rd January this year and, simulating the existing conditions of a hundred years ago, even to the point of not allowing the use of torches, marched off on this incredible journey with nothing but starlight to guide them on their way.
It was also supposed to have been in complete silence, but apparently the language used by some of the participants as they extricated themselves from the various thorntrees and dongas while dodging the attentions of irate black rhinos was enough to waken the very dead they had come to honour. Fortunately, the timely emergence of the full moon bathed the whole area in an almost blinding light and allowed most of the party to reach the summit at some ungodly hour of the morning, almost one hundred years to the minute that the original British force had done so.
However, instead of trying to dig trenches in the solid rock, they all paid homage to the various memorials that had been erected on the summit to the men who had died in the slaughter that took place when the mists cleared on that fateful morning of 24th January 1900. However not content with what had taken place, those who had survived the night, then decided to emulate the Boer advance from the other side of Spioenkop, which they reached at 07h00. Apparently the whole interlude was so enjoyed by all those who took part, that it was suggested that it become an annual event. However, our speaker was of the opinion that the bi-centennial commemoration would be soon enough.

Our DDH talk was given by fellow-member, Charles Whiteing, who spoke on "Normandy Revisited". Our speaker, who had had the good fortune to have been on a Holt's Battlefields' Tour in June 1994 to mark the 50th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, started off by giving us a brief commentary on the historical events that had taken place on that occasion. Briefly on the morning of the 6th June 1944, one of the greatest armadas the world has ever seen arrived off the coast of German-occupied Normandy and proceeded to discharge thousands of men, tons of ammunition and supplies and hundreds of military weapons, vehicles and tanks. This was D-Day and the start of the Allied invasion of Europe. There were five beaches which were attacked simultaneously by American, British and Canadian forces. Notwithstanding a most vigorous and intense defence by the Germans, the Allied forces succeeded in establishing a beachhead, thereby marking the beginning of the end of Hitler and his Nazi Germany. Our speaker then went on to describe his tour of the beaches still littered with the remains of the famous "Mulberry Harbour", rusty bits and pieces of wrecked landing craft, transport and armoured vehicles. He mentioned how his tour had taken him to Arromanches, with its famous D-Day military museum. It was also at this location that the parade and march-past of the veterans took place, with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip taking the salute. Notwithstanding all the pomp and ceremony, our speaker was most impressed with Prince Andrew, who mingled with the veterans, enquiring after their part in that great battle which had taken place 50 years ago to the day. Our speaker, who is to be congratulated for his excellent first-time talk, finished off with a top-class home video of his part in the proceedings. Well done Charles and we hope to hear more from you in the future.

Our main talk for the evening was given by fellow-member, Pat Budd, who spoke on the "The German V1 and V2 Rockets : The World's First Cruise and Ballistic Missiles". Our speaker, who spoke from his own personal experiences as a young boy, started off his talk with a dramatic actuality recording of the arrival of a VI rocket over Southern England in June 1944. It brought our members to the edges of their seats as we heard the intermittent roar of the pulse jet engine, the abrupt cut out of the motor followed by a spine-chilling silence and then the earth-shattering explosion! And there we sat for the rest of his talk, while our speaker gave us a comprehensive description of the development of the V1 and V2 rockets and their devastating effect on the people of Britain during the closing stages of the Second World War.
The 'V' designation stood for "Vergeltungswaffe" or in English, a "Revenge or Reprisal Weapon" - a typical Hitler touch with its morale-boosting connotations for the German populace.

The V1 was developed by the Luftwaffe as a pilotless aircraft. For propulsion, it used a pulse jet engine that had been designed and developed initially by a German by the name of Paul Schmidt for what he described as an aerial torpedo. At about the same time, in 1934, the German aero-engine firm of Argus Moterenwerke became interested in the pulse-jet system of propulsion and their design team developed their version of the "Schmidt Duct". In the summer of 1939, the German Air Ministry invited Argus to submit proposals for a pilotless missile with a range of 560 kms (350 miles), but because the war was going so well for the Germans, little further work on its development took place at that stage. It was only in 1942 that Argus was advised not to abandon the project. However, later in that same year, they were ordered to put the project on top priority. They were to use their Argus engine, the Fieseler airframe and Askania control systems. The reason for this was that the Allied bombing of Germany was taking its toll and the Luftwaffe was investigating alternative means of conserving their limited resources. By December, successful launchings from both catapult-assisted ramps and aircraft had taken place at Peenemunde. It should be noted that although the V1 could climb to a height of 3 000m and reach a top speed of 654 krns/hr, its engine lacked the power to launch itself . By late September 1943, mass production of this weapon had commenced and launching sites in Northern France were being constructed. These were ready by the beginning of June 1944 and the first operational launching against Southern England took place on June 13 - one week exactly after D-Day!

In contrast, the initial research and development of the V2 rocket was started long before the V1 in the early '30's. It was instigated by the German Army, which was trying to find a way round the restrictions placed on the development of heavy artillery under the Treaty of Versailles. It was a true rocket projectile with a tail-fin span of 3,6m and a length of 14,4m. Its operational weight was 12 805kg which included a 998kg warhead. It was powered by a rocket motor using a mixture of liquid oxygen and ethyl alcohol. It had a terminal velocity of 6 080kms/hr and a range of 304kms. The first operational launching against England took place in September 1944.
The arrival of the V1 and V2 rockets in June and September 1944 caught the British by surprise. Although they had received several intelligence reports on the testing and construction of the rockets, they tended to discount them on the grounds that they were not feasible. They ignored the possibility that the Germans could be using liquid fuel as their scientists were totally locked on to the solid fuel concept, which would have required a rocket of enormous proportions to carry an effective warhead. Fortunately, the RAF continued to carry out extensive photo-reconnaissance of the areas concerned and it was mainly through their efforts that certain vital sites were discovered and destroyed. Unfortunately, one of the raids hit a nearby forced labour camp from which most of their first hand information had been obtained, thereby neutralizing a valuable intelligence source. Nevertheless, the bombing raids did delay the onset of both the V1 and V2 rocket attacks, but even so, their devastating effect nearly brought Britain to its knees. The psychological effect on the civilian population was enormous, especially with the V2. Although the RAF had devised ways of destroying the V1's while they were still airborne, there was no answer for the V2's other than to destroy their launching sites.

Fortunately for the Allies, the rocket attacks on Britain occurred during the closing stages of the Second World War, for if Hitler had had them at his disposal even six months earlier, there could have been a very different outcome to the War. And, if Hitler's scientists had been able to develop a nuclear warhead before the Allies did, the world as we know it today would have been vastly different place.

After an interesting and once again speculative question time, fellow-member, Dave Matthews thanked all three of our speakers for a most informative and enjoyable evening.


At our last 2 meetings we have collected names for our 2000 Battlefield Tour to Ulundi and surrounding areas during the first weekend of June 2000. So far we have 40 names, but as we have made arrangements to stay at the Umfolozi Game Reserve, we have vacancies for a further 25 names if we wish to reserve the whole camp. If we can manage that we will certainly have a splendid braai that evening!! In addition we have to make a part payment by 1 March (which we will do as many of those members who have already confirmed have paid for their bookings) and make the final payment before the 20 March. If any member makes a booking after that date, we cannot guarantee a place at Umfolozi, as we will have to release any unbooked accommodation. For those wishing to book, please contact PAUL KILMARTIN on 268-7400 (0) or 561-2905 (H).

The bed and breakfast accommodation available, for the 1 night, is as follows:
1. Chalet with en-suite. 2 bedrooms, sleeps 4. Cost R145 per night, per person
2. Cottage with en-suite. 3 bedrooms, sleeps 6. Cost R180 per night, per person
3. Chalet with en-suite, 1 bedroom, sleeps 2. Cost R135 per night, per person
4. Small Chalet with communal bathrooms, 1 bedroom, sleeps 2. Cost R95 per night, per person
Please select the accommodation of your choice and ring PAUL with your booking.

The final bookings can be made at the next meeting on 9 March and any questions can be answered at that time. Certainly many members will have stayed at Umfolozi and will know that the standards are very high. We are hoping for a full party, especially as all the recent Battlefield Tours have been such a success. For your information plans are already in place for the 2001 Tour!!!

As far as our speakers are concerned for this year, we have 4 confirmed to cover the main battles and other related aspects. We are looking for a 5th speaker and if you feel that you have the knowledge to add value to the tour, or you know of anyone who would want to speak to us, then please contact KEN GILLINGS on (031)267-0008.

Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
4 Hadley,101 Manning Road,Glenwood,Durban,4001
Telephone: (031) 201 3983

South African Military History Society /