South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 436
June 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 guest speaker Jeremy Day and entitled "My experiences as an NSM Gunner in Operation Savannah in 1976". We have left Jeremy's account in the first person:
'In June 1975 I left for Caprivi Strip performing an infantry role as a section leader. In August 1975 whilst patrolling in the South Eastern part of Angola (Bambanango) made contact with Swapo and Chinese soldiers; three troopers killed. I was not involved as I had been casavacked to hospital in Katimo with Malaria. One week before returning to South Africa, the regiment was flown to Grootfontein to prepare for Gunnery function inside Angola. We were stripped of our SA Defence Force uniforms and issued with green overall type uniforms. Within one week we had received our new guns and gun tractors and all necessary equipment needed to start the war. The roofs of the Troops cab were cut off and discarded to allow for the vehicles to fit into a Flossie (Hercules C 130)

The first Flossie to leave just happened to be the one I was on and we had loaded 2 x 25pounders and a Bedford gun tractor. After a flight of approximately 2 to 3 hours we arrived at the Silvo Porto Airport, which is now called Kuito. Once we had landed we were instructed to get the guns to a nearby train station where we had to load the guns onto a low bed train and secure them where they were to be shipped over night to another area where we were to meet up with them and start our part of the Angolan war. Whilst at the station a very large black Officer carrying an AK47 came up to me and welcomed me to Angola and introduced himself as Jonas. I thanked him and carried on securing the gun to the train, I was asked later by a Lieutenant if I knew who he was and I explained to the Officer that he said his name was Jonas. At the time and not quite knowing what I was doing in Angola I had no idea that I had just shook hands with Jonas Savimbi. Once we had started our journey East towards Luso on 26th November we had our first contact with MPLA and although we were informed that we had 3 companies of Unita Infantry and 1 company of SADF Infantry in front of us the first night of war was extremely frightening to say the least. We then had contact with MPLA every day and sometimes twice a day whilst we had them on the run heading east. During the evening and through the night of the 8th November 1975 we did a night movement to a position approximately 5 km from Luso. On the morning of the 9th November we started a 3 day bombing raid of the Luso town, our main objective was to capture and secure the Luso Airport in order for the SADF to get supplies and ammunition. This operation lasted 3 days before we actually hooked up our guns and started driving into the Airport. We met with quite a bit of resistance whilst travelling into the city. The Luso Airport was held by the SADF for approximately 2 weeks whilst daily patrols were done around the city. After this period we were instructed to head back to Silvo Porto, we then handed control of the Airport over to Unita and headed back west to Silvo Porto.

We had a brief stay in Silvo Porto and were then sent to an area further west to provide cover for the SADF Troops (Operation Orange) who were already pulling out of Angola, once we had provided this cover we were also sent back to Silvo Porto. Towards the middle of January 1976 we started the long drive out of Angola back to South West Africa where we were put on trains and sent back to SA for demobilising. I arrived back in Durban on the 5th of February 1976 after my services had been extended for approximately 6 weeks.'

The main talk was presented by fellow member Donald Davies entitled >b>"Tunnels from the Frontier Forts".

Some years ago now Donald started research on the possibility of Tunnels from the Frontier Forts. His journey as it unfolded, started in the Eastern Cape whilst he was working there some 10 years ago, and continued when he returned to KwaZulu-Natal in 2004. At times he found his field work rewarding, and other times simply a dead end. But always this quest continued, as if waiting for a chance meeting, or an unexpected discovery. Perhaps an undiscovered document in some repository that remained undetected until by chance.

The Eastern Frontier in 1835 was the border of the Cape Colony on the east extremity at which a number of large rivers act as natural borders such as the Great Fish River and also the Great Kei River known also as the Nciba River. It was here that the British Settlers came into contact in greater numbers of Southern African Tribes namely the Rharhabe, currently known as the amaXhosa. In 1835 a particular event punctuated the history of this area when a tribe of peoples known as the amaFengu came West of the Great Kei to the Land between the Kei River and the Fish River at a place named Peddie named after Colonel John Peddie of the 72nd Highlanders. These people had fled persecution by the the Rharhabe. By agreement with the Colonial Forces, they moved west in an exodus under the direct supervision of Lord Charles Somerset who accompanied them on their journey.

On the 28 May 1846 the fortifications at Peddie came under attack by a large force of amaXhosa led by Siyoyo, intent on destroying the amaFengu, and British Occupation of the area between the Great Kei and Great Fish Rivers. Such an attack was expected since the last or Ninth Frontier War of 1877-1878. Ammunition and food were not the only resources found wanting; the Eastern Cape is prone to droughts, as the 1820 British Settlers were to discover. The Wars of the Eastern Frontier continued from the attack on Grahamstown by the amaXhosa influenced by the Nyanga Makana in 1812, to the Ninth and last Frontier War in 1878 (the year before The Battle of Isandlwana). Fort Peddie sited in No-Man's Land across the Great Fish River consisted of Earthworks constructed in 1835 as an eight star fort. Stone Works constructed in 1841 some 6 years after the earthworks were constructed. It was on the 28 May 1846 that a 9,000 strong amaXhosa Army which had crossed the Great Kei River en route to destroying the Colonial Army and their supporters. This Event occurred during the War of the Axe (when farmers residing in No-Man's Land retreated to this Fort to seek safety). Supplies were landed at Waterloo Bay and Transported inland in heavily guarded Ox Wagons.

Donald then described in detail, using power point, how the system of tunnelling aided in the defence of the forts.

Following a lively question and answer debate the vote of thanks was presented by Charles Whiteing who congratulated both speakers on their research and presentations.

Thursday 14th June - 19h00 for 19h30.
Venue: Murray Theatre, Dept of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.
The Darrell Hall (DDH) Memorial Lecture
will be- 'Heritage and Environmental Assessments' by Jean Beater.

The Main Talk will be presented by Prof Philip Everitt on 'Maj Gen Sir Charles Warren in Northern Natal'.

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FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: July - September 2012:

12th July
DDH - 'The lonely Boer graves of St. Helena' by Jayne Moir.
Main - 'Nazis on Ice' by Colin Dean.

9th August
DDH - 'Arthur Martin-Leak, VC' and Bar by Robin Smith.
Main - 1941 - 1945; 'The Naval War in the Pacific' by Capt. Brian Hoffmann.

13th September
DDH - 'HMAS Sydney and her fate' by Ian Sutherland.
Main - 'Long service in SA. Colonial Volunteer forces and in the Union Citizen Force 1894 - 1930' by Brian Thomas.

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Day Tours - Bluff gun emplacements and the Holocaust Museum have been recommended. Brian Hoffmann and Charles Whiteing will finalise and make the necessary arrangements.

This will cover the 1906 Poll Tax (or Bhambatha) Rebellion and we will cover the following sites: Greytown Museum, Ambush Rock (Mpanza), Natal Police graves, Kranskop, King Cetshwayo's grave and Mome Gorge Battlefield. Accommodation has been arranged at the George Hotel in Eshowe and members are required to make their own booking. Please refer to the SA Military History Society Tour when doing so. Tel Lee-Ann on 035-474 2298 or e-mail

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South African Military History Society /