South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


Our speaker on 14 October 2010 was Mr John Parkinson, a member of the Johannesburg Branch of the SAMHS and a distinguished historian specializing in the Royal Navy. His topic for the evening was HMS Dorsetshire - Flagship of the Africa Station 1933 - 1935.

Mr Parkinson commenced his power point presentation with a fine photograph of the Dorsetshire, which was one of a class of thirteen "County" class heavy cruisers launched between 1926 and 1929. A ship of some 10 000 tons and 630 feet/192m long, she was armed with eight 8inch/200mm guns in four twin turrets, four 4inch/100mm anti-aircraft guns and some smaller weapons and eight torpedo tubes. She also carried a catapult-launched seaplane for use as a spotter and over horizon reconnaissance aircraft. Two of these ships served in the RAN and their purpose was protection of trade routes.

The 1930's were a different era to today. There was still a large British Empire and the King was Emperor of India. In July 1933, Dorsetshire commissioned at Plymouth under the command of Captain William Makeig-Jones (a former Navy heavy weight boxing champion) for service on the Africa station, replacing the light cruiser Cardiff which was half the size of Dorsetshire.

Dorsetshire left Britain on 4 September 1933 carrying a spare aircraft and other spares. Calling at Tenerife, Ascension and St Helena, she arrived at Simon's Town on 30 September 1933.

Her arrival coincided with the Khama affair. Tshekedi Khama had had a white blacksmith by the name of McIntosh whipped for "fooling around" with some local women. Although Khama had been needling the Colonial authorities for quite a while, he had gone too far. The High Commissioner was on leave in England but the C-in-C Vice-Admiral Edward Evans, acting in the place of the High Commissioner, worked closely with the Union authorities and moved a force of seamen and Royal Marines to Serowe. There the Admiral announced the suspension of Khama's tribal authority. Khama fairly quickly apologized and was reinstated.

Vice-Admiral Evans was a forceful character who had been a member of Scott's Polar Expedition in 1912. Thereafter he became a dashing destroyer captain during World War 1, becoming known as "Evans of the Broke". Prior to coming to South Africa, he commanded the Royal Australian squadron as a Rear-Admiral. While C-in-C Africa, he made every effort to publicise the benefits which the Navy brought to South Africa and to stress the maritime heritage of our country. He learnt to speak Afrikaans and made it his business to make personal friends of ministers and senior government officials. The flagship was frequently open to the public.

On Trafalgar Day, 21 October 1933, on the last day of the Rosebank Show (older members will remember these shows) Dorsetshire's crew perfomed a mock assault using the howitzers so recently returned from Bechuanaland. Dorsetshire's first official duty away from the Cape was the opening of the new Charl Malan Quay in Port Elizabeth where she was greeted by many local and national dignitaries. Many festivities took place - a Civic Banquet, fancy dress ball, march-past, fireworks display, searchlight and rocket display and a lecture by the Admiral on his Antarctic adventures! The new Charl Malan Quay was opened in style!

Armistice Day always involved the participation of the Navy and members of the UDF and RNVR (SA) were taken to sea to witness the full calibre firing of the 8inch/200mm guns. Social events included the entertainment of visiting foreign ships - two Italian submarines (Antonio Sciesa and Enrico Toti) on a five-month round Africa cruise and the French training cruiser Jeanne D'Arc. Other activities included a cricket match ay Ohlssons Brewery, won by Dorsetshire by one run and, as recorded by one of the midshipmen, celebrated by the consumption of some twenty dozen bottles of Lion Lager with the help of some of the spectators!!

In January 1934 exercises were conducted off Saldanha Bay where the ship met the Carnarvon Castle carrying Prince George (later Duke of Kent, killed in an air crash in 1942) for a state visit to South Africa and other Southern African countries. Dorsetshire took part in all the ceremonial activities.

There were more serious matters to be considered. The Japanese were suspected of having a policy of settling their citizens overseas, to act as spies/fifth columnists. They had even proposed Moçambique and Swaziland but this was stopped by the Union Government in discrete fashion. Note that the Japanese population in Brazil by 1934 was already 173 000! (Today still the largest population of Japanese descent outside of the Japanese homeland. The current Chief-of-Air-Staff in Brazil is also of Japanese ancestry.)

In 1934, Dorsetshire provided the means whereby troops of the Duke of Edinburgh's Own Rifles were landed at Saldanha. A modest exercise but a first for South Africa's forces and a portent of what was to come. Cdr Douglas-Pennant of Dorsetshire drew up the landing orders. In 1944 he commanded the naval and assault forces off Gold Beach in Normandy, a much larger undertaking. He became a full admiral and C-in-C of the Nore. [The C-in-C, The Nore, was an operational commander of the Royal Navy. His command (subordinate units, establishments, and staff) was informally known as the Nore Command. The Nore is a sandbank at the mouth of the River Medway. The command was established at Chatham in 1752 and became responsible for sub-commands at Chatham, London (less the Admiralty), Sheerness, Harwich and Humber. It was closed in 1961.]

Admiral Evans also took a great interest in the cadets at General Botha, taking them to sea from time to time. Dorsetshire visited various ports including Lourenço Marques and others in Madagascar. In 1934, joint manoeuvres were held with the cruiser Hawkins (flagship of the East Indies station) and other vessels. The flagships berthed at Maydon Wharf in Durban and endured a hectic period of social activity, followed by official visits to the government and Union Defence Force in Pretoria. The Captain of Hawkins was Tom Phillips who, as Admiral Phillips, commanded the Prince of Wales and the Repulse when these were sunk off Malaya in 1941. After the visits to ports in the eastern extremities of the Station, visits to ports on the western side followed - St Helena, Ascension, Dakar, Freetown, Takoradi, Lagos, Matadi (using the sloop Milford) and Lobito before returning to Simon's Town. Movements of the squadron were restricted to comply with the oil fuel allowance as the great depression was still in full swing. The German cruiser Emden, commanded by Captain Karl Doenitz was in port over the Christmas period of 1934, with much social activity between the ships.

In early 1935, Dorsetshire steamed to Cape Town, where the ships company took part in the opening of Parliament and a number of social events. On 23 January 1935, Dorsetshire, Carlisle and Milford set sail for Plymouth, which was reached on 11 February 1935. Her commission as Flagship on the Africa station had ended. Now she was to proceed to new waters, those of the China station.

At the outbreak of World War 2, Dorsetshire was at Wei Hai Wei in Northern China. After carrying out various patrol duties in Far Eastern waters, she arrived at Colombo to carry out similar patrols in the Indian ocean. She was now under the command of Capt Benjamin Martin, who was the first man in 87 years to rise from the lower deck to flag rank. In 1948 he retired as a Vice Admiral to live on the South Coast of Natal.

She now moved to the South Atlantic to replace Exeter but, before this could be done, the Battle of the River Plate was fought and the Graf Spee was scuttled. Then followed various patrols in the South Atlantic. She was now based in Freetown although any refits or repairs required were carried out in Cape Town. On 8 July 1942, she was part of the RN squadron off Dakar, at the time the French battleship Richelieu was put out of action by depth charge and torpedo attack.

Part of her duties involved escorting large passenger liners converted into troop ships. One such convoy included the liners Georgic, Monarch of Bermuda, Orontes, Cape Town Castle, Winchester Castle and Duchess of York, carrying troops round the Cape and up to Suez. In November 1940, Dorsetshire bombed the Italian port of Dante in Somaliland where there was a large salt works.

In May 1941, Dorsetshire was one of the many ships sent to the north Atlantic to take part in the hunt for the Bismarck. The cruisers were held back while the battleships King George V and Rodney slugged it out with Bismarck. At the end, the Dorsetshire fired 254 rounds of 8inch/200mm shell and then fired three torpedoes at very short range to sink Bismarck. Mr Parkinson then showed us a photo taken from Dorsetshire of Bismarck sinking. A number of survivors were rescued by Dorsetshire.

A refit at Newcastle then followed with a change of commander at Scapa Flow. The new captain was Augustine Agar, VC, awarded for sinking the Bolshevik vessel Oleg at Kronstadt in 1919. She then returned to the South Atlantic where she sank the supply ship Python. She escorted convoy WS12X round the Cape to Aden. This convoy consisted of six USN troopships carrying 20 000 British soldiers to the desert war in North Africa, although a large number of these were diverted elsewhere. The US had made these ships available to Britain BEFORE the US entered the war. On 7 December 1941, the Japanese entered the war and Dorsetshire then carried out many patrols in the Indian Ocean. Mention has been made of the use of the port facilities in Cape Town and Durban. It is well to remember how vital these were to the Allied war effort and the final victory that followed in 1945.

On 5 April 1942 Dorsetshire, in company with her sister ship Cornwall, was operating well to the south of Ceylon when the two ships were sunk by Japanese dive-bombers from Nagumo's carrier force, 53 dive-bombers under command of Lt Cdr Takashige Egusa who had led the dive bombers at Pearl Harbour. Dorsetshire sank in 13 minutes and Cornwall in eighteen, with considerable loss of life. (It should be borne in mind that this class of cruisers was not armoured.) A number of South African RNVR ratings had served on Dorsetshire and 16 of these died when she sank.

After the usual question and answer session, Maj Tony Gordon thanked our speaker for an interesting and informative talk and presented him with the customary gift.



Only a very few members have not paid their subscriptions for 2010. Please let us have your remittances as soon as possible.

A bank cheque for R60 was received from ABSA Bank recently. As the renewal advice attached thereto was not completed, we have no idea whose subscription this was. If YOU paid by way of an ABSA cheque, please contact the Treasurer, contact details below. Thank you.



In the continuing battle to preserve our military heritage, some of our members have performed sterling service to prevent vandalism and stop the structures from being demolished to make way for "progress". Such is the case in the ongoing battle to preserve and maintain one of our most precious coastal artillery assets, Fort Wynyard, squeezed in between the new Cape Town Stadium and the V&A Waterfront development. The latest on the matter is that the SAMHS (Cape Town) have been called upon to act as respondent in a (Provincial) Ministerial Appeal Hearing as we were the principal objectors in efforts to block approval for the erection of a complex of multi-storeyed and -levelled commercial structures between the Fort and Grainger Bay. The appellant in the matter is the development consortium who previously applied for Council's approval to erect the structures. The appeal hearing is scheduled for the 17th of this month.

The above matter just serves to underscore the increasingly important role our society has to play in endeavouring to maintain and preserve our military heritage, which played - and continues to play - such an important role in the history of the Cape over the past 350-odd years. It is incumbent upon us to ensure that our children's children will experience the same joy in viewing and touching these artifacts of yester-year, instead of only reading about it in some archival document, newspaper or book.



The Official History of the South African Naval Forces during the Second World War 1939 to 1945 is now available from the Naval Heritage Trust, P O Box 521 Simon's Town 7995, at a cost of R250 plus R30 postage. Please deposit the correct amount into the Naval Heritage Trust account at Standard Bank, Fish Hoek, Branch Code 036009, account 072102276. Send a copy of your deposit slip and address to the above address or Email to

Fellow branch and committee member, Cdr Mac Bisset, has published a book titled South African Recipients of the Pacific Star or Clasp, a Record of the South Africans who served in the Pacific during World War 2. It may be purchased from City Coins at a cost of R170 including postage. Contact email:



THURSDAY, 11 NOVEMBER 2010: 'When Thunder Rolled' by Simon Norton
Our speaker, well-known for his WWII-era biographical profiles of famous South African soldiers, will deviate from his normal repertoire and present an interesting aspect of the American Air War over North Vietnam during the 1960-1970s. An amazing tale of heroism over Hanoi and bungling in Washington DC - the crazy story of how the space age USA went to war in the air with a nation of farmers and lost!! The lecture will be illustrated in the unique, high-quality style which is our speaker's trademark! A fitting finale for the year's activities!


JANUARY, 20 JANUARY 2011*: South African Air Defence Artillery, Yesterday and Today, by Brig Gen John Del Monte and Maj Vidius Archer.
Our speakers, fellow-member Gen Del Monte, and Maj Vidius Archer, CO of the Cape Garrison Artillery, will give us an overview of the role and history of SA's air defence artillery in the 20th century to the present. Gen Del Monte will focus his talk on the history of the unit and Maj Archer on the current situation.



BOB BUSER: Treasurer/Asst. Scribe
Phone: Home: (evenings) 021-689-1639
Office: (mornings) 021-689-9771

Phone: 021-592-1279 (Office)

South African Military History Society /