Newsletter No. 439
The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture ('DDH') was presented by fellow member Robin Smith on "Captain Arthur Martin-Leake Victoria Cross and Bar".
Captain Arthur Martin-Leake, a doctor attached to the South African Constabulary, was awarded the Victoria Cross after a skirmish with a Boer commando on 8th February 1902. The engagement is variously described as Van Tondershoek and Vlakfontein on headstones of the casualties now reinterred in Standerton military cemetery. As a result of his action in attending to the wounded of the rearguard, while himself being wounded, his act was considered worthy of the award of Britain's premier decoration for gallantry, the Victoria Cross. Arthur Martin-Leake qualified as a doctor and surgeon in February 1899. He had only just taken up an appointment as House Surgeon in a hospital in Hemel Hempstead when war broke out in South Africa. Three of his brothers were already in uniform and the whole Martin-Leake family shared the patriotic fervour that gripped the nation. He obtained leave of absence from the hospital and joined the 42nd (Hertfordshire) Company of the Imperial Yeomanry, a new unit raised by Royal Warrant at the end of 1899. The Imperial Yeomanry Committee stipulated what clothing and equipment they were to acquire, including a slouch hat. They were issued with the new Lee Enfield rifle.
During the days of preparation and training there were numerous activities for the men, all aimed at increasing morale and patriotic fervour. The Colonel of the Yeomanry was Lord Clarendon, who told the men in his opening speech that they were "now soldiers of the Queen, and there was no doubt that they would bear their share in hurling back the invader from her territory, and restoring the integrity of her dominions". They marched to Pretoria and entered the city four days behind Lord Roberts. Shortly after this he was attached to the Royal Army Medical Corps as a civil surgeon with pay and uniform corresponding to the rank of Captain. Then he heard about the formation of the South African Constabulary, whereby Major General Robert Baden-Powell was required to establish a Constabulary Force to maintain law and order in the Transvaal and Orange Free State, by then annexed as British territory. They engaged the Boers at Vlakfontein at a distance of 1600 yards and seemed to be secure until a group of Boers crept up a small donga and opened fire from a flank. All eight men were quickly killed or wounded. Martin-Leake attended to a number of the men, dressing their wounds and controlling bleeding, all that could be done while under fire. Sergeant Waller was hit in the leg and severely wounded. Martin-Leake attended to him, apparently oblivious of the heavy close-range fire. The Boers overran the little group but were not inclined to take prisoners. They left them where they lay, and disappeared back the way they had come. Help arrived, probably after dark, bringing stretchers, blankets, bandages and water. There was at first a limited amount of water but Martin-Leake refused to take his share until all the others had been served.
Major James Fair forwarded his recommendation for the award of the Victoria Cross to his headquarters that endorsed the findings and sent it on to General Lord Kitchener. The Victoria Cross was conferred on Martin-Leake by King Edward VII at Windsor Castle on 2nd June, the very first post-war ceremony for the presentation of awards and medals. Martin-Leake's was the last Victoria Cross of the Anglo Boer War. His second VC was won during the First Battle of Ypres which lasted from 19th October to 22nd November 1914. Only two others have emulated this feat. Arthur Martin-Leake died in 1953 at the age of 79 and is buried in the family cemetery in St James's Churchyard in High Cross, Hertfordshire.
The main talk of the evening was a presentation by fellow member Captain Brian Hoffmann on '1941 - 1945: NAVAL WAR IN THE PACIFIC"
The War in the Pacific started on 7 Dec 41 with the Japanese attack on the US Fleet in Pearl Harbour. Although a tactical victory for the Japanese, the attack failed in its strategic objectives to neutralize the US Carriers and force the US Pacific Fleet to relocate back to the US west coast. There were two distinct phases to the Pacific war: The Japanese Conquests of the SW and Southern Pacific. This phase commenced with the attack on Pearl Harbour and continued until the IJN was defeated at the Battle of Midway six months later. The Allied Offensive - the second phase - commenced with the Guadalcanal Campaign which continued until the final Japanese surrender.
During this 6 month period Japanese military forces rapidly expanded their territorial gains throughout the region, particularly in New Guinea, DEI, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands. The role of the IJN during this phase was twofold: to protect Japanese invasion forces from attacks by US and Allied forces and to seek out and destroy the US Carrier Force. Wake and Guam quickly capitulated and were the first US territories to be captured by the Japanese. The IJN then assembled a powerful amphibious force to successfully invade the Philippines. The US Asiatic Fleet was no match for the IJN and withdrew to Australia. On 16 Dec a powerful Japanese amphibious force invaded Borneo. Rich in petroleum resources and on the main sea routes between Sumatra, Java, Malaya and the Celebes. By early March1942 the Japanese had occupied most of the DEI islands. Successive invasions by amphibious forces supported by powerful elements of the IJN kept US and Allied Naval forces at bay, although some naval engagements between the IJN & US/Allied Naval Forces (ABDA) did take place and the ABDA forces were destroyed. In these actions the IJN demonstrated its superiority over the Allies during night engagements.
The Battle of the Coral Sea occurred when the Japanese decided to capture Port Moresby in SE New Guinea. US naval intelligence became aware of the plan and decided to attack the advancing Japanese Task Force. The US & IJN carrier forces exchanged air strikes, resulting in Fleet Carrier SHOKAKU heavily damaged, the light Carrier SHOHO being sunk. The USS LEXINGTON was critically damaged and scuttled. The USS YORKTOWN was also damaged. Both sides suffered heavy losses of aircraft and aircrews. The invasion force was recalled, the first time a Japanese invasion force had been forced to withdraw. Significantly, the Battle of the Coral Sea was the first action in which Aircraft carriers engaged each other. Neither side's ships sighted or fired directly upon the other. All attacks were carried out by aircraft.
Admiral Yamamoto adjudged Midway to be a vital outpost for the US who would strongly defend it. As the principal threat to the IJN Pacific campaign, he planned to lure the US Carriers into a trap and destroy them. However, his plan was handicapped by faulty assumptions and a lack of intelligence. The US were fully aware of Yamamoto's plans, his fleet dispositions and their whereabouts. The ensuing US attack destroyed three IJN CA's while the 4th was destroyed later in the day. The US navy lost one. The defeat had far reaching consequences for Japan: The loss of aircrews left huge gaps in the Naval Air Group. The Battle of Midway is regarded as the most important naval battle of the Pacific War.
After these successes, the US and Allied High Commands decided to go on the offensive, launching the "island hopping" strategy. This eventually led to the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot" that effectively destroyed Japanese naval airpower. The Battle of Leyte Gulf (24 - 25 OCT 44) was the first time Japanese aircraft carried out organized Kamikaze attacks. The heavy losses suffered by the IJN prevented it from ever sailing into battle again in force. Her few remaining major warships deprived of fuel were to remain in their bases for the remainder of the Pacific War.
The Allies planned to occupy Iwo Jima and Okinawa as staging posts for their invasion of Japan and to support aerial bombardment and naval blockades of the Japanese homeland. The strategic value of Iwo Jima measured against US casualties (over 26,000) has frequently been questioned. However, long before the battle Iwo Jima had been identified as a key emergency landing site for B29s carrying atomic bombs. Okinawa was the largest amphibious assault of the Pacific War, lasting for 82 days and resulting in the highest number of casualties in the Pacific Theatre. Japan lost over 100,000 soldiers, while tens of thousands of civilians were killed, wounded, or committed suicide. The Allies suffered more than 65,000 casualties.
The US suffered more casualties at Okinawa than in any other campaign in the Pacific. It is believed this finally influenced US military & political leaders to use the Atomic bomb against Japan rather than to invade, thereby saving hundreds of thousands of US casualties.
Following a lively question and answer debate the vote of thanks was presented by Roy Bowman who congratulated both speakers on their excellent research and presentations.
THE SOCIETY'S NEXT MEETING:
Thursday 13th September 2012 - 19h00 for 19h30. Venue: Murray Theatre, Dept of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.
The Darrell Hall (DDH) Memorial Lecture will be - 'HMAS Sydney and her fate' by Ian Sutherland.
The Main Talk will be 'Long service in SA. Colonial Volunteer forces and in the Union Citizen Force 1894 - 1930' by Brian Thomas.
FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: September - November 2012:
DDH - "Uluthi; Secret of the South Pacific" by Roy Bowman.
Main - "Manstein - Supreme Strategist; Hitler - Supreme Commander" by Bill Brady.
DDH - "Beyond Patton - The Early Cold War", by Dr. John Buchan
Main - "Hitler's Car - the story of the Volkswagen", by Charles Whiteing.
"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Office", by Colonel Steve Bekker, followed by our annual Cocktail function.
Day Tour. A visit to The Holocaust Museum has been arranged for Sunday 16th September at 14h00. There is no charge but the Society will be making a donation. If you would like to join the tour, please contact Charles Whiteing on 031 764 7270 or via e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org .
End of year luncheon - Sunday 18th November 2012, Westville Country Club. A list will be circulated by Charles Whiteing at the next meeting. Cost will be R110 per person. Please bring this amount with you.
2012 BATTLEFIELD TOUR (27TH / 28TH OCTOBER 2012).
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 email@example.com . 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and his contact numbers are 0317024828 / 0836545880.
South African Military History Society / email@example.com