South African Military History 


Newsletter No 82 July/Nuusbrief Nr 82 Julie 2011

The 11 June 2011 SAMHSEC annual meeting in Grahamstown was preceded by a morning visit to the Frontier Wars signal tower on Governor's Kop. Once again, SAMHSEC's Grahamstown Stalwarts arranged a most sucessful and enjoyable day. BZ!

The afternoon meeting opened with the series on family member's military service by John Stevens on his grandfather, Gunner John Robert Olson's Great War Service 1915 - 1918. He joined up in 1915 as a volunteer in Kitchener's Army and found his way into the Motor Machine Gun Corps as a driver/gunner on motorcycle sidecar combinations armed with Vickers .303 machine guns. He also drove a motorcycle in a display/stunt riding team for the Corps. When the war on the Western Front bogged down with the trench system negating rapid movement, it was realised that this weapon system was no longer viable and the Corps was partially disbanded and split in two. Most moved to the "static" Machine Gun Corps. The remainder were transferred to a new group called the Heavy Motor Section. This group effectively became the fledgling Tank Corps, in which he became an experimental "Land Ship" (tank) driver. He accompanied the unit to France and the Western Front. He soon discovered the reality that chances of survival in the fledgling tanks were limited and managed to transfer to the Corps of Engineers as a signaller. While in this role, he survived death from a burst of machine gun fire by a chance gust of wind blowing a message slip to the ground causing him to bend down to retrieve it, thus avoiding being hit. A fellow signaller next to him was killed. He survived the war without a scratch, but a photograph of him late in the war reveals the severe emotional strain he must have endured etched onto his face.

The curtain raiser was A Polish Paratrooper's Story by Nadia Czeredrecki-Schmidt. Nadia's grandfather, Michael Czeredrecki, was born in 1918 in Eastern Poland, which became Russian territory as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In 1939 he was deported to Siberia. In 1941 the Russians offered to commute his sentence if he joined the Soviet Army and fought the Germans. He was rushed through basic training and deployed as part of a Polish contingent to Leningrad. Michael spent 4 months on the front before his unit was transfered to Southern Russia. After General Sikorski negotiated the release of all Polish soldiers, Michael travelled to Egypt via Persia. The next few months were spent in the Middle East as part of Wadyslav Anders' Army. Men with combat experience were recruited as paratroopers, and, as it meant more money, Michael volunteered and was posted to Leven, Scotland, where the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade was formed in September 1941. This Brigade was deployed in Operation Market Garden on 21 November 1941. Due to poor weather and heavy fighting, the drop zone was changed from Arnhem to the town of Driel. Michael landed in a tree and broke his leg. He was taken prisoner and sent to a POW camp with other captured airborne soldiers. He was only there for 4 weeks before he managed to escape. After escaping, he met up American soldiers who offered to take him to Berlin, which he politely declined! He was then handed over to the British and sent to Scotland where he stayed with other injured Polish soldiers until the end of the war. In 1945 he went to Glasgow and was demobbed. Michael currently lives in Leven, Fife.

The main lecture by Rupert Jackson was The Yom Kippur War: causes, conduct and consequences. Rupert started with the root causes of the war: how the Jews of Ancient Israel had been dispersed by foreign invaders, the rise of the Zionist movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, followed by the return of Jews to create modern Israel, which lead to resentment amongst the Palestinians and the Arab States in the region. The post war politics of Egypt and Syria were also covered. Gamel el Nasser took control of Egypt in 1953, nationalised the Suez Canal and aligned himself with the Soviet block, whilst almost yearly coups in Syria from 1949 to 1970 stifled Syrian development, until Hafez al Assad took an iron grip on power. The wars of 1956 and 1967 destroyed the Egyptian armed forces, but each time they were re-built with more modern equipment. Deficiencies in training and organisation were partially rectified by General Hussein El Shazly during and after the War of Attrition. Israel, on the other hand, was complacent after its successes in the 1956 Suez War and the 1967 Six-Day War and did not think that another war with Arab states was likely. However, the conquest of the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan heights by Israel were humiliations which neither Egypt nor Syria could endure and these two countries secretly allied themselves to go to war with Israel. The date 6 October 1973 was chosen due to the differences in height between the high and low tides in the Suez Canal being at a minimum.

The conduct of the war was then covered, as well as a brief description of the aircraft available to each side and how this dictated the conflict. The Egyptian crossing of the Suez canal was a stunning success, with all military objectives reached within 24 hours. The Egyptians advanced only 15 kilometres from the east bank of the Suez Canal into the Sinai and then stopped, to remain under cover of their Surface to Air Missile umbrella. Israel was taken totally by surprise and hurried and disorganised counter attacks were easily repulsed by the Egyptians. On the Golan Heights things went less successfully for the Syrians and, after fierce fighting, their attack stalled. Israel was able to concentrate its full military might on the Syrians who by 14 October were forced back to within 40 kilometres of Damascus. Israel could then focus on Egypt and, aided by Egyptian mistakes, crossed the Suez Canal after some titanic battles and reached within 100 kilometres of Cairo. On 23 October a ceasefire was imposed by the United Nations with pressure from the Soviet Union and the United States.

The consequences of the war were a shift in Israeli politics to the right, the return of the Sinai to Egypt, a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and a "cold peace" between Israel and its other neighbours. Despite their rapid recovery by the fourth day of the war and their subsequent success in regaining lost ground, the war is regarded as something of a disaster by the Israelis and as a victory by the Egyptians and Syrians.

A main lecturer for 8 August 2011 is required as the original speaker has had to withdraw.

SAMHSEC's next meeting will be at 1930 on 11 July 2011 at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser by Robin Kirby will be on Lt Col Walter Houx Kirby, MC. The main lecture by Kathleen Satchwell will be on Great War Soldiers from Eastern Cape. The World at War episode to be shown from 1830 will be On Our Way: America enters the War 1939-1942. The family member's military service presentation will be by Malcolm Kinghorn.

Malcolm Kinghorn.
082 331 6223

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