South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 432
February 2012

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

Professor Mike Laing. The meeting began on a sad note, with the Chairman announcing that Committee Member and long serving member of the Society, Prof Mike Laing, had passed to Higher Service. All present stood in silence as a token of respect for this remarkable Military Historian. The Branch was well represented at Mike's Memorial Service that was held at the Frere Road Presbyterian Church.

The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture ('DDH') was presented by fellow member Captain Brian Hoffman entitled The Giants of Leipheim. In the autumn of 1940 the Luftwaffe's failure to smash the RAF during the Battle of Britain had forced Hitler to postpone Operation SEALION, the invasion of Britain. The original plan had assumed that the RAF would be no match for the Luftwaffe and total air superiority would quickly be established over the English Channel and bridgeheads on the south coast of England. However in the view of the heavy losses inflicted on the Luftwaffe, Operation SEALION required extensive revision by the German staff planners, who concluded that the only hope of success lay in an overwhelming assault with heavy artillery, tanks & thousands of fully armed troops. The German Navy did not underestimate their opponents, making it quite clear that they could not guarantee landing an invasion force in the face of Royal Navy opposition. A very bold decision was taken - that the heavy artillery, tanks and troops would be landed as an airborne force. To achieve this an armada of the heaviest gliders ever built would carry the invading armies across the Channel. As a result of the successful employment of gliders (capable of carrying 9 fully armed troops) during the invasion of Belgium a few months earlier, the German Air Ministry issued a specification for a Giant Transport Glider capable of carrying: one Panzer IV Medium Tank, or a self-propelled assault gun complete with crew, fuel and ammunition, or an 88mm anti-aircraft gun plus its half-track towing vehicle, or 200 fully armed troops.

On 18th October Junkers & Messerschmitt were instructed to submit detailed design studies by 1st Nov 40 (14 days) and to acquire sufficient materials to build 100 gliders. Junkers were instructed to build their glider entirely of wood even though they had no woodworking expertise or machinery. The result was the development of the JU 322 Mammut (Mammoth) which resembled a huge bat. Messerschmitt were instructed to build their gliders out of tubular welded steel, this together with wooden spars and a covering of doped fabric saved on weight, allowing for quick construction and easy repair. The result was the ME321 Gigant (Giant) weighing nearly 40 tons with a wingspan almost the size of a modern 747. It had cargo capacity of 3 800 cubic feet and a load capacity of 44,000lb. By the autumn of 1941, 100 gliders had been produced but the invasion of the Britain for which they had been conceived had long receded into the back ground as the Russian campaign increasingly swallowed up Germany's war production. It was decided to use them to assist in the supply of the huge armies on the Eastern front. The difficulties in flying them created hair-raising experiences. With a range of only 250 miles there was a need for frequent refuelling stops. Blocking the runway once landed and the requirement for spare under carriages at each stop, it soon became apparent they were ineffective as a transport glider. In the spring of 1942 they were withdrawn from the Eastern Front in anticipation of the planned invasion of Malta (Operation HERKULES) in which a fleet of gliders were to be used to land troops, tanks and artillery. The plan was abandoned due to a lack of towing aircraft.

It was apparent from a very early stage that the ME321 as a glider had limited potential; trials had been going on with a motorized version, initially fitted with 4 engines which in 1942 were increased to 6 engines. However it still required rocket assisted take off and to be towed for take-off when fully loaded but could at least return under its own power. By this time the glider/aircraft had increased from a one man crew to 12 men - including 2 flight engineers sitting in cramped compartments in the wings. The aircraft bristled with machine guns. The aircraft were successful in lifting 12 tons of cargo for 500 miles, but even in the depths of a Russian winter the engines overheated. The overheating problem was solved and the Gigants were also used for air lifting guns, ammo and fuel to the Afrika Korps. However, with the petrol being carried in 45 gallon steel drums they were very vulnerable to fighter attack and many were shot down in flames over the Mediterranean.If the timing of the Gigant had been different & used in the assault role for which they had been perceived. At the time of Dunkirk, 200 of these gliders quietly slipping out of the dawn sky to land 20,000 troops 100 tanks and artillery in the south east of England, with little more than the rifles of the Home Guard to contain them, how different things may have been.

The main talk was presented by fellow member Ken Gillings entitled "Zulu Military Systems". The speaker began his talk by describing the Zulu dynasty from Zulu (1627-1709) to the present king, Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu. Before the coming to power of Shaka in 1816, quarrels were settled by a periodical fight, almost akin to a duel and blood was seldom spilt. Shaka's rise to power following the death of his father Senzangakhona kaJama changed that. As a senior commander in Dingiswayo's Mthethwa army, Shaka expanded upon Dingiswayo's innovative battle tactics and displayed great courage and leadership. After betraying Dingiswayo to his arch-enemy Zwide of the Ndwandwe (resulting in the former's death), Shaka in effect staged a coup and absorbed the Mthethwa into the abakwaZulu. The first opportunity to test his supreme command came in April 1818 at Gqokli Hill in the White Mfolozi River valley. The Ndwandwe were soundly defeated but managed to capture the Zulu wealth - their cattle. By this stage, the abakwaZulu were recorded by the French naturist, Adolphe Delagorgue as being 'Haughty and possessing a feeling of nationality in a high degree',valiant and brave in war, but generous to his enemies if his system of warfare was different. He was ready to oblige and very hospitable, excited to enthusiasm, fanatical, frantic and devoted to the services of his chief. He was prepared to die for the service of, or at the bidding of his king.

The implementation of the famous 'i'mpondo zankomo' ('horns of the beast') formation, the constitution of the Zulu army as a mighty fighting machine and what effectively became an order of battle. After circumcision (which was a prerequisite to recruitment) at the basic age of 17 years, the young men were allocated to a Regiment (iButho), commanded by an iNduna with 2 or 3 'wing' officers. The strength was between 1000 and 2000. Runners took orders / direction to the sub commanders but iziNduna also used hand signals.Sub units were called an iViyo (pl iliViyo) consisting of 50 to 100 men, each commanded by a 'captain', with 1 to 3 junior officers and they were Headquartered at amakhanda (military barracks). First came the Veterans: umPakhati; next the Izimpohlo (both wore an isiCoco), then Insiswa ('youths'). He dealt with the regimental structure of the army, including the Maidens' Regiments (the iziNtanga) and their role in the national structure. Discipline became a way of life and death, the warriors were completely submissive to the authority of the elders (izinduna). Cowardice was not tolerated but there were very few acts of heroic virtue. A general review was held after each campaign; Amabutho assemble at the royal enclosure and the Commander would be called upon to report on performance as a prelude to justice or punishment being meted out. If fortunate, regiment may be rewarded by permission to marry and thereby advance from being a 'boy' and after marriage men were entitled (by authorisation) to wear an 'isiCoco' (at about 40 years of age). Individual bravery recognised by the grant of cattle or decoration of a hero with an isiqu (wooden necklace carved vertabra-like from the uMyezane (Cape willow) or an iNxotha (broad brass armlet with a fluted exterior, worn around the lower arm and bestowed as a royal honour only on the greatest of commanders). Anyone who displayed cowardice in action or disgraced themselves (eg by losing an iklwa or a shield) was dragged from the ranks and at the king's nod, was killed. Doctoring of the army was a prerequisite to any campaign; Warriors (and people generally) were very superstitious and cowed by the abnormal. The isangoma (diviners) played a pivotal role in psychological aspect of Zulu campaigning while the iziNyanga (war doctors) were responsible for the ritual preparation of the amabutho. Medicinal strengthening possibly included natural hallucinatory herbs. There were three aspects of doctoring: the protection of the individual, the doctoring and strengthening of the army and of course the cleansing ceremony after the battle. Amabutho were required to visit their homes to solicit the protection of the ancestral spirits, fortify themselves with charms such as the skin of a hedgehog or the bulb of a wild iris and they had to refrain from eating foods that were believed to cause loss of courage, eg the amaDumbe, the marrow of any animal, fish or birds.

In conclusion, Ken summarised the reason for the success and failure of the Zulu military tactics. They were successful against tribal adversaries and conventional armies only where there was an element of surprise. They were also successful where the conventional armies were unprepared (such as at Isandlwana, eNtombe and Hlobane) but were unsuccessful against an entrenched opponent or defended position such as a square (as was the case at Ncome / Blood River, Rorke's Drift, Khambula and Ulundi). They simply could not match sustained or massed firepower and continuous volleys.

Following a lively question and answer debate the vote of thanks was presented by Major Dr. John Buchan.

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Thursday 9th February 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 Rob Crawley on "Jackie Fisher and the Dreadnaught".

The Main Talk will be presented by guest speaker Capt (SAN) Charles Ross on "The work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in South Africa".

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8th March 2012
DDH - The Twilight of the U Boats by Charles Whiteing
Main - Rider Haggard and the Anglo-Zulu War by Stephen Coan

12th April 2012
DDH -The Fall of Singapore by Bill Brady.
Main - Maj Gen Sir Charles Warren in Northern Natal by Prof Philip Everitt.

10th May 2012
DDH - My experiences as a NSM Gunner in Op. Savannah, 1976 by Jeremy Day.
Main - Tunnels from the Frontier Forts by Donald Davies

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Purnell's history of WW2
Five of the collection of six volumes of Purnell's history of WW2 have been donated. They are in a very good condition. Price R200,00 as a donation going to the Society. Anyone interested please contact Bill Brady on Tel nos. 031 561 5542 / 083 228 5485 on e mail address on newsletter.

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We have received several suggestions for the 2012 Battlefield Tour. These include the Brandwater Basin (in the Eastern Free State) and the 1906 Poll Tax ('Bhambatha') Rebellion. The former would necessitate a long weekend or taking leave on a Friday or Monday. The latter would present accommodation challenges due to our being based in Eshowe. There are many more possibilities of course so we'd like to have more input from our members. Please e-mail Ken Gillings with your suggestions ( ).

We also hope to undertake a day tour of Durban's Coastal Defences and will be in touch with our members in due course.

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South African Military History Society /