South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 440
October 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 Ian Sutherland on "HMAS Sydney and her fate".
HMAS Sydney, named for the Australian city of Sydney, was one of three modified Leander-class light cruisers operated by the Royal Australian Navy. Ordered for the Royal Navy as HMS Phaeton, the cruiser was purchased by the Australian government and renamed prior to her 1934 launch. During the early part of her operational history, Sydney helped enforce sanctions during the Abyssinian crisis, and at the start of World War II was assigned to convoy escort and patrol duties in Australian waters. In May 1940, Sydney joined the British Mediterranean Fleet for an eight-month deployment, during which she sank two Italian warships, participated in multiple shore bombardments, and provided support to the Malta Convoys, while receiving minimal damage and no casualties. On her return to Australia in February 1941, Sydney resumed convoy escort and patrol duties in home waters. On 19 November 1941, Sydney was involved in a mutually destructive engagement with the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran, and was lost with all 645 aboard. The wrecks of both ships were lost until 2008; Sydney was found on 17 March, five days after her adversary. Sydney's defeat is commonly attributed to the proximity of the two ships during the engagement, and Kormoran's advantages of surprise and rapid, accurate fire. However, the cruiser's loss with all hands compared to the survival of most of the German crew have resulted in controversy, with some alleging that the German commander used illegal ruses to lure Sydney into range.

Sydney's main armament consisted of eight 6-inch breech-loading Mk XXIII guns mounted in four Mk XXI twin turrets: "A" and "B" forward, "X" and "Y" aft. All eight guns could be fired in salvo, elevated to an angle of 60 and depressed to -5, and fire eight rounds a minute at targets up to 24,800 yards. Four 4-inch quick firing Mk V guns, mounted on single, high angle, Mk IV mountings, were fitted to a platform around the aft funnel. These were primarily used to target aircraft at heights up to 28,750 feet, but could also be used against surface targets, with a maximum range of 16,300 yards. For close-range anti-aircraft defence, the 4-inch guns were supplemented by twelve 0.5-inch Vickers Mk III machine guns, which were arranged in three Mk II quadruple mountings, one on each side of the forward superstructure, and the third on top of the aft superstructure. Eight 21-inch torpedo tubes were fitted in two QR Mk VII quadruple mounts to the deck below the platform for the 4-inch guns. A Supermarine Walrus amphibious aircraft could be launched. A 7-ton electric crane was used to recover the aircraft.

On the afternoon of 19 November, Sydney was off the coast of Western Australia, near Carnarvon, and heading south towards Fremantle. Around 15:55, the cruiser spotted a merchant ship on a northbound course, which quickly turned away from the coast at 14 knots. Sydney increased speed to 25 knots and made to intercept. As she closed the gap, Sydney began to signal the unidentified merchantman, first by signal light, then after no reply was forthcoming and the distance between the two ships had decreased. A request was made from the cruiser that the merchant ship makes her signal letters clear. The call sign was that of the Dutch ship Straat Malakka, but she was not on Sydney's list of ships. Following this, Sydney pulled alongside the merchant ship from astern. She was the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran in disguise and opened fire. Sydney also fired, but while her first salvo either missed or passed through Kormoran's upper superstructure with minimal damage, four of the raider's six 5.9-inch guns were able to destroy the cruiser's bridge and gun director tower. Kormoran maintained heavy fire, and launched a torpedo that hit Sydney to hasten her end. Sydney's shells had crippled Kormoran; the German crew abandoned ship after it was determined that below-deck fires could not be controlled before they reached the gun magazines or the mines in the cargo hold. The raider was scuttled at midnight, and sank slowly until the mine deck exploded half an hour later.

The main talk of the evening was a presentation by fellow member Brian Thomas on "LONG SERVICE IN THE VOLUNTEER FORCES OF THE CAPE COLONY & NATAL, AND THEREAFTER IN THE CITIZEN FORCE OF THE UNION OF SOUTH AFRICA 1894-1940".

The story of Volunteering in the former British Colonies of the Cape of Good Hope and of Natal to 1910, and thereafter in the Citizen Force of the Union of South Africa, is well covered in the many regimental histories. Unfortunately not all regiments have had their history published.

The Volunteer Officer's Decoration was instituted in 1892 for officers in Britain with 20 years commissioned service.
This was extended in 1894 to comparable forces overseas. Officers could count half their service in the ranks toward the required 20 years service. From 1925 recipients of this Decoration were entitled to add after their names the letters V.D. For other ranks in Britain and the Empire, a Volunteer Long Service and Good Conduct Medal was instituted in 1894. Officers were eligible for this medal, if they did not have the required number of year's commissioned service. For the volunteer forces outside of the Britain, these two awards were then superseded in 1899 by the institution of the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officers' Decoration, and the Long Service Medal.

When the Territorial Force was formed in Britain in 1908, both the Volunteer awards were replaced by the Territorial Decoration for officers, and the Territorial Force Efficiency Medal for other ranks. For officers the service requirement remained unchanged, but for other ranks the requirement was reduced to 12 years for the Territorial Force Efficiency Medal. The Territorial and the Colonial awards, excluding South Africa, were then in turn superseded in 1930 by the introduction of the Efficiency Decoration and the Efficiency Medal, which retained the green ribbon but with a yellow stripe added. In the case of South Africa however, the two Effiency awards only became available in 1939 and 1940 respectively. These Efficiency awards were in turn replaced in 1952 by the John Chard Decoration and Medal, both familiar to all of us.

The white population of Durban in July 1899 was just under 20 000 of which 6 900 were men of all ages. How many of this number would be of military age is not known, But we do know that when the call up in anticipation of the Boer War was published in the press on 29 September 1899, the strength of the four Durban units which entrained for northern Natal only a few days later, was 1 031. In the broader picture, Darrel Hall in his Handbook of the Anglo Boer War, tells us that men serving in South African raised regiments numbered 52 000 out of the total of 459 000 of all British and Colonial troops engaged. The only South African permanent regular forces included in the 52 000 would be the Cape Police, Natal Police, BSAP and the Cape Mounted Rifles, in total about 3000 men. Throughout the period 1894 to 1940, Volunteering was not that popular amongst the Dutch or Afrikaans speaking South Africans. The volunteer regiments in the two Colonies were all English speaking units. Even after 1910 up to 1940, the majority of the long service awards were to English speaking regiments. So the lower number of awards in South Africa when compared to Britain and the other countries needs to be seen in this light. The South Africa service Medal was instituted in 1879 with seven possible date clasps, some extremely rare. 14 350 names of Colonials appear on the medal rolls. The Cape of Good Hope General Service Medal was instituted in 1902 with clasps awarded for three campaigns. Only 23 medals were awarded with all three clasps. The British South Africa Company's Medal was awarded for four campaigns. The Queen's South Africa Medal for the Boer War had 26 possible battle and campaign clasps. All except seven clasps were for actions which took place in 1899 or 1900. The better known battles would be those for the Defence and for the Relief of Mafeking, Ladysmith and Kimberley. It was rare for any man to receive more than six clasps. Queen Victoria died in 1901, so the King's South Africa Medal was introduced with only two possible date clasps - South Africa 1901 and South Africa 1902.

Conscription was not introduced in South Africa in either of the two World Wars. In Britain and all the other major Commonwealth countries, conscription was enforced at some stage during both wars. In World War I the Africa Star was awarded for service in a defined operational area in various parts of the world between the outbreak of war and 31 Dec 1915. Those who served with the Union Forces in German South West Africa between these two dates qualified for the Star. The British war Medal was awarded to South Africans who served any war zone. German South West Africa, Egypt, France, Belgium or Palestine. The Allied Victory Medal was awarded to all South Africans who qualified for the British War Medal by virtue of service outside of South Africa in a war zone. 236 Volunteers of all races served. In World War II, South Africans served in the main in Africa and Italy, but medal groups are known to include a range of all the eight stars covering the different geographic campaign areas, and four medals available. 346 000 Volunteers of all races served.

Major Frederick Bradley V.C. served in the Anglo Boer War as a Driver with the Royal Field Artillery and received the Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps for Talana, Defence of Ladysmith, Laings Nek, Orange Free State and Transvaal, and also the King's South Africa Medal with the two clasps. He then served with the Central S.A. Railway Volunteers 1906 to 13 as Sergeant, and later as a Lieutenant with the Witwatersrand Rifles from January 1913, until transferred to the Supernumerary List in 1918. He enlisted as a Lieutenant with the Natal Carbineers in December 1919, and was later promoted Captain. Sixty Volunteers were admitted to the Distinguished Service Order, eight for the Anglo-Boer War, one for Natal 1906, forty two for World War l and one with a Bar, and nine for World War II.

Col. Richard Currin served in four wars. Bechuanaland 1896, the Anglo-Boer War, WWI in GSWA, Egypt and France, WWIl, and also in the Jameson Raid of 1896. He was one of only seven South Africans to be awarded a Bar to the D.S.O. in WWl.

Capt. David Pfaff D.T.D (1920) CM(1931) was as a former "enemy." As a Boer Lieutenant he was awarded the Dekoratie Voor Trouwe Dienst, the equivalent of the D.S.O., together with the Anglo-Boere Oorlog Medalje.

In the Anglo-Boer War he had served with Botha's Verkennings Korps and the Utrecht Commando, and had been at Spion Kop. He also was at Itala in northern Natal, in which action Bradley won his V.C. In WW1 he served in GSWA and was mentioned in dispatches with the 10th Dismounted Rifles.

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

Thursday 11th October 2012 - 19h00 for 19h30. Venue: Murray Theatre, Dept of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.

The Darrell Hall (DDH) Memorial Lecture will be "Uluthi; Secret of the South Pacific" by Roy Bowman.

The Main Talk will be "Manstein - Supreme Strategist; Hitler - Supreme Commander" by Bill Brady.

FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: November 2012 - January 2013:

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.

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

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 /