South African Military History 


Newsletter No 80 May/Nuusbrief Nr 80 Mei 2011

SAMHSEC's 11 April 2011 meeting in Port Elizabeth opened with the first in the series on family member's military service. Seven members of Tiaan Jacobs' family, including himself, served, starting with a family member who was in the Battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838. Jan Jacobsz, born at Swellendam on 11 October 1812, was the eldest son of Michiel Christiaan Jacobs and the brother of Michiel Cornelius Jacobs, born 25 April 1816, Tiaan's branch of the Jacobs' progenitor. Jan married Anna Catharina Erasmus on 2 February 1834 in Cradock. As no mention has been found of children, she must have died early. He then married Johanna Susanna Magdalena van Niekerk in the laager of Hendrik Potgieter at Potchefstroom, which indicates that they were part of the Potgieter Trek. Jan and other family members were in Natal before the Battle of Blood River and he responded to the call from other Voortrekkers to join forces for the forthcoming battle. Jan and his family did not return to the Transvaal after the Battle of Blood River, but, after almost 11 years, settled in Senekal, Orange Free State, after stays at Pietermaritzburg, Weenen and Winburg. He died at Senekal on 20 April 1888. Although he did not receive any medals for the battle in which he participated, he will be remembered and honored by his descendants for the fact that he voluntarily joined his fellow Voortrekkers for the imminent battle, thus putting his life in jeopardy. (Scribe's note: Anyone interested in doing a presentation on a family member's military service is invited to approach the Scribe).

The curtain raiser by Mike Duncan was on Major Allister MacIntosh Miller, DSO, OBE. Miller was born in Swaziland in 1892. He joined the Royal Scots Greys in August 1914 and served with them until March 1915, when he transferred to the RFC. In 1916 he won the DSO flying cover for SA troops in Longueval and Delville Wood. At the end of 1916 and during 1917, Miller toured South Africa recruiting pilots for the RFC. On his first trip from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, he came in to land on the 18th fairway of the PE Golf Club. As this was the first time an aeroplane had been seen in PE, the crowd rushed forward, causing Miller to crash into a bunker, damaging the propeller, the remains of which are mounted in the PE Golf Club entrance. In 1919 Miller was awarded the OBE. In 1924 he was elected MP for Durban Point. He pioneered an air-mail service from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg and Durban. This led to the formation of Union Airways in 1929 with headquarters in PE. Union Airways was subsequently taken over by the SA Government and became South African Airways. The road in front of the PE airport is named Allister Miller Drive in his honour. During WW2 Miller was responsible for air training at Kimberley, Queenstown and Benoni. He is buried in the North End Cemetery in PE.

The main lecture by Lawrie Wilmot was on the development of radar and radio beams, with acknowledgement to his source The Secret War by Brian Johnson. British radar began as a concept in 1934. Dr. H.E. Wimperis, the then Director of Scientific Research at the Air Ministry, had on his staff a scientist named Robert Watson Watt, who was the head of a Radio Research Station. Watson Watt produced a remarkable report dated 12 February 1935 titled "Detection and Location of aircraft by Radio Methods". He proposed using a radio pulse technique to measure the three vital parameters required for practical radar: range, bearing and altitude. Cathode-ray tubes enabled the reflected signals from a target aircraft to be visually plotted. The face of the tube was calibrated in miles which enabled the range of the target aircraft to be determined. By August 1935 altitude was being measured and by January 1936, bearing. By September 1939 the whole east coast of Britain was covered by a chain of radar stations, appropriately named Chain Home Radar. Interception by fighters became ground-controlled. The invention of the cavity magnetron in 1941 enabled effective short wave anti-submarine and shipping radar to be developed.

The Germans codenamed their radar Freya. It was an aircraft detection system similar to that of the British and operated on 558 to 560 Mhz. Freya was also used against shipping.

The most effective British counter to radar was Window. This consisted of aluminium strips half the length of the enemy dipole aerial wavelength. It reflected powerful echoes which saturated radar screens and, when dropped in huge clouds, made detection of aircraft almost impossible. Although the Germans also developed their own version of Window, named Duppel, they never used it.

A German scientist, Dr. Hans Plendl, had by 1938 developed a radio beam system which enabled German bombers to navigate in darkness and all weather conditions and drop their bombs accurately. It was codenamed Knickebein and usually operarated on 31,5 Mhz. British counter-measures counterfeited the beams and directed enemy aircraft off course to drop their bombs harmlessly in open country. The beams could also be jammed and by 1943 radio navigation beams had largely been neutralised. (Pat Irwin's note: In the light of our main speaker's talk last night, Barry has sent me this website, which I am sure our members would find fascinating.

SAMHSEC congratulates fellow member Barry Irwin on being awarded his PhD.

SAMHSEC's next meeting will be at 1930 on 9 May 2011 at the usual venue. The curtain raiser by Andre Crozier will be on The clearing of the Zuurveld. The main lecture by Franco Cilliers will be on Anti-ship Missiles. The World at War episode will be Banzai - Japan strikes 1941 -1942. The family member's military service presentation will be by Peter Duffel-Canham.

Lawrie Wilmot is open to offers in the region of R1000 for a complete 16 volume set of the Illustrated War News of WW1. He has a review written by a valuator of rare books confirming the good quality of the photos and of the accuracy of the reporting. Anyone interested may contact him on

Malcolm Kinghorn.
082 331 6223

South African Military History Society /