South African Military History 


Newsletter No 98 /Nuusbrief Nr 98 November 2012

The open house series, given by John Stevens, was on the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War Battle of Antietam (17th September 1862), known in the Confederacy as the Battle of Sharpsburg. He highlighted the circumstances of the battle and the immense slaughter which took place – the bloodiest day in United States history with 46 000 casualties in total. While the battle itself was tactically inconclusive, it gave President Abraham Lincoln the confidence to announce his Emancipation Proclamation, which discouraged the British and French governments from possible diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy.

The curtain raiser was presented by Yoland Irwin, who showed a series of slides on her trip to Gallipoli in September 2011 when she had joined a tour to several of the main ANZAC sites on the peninsula. Having briefly outlined the reasons for the Dardanelles Campaign and Turkey’s role within the Central Powers Bloc, she highlighted some of the sites visited. Starting with the town of Eceabat, where there is an educational park on Gallipoli, the tour took them to the ANZAC landing points, trench areas and the cemeteries around that section of Gallipoli. These included the Beach, ANZAC Cove, Shrapnel Valley, Lone Pine and Walkers Ridge cemeteries and the trenches along the ridge up to Chunuk Bair. The tour ended at the Turkish and New Zealand war memorials, with views over the beaches and plains up to Suvla bay. Experiencing just one day in autumn of this hot, dry, thirst inducing part of the world gave one a feeling of empathy for the soldiers who fought there nearly 100 years ago.

This part of Turkey is well worth a visit and it is possible to join a longer tour which spends time looking at all areas of Gallipoli as there is much else to see. Particularly worth a mention is the War Museum in Çanakkale (a ferry’s ride over the Dardanelles) where there is an original WW I mine laying vessel used as a floating museum.

The main lecture, titled ‘The Decision’: The story of a military decision rated by modern historians as the most important ever made in the history of the United States was by John Stevens.

On 8th April 1865 Robert E Lee’s legendary Army of Northern Virginia had come to a grinding halt in its quest to withdraw across Virginia and link up with Joe Johnston’s Army of The Tennessee in a desperate bid to oust Federal forces from the South. At Appomattox Courthouse they were virtually surrounded, having failed to break through General Grant’s superior forces. Lee, exhausted, sick with heart disease and, at 58, old by the standards of the day, summoned his general staff for a final decision. On the face of it they had two choices: either make a last stand or surrender on the most favourable terms which could be negotiated.

It was agreed that a last stand would likely result in further needlessly sacrificed young American lives on both sides, and so was rejected although surrender was considered the ultimate shame and unpopular with the general staff. An alternative option, suggested by Lee’s youngest yet highly respected commander, General Porter Alexander, was that the Army of Northern Virginia should disperse and engage in a guerrilla war, enticing the remaining armies of the Confederacy to do likewise. It was argued that this method of action could eventually force the North into giving the South their prized Independence. Lee, having thought it through, responded in the negative by explaining the chaos, misery and destruction that this would cause to North and South alike. General Alexander saw the wisdom of Lee’s response, and later reminisced how clear the situation was made to him and how Lee’s vision was on an altogether higher plane than his own. The decision was thus made to negotiate for terms of surrender. At their meeting, Grant offered very favourable terms which Lee accepted on 9th April, resulting in one of the most dignified and respectful surrender ceremonies ever encountered in the event of a civil war.

A month previously President Lincoln had met with his top military commanders to deliberate the likely ending of the war and the painless reunification of the Confederate States back into the Union. He urged his commanders to offer favourable terms of surrender to all to achieve a speedy and bloodless end to the war if possible. Grant and Sherman, Lincoln’s two senior army commanders accepted this as they were under no illusions as to the dire consequences associated with guerrilla warfare.

The war was not yet over, however, as three Confederate armies with an estimated 175 000 men still remained in the field. After the assassination of Lincoln on 14th April, it took mature and level-headed leadership on the part of individuals such as Sherman and Grant to bring the war to a conclusion a month after Lee’s surrender.

John then speculated on the likely success of guerrilla warfare had the Confederates gone down that road, and whether the Federal resolve could have withstood this. Modern research indicates a sombre picture. It was feasible that the duration of the war could easily have been lengthened to 15 years or longer, in which case the costs to both sides would have rocketed. Severe measures would have had to be implemented to flush the guerrillas out and subdue a supportive population resulting in misery, death and unspeakable civilian hardships.

As it was, the surrendered South entered a period of slow and bitter reunification known as the Reconstruction Period during which martial law was instituted. The Confederate states were only gradually reincorporated into the Union, the last in the 1880s. It was a difficult period which in some ways was worse to bear than the war that had preceded it. The South had physically been virtually destroyed by the war, and the economy shattered. It took the southern states until the early 1940s to recover financially.

It has been speculated that had guerrilla war erupted and destroyed the economy of the North as well, the period of recovery of the total economy could have taken as long as the mid-1990s. John suggested that one might consider the impact on world affairs thereafter had the United States self-destructed in a prolonged guerrilla war. Could the United States have played the role it did in the First and Second World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War? Would, or could the United States have become a super power under these circumstances? It is sobering to consider how the world might have looked today if it had not. It all boils down to a fateful decision made in the space of minutes by an old, exhausted and ill man in a moment of extreme duress, one who still had the vision and foresight to understand the impact of guerrilla war on the nation as a whole, and who had the sheer willpower and presence to lead by example and steer the people of the South towards reconciliation under immensely difficult circumstances. This was, he concluded, indeed a momentous decision that could have changed the face of a nation and maybe the world, all in the space of a few fateful minutes.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkomste en uitstappe

The next meeting is on Saturday 10th November. Meet at the South African Air Force Museum car park at 09h45 for a guided tour of the museum. This will be followed by the end of year ‘bring and braai’ at the same venue from 12h00 – 14h00. Fires will be provided. Please bring everything else you need. The Museum bar will be open for drinks on own account. After lunch, Pat Irwin will give a brief synopsis of SAMHSEC’s first 100 meetings and 22 field trips/outings. Thereafter Fred Oelschig will present a lecture on Winning the war in Eastern Caprivi. There will be no screening of the ‘World at War’ series this month. The Museum is on the south side of PE Airport. It is signposted from Forest Hill Drive.

The December meeting will be on 10th at the usual venue and, as has become tradition, a film will be shown in lieu of lectures. This will be Oh! What a Lovely War. Fellow member Jonathan Ossher notes that while the title suggests a jolly rollicking show with a frivolous war theme, the film contains a darker, more sombre message about World War I. It satirizes the flimsy rationale behind the Great War and subtly condemns the glorification thereof as well as the resulting slaughter. Sometimes farcical, even bordering on the absurd, the message is brought home by means of symbolism. The story traces the fortunes of members of the Smith family who sign up for what they believe will be a fun-filled war which, as we all know, turned out to be anything but. Students of World War I will recognise several historical events behind the drama, but even the most uninitiated will enjoy the sheer artistry of the production. Among the actors are Dirk Bogarde, John Gielgud, Jack Hawkins, Kenneth More, Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Vanessa Redgrave, Ralph Richardson, Maggie Smith, Susannah York and John Mills. The director was Richard Attenborough who went on to make the award-winning film Ghandhi in 1982.

The first meeting of 2013 will be on 14th January. The curtain raiser will be on the tapestry at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria by Stephen Bowker. The main lecture will be The Dicken Medal by Tiaan Jacobs. The screening of the ‘World at War’ series will be Genocide (1941–1945).

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

Individual members’ activities

Malcolm Kinghorn visited the site of the ABW Concentration Camp at Greenpoint and the Cape Garrison Artillery War Memorial at Fort Wynyard. He reports that this memorial is the only one of which he is aware that includes the names of Boer prisoners of war who died in the Anglo-Boer War POW transit camp on the nearby Greenpoint Common, in addition to those of unit members who died on active service.

Drawing on his interest in collecting medals and researching the history of their origins as well as the individuals who received them, Tiaan Jacobs gave a presentation on the Battle of Rorke’s Drift to the Genealogy Society on the 15th October 2012. This included the role of Lieutenant John Rouse Marriot Chard, VC, Royal Engineers, who in 1879 commanded the defence of Rorke’s Drift, and details of the medal and decoration named in his honour.

Notable anniversaries in November /Merkwaardige gedenkdae in Novembe

World War II
Gold ring found in mud leads to lost World War 2 Lancaster bomber
The Sun 13th October 2012 ml

Spitfire Ace shot down over Malta
World War II Today 14th October 1942

Cuban Missile Crisis: 50 years on!
Cuban missile crisis: The other, secret one
BBC News 13th October 2012 Joe Matthews

Vietnam War -- an Australian point of view – with a difference
I was only 19 (ANZAC version) by Redgum
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Afganistan – history in the making
How Harry met Tali... and saved a comrade: Prince's Afghan action
The Sun 14th October 2012

Cyber- and electronic warfare

Alan Turing's cyber-legacy praised by GCHQ chief
BBC News: Technology 4th October 2012 Chris Vallance

Israeli cyber attacks targeted offshore oil, gas platforms – Iran IT head
RT News 8th October 2012

Spooks and spies

Why the best spies in Mossad and the CIA are women
Crossing Borders 30th Sept 2012 Maseena Ziegler

Maritime security

Questions raised over use of private maritime security guards in the Gulf
Australia Network News 20th September

Robotic tuna is built by Homeland Security
Defence Talk 20th September 2012

Hijacked: How the U.N. saved the Somali pirates from the brink of extinction
Foreign Policy 20th September 2012

Books and DVDs of military interest/ Boeke en DVDs van militêre belang

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.

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 opgeneem en 3-dimensionele voorstellings van die kampterrein self. Prys: R160 + R30 posgeld

SAHRA / Erfenisstigting Begraafplaasprojek / Grave yard 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. 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 kunstenaar Willem Boshoff is die aanbieder en daar is ook kontekstuele insetsels deur Prof Fransjohan Pretorius, spesialis oor die Anglo-Boereoorlog en lid van die Erfenisstigting se Navorsingsadviesraad. Die DVD is ongeveer 20 minute lank. Prys: R 50 + R30 posgeld

Monumentale erfenis – ‘n Gids tot 50 Afrikaner-gedenktekens

Die Erfenisstigting het saam met Dr J Grobler 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.

Vir meer inligting oor die inhoud van enige van die publikasies, kontak gerus vir Cecilia Kruger by

Notice of the publication of the following books has also been received:

Africa’s Commandos: The Rhodesian Light Infantry from Border Control to Airborne Strike Force by Mark Adams and Chris Cocks 336 pages, 300 b/w photos, colour illustrations and maps. Published by 30 ° South Publishers/Helion & Co with the collaboration of the Rhodesian Light Infantry Regimental Association. Advertised price: h/c R459.00; p/b R399.00 See:

The Terrible Ones; The complete history of 32 Battalion by Piet Nortje. Two volumes. 1 400 pages, 80 maps and 600 photographs. Based on 10 000 pages of previously classified documents, with over 200 interviews with former 32 Battalion members as well as Portuguese, SWAPO, Angolan, Cuban and Russian soldiers. Published by Random House Struik. Advertised price: R850.00. See:

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

South African Military History Society /