South African Military History Society

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The first meeting of the year was opened by Chairman Bob Smith, after he had delayed the start for a few minutes to allow the large audience present to take their seats.

Bob commenced with the opening notices and gave notice of the forthcoming Anglo-Boer War Conference in Ladysmith, and drew the attention of all present to the relevant display in the tea room. He would be laying two wreaths on behalf of the Society at Spioen Kop on Sunday, 24 January.

Members interested in touring the battlefields of Angola between 16 May and 8 June are to contact the Secretary.

With these notices delivered, Bob then introduced the "curtain raiser" speaker. This was the well-known gun collector and weapons expert, Terry Willson, who has addressed the Society on previous occasions. The subject of Terry's talk was "The Boer, his Mauser and the First World War".

Using the actual weapons to illustrate his talk, Terry covered the influence on British military rifle design and marksmanship resulting from their experiences against the Boer and his Mauser during the Boer War, 1899-1902.

This presentation, covering short-term changes, musketry practice and long-term planning, commenced with a comparison of the Boer Mauser's strong points against the corresponding shortcomings of the contemporary Long Lee Enfield, as used by the British at that time. The average Boer's superiority over the British Tommy as a marksman and its causes was also considered.

Terry continued by outlining the apparently "stop-gap" changes which the British introduced into the original Lee Enfield design, as inspired by their experience of the Boer Mauser. This resulted in the superb Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifle with which the Expeditionary Force was armed in late 1914, when it faced the German armies at Mons, Ypres and other battles in the early days of the First World War, thus stabilising the Allied line and almost certainly preventing a catastrophic breakthrough. This "stop-gap" rifle, with relatively minor modifications, was to remain in service for the duration of the war and for almost 40 years thereafter. Attention was also drawn to the corresponding improvement in British musketry training, practice and marksmanship in the years leading up to WWI.

The presentation finally covered the so-called "long-term plan" in which the British, highly impressed with the performance of the Boer Mauser, developed their own version, closely based upon it, the Pattern '13. When hostilities commenced, the design of this rifle was used to produce the highly successful Pattern '14 which armed second line and training units, thus releasing Short Magazine Lee Enfields for front line service. It also became a popular sniping rifle. Because of a serious arms shortage, the design was also adopted by the United States of America when it entered the war in 1917, as the Model '17. This rifle armed two third of its soldiers, and the timely entry of the United Stated into the war ensured an Allied victory.

Terry concluded by pointing out that, although it is certainly not possible to claim that the changes and development brought about by British exposure to the Boers and their Mauser actually won the First World War, their most signification contribution at all stages must be acknowledged.

Following on to a most interesting round of question, Bob then introduced the next speaker. This was Alan Mantle, who is also very well known to our members. His subject was "Leonardo's Inventions for War", which Alan illustrated by means of a collection of top-class power point slides.

Alan commenced by giving a brief summary of Leonardo da Vinci's artistic and other achievements which have made his name remembered through the ages. This was followed by an overview of the geographical and political points of Italy in Leonardo's time as well as landmarks in his career.

Born in April 1452 in Vinci in Tuscany, Leonardo spent his early years in Florence and completed some memorable paintings, and in 1481 applied for the job as military engineer with the Duke of Milan, although he was a pacifist by nature. He obtained the post, moved to Milan and began a prodigious output of military designs. He remained in Milan until 1499 when the French invaded that city and during this period carried out some advanced military projects, while at the same time gaining fame as an artist, sculptor, architect and engineer.

Fleeing to Venice, he became, of all things, a naval architect, coming up with a multitude of advanced ideas for the Venetian Republic. These included a fast ram; a submarine; the first double-bottoms; underwater breathing apparatus and an air supply for divers. In 1401, Leonardo signed up with Caesare Borgia at Urbino, where he applied his mind to advanced ideas in fortification, many of which became standard practice in later years. He was a great believer in the modern theory of the "force multiplier" and many of his inventions reflect this. Many of his ideas could not be implemented at the time because of the lack of the technical resources required, but have modern day descendents in the tank; machine gun; gun carriage and Bailey bridge.

In 1503, Leonardo left Urbino and for the next twelve years lived in Florence, Rome and Milan. During this period he became famous as an artist and for his studies, through art, of anatomy and geometry. He was also fascinated by the idea of flight and, after a few abortive attempts at a flapping wing structure, became interested in gliding. From this he developed the concept of ailerons as part of a wing structure. As in his other ideas regarding the forerunners of the modern destroyer; submarine; tank; machine gun and portable bridge, Leonardo was stymied by primitive technology but during this "flying" phase, he also came up with the concept of modern wing design; the airscrew and propeller; the helicopter rotor and others.

In 1516 he was "head-hunted" by François I of France and died at Cloux near Amboise in May 1519. Interestingly enough, his designs for dykes to prevent flooding were actually implemented as recently as 60 years ago! A vast quantity of da Vinci's notes and manuscripts are still available at museums and libraries in France, Turin, London, Madrid and Seattle.

After a wide-ranging question period in which, surprisingly, most of the questions asked came from ladies in the audience, Alan was thanked by Committee member David Scholtz for his most interesting talk. Bob then closed the first meeting of the year.

Ivor Little,

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December 2009 Military History Journal

All paid up members as at 31 December 2009 are entitled to a copy of the December 2009 Journal. Some 40 "preview copies" were handed out to attending members in Johannesburg at the January lecture meeting; the balance will be posted to members during February

Please notify JoanMarsh, Hon Sec/Treas at the letterhead address, or at if your postal address has changed.

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Subscriptions for 2010

Invoices were posted during January - subscriptions have been increased to R195 single or R210 for a two-person family.

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SAMHSEC is to tour Hofmeyer, Norval's Pont and Colesberg from 28 to 30 May 2010. Further correspondence is to be forwarded to SAMHSEC members. Others are welcome to join the tour and should contact Malcolm on John Stevens & Pat Irwin's roles in initiating the tour are acknowledged with appreciation.

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