South African Military History 


Newsletter No 68 May/Nuusbrief Nr 68 Mei 2010

SAMHSEC's 12 April 2010 meeting opened with the first of Mike Duncan's series on Medals Awarded to Port Elizabeth Men, which covered the DSO awarded to Lt Col Harry Hirsch, who was born in Port Elizabeth in 1875. He was commissioned into Prince Alfred's Volunteer Guard as Lieutenant and saw service with the Mounted Infantry Component of the Guard in the Cape, OFS and Transvaal. Hirsch joined the Permanent Staff in 1912 and in 1914 went to German South West Africa with General Louis Botha's Northern Force. He took over the duties of Chief of Staff when Lt Col Collyer accompanied General Botha on his frequent visits to the Front. This work occasioned the award of the DSO. Hirsch retired from the Army in November 1919 and went to live in France, where he died in 1941. John Stevens' curtain raiser on Brown Bess was enlivened by John demonstrating various drills with his own replica India Pattern musket. Brown Bess is a nickname of uncertain origin for the British Army's Land Pattern Musket and its derivatives. This musket was used in the era of the expansion of the British Empire and acquired symbolic importance at least as significant as its physical importance. It was in use for over a hundred years with many incremental changes in its design. Versions include the Long Land Pattern, Short Land Pattern, India Pattern, New Land Pattern, Sea Service and others.

The Long Land Pattern musket and its derivatives, all .75 calibre flintlock muskets, were the standard long guns of the British Empire's land forces from 1722 until 1838, when they were superceded by a percussion cap smoothbore musket. The British Ordnance System converted many flintlocks into the new percussion system known as the Pattern 1839 Musket. A fire in 1841 at the Tower of London destroyed many muskets before they could be converted. Still, the Brown Bess saw service until the middle of the nineteenth century. The Long Land Pattern was a common firearm used by both sides in the American Revolutionary War. Some were still in service during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, some were used during the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879 by Zulu warriors who had purchased them from European traders and some were sold to the Mexican Army, who used them during the Texas Revolution of 1836 and the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848.

The main lecture by McGill Alexander was on The Birth of Airborne Warfare during the German occupation of Denmark and Norway in April 1940. The occupation of Denmark and Norway, primarily a seaborne operation, was when the airborne concept first came into its own in a remarkable display in microcosm of several of the possible roles for such forces, spectacularly illustrating their flexibility in the hands of an imaginative commander. The Scandinavian campaign was the first joint operation in the modern military sense, in that it involved detailed and complex planning and execution by land, sea and air forces. In addition, not only was it the first really feasible employment of airborne forces in combat, but it was a strategic operation in which airborne forces played the decisive role. Perhaps most importantly, in terms of the size of the force used and the nature of the operation, it is more relevant to the employment of airborne forces today than most of the other airborne actions of the Second World War.

Norway was of significant strategic importance to both Britain and Germany. But for Germany, Denmark had first to be occupied as a stepping stone and to safeguard their lines of communication. The very small airborne force employed (one parachute battalion and two air-landed regimental strength tactical groups) achieved success out of all proportion to its size. At dawn on 9 April 1940 a company of paratroops was dropped in Denmark to capture a bridge and two airfields. They encountered almost no resistance, achieved link-ups with ground and seaborne forces and enabled additional reinforcements to be flown in. Within hours the Danes had capitulated, making it the shortest campaign in history.

On the same day, another company jumped at Sola airfield near Stavanger in Norway, occupied it with the help of close air support and enabled a seaborne force to land and occupy Stavanger. The airfield at the capital, Oslo, was to have been taken by a parachute assault by two companies, but bad weather turned it into an air-landed operation. Reinforcements were flown in and although the seaborne main force was almost prevented from landing, the capital was in German hands before nightfall.

Continued operations in Norway led to another parachute drop by a company on a railroad junction inland, but bad weather caused a poor drop and the company suffered severe casualties and was captured within days, later to be released by advancing German forces. When the Germans at Narvik became isolated, the whole parachute battalion was dropped to reinforce them. A final company drop was carried out for an assault on Tromsų on 13 July 1940. With the withdrawal of the Allies and the surrender of Norway three months after the German invasion, the longest resistance by the forces of any country invaded by the Germans came to an end.

During the Danish and Norwegian campaigns, the Luftwaffe delivered 29,280 men, 1,178,778 litres of aviation spirit and 2,414,152 kg of supplies by air. A total of over 500 troop-carrying transport aircraft were used, of which about 100 were lost to AA fire or crashes when landing on unprepared fields. The operation succeeded in spite of poor weather. Success was due to the role of the airborne forces in spearheading the operation. They were able to do what could not have been done by any other forces. It was a classic example of using airborne forces to achieve surprise, deceive the enemy and employ the indirect approach. However, the airborne operations could never have succeeded without the overwhelming air superiority of the Germans and the phenomenal close air support that they were able to provide the paratroops.

Alan Bamford has advised that he will not be renewing his SAMHS membership.

Heads up that SAMHSEC's meeting in Grahamstown at 1400 on 5 June 2010 is to be preceded by a morning tour of Salem, focusing on the role of Richard Gush in ending the siege of the village during the 6th Frontier War of 1834/5.

SAMHSEC's next meeting will be at 1930 on Monday 12 May 2010 at the Eastern Province Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. After the second in Mike Duncan's series on medals awarded to Port Elizabeth men, the curtain raiser will be by Ian Copley on High Velocity Tangenital Cranial Gunshot Wounds (Scribe's note: kopskote to the rest of us!). The main lecture will be by Brian Klopper on Dien Bien Phu.

Malcolm Kinghorn.
082 331 6223

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