South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter no. 417
November 2010

Contact: Ken Gillings 031 702 4828
Bill Brady 031 561 5542
Society's web site address: -

Due to the chairman Bill Brady presenting a talk, the meeting was chaired by vice chairman Dr. John Cooke.

The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture was presented by chairman Bill Brady entitled "Paddy Mayne - An SAS Legend."

Lt. Col. Paddy Mayne was a soldier, a solicitor and an Ireland and British Lions rugby international. He was also a champion boxer, and a founding member of the SAS. He was one of the most outstanding officers of the Second World War. The raids Mayne led in the North African desert destroyed hundreds of enemy aircraft on the ground. He became one of the British Army's most highly decorated soldiers, receiving the DSO with three bars. One of only seven British servicemen to be awarded this distinction during World War II. In recognition of his leadership and personal disregard for danger while in France, where he trained and worked closely with the French Resistance, the post-war French Government awarded him the Legion d'honneur and the Croix de Guerre, the only non Frenchman to receive such a dual honour.

Paddy Mayne joined the SAS in July 1941 and played a major operational role in the Western Desert. He participated in many night raids deep behind enemy lines where the SAS wrought havoc. Mayne pioneered the use of military Jeeps to conduct surprise hit-and-run raids, particularly on enemy airfields. By the end of the North African campaign it was claimed that he personally had destroyed in the region of 130 aircraft. He led the SAS with great distinction through the final campaigns of the war in France, Holland, Belgium, Germany and Norway. Mayne was a fearsome and skillful fighting soldier with the ability to read the situation, anticipate how the enemy would react, and then attack.

Paddy Mayne was born in 1915 in Newtonards, County Down, Northern Ireland. Whilst attending Grammar School his talent for rugby became evident. He also played cricket and golf. On leaving school he studied law at Queen's University, Belfast, and took up boxing, winning the Irish Universities Heavyweight Championship. He lost to the British champion on a split decision. Mayne earned his first full rugby cap as a lock forward for Ireland in 1937 against Wales. After gaining five more caps for Ireland, Mayne was selected for the 1938 British Lions tour to South Africa. The last of the "Blue Lions." After the war they changed to red. During the Lions tour it is said that he trained by "wrecking hotels and fighting dockers". He played in seventeen of the tours twenty provincial matches and in all three tests against the Springboks.

Paddy Mayne's legal and sporting careers were, however, cut short by the outbreak of World War II. After enlisting he underwent training with Queen's University Officer Training Corps. And earned a commission in the Royal Artillery. Mayne then volunteered for the newly formed No. 11 Commando unit and as a lieutenant first saw action in June 1941 in an operation against Vichy French Forces in Syria. It was after this particularly brutal and confused operation, in which 130 officers and men, a third of the strike force, were wounded or killed, that Mayne's enormous capacity for alcohol and violence got him into serious trouble. Mayne held his Commanding Officer Geoffrey Keyes responsible for the heavy casualties suffered during the Syrian operation. They both argued, Mayne lost his cool and threw a punch to knock out Keyes. He was placed under arrest and awaiting trial for court martial when David Stirling arrived on the scene.

Mayne's reputation for bravery, which was sometimes characterised as reckless and wild had attracted Stirling's attention. Mayne was also well known as an international rugby player and possessed qualities in leadership and courage that set him apart from most men.

Stirling recruited Mayne into the newly formed SAS telling him, " This is one commanding officer you never strike and I want your promise on that. " Mayne did and a legendary partnership was born. The idea for the Special Air Service originated with Lieutenant David Stirling, a 6 foot 6 Scots Guards officer who had joined the Commando's and was now serving in North Africa. Whilst recuperating in hospital from an injury, Stirling began writing down his ideas on strategic raids to penetrate deep behind enemy lines by small, select forces. Men noted for unusual bravery and unorthodox methods would lead the formation to shoot up enemy camps and installations, destroy aircraft on the ground and generally create havoc behind enemy lines before rapidly withdrawing. Only the best and bravest type of soldier would be selected for the Special Air Service. Stirling was authorised to recruit 60 men. Paddy Mayne was soon leading many of the SAS airfield raids. On one occasion, when he ran out of ammunition, he disabled several aircraft by ripping out their control panels with his bare hands.

The first mass jeep raid took place in July 1942, when eighteen vehicles attacked an enemy air base with all machine guns, firing at 1200 rounds per minute. At least forty aircraft were destroyed and one SAS man killed. By the end of the North African campaign the SAS had destroyed over 400 enemy aircraft and vast quantities of war material. On 13 December 1955, Paddy Mayne aged 40, was driving homewards in his Riley sports car at 4am, the car collided with a lorry parked with no lights in the middle of the road just a short distance from his home. He was killed instantly. His death was mourned throughout Northern Ireland and the funeral brought the town of Newtonards to a standstill.

The Main Talk was presented by fellow member Steve Watt and entitled "The U-Boat War in WW2 - sinking statistics."

Of the 1 171 U-boats commissioned and those that became operational more than half did not sink a single ship. Of the crews who served in the U-boats 31 419 men died or were taken prisoner. The U-boats voyaged across two thirds of the globe operating in the Caribbean, Atlantic, Arctic and Indian Oceans. This story is dedicated in the main to U-boat sailors of whom many were young volunteers, some still in their teens, endured great hardship, cramped in dark conditions weeks on end. They breathed foul air, lived in wet clothes, slept in damp beds, choked on poisonous fumes, ate mouldy food and most died in terrifying circumstances. This was hardly the glamorous U-boat war envisaged by the public at home in Germany.

On 3 September 1939 when Great Britain declared war on Germany, there were already 39 U-boats strategically positioned and ready for action in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean and North Sea. By December, in what can be described as a massacre, 165 merchant ships were sunk as they steered a course for safety. However a considerable number of ships were allowed to pass unharmed due to German operational orders allowing only certain categories of vessels to be attacked without warning, warships, troopships, armed merchantmen, vessels escorted by warships or in convoy, ships engaged in warlike activities or carrying supplies and weapons. It was October within the naval base at Scapa Flow shook the British nation to the core. In the following weeks the German definition of "legal" target was re-amended in the light of the prevailing conditions. Passenger ships were regarded as immune from attack until Germany discovered in November 1939 that several large merchantmen were converted into auxiliary cruisers. However success was diminished in the early months of the war as the U-boats were beset with torpedo failures which greatly hampered their striking capacity. Dönitz then launched a new offensive of mining operations carried out in the approaches to British ports. However 293 ships were sunk between September 1939 and March 1940. During this period 17 U-boats were sunk. The loss of U-33 off Britain's east coast would prove costly during which some secrets of the Enigma encrypting machine were seized.

A valuable tactical advantage was achieved by the Kriegsmarine when France fell to German invasion in June 1940. It was no longer necessary for the U-boats to transit the heavily patrolled waters of the British Isles to reach the North Atlantic. Instead, U-boat bases were established at French ports of Brest, Lorient, La Pallice, St Nazaire and Bordeaux thus enabling them to remain in their primary hunting grounds even longer than before. In the first weeks of June the U-boats headed out to the eastern Atlantic for their most concerted offensive so far. Their task was eased as Britain, expecting an imminent invasion, was obliged to concentrate the greater part of its destroyer flotilla in home waters on anti-invasion duties. The U-boats, led Dönitz and his commanders to call this "The Happy Time". They attacked disjointed convoys of poorly disciplined merchantmen. It was the hey-day of 'Aces' like Kapitänleutnant Günther Prien (U-47), Ktlt Otto Krettchmer (U-99), Ktlt Joachim Schepke (U-100), Ktlt Engelbert Endrass (U-46, later U-567 ). It was the time of the Rudeltaktik, called Wolf Packs by the Allies, when U-boats concentrated in groups to assail the convoys. For the five month period (June - October 1940) there were 270 ships sunk; in September alone 55 ships were lost without a single U-boat. In October 64 ships were sunk for 1 U-boat. This was one of the biggest convoy disasters of the war: Kretchmer alone accounted for 6 ships sunk of 13 in one night. By now the U-boats had switched their tactics and were now being directed against convoys, attacking on the surface under cover of darkness. These new style attacks cost an inward-bound convoy 65 ships, Endrass alone having torpedoed five ships in three hours. By November, 28 ships were lost for the loss of 2 U-boats. This fall in numbers from the high figures in October was attributed to only a dozen U-boats. British counter measures contributed to a further decline in successful operations: These included evasive re-routing of convoys and the increase in the number of corvettes which was making it less easy for the U-boat packs. But, in spite of these conditions, the U-boats sank 39 ships in December. Fortunately for Britain, the German strength remained at 57 boats; the 28 new U-boats that had entered service during the first year, had just kept pace with the losses. Britain's chances of survival were being eroded and prompted Prime Minister Churchill request the U.S. President for destroyers and aircraft. The so-called Lend-Lease Accord was agreed whereby 50 destroyers were lent to Britain for the lease of naval bases to the U.S. of the British possessions of Newfoundland, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Trinidad, British Guiana and St Lucia.

On 8 May, 1945, in accordance with British Admiralty instructions, the 43 U-boats at sea were now all ordered to surface, report their positions and then proceed to designated ports. Many U-boat commanders refused to accept the ceasefire order, still less to obey the instructions. However 23 arrived in Britain, 3 going to the U.S.A. and 4 to Canada. One was scuttled off Spain and two headed and arrived in Argentina. Many U-boat commanders regarded the handing over their craft as a violation of the code of honour of fighting men. Dönitz refused to give the order of wholesale scuttling named Operation Regenbogen (Rainbow). Many crews put to sea and soon explosions were echoing around the North Sea and the Baltic. In all 219 boats were destroyed by their crews.

Captain Brian Hoffman delivered a vote of thanks to both speakers for well researched talks and excellent presentations.


Thursday 11th November (Armistice Day) 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 vice chairman Dr. John Cooke on "The Conquest of the Incas."

The Main Talk will be presented by fellow member Ian Sutherland on "The salvaging of the German High Seas Fleet."

Remembrance Sunday 14 November - The Society will lay a wreath of remembrance at the Cenotaph.
ARMISTICE DAY SERVICE - DURBAN HIGH SCHOOL. The Principal of DHS, Mr David Magner, has extended an invitation to members of the Society to attend the school's annual Armistice Day ceremony at 12h00 on the 11th November 2010. The service will take place in the memorial square and attendees are requested to be seated by 11h30. The service is being held at 12h00 due to exams being held on that day. Please also remember to advise Bev Smith at the South African Legion (tel 031 305 5888) if you are able to sell Poppies on Saturday 13th November 2010.

Annual Lunch
The annual lunch will be held at Westville Country Club, Link Road (off St James's Avenue) on 28 November. The cost is R55,00 per person. to be paid by latest at the November meeting.

FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: December 2010 - February 2011.

9th December
DDH - "USS Cassin Young DD793, a Fletcher Class Destroyer", by Roy Bowman.
No Main Talk; annual cocktail party instead. Snacks supplied. Members bring own refreshments.

20th Jan. (NB: Third Thurs.)
DDH - To be confirmed.
Main Talk - "The Spy who disappeared", by Capt. Brian Hoffmann

10th February.
DDH - Aerial Bombing of Civilian Targets, by Brian Davies
Main Talk - Operation Torch, 1942 by Bill Brady

2010 Battlefield Tour to the Somme and Italy. Don't forget to diarise this tour, which will begin on the 8th July 2011 and coincide with the official commemoration of the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Delville Wood. There are now 42 names on the list, with space for another 13 for a full bus-load. Prices will be circulated this week to those who have expressed an interest. Bookings with Ken Gillings, tel 031 702 4828 / 083 654 5880 or

Anniversaries - at this time in history.
1899 The Boer ultimatum expires and Newcastle is occupied.
1900 The ZAR is annexed, renamed Transvaal and martial law is extended to the whole of the Cape Colony.
1918 The Germans request an Armistice based on the "14 Points" of President Wilson.
1939 Hitler makes his "desire for peace" speech.
1941 Hitler announces that Russia is broken and will never rise again.
1943 Italy declares war on Germany.
1945 General George Patton is relieved from command.
1967 Che Guevara is killed.
1973 The Yom Kippur war breaks out in the Middle East.
1981 The IRA bomb call off the hunger strike.
1988 The Turin Shroud is declared a forgery.

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