South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 424
June 2011

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

The Darrell Hall Memorial talk was presented by fellow member Roy Bowman on "The Doolittle Raid".

The raid had it's beginning in a desire by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, expressed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a meeting at the White House on 21st December 1941, that Japan be bombed as soon as possible, to boost public morale after the disaster at Pearl Harbour on 7th December 1941. The concept of the attack came from U.S. Navy Captain Francis Low, Assistant Chief of Staff for Anti Submarine Warfare, who reported to Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King on 10th January 1942, that he thought that twin engined Army bombers could be successfully launched from an aircraft carrier, after observing several bombers practicing at a naval airbase in Virginia.

James "Jimmy" Doolittle, an ex Army Air Corps officer, American aviation pioneer and holder of many records during the 1920's and 1930's, who had left the Army Air Corps to pursue a career in petroleum with Shell, was recalled to active duty after the attack on Pearl Harbour and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. He was immediately put in charge of the planning group for the first retaliatory raid on the Japanese homeland. He volunteered for, and was given, approval to lead the top secret attack. It was decided to pursue a very ambitious plan to transport twin engined medium bombers to a position close enough to Japan for them to reach their targets and then fly on to the Chinese mainland and land on pre-selected airfields. The choice of aircraft was between the B18 Bolo, B23 Dragon, B26 Marauder and the B25B Mitchell. The B25B was chosen because of its narrow wingspan, which could fit onto an aircraft carriers flight deck To test the theory, two B25B's were loaded onto the newly constructed aircraft carrier USS Hornet at Norfolk, Virginia and subsequently flown off the flight deck without difficulty on 3rd February 1942.

On 1st April the 16 modified bombers, their 5 man crews, the crews of the aircraft not chosen, they would act as backup in case of illness, and Army Air Corps maintenance personnel, totalling 71 officers and 130 enlisted men, were loaded on board USS Hornet at Alameda. Each aircraft was to carry four specially constructed 500 pound bombs. The aircraft were clustered closely and tied down on the Hornet's flight deck in the order of their expected launch. The Hornet and Task Force 18, commanded by Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher, left the port at 10:00 on 2nd April and a few days later rendezvoused in the mid Pacific North of Hawaii. At 07:38 on the morning of 18th April, while the Task Force was still about 1050 kms from Japan, it was sighted by a Japanese picket boat. It was assumed it had radioed an attack warning to Japan. Although the Japanese ship was sunk by gunfire from the light cruiser USS Nashville, Doolittle and Task Force commander, Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher decided to launch the B25's immediately. With full flaps, engine at full throttle and his left wing far out over the port side of the Hornet's deck, Doolittle's plane waddled and then lunged slowly into the teeth of the gale that swept down the deck. His left wheel stuck on the white line as if it were a railroad track. Doolittle picked up more speed and held to his line. Just as the Hornet lifted herself up to the top of a wave and cut through it at full speed, Doolittle's plane lifted off the deck. Immediately, the other pilots began to manoeuvre their aircraft into position to take advantage of as much length of the flight deck that they could and begin the shortest take off that any of them had ever experienced. The B25's flew towards Japan, mostly in groups of two to four aircraft before changing to single file and dropping to wave top height to avoid detection. The aircraft began arriving over Japan at about noon (Tokyo time), six hours after launch and bombed 10 military and industrial targets in Tokyo, two in Yokohama and one each in Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka. Although some B25's encountered light anti aircraft fire and a few enemy fighters over Japan, no bomber was shot down. Fifteen of the 16 aircraft then proceeded southwest along the southern Japanese coast and across the East China Sea toward eastern China, where several fields in Chikiang Province were supposed to be ready to guide them in, using homing beacons, then recover, refuel and send them on to Chungking. It was the longest combat mission ever flown by B25 Mitchell's, averaging 3600kms. Doolittle and his crew, after parachuting into China, received assistance from Chinese soldiers and civilians as well as John Birch, an American Missionary in China. Birch was recommended by Doolittle for intelligence work with General Claire Chenault's Flying Tigers who were operating in China.

The raid caused little material damage to Japan but succeeded in its goal of raising American morale. The raid also had a strategic impact, although it was not understood at the time, in that it caused the Japanese to recall some fighting units back to the home islands for defence. The Fast Carrier Task Force, consisting of six carriers under Admiral Nagumo, had inflicted serious losses on the Royal Navy in the Indian Ocean Raid. After the Doolittle Raid, Nagumo's task force was recalled to Japan, relieving the pressure on the Royal Navy protecting the interests in the Indian Ocean and Eastern Africa.

The main talk was delivered by fellow member Anthony Elworthy on "My father - Lord Elworthy."
Upon his death in New Zealand on 4 April 1993 his title was Marshal of the Royal Air Force the Right Honourable the Lord Elworthy, KG, GCB, CBE, DSO, MVO, DFC, AFC KStJ, MA.

Samuel Charles Elworthy was born on 23 March 1911 at Gordon's Valley farm near Timaru, South Canterbury, New Zealand, the eldest son of Percy and Bertha Elworthy. His maternal grandfather was Archbishop Julius of New Zealand. The farm was developed from virgin native grassland and bush by Elworthy's grandfather who emigrated from Somerset to NZ in 1863. Sheep farming was a profitable business in NZ in the early 1900s. There was an abundance of labour available for the farm as well as servants for the house. Lamb and wool were in demand in England and prices were good.

In 1915, Elworthy's father, Percy, took his wife and children with him to England. He was commissioned in the Life Guards but was wounded at the Somme and invalided back to England. He recovered and when the war ended he took his family back to the farm in New Zealand. In 1924, the family once again moved to England where Elworthy was sent to Marlborough College. At Marlborough at the same time was Anthony Blunt who like Elworthy went on to Trinity Cambridge along with Blunt, Burgess, McLean and Philby who were also at Cambridge at this time. At Trinity College, Cambridge, Elworthy achieved a First Class Honours degree in Law. In 1933 Elworthy worked in London studying for his bar exams and to relieve the boredom he joined the Reserve of Air Force Officers. Early in 1935 Elworthy was called to the Bar, Lincoln's Inn. He was now a fully fledged barrister - but flying was his passion. In mid 1935 the RAF began a system of offering two permanent commissions a year to University graduates. Elworthy successfully applied, abandoned a career in Law.

He was 28 years old when the war started and decided to send his two infant sons to his parents on the farm in New Zealand far away from the war in Europe. The records of Bomber Command show that Elworthy's squadron suffered one of the highest casualty rates on one occasion losing 11 out of 12 aircraft in one raid. In 1942 Elworthy was ordered to assess the bouncing bomb claims of Barnes Wallis for bombing dams. He wrote an optimistic report and the following year No 617 Sqn led by W/Cdr Guy Gibson was formed and the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams were successfully attacked. Elworthy was involved with the planning and was at RAF Scampton with Barnes Wallis to see the bombers leave and return from their famous raid. After "Overlord" his job was the coordination of Bomber Commands' support of the Normandy landings. The commander of 5 Group was Sir Ralph Cochrane considered him academically the brightest officer in the RAF, a master of innovation who relished a difficult assignment. Elworthy was effectively No.2 to Cochrane and remained in that position for the remainder of the war.

When the war finished the men of Bomber Command could look back on fantastic advances made in tactical bombing. In the early raids a few bombers would stream over a target in the space of several hours. By the war's end more than 1000 bombers could concentrate over a target in something like 20 minutes. Elworthy played an important part in this work. In the period 1939 to 1945 Elworthy had risen from the oldest Pilot Officer in the RAF to the youngest Air Commodore. He decided his future lay with the Air Force and awarded the CBE for his services to Bomber Command throughout the war. Those early post war years saw the RAF shrink to peace-time size and peace meant the acting wartime ranks had to go. So Elworthy dropped to Group Captain. In November 1947 he was transferred to Pakistan as Officer Commanding RPAF. Elworthy's job was to create the Pakistan Air Force using wartime aircraft now surplus to the RAF's needs and to arrange training for pilots.

Transferred to Command RAF Odiham in 1953 where the Queen's Coronation Review of the RAF was to take place. Elworthy's job was the organisation on the ground rather than in the air and his reputation as a planner and organiser surely secured this posting for him. The revue was a resounding success and Elworthy was awarded the MVO (Member of the Victorian Order). Posted as Commander of Metropolitan Sector in 1954 with the rank of Acting Air Commodore, he was stationed at RAF North Weald North East of London and worked every day deep underground in a secret nuclear proof bunker. There was a very real nuclear threat from Russia at that time. In July 1957 he was made a full Air Vice-Marshal and Mountbatten chose Elworthy as his proposed commander in Aden, tasking him with setting about amalgamating all British forces under his command. His Personal Staff Officer at that time was a South African, Squadron Leader Philip Lagesen. Lagesen eventually retired from the RAF as Air Marshal Sir Philip Lagesen and many of our members may well remember him as he lived in Kloof and was a member of this Branch.

In July 1960 Elworthy was promoted to full Air Marshal and conferred with KCB (Knight Commander of the Bath) with the title of Sir Charles and in 1963 appointed Air Chief Marshall and conferred with GCB (Grand Commander of the Bath).

This is the highest rank in the Order of the Bath. Earl Mountbatten wrote to Elworthy to congratulate him on this latest honour and remarked on his elevation over three consecutive years from the lowest to the highest rank in the Order of the Bath. For a man who was, when he joined the RAF, the oldest general duties officer in the service, now at the age of 52, he was its youngest Chief of Air Staff. In 1967 Elworthy was appointed Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) with the rank of Marshal of the Royal Air Force. This position made him professional head of all British Armed Forces. He retired in 1971 and conferred with a life peerage. His full title was now The Right Honourable The Lord Elworthy of Timaru in New Zealand and of Elworthy in the County of Somerset. He returned to New Zealand where he died in 1973.

The vote of thanks was presented by Ian Sutherland who thanked both speakers for their excellent and well prepared presentations.

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Thursday 9th June 2011 - 19h00 for 19h30.

Venue: Murray Theatre, Dept of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.
The Darrell Hall (DDH) Memorial Lecture will be presented by fellow member Charles Whiteing on "Letters from the front."
The Main Talk will be presented by fellow member Maj Gen Chris le Roux on "Cecil Rhodes's role in Southern African military history."

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FUTURE SOCIETY DATES:July - September 2011.

14th July
DDH - "Military Incidents"
by Marjory Dean.
Main Talk - "Afghanistan - Axis of Terror" by Peter Williams.

11th August
DDH - "The Thukela; Spionkop Revisited." By Mikhael Peppas
Main Talk - "The Raid on Surprise Hill by the 2nd Bn The Rifle Brigade" by Robin Smith.

8th September
DDH - "Mediterranean Naval Strategy, 1940-1943" by Bill Brady
Main Talk - "The Suez Crisis." by Alan Mantle

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By popular request, this year's Battlefield Tour will focus on the two Battles fought in the Colenso area: The Battle of Colenso (15th December 1899) and the Battle of the Thukela / Tugela Heights (12th to 28th February 1900). Several members of the Society will form part of a panel that will analyse the difference in tactics by both sides in the Battle. The weekend that has been decided upon is that of the 13th / 14th August 2011. We are trying to secure special rates of accommodation in the Ladysmith area for members on the night of the 13th August 2011. Further details will follow in future newsletters.

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South African Military History Society /