South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


Our speaker on 12 May 2011 was member Mr Stan Lambrick who presented an illustrated talk on the Battle of the Alamo, which took place 175 years ago - from 23 February to 6 March 1836.

Our speaker introduced his talk by reminding us that some twenty films had been made on the topic since 1911.The most recent film, released in 2004, is considered to be the most accurate historically.

The Battle of the Alamo was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution which has never been forgotten in the United States and the bravery of the 190-man garrison of the Alamo Mission is seen as a splendid example of patriotism and of self-sacrifice in the defence of liberty. The cry "Remember the Alamo" was first used when those who lost their lives at the Alamo were avenged at San Jacinto on 21 April 1836.

Mr Lambrick showed us a slide of a painting of the Alamo Mission near San Antonio Bexar (the modern San Antonio, Texas) during the battle and two others showing what the mission looked like after the battle. These were compared with a recent photograph showing the gable built by the US Engineer Corps in 1858. He noted that the newer stone work did not match the original cream-coloured limestone blocks used in the original building. At the time of the siege the roof of the mission had not been completed.

Mr Lambrick noted that some 2.5 million visitors flock to the Alamo each year. The place is run by the Daughters of the Republic. There are displays of flags, weapons and other relics and there is a gift shop which generates sufficient funds to pay for the proper maintenance of the old buildings. A lesson for us in South Africa!

Mr Lambrick then set the scene for his account of the battle by giving us a brief account of the early history of Texas. The first farmers had tried to grow maize but without success. Some 300 American families were then permitted to purchase land - at 12 cents an acre! They became very successful cattle and cotton farmers, using indentured labourers brought from the United States. The American immigrants made little or no effort to adapt to the Mexican culture.

The immigrants were used to a federalist government and extensive individual rights and became very dissatisfied when the Texan Constitution was revoked by President de Santa Anna in 1835. The first battle of the Texas Revolution was fought in October 1835, when the Texians (as they were called) defeated the Mexican troops already based in Texas. The last groups of Mexican troops to surrender were commanded by President de Santa Anna's brother-in-law, General Martin Perfecto de Cos, who had been besieged in Bexar.

President de Santa Anna discovered that American adventurers were serving in the Texian Army and he had these classified as pirates, to be executed immediately if captured. It is believed that most of them were not aware of the fate that awaited them if captured even though President de Santa Anna had informed President Andrew Jackson of the United States of this decision!

When the Mexican troops left San Antonio de Bexar (now San Antonio), Texian soldiers established a garrison at the Alamo mission which had been converted into a makeshift fort. This had been designed to withstand attacks by indigenous tribes and not an attack by an army with artillery. The mission station had an area of some three acres with 1,300 feet of perimeter to defend.

The interior courtyard was bordered on the east by the chapel, to the north by a two-storey building and to the south by a one-storey building. The perimeter was lined by wooden palisades some three feet thick and between eight and twelve feet high. Outside the walls to the north-east there was a kraal for cattle and horses. The palisades were made of the wood of cottonwood trees. Our speaker explained that Alamo in fact means cottonwood.

The Texian engineer Green B Jameson built catwalks along the palisades so that the defenders could fire over the walls. The Mexicans had left a number of guns in the fort which were mounted along the walls by the Texians. There was also an 18-pounder which had come to Texas with volunteers from New Orleans.

The garrison of the Alamo was hopelessly under strength with only round 100 men and the place was inadequately provisioned. The acting commander was Col James Niell who asked for reinforcements and supplies. But the Texian government was in a shambles and their army was no better. At one time four officers claimed to be in command of the army! Col Niell wrote to Gen Sam Houston who was one of these officers, asking for support. But Sam Houston was not able to supply many men or indeed to provide logistic support to enable a proper defence of the Alamo.

Instead, Houston sent Col James Bowie with 30 men to remove the guns and destroy the defences. However, as there were no draft animals to tow the guns, he was soon persuaded by Col Neill that the fort was of strategic importance and should be defended. Bowie wrote to the Governor of Texas that "the salvation of Texas depends on keeping Bexar out of the hands of the enemy". Indeed he and the rest of the garrison were ready to die rather than hand the Alamo to the enemy.

The government were unable to send many men but, on 3 February, Lt Col Travis arrived with 30 men and, a few days later, a further small group of volunteers, including the legendary Davy Crockett, arrived.

Neill handed over command to Col Travis, the senior regular army officer present. However, most of the volunteers preferred Bowie, so a joint command was formed. James Bowie was the brother of the inventor of the famous Bowie knife.

The Texian revolution caused a reaction from the Mexican government, which started to raise an army to crush the Texians. President Santa Anna was a lot more successful than the Texians. While they struggled to recruit more troops and obtain more supplies, Santa Anna by 1835 had a force of 6,019 men on strength. These were mostly untrained recruits.

Santa Anna started to move north in December 1835, using the march to train his men. They did not have enough mules to transport their supplies and, as there was insufficient money, many of the civilian muleteers deserted when they were not paid on time. There were also a large number of camp followers, women and children, and the daily rations had to be cut to provide for them.

On 12 February 1836, they crossed the Rio Grande in bitterly cold weather. Their ranks had been reduced by disease and Comanche raiding parties. On the morning of 23 February 1836, Mexican troops reached Bexar. The Texians were not prepared for a siege and hastily herded cattle into the kraal at the Alamo and foraged for food in the surrounding countryside.

The Mexicans raised the blood red flag which meant that no quarter would be given. Col Travis fired the largest gun in the garrison at the Mexicans but Col Bowie felt that this was somewhat overhasty. So two representatives of the garrison were sent to parley with Santa Anna. They suggested an honourable surrender but Santa Anna insisted on unconditional surrender and nothing else.

The Alamo was surrounded by the Mexicans and an artillery duel commenced. After three days Travis was forced to reduce his rate of fire to conserve his supplies of powder and shot. On 24 February Col Bowie became ill and Col Travis took over sole command. A number of sorties were made by the Texians but these were repulsed by the Mexicans, who also made a number of small, probing attacks which were in turn, also unsuccessful. The temperature dropped to 4 degrees Celsius and the Texians were thwarted in their attempts to collect firewood.

During this period, Col Travis sent couriers through the Mexican lines, asking for more men and supplies. When news of the siege of the Alamo became known throughout Texas, a force of potential reinforcements was collected at Gonzales, some distance from San Antonio. A relief force under command of Col Fannin moved out, consisting of 320 men and headed towards Gonzales but turned back after a short distance. He blamed his officers but they blamed him for this lack of urgency. The troops at Gonzales were not aware of Fannin's failure and remained there until they were found by Samuel Bastion, sent by Travis. He found Lieutenant George Kimble with his small Gonzales Ranging Company.

On 3 March, a further 1,000 Mexican troops arrived at Bexar, a cause for celebration by the Mexicans who were also heartened by the news that Gen Jose de Urrea had defeated a Texian force under Col Frank Johnson at Patricio on 27 February. Santa Anna had by this time arrived at the Alamo. Travis sent out Davy Crockett and two scouts look for Col Fannin's force which they thought was still on its way to join the garrison at the Alamo.

Shortly before daybreak on 4 March, some reinforcements broke through the Mexican lines to join Travis' force but other Texian forces were driven back by the Mexicans. The Mexicans were waiting for two 12-pounder guns before launching an assault. These were expected to arrive on 7 March.

On the evening of 4 March Juan Navarro, Col Bowie's cousin-in-law, visited Santa Anna to negotiate a surrender of the garrison but was unsuccessful

There had been a continuous artillery bombardment but this stopped on the evening of 5 March. The Texians had their first night of uninterrupted sleep since the siege had started. At 0530 on the following morning, four columns of Mexican Troops advanced on the Alamo. Three pickets had been placed outside the walls by Travis but these were asleep. They were knifed. Five hundred cavalrymen surrounded the Perimeter to prevent any Texians from escaping. The Mexicans came to within musket range of the walls, undetected. The sleeping garrison were then awakened by loud shouts of "Viva Santa Anna" and bugle calls.

The attackers were in column formation and only the first couple of rows could fire in safety. The untrained troops fired blindly and killed some of their comrades. In addition, the columns were a good target for the Texian artillery and musket fire.

The Texians had to lean over the parapets to shoot at the enemy and were thus very exposed. They began to take casualties and Col Travis was one of the first. The Mexicans were equipped with ladders (to scale the walls) but few of these reached the walls. Those climbing up were soon killed. The Texians were using squirrel guns (similar to the Kentucky rifles used in the War of Independence), very accurate but slower to load than muskets. A second attack by the Mexicans was repulsed and a third one followed and this was successful.

The makeshift north wall had been damaged by the artillery bombardment and there were gaps in it. Led by Gen Juan Amador, the Mexican troops stormed over the wall. One of them opened the postern gate and the main force rushed in to the parade ground. Others came in through the gun ports in the west wall which had been thinly defended.

Texian gunners at the south end of the mission turned their guns and fired at the advancing Mexicans on the parade ground. But more Mexicans scaled the walls behind the gunners and captured the 18-pounder. Most of the Texians fell back to the barracks and chapel. Others fled over the walls and tried to get to the San Antonio River - not a good idea as they were all blocked by the waiting Mexican cavalry, who cut them down, to a man.

The defenders of the cattle kraal moved back, round the chapel and then into the prairie to the east. They were hunted down by the Mexican cavalry, which were fired on by some of the guns still operated by the Texians.

The last group of defenders still in the open were Davy Crockett and his men, defending a low wall in front of the chapel. Having fired their rifles, they had no time to reload, so instead used their rifles as clubs as well as defending themselves with knives. The survivors of this desperate fighting fell back on the church. As the Texians did not have time to spike their guns, the Mexicans were able to use these to demolish the doors. Then, having fired a volley of musket-fire into the interior of the buildings, they charged in to finish off the surviving Texian soldiers.

Col Bowie, who had lost his wife and two children some time before the siege, was laid low with malaria and tuberculosis, died in his bed firing his pistols at the Mexicans. The last Texians were the men manning two 12-pounders in the chapel. After they had fired their guns, they were bayoneted to death. The attack had lasted no more than an hour.

Casualties on the Mexican side numbered 400 to 600. Texian losses were between 182 and 257, depending on the source used. Our speaker described Santa Anna as "ruthless, a thief, a womanizer and an opium addict!" Santa Anna saw himself as the Napoleon of the West. His perceived cruelty at the Alamo caused many more Texians to join the revolt and to seek revenge. On 21 April he was defeated at the battle of San Jacinto and forced to surrender. The Mexicans were forced to withdraw from Texas which, for a while, became an independent country, the Republic of Texas.

Our speaker concluded with some comments on the many films made to commemorate the Battle. All of them, he said, were inaccurate to a greater or lesser degree.

Our Vice-Chairman, Mr Derek O'Riley, thanked Mr Lambrick for giving us another fascinating talk and presented him with the customary gift.



We welcome three new members this month. They are Mr Piotr Fiszka-Borzyzkowski, Mr K Sheppard and Mr Howard Boetcher. We look forward to their company at our regular meetings.

Our Secretary was recently hospitalised, with the possibility of an operation, which, alas, was unnecessary. We rejoice together with Ray Hattingh, his wife Julie, and family, that the outcome was positive.

Brig Gen Dick Lord is recuperating slowly but surely and sends his sincerest regards to the members, as well as his appreciation for all interested in his well-being and those who regularly inquire about his well-being or just call to have a friendly chat.


Life-member John (Jochen) Manhcke's memoir of his father's military career, has finally been published, this being his second book. (For newer members who do not know John, it will suffice to mention that he is well-known and popular in society circles, having served as Vice-Chairman/Scribe of the Cape Town branch for many years, as well as previously being the National Chairman.) After working on the manuscript on and off for over twenty years, the book FOR KAISER AND HITLER: From Military Aviator to High Command - The Memoirs of Luftwaffe General Alfred Mahncke 1910-1945, is finally in print. It reflects the meticulous attention to detail for which John is known (a trait obviously running in the family as the memoir itself will attest). The book was launched at the beginning of May to rave reviews and with great acclaim by aviation historians and researchers internationally.

As military aviation author and historical expert on the German Luftstreitkräfte during WWI and the Luftwaffe from 1933 to 1945, E.R. Hootton, has stated:
The autobiography of a lesser known Luftwaffe general would not normally be worthy of much notice, but General der Flieger Alfred Mahncke's For Kaiser and Hitler is a treasure trove. For Mahncke was - to quote the title of Adolf Galland's autobiography - truly the 'First and the Last' in German aviation. He was one of Germany's earliest military pilots and provides a fascinating account of life before and during the Great War during which he knew key members of the German Army air leadership. His account of his early days in military aviation is truly an eye-opener with many surprising revelations.

The publisher, Robert Forsyth, himself an expert on the subject of the Luftwaffe and a highly successful author in his own right of more than a dozen titles on this particular subject, has the following to say about the book:
The memoirs of General der Flieger a.D. Alfred Mahncke are the first from a former General of the German Luftwaffe to be published in the English language since those of Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring in 1953. Since then, thousands of books have been written on every aspect of the Luftwaffe's history, development, personalities, aircraft, campaigns, operations and ultimate defeat. But the historiography has lacked a fresh, detailed and personal insight into the leadership and command of the Luftwaffe from its earliest years through to the period of crisis which ensued after the tragedy of Stalingrad. Alfred Mahncke's For Kaiser and Hitler rectifies this omission, providing those with an interest in the history of the German military machine with an absorbing, detailed, highly readable and evocative account of life within the Luftwaffe at senior command level.

John Mahncke has made available a limited number of copies for society members to purchase at the next meeting, autographed by him.


Members will recall that Stephan Fourie gave a number of interesting talks about his service and experiences in one of the Special Service Battalions - the armoured car units of the SADF, before and during Operation Savannah in 1975-76, in Angola. Not well-known, however, is that he subsequently served in the Armoured Car Regiment of the Rhodesian Army, before further deployment in a different and well-known counter-insurgency unit until the elections in 1980. Known for his descriptive, tell-it-as-it-was style, this surely is one lecture not to be missed!

14 JULY 2011: THE DESTRUCTION OF THE ZULU KINGDOM, 1840-1884 by Alan Mountain
The talk is the second delivery in a continuing series on the rise and fall of the Zulu Empire by fellow-member Alan Mountain. The death of Dingane in 1840 signalled the end of Zulu imperialism and the entry of Boer and English imperial involvement in Zulu affairs. Mpande, the third half-brother to become king in the House of Zulu, gained the Zulu throne with the help of Boer allies. Although initially considered to be an amiable oaf and therefore escaped death at the hands of his paranoid half-brother, Dingane, he proved to be a shrewd negotiator and in the turbulent politics of the times he managed to hold the Zulu kingdom together for 33 years. His eldest son, Cetshwayo, succeeded him to the Zulu throne after a very bloody succession battle with Mpande's favoured son, Mbuyazi. It was Cetshwayo who Sir Bartle Frere, the British High Commissioner in South Africa and Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in South Africa aimed his aggression in his quest to establish a Confederation of South African States and which resulted in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. While Sir Bartle ultimately won on the battlefield, he failed to settle the resulting turbulence in Zululand which eventually culminated in the Zulu Civil War in 1884. As Alan Mountain is known for his masterful and professional blending of video and audio input into his talks, this should prove to be one of the highlights of this year's programme.

Maj Römer-Heitman's annual strategic review of the military and political situation in Africa is always well-received and this year it should be no exception, especially in view of the events in North Africa at the beginning of this year, which have unfolded with such rapidity in a matter of months. Of particular interest, amongst other issues, will again be his analysis of the piracy problem in the Indian Ocean that is slowly but surely creeping southwards - exactly as he predicted in 2010! From the attendance figures of his previous talks it is easy to predict that it will be no different this year - bear in mind that we have only limited parking and seating available, please arrive early, so as to avoid disappointment.


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

Phone: 021-592-1279 (Office)

South African Military History Society /