South African Military History Society

Tel (+27)(0)10-237-0676 Fax (+27)(0)86-617-8002


The October meeting was graced by a full lecture theatre of 116 members and guests. Chairman Ivor Little opened the meeting with the usual welcome and notices, before introducing the "curtain raiser' speaker. This was Marius Whittle, a keen amateur historian with an Honours degree in Strategic Studies and a Masters degree in International Politics. His own military service had sharpened his interest in airborne forces and thus he was going to address us on "Airborne Armour".

Using simple terms, which all could follow and an excellent Power Point presentation, which included original video clips, Marius led the meeting through the concept of a "flying tank". There is, of course, no such thing as a "flying tank" but the idea was first mooted by the Russian Army in the period between the two World Wars. Being able to fly a tank into battle would give one a tremendous advantage, so the choice was either to fit wings on a tank or to find a means of airlifting such a weighty object. Marius then led the meeting through this latter concept.

There were many difficulties but one-by-one they were overcome. The first one was finding an aircraft which could lift a tank or, conversely, to develop a light tank which could be carried in an aircraft. By World War II the British had perfected a light tank, which could be carried by a Hamilcar glider and was used with a slight modicum of success. In the later stages of World War II the research paths then diverged as the Russians concentrated on developing a light tank, which could be parachuted from a large aircraft, while the United States developed powerful heavy-lift aircraft which could deliver specially-designed tanks to battlefield airstrips.

The most fascinating aspect of Marius' talk was the Russian development of parachutes and landing gear which have now reached the standard where a tank, with its crew inside, can be dropped safely and proceed directly into action. This was a remarkably detailed and interesting talk on a subject about which few in the audience knew anything.

The main lecture followed after the draw for a DVD set on the Third Reich, which had been donated by Jan-Willem Hoorweg and which was won by a member from Grahamstown.

The main lecture was delivered by Tony van Ryneveld, a Capetonian who had come up to Johannesburg specifically to deliver his talk.

Tony served in the SAAF during World War II and then went on to qualify as an actuary, retiring as the General Manager of Old Mutual. His talk was entitled "The Flight of Sir Pierre van Ryneveld and Sir Quintin Brand in 1920". Tony was uniquely qualified to give this talk as he is the nephew of Sir Pierre van Ryneveld. This, too, was a fascinating and well illustrated talk.

Shortly after the end of World War I, the London Daily Mail offered a prize to the first person or persons to fly from England to South Africa. Lt. Col. Pierre van Ryneveld and F Lt. Quintin Brand, both with distinguished RAF war records, teamed up to represent a South African participation, while three other competing aircraft were sponsored by other organisations to take part in this challenge. What followed was tale of grit and perseverance as the aircrews coped with flimsy machines and unreliable engines in an effort to cross what was still referred to in those days as "The Dark Continent".

Using old, rarely seen photographs and a large-scale map, Tony carried the meeting along down through Africa as one by one the competing aircraft were wrecked, luckily with no loss of life. Van Ryneveld and Brand wrote off two aircraft on the way and eventually arrived in Pretoria in an aircraft which General Smuts sent to collect them from Bulawayo. They were disqualified from claiming the prize because, although they were the first to actually fly all the way from England, they did not do it in one aircraft. The two eventually reached Young's Field in Cape Town to great public acclaim and both were knighted for their achievement.

At the conclusion of this excellent and well-delivered talk, committee member Malcolm King thanked both speakers for a most interesting evening, after which the meeting adjourned for refreshments.

Ivor Little
Chairman and Scribe.

* * * * * * *



* * * * * * *

KZN in Durban:

* * * * * * *

Cape Town:

* * * * * * *


* * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * *

* NOTE* Fast mirror and backup site      BOOKMARK FOR REFERENCE     Main site * NOTE*

South African Military History Society /