South African Military History Society



December 2001

PAST EVENTS: The November meeting started in a sombre mood, when our Chairman, Paul Kilmartin, announced that John Yelland and his wife Gill had been attacked in their home by 4 intruders earlier in the week. John, who has been the Society's excellent scribe for many years, was repeatedly stabbed with a knife and had to go to hospital for stitches in his face and arm.
Both John and Gill have suffered with bad health of late and this dreadful episode could not have come at a worse time for either of them. Fortunately nothing was stolen but both have required counselling. The whole meeting sent their best wishes to both John and Gill and wished them a speedy and full recovery.

It was also announced that the regular Armistice Day ceremony between the Society and the Moth's, scheduled to be held at the Old Fort Shell Hole on 11 November, would not take place this year. This was due to Armistice Day falling on the same day as Remembrance Sunday, and for that reason, the Moths would be on parade at 1100 hours. This will be the first time the Armistice Day ceremony will have been missed since its inauguration in 1994, but will be re-established next year on Monday 11 November 2002, starting at 10.30 hours.

Being November, it was time for Professor Mike Laing to carry out what is now described as his annual "Variations on a theme of General George Patton". For the uninitiated, Mike Laing has undertaken an extensive study of the great General, and gives his DDH talks in Patton's birthday month of November. The actual birthday date is the 11 November and that makes it another reason for everyone to remember Armistice Day. This year the DDH was entitled Colonel Oscar W. Koch. Colonel Koch, he held that rank at the end of the 2nd World War but was later promoted to Brigadier General, was G-2 Intelligence to General Patton in North Africa (Tunisia), Sicily and with Patton's famous 3rd Army in Western Europe after D-Day. Patton had total and absolute faith in the qualities of Koch as his senior Intelligence Officer and believed that a good man in that position had the right of decision - the right to say "yes" or "no" based on the facts and options available to him at any given time. There is a well-known example of that. The scene is Sicily, on the high ground above the invasion beach at Gela. Patton had been given permission by General Alexander to attack towards Agrigento on his way to Palermo, on condition that this attack would not result in a major counter-attack from the German forces. Patton asked Koch if this level of German activity would result from his plan, and Koch answered immediately "No, Sir". Patton, without hesitation, ordered the advance and within 2 days they had advanced beyond Agrigento and were on their way to Palermo. The Germans did not counter-attack and Koch's evaluation of the position was entirely justified.

Oscar Koch was born of German-Jewish parents in 1897 and spoke fluent German. He served in the 1st World War as a volunteer commando in the National Guard and joined the regular USA army cavalry in 1920. He first met Patton in the mid 1930's when they served together in the same Regiment at Fort Riley, Kansas. In 1942, Patton was given command of the landings in North Africa, which were to be launched from the American east coast (!!) and he contacted Koch and asked him to join him. Koch had already been told that he was too old for an overseas posting, but Patton soon had that overruled by getting him to volunteer and Koch joined as a staff officer for Operation Torch. Despite success in North Africa and Sicily, Koch's greatest influence was with the 3rd Army. He and Patton went to England and set up 2 armies in order to confuse the Germans - which they did most successfully. Army Group Patton was a virtual army that, due to the fame of Patton's name, led the Germans to believe that this was the army that would lead the invasion force through the Calais region. The real 3rd Army was scheduled to land in Normandy after the successful D-Day landings, to provide added punch to drive the Germans back through France, and they landed on 25 July 1944, 6 weeks after D-Day. They were involved in the important break out at Falaise, with Patton taking the southern flank, Montgomery the northern flank in the drive towards Antwerp and Hodges the central position.
This all led eventually to the German counter attack in the Ardennes in December 1944. Initial delays in the allied advance had been caused by the attack on Arnhem, but after that Patton had driven forward to the Rhine and was planning a major offessive to go across the Rhine and into Germany on 19 December 1944. Koch was leading the intelligence planning for this operation and to be thorough he covered the ground as far as 100 miles north of Patton's position. It was there that he saw evidence of the German buildup and forecasted the Ardennes offensive with detailed proof of German intent. No one took any notice and Koch was distressed at the lack of interest in the information he was providing. He called a meeting of all 3rd Army officers including Patton, and plans were initiated to delay their crossing of the Rhine and as an alternative to turn 3rd Army north to protect their left flank when the Germans counter attacked. When the Ardennes offensive took place the 3rd Army was the only military unit prepared and ready to act - which they did. It was one of the great intelligence coups of the war and explains the great confidence that Patton had in his G-2 Intelligence. At the end of the war, Koch was put in charge of all US army Intelligence training, served as commander of the 25th Infantry Division in Korea with the rank of Brigadier General, and retired in 1954. Mike Laing gave us a fascinating account of the achievements of this remarkable and little known man, who died in 1970 when he was 73 years of age.

The November meeting was the closest date to the anniversary of one the most important battles, if not the definitive turning point, of the Second World War. To mark that anniversary, our Vice Chairman Bill Brady gave the main talk of the evening, which was entitled Pearl Harbour: The 60th Anniversary. Using all 4 of the presentation aids available - overhead slides, computer slides, photographic slides and the video - our speaker gave us a detailed account of the raid itself (the devastating blow delivered by Imperial Japan at Pearl Harbour which introduced America to total war) and went on to explain why Japan felt it necessary to attack America, how they achieved the surprise, the overall impact on the war, what errors were made on both sides, and the various reasons given as to why America were caught so unawares. It was a wide canvas, masterfully presented.

Towards the end of 1941, the Tripartite Alliance of Germany, Italy and France was very much in the ascendancy and seemed poised for victory. German forces were closing in on Moscow and Alexandria and Japan was ready to take control of the mineral resources in various countries in the Far East. In the west, France was defeated and Britain was fighting alone and losing the U-Boat war despite unofficial support from the USA. It seemed a good time for Japan to make an early strike at the one dangerous enemy likely to hamper their progress - the USA Pacific Fleet and supporting air power.

A Japanese carrier force of 6 aircraft carriers, 2 battleships, 3 cruisers and 11 destroyers, under the controlling command of Admiral Yamamoto, sailed from Japan on 26 November 1941 and steamed undetected over 5,000 kms of open sea to a position just 350km north of Hawaii. From there they launched 350 aircraft on 2 surprise attacks, and caused the deaths of 2,400 Americans (with another 1,300 wounded), destroyed 230 aircraft (over 66% of the total) and 18 ships (including 8 battleships) were sunk, destroyed or badly damaged. The Japanese losses, by comparison, were 29 planes and 100 men. There were 2 saving features for the USA: firstly their aircraft carriers were not in port and so were saved from possible destruction (it was a major mistake when Japan did not search out and destroy these US carriers and was to prove costly to them later in the war) and secondly the Japanese decided not to launch their third attack and so the naval repair facilities and the massive US oil reserves of 4.5 million barrels were saved. Without that oil the USA action after Pearl Harbour would have been paralysed.

Bill Brady then took us through the action taken, or more correctly the lack of action taken, by the US commanders prior to the attack. They had been warned from Washington on 27 November 1941 that talks with the Japanese had failed and that Japan was expected to make an aggressive move within days. The statement read "consider this to be a war warning". With 10 days to act, Admiral Kimmel - the US naval commander, and General Short - the army commander, did nothing. Jointly, they could not remotely contemplate any strike against Pearl Harbour, which they regarded as "The best defended naval base in the world". Consequently no submarine or air patrols were sent out, no anti torpedo nets were installed around the ships, anti-aircraft guns were not manned, ammunition was kept locked away in the best peace time tradition, being a Sunday the men were given leave and perhaps worst of all, vitally important intelligence information and radar reports that were received, were all ignored. To take just 1 example: 30 minutes before the attack, US radar reported the approach of a large number of aircraft. This report was ignored as it was "assumed" to be a flight of B-17 bombers arriving from the USA. No aircraft were sent up to investigate. It was the Japanese attack flight!! When a full report reached President Roosevelt, he sacked Kimmel and Short for gross neglect of duty and for ignoring all the warnings and indications of obvious Japanese intent. In going through the detail of their actions, Bill came firmly to the conclusion that both men were guilty of military incompetence and were rightly blamed for the fiasco.

After providing in some detail the damage caused to the main US ships that were in harbour on 7 December 1941, and their subsequent recovery, Bill Brady then covered 2 important supporting issues of the whole Pearl Harbour debacle. Firstly, what was the western (particularly USA) view of Japan and its fighting capabilities at the time, and secondly the detail of the "Conspiracy Theory", which was an attempt to put the blame at a higher level than the local commanders.

On their view of Japan, the allies hopelessly underestimated Japan's military capacity and offensive capability, either through faulty intelligence or Japan's ability to hide their progress. In addition the US treated the Japanese people with contempt, and felt that due to their size and appearance they could not match the people of the west. Equally the allies were convinced that Japan was bankrupt and exhausted from its recent war with China. This combination of incorrect views led to an arrogance that caused a terrible cost in lives and suffering to the allied troops in the Far East theatre of the war, as Japan proved that they had military equipment of superior design (particularly the Zero aircraft) an advanced strategic concept in the use of naval air power (Japan understood the strategic importance of the aircraft carrier over the limitations of the battleship before the allies and used that understanding to full effect at Pearl Harbour) and they had highly trained and skilful military personnel.

The Conspiracy Theory has been an attempt by revisionists to put the blame, not on the local commanders, but squarely on President Roosevelt. The Theory holds that the President specifically planned to bring about the attack on Pearl Harbour, and intentionally withheld information of the attack from commanders Kimmel and Short. He did this in order to achieve his main aim, which was to get support from the American people to go to war with, not Japan, but Germany. By allowing Pearl Harbour to proceed, it would provoke Hitler to declare war on the USA in the terms of the Tripartite Agreement, and this happened on 11 December 1941. Now America could come out openly in support of the allies in Europe against Germany. The revisionists treat Roosevelt as a traitor to his people and that this "Day of Infamy", as Roosevelt described the 7 December 1941, belonged not to Japan but to their own President. Our speaker's summary on the Theory was that after his research, he had come to the conclusion that "neither evidence or common sense justifies this viewpoint" and that Pearl Harbour was not due to any conspiracy, but to poor leadership, military incompetence and human shortcomings. To conclude, Bill Brady made 3 comments. Firstly for the Japanese: "That never in military history has a successful operation proved more fatal to the aggressor". Secondly for the Americans: "That this ignominious defeat was the ultimate price to pay for being under prepared". And finally, as his summary: "That this outstanding example of a major tactical success, proved to be the greatest strategical error of the Pacific conflict." It was a compelling end to a review of this compelling event of 60 years ago.

Jimmy Monk proposed a well-received vote of thanks to both our speakers for giving the meetieg 2 outstanding and fascinating talks and providing a fitting end to what has been an excellent year for the Society.



As a Society we have a record of listening, and learning from the other sides point of view, the "other side" being no more than the minority view to that of most of our members. In the past we have listened to Heinz Werner Schmidt, who served as a front line soldier through the 2nd World War - including a time as Rommel's ADC in the western desert in 1941 - for the German perspective of that war. We have listened to previously active members of MK, and in our audience we have had a number of our members who actively fought against them in years past. We have brought together direct descendants of both sides who took part in the so-called Bhambatha Rebellion of 1906 and seen them talk, and listen to each others' point of view. We will continue that tradidon in our first meeting of 2002, when BRIAN KENNEDY will give our main talk, and his subject will be THE IRA CAMPAIGN IN ARMAGH. This is current military history and we all look forward to learning about the "other side".

Our Chairman PAUL KILMARTIN will give the DDH, when for a change, he will be leaving his interest in the 1st World War to talk to us about one of the most controversial single events of the 2nd World War, and one that has fascinated him for many years. His talk will be entitled RUDOLF HESS : HIS FLIGHT TO SCOTLAND, MAY 1941.

Both talks should provide a fascinating start to 2002.


Set out on the back of this sheet, is our program for 2002. Please note that in addition to January, the August meeting will also be held on the 3rd Thursday of the month due to a clash with a public holiday falling on the Friday after the 2nd Thursday in August. Please also note that August and September will be away months in our Society "fixture list". In August we will have our annual Base Visit and our 2002 Battlefield Tour, this time to Prince Imperial country. Final details will follow on both trips early next year. In September we will hold our meeting in Pietermaritzburg. We first did that in September 2000 and it was a most successful evening, and the committee hopes that this will become a regular function every other year.
The Armistice Day ceremony will be held again on Monday 11 November at 10,30 am, and our Annual Dinner will be held on the 2nd Thursday in December.

The committee wish all members and their families and friends, a very Happy, Restful and Healthy holiday over the Christmas and New Year festivities, and look forward to another successful year for the Society in 2002.


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

PROGRAM 2002: Kwazulu-Natal Branch

17 January
DDH Paul Kilmartin - Rudolf Hess: His Flight to Scotland, May 1941
Main Brian Kennedy - The IRA Campaign in Armagh
14 February
DDH Ian Sutherland - The Retaliatory Air Raid on Bath: 1943
Main Ken Gillings - Summary of The Anglo-Boer War in 1901
14 March
DDH Col. Harold Rosenberg - Honorus Crux: The South African "VC"
Main Col. Graham du Tolt - South African Casualties in World War 2
11 April
DDH Dr. Ingrid Machin - The Formation of the Zulu "Regiments"
Main Maj. Gen. Chris Le Roux - The SANDF. From the "Old" to the "New"
9 May
DDH Dr. Gus Allen - Irish Cameo No.2
Main Paul Kilmartin - The Battle of Loos. September 1915
13 June
DDH Bill Brady - USS Harry S. Truman
Main Ken Gillings - A Summary of The Anglo-Boer War in 1902
11 July
DDH Charles Whiteing - Robey Leibbrandt & Operation Weissdorn
Main Prof Philip Everitt - The Battle of Sidi Rezeg 1941
15 August
17/18 August
Prince Imperial, Hlobane and Khambule
12 September
DDH Prof. Paul Thompson - Subject To Be Confirmed
Main TBC - Subject To Be Confirmed
10 October
DDH Ken Gillings - What really happened at VLAKFONTEIN ? May 1901
Main Bill Brady - Bomber Command
11 November
(Monday) 10.30 am
Armistice Day - Old Fort Shell Hole - Paul Kilmartin
14 November
DDH Prof Mike Laing - Patton?
Main Gilbert Torlage - The Private War between Gen. Sir Redvers Buller and Gen. Sir Charles Warren
12 December
Annual Dinner

South African Military History Society /