South African Military History 


Newsletter No 92 May 2012/Nuusbrief Nr 92 Mei 2012

Batting on the new ‘open house’ series was opened by Mac Alexander on ‘Major Adrian Hope’. Son of the founding Headmaster of three of the Milner Schools (Pretoria Boys’ High, Jeppe Boys’ High and the High School for Boys, Potchefstroom), he served in the First World War as an officer in the Indian Army, was a former Rhodes Scholar and an advocate at the Johannesburg bar.  During the Second World War he commanded a small mobile unit known as ‘Hope Force’ in the desert and volunteered for ‘special duties’ in August 1943.  He joined Force 133, parachuted into Yugoslavia at least once and possibly twice to work with partisans in 1944, and was then transferred to No 1 Special Force, parachuting behind the German lines in Northern Italy in 1945.  Hope trained and worked with the partisans on numerous operations before he died in a shooting accident in the village of Cisterna d’Asti, where the town square is now named after him.  His son, serving with the 6th SA Armoured Division, reached the village where his father died just two weeks later.

The curtain raiser was presented by Ian Copley on the ‘Mystery of Veldt Kornet Cornelius Francis Kruger’ The setting was the ambush at Kalkheuwel Pass in the Magaliesberg in June 1900 during the final stage of the conventional phase of the Anglo-Boer War.

Cmdt. Sarel Petrus du Toit’s convoy aimed to cut off General French’s cavalry wing from its western flanking move on Pretoria and just managed to reach Kalkheuwel Pass first and set an ambush in the late afternoon of 3 June 1900. During the engagement three cavalrymen and, according to various estimates, between 22 and 35 Boers were killed, the latter probably mostly due to shelling of the hillsides with shrapnel. Among these were two Veldt Kornets, one of whom was buried in the pass and the other, Kruger, at Silkaatsnek on the Magaliesberg. On the morning following the ambush, Du Toit’s column was seen heading for Broederstroom with all haste. Where he went after that is not known: west towards Rustenburg; East towards Pretoria; or northwards over Silkaatsnek into the ‘wilderness’ of the Northern Transvaal. The fact that Kruger was buried at the foot of the Silkaatsnek suggests the latter. An elaborate tombstone was to be found there, not far from the original military cemetery for the casualties of two battles at Silkaatsnek.

In 1997 representatives of the Pretoria University Fisiese Antropologie Navorsingsgroep visited the site to exhume the remains and found only a shallow collapsed kist made of local shale containing one piece of bone, a hinged copper purse frame and a fragment of army-type webbing. It is not known when the actual exhumation took place or where the remains were taken for reburial. Finding a loose piece of bone, possibly from a digit, suggests exhumation happened a long time after burial. Excavations round the burial site went on for a week without finding anything more, which was only to be expected in the undisturbed boulder clay. To date the site of his reburial has not been found.

Papers of 1902 give details of Kruger’s parents, already deceased, and of his wife. He had had 12 children, of which only three survived, the others having died at an early age. In 1903 his estate was found to be insolvent to the value of £1 200. Two months later his wife gained a certificate to remarry.

[For those interested in a fuller description of the action, see Ian’s ‘Ambush at Kalkheuwel Pass, 3 June 1900’ in the Military History Journal 9 (4) 113 – 123 December 1993.]

The main lecture was by Barry de Klerk entitled ‘How (not) to buy a gun’. Barry prefaced his well illustrated presentation by observing that while he would not want to accuse our government of efficiency, it has to be said that compared to some arms purchases the much maligned South African arms deal was not that bad.

The talk focused on a number of arms acquisitions which did not go as planned: two separate UK programmes relating to the Nimrod, the US Army LHX helicopter programme, the F-22 and F-35 programmes, the Dassault Rafale and the Eurofighter programmes.

The reasoning behind the Nimrod MRA4 programme was no doubt that an upgrade of what most British authors always described as the best Maritime Patrol aircraft in the world would be a logical way to go. In retrospect it seems that basing a twenty first century warplane on a design which dates back to the forties was perhaps not so wise. By the time the programme was cancelled it was years behind schedule and over budget – the cost was £3 600 million i.e. £400 million per aircraft. It did not help that a Nimrod engaged in electronic surveillance over Afghanistan exploded while being refuelled in the air, killing everybody on board.

After the programme was cancelled, the existing Nimrod force was grounded as part of defence cuts, meaning that the UK, with a very proud naval tradition, now has no maritime patrol aircraft. Even South Africa, with the ancient and rather ineffectual C-47TP, is better equipped. When the Russian navy visited the UK recently the US Navy had to send a P-3 Orion to observe them. Ironically the warfare system of the new Nimrod was made by Boeing, whose P-8 Poseidon is now entering service with the US Navy, and will do the same job for India. At roughly $224 million each, this aircraft, based on the Boeing 737, costs a fraction of what the Nimrod would have cost, and it actually seems to work.

The Nimrod MRA4 was not the first Nimrod based disaster. In the seventies the RAF realised that it urgently needed a replacement for their Avro Shackleton AEW aircraft. Judging that the Boeing E-3 would be too late, they embarked on their potentially superior Nimrod AEW. A catalogue of failure resulted: the radar did not work and the aircraft did not have the electric or cooling capacity to cope with the radar. The programme slipped years behind schedule. Finally, a billion pounds later, Britain, like NATO, bought the E-3 AWACS, which works.

The US Army LHX helicopter programme was a 22 year disaster. With the customer not sure what it wanted, the massive programme which was supposed to produce a new generation utility and scout/attack helicopter, ended up producing an attack helicopter twice as large as initially envisaged and which the customer no longer wanted. The programme continually chased its tail. Eventually the army decided it no longer wanted a stealthy scout helicopter as the AH-64 was all the attack helicopter they needed and scouting could be better done with UAVs. This meant $6.7 Billion down the drain.

The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor is the most expensive fighter in history, and if the Americans are to be believed, the best by a long chalk. Only once in exercises has it been beaten by the F-15C. Problems with the oxygen system, however, have led to both a crash and full force grounding, so who needs enemies?

Beyond suffering from the same oxygen problem as the F-22, the F-35 also suffers from structural problems and overweight. Inevitably it is years behind schedule and over budget. It is only really stealthy from the front, and not stealthy when carrying weapons externally. Thanks to the delays, the Australians bought themselves the F-18E/F Hornet to fill the gap following the retirement of their F-111 Aardvark, although like the F-35, this aircraft can certainly not fly the missions the F-111 could.

The two European fighter programmes are examples of what happens when such programmes are starved of money, and also of how everything seems to take longer than it used to. In the forties Lockheed designed and flew the P-80 in a matter of weeks. The Rafale and the Eurofighter were, by contrast, conceived in the eighties, first flew in the nineties, entered service early this century, and have only now reached maturity. At the moment the Eurofighter Typhoon is the better fighter, outperforming the Rafale especially due to more powerful engines. The Rafale on the other hand is a better multirole, or as the French would put it, omnirole aircraft.

During the Libyan conflict both these aircraft flew long missions of five hours and more, both as Combat Air Patrols and as ground attack. These missions involved multiple flight refuelling. Due to budget restraints, the RAF had to use instructors to fly bombing missions on their Eurofighter Typhoons, because few other pilots were qualified to do so. The Rafale could fly several different missions at the same time, with an aircraft carrying air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles and recce pods as well. An example of the systems integration on the Rafale is that it can use the infra-red seekers on the MICA air-to-air missile for surveillance.

These were just some of the many programmes which did not work out as well as planned, although there is hope for the struggling F-35. Some very successful programmes have had less than excellent starts. An F-14 prototype crashed, the F-111 suffered losses the first time it was deployed in Vietnam and the Boeing C-17 had so many problems that it was referred to as Buddha – it was fat, sat on the ground, and one was not allowed to criticize it. Now there are more C-17s in service and on order than the US Air Force ever thought they might need, while the aircraft has been exported to several other countries.

Future meetings and excursions

SAMHSEC’s next meeting will be on 14th May 2012 at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser by Anne Irwin is titled ‘Solferino’. The main lecture will be by Franco Cilliers on ‘The Battle of Jutland’. The screening of the ‘World at War’ series will be Home Fires: Britain (1940–1944) at 18h30 preceding the main meeting at 19h30.

Matters of general interest

In Memoriam

It is with sadness that we report the passing of SAMHSEC founding member Clive Malkin on 14 April 2012. SAMHSEC’s condolences have been extended to Marjorie and her family.

We also note the passing of Admiral Hugo Biermann, former Chief of the South African Navy and Head of the SADF, on 27 March 2012 at the age of 95 years.

Gedenkmuur by Oorlogsmuseum en Vrouemonument

Die volgende het in ‘n tydskrif, Ditsem Vrystaat, by verskyn:
’n Gedenkmuur met die name van 4 350 burgers wat tydens die Anglo-Boere-oorlog te velde gesterf het, is op 18/03/2012, op die terrein van die Oorlogsmuseum en Vrouemonument onthul. Dit bestaan uit 20 granietpanele met die name van burgers wat te velde weens noodlottige gevegskontak, wonde, siektes en ander redes  beswyk het. Die naamlys is ná omvattende navorsing deur die Oorlogsmuseum sedert 1990 opgestel. Die gedenkmuur is die eerste wat alle name van gestorwe burgers te velde bevat. Vir meer inligting, skakel 051-447 3447, e-pos of besoek

Bertus Steenkamp verwittig dat Elria Wessels, ‘n senior navorser by die Oorlogsmuseum in Bloemfontein, soos volg na aanleiding van die bogenoemde verklaar:  “Nadat ek die lyste van SAHRA, burgergrafte en ook die burgergraftekorrespondensie en gedenktekens by kerke deurgewerk het en ook na sterfkennisse gekyk en kruiskontroleer het, is die volgende burgers dood te velde:  3 033 te velde; 463 aan siektes; 485 aan wonde; 398 dood aan diens.”

Members’ activities

Andre Crozier recently visited Smuts House in Irene. He reminds us that the house is basically an ex Anglo-Boer War British Army mess built of wood and corrugated iron and was erected at its present site in 1909. General Smuts lived there from 1909 until his death in 1950 and his wife (Ouma Smuts) until her death in 1954. It, together with the farm, was their pride and joy even though the large house was uncomfortable to live in for it was hot in summer and freezing in winter. That a leader of such stature was happy to live in a wood and iron house is by today’s standards quite amazing and that Smuts entertained Heads of State and Royalty in this house is even more remarkable.

The house itself is just as it was when Smuts lived there. The floors and furniture are all polished and dusted and one imagines that the General could be returning from the Union Buildings at any moment. In reality however the house was apparently always rather untidy with grandchildren running around and books and magazines lying everywhere. After exploring the house one can relax and have lunch under the trees. There is also an attractive camping and caravan park on the site.

Saved from demolition by a group of ex-servicemen, the house exists and is being maintained, without any State support, by the General Smuts Foundation. Anyone can join the Friends of the General Smuts Foundation which raises funds among other activities. This is an indication that if communities want to preserve their heritage they have to club together and do so out of their own pockets.

When next in the Johannesburg or Pretoria area, it is well worth a visit. From the R21 take the Irene turnoff and follow the signs to Smuts House (about 9 km). The Foundation may be contacted at Tel: +27(0)12 667 1176/1180. The website is: Assistance required

Mike Duncan was contacted by John Lemon, who was asked by someone from SAMHSEC to repeat his talk on the Military origins of the VW Beetle to another organisation. He has mislaid this person's contact details. If anyone is able to respond, John's 'phone number is 041-3604422.

Some notable anniversaries in May

31st May is a significant day in South African history. In 1902 it marked the official end of the Anglo-Boer War with the Treaty of Vereeniging (which was actually signed at Melrose House in Pretoria). On 31st May 1910 the Union of South Africa came into being and until 1960 the day was celebrated as Union Day. On the same day in 1961 South Africa became a Republic and the day was celebrated as Republic Day until 1994.

During May 1779 fighting erupted between Trekboere and the amaGwali, marking the start of the First Frontier War.

24 – 26 May 1842 saw the Battles of Congella and The Point during the Trekker siege of the embryo settlement at Durban.

Several battles of the Anglo-Boer War took place in May, some of the relatively significant ones being Biddulphsberg, Doornkop, Holkrans, Lindley (Yeomanry Hill), Sand River, Scheepersnek and Vlakfontein. The 17th May 1900 marked the end of the seven-month Siege of Mafeking.

Websites of interest

WW II Colditz Escape BBC News UK 26/3/2012

Promoting historical awareness and making money
Napoleon – the theme park
BBC News Magazine 26/3/2012

Pomp, Circumstance and Manure
A day in the Life of the Royal Household Cavalry
The Daily Beast 29/3/2012

Rhodesian Bush War
Those with an interest in the Rhodesian Bush War might want to look at this site:

Books of military historical interest

Moorhouse Geoffrey 2006 Great Harry’s Navy: How Henry VIII gave England sea power London Orion Books ISBN 10 0-7538-2099-4

While not designated military history per se, this book is very much about the subject as it unpacks the political and social history, as well as the mores, of the time in as far as they affected the development of today’s Royal Navy. More than about ships and battles (naval, land and amphibian), it examines the establishment of British sea power during the 16th century and King Henry’s abiding interest in his navy. The years 1545/6 mark in many ways the coming of age of the ‘Navy Royal’ as it was then. They are symbolic of the transition from oars to sail, the effective establishment of superior naval gunnery and effective structural changes in the administration of the fleet. The latter aspect which endures, with modification and adaptation up to the present day, was in every way just as important as the advance and development of naval technology. For those interested in such matters, this book is a gem. Broad ranging and informative, it is packed with interesting information, insights and anecdotes.

New books and DVDs on the market
Generaal Gert Opperman, Besturende Direkteur van Die Erfenisstigting, het die volgende besonderhede onder ons aandag gebring: Die Erfenisstigting was die afgelope tyd by verskeie opwindende aksies betrokke met die spesifieke doel om Suid-Afrikaners bewus te maak van hulle erfenis en die bewaring daarvan. Die aksies het uiteindelik gekulmineer in drie produkte wat nou by die Afrikaanse Winkel bestel kan word.
1. Doornbultkonsentrasiekampterrein DVD
Dinokeng Productions het pas namens die Erfenisstigting ‘n insiggewende produksie oor hierdie terrein voltooi. Die DVD wat net oor die 50 minute lank is, vertel die storie van hierdie besonderse terrein (met verwysing na ander kampe) met behulp van foto’s, Mev Rina Wiid se eie vertellinge, bandopnames van ‘kampkinders’ in die vroeë 1980s en 3-dimensionele voorstellings van die kampterrein self. Prys: R160 + R30 posgeld

2. SAHRA / Erfenisstigting Begraafplaasprojek / Graveyard Project
Dié DVD deur De Kat TV vervaardig, illustreer die instandhoudings-en herstelwerk wat die Grafte-span van die Erfenisstigting namens die Suid-Afrikaanse Erfenishulpbronagentskap (SAEHA) verrig het. Die terreine wat tydens die verfilming besoek is, is Heidelberg (Jacobs en Fenter Straat begraafplase) asook die konsentrasiekampbegraafplase van Vereeniging, Winburg, Klerksdorp en Krugersdorp. Laastens is besoek gebring aan die Kerkstraat-begraafplaas in Pretoria. Die DVD is ongeveer 20 minute lank. Prys: R50 + R30 posgeld

3. J.Grobler: Monumentale erfenis – ‘n Gids tot 50 Afrikaner-gedenktekens
Die Erfenisstigting het 50 monumente landswyd gekies, wat kortliks bespreek word. Dit is gerieflik ingedeel volgens die hoofroetes van ons land en dien as reisgids vir die belangstellende toeris. Dit vertel die “geskiedenis agter die strukture en stel ouers en kinders in staat om al reisende hulle geskiedenis te herontdek”. Volledige inligting m.b.t. die ligging van die monumente, toeganklikheid en kostes aan toegang word ook verskaf. Prys: R130 + R30 posgeld

Kontak Mev Hannetjie Gerber vir meer inligting en bestellings by of skakel 012-323-0682 / 012-326-6770.

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


South African Military History Society /