South African Military History 


Newsletter No 95 August 2012/Nuusbrief Nr 95 Augustus 2012

In the open house series, Richard Tomlinson spoke briefly about the railway disaster at Hex River, in the Western Cape, involving the Kaffrarian Rifles during September 1914 while en route to service in South West Africa. He mentioned that plans are afoot to commemorate the incident in 2014.

The curtain raiser titled D Day and the Role of the French Resistance was presented by Andre Crozier. D-Day is the best known battle of World War Two and it was vital for the oppressed people of Europe that it succeeded. What is not so well known is the role of the French resistance in ensuring the success of the landings and the subsequent ‘battle of the build up’ leading to the ultimate break out.

After the shock defeat and the capitulation of France in June 1940, the seeds of the resistance were sown when, on the 18th June 1940, an almost unknown General, Charles De Gaulle, broadcast from London that although the battle was lost the war would continue. The Resistance initially consisted of numerous disparate groups until early 1944 when De Gaulle managed to persuade them to work together under the banner of the FFI (Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur). France was divided into 12 regions, each supported by an Anglo-French SOE (Special Operations Executive) team, which made coordinated action possible. Large drops of arms and equipment took place during 1944 in preparation for the invasion.

The Resistance firstly helped the invasion by way of gathering information on the Atlantic Wall by spying, photographing, sketching and stealing at enormous personal risk. In this way the Allies were supplied with intelligence to complement their aerial and naval reconnaissance. To assist the invasion, the FFI came up with three plans unimaginatively called Plans A, B and C. Plan A was to support the invasion in Northern Europe, Plan B the same, but for Southern France and Plan C was for uprisings in the remote mountainous areas of France. Plan A was in turn divided into various sub-plans which targeted the railways, bridges, highways, telephone and telegraph communications, and electricity supplies.

On the night of 5th June 1944 there was an unusually long list of personal messages after the BBC News. The Resistance leaders heard the coded messages calling for the immediate implementation of Plan A, which proved to be a great success. During the early hours of 6th June, the Resistance cut the rail network in over 940 places causing 180 trains to derail. The telephone and telegraph system was brought down as were electricity supplies. The result was that the Germans were faced with total communications shambles.

It was vital for the success of the landings that the Germans would not be able to rush reinforcements to Normandy and in effect bottle up the landings. The most spectacular success of the Resistance in hindering the flow of reinforcements was the case of 2 SS (Das Reich) Panzer Division. Based just north of Toulouse, 600 km to the south, it was ordered to Normandy on the 6th June and came under attack from the Resistance all the way.

This formidable panzer division could have made a major impact had it arrived within a few days of the landings, but it was in fact only finally assembled by the 23rd June – too late to have a decisive impact. Having been exasperated by attacks by the Resistance, the Division committed horrific atrocities in the villages of Oradour-sur-Glane and Tulle along the way. [See also under Websites of interest below.] The success of Plan A was acknowledged by Generals Bradley and Eisenhower in their memoirs.

Although Plan C did not have the full support of the Allied Supreme Command, it went ahead nonetheless. The Resistance rose up all over France, but in particular in Brittany and in remote mountainous regions of the South Central (Mont Mouchet) and South East (the Vercors Plateau) parts of the country. In response to desperate pleas, the allies dropped supplies but no paratroopers. The Germans deployed reserve divisions and eventually put down these uprisings after very heavy fighting. Although these uprisings resulted in a futile loss of life, they still succeeded in drawing away reinforcements from Normandy. There can be no doubt that without the role played by the French resistance the D-Day landings would have been an even more difficult undertaking.

The main lecture was given by Barry Irwin on Cyber Warfare: a near and future history. The talk opened with a discussion of the concept of cyber warfare and its potential impact. Cyber warfare can be characterised by its increased level of sophistication in terms of both stealth and technology. It can be seen to be the fifth generation of warfare using a scale developed by the United States military in 1989. First generation warfare refers to the earliest stages of state-controlled armed forces waging warfare, such as the Romans. This was followed by the next phase of evolution, being the adoption of tactics subsequent to the development of the rifled musket and breech-loading weapons. This period continued through the invention of the machine-gun and concepts such as indirect artillery fire. The advent of the Wehrmacht’s blitzkrieg and high mobility marked the transition to third generation warfare. Conflicts such as Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan typify the fourth generation of war, which is characterised by a blurring of the lines between war and politics, soldiers and civilians. The advent of cyber warfare and non-physical combat marks the evolution to a fifth generation of conflict.

A brief history of the 2007 Estonian cyber conflict was presented, along with the cyber attacks levelled against Georgia in conjunction with the Russian offensive into South Ossetia in 2008. Russia has disavowed involvement in either this or the Estonian incident. Acts of aggression relating to recent cases of 'hacktivisim', particularly those carried out by groups such as the ‘Anonymous’, ‘LulzSec’ and ‘#antisec’ movements. Activities carried out by groups as part of the 'Arab Spring' uprisings in the early half of 2011 were also discussed.

Four cases of recent cyber warfare activities of differing levels of engagement were discussed, starting with ‘DroneTV’. This series of incidents revolved around the discovery that insurgents had been able to obtain access to live surveillance and combat drone feeds in Iraq and Afghanistan, using a ‘USD 26’ piece of software and cheaply available satellite receivers. This was possible due to a lack of encryption used in the communication links between the drones, operational teams on the ground, and combat controllers in the USA.

This was followed by a discussion around the ‘Stuxnet’ malicious software (malware), which was discovered in July 2010. This targeted the industrial process control systems produced by Siemens. The particular target of this attack appears to have been Iran and its uranium enrichment process as part of its nuclear aspirations. Some estimates are that this attack delayed the Iranian nuclear programme by 18 months or more. In January 2011 the New York Times published an article attributing development of the software to a joint American-Israeli effort. This has been supported by more recent evidence, although both nations have declined to comment.

The next incident covered the more recent ‘Flame’ malware identified in May 2012. This appears to have been a highly sophisticated programme, running for at least the past three years. The role of the ‘Flame’ software appears to have been a widespread covert information-gathering project. The software received a 'suicide' command which induced it to remove all traces of itself soon after security researchers isolated it. Its command and control infrastructure was spread across the globe. This marked a significant evolutionary point in the size and complexity of malware.

The last case was that of ‘DroneGate’, which resulted from the capture on the 4th December 2011 of a RQ-170 Sentinel US stealth drone by Iranian forces. This drone model is also colloquially known as the ‘Beast of Kandahar’. The downed drone was displayed for the press with pictures of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. It is interesting that the drone was downed, rather than crashed or shot down, most likely as a result of jamming of its GPS signalling unit. An American university has recently demonstrated a similar attack which can be achieved for a cost of less than US$3 000.

The final portion of the talk considered the future history of warfare as a result of the digital arms race, with significant increases in the military budgets of major powers in recent years. A number of broader issues were considered, and questions posed. These related to changes to the concept of neutrality; issues around the attribution of digital attacks; and what constitutes critical infrastructure for a country.

Two specifically important issues discussed were the ideas of the digital conscription (most likely unwittingly) of the computing systems of individuals and corporations into potential tools for a cyber conflict. This ‘conscription’ is most likely to not be into the army of the nation in which they physically reside. Related to this are considerations that need to be given to a reassessment of the concepts of collateral damage and acceptable losses, with digital conflicts becoming ever more complex than what is currently faced by forces engaged in fourth generation conflict.

Future meetings and excursions

SAMHSEC’s next meeting will be on 13th August 2012 at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser will be by Richard Tomlinson on ‘Francois Davis’. The main lecture will be titled ‘A dependent’s tale’ presented by Barbara Kinghorn. The screening of the ‘World at War’ series will be Morning (June-August 1944) at 18h30 preceding the main meeting at 19h30.

The field trip to the Queenstown area planned for the weekend of the 10th-12th August is well subscribed. It is, however, still possible to cater for any late deciders. Pat Irwin can be contacted for further information.

Matters of general interest

Members’ activities

Richard Tomlinson recently spent two-and-a-half weeks in the Algarve in southern Portugal visiting his brother and sister-in-law, who retired to this lovely area 20 odd years ago. Richard and his brother are both 'castle/fort nuts' and took the opportunity to walk the extensive remains of the high 16th century walls surrounding the old port city of Lagos and viewing the remains of a dozen coastal forts in the western Algarve. These latter date mainly from the 15th to 17th centuries and were constructed to defend landing places against attacks by North African pirates, the British (including Drake during the Spanish occupation of Portugal) and the Spanish (after Portugal regained its sovereignty in 1640). Sagres, near Cape St Vincent, was the site of Henry the Navigator's 15th century school of navigation and his ships were built and harboured at Lagos, leading to the earliest exploratory sailings down the west coast of Africa and ultimately to the discovery by Dias and da Gama of the Cape sea route to India.

Boerejode Gedenkteken / Jewish Anglo-Boer War Memorial for Emnambithi / Ladysmith

Although this item has arrived a bit late to plan attendance, it is included for members’ interest.
The Ladysmith Siege Museum Trust and South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) are pleased to announce the unveiling of the Jewish Anglo-Boer War Memorial, commemorating those of the Jewish faith who died in the service of the Boer Republics. The ceremony will take place at the Burgher Memorial, Platrand, on Monday 6th August 2012 at 12h00.

An estimated 300 Jews served in the Boer Commandos during the war. Of these, at least eight were killed in action and four died in captivity. The first Jew to die in action on the Boer side was Harry Spanier of the Pretoria Commando. He was killed at Surprise Hill, Ladysmith, on 11 December 1899. A plaque in memory of Spanier was amongst those memorials unveiled at the 110th commemoration of the Surprise Hill action on 11th December 2009. In other engagements relating to the Siege and Relief of Ladysmith, Jacob Schorr of the Boksburg Commando fell at Colenso and Leo de Wolff of the Johannesburg Commando at Vaalkrans. It is likely that R Sonnenberg, killed at Wagon Hill, was also Jewish, but since this remains unconfirmed, his name was omitted. Other Jews in the Boer forces who died in the Natal theatre during the war were F Goldman at Holkrans and E Cohen in the Mooi River POW camp.

Shortly after the Anglo-Boer War, a memorial to Jewish soldiers who died whilst serving on the British side was erected in the great Kimberley Synagogue. Until now, however, there has been no similar memorial to those who died whilst fighting for the Boer cause and this prompted the Ladysmith Siege Museum Trust to start a process to rectify this. The Burgher Memorial on Platrand evokes strong emotions and is a place of great sanctity, the tomb of many brave men who died for their country and is a tribute to their heroism. The ossuary also includes the mortal remains of two or more fallen Boerejode. This site was thus a logical choice for the erection of the new memorial.

The new memorial, with a commemorative plaque in Afrikaans, English and Hebrew, bearing the names of the fallen, will be erected close to the main Burgher Memorial on Platrand. The unveiling ceremony will be attended by the Emnambithi/Ladysmith Mayor and dignitaries of the South African Jewish community. Wreaths will be laid and memorial prayers for the fallen by Rabbi Silberhaft and Chaplain Pillay of 5 SAI will be offered. A short address will be delivered by SAJBD National President Mary Kluk. Associate director David Saks, author of the book Boerejode: Jews in the Boer Armed Forces 1899-1902 (2010) will also be amongst those speaking at the post-ceremony luncheon at Platrand Lodge, during which copies of the rare publication will be on sale.

Some notable anniversaries in August

August has historically been an exceptionally busy month in matters of military interest. The following is a small selection of events pertaining to South Africa in one way or another

Websites of interest

First Video of Russia’s T-50 Stealth Fighter Jet
Aviation Rosa Golijan [It is worth reading the comments – Scribe.]

SAS veteran Blaine Diddams dies on seventh tour of hell.
The Daily Telegraph July 04, 2012 Ian McPhedran

Ancient Persia
Alexander the not so Great: History through Persian eyes
BBC News Magazine 14th July 2012 Prof Ali Ansari Institute of Iranian Studies, St Andrews University

Mussolini’s bunker
Il Duce's futile search for safety
BBC News 14 July 2012 Alan Johnston

Accounts of courage
Courage can take many forms. The following recent obituaries are all from The Telegraph.

Matters medical
The development of plastic surgery in WW I on soldiers at the Queen’s Hospital in Sidcup
This is Local London 13th July 2012 Kelly Smale

The following two sequential websites supplement Andre Crozier’s talk from a human interest point of view:

Secret war(s)
Bletchley Park Memorial
Thanks to Barry Irwin

Declassified MK-Ultra Project Documents
Thanks to Michael Irwin

For those who may be interested in an ‘academic’ article on cyber warfare the following website will be of interest:

Books and CDs of military historical interest
Linder Adolphe 2012 The Swiss and the Anglo-Boer War Published privately
This book tells how the Swiss people, both in Switzerland and those living in the two South African republics, reacted to the Anglo-Boer War – reflecting the wave of sympathy for the Boers which swept through Europe. The factors leading to the war, the devastation of the two republics and the suffering of their peoples, particularly women and children, are covered in outline. Much more attention is given to the ways in which the Swiss attempted to support the Boers, ranging from Red Cross ambulances, medical supplies and field hospitals to the volunteers who joined the Boer forces. The book also documents the roles played by many individual Swiss living in the republics, as members of the Boer commandos, including a wealth of information on these individuals. It contains three maps, six tables and 69 illustrations.

The price is R180.00 plus p&p and it is obtainable from Ulrich Naumann Bookdealers at

Die geskiedkundige, C.J. (Neels) Nöthling, verwittig dat sy digitale herdenkingspublikasie, Kroniek van die SAW 1912 – 1994, nou op kompakskyf in pdf-formaat beskikbaar is. Die boek van 250 bladsye bevat geen fotos nie en kan by, Posbus 1595, Silverton, 0127, of by die faksno 012-803 0067 bestel word. Met hierdie publikasie word die stigting van die SAW/UDF 100 jaar gelede op 01/07/1912 gedenk. Die koste is R100,00.

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn: -
Scribes: Anne and Pat Irwin
Correspondence to:
Society’s Web address: 

South African Military History Society /