South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


Our speaker on 14 June 2012 was Mr Derek Stuart-Findlay whose topic was Col J G (Jack) Rose and his role in the organization of mechanized transport in the two world wars. Mr Stuart-Findlay introduced his illustrated talk by explaining that Col Rose, who died in 1973, aged 97. Jack Rose was an extremely modest person and better-known for his achievements on the sporting field than his vastly more important pioneering role in introducing and organising mechanised transport in the S A Forces during two World Wars. In the latter regard his role and importance is virtually unknown today.

He was born in Cape Town and educated at SACS where his sporting prowess was legendary. He was a member of the school's cycling team - this sport was extremely popular in the late 19th century. After leaving school he set the international one hour amateur speed record of almost 48 kmh/30 mph at the then new Green Point Track. This was in 1898 and was believed to be the fastest speed then attained on land other than by a locomotive! He was only 22 years old at the time.

Cycling in those non-motorised days was so popular that Johannesburg had more cycles than Paris. Jack Rose was employed as an analytical chemist at the Government Laboratory in Parliament Street, Cape Town. He had joined the Duke of Edinburgh's Own Volunteer Rifles, now the Cape Town Rifles (Dukes) and was commissioned as a lieutenant.

The internal combustion age was fast approaching and Rose purchased his first "motor car" in 1899. This was an air-cooled Ariel motor-tricycle, light enough for it to be carried on a train or a tram, it was able to reach a speed of 32 kmh/20 mph.

His interest in motor vehicles was equalled by his interest in cycling. He was selected to represent South Africa in an international cycling competition in Argentina where he became the first South African to wear the green and gold. It came about rather by default than by design - Rose always preferred to race in white, but another team has already nominated white as their team colour and he was then forced to go and look for an alternative in the local shops. The only suitable alternative that he could come up was a shirt in green and gold.

Jack Rose was a lieutenant in the Dukes on the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899. He was mobilized with his regiment and served with them until 1900, when he transferred to the Cape Colony Cyclist Corps. He rose in the ranks and became second in command of the unit which consisted of some 450 men.

One of his earliest challenges was to design a railway reconnaissance vehicle. This was done in collaboration with his friend Duncan Menzies, the first person to assemble bicycles in Cape Town and a fellow champion cyclist, and they designed a "rail cycle" fitted with flanges which enabled it to ride on the railway lines. The solution was quite simple, but ingenious at the same time. Two-, three- and four-seater tandem bicycles were used in speed-track racing and by joining two tandem bicycles with sturdy crossbars, the same width as the standard gauge on South African railways, solved the problem. Eight men operated the device, four on either side with all of them pedalling! It proved to be very successful and fifty were built for use on the railway lines in the Transvaal bushveld.

The war was still in progress when the Automobile Club of South Africa was established in October 1901. Rose joined the Club two weeks later while he was in Cape Town on a recruiting drive. At the end of the war, he rejoined the Dukes and resumed his job at the government Laboratory.

His interest in motor vehicles continued and, in early 1905, as a government employee, he chauffeured the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, Sir Leander Starr Jameson, and senior government officials on a 800 km/500 mile inspection tour of the Calvinia district in two 7hp Panhards and, a year later, chauffeured the Premier on a 1 600 km/1 000 mile tour of the Knysna, Oudtshoorn and Prince Alfred districts via the precipitous Swartberg Pass, this time in two Gladiators.

For three consecutive years from 1908, he won the Automobile Club's de Villiers Graaf cup for winning a punishing 320 km/200 mile non-stop run from Cape Town via Bain's Kloof, Worcester, Villiersdorp, Houw Hoek and Sir Lowry's Pass back to Cape Town. This was the most ambitious non-stop run in Southern Africa at the time.

In August 1914, Jack Rose volunteered for war service at the outbreak of World War 1.

South Africa was requested by the Imperial General Staff to invade German South West Africa and, while taking the colony, to destroy the very powerful radio station at Windhoek, a vital link between Germany and its fleet operating in the South Atlantic. Preparations for this operation precipitated a rebellion by some 11 000 Afrikaner veterans of the Anglo Boer War led by Generals de Wet and Beyers.

The Defence Force at that time possessed virtually no form of motorised transport. Rail was used where railways were available. In Africa horse, mule and ox drawn transport was the norm.

The rebels moved to the Northern Cape, with a view to retreating into German South West. Private motor car owners were asked to volunteer themselves and their cars to equip the pursuing government forces. Many responded and numerous vehicles had the coachwork on their cars replaced with wooden truck bodies before being railed to Kimberley - rather reminiscent of today's "bakkies".

These columns were very successful. Gen de Wet was pursued so relentlessly that he had no time to rest his men and feed and water his horses. He was forced to surrender and the rebellion petered out. The Union forces could now concentrate on South West Africa. The traditionalists in the Defence Force ignored the lessons learnt during the Rebellion. The two main railway lines ran from Swakopmund inland to Windhoek as well as Keetmanshoop to Windhoek, and from there north to Tsumeb. The transport consisted of wagons drawn by oxen, horses and mules as the railways did not have sufficient capacity.

Two invasion forces were planned. One commanded by Gen Botha would land at Swakopmund, use the railway and head for Windhoek. The other would advance from Lüderitz and the southern border to capture Keetmanshoop, the railhead. The advance from Lüderitz would use the railway while the other forces from Kuruman and the Orange River would be supplied by animal transport. Vehicles would be used as a back-up force carrying water and fodder.

By April 1915, the southern force was in trouble and Gen Smuts called in Major Rose to sort out the transport problems. He was to report to the Director: Mechanical Transport in Cape Town. He went to Kimberley and drove along the route to Keetmanshoop. The "roads" were tracks and passable to motor vehicles only with great difficulty. Only 99 vehicles were available, mostly with platform bodies, of which only 17 managed to reach Keetmanshoop. The others had for one or other reason been held back. Rose's friend, Lt Donald Menzies, had been trying to move more vehicles forward but was constantly overruled by more senior officers. Rose sorted this out and, within days, the vehicles started moving supplies of water and fodder forward for the animals.

Rose had moved to Mariental, where he planned a convoy to supply Gen McKenzie's column from Lüderitz. This had not been able to link up with Botha's force which had reached Windhoek. But still bureaucracy and red tape held sway - Rose was ordered by a staff officer not to use vehicles, ostensibly because of the cost. He ignored this Col "Blimp" and his convoy reached McKenzie just in time to prevent serious losses of animals. From Windhoek the force moved north using rail- as well as animal-drawn transport. All in all some 250 vehicles were used. On 9 July 1915 the Germans surrendered.

At the end of 1915 Rose was promoted to Director: Mechanical Transport with the rank of Lt Col. His next big challenge was to organise transport and address the myriad logistical problems experienced during the German East African campaign.

The campaign against von Lettow-Vorbeck had been conducted in a most inefficient manner by a collection of British and Indian army general and staff officers, rumoured to have been sent to Africa to get rid of them due to their incompetence! The organization of supplies was handled from Nairobi by these people in a dithering and haphazard fashion. The war was not going well when Gen Smuts was appointed to command the forces in East Africa.

South African troops had arrived in force and the Germans were driven out of Kenya. Many of the troops were mounted and transport had been animal-drawn by oxen and mules. However, Tanganyika was not a healthy country - malaria and dysentery for the men and tsetse fly and horse-sickness for the animals. The South African advance captured the northern part of the country at an appalling cost in men and animals. The troops had been on half rations and many animals had starved to death. 10 000 men had died - 10% of the force but on the plus side the Germans had been deprived of their railway and ports.

Transport was in a chaotic state. Solid-tyred vehicles had destroyed the only roads such as they were, and turned them into deep ruts that churned choking dust clouds in dry conditions. The rains, on the other hand, was no salvation and turned the roads into squelching mud baths at best and morasses at worst. Lighter vehicles were more suited to the roads than heavier vehicles but of course carried less.

Lt Col Rose was appointed Chief Inspector of Mechanised Transport and arrived in Tanganyika at the end of July 1916. He had scoured the Union for light trucks, all sourced from the USA and Canada. The railway was at first not much use as the Germans had destroyed all the locomotives and bridges. Rose and Col Dobson of the S A Pioneers (largely miners and railway workshop men) came up with a solution. Rebuilding the line with temporary bridges constructed from timber felled in the forests, they mounted heavy REO trucks1 on railway trolley wheels. The wheels of the trucks ran on the permanent way and each truck could carry 5 tons and tow a trailer or goods truck with 10 more. Within a month the railway was operating from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma. As Smuts moved south, a narrow-gauge railway line was found. The engineers adapted Ford Model T's to run at 32 kmh/20 mph on this line, thus easing the transport problems. In six months the South Africans had largely conquered Tanganyika although the guerrilla war continued until November 1918. Many lessons had been learned by bitter experience about war in tropical conditions - in the fields of army nutrition, medical facilities and supply and transport systems especially. Twenty years later, most transport vehicles were powered by the internal combustion engine.

After the war, Jack Rose became Chairman of the Royal Automobile Club of SA, served as OC of the Dukes for 5 years and became chief chemist of the SA Railways and Harbours until his retirement at the age of 60 in 1936.

When WW2 started in September 1939, Smuts immediately called upon Col Rose's specialised skills and acumen, and appointed him to the vital position of Director of Transportation for the Union Defence Force.

South Africa entered the war with pitifully small resources. The Permanent Force numbered 3 720, including the Special Service Battalion (SSB). The Active Citizen Force had a little over 15 000 men. Guns numbered 65 for field artillery and a further 6 used for coastal defence. Armour available comprised 2 obsolete tanks and 2 Crossley armoured cars, equally obsolete, but there were 2 armoured trains! There were huge shortages everywhere. Equipment ordered two or three years earlier had not been delivered. Motor vehicles were few and obsolete - the newest dated back to 1919 and nothing had been purchased since.

It was obvious that mammoth efforts were needed to provide the manpower and wherewithal to field an army. The talk does not consider the Navy and Air Force, both of which were in equally dire straits.

Col Rose faced a huge task if our forces were to be motorised. Col (later Lt Gen) George Brink, Director Army Organisation and Training, envisaged fully-motorised brigade groups able to move independently on their own wheels. Col Rose had to provide the large number of trucks of various shapes and sizes required. Added to these were the large number of trucks to be used by the engineers and lines of communications troops. Getting the number of vehicles required from overseas was not possible.

Fortunately there were two motor assembly plants in South Africa, both in Port Elizabeth - Ford Motor Company and General Motors. Arrangements were made with these companies to produce a standardised range of their trucks in one ton, 30cwt and 3 ton versions. A whole range of specialised bodies were designed, these totalling 65 different types eventually. Some were to be steel and others made of wood and these were built by a large number of factories, these included furniture factories like, amongst other, G H Starck of Bellville. Production commenced and the result was that our forces went to Kenya, well-equipped with motor transport. The vehicles were taken to East Africa by road, driven largely by members of the Cape Corps, only partially trained - they completed their training by driving from South Africa to Kenya!

Armoured vehicles were also required and these were not available from overseas. So once again local industry coordinated by the Directorate of Transportation came to the rescue. The first design was for a 2x4 vehicle which proved to be unsatisfactory. This was followed by a Mark II version based on a reinforced Ford truck chassis, with four-wheel Marmon-Harrington drive. These proved to be satisfactory and, with modifications, 5 746 armoured cars of various marks were produced by April 1944, when production ceased. The armour plate was produced by Iscor, the bodies built by Dorman Long and assembly was by the SAR&H Workshops. Armament was a .303 calibre Vickers machine gun and a Boyes anti-tank rifle firing an armour-piercing round of 14,3 mm/.55 cal. The armament was later changed by the units using the cars to include a 40 mm/2 Pdr anti-tank gun and Breda anti-aircraft machine-guns, among other weapons.

All of these vehicles served well in East Africa and the 1st Division moved to North Africa to be joined by the 2nd Division. The 1st took its now rather battered vehicles to North Africa and the 2nd was sent 13 000 vehicles from South Africa. All further replacements were to be supplied by Middle East Command unless South Africa was asked to supply vehicles. It should be noted that the vehicles built in South Africa were of good quality and withstood the rigours of bush and desert war much better than the British-built vehicles.

Col Rose also served in East Africa and Abyssinia, drawing on his WW1 experience, and ensured that the forces there were well supported. He was released from service at the age of 66. Jack Rose matched Gen Smuts' record of distinguished service in the Anglo Boer War, WW1 and WW2.

He was an unassuming person and made no claim to fame, but his contribution to South Africa's war efforts in two World Wars was immense. He lived quietly in the family home Beau Soliel in Wynberg until his death in 1973, at the age of 97. The house still exists as the Beau Soleil Music Centre.

Mr Alan Mountain (committee member without portfolio), thanked our speaker for a most fascinating and highly informative talk which has provided a better understanding of Col Rose as a human being, but even more so of the critical role he played in South Africa's war effort during two World Wars. He presented Mr Stuart-Findlay with the customary gift.

1 The REO Motor Car Company was an American company that produced automobiles and trucks from 1905 to 1975. Originally called "R. E. Olds Motor Car Company," the company was renamed the "REO Motor Car Company" for legal reasons, the acronym derived from the owner's name, Ransom E. Olds.

* * * * * * *



Michael Schoeman is well-known amongst the aviation interest fraternity, such as historians and aircraft enthusiasts. He is renowned, almost legendary, for his encyclopaedic knowledge of military aviation in general and the SAAF Fighter Squadrons in World War Two, in particular. His knowledge on the subject, however, has not gone to waste as all the energy and resources which he single-mindedly and laboriously ploughed into his life-long passion and ambitious undertaking over a number of decades, culminated in a six-volume series of books on this particular subject, five of which was published over the past ten years. The sixth volume is due to appear before the end of this year. We as a society is indeed fortunate to have Mr Schoeman address us on this particular occasion: Not only is it his first public appearance since he has finished this mammoth project, but it is also a singular honour for the Cape Town Branch to host him as he was one of the earliest members of the Society, having joined the Society soon after it being formed in 1966.


Our speaker for the evening will be fellow-member Robert (Bob) Buser, who will discuss various little-known aspects in the defence of the island, as well as the air and sea offensive actions undertaken from the island once the tide of battle turned in the favour of the Allies.

During World War Two the British Empire had three primary considerations: the home defence of the British Isles, the protection of the strategic outposts of the Empire that lay at its foundation, and the protection of the sea lanes that were critically important to sustain both the British Isles and the Empire, the one more often than not, at the cost of the other. The British Empire's strategic considerations were legion and caused many headaches as well as calling for many a heartrending decision which put the strategic interest of the Empire above that of loyal subjects of the Crown in some far-flung corner of the world. These interests started virtually on the doorstep of the British Isles and stretched halfway around the world: The English Channel, the North Sea, the North Western Approaches, the Atlantic Convoys, the "Rock" of Gibraltar, Malta, the Suez Canal, the Cape Defences, Ceylon, Singapore and Hong Kong, amongst others. Each has generated its own legends, its share of heroism, tragedy and steadfast endeavour. None, however, more so than Malta. Yet, paradoxically, very few people realise the full extent of Malta's heroic defence and the struggle of soldier and civilian alike to overcome all odds to survive. This is the story of Malta, the only piece of real estate under British suzerainty, and its people, to be honoured for valour by the collective award of Britain's George Cross during WWII. The award was made by King George VI to the Governor of Malta by letter dated 15 April 1942, and worded:
To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history.
(sgd) George R.I.

It will be an illustrated talk.

1 The REO Motor Car Company was an American company that produced automobiles and trucks from 1905 to 1975. Originally called "R. E. Olds Motor Car Company," the company was renamed the "REO Motor Car Company" for legal reasons, the acronym derived from the owner's name, Ransom E. Olds.

* Please note that due to the fact that the 2nd Thursday of August - our normal date for the monthly meeting - falls on the 9th, which is a public holiday. THE MEETING WILL BE POSTPONED FOR A WEEK, UNTIL THE NEXT THURSDAY, THE 16TH OF AUGUST.

* * * * * * *

BOB BUSER: Treasurer/Asst. Scribe
Phone: 021-689-1639 (Home)

Phone: 021-592-1279 (Office)

South African Military History Society /