South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 422;
April 2011

Contact: Ken Gillings 031 702 4828
Bill Brady 031 561 5542
Society's web site address:

The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture was presented by guest speaker Sunny Singh on "My Part in the Armed Struggle."
Our speaker was born at Cato Manor, Natal, on 30 November 1939. He later attended ML Sultan Technical College and matriculated in Accountancy. Determined to resist apartheid he entered politics in 1958, joining the Natal Indian Youth Congress, at that time following Ghandi's teachings of non violence.

In the wake of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, he joined the armed wing of the ANC, uMkhonto weSizwe ("MK") in 1962. Our speaker embarked on various acts of sabotage, such as blowing up electric pylons, railway bridges, etc. They were under strict orders from Nelson Mandela that no civilians were to be attacked.

He was arrested in August 1963 under the 90 day law and along with 18 comrades on charges of incitement to sabotage and conspiracy against the South African regime. In 1964 he received a sentence of 10 years imprisonment.

Released in 1974, and after witnessing the Soweto riots in 1976, he decided to go into exile and left South Africa later that year. Our speaker travelled to Swaziland, Mozambique, Tanzania and Angola together with a mass exodus of people wishing to take part in the struggle.

Military training was received in East Berlin during 1977 that included combat work and surveillance. He moved on to Moscow in 1983 to undergo military intelligence training.

Our speaker was then engaged by Jacob Zuma, at that stage the Natal Regional Commander, before being posted to Amsterdam as the ANC Representative.

The dramatic political developments in South Africa in 1990 enabled him to [return] home after 14 years in exile. He was then assigned to the education department and with funding being provided by the City of Rotterdam he was given the responsibility of establishing a Community Relations Development Project, mainly focusing on integration and challenges in the class room. An Academic Support Programme was also established and successfully bussed 200 black students from KwaMashu to Inanda.

Mr Singh then joined the SAPS in 1995 to work with Ronnie Kasrils in The Crime Intelligence Division.

Retiring in 2006 our speaker now assists his wife in her tourism business.

The main talk was presented by fellow member Jesse Wesseloo and entitled "The Raid on the Medway - 1667." This successful Dutch attack on the largest English naval ships, laid up in the dockyards of their main naval base Chatham on the River Medway in Kent took place in June 1667. The Dutch, under nominal of Lieutenant-Admiral de Ruyter, bombarded and then captured HMS Unity and HMS Royal Charles. The raid led to a quick end to the Second Dutch War and a favourable peace for the Dutch. It was the worst defeat in the Royal Navy's history.

English King Charles II's active fleet had already been reduced to accommodate the restrictions of recent expenditure, with the remaining "big ships" laid up, so the Dutch seized their opportunity well. Peace negotiations had already been in progress at Breda since March, but Charles tried to procrastinate the signing of peace, hoping to improve his position. The Dutch thought it best to end the war quickly with a clear Dutch victory, which of course might lead to more favourable terms. The Dutch made use of two defected English pilots, one a dissenter, the other a smuggler having fled English justice. On 17 May de Ruyter sailed with 62 frigates or ships-of-the-line, the fleet was organised into three squadrons. On 6 June a fog bank was blown away and revealed the Dutch force. Even so the attack caught the English unawares. No serious preparations had been made for such an eventuality, although there had been ample warning from the extensive English spy network. Most frigates were assembled in Harwich and Scotland, leaving the London area to be protected by only a small number of active ships, most of them prizes taken earlier in the war from the Dutch. As a further economy measure on 24 March the Duke of York had ordered to discharge most of the crews of the prize vessels, leaving only three guard ships at the Medway. There was no clear line of command with most responsible authorities giving hasty orders without bothering to coordinate them first. As a result there was much confusion. Charles didn't take matters into his own hands, deferring mostly to the opinion of others. English morale was low. Not having been paid for months or even years, most sailors and soldiers were less than enthusiastic to risk their lives. England had only a small army and the few available units were dispersed as Dutch intentions were unclear. This explains why no effective countermeasures were taken.

After raising the alarm on 6 June English authorities did not take any further action until 9 June when, late in the afternoon, a fleet of about thirty Dutch ships were sighted in the Thames off Sheerness. At this point the commander immediately sought assistance from the Admiralty sending a pessimistic message lamenting the absence of Navy senior officials whose help and advice he believed he needed. The Dutch fleet carried about a thousand marines and landing parties were dispatched on Canvey Island and Sheerness. These men had strict orders not to plunder, as the Dutch wanted to shame the English whose troops had sacked their towns in August 1666. The king ordered the militia of all counties around London to mobilise; also all available barges should be used to lay a ship bridge across the Lower Thames, so that the English cavalry could quickly switch positions from one bank to the other. The King instructed Admiral Monk to go to Chatham to take charge of matters and organise defences. To his dismay he noted that there were only a few guns present to halt a possible Dutch advance upon the Thames. To prevent such a disaster, he ordered all available artillery from the capital to be positioned at Gravesend. On 11 June he went to Chatham, expecting the place to be well prepared for an attack. No munitions or powder was available and the chain that blocked the Medway had not been protected by batteries. He immediately ordered to move the artillery from Gravesend to Chatham, which would take a day to effect. The Dutch fleet arrived the same day and launched an attack on the incomplete defences. Sir Edward Spragge was in command of the ships at anchor in the Medway and those off Sheerness, but the only ship able to defend against the Dutch was the frigate Unity which was stationed off the fort. The Unity was supported by a number of fireships at Garrison Point, and by the fort where sixteen guns had been hastily placed. The Unity fired one broadside, but then, when attacked by a Dutch fireship, she withdrew up the Medway, followed by the English fireships. The next day Monck and several men of the admiralty all gave orders countermanding those of the others so that utter confusion reigned. As his artillery would not arrive soon, Monck on the 11th ordered a squadron of cavalry and a company of soldiers to reinforce and defences were hastily improvised and the chain across the river was guarded by light batteries.

It was proposed that several big and smaller ships be sunk to block the channel in front of the chain, presenting another barrier to the Dutch. This was done in order to make the whole river impassable. But Dutch frigates had already found their way through the obstacles by that same evening. The chain proved no obstacle. Dutch ships, preceded by two fire-ships sailed over it and broke the chain. When Monck saw what was happening he ordered to sink all the remaining 16 naval vessels in the docks so that they wouldn't fall into Dutch hands. In total they sank some 32 of their own ships.

In the areas upstream, along the Thames right up to London, panic broke out as the population feared a full Dutch-French invasion. The rumour spread that the Dutch were ready to transport the army of Louis XIV which they believed ready to sail from Dunkirk. The treaty of mutual assistance with France was conveniently ignored by France. They did not assist the Dutch in any way.

It was a significant victory for Holland.

Former chairman Ken Gillings thanked both speakers for two most unusual but well presented talks that sparked off a lively debate.

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Thursday 14th April 2011 - 19h00 for 19h30.
Venue: Venue: Murray Theatre, Dept of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.

The Darrell Hall (DDH) Memorial Lecture will be presented by guest speaker fellow member Paul Kirk on "Jasper Maskelyne - the War Magician." The Main Talk will be presented by guest speaker Prop Geldenhuys on "The Rhodesian War."

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12th MAY
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture ("DDH")
- "The Tokyo Raid" by Roy Bowman.
Main Talk - "My father, Lord Elworthy" by Anthony Elworthy.

9th JUNE
DDH - "Letters from the front"
by Charles Whiteing.
Main Talk - "Cecil Rhodes's role in Southern African military history" by Maj Gen Chris le Roux.

14th July
DDH - "Military Incidents"
by Marjory Dean.
Main Talk - "The Raid on Surprise Hill by the 2nd Battalion, The Rifle Brigade" by Robin Smith.

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The majority of members opted to cover the two Battles in the Colenso area. The tour will therefore focus on the Battle of Colenso (15th December 1899) and the Battle of the Thukela Heights (12th to 28th February 1900) and involve an in depth comparison of the tactics used by both sides. Details will be circulated in due course, but should you wish to participate in the presentations, please contact Ken Gillings on 031 702 4828 / 083 654 5880 or by e-mail on

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Due to insufficient numbers and several logistical challenges, unfortunately it has become necessary to cancel the above tour. There is a "Plan 'B", however; Mr Henri Boshoff is arranging a similar tour and he may be contacted via e-mail on or by Cellphone on 0829031509. A copy of the itinerary is available and will be circulated with the Branch Newsletter.

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Anniversaries - at this time in history.
1879 - The Battle of Gingindlovu
1900 - The death in action of Gen de Villebois-Maureuil near Boshoff
1901 - Gen Sir Leslie Rundle commences his advance on the Brandwater Basin
1902 - Gen Manie Maritz captures Springbok, Gen Jan Smuts besieges Okiep & Boer peace delegates consult the Commandos
1906 - Execution of Rebels at Richmond and Battle of Mpanza
1934 - Birth of first man to orbit the earth in space, Yuri Gagarin.
1936 - Maiden flight of the Spitfire.
1938 - Germany annexes Austria.
1941 - The US approves the Lend Lease Act
1944 - Daylight bombing of Berlin starts by US air force.
1945 - Allies cross the Rhine.
1946 - Winston Churchill makes The Iron Curtain speech.
1953 - Death of Stalin.
1968 - The Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam.
1969 - Maiden flight of the supersonic Concorde.
1974 - Last Japanese WW2 fighting soldier found in jungle.
1984 - Death of spy Donald McLean.
1985 - Scargills coal miners strike defeated by Margaret Thatcher.

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