South African Military History 


Newsletter No 89 February 2012

This month sees the first SAMHSEC Newsletter produced by a new group of scribes. In the first instance, we wish to pay tribute to Malcolm Kinghorn, who has been the scribe since the formation of the branch in 2004. In Malcolm’s own parlance, Bravo Zulu! There are a few changes in format which it is hoped will be of interest to members. In addition to the traditional report on our meetings, there will be short sections on a selection of websites of military historical interest, and a noting of recent books which, while not designated as ‘military history’, nevertheless have a substantial military historical content. These are not intended as book reviews and no comment is made on either the style of writing or the ideological slant. Feedback on the new format is welcomed.

The series on family member’s military service was presented by Ian Pringle, who dealt with three former pupils of Grey High School, Port Elizabeth, who had lost their lives in action since the Second World War. These three Old Greys have been remembered on a suitable plaque which has been erected next to the War Memorial in the Grey Quadrangle.

They are Owen Doyle, who was shot down over Angola; Derek Meyer, who was killed in a shooting incident on the Botswana border; and Raymond Gough, who was killed in a land mine explosion in Rhodesia. The plaque was unveiled on Remembrance Day in November 2011.

The curtain raiser was presented by Peter Duffell-Canham on the exploits and fate of the German Light Cruiser SMS Königsberg in East African water in 1914 and 1915 At the outbreak of WWI the Königsberg was based in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika, a German colony, from where she was to operate as a commerce raider in the Indian Ocean. Against this the Royal Navy had a base in Mombasa in its colony of Kenya to the north, where three cruisers HMS Astraea, Hyacinth and Pegasus were based. Within a few days sailing, there was also the Royal Navy base at Simon’s Town.

Soon after the outbreak of war, Königsberg sank the City of Winchester, the first merchant ship casualty of the war. When HMS Astraea attacked Dar es Salaam, the harbour master panicked and sank the dry dock across the harbour entrance, effectively blocking it. Fortunately for Königsberg, the collier Somali had already left port to re-supply it with coal.

In a further encounter the Königsberg attacked and sank HMS Pegasus while it was being repaired in Mombasa, but then had to seek refuge in the Rufiji Delta to effect engine repairs, the intention being to send the parts overland to Dar es Salaam. The Royal Navy cruisers and the battleship HMS Goliath then attempted to shell the Königsberg, but were out of range due to their deeper draft. Attempts to send a torpedo boat up river were repulsed by land defences set up around the German cruiser. Four flights over the Delta by a Curtiss seaplane from Durban confirmed the ship’s position, but plans to bomb it were scrapped when the Royal Navy Air Service aircraft became unserviceable as a result of the glue dissolving in the East African heat and humidity. Attempts to supply Königsberg using a Danish flagged merchantman were stopped and the collier Newbridge was sunk across one channel.

The Royal Navy then towed two shallow draft monitors, HMS Severn and HMS Mersey, to the Rufiji Delta via Malta and Suez. Originally built as river patrol ships for the Brazilian Navy, they were taken over by the Royal Navy at the outbreak or the war and used to bombard the Belgian coast with their 6” and 4” guns. Able to operate in 2 metres of water, and with the aid of spotter aircraft and land based observers, they were able to get within range and damage the Königsberg beyond repair. The 188 survivors, having buried their 33 dead, mounted their ship’s guns on field carriages to become land based artillery. All other armaments and useful equipment and material were removed from the wreck and, together with the ship's crew, went on to see service in the long running East African land campaign under General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. In March 1919 the surviving members of the campaign, including the crew of the Königsberg paraded in Berlin to a heroes’ welcome, being in essence an undefeated army.

The Königsberg occupied twenty British ships for nine months, making her destruction critically important for Royal Navy dominance of the Indian Ocean. The wreck was still visible until about 10 years ago. Two of the guns carried by the Königsberg are to be seen in South Africa, one at the national Museum of Military History in Saxonwold (an 8.8 cm which was probably carried in the ship’s hold) and one at the west entrance to the Union buildings in Pretoria (a 10.5 cm gun which was part of the ship’s main armament).

The main lecture on British Forces in Kuwait in 1961 was presented by Ian Copley.
Ian was a medical officer in charge of a section of an air-portable Field Ambulance, part of 24 Brigade of Infantry, stationed in East Africa that was involved in the military occupation at the request of the Amir of Kuwait in order to pre-empt the annexation designs of General Abdul Karim Kassem of Iraq.

SMS Königsberg at Dar es Salaam, in June 1914 in the Persian Gulf The history of Kuwait dates back to the migration of nomadic tribes in 1716 from Qatar and central Arabia, initially for seasonal grazing, later permanent settlement. The modern history of Kuwait dates from 1899 when it became a British protectorate mainly against Turkish and Saudi Arabian pressure, but also to keep out German and Russian influence. Boundaries were fixed in 1922. The discovery of oil in 1936 led to the threatened invasion when Kuwait had become the fourth largest producer of oil in the world. On 20 June, 1961, Kuwait became officially independent by joining the Arab League, but on the 24th Kassem threatened annexation. On June 27 the Amir, Abdulla Al-Salim Al-Sabah invoked British protection and declared a state of emergency.

Five thousand British troops were deployed into Kuwait between 3rd and 6th July. In addition there were 4000 men of the newly formed Kuwait army, 1 000 from the Saudi army and some 10 000 Badawan tribesmen volunteers who arrived on the back of lorries and camels. The British troops arrived in waves: from naval forces already present in the Gulf including aircraft carrier, HMS Bulwark, and land forces in Bahrain; freight relay aircraft and a squadron of Hunter jet fighters from Middle East Command, Aden; two battalions of infantry and supporting elements sent from East Africa; and Canberra bombers and Vampire jet fighters from Rhodesia. Later the aircraft carrier, HMS Centaur, and three destroyers arrived with support ships from the Mediterranean.

Kassem was dissuaded, as no engagement took place and the only enemy was the extreme summer heat ranging from 45-55.C, occasionally rising to 60.C. It was however dry heat with a humidity of only 16% due to the strong Shimal wind from the interior. Later the Qos from the Gulf reduced the temperature to 40.C, but the humidity was then 96%, causing an outbreak of ‘prickly heat’. There had been no rain for the past ten years, although the desert was said to bloom when it did.

Prevention of heat disorders was the main concern: increased water intake beyond thirst, additional salt, precautions against sunburn, and the avoidance of excessive exercise or exposure. There were several cases of heat exhaustion, easily treated by saline intravenous infusions, and two cases of heat stroke (when the brain can no longer control body temperature), one fatal. There was only one casualty in the Field Ambulance unit and that was the OC who got into electrolyte imbalance mimicking heart ischaemia. There was a fractured femur requiring open reduction and two cases of gunshot wounds: an infantryman accidentally shot his friend through the leg and, in a fit of remorse, shot himself through his booted foot, ending up in the next bed to his friend.

During October British troops were gradually replaced by Arab League elements. Perhaps the 1991 Gulf War could have been foreseen with the departure of British influence in the Middle East?

Websites of interest
‘Cyber warfare’ in one form or another is a growing field of endeavour.
Robot wars ‘still a long way off’
BBC Click 4/10/11

China, an expanding naval power, has built its first aircraft carrier. Two sites of interest are:
China’s first aircraft carrier
CNN Wire Staff 10/8/2011
China's Aircraft Carrier: Why It Matters 08/ 8/11
David Millar, Socio-Political Analyst and Consultant at U.S. Pacific Command

One does not need to understand German to follow this German Army WW2 health related movie set. Members with an interest in WW2 North African Campaign may find it of particular interest.

OKH Lehr Film- 1943 Part One
OKH Lehr Film- 1943 Part Two

Escaping the Gestapo The capture of one of the French Resistance's most celebrated heroes, Jean Moulin, has become one of the country's darkest chapters of the war.

Books of military historical interest
Tuchman Barbara W 1984, 2010 The march of folly: From Troy to Vietnam
New York Ballantine ISBN: 0-345-30823-9

This extraordinarily insightful book, by one of America’s best popular historians of the 20th century, examines three military conflicts; the fall of Troy, the American War of Independence, and the Vietnam War. While the focus is on the follies of government (folly being making bad/wrong decisions when all the information required for making good/wise decisions is available) detailed background is given on the politics, ideology and policy-making which underpinned and drove these conflicts. For the military historian wanting to understand how and why these conflicts occurred against all reason and original intention and why they persisted, these are among the most incisive accounts available.

Van Onselen Charles 2010 Masked raiders: Irish banditry in southern Africa 1880 – 1899
Cape Town Zebra Press ISBN 978-1-77022-080-5

This book is in part a confluence of social and military history by a widely respected social historian. While the text focuses on armed gangsterism in the ZAR, it draws on the role played by some of the British regiments of the day (such as the 27th Inniskilling Fusiliers which spent some time in the Eastern Cape) in indirectly fostering this situation through desertion and the type of men they recruited. There are also interesting perspectives on Fort Napier, Pietermaritzburg, as a ‘College of Banditry’, on the Jameson Raid in relation to organized banditry and on the role of the Transvaal Staatsartillerie in defending the Pretoria Central prison against gangsters’ plans to free its inmates.

Matters of general interest.
Research on Victoria Cross recipients:

John Wilmot has a number of stories associated with the Eastern Cape and is seeking assistance with genealogical information and any recipients omitted from the list below:
1. James Craig Buried PE (06.09.1855)
2. Joseph Crowe Born Uitenhage (12.08.1857)
3. Christopher Teesdale Born Grahamstown (29.09.1855)
4. Hans Moore VC Draaibosch near Komgha (29.12.1877)
5. James Dalton Buried PE (22.01.1879)
6. Henry Darcy "Buried" King William's Town (03.07.1879)
7. Edmund O'Toole "Born" Grahamstown (03.07.1879)
8. John Mc Crea Lived Fort Beaufort and Lived, Married & Buried Kokstad. (14.01.1881)
9. Raymond de Montmorency Buried Molteno (02.09.1898)
10. Charles Mullins Buried Grahamstown (21.10.1899)
11. Harace Ramsden Police Grahamstown (26.12.1899)
12. John Milbanke VC Colesberg (05.01.1900)
13. William Hardham VC Naauwpoort (18.01.1901)
14. John Clements Born Middelburg, Cape (24.02.1901)
15. William Faulds Born Cradock (18.07.1916)
16. William Bloomfield Lived in PE as a Child - at school at Lovedale (24.08.1916)
17. John Sherwood-Kelly School in Grahamstown, King William's Town & Queenstown (20.11.1917)
18. Reginald Hayward Born Swartberg, East Griqualand (21.03.1918)
19. Gerard Ross Norton School at Selborne, East London (31.08.1944)
Anyone interested in contributing to John’s research on Victoria Cross recipients with an association with the Eastern Cape is requested to contact him directly at

In April 2015 an e-mail added the following details about no.14:
He was actually John James Clements born 19 June 1872 and died 18 June 1937; he is buried in the town cemetery of Newcastle.
He was married twice, their maiden names being Palmer & Turner.

Researchers and genealogist interested in the ancestors and or dependants of John James Clements, VC., please contact Jeanette at We are urgently looking for more information on his parents, apparently Higgs Clements married to a Mary Pretorius.

History of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles (UMR):
This Armoured Car Regiment will be celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2014. The history of the Regiment has been rewritten and updated to cover the whole of the period between 1864 and 2004. This substantial document in excess of 700 pages, including a representative number of colour and black and white photographs, will be printed and published by a reputable printing house in Pinetown. To help cover the costs, leather-bound and numbered copies of the history will be made available to those members who wish to reserve one. These will include a printed list of the sponsors with names or titles as requested. The selling price is R1 000 per copy and this sponsorship amount is due and payable with the order. Standard copies will be available at the selling price of R500 when published. For further information please contact Lt Col Laurence Palmer at or 083 454 9778.

History of Bethulie:
Members may also be interested in a newly published book Bethulie en die Anglo-Boereoorlog. It is 242 pages long and is self-published at R200 a copy. The author’s e-mail is

Begraafplaas op De Aar:
Paul Els het gerapporteer oor hierdie verwaarloosde begraafplaas, waar tot bene uit die grafte gehaal en op die grafte tussen satanistiese tekeninge geplaas is. Die oorlogsgrafte is ook verniel en meeste van die grafstene is omgestoot. Die toestand is onder die aandag van Charles Ross, die plaaslike hoof van die Statebond se Oorlogsgrafte-kommissie, gebring. Hy was bewus van die situasie en het verduidig dat die Britse Tuin van Herinnering gedurende 2010 opgeknap was. Theo Butler het die begraafplaas gedurende September 2011 besoek en het ondtdek dat die Tuin van Herinnering weer gevandaliseer is.

Future meetings and excursions

SAMHSEC’s next meeting will be at 19h30 on 13th February 2012 at the EP Veteran Car Club. The World at War series episode to be screened from 18h30 is The Bombing of Germany 1939 to 1944. The family member’s military service presentation will be by Alec Grant. The curtain raiser will be ‘The Battle of Algoa 1799’ by Alan Montgomery and the main lecture will be ‘The Military Origins of the Volkswagen Beetle’ by John Lemon.

Members are also reminded of the field trip planned for 25th – 27th May to Fort Fordyce and the Peddie area. Further details are to follow. A field trip to the Queenstown area including the site of the Bulhoek Massacre and the Umzintzani Battlefield is planned for 10th – 12th August.

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn:
Scribes: Anne, Pat and Barry Irwin

Society’s Web address:

South African Military History Society /