South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 441
November 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 Roy Bowman on Uluthi; Secret of the South Pacific".

In planning their war in the Pacific against the United States, the Japanese had counted on the fact that the vastness of the Pacific Ocean would in itself be a deterrent as US naval actions, would necessarily, be far from their home ports. This would limit their supply lines and inhibit their ability to operate in the Western Pacific for any length of time. The Japanese hoped for an opportunity to knock the US navy out of the conflict with a decisive action. They sought such an opportunity throughout the war.

In his planning for how the war in the Pacific would be fought and won, Admiral Nimitz knew that the manufacturing might of the United States would eventually supply him with a force large enough to overcome the forces of the Empire of Japan. He termed this force the BIG BLUE FLEET. To make it effective at projecting its power he called upon a senior officer at Pearl, Commodore Worrall R. Carter, who had been trying to sell his idea for a mobile Naval Base to his seniors for some time, to present his plan to Washington. The idea was regarded as sound and ships were provided to form the first SERVICE SQUADRON. SERVRON 4 was formed to provide services to the fleet around the islands of the New Hebrides. A Service Squadron is a squadron of US Navy ships that support the fleet combat units. They are an essential part of the navy's ability to project power, as they enable the Navy to operate for extended periods of time away from home ports. These squadrons are made up of tankers, oilers, refrigeration ships, ammunition ships, supply ships, and repair ships. They are responsible for everything the Navy needs to keep its assets at sea and on station. Service Squadrons have the thankless job of keeping the Navy's assets supplied, providing diesel, fuel oil, aviation fuel, ordinance and food stuffs. With these the Navy is kept at sea for extended periods.

In March 1945, 15 Battleships, 29 Aircraft Carriers, 23 Cruisers, 106 Destroyers and a train of oil tankers and supply ships sailed from a "PACIFIC BASE". What was this base? The mightiest force of naval power ever assembled must have required a tremendous supporting establishment?

Ulithi is 580 kms Southwest of Guam, 1,370 kms East of the Philippines, 2,100 kms South of Tokyo. It is a typical volcanic atoll with coral, white sand and palm trees. The reef runs roughly twenty miles North - South by ten miles wide, enclosing a vast anchorage with an average depth of 80 to 100feet - the only suitable anchorage within 800 miles. Three dozen islands rise slightly above the sea, the largest only half a square mile in area. The anchorage was well situated but there were no port facilities to repair ships or re-supply the fleet.

On 4th October 1944 the vessels of Service Squadron 10 began leaving Eniwetok for Ulithi. This was accomplished by dispatching four towing convoys consisting of strings of floating equipment of assorted types and sizes - liberty ships towed barges, concrete engineless hulls and pontoon barges; fleet tugs towed dry-docks, large and small; smaller tugs going along as retrievers. Into the dry-docks were loaded LCVP's, derrick barges and small harbour tugs - LCM's were loaded onto the deck of any ship able to carry them. Covered lighters, with ammunition and provisions, dry-docks with their precious cargo of small craft, target rafts etc., made their way across 2,200 kms of open water, slow and vulnerable to storm damage and enemy submarine action, to the new operating base. Despite the size of this operation there was no loss of equipment or life, a remarkable feat. Within a month of the first occupation of Ulithi, a whole floating base was in operation, Six thousand ship fitters, artificers, welders, carpenters and electricians arrived aboard the 250 vessels of SERVRON 10 consisting of repair ships, destroyer tenders, tugs and floating dry docks. For example USS Ajax and her sister repair ships, USS Jason and USS Vulcan had an air conditioned optical shop that repaired and supplied any optical equipment from eye glass lenses to gun sights for 16 inch guns, a supply of base metals from which she could make any alloy to form any part required as well as workshops able to repair any engine or turbine from any ship in the fleet.

The main talk of the evening was a presentation by chairman Bill Brady on "Manstein - Supreme Strategist; Hitler - Supreme Commander".

Clausewitz, in his writings on the "Art of War" said everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is incredibly difficult. Consider the basic relationship between politics and war. Clausewitz stated that war is an extension of politics by different means. Politicians establish the objectives; the military seek to attain them. Therefore, politics are thrust upon the military, to do their duty and await their fate. Nothing could be simpler.

Except perhaps not in the case of Adolf Hitler, who gained remarkable political triumphs. He occupied the Rhineland, then annexed Austria, and Czechoslovakia; thereby expanding German territory without resorting to force. When he used military means in Poland to obtain his political aims, he demonstrated the close connection between politics and war. But, his invasion of Poland precipitated World War II and from then on, his direction of the war became increasingly military and less political.

The result was that towards the end, the fighting degenerated into senseless destruction for the sake of merely continuing the conflict. He no longer had political objectives only total war. The consequences of which was the deterioration of the military and total defeat. Highlighting this scenario; In the summer of 1940, Germany overran Denmark, Norway, and the low countries. On 14 June the Germans entered Paris, compelling the French to ask for an armistice. Hitler's Germany was master of Western Europe and only awaited the British to accept terms.

Erich von Manstein's planned Sichelschnitt or Sickle cut had succeeded beyond all expectations. The scythe had taken its harvest. France was beaten and Germany rejoiced. Manstein's plan had eliminated the French and British armies in continental Europe and achieved what Imperial Germany had failed to do twenty-five years before.

Manstein, perceptively, posed the question. What next? It was now obvious to him that Hitler had no long-range plans, and could neither conclude peace nor invade Britain. The question of crossing twenty miles of sea had not arisen. When it did arise in June 1940 there was no answer. Herein lay the major flaw, not in what Sickle cut had done, but in what Hitler as supreme commander had failed to do. Especially when combined with the fatal mistake of halting the panzer's outside Dunkirk; thus allowing the British to evacuate their troops back across the Channel.

What was Sickle cut? - Later to be referred to as the 'Manstein Plan'.
Von Manstein's plan of the 1940 German offensive required a thrust through the Ardennes, the line of least expectation. It achieved the decisive break through on the Western Front, and led to the fall of France. At this time Manstein was Chief of Staff to Rundstedt's Army Group. His tenacious arguments to change the modified First World War Schlieffen plan had become irritating to his superiors.

However, when the original German attack plans fell into Allied hands, Hitler flew into a rage and demanded a revision. Manstein again forwarded his proposals. On learning of Manstein's plan for the offensive, Hitler immediately grasped the idea. The new plan was adopted and succeeded spectacularly to trap the Allies on the Channel coast. But, the next step had not been thought through. This lack of foresight was the first evidence of the manner in which Hitler would conduct his war. Decisions would be taken on the spur of the moment, with little proper planning or consideration for the implications. When the problem of Britain became apparent in June 1940 it was already too late. The German Navy was ill prepared. Goring had insufficient aircraft of the type required. The Luftwaffe had been created primarily as an Army support-arm, not as a strategic bombing force. Even had the Luftwaffe secured the sky above the English Channel the Navy could only muster sufficient forces to protect a narrow corridor between the two coasts. Neither were there enough craft, certainly none designed specifically for this purpose. An invasion in the summer of 1940 was never a practical possibility. So what was to be done about Britain? Before the war Hitler assumed that Britain would remain neutral and he made virtually no preparations against her. His offer of peace produced only a growl of defiance. Clearly a tiger had been taken by the tail. Hitler saw the Channel as Britain's salvation, not his own failure to plan for a protracted war. Hitler, therefore, decided that if Blitzkrieg was inapplicable to Britain, then it was applicable elsewhere on the European continent. On the commencement of the invasion of Russia in 1941 Manstein was given command of an armoured corps. He made one of the quickest and deepest thrusts of the opening stage, nearly 200 miles in four days. Promoted to command the Eleventh Army in the south, he forced an entry into the Crimean peninsula, and in the summer of 1942, captured the famous fortress of Sevastopol, the key naval base on the Black Sea. Manstein's appointment as an army commander brought him for the first time under Hitler's direct orders.

He was now to experience how Hitler fulfilled the responsibilities of supreme military commander combined with Head of State. Hitler possessed an astoundingly retentive memory and an imagination that made him quick to grasp all technical matters and problems of armaments. Hitler lacked military ability based on experience; something for which his 'intuition' was no substitute. He failed to understand that the objectives of an operation must be in direct proportion to the time and forces needed to carry it out. He did not realise that any long-range offensive operation calls for a steady build-up of reserves over and above those committed in the original assault. All this was brought out with striking clarity in the planning and execution of the 1942 summer offensive in Russia. As a result, in the offensives of 1942, and 1943 he could not bring himself to stake everything on success. Neither was he able or willing to see what action would be necessary to compensate for any unfavourable events that may occur. Hitler became obsessed with the symbolism of capturing Stalingrad named after his arch foe, regardless of its strategic value. When the magnitude of the disaster became obvious, Manstein was sent to conduct the efforts to relieve Paulus's Sixth Army, trapped that winter at Stalingrad.

The effort failed because Hitler refused to agree with Manstein's insistence that Paulus should break out westward and meet the relieving forces. The relief column actually got to within 50 k m's, but Paulus did not break out to meet it, unless he received direct orders from Hitler. Approval could not be obtained. Goring had assured Hitler that his Luftwaffe would supply Stalingrad.

Following a lively question and answer debate the vote of thanks was presented by Lt. Col. Graeme Fuller who congratulated both speakers on their excellent research and presentations.


8th November
DDH - "Beyond Patton - The Early Cold War" by Dr. John Buchan
Main - "Hitler's Car - the story of the Volkswagen" by Charles Whiteing.

FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: December 2012 - February 2013:

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

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.

End of year luncheon - Sunday 18th November 2012, Westville Country Club. A list has been circulated by Charles Whiteing. Cost will be R110 per person. Please bring this amount with you at next meeting or contact Charles on 031 764 7270 or via e-mail on


This will cover the 1906 Poll Tax (or Bhambatha) Rebellion and we will cover the following sites: Greytown Museum (09h00 rendezvous), Ambush Rock (Mpanza), Natal Police graves, Kranskop, King Cetshwayo's grave and Mome Gorge Battlefield. Accommodation at a special rate 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. Telephone Lee-Ann on 035-474 2298 or e-mail . Should you intend participating in the tour, please inform Ken Gillings so the final arrangements and timings can be forwarded to you. Ken's e-mail address is and his contact numbers are 0317024828 / 0836545880.

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South African Military History Society /