Newsletter no. 412
The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture ('DDH') was given by guest speaker Mr. Aubrey Short named "How we Saved Durban from the Japanese and Germans". Here is Aubrey's story: "At the age of sixteen and a half, many of my final matric class were over eighteen and immediately joined either the NMR or the RLDI and were nineteen when they finished their training and were in Northern Africa by the end of the year. Unbeknown to my parents, and although I had entered the NUC to study Engineering, I went along to the recruiting office to try my luck at joining the SA Air Force. Regrettably, who should I find to be the Recruiting Officer, was my Uncle, who at sixteen, had joined the first World War in the UK in France until he suffered from a gas attack. The moment he saw me and heard my story, he immediately phoned my Father, and I heard him say. "Bill, your son is here and wants to join up, - what do I tell him?" My Uncle turned to me and quoted, "Your Dad says, - go away until you turn eighteen."
Well he could see I was again disappointed as I had been on many occasions because of my lower age than what my colleagues were, and was about to walk away, when he recalled me and advised me to go along to the RDLI on a Saturday afternoon, and I would find a number of men being trained in the hall, and suggested I look for an officer by name, which he gave me, and ask if you could join them. I proceeded to the RDLI where I walked into the large hall, to see quite a large number of what I thought, were elder men, being drilled in parade ground procedure. I eventually found the officer I was seeking. He took me into his office and when he had taken all my particulars, he introduced me to the fact that they represented a troop known as the South African Coastal Defence Corps. He also explained that the Corps was inaugurated by General Smuts because of the vast coastline around the shores of South Africa, which were vulnerable to landings by either the Germans or the Japanese, in unpredicted numbers to undermine the situation of the allied nature of our country and to gain knowledge about shipping etc. because of the fact that it was the major route to the far east. Smuts was aware of the earlier attacks Germany had made against South West Africa against which he was obliged to defend.
The Saturday afternoon drilling was continued for about four weeks, which I found easy since we had a very good cadet contingent at DDS whilst there, and to be disciplined was easy. Then we were briefed on what our task was to be and when it was to be carried out. It came as a bit of a shock, that we would be assembled at 6.00 pm on our duty nights, which amounted to two nights on and two nights off out on the Bluff and what was required of us when we arrived at our posts. We were required to board military trucks after collecting rifles and Bren guns, and would be delivered to the earth dug outs which required further digging and preparing to give clear vision onto the beaches below. These were manned by six of us to each dug out where we settled in and enjoyed our rations with two hours at a time to be on duty and for two hours off minimum. In our group, we were extremely lucky because two of them were directors of the Butterworth Hotel, in Soldiers Way as we remember it, and they used to bring with them hampers of choice offerings, so we were the best fed of the company.
Then came the 20th May 1943, and I again presented myself at the recruiting office because I turned 18, and my Father agreed that he had given my Uncle his approval for me to join the Air Force. When I informed the SACDC Command, there was only encouraging support, and my Group made me promise, that whenever I returned from the war, I would come and join them in the MOTH, Twinkle Shellhole. By the end of '43 I had my Wings and in early '44 I found my posting in Italy with 11 Squadron until we flew out in Spitfires, taken over from a RAF Squadron, ostensibly to go and join the Korean War. We only got as far as Fayid when the OC advised that we were to return home.
We waited patiently in Almaza for a ship, but it was slow in coming. One evening, four of us were playing bridge in the mess and at about ten, the Adjutant walked in, and loudly said so that all could hear, "Who wants to go home?" We nearly threw our chairs at him, but he quickly added, " Any of you who can see the MO and satisfy him that your inoculations and injections were up to date; you can pack a 40lb bag with your possessions, as well by midnight, you will get a bus to take you to the Gezira Flying Boat base where you will board a Flying Boat for Durban at 6.00am. Only two of us decided to comply. When we found the MO asleep, we woke him up and he informed me that I was lacking two injections and one vaccination, which I promptly told him he could do it right away; which he did. Then sadly, I dumped my inner silk liners; my fleece lined jacket and trousers; my lined boots and my flying goggles, I dumped in the mess, together with a Luger I had picked up somewhere, and was ready at midnight. It took six days to get to Durban with fueling stops with only six of us on board plus the crew. Sadly, we were not told that a ship would be available one day after we left and we had thrown away all our precious kit otherwise we would have waited the extra day."
The main talk was presented by fellow member Charles Whiteing and entitled "The Battle for Le Pont de Hoc."
Le Ponte du Hoc was an ominous finger of land, four miles west of Omaha Beach, and seven miles east of Utah Beach. Its natural defenses consisted of high cliffs, and manmade defences including six concrete casemates housing 155mm guns with a range of 15 miles.
These guns had to be destroyed before H-Hour (06h30) on the 6th June.
Although the site had been heavily bombed since April, the guns were still thought to be operative. The area was defended by the German 352nd Infantry Division comprising both veteran troops and young recruits.
The 100 ft high cliffs made a seaward attack almost impossible, with the landward side protected by minefields, barbed wire and other defenses. They were bombed by the 9th US Air Force. However, Le Pointe du Hoc could not be singled out for too many raids lest the identification of the Normandy landings be compromised. In many ways the success of the landings; most certainly the US sector; would hinge on the successful destruction of these guns.
Eisenhower decided that the mission to destroy the guns be assigned to elite troops specially trained in assault tactics. These were the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions commanded by Lt. Col. James Rudder. Omar Bradley, the commanding general of the First US Army briefed Rudder on his assignment. He ordered Rudder and three companies of about 200 men, to land on the shoreline, and then scale the imposing 100 foot cliff and destroy the guns. After destroying the guns Rudder and his men were to establish a roadblock on the coastal road between Omaha and Utah Beaches to disrupt any German reinforcements to the two respective landing sites.
Companies E & F landed on the east of the point with Company D on the west. As the first LCA`s came to within a mile off shore, the Germans opened fire with machine guns and mortars. The Rangers were initially pinned down at the base of the cliff with German troops firing & tossing "potato mashers" down on them. The Rangers fired their rockets, but due to the weight of the heavy wet ropes, many of the grappling hooks fell short and none actually reached the top. Trailing smoke and fire the LCA`s fired their rocket launchers and appeared to the Germans to be some type of new secret weapon. The first group to reach the top found cover in the many bomb and shell craters, and were able to offer supporting fire for the rest of the climbers, Col. Rudder and his team set up their initial headquarters in a shallow cave at the bottom of the cliff which gave them shelter from occasional gunfire.
Only about 150 men made it to the top of the cliff and set out for their first objective - the Battery Observation Post. They attacked the OP from two sides but it took two days before it was taken. The Rangers experienced small arms fire from the Germans in the surrounding concrete trenches, and machine gun fire from within the cupola itself. They then threw four hand grenades towards the trenches and subsequently occupied them. From this vantage point a Bazooka was fired at the cupola slit; the shot first hitting the edge, the second penetrating the slit. Taking advantage of this, a group of Rangers ran behind the OP without drawing any enemy fire. A German soldier was seen close to the OP throwing grenades over the cliff. However he ducked under the entrance to the OP after a couple of Rangers threw grenades in his direction.
One of the Rangers got close enough to hear radio communications from within the OP and shot the aerial off the top of it. On the afternoon of D+1, two charges of explosives were detonated in the entrance of the OP. Surprisingly, eight unwounded Germans came out with their hands up, and only one dead soldier was found inside.
Rudder ordered his communication officer to descend the cliff and use to one of the few working radios not damaged by sea water. The signal transmitted to Headquarters was "Praise the Lord", indicating "all men up the cliff." & that the initial attack had been successful. After continuous fighting the Ranger`s finally fought their way to their ultimate mission- the destruction of the six heavy gun emplacements. They found three of the concrete casemates still under construction, with the other three empty as the Germans had yet to position the guns. Disappointed that no guns were sited, the Rangers moved on to their second major objective, to establish a roadblock on the main coastal road from Vierville and Grandcamp.
By 08h30 on 7 June, a Ranger patrol found the missing German guns. The six guns appeared to have been abandoned, and had been pulled back about 550 yards from the casemates and carefully camouflaged in an apple orchard. The guns were disabled by placing Thermite grenades in their breech blocks and the ammunition dump blown up.
Colonel Rudder displayed great courage and leadership as he helped his men in his command post to hoist the Stars and Stripes as high as they could so the advancing troops knew they were Americans.
Colonel Rudder counted his losses in taking Pointe du Hoc with Medical Capt. Walter Block ministering to the 130 Rangers who were dead or dying near the cliffs, and those wounded before being evacuated.
For some days afterwards, there were pockets of German resistance in and around the cliffs and craters.
After the war there was a mistaken impression that the assault, daring and brave as it was, had resulted in a needless loss of life as the guns were not there and had never been mounted in the casemates.
Although the Allies had extensively bombed the area, to the best of their knowledge there were still guns on that headland that had the ability shell and totally disrupt the invasion fleet, the two invasion beaches, and troop marshalling areas. Rudder's Rangers had accomplished their difficult mission; - le Pointe du Hoc was in American control, the feared 155mm guns destroyed, and the main coastal road severed.
Former chairman Ken Gillings delivered a vote of thanks to both speakers for their excellent presentations.
THE SOCIETY'S NEXT MEETING:
Thursday 10 June 2010 - 19h00 for 19h30. Venue: Murray Theatre, Dept of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban. The Darrell Hall (DDH) Memorial Lecture will be presented by guest speaker Eric Colmer on 'D-Day - I was there' .
The Main Talk will be presented by Bill Brady on 'Normandy then and now; a Power-Point Presentation'.
KZN BRANCH FUTURE TALKS: July to September 2010.
(NB - Please note the changes to the DDH Lectures in August and September. Capt Brian Hoffmann and Ken Gillings have swapped dates).
8th JULY 2010: DDH - 'A Bridge called Pegasus' by Charles Whiteing.
Main Talk - 'The Role of Indian Troops During the Anglo-Boer War' by Ganes Pillay.
12th AUGUST 2010: DDH - Capt Brian Hoffmann: 'Allied Operations in Syria, Persia & Iraq, May to Sept 1941'.
Main Talk - 'The Raid on the Medway' by Jesse Wesseloo.
9th SEPTEMBER 2010 - 'Lt Col JN Crealock's Watercolours - Then and Now' by Ken Gillings.
Main Talk - 'Three Russian Victories that Changed the World' by Prof Mike Laing.
2010 Battlefield Tour: This will take place over the weekend of the 18th / 19th September 2010. In response to several requests from our members, this year we will focus on the Central Column's invasion of Zululand in 1879 and cover the Battle of Isandlwana and the Defence of Rorke's Drift. For those who wish to, we'll also follow the Fugitive's Trail from Isandlwana to Fugitives' Drift. NB: This will entail a three hour walk followed by the crossing of the Mzinyathi River and should only be attempted if you are fit. For those who do not wish to walk the trail, we'll need you to ferry the vehicles from Isandlwana to Fugitives' Drift.
A list will be circulated with effect from the next meeting.
Accommodation has been reserved at the Elandsheim Lutheran Church Retreat at Elandskraal and they will soon require a deposit. Please let Ken Gillings know if you wish to attend the tour by e-mailing him on firstname.lastname@example.org . If you would like to contribute to the lectures on site, please indicate this in your e-mail, giving details about your topic.
NB: MEMBERS ARE REQUESTED TO MAKE THEIR OWN BOOKINGS WITH ELANDSHEIM. THEIR E-MAIL ADDRESS IS email@example.com . PLEASE MARK YOUR RESERVATION FOR THE ATTENTION OF WERNER HARMS. ELANDSHEIM'S TELEPHONE NUMBER IS 034 642 1703.
The following accommodation is available at Elandsheim:
Dinner B&B is R320.00 per person per night.
Self catering: Huts with en suite facilities and Rooms under the oak tree are R220.00 per room per night.
Huts with shared ablution are R180.00 per night.
Camping is R100 per site (max 6 per site). We can offer Breakfast for R40.00pp. If bedding is required, add R40 extra per person.
Ideally, we need to arrive at Elandsheim on the night of Friday 17th September 2010 to enable us to make an early start on Saturday 18th September. The itinerary will be as follows:
SATURDAY 18TH SEPTEMBER 2010: 07h30 departure from Elandsheim. Briefing on the background to the Anglo-Zulu War on the bank of the Mzinyathi River at Rorke's Drift. Continue past Masodjeni to the area of Chief Sihayo's homestead, 'kwaSogekle' ('the rooster's comb') before continuing to the Nyoni Ridge for the next stage of the briefing. We'll then proceed to Mangeni for stage 4, then to the Mabaso for a discussion regarding the discovery of the main Zulu army, ending at Isandlwana for the details of the battle. We need to commence walking the Fugitives' Trail by 14h00, so the abovementioned arrangements may be curtailed or amended to ensure that this takes place. ETA Elandsheim 18h00. Lunch to be arranged by members.
SUNDAY 19TH SEPTEMBER 2010: 09h00 departure from Elandsheim, proceeding directly to Rorke's Drift for a detailed description of the famous Defence. It is anticipated that the tour will end by midday, enabling members to return home by 17h00. Lunches to be arranged by members, but light meals are available at Rorke's Drift.
NB: MEMBERS WILL HAVE THE OPTION TO CATER FOR THEMSELVES OR ORDER MEALS FROM ELANDSHEIM. PLEASE NOTE THAT YOU WILL ALSO BE REQUIRED TO PAY R20 EACH TO ENTER ISANDLWANA, FUGITIVES' DRIFT AND RORKE'S DRIFT (R60 PER PERSON).
The cost of the tour will be R30 per member and R50 per visitor.
Damage to the Hollander Corps Memorial at Elandslaagte. This Memorial has been badly damaged by an individual or individuals who were apparently looking for buried treasure. During a recent visit to the Battlefield, fellow member Ken Gillings came across the damage, which had apparently just occurred. Photographs were taken, a home-made mallet removed and the incident was reported to the SAPS at Elandslaagte. Two police officers then accompanied Ken to the site and they also took photographs. The Provincial Heritage Authority, Amafa aKwaZulu-Natali / Heritage KwaZulu-Natal were informed and the photographs e-mailed to them at their HQ in Ulundi. Once again, the Society has been pro-active in reporting such incidents of vandalism and the matter is being monitored by the SA Military History Society at both Provincial and National level.
KwaZulu-Natal Branch Tour of the Po Valley and the Somme, July 2011.
The Central Committee of the SAMHS has approved the organising of a follow-up of the highly successful and historical tour to the Battlefields of the Western Desert in Egypt and Libya in May 2009. In conjunction with the Royal British Legion's Poppy Travel, we are putting together a tour to follow the Springbok Soldier through Italy, then to the Somme when the tour will coincide with the official South African Government commemoration of the Battle of Delville Wood on the 17th July 2011. The provisional dates will be from the 9th to the 20th July 2011 and the sites that are likely to be included are Cassino, Castiglione, Monte Stanco / Monte Sole, Po Valley, Adige Valley, Arras, Thiepval Memorial, Delville Wood, Butte de Warlencourt and possibly Pèronne. As was the case with the Egyptian / Libyan tour, we will be accompanied by a Royal British Legion specialist Battlefield Guide.
Please make a note of this unforgettable experience and let Ken Gillings know if you are interested in accompanying the KZN Branch on the tour. Tel 031 702 4828 / 083 654 5880 or preferably by e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org
South African Military History Society / email@example.com