South African Military History 


Newsletter / Nuusbrief 99 December 2012/Desember 2012

The November meeting was held at the South African Air Force Museum in Port Elizabeth, which is located on the south side of Port Elizabeth Airport on the grounds and in the buildings of the historic 42 Air School, and within the vintage Air Gunnery Training Centre of WW II. Here, under the able and encyclopaedic guidance of Geoff Hamp-Adams, some 30 members of the Society were given a comprehensive tour. Geoff was a founder member of SAMHSEC and former curator of the Ron Belling Gallery in Port Elizabeth. The museum has a unique collection of aircraft including the only Airspeed Oxford in South Africa (one of eight in the world), the oldest De Havilland Vampire in South Africa (No 205) a Dassault Mirage F1 CZ and an Aerospatiale SA 330C Puma helicopter, both the latter of which saw service during the Border War. There are also two North American Harvard AT6 Trainers, one of which is in flying condition. In addition there is a wide range of aeronautically related items and artefacts, an expanding collection of historical records and a growing and useful library. These exhibits and facilities are maintained and developed largely through the labours of love, and passion, of the ‘Friends of the SAAF Museum’ in Port Elizabeth. The museum is highly recommended for a visit by anyone interested in aircraft or aviation in general.

This most worthwhile visit was followed by a lunchtime braai at the Museum prior to the afternoon lectures. The afternoon started with the traditional two minutes of silence at the meeting closest to Remembrance Day. It was led by fellow member Brian Klopper of the SA Legion in Port Elizabeth, who also expressed appreciation for the SAMHSEC members’ poppy appeal contributions. The open house series was presented by Pat Irwin, who provided an overview of the first 100 meetings of SAMHSEC. Graphs, tables and maps were shown, indicating the range of topics covered, their geographic location and the time periods over which the topics were spread. The PowerPoint presentation is available to anyone interested. The curtain raiser slot was incorporated into the main lecture, delivered by Colonel Fred Oelschig on Winning the war in the eastern Caprivi. Fred described his own experiences as well as the broader context of the ‘Border War’between 1966 and 1989.

The area known as the Caprivi Strip has long been one of conflict, the most recent being its part in the wider ‘Border War’ between 1968 and 1980. This Caprivi ‘war’ had a significant strategic effect on the deployment of SADF Forces and the manner in which the broader border war unfolded, but has as yet received scant attention from military historians.

Although SWAPO is predominantly a party of the Ovambo people, it was initially established in Zambia, with a large number of Caprivians, including its Deputy-President, among its ranks. Because of the occupation of Angola by Portugal until 1975 and its conflict with the liberation movements in that territory, SWAPO was unable to establish safe bases there from which to launch offensive actions against what it saw as the South African presence in Ovamboland, the northern part of the then South West Africa.

As a consequence, the main thrusts of the SWAPO action were against the Eastern Caprivi as the President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda, had given them safe bases within south western Zambia from which to operate. During the early years of the conflict in 1967/8 the SWAPO offensive was dominated by clandestine landmine planting on roads patrolled by the police. As SWAPO became more successful, the SADF became more involved, mainly in landmine clearing and in performing base protection duties, until it took over full responsibility in 1970. Although SWAPO activities remained relatively low-key in Ovamboland until the 1974 coup d’état in Portugal, activities in the Caprivi continued to escalate resulting in an SADF build-up of men and equipment, the fortification of Katimo Mulilo and the establishment of artillery and mortar bases.

In February 1978, SWAPO launched a co-ordinated attack across the entire northern border of South West Africa. South Africa retaliated with Operation Reindeer and SWAPO attacked Katimo Mulilo on 23rd August, resulting in 10 troops being killed and several wounded. This incident started the process which led to the destruction of SWAPO in south western Zambia. The following day South African troops crossed the border into Zambia, coming across a number of abandoned SWAPO bases which provided much intelligence on the organisation as well as information about co-operation between them and Zambian forces. These operations were conducted until October, when the South African forces were withdrawn for political reasons.

During 1979, it was felt by the SADF that SWAPO activities could no longer be tolerated and it was decided to destroy the organisation piecemeal, starting in Zambia. As a consequence, a number of large ground- and air-attacks were launched in what became known as Operations Rekstok and Safraan. This involved the use of Impalas, Canberra bombers and helicopter-borne troops as well as armoured columns. Identified SWAPO bases in Zambia were targeted, including Base 52 and Base 55. Fred provided detailed accounts of these actions including the amusing incident where a Zambian tsetse fly control official insisted on spraying each vehicle in the invading armoured column, holding it up for 30 minutes! The well-fortified Base 52 had been abandoned in great haste leaving behind large volumes of arms, ammunition and other equipment including, interestingly, large stocks of adrenalin injections. During Operation Safraan the South Africans recognised that if SWAPO was to be destroyed in south western Zambia, they had to be denied the use of the terrain in which they operated. The modus operandi was adjusted accordingly; by progressive domination of the area, improved intelligence gathering, greater mobility, often involving paratroopers, the development of the idea of the ‘heli-admin area’, better target management, and operating more deeply into Zambia. Speculative gunfire into forested areas using the 5.5 inch guns of World War II vintage was also developed and many SWAPO bases were flushed in this manner. Incursions into Zambia followed in short order, Operations Stoompot and Whirlwind being examples. This all put great pressure on the Zambian government to disallow SWAPO the use of its territory. The end of 1979 was celebrated in the absence of SWAPO in south western Zambia and the Caprivi and by 1980 SWAPO was no longer operating in Zambia. South African troop levels in the Caprivi were reduced and a new era of politics and relative peace was introduced to the region.

Fred then briefly described some of the local political events, and their significance, which had taken place alongside the military operations in the Caprivi and Zambia. These included the (often amusing) negotiations with the Zambian Army for a ceasefire across the Zambezi River; collaboration with the Rhodesian Army; the defection of Mishake Muyongo, Deputy President of SWAPO; and Pretoria’s Project Overdrive, a ‘winning the hearts and minds operation’ in the Caprivi.

In conclusion, Fred noted that while it took a few tragic incidents before an effective counter strategy could be formulated; such catalysts always exist before effective action can take place. For success, a well-motivated professional team needs to be in charge as a strategy is nothing without effective execution. Lateral thinking and clarity of thought must rule – there is no place for emotion. The conflict in the Caprivi and resultant operations in south western Zambia serve as an excellent example of a successful regional counter-insurgency operation.

The talk was spiced with numerous anecdotes, giving a sense of immediacy to the topic, and was thoroughly enjoyed by all present.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next meeting will be at 19h30 on 10th December at the usual venue, when the film Oh! What a Lovely War will be screened. A brief description of the film by Jonathan Ossher was included in the November Newsletter. The film will be preceded by the screening at 18h30 of the next episode in the ‘World at War’ series, Genocide (1941- 1945). The first meeting of 2013 will be on 14th January. The curtain raiser will be The tapestry at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria by Stephen Bowker. The main lecture will be on The Dicken Medal by Tiaan Jacobs. On 11th February the Curtain Raiser will be St Helena visit by Richard Tomlinson and the main lecture The Battle of Silkaatsnek, 11th July 1900 by Ian Copley.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

Individual members’ activities

Barry de Klerk visited SAS Assegai, in the process of becoming a museum submarine, at the South African Navy Museum in Simon’s Town. He will do a short presentation on it in the open house slot at the January meeting.

Membership fees

The central committee of the SAMHS has decided not to increase membership subscriptions for 2013. They thus remain at R215 for single and R230 for family membership. Members are reminded that subscriptions are due on 1st January. Direct deposits may be made into First National Bank, Eastgate Branch, Code 257705, current a/c, called SA Military History Society, No. 50391 928 346. Please use your NAME as REFERENCE. Cheques should be made out to ‘The SA Military History Society’ and posted to P.O.Box 59227, Kengray, 2100 South Africa. As has become SAMHSEC’s practice in the past, it will be assumed that those who have not renewed by 31st March 2013 do not intend to do so, and they will be removed from SAMHSEC's distribution list.

Notable anniversaries in December /Merkwaardige gedenkdae in Desember

In southern Africa, December has historically been a month of significant military activity.

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

World War I

Walter Tull, British Army’s first black Army officer
The Sun 17th November 2012 Michael Morpurgo
[It is worth looking at some of the comments, inane and otherwise - Scribes]

World War II

El Alamein: 70th Anniversary Pictures
BBC News Middle East 20th October 2012

Stories of love and loss in a desert war grave
BBC News Magazine 10th November 2012

A revisionist view of Rommel
BBC News Europe 2nd November 2012

The poetry of William Walker: A Tribute to John
Battle of Britain Memorial Trust

British PoW's amazing story being turned into Hollywood film
The Sun 7th November 2012

The Cold War

Nuclear test veteran who flew through a mushroom cloud
BBC History 8 November 2012 Keith Moore
See also a related article at:

The Berlin Military Train back on the tracks
Daily Motion Undated

All Wars

In pictures: Letters home from the front
BBC History 7th November 2012


Space Warfare and the Future of US Global Power
Al Jazeera English 12 November 12 Alfred W McCoy

Enigma coding machine beats auction estimate in London
BBC News Technology 14 November 2012


Israel to double cyber-war manpower
Eurasia Review: News & Analysis 24th October 2012 Richard Silverstein

Books, DVDs etc. of military interest/ Boeke, DVDs ens. van militêre belang

Black Jeremy 2011 The Great War and the making of the modern world London Continuum International

This is a very good overview of World War I, albeit from a particularly British perspective. While recognising the global nature of the conflict, this book is by self-admission, about how Britain won the war; little is said of why Germany and its allies lost, and scant attention is given to the Empire/Commonwealth contribution. It is a year-by-year chronological account of the progress of the war, paying attention to factors such as lessons learned, changing tactics, rapidly improving technology and weaponry, the increasing role of governments in controlling economic and social issues, and the gradual but steady tipping of the war against the Central Powers. The final chapters on the impact of the war, the consequent restructuring of the ‘old order’, and the making of the modern world as a result, are particularly stimulating.

Like Niall Ferguson’s The pity of War (1999), this book challenges many generally accepted views, entrenched notions and ‘myths’ relating to the war. Examples are aspects of the Treaty of Versailles, the use and effectiveness of tanks and aircraft, the respective roles and significance of artillery and machine guns, and even the Australian role at Gallipoli. The author considers how this war came to be the ‘First World War’ in our consciousness. It seeks to cast light beyond the suffering and losses incurred, not least in how and why the main conflict ended while at the same time spawning further wars. He also analyses to a limited extent, the memorialisation of the ‘Great War’ today. All in all this is a stimulating and informative account well worth reading.

Hanna Emma 2009 The Great War on the small screen Edinburgh University Press.

This book on World War I, which will be of interest to some military historians, will remain pertinent with the impending centenary of the outbreak of the war. It examines the portrayal of WW I on television in Britain and by extension, those parts of the English-speaking world where ‘TV’ is the most influential medium of culture. The book offers a fascinating perspective on the conflict as mediated through television (and its overlap with film). It is full of interesting insights and perspectives likely to cause a reader to reflect on their own reaction to television productions of this and related topics.

Notice of the publication of the following book and paintings has been received.

History of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles 1864 – 2004 by Mark Coghlan
764 pages, b/w photos, colour illustrations. Published by Just Done Productions. Advertised price: Standard Hard cover R500,00 This Armoured Car Regiment is one of the oldest in the SANDF and will turn 150 years old on 16th May 2014. Link:

Johan van den Berg of the Cape Town Branch has drawn our attention to recently produced paintings of South Africa’s three Daphne Class submarines by Justin Zimmerman. For further information, contact Johan at:

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

South African Military History Society /