South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


The 2011 lecture season kicked off with a talk on South African Air Defence: Yesterday and Today, presented by Brig-Gen John Del Monte, the General Manager of the SA Legion at Rosedale and a member of the Reserve Forces Council (as well as a member of the SA Military History Society), and Major Vidius Archer, the Officer Commanding the Cape Garrison Artillery (CGA), Cape Town's own Air Defence Regiment.

Gen Del Monte spoke first, dedicating his talk to some of the pioneers of South African air defence, including among others Maj-Gens Dunbar-Moodie and Guildford and Brig-Gen Fred van Niekerk. The latter two have passed away but Gen Moodie is still very much alive.

The primary role of air defence, or, as it is commonly referred to, "anti aircraft" or "ack-ack", is to protect a target and prevent its destruction which can often be done without shooting down aircraft, although this is a bonus! Deterrence may work just as well, a subject to be discussed later. Most countries use a mixture of guns and missiles - it may well be more economic to use a gun rather than a very expensive missile as these can cost millions of rand.

Most people think that ack-ack started in England during the First World War, when the Germans started to use Zeppelins and Gotha aircraft to bomb Southern England. However, in 1915 during South Africa's invasion of German South West Africa, the Germans used a couple of aircraft against our forces. To counter this, our artillery converted two 15-pdr breech-loading cannon into anti aircraft guns. One of these was known as "Skinny Liz" and is to be seen at the Air Defence School at Kimberley and the other still exists today at Fort Wynyard. The only record of this weapon being used in action was contained in a report submitted by 2 Battery South African Mounted Rifles, describing an unsuccessful engagement with a troublesome German aircraft.

After the end of the First World War, defence authorities agreed that there was a need for ack- ack. But, with the 10-year rule (i.e. no major conflict for ten years - this stayed at ten years as the years passed by!), nothing was done as there was no money available. Eventually, in July 1939, 1 SA Anti Aircraft Battery was formed in Cape Command, under the command of Capt Jeffrey (ex-CGA). The unit was stationed at Youngsfield, until 1990 the home of ack-ack. The first ack-ack course was held in August 1939 under Maj Len Klootwyk with five students (four lieutenants and a gunner - no officer would ever drive a truck - gunners did that!)

One of the officers was Lt Dunbar-Moodie. The guns used were 3-inch 20cwt guns, towed by a Caterpillar D4 tractor. Our total ack-ack strength at the outbreak of war was EIGHT guns, with very little ammunition. The first officers to report for duty at the outbreak of WW2 were CGA officers.

South Africa was not unique - most countries had seriously neglected air defence in the years between the World Wars. Not so the Germans! In May 1940, the battery was enlarged to a full Brigade (later a Regiment) and left for Potchefstroom and then Mombasa with its eight guns and six searchlights, leaving South Africa with no means of air defence. The WWI Lewis light machine gun was then mounted for anti aircraft use in large numbers - there was nothing else. Two Light Anti Aircraft Regiments (1 and 2) were formed and these served in East and North Africa with the 1st and 2nd Divisions. In 1941 the first Coloured gunners joined and the training facilities were expanded to include Youngsfield, Pollsmoor and Klaasjagersberg - all in the Cape Peninsula - as well as Robben Island. In 1942 there was a flurry of development - heavy and light batteries and searchlight batteries were formed and new equipment came into use - 3.7-inch guns and 40mm Bofors guns. The AA School was formed at Youngsfield under the command of the later Maj-Gen Guildford. Bofors guns were towed by Ford and Chevrolet trucks made in South Africa. The heavy guns were towed by Mack and Diamond T tractors. The predictors used with the 3.7s were supplemented by the 4Mk7 early warning radar, an efficient and reliable piece of equipment weighing 16 TONS!

After the end of WWII there was a reduction in strength and a move from regular units to Citizen Force units. The Air Defence School / 10 Air Defence Regiment was the only PF (Permanent Force) unit, providing training and also batteries for operational use if required. Four Citizen Force Regiments were formed - Cape Garrison Artillery, Regt. Vaalrivier, Regt. Oos Transvaal and 6 Light Air Defence Regt., followed some 10 years later by 7 Light Air Defence Regt. These of course benefited from the introduction of the ballot system and later the National Service system.

In 1963, the first new equipment arrived. This was the Oerlikon QF (Quick-Firing) 35mm twin-barrel gun with the Solis model Contraves Italiana (owned by Oerlikon) "Superfledermaus" Radar Set. These were towed by 10-ton Magirus Deutz trucks, later replaced by SAMIL vehicles.

This was modern equipment still in use today in upgraded form. Two guns made up a fire unit with a radar set. A number of fire units made up a battery, which also included a long-range radar for early warning. Gen Del Monte described how the "Fledermaus" equipment was used and its extreme accuracy. At a later date the LPD20 Radar also from Italy was purchased to supplement the earlier equipment. The power units on the guns were Porsche engines, far too delicate for African conditions and subsequently replaced by VW engines! The twin barrels could fire between 1,100 and 1,500 rounds per minute.

Gen Del Monte then spoke of his own military service in the SADF. Called up under the Ballot system in 1969, he reported to Youngsfield for training as a heavy ack-ack gunner, training on 3.7-inch guns and 4Mk7 radars. Internal security training came first and followed the primary AA training. The 3.7s were taken out of service during his training and training continued on 40mm Bofors. At this time, QF 20mm Hispano-Suiza guns were brought into service. Live firing exercises took place at Strandfontein on the False Bay coast, shooting at target drogues towed by "Zulu Zebra" or "Dazzle Dak" - a C47 Dakota (number 6877) - painted with bright yellow and brown stripes as a visibility aid. On one occasion a gunner tried to be very clever and ended up in firing at the aircraft and not the drogue! Violent evasive action followed and the pilot was heard to say "I'm pulling the bloody thing not pushing it!!" This C47 is now a C47 converted to turbo-prop configuration and is still operational, albeit in a more sober low-visibility colour scheme.

We now come to the missile age. The SA Army became involved with Denel in the development of the Crotale (Cactus to South Africans) surface-to-air missile system. This was a combined project between South Africa and the French, jointly financed. Our people went to France and to the trials which were fired in Algeria, in the Sahara desert. Our engineers had to become honorary members of the French Foreign Legion or they would not have been able to attend the tests!

The army then bought some Cactus systems but the then Head of the Defence Force, Commandant-General Hiemstra, being an air force general, decided that everything that flew should belong to the air force, even AAD missiles! SAAF instructors therefore had to be trained by the Army and Cactus became Air Force equipment. Another missile was the Tigercat or Hilda, a light, mobile and simple weapon used for airfield defence. The Border War had now started in all earnest and the airfields in Northern South West Africa required ack-ack defences - 35mm guns, Cactus and Hilda missiles were deployed, along with quite a number of old 40mm Bofors guns. For the mobile war which was now the norm, 20mm and Eastern Bloc ZSU23-3 guns were obtained. These could be truck-mounted and be moved quickly.

The war in SWA and Angola meant that we had to be versatile and find ingenious home-made solutions to problems - "'n Boer maak mos 'n Plan". The ack-ack units, deployed by batteries, were deployed in a primary ack-ack role and also in a secondary infantry role.

Our enemies were East Bloc-trained, their equipment was advanced and sophisticated and their tactics on the ground and in the air were Russian. Our doctrines had to be adapted and our training and equipment had to be adapted.

Angolan field units were equipped with SAM-6, SAM-7, SAM-8 and SAM-9 missiles and 23 mm guns both in twin mountings and in tracked vehicles - the Shilka, quadruple 23 mm guns with target acquisition radars and early forms of GPS (SAM - Surface to Air Missile). The presence of the highly-effective and mobile Shilka gun/radar control system at or near a designated air force target always affected our Air Force operations, served as an example of the effectiveness of such air defence measures. We really needed a mobile and modern self propelled anti aircraft system. The German Gepard tank-mounted mobile ack-ack system carrying twin 35mm weapons would have been ideal but it was vastly expensive, so we got the home-grown Ystervark instead! It consists of a SAMIL two-tonner with a single 20mm gun mounted on a platform at the back and still in use today. The SADF also took into use SAM-9 launchers and twin 23mm guns. These were bought - not captured. The captured ones had all unfortunately been vandalised by our troops, either at the time of capture or while in storage.

In 1990, the Anti Aircraft School moved from Youngsfield to Kimberley, the reasons being easier maintenance (rust damage and corrosion due to the salt sea air near the coast as opposed to the dry climate further inland), closer to the industrial heartland and nearness to training facilities (Army Battle School for formation training). With the end of the Border War came new projects and new doctrine and training. A new twin 23mm gun mounted on a 10 ton mine-protected SAMIL came into use - this was the Zumlac.

Gen Del Monte continued his service, but as a PF, rising to 2IC of the AADS/10 AD Regt. Thereafter he attended the SAAF Staff College and served on the directing staff of the Navy senior staff college. In 1993 he was transferred to Defence Headquarters to help plan for the formation of the SANDF. He retired in 2001 as the first Director: Defence Reserves.

Maj Vidius Archer then took over the presentation and sketched developments from 1990 to the pesent. On the equipment front, the 35mm guns have been updated and a new battery radar - the Kameelperd - has been introduced.

Air defence is now a joint operation with all services involved. The smallest deployable unit is a battery. Units are deployed rapidly with their radars and observation points and fire units deployed as required by the joint tactical headquarters. With the speed of modern aircraft, very fast response times are required with a need for good training and excellent radio discipline. Mixed gun/missile units are deployed, each with its own radar. And the headquarters will always include both Army and Air Force elements.

Discussion then followed on the procedures used in early warning and local warning and the principles of layered defence against multiple threats and use of IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) equipment. Digital communication methods are now normal with an emphasis on minimum response times and flexibility. Centralised control systems must also allow for decentralised control where necessary.

Maj Archer then discussed developments in equipment.. There is a need for a gap filler radar for local warning - this will likely be the Page LP1 radar. As a supplement to the updated guns we will need a ground-based air defence system which is a short range missile system. There were a number of contenders for this - from France, Russia, Sweden, America and two from the UK.

The one ordered is the Starstreak made by the Thales group of defence industry companies in Belfast. This is a light missile weighing about 20kg with a range of some 6 kilometres, extremely fast with a tremendous acceleration. It is laser-guided and the launcher is fitted with IFF. The warhead consists of three darts which break away from the missile just before impact on the target. The missile can be carried by seven people, fired from helicopters or from ships, armoured- or other vehicles.

Starstreak will be deployed in fire units consisting of one missile launcher, a fire control unit and two 35mm guns and forms the basis of the Army's air defence system.

Future developments include a new acquisition radar and a medium missile. This is the South African-developed Umkhonto missile, sold to Finland and being looked at by Sweden for use in their corvettes. In its land-based form, Umkhonto will be tube-launched.

The PF units remain the AADS (handling training) and 10 Anti Aircraft Regt (which does force training and operational deployment) and four Reserve Force units - CGA, RVR, ROT and 6 LADR. The reserves will be boosted by bigger intakes from the Military Skills Development System in the next couple of years. Units are taking part in training exercises and there is also border protection service on the horizon. A question and answer period then followed and our Chairman Johan van den Berg thanked our speakers for an interesting and fact-filled lecture before presenting them with the customary gifts.



We welcome Rear-Admiral (JG) Anthony Cole who joined our Branch at the January meeting and look forward to seeing him at our lectures in the future.
We extend our best wishes to Brig-Gen Dick Lord who was hospitalised a couple of weeks ago. We understand that he is at home again and wish him a speedy and full recovery.



One of the publications from the pen of the renowned (late) Professor Colin G. Coetzee (Emeritus Professor of the University of Fort Hare, 1960-1983), has been revised and is back in print. It is titled Military Villages in the Eastern Cape: The Unfortified Military Villages of Sir Harry Smith, 1848-1850. The original text has been edited and revised by well-known historian, author, publisher and historical tour guide, Tony Westby-Nunn. The 80-page, rigid-bound paperback has been published by Westby-Nunn Publishers cc., Cape Town, in 2010. For students of the desperate warfare that stemmed from the clash of cultures on the Eastern Frontier of the then Cape Colony in the 19th Century, this is essential reading.

The Friends of the Rondebosch Public Library have a full set of Purnell's History of World War II for sale. If you interested, please phone Mrs Wagner after 20:30 on Phone 021-674-4947.



10 FEBRUARY 2011: 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. After an illustrious military career he emigrated to South Africa and qualified himself as a Presbyterian minister. Being passionate about Scottish history, having obtained a D.Th. on the subject of Scottish history and religion, and the role that The Cameronians played in both, he is undoubtedly well-qualified to relate events that took place in Scotland during the 17th century, a period of great bloodshed, upheaval and turmoil. The subject of the evening's talk will take place against the background of the 17th/18th Century Jacobite Uprisings that started in 1688 and intermittently carried on for over 50 years, well into the 18th Century! The Jacobite Uprising in Scotland commenced in 1689 and a series of bloody battles were fought at Killiecrankie (27 July 1689), Dunkeld (21 August 1689) and Cromdale (30 April-1 May 1690). The Cameronians were raised during this tumultuous period and the role that the regiment played in the successful defence of Dunkeld and the routing of the numerical superior Jacobite forces will be covered in the evening's talk - an aspect of Scottish history that is often neglected. Although the Battle of Killiecrankie had more lasting effect upon Scottish history, the victory at Dunkeld was far more significant - it played a pivotal role in ensuring religious freedom in Scotland.


17 MARCH 2011: First In, Last Out: The South African Artillery in Action in Angola, 1975-1988, by Lt-Col Clive Wilsworth.
Our forthcoming speaker is the author of a recently-published a book on the history of the South African Artillery's role in the Border War and in Angola. The title of the book, First In, Last Out: The South African Artillery in Action, 1975-1988*, reflects the subject of our talk for March. Lt-Col Wilsworth's military career was inextricably linked to artillery from his call-up for National Service in 1969, to his retirement from the military in 1994. The years inbetween were spent in the field, consecutively in 4 Field Regiment, six years with the Natal Field Artillery and subsequently with 14th Field Regiment (as a Regular). Between 1978 and 1988 he was a battery commander and intelligence officer, spending most of the time on the border and being involved in most of the major operations during this period. He was also involved in the development of new weapon systems. Ultimately, he was posted to Army HQ as a staff officer where he was in planning and implementation of artillery projects till his retirement.
* Lt-Col Wilsworth's book was published in August 2010 in paperback-format, illustrated, maps, 416 pp. by 30 South Publishers in Johannesberg.

NOTE: Due to the fact that Lt-Col Wilsworth's visit do not coincide with our normal scheduling of meetings, we saw it fit to amend the schedule to accommodate him. The chairman has had the opportunity to attend a similar lecture by our guest speaker in August 2010 in Johannesburg and he thought it fit to suggest to the branch committee to amend the schedule so that our members can also have the benefit of enjoying an excellently -prepared and -delivered presentation on a topic of great historical relevancy and interest. Instead of having the meeting on Thursday the 10th of March, it has been moved a week forward to the 17th.

14 APRIL 2011: XENOPHON: In the Footsteps of the Ten Thousand, by Dr Dan Sleigh
Our speaker for April, Dr Dan Sleigh, historian and author, is no stranger to us. Dr Sleigh has lectured to the society on a number of occasions in the past. His last lecture, a few years ago, dealt with the Attica-born historian, Xenophon, who chronicled the expedition led by Cyrus the Younger against his older brother, the emperor Artaxerxes II of Persia, in 401 BC. Xenophon participated as young man in this expedition and shared the same trials and tribulations suffered by Cyrus' ten thousand followers in their epic march through Asia Minor, largely located in modern-day Turkey and Iraq. This feat has so intrigued and fascinated Dr Sleigh, that he undertook an expedition himself, together with his daughter, to retrace as much as possible of the footsteps of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand..... His experiences and reminiscences will be the subject of an illustrated lecture to supplement his previous talk and is surely an event not to missed......
(Dr. Sleigh's fascination with this intriguing subject, has, in his characteristic style, evolved into a book of note. Utilising Xenophon's famous Anabasis as foundation, he has built a historical novel around the epic event. Currently only available in Afrikaans, Afstande [lit. trans. as "Distances"] is issued in hardcover, 617 pp., published by Tafelberg, Cape Town)

< 12 MAY 2011: The Alamo, by Stan Lambrick.
Provisional. Further details to follow in the March newsletter.


BOB BUSER: Treasurer/Asst. Scribe
Phone: Home: (evenings) 021-689-1639
Office: (mornings) 021-689-9771

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South African Military History Society /