South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 442
December 2012

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

The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture ('DDH') was presented by fellow member Dr. John Buchan on "Beyond Patton - The Early Cold War."

Mike Laing, who commenced the tradition of a General Patton talk in November, was remembered.
Following the successful D-Day landings in June 1944, there were discussions in America between committees of the major nations. After agreement on the structure of the United Nations there was initial lack of agreement on Russia's insistence on the major powers having the ability to exercise a veto vote. Roosevelt, who had just been elected for a fourth term planned to raise this at the Yalta Conference, planned for February 1945. Jan Smuts opinion on this matter had been that continued inclusion of the Russians was vital, and that the veto vote would keep control of the organisation in the hands of the major powers. In February, at the Yalta talks, all details of UNO were agreed on. A meeting in America on 25th April 1945 was planned. The only venue able to host over a thousand delegates at relatively short notice was the conference centre in San Francisco. On 12th April, 1945, Roosevelt died from a cerebral haemorrhage. On 10th April there had been the death of one of the proposed members of the South African delegation. This resulted in Leif Egland, the Durban born lawyer and previously United Party MP for Berea, attending the successful San Francisco meeting and then the first UNO meeting in early 1946. For approximately 3 years, these meetings were in London in the Central Methodist Hall in Westminster.

With the Russians progressively effecting communist domination in Eastern Europe, the Western Allies decided on supporting the recovery of a democratic West Germany. Politically, the Allied occupation zones were united and local and regional elections held. Financial aid, including the Marshal Aid in 1947, and the issue of the new Deutsmark, emphasised the improved conditions in the Western sector, including the 2 1/2 million civilians in the western sector of Berlin, the German capital that lay in East Germany. In an attempt to force the Western Allies to abandon the civilians in West Berlin, the Russians commenced in June 1948 the blockade of road and canal transport to Berlin. The effective allied airlift of supplies prevented this takeover. USAF Maj. General William Tunney supervised the operation. He had managed the American airlift of supplies over the Himalayas to China, during the war. The blockade was discontinued by the Russians in May 1949. In 1955, NATO was reinforced by the admission of West Germany as a member. This saw the formation of the Warsaw Pact Organisation by the East European countries. In 1957, West Germany integrated further with adjacent western countries with the formation of the European Economic Community (EEC), the fore-runner of the European Common Market. Attention in the talk was now focussed on how military requirements influenced post-war computer development.

The first generation electronic computers (1943 - 1959), assisted in decoding the Enigma messages, but in general had little influence on wartime activities. Their essential hardware components of thermionic valves and wired circuits were demanding in terms of space and electrical power required, and prone to technical failure. Early in these studies UCLA decided to move its computer into a new building, and then, becoming aware of computer progress, halted the move. The transistor was first developed in 1947 and its development was hastened by Russia exploding its first Atomic bomb in 1949. The first of the integrated circuits on silicon chips had been developed in America in 1961. Under President Kennedy's urging, the first 3 years production of the relatively expensive early silicon chips was entirely bought up by the American government, thus facilitating greatly, micro-processor development. In 1965, NUC was the proud possessor of an IBM 1130 computer. Programmes such as FORTRAN, were fed in on punched cards. In this situation, Mike and Mary Laing were able to effectively commence their chemistry tuition. A testimony to the effective academic programme run by the Laings, is one of their early pupils, Phil Everitt, now a Professor in Civil Engineering and an accomplished member of the kzn Military History Society.

The main talk of the evening was a presentation by fellow member Charles Whiteing on "Hitler's Car - the Story of the Volkswagen."

On May Day in 1933, Adolph Hitler addressed the workers of Germany and by the following day, he had closed down all trade union offices. The trade unions were succeeded by the Deutsche Arbeitsfront, the German Labour Front or DAF as it was known. This was headed by Dr Robert Ley and a range of new laws followed, which addressed minimum wages, labour contracts etc. In November 1933, Dr Robert Ley established two new departments within the DAF. The first was "Schonheit der Arbeit" (Beauty of Labour); which was an initiative for workers to improve their working conditions in the factories. The second initiative was titled "Kraft durch Freude" or Strength through Joy; usually abbreviated to KdF. There was also the opportunity to own a motor car; a privilege which had, by and large had been for the wealthy only. One in fifty Germans owned a car compared to one in five Americans. Hitler proposed to put the common man behind the wheel of a little car that would cost 990 Reichmarks or 397 US Dollars; one third of the price Americans paid for a car in 1939.

Potential owners could make regular subscriptions towards the purchase of a Kraft durch Freude - Wagen, later better known as the Volkswagen, or the Peoples Car. These contributions absorbed surplus money earned by the German consumer which would have otherwise been spent abroad on unattainable goods not supplied by the Government and was used to finance their rearmament program. In fact by 1940, about 130,000 members of the Labour Front had registered for the new car.

Hitler's desire for a "People's Car" resulted in a meeting he had on May 11, 1933 at the Kaiserhof Hotel in Berlin with Dr Ferdinand Porsche. Ferdinand Porsche was born in Czechoslovakia, a man whose mild outward appearance disguised a hot temper. He had a minimal formal education, but had a natural talent for mechanical design which had won him international acclaim as a designer of elegant passenger and racing cars. Porsche had already done some initial work with the NSU Company on the design of a cheap car. Hitler's brief was for a four seater car with the ability to travel at 100kms per hour on the new autobahns. It was to have an air cooled engine because of the severe German winters and the shortage of service stations. The car was to have a petrol consumption of 7 litres per 100km; and a sales price of no more than 1000 Reich marks (the then equivalent of about 50 Pounds Sterling.)

In January 1938, a 10,000 acre site was acquired 50 miles east of Hanover near Schloss Wolfsburg. The site was strategically located on the main rail link to Berlin and was located alongside the Mittelland Canal which would facilitate the transportation of heavy goods. The automotive complex would cover twenty square miles to accommodate a factory with the capability of producing a staggering 1.5 million cars per year, together with a town to house 30,000 workers and their families. On 26 May 1938, Hitler together with 70,000 guests and dignitaries attended the laying of the foundation stone of the new factory. At the function Hitler addressed those present. "In 1933 the German production of motor cars was ludicrously small in comparison with not only the United States, but also with other European countries - a mere 46,000 cars per annum.

The first step towards making Germany motor minded was to free people from the earlier concept that the motor vehicle was an article of luxury. That is understandable in a country that has only two, three or four thousand motor vehicles on the roads. But in the case of the German people, there is a potential demand for six or seven million motor cars. The Peoples car will not be a rival to other auto manufacturers. For he who purchases this car and not a Mercedes, does not do so because he is an enemy of the Daimler factory, but merely because he cannot afford to buy a Mercedes. It's very simple. He who can afford to buy the dearer car will do so in any event, but the greater mass of the people cannot do so. It is for the great mass of the people that this car has been designed. Its purpose is to answer their transport needs, and is intended to give them joy.

It is interesting to note that while the new car was aimed at the civilian population, Germany was already gearing herself up for war and that the basic VW design could accommodate military versions with a common engine and chassis. One of the notable advantages of their military vehicles was that they were based on proven, first class civilian designs that were rugged, easily serviceable and included buses, Lorries, Tractors, and Motor Cycles. These lent themselves to mass production that was distributed among the manufacturers including Opel, Mercedes, Henschel, Auto Union, Daimler-Benz, Horch, Krupp, Audi, Puch, BMW, Ford, and Borgward. The Krauss-Maffei company specialised in half track vehicles that were specially adapted throughout the war as personnel carriers, artillery tractors, mobile flak units, and armoured ambulances; with well over 25,000 various types produced by the end of the war.

Following a lively question and answer debate the vote of thanks was presented by Professor Philip Everitt who congratulated both speakers on their excellent research and presentations.

19h00 for 19h30. Venue: Murray Theatre, Dept of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban

13th December.
"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Office"
, by Colonel Steve Bekker.
Followed by our annual Cocktail function.

FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: January - March 2013:

17th January - THIRD THURSDAY
DDH - "The DUKW" by Roy Bowman.
Main - "9th Frontier War" by Steve Watt

8th February
DDH - "The Prince Imperial's Last Journey". By Ken Gillings.
Main - "Travels of a Military Historian". By Robin Smith.

14th March
DDH - "The Raid on St. Nazaire". By Bill Brady.
Main - "Being a Peace Keeper in Africa". By Maj Peter Williams.

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South African Military History Society /