South African Military History 


Newsletter No 73 October /Nuusbrief Nr 73 Oktober 2010

SAMHSEC's 13 September 2010 meeting in Port Elizabeth marked the 6th anniversary of the first SAMHSEC meeting held on 9 September 2004.

The meeting opened with Mike Duncan's series on medals awarded to Port Elizabeth men. Alfred Page Everitt was born in Port Elizabeth in 1857, the son of Samuel Charles Everitt, a Master Mariner. He was educated at the Grey Institute in PE. He attested in the Prince Alfred's Volunteer Guard in 1876 and served in the Gaika-Galeka War of 1877-1878, including the Battle of Umzintzani, where he was a Private in No 2 Company. He later served in the Basuto War of 1880-81 as a Sergeant and was one of the PAVG who undertook a bayonet charge on Lerothodi's Village. This was the first bayonet charge ever carried out by a volunteer unit. He was awarded the SA General Service - clasp 1877-1878 and the Cape of Good Hope General Service - clasp Basutoland medals. There is a case to be made that the clasp 1877-1878 was the first to be awarded to SA Volunteer Colonial troops as the 1853 SAGS medal was awarded to Imperial troops and the Cape Mounted Riflemen (Imperial) only.

The curtain raiser by Anne Irwin was on Martinets. The word 'martinet' has been in use at least since the 14th century, when it applied to birds we now know as martins and swifts. Two centuries later it was used to describe a multi-tailed whip.The eponymous derivation of 'martinet' as used to describe "someone who demands exact conformity to rules and forms" comes from the last name of the 17th French lieutenant colonel, Jean Martinet, who served under Louis XIV. He was responsible for several important innovations, which include the introduction of the bayonet, pontoon bridges, copper-bottomed boats and the development of a depot system to supply the army on campaign. While Jean Martinet is credited for transforming the French army into an effective fighting force, he has gone down in history as a particularly severe drillmaster who would even order executions for minor infractions! It is perhaps unsurprising to learn that he was killed by 'friendly' fire during the Battle of Duisberg in 1672. Was he killed inadvertently when he entered the line of fire or 'accidentally on purpose' by someone who had tired of the severity of his discipline - which must have made him unpopular among his troops? The jury is out. The talk ended with a reading of the W.S. Gilbert ballad entitled The Martinet.

The main lecture on The Development of Post-WW2 Soviet Tanks by Franco Cilliers. The T-54 was designed by the Kharkov Design Bureau as successor to the very successful T-34 tank of WW2. The Bureau was relocated to Nizhny Tagil for the duration of WW2, after which it returned to Kharkov, leaving a small design team at Nizhny Tagil. After design and production of the T-54 had started, incremental improvement of the tank was assigned to the Nizhny Tagil Design Bureau, leading to the T-55. The Kharkov Bureau then developed a higher technology model Main Battle Tank (MBT), the T-64. The T-62 and T-72 were designed by the Nizhny Tagil Bureau. The T-80 was designed by the Leningrad Design Bureau to be the successor to the T-64, using a gas turbine engine.

The T-54/55 had a 100 mm gun, 370 kw engine and unimproved maximum armour of 200mm. The armour penetration of the main gun at 2 km with HEAT (high explosive anti-tank) was 380mm. The penetration of APFSDS (Armour Piercing Fin Stabilised Discarding Sabot) in a late 1980s model was 410mm, a big improvement over the initial 230 mm. The T-54/55 was the most built post-WW2 tank, with around 95 000 built in various countries.

The T-62 MBT was built as a stop-gap to provide a counter for the Soviet Army to the NATO M60A1 and Chieftain. The main armament was an improved 115 mm gun. The T-62 and T-55 shared the same improved composite armour, which boosted the vehicles' protection to 450mm against HEAT and 380 mm against APFSDS. The main gun penetration of HEAT was 490 mm, while APFSDS was improved from 230 to 380 mm. The T-62 was widely exported and was the main tank used by the Arab nations during the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

The T-64 MBT was developed by the Kharkov Design Bureau as a high technology vehicle, providing a quantum leap forward in Soviet tank capabilities. It was also one of the first tanks to utilise composite armour, consisting of alternating layers of steel and glass fibre, which gave the T-64 armoured protection of 500 mm against HEAT and 400 mm against APFSDS, later improved to 590 mm and 450 mm respectively. The T-64 was also the first Soviet MBT to use an autoloader.

The T-72 was designed by the Nizhny Tagil Bureau in response to the high cost of the T-64 as a mobilization tank to be put into mass production in case of general war. Engine power was 560 kw, later improved to 610 kw. The main gun was identical to the gun in the T-64, but with an improved auto loader. The T-72 was widely exported and formed the basis for the MBT currently being developed for the Russian army. The export version was used by Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.

The T-80 was designed by the Leningrad (St. Petersburg) Design Bureau to use a gas turbine engine with an output of 720kw. This engine was very small and the engine compartment of the vehicle was about 40% the size of a comparable western vehicle. The main problem with the gas turbine engine was reliability, with approximately 300 hrs mean time between failures. Secondly, the gas turbine engine consumed 2-3 times the amount of fuel than a comparable diesel engine. The main gun was the same as used in the T-64 and T-72, with an improved autoloader.

Something to remember about Soviet tanks is that the distance from Berlin in East Germany to Le Havre in France on the English Channel is 1 243km by road. This is how long the tanks had to last, because if they reached the English Channel coast, WW3 would have been won.

SAMHSEC's next meeting will be at 1930 on 13 September 2010 at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. Yoland Irwin will speak on The Queen's Chocolate Boxes, John Stevens on The Confederate Medal of Honour and Pat Irwin on Intombi Drift. (Scribe's comment: SAMHSEC's Grahamstown Stalwarts once more into the breach!)

Malcolm Kinghorn.
082 331 6223

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