South African Military History Society

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The Chairman, Ivor Little, opened the August meeting by welcoming the 87 people present, and with a special word of welcome to Captain Charles Ross, SAN (Rtd), the Secretary of the South African office of the Commonwealth War Grave Commission.

The welcome was followed by a long string of monthly notices about forthcoming attractions, of which the following are still relevant:

1. "A family fun shoot" on Saturday, 10 September 2011. This takes the form of a small arms shooting gala day where participants can shoot their own weapons in a safe and family orientated local range. It is organised by the Military Associations of Gauteng. For further details contact Selwyn on 082-456-4506.

2. "Hell's Angels" Poppy Day rally. If you are a keen biker and would like to take part in this massive Poppy Day Bike Rally on 13 November, please contact Martin at

3.Members are also urged to participate in a tour of Melrose House, Pretoria, on Saturday, 10 September. Quite apart from a privately conducted tour, there will be a talk by Professor Fransjohan Pretorius, a noted historian, on the house and its role as Kitchener's Headquarters during the Anglo-Boer War.

The business for the evening thus fulfilled, Ivor introduced the curtain raiser speaker. This was Walter V. Volker, a well-known published author of five works on military history, with one more in the pipeline. The subject of his talk was "Covert Communications in the SA Border War".

Using a series of very clear slides, Walter started by giving the background to Electronic Warfare (EW) as it has developed since it's inception during World War II. With the advent of radio, radar and other electronic means of communication and detection, it was inevitable that a mean of jamming or distorting transmissions from these systems would also be developed. These jamming devices became known as Electronic Counter Measures (ECM). Walter then gave an idea of how this electronic aspect of warfare was organised in the old SADF, which gave rise to a number of widely scattered units under the aegis of the Corps of Signals.

Building on their World War II expertise in jamming radar signals and intercepting coded messages, the Corps of Signals slowly perfected some extremely effective listening devices and stations. During the 1950s this expertise was used to find and close down "Radio Freedom", a clandestine ANC radio station, and also to pinpoint transmitters operating from Liliesleaf Farm.

In 1967 a number of United Nations (UN) communications involving a planned invasion of the then South West Africa (SWA) were intercepted and acted upon. A quick build up of South African forces in Walvis Bay and SWA itself then followed and this resulted in the UN plan being aborted.

Following on to this, an EW station was established at Katima Mulilo. This was followed by practical help to the then Rhodesian government in 1969. A number of Rhodesian and South African EW stations were established as close as possible to the frontiers of the so-called Frontline States. More and more stations were established in both Rhodesia and along the SWA border with Angola. The Rhodesian operations came to an end in 1976 but the SWA stations played a crucial role during early Border War operations. From 1978 to 1980 this capability was expanded to include mobile stations manned by crews proficient in a number of languages. From then until 1988 the Corps of Signals achieved sometimes spectacular results with the massive jamming of enemy radio networks, rendering their efforts at command and control virtually impossible. Conversely, the South Africans at the same time developed a new type of radio transmitter which employed the technique of "frequency hopping" which made South African radio signals almost impossible to detect or jam.

With the winding down of the Border War, the Corps of Signals was reorganised but still exists today with its headquarters at Wonderboom in Pretoria.

After a brief question period Ivor introduced the main speaker for the evening. This was Alan Mantle, a well-known member of our Society and a keen amateur military historian, who has spoken to the Society on two previous occasions. The subject of his talk was "The 1915 Dardenelles Campaign - The Defeat and the Controversy".

Using a PowerPoint presentation, Alan started by giving the background of political instability in the Eastern Mediterranean prior to the First World War. The Ottoman (i.e. Turkish) Empire was slowly crumbling under its own inadequacy but nevertheless remained a powerful military force in the region. Her hereditary enemy was Russia and when Britain, France and Russia signed the entente cordiale in 1907 Turkey became wary and commenced a re-arming, in which she was aided by Germany. During this period she also acquired German military advisors. With the outbreak of World War I Britain commandeered two Turkish dreadnoughts under construction in the United Kingdom at the time. This led to considerable bitterness on the part of the Turks towards Britain. Germany seized on this opportunity and sailed two battle cruisers, the Goeben and the Breslau to Turkey, as replacements for the two seized ships. The German commander, Adm Wilhelm Souchon, sailed his ships right through the Mediterranean under the noses of the British and French and delivered the two ships to Turkey where they were placed under the Turkish flag. This action tilted the scales and the Ottoman Empire entered the war on the side of Germany.

The Allies then conceived a plan to knock Turkey out of the war by "forcing" the Dardenelles, the narrow strait which lies between Asia and Europe, bursting in to the Sea of Marmara and then bombarding Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) to force a Turkish surrender. This was to be a purely naval operation and was enthusiastically adopted by Winston Churchill, the First Sea Lord and against the objections of Adm Jackie Fisher, his First Sea Lord.

The campaign opened with a naval bombardment of the Turkish forts at the entrance to the straits. This was a damp squib and only served to alert the Turks to the Allied intentions. The attempt was then made to "force" the narrows. This was a total failure, resulting in the loss of six major warships because of the shore batteries and minefields laid by the Turks. It then became clear that land forces were needed to clear the shoreline for the ships to pass through. Lord Kitchener, the British War Minister, reluctantly made Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) forces stationed in Egypt available under the command of Sir Ian Hamilton.

Alan then led us through the series of landings which were then carried out by the British. It was a sorry tale of woe as the invading forces found themselves either landed at the wrong place or on narrow beaches overlooked by steep cliffs manned by a determined enemy. Landings were carried out at Cape Hellas, Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay, with the objective of taking the town of Krithia and the high ground of Chunuck Bair. Anzac and British troops were almost in possession of these strategic points on more than one occasion but communication blunders and a fixation with the World War I concept of "digging in" led to the attacks being abandoned. After sustaining horrific casualties in the various landings, the British and Anzac forces were ultimately left with three indefensible beach heads and after a period of time conceded defeat and were evacuated. The futile campaign had cost the British Empire 187 000 casualties and the Ottoman Empire 250 000. The disastrous campaign claimed the reputations of a number of generals and admirals but is still remembered in Australia and New Zealand where ANZAC Day is an annual celebration. The Turks were gracious in victory and there are a number of monuments erected and still standing in the former battle area and dedicated to the memory of the fallen of both sides.

At the conclusion of Alan's talk a short question time followed, after which Ivor asked committee member David Scholtz to thank both speakers. David did this and also gave details of the Society tour to the new memorials at Villiers on 27 August. Ivor then closed the meeting and invited all present to refreshments in the lobby.

Ivor Little
Chairman and Scribe.

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10th September - Melrose House.

Bob Smith still has a few places available for the lecture at Melrose House by Prof Fransjohan Pretorius, on the house and its role as Kitchener's Headquarters during the Anglo-Boer War. A tour of the house will follow. Meet at 10am on Saturday 10th September at Melrose House, cost will be R70. Please contact Bob on 082-858-6616 to confirm attendance and get directions.

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KZN in Durban:

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Cape Town:

8th September
Greg Pullin A fresh look at the Battle of Britain 1940-41