South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter # 421
March 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 guest speaker Brian Davies entitled "Aerial Bombing of Civilian Targets."
Brian has been fascinated for years on a book "Glimpses of World History" by Jawaharlal Nehru. It consists of many hundreds of essays on historical topics made simple for his teenage daughter who went on in later years to be the Prime Minister of India. He was in British gaols for political activity aimed at overthrowing the imperial British power in India. He was well educated (in Britain, ironically), and his knowledge was vast. His book mirrored the thinking of many intellectuals in India in the 1930's.

Nehru's chapter headed "Iraq and the virtues of aerial bombing" contains these passages :".the Iraqi people who had been told they were now (in 1918) free of Turkish rule, were given a new constitution, headed by a King. They were very much opposed to the British mandate (as granted by the League of Nations in 1920). Agitations and demonstrations continued, and matters came to a head in August 1922. The British High Commissioner, Sir Percy Cox, put an end to the power of the King as well as that of the ministry and of the council which Iraq had been given, and took full charge of the government himself.

Although the new parliament functioned after the adoption of the new constitution in 1925, the people were far from satisfied and in the outlying areas disturbances sometimes took place. This was especially the case in Kurdish areas, where there were repeated outbreaks, which were suppressed by the British Air Force by the practice of bombing and destroying whole villages. A special effort was made to end these disturbances by force. The British Air Force was used for this purpose.

Nehru goes on to say: "Finding that the people of the villages often ran away and hid themselves on the approach of an aeroplane, and were not sporting enough to wait for the bombs to kill them, a new type of bomb - the time-delayed bomb - was used. This did not burst on falling, but was so wound up as to burst some time afterwards. This devilish ruse was meant to mislead the villagers into returning to their huts after the aeroplanes had gone, and then being hit by the bursting bomb. Those who died were the comparatively fortunate ones. Those who were maimed, whose limbs had been torn away sometimes, or who had other serious injuries, were far more unfortunate, for there was no medical aid available in those distant villages.

This method was considered to be cheaper and more expeditious than the old one of sending in an army. But it is a terribly cruel and ghastly method. Indeed it is difficult to imagine anything more disgustingly barbarous than to throw bombs, and especially the time-delayed bombs, on whole villages, and destroy innocent and guilty alike. These thoughts were those of Nehru, and were shared by most of the political leaders of India in the 1930's, and motivated them in their demands for independence after World War II.

Resort to aerial bombardment seems to return to haunt the perpetrators, sometimes some decades later. One looks at the acts reported in our press of the Italians in Abyssinia in 1935, and of the German Luftwaffe in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. On 26 April 1937, the German Condor Legion, a Luftwaffe detachment of 150 aircraft under General Hugo Sperrle, sent by Hitler (to Spain) to assist Franco, carpet bombed the Basque town of Guernica for three hours, wreaking terrible destruction and killing more than a thousand people..Hitler noted the success of the massed aerial bombardment, and Franco's GHQ claimed the town had been destroyed by the Republican (communist) defenders as they withdrew. It was only in 1999 that the Spanish government finally admitted that Franco had lied about Guernica.

Many years later, now, the result may be to leave a residue of doubt. Were the British politicians' hands so terribly clean when World War II broke out, and when British cities like London, Coventry, Liverpool, Hull and Manchester came under bombs in the Battle of Britain ? Those targets were not those grubby little huts in Iraq. Did they reap the whirlwind ? Did they kill the wrong people ? Did the Germans reap another more ferocious whirlwind between 1941 and 1945, from Allied bombardment of their cities from the air ? One recalls the first 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne by the R A F about 1942 at the start, and in 1945 almost at the end of the war in Europe when 1,000 Lancaster bombers hit Dresden and unloaded 2,600 tons of high explosive and killed 40,000 Christian civilians who were fleeing the atheist Red Army. Note the irony.

The atom bomb dropped by the U. S. over Nagasaki killed many Christian converts in a centre where Christianity had been permitted for centuries after its introduction by the Dutch. Note the irony.

The main talk was presented by chairman Bill Brady on Operation Torch - The allied landings in North Africa, 1942.

Operation Torch took place on November 8, 1942. This operation which still commands incredulity came a fortnight after the launching of the British El Alamein offensive at the opposite end of the Mediterranean. By the time that the new Allied expedition landed in Morocco and Algeria Rommel's Afrika Korps was in full retreat from Egypt.

At the Arcadia Conference in Washington, the first Allied meeting following Pearl Harbor, Churchill put forward the 'North-West Africa Project as the first step towards 'closing and tightening the ring around Germany'. However, Roosevelt's service advisers were dubious about its practicability preferring an early and more direct attack against Hitler's Europe. The President and his strategic advisers had already decided on a "Germany first" strategy. This commitment to Germany First was heartening to Churchill, but the enthusiasm to fight the Germans immediately was unrealistic. The British Prime Minister emphasised the drawbacks of a premature landing in Europe with inadequate strength. Pointing out the risks of being overwhelmed, without bringing any appreciable relief to the Russians. He was aware that American military forces were in the process of expanding, organising, and training for combat; therefore, they were hardly a match for their strong and veteran foe. Churchill cabled to Roosevelt that the plan for a landing in France in 1942, should be discarded, and went on to urge, once again, the case for Torch as the sole means by which the U.S. could strike at Hitler. The American Chiefs of Staff reacted with renewed objections. Then, a major event occurred that was to change the entire situation. Rommel's unexpected counterstroke dislocated the 8th Army's westward advance and forced the British to retreat more than 200 miles to the Gazala Line.

This was followed in June by the collapse at Tobruk. So, instead of advancing westward as planned, the 8th Army was thrown back in disorder a further 400 miles before halting at Alamein. A joint Allied operation in North Africa was now viewed as essential. The operation was approved and Roosevelt promised to provide 300 Sherman tanks to the 8th Army.

"Torch" would have to be in essence an outwardly American show. The French still remained bitter about the British attack on their fleet shortly after France fell and would certainly oppose a British landing. The initial landing waves would therefore consist solely of American troops, also the commander of the overall operation would have to be an American. For this reason, Eisenhower was appointed the Allied Commander-in-Chief. He was relatively unknown and "Torch", a complicated venture to be undertaken in considerable haste, would be a serious challenge. As it turned out, he grew in stature and self-confidence resulting in a meteoritic military and later political career. Eisenhower chose Major-General Mark Clark as his Deputy Commander-in-Chief. Clark would prove invaluable in dealing with the French in North Africa. The close proximity of Tunisia to Sicily made it extremely likely that German and Italian forces would be dispatched to counter the Allied landings. So, to limit such action, the major part of the invasion force would have to take place in the Mediterranean. "Torch" would consist of three major landings. The Western,Centre and Eastern Task Forces. The Western Task Force was to be wholly American and would sail across the Atlantic from Norfolk, Virginia. Patton would sail on board the flagship, USS Augusta, and planned to come ashore near Casablanca in French Morocco.

The Centre Task Force was to consist of American troops transported from the United Kingdom to Oran in Algeria. The Eastern Task Force was also formed in the United Kingdom and would be predominantly British. Making the initial landings near Algiers , however, would be a relatively small American force. For reasons previously noted.

Officially, French leaders in North Africa pledged their support for Vichy and to defend their colonies against any attacker. But covertly, many of them conspired against the Axis. Realising that the only chance of liberating their country was through an Allied victory. Robert Murphy, the chief American diplomat in North Africa, had been actively engaged in discreet meetings with French officers sympathetic to the Allies.

As a result, the French now urged that a senior Allied military representative should come secretly to Algiers for talks. Accordingly General Mark Clark flew to Gibraltar with four key staff officers. The party were then transported by a British submarine to a rendezvous west of Algiers. Clark told the French that a large Anglo-American force was being dispatched to North Africa. In the interests of security, however, he abstained from giving details of the time and places of the Allied landings. An important issue discussed was the choice of the most suitable French leader to rally the French forces in North Africa to the Allied side. Admiral Darlan, Vichy's second in command, had by chance happened to be in Algiers visiting his sick son in hospital.

De Gaulle was ruled out. Roosevelt had developed a deep distrust of him and disliked his arrogance. Roosevelt actually insisted that all information about Torch should be withheld from de Gaulle. In these circumstances the Americans, from the President downward, readily accepted the view that General Giraud was the most acceptable candidate for the leadership of the French in North Africa. The operation started well. Surprise was complete and no opposition was met on the beaches. The advance from the beach-heads got going and soon reached the airfield that was readied to receive aircraft. The Axis powers were now, as anticipated, dispatching forces to Tunisia. German and Italian aircraft started to arrive near Tunis and heavy equipment was brought over to Bizerta.

"Torch" was the first of a series of large-scale coalition amphibious landings, Sicily, southern Italy, southern France and Normandy would lead the Allies to the final battle with the enemy.

Both talks were followed by a most lively question and answer session.
Professor Philip Everrit thanked both speakers for two very professional and well researched talks that included a variety of illustrations.

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Thursday 10th February 2011 - 19h00 for 19h30.
Venue: Murray Theatre, Dept of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.

THE SOCIETY'S NEXT MEETING: Thursday 10th 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 guest speaker Sunny Singh on "My Experience in the Armed Struggle".
The Main Talk will be presented by fellow member Jesse Wesseloo on "The Raid on Medway, 1667".

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14th APRIL
DDH - "Jasper Maskelyne - the War Magician." by Paul Kirk.
Main Talk - "The Rhodesian War" by Prop Geldenhuys.

12th MAY
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.

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Due to the possibility of the Italian Leg of this tour not taking place due to lack of numbers, an extension to the French leg has been proposed by the Royal British Legion and costings are currently being finalised. Those who have indicated their interest will be kept informed.


At the last monthly meeting, 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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South African Military History Society /