South African Military History 


Newsletter No 88 January/Nuusbrief Nr 88 Januarie 2012

SAMHSEC's 12 December 2011 meeting opened with the family member's military service presentation by Ian Copley on his uncle in the victualling business, Norman Copley, MBE. Ian's uncle began in a Yorkshire co-op butchery, attending night school. He then went to get his 'meat ticket' as an inspector in Montreal. Thereafter he joined the Admiralty and was posted to Bermuda in the late nineteen thirties. He mentioned secret monitoring of visiting German ships. Just before WW2 he was at Plymouth Naval Dockyard, following which he was on Malta during the siege from 1940 to 1942. After a brief spell of leave in England, he was posted to Ceylon for the remainder of the war. A preserved letter of recommendation gives some idea of the duties of a naval victualling service officer - food packing and preservation, refrigeration, transportation to and from ships, condemning, wharfing and dealing with shipping agents. In 1943 he was awarded the MBE [civil]. After the war he was stationed in Bath and then, in the fifties, went to Gibraltar and, before retirement, was at Admiralty House in London, doing the job once held by Samuel Pepys, but without the perks. His pay was on the level of Captain RN. He was tennis champion on all three islands on which he served and, whilst in London, won the Admiralty championships against an opponent half his age. The rest of the meeting was devoted to the film Sink the Bismarck!, a 1960 black-and-white British war film based on the book, the "Last Nine Days of the Bismarck" by C.S. Forester. To date, it is the only film that deals directly with the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck by the Royal Navy during WW2.

During the postwar period, war films were the staple of the British film industry. Sink the Bismarck! was something of an anomaly with as much time devoted to back-room planners as to combatants and in that respect for the enemy was depicted. For the most part, the film's historical accuracy was praised by reviewers, despite a number of inconsistencies.

Film writer Edmund North adhered closely to Forester's work, while compressing events and time lines. A documentary technique was used, switching back-and-forth from an insular war room to on board remote warships. The use of the American radio correspondent Edward R. Murrow re-enacting his wartime broadcasts from London, contributed to the air of authenticity and near-documentary feel. The film was made as the last major wartime fleet ships were being retired from service. Producer John Brabourne used his influence as son-in-law of Lord Mountbatten, then Chief of the Defence Staff, to obtain the co-operation of the Admiralty. The soon-to-be scrapped battleship HMS Vanguard provided some remarkable footage of a capital ship's 15" gun turrets in action for scenes aboard HMS Hood and HMS King George V. The museum ship HMS Belfast was used to depict the bridge and triple 6" gun turrets of HMS Sheffield and for scenes aboard the other cruisers involved. A reserve Dido class cruiser was used as the set for Bismarck's destruction.

The aircraft carrier HMS Victorious briefly played herself and was also used to depict HMS Ark Royal sailing from Gibraltar. Flying from both carriers with three restored Fairey Swordfish aircraft was filmed on board HMS Centaur. Two of these aircraft are still flying in the Royal Navy Historic Flight.

The destroyers used to depict the torpedo night attacks were C class HMS Cavalier and Battle Class HMS Hogue. These were the last classes of destroyer built during the war and the last to have the classic War Emergency Programme destroyers' outline. HMS Cavalier remained in service until 1972, the last RN destroyer to have served in WW2 and is now preserved at Chatham Dockyard to commemorate all these vessels.

The large models of the major warships Bismarck, HMS Hood, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS King George V, HMS Rodney and the County class cruisers, used in the film were generally accurate. Footage of models in a studio tank was mixed with wartime footage and staged sequences using available warships.

Sink the Bismarck! was well received by the public and, according to box office receipts, was the most popular film in Great Britain in 1960.

Following the success of the evening, the meeting decided that SAMHSEC should go to the movies again for its 10 December 2012 meeting. The National Committee of the SA Military History Society has awarded Honorary Life Membership of the Society to SAMHSEC chairman, Malcolm Kinghorn, in recognition of his role in SAMHSEC's development. Malcolm wishes to record his appreciation for the honour and recognise the contributions of Dennis Hibberd and Ian Pringle, both of whom have served on the SAMHSEC Committee since its inception.

Notice is given of SAMHSEC's AGM to be held at 1930 on 12 March 2012 at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. Nominations for service on the 2012 SAMHSEC committee are invited & are to be submitted to the Scribe.

SAMHSEC's next meeting will be on 9 January 2012 at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The World at War episode will be Red Star: The Soviet Union 1941 to 1943. The family member's military service series presentation will be by Ian Pringle. The curtain raiser will be The Battle of the Rufiji River by Peter Duffel-Canham. The main lecture will be British Forces in Kuwait in 1961 by Ian Copley.

Malcolm Kinghorn.
082 331 6223

South African Military History Society /