South African Military History Society

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The January meeting commenced with the Chairman, Ivor Little, welcoming all those present (77) to the first meeting of 2011. He then called on past chairman, Bob Smith, to come forward and give details of the forthcoming March tour, which will be a four-hour bus tour of sites connected with the miners' strike of the 1920s. Further notice was also given of the battlefield tour of France and Italy, scheduled for July 2011.

Because of a technical glitch with the curtain raiser's computer, Ivor then reversed the order of the evening's programme and called on the main speaker, John Molloy, to deliver his talk. John Molloy is a member of the East Rand Military History Society, as well as being a MOTH, with a wide range of interest in early Christian and Roman history.

The title of John's talk was "The Battle of Teutoburg Forest, 9 AD". Using a top-class computer presentation for his illustrations, John started his talk by orientating the audience geographically. Teutoburg Forest is situated between Essen, Hanover and Frankfurt in modern-day Germany, in what the Romans called Germania. He then introduced Arminius, a Germanic leader known today as Herman; the Roman governor Varus and a Roman general known as Germanicus. Giving the background of each of these three, John then moved on to relate how their lives came together in Teutoburg Forest and what subsequently happened to them.

Between 9 and 16 AD the Roman Empire was expanding across the River Rhine and into Germany. There the Empire came up against the fiercely independent Germanic tribes who deeply resented the Roman colonists being settled in their midst. They were united in this resentment by the actions of Arminius, who came forward as their leader. Of Germanic birth, he had served in the Roman army as an officer and knew its strength and weaknesses. By avoiding the first and playing on the latter, Arminius led the tribes in a brilliant guerrilla campaign, which culminated in a resounding victory when he was able to entice the local governor, Varus, into Teutoburg Forest and a devastating ambush. John described the subsequent action in detail. Varus lost 20,000 men over the course of three days and he then committed suicide.

After this stunning victory the alliance among the Germanic tribes fell apart, despite Arminius' efforts to unite them, while the Romans, by contrast, re-grouped. Between 11 and 13 AD the emperor Tiberius appointed his nephew Germanicus to the command of the Roman army of the Rhine. Germanicus promptly advanced into Germania and at first gained a number of victories against Arminius and very nearly succeeded in routing his army. However, Arminius rallied the tribes and fought back, forcing Germanicus to retire. The campaign ebbed back and forth in a form of guerrilla warfare until the tribes made the fatal mistake of being brought to battle on open ground. Here the superior Roman tactics and discipline told and the tribes were smashed. Arminius escaped but was later assassinated by his own countrymen. Germanicus was granted a Roman triumph and went on to govern Syria, although under the orders of Tiberius the Romans retreated back to the Rhine and left the area east of it to the tribesmen. Arminius was largely forgotten until the rise of German nationalism and is today a folk hero with a large statue in his honour at Teutoburg.

After a brief question period, Ivor then introduced the next speaker. This was fellow member and career journalist, Nick Cowley. Nick has spoken to us before and on this occasion he spoke on "The Enigma Code-Breaker - Alan Turing".

We have had talks on the process of code-breaking before, as well as talks on Turing and his team at Bletchley Park. This one was different as it concentrated on Alan Turing's private life, in an effort to ascertain why this famous man has never really been given the honour he deserved, although his place in history is assured.

Alan Turing was born in London in 1912 and attended Sherbourne School in Dorset. He was noted for his sloppiness, untidiness and clumsiness, but was gradually accepted as the youthful mathematical genius that he was. On the strength of this, he won a scholarship to King's College at Cambridge University and started writing and thinking about machines which could solve mathematical problems. He moved on to Princeton for a PhD and, with the outbreak of World War II, was summoned to work at the great British code-breaking centre, Bletchley Park.

The subsequent story of the cracking of the German Enigma Code and the impact it had on the outcome of the war, is very well known. In his role as a leading code-breaker Turing played a massive part in Britain's victory. It was his genius and ability to build on the ideas of Charles Babbage and produce one of the first recognisable computers which was largely responsible for this. This was known as the "Colossus" and was the hardware for Turing's phenomenal software ideas. Turing also worked on an Automatic Computing Engine, or ACE, which was inaugurated at Manchester University in 1948. Turing then moved to Manchester where he took up a post at the University. However, Turing had a hidden side to his character in that he was an homosexual which, in the 1940s, was considered a vice. In 1952 he invited a 19-year lad named Arnold Murray into his Manchester home. A few days later his home was burgled and in the subsequent investigation the police wanted to know what a printer's apprentice and a university Don had in common. The secret was out and Turing was charged with "committing an indecent act". He pleaded guilty and instead of a jail sentence underwent remedial treatment known as "organotherapy", in essence chemical castration. The effect of this was so traumatic that, a year later, Turing committed suicide by cyanide poisoning.

Against this background of the times, Alan Turing's name was hardly mentioned until the secret of Enigma became public. An extensive series of events will be held in the UK during 1912 to mark the centenary of Alan Turing's birth.

At the conclusion of Nick's talk there was a short question period, after which John Parkinson thanked both speakers for two extremely interesting talks.

The meeting then adjourned for the usual refreshments.

Ivor Little
Chairman and Scribe.

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Mystery payment

Please would the member who paid R215 into the Society account on January 13th, by internet transfer, and labelled it ANNUAL DUES, contact to identify him/herself so that the amount might be credited?

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Annual Prizes in Johannesburg

Please would members who attend the Johannesburg lectures vote for the best lecture in 2010 by completing the form on the web-site or filling one in at the lecture meetings on either 10 February or 10 March?

The Felix Machanik Memorial prize, which is awarded in his memory for the best main lecture, comprises a certificate and a cheque for R200.

The George Barrell Memorial prize, awarded in his memory for the best curtain raiser, comprises a certificate and a cheque for R100.

The prizewinners will be announced at the AGM in April.

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10th February 2011
CR Otto Kretschmer & The Golden Horseshoe (U Boat Captain in WWII) Jan Willem Hoorweg
ML The second phase of the Anglo Boer War John Bleloch

10th March
CR The Role of Great Yarmouth in WW I Ian Thurston
ML Sherman and his march to the sea Robin Smith

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KZN in Durban:

10th February 2011
DDH Aerial Bombing of Civilian Targets
Brian Davies
Main Talk Operation Torch 1942 Bill Brady

10th March
DDH My Experience in the Armed Struggle
Sunny Singh
Main Talk Major General Sir Charles Warren in Northern Natal Prof Philip Everitt

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Cape Town:

10 February: The Scottish Jacobite Uprising, The Cameronians, The Battle of Dunkeld and Religious Freedom, by The Reverend (Dr) David Christie (D.Th.).

Our speaker, the Rev. Dr. Christie, is a professional soldier turned man of the cloth, who served with the famous Scottish regiment, The Cameronians, until their disbandment in 1968.

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SAMHSEC in Port Elizabeth:

SAMHSEC @ 1930 on 14 Feb 11 at the Eastern Cape Veteran Car Club:

Curtain raiser: The story of a piece of shrapnel Ian Copley
Main lecture: The Fall of France 1940 - Part One Rick van Heerden

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For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Ken Gillings 031-702-4828
For Cape Town details contact Ray Hattingh 021-592-1279(am)
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469
For Gauteng details contact Joan Marsh 010 237 0676

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