South African Military History Society

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NEWSLETTER - AUGUST 2013

Sixty-two hardy souls braved a bitterly cold Highveld evening to attend the July meeting. In the absence of both the Chairlady and Deputy Chairman, both on holiday overseas, the meeting was opened and conducted by the immediate Past Chairman, Ivor Little.

Ivor commenced by reminding those present of the Society's upcoming tour of the war graves and monuments at Johannesburg's West Park, Braamfontein and Brixton cemeteries. This outing will take place on Saturday, 17 August and those wishing to attend, at a cost of R10 per head, should meet at West Park cemetery at 10h30. The tour guides will be Committee Member David Scholtz and Captain Charles Ross of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Further details will be available at the next meeting or from the Secretary.

Ivor then also gave details of the Heritage Day (24 September) excursion to Val. This will be a full day outing and members will be kept informed of the arrangements.

He then introduced the curtain-raiser speaker for the evening. This was Mr Marius Whittle, a keen amateur military historian with post-graduate degrees in Strategic Studies and International Politics. His subject was "British Command and Control during the Battle of Goose Green".

The battle of Goose Green was the first major land conflict of the Falklands War in 1982 and Marius' talk was less about the battle than the style of command used by the British.

Using a top-class illustrated computer presentation, Marius explained how the 2nd Parachute Regiment took part in this engagement. They were landed by sea at San Carlos Bay on the west coast of East Falkland and then ordered south to take the narrow isthmus between San Carlos and Darwin. This entailed dislodging the Argentine garrison at the hamlet of Goose Green, which stood astride the isthmus.

Because of the loss of transport helicopters with the sinking of the Atlantic Conveyor, the 2nd Parachute Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel H Jones, would have to march on its objective on foot, each man carrying two days' rations, weapons and ammunition. Facing them after this march would be the Argentine 12 Regiment, under the command of Vicecomodoro Wilson Pedroza, and heavily entrenched. These Argentine troops also threatened the bridgehead at San Carlos, as well as blocking all access further south. The British regiment set off on the night of 26 May 1982 and arrived opposite the Argentine defences on the night of 27 May. After a quick reconnaissance, Jones decided on a plan of attack.

Using excellent and easy to understand maps, Marius then detailed each phase of the subsequent battle. In so doing, he also stressed Colonel Jones' typical British Staff College approach to the action.

Jones set up a two-pronged attack and at the same time moved forward with his troops and a small tactical headquarters. They rapidly overran the first of a series of three Argentine defensive lines and, while attacking the second, Jones was shot twice and killed by shots from the trench behind him. For his gallantry in leading his men in this furious attack, Jones was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Command now devolved upon the second in command of the regiment, Major Chris Keeble.

Marius was at pains to explain that Keeble's approach was completely different and based on a German concept of command in the field. Keeble was far more cautious and methodical than Jones and, by a series of masterful deployments, succeeded in bring the action to a successful conclusion with minimum casualties. The defences across the isthmus crumbled; Darwin was taken and the San Carlos bridgehead expanded into a full-scale push towards Port Stanley. For the loss of 17 parabat casualties killed, the regiment took 983 Argentine prisoners of war and killed 200.

At the conclusion of this well-presented and interesting talk, Ivor allowed a brief question period and then announced the main speaker for the evening. This was Dr Arnold van Dyk, a distinguished member of the medical profession and a specialist in radiology. He is also a keen amateur historian, specialising in the Boer War, and a member of the Council of the War Museum of the Boer Republics in Bloemfontein. The subject of his lecture was "The Diary of Lt-Colonel Harry Scobell of the Scots Greys".

Using a computer presentation and quoting from Scobell's diary, Arnold commenced with a bit of background. Lt. Colonel Henry (Harry) Jenner Scobell is generally credited as the British Cavalry officer who had the most success against the Boer Guerrillas in the Cape Colony during the Anglo-Boer War. He was born in London on 2 January, 1851 and was the second oldest of six children. His family was wealthy and Harry attended Eton College and in 1878 joined the British Army as a 2nd Lt. in the Worcestershire Militia. Ten months later he transferred to the Royal Montgomeryshire Rifles. In 1879 he moved on to the 20th Hussars for a month before ending up in the Royal Scots Greys. He was promoted to Lieutenant in November 1880 and to Captain in 1886. He then seems to have landed in a bit of financial trouble, after getting married, and in 1888 he moved out of his elite cavalry regiment to become Adjutant of the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry. A few years later, in 1894, he rejoined the Royal Scots Greys and was promoted to Major the following year.

In January 1900 Scobell was with his regiment in South Africa, as Commander of C Squadron, providing security along the British lines of communication between the Orange and Modder Rivers. In the course of the relief of Kimberley he took part in an engagement at Dromfield. His squadron suffered heavy casualties but Scobell showed a high degree of leadership and courage. He then took part in the Battle of Paardeberg where he captured a Boer position at Kudusrand and had his name brought to the attention of General French. This was followed by the Battle of Poplar Grove where he was briefed personally by Lord Roberts, thereafter following up and assaulting Abrahamskraal. This position was strongly defended and Scobell's men suffered two casualties in the attack. He followed this up with an attack on a series of Boer-held ridges, the most prominent being Slypsteenberg, which was also eventually carried.

In the subsequent advance towards Bloemfontein, Scobell was particularly active and once again complimented by French and brought to Roberts' attention. He and his squadron participated in the Battle of Zand River; the occupation of Pretoria and the Battle of Diamond Hill (Donkerhoek), On 11 July 1900 he was part of a British force which took part in the Battle of Silkaatsnek, where he was captured by a Boer force under General de la Rey, making a daring escape in broad daylight.

The war then entered its guerrilla phase and Scobell and his men criss-crossed the Transvaal in a series of forced marches. On 1 December 1900 he was given command of the 1st Regiment of Brabant's Horse. Shortly thereafter the Boers invaded the Cape Colony. It was now that Scobell came into his element and Arnold explained how, by using a sophisticated intelligence network and adopting a course of unrelenting pursuit, Scobell harried the Boer guerrillas in the Cape. He chased Hertzog and de Wet around the Northern Cape and was also given command of Kitchener's Fighting Scouts to make up a column of between 1 300 and 1 400 men, with six guns and a pom-pom

His reputation grew as he harried Boer leaders such as Fouche, Kritzinger, Scheepers and Malan in the Eastern Cape. He was particularly hard on Scheepers and a few desperate encounters occurred as the two forces clashed, with Scobell gaining the upper hand. He was promoted to Lt. Colonel and given more troops with which he captured Commandant Lotter and his entire Commando. He then went after General Smuts and in the course of this chase captured a young Boer named Baxter dressed in British khaki and had him summarily executed. The same thing happened a few months later with a captive named Piet Bester and these two executions later became a form of controversy and blighted his later career.

In November 1901 he started showing signs of ill-health, because of overwork, as by that time his force had grown to over 2 000 men and seven guns. Eventually he was hospitalised with a heart problem and given six months' leave. He also received a mention in despatches for his capture of the Lotter Commando. At the end of 1902 he was given command of the Royal Scots Greys. His service with Sir John French counted in his favour and in April 1903 he was made a full Colonel; a Brigadier General six months later and then Major General commanding the Cavalry at Aldershot. Here he blotted his copybook once again, because of womanising and inexperience of high command, which led to the annual cavalry manoeuvres at Aldershot being a complete shambles. He was summarily relieved of his command and at the age of 50 was sent out to the Cape Colony as General Officer Commanding.

In 1904 he became a Companion of the Bath and in 1908 Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. In December 1911 Scobell contracted enteric fever and died at his home "The Woolsack" in Cape Town on 3 February 1912, at the age of 53. (The Woolsack is today a students' residence.) His body was shipped to England and, on 26 February 1912, was buried with full military honours at Aldershot. There is a plaque to his memory in St George's Cathedral in Cape Town.

Scobell was a dashing and tireless cavalry commander who, unfortunately, was unable to exercise higher command and was found wanting at that level.

After the usual question period, Ivor called upon committee member Peter-James Smith to thank both speakers and then closed the meeting.

Ivor Little
Scribe

Congratulations

To the Editor of our Military History Journal, Susanne Blendulf, and her partner Richard Henry, on the birth of their son on Friday 26th July.

Journals

June Journals will have been posted to all paid-up members by the time this newsletter is distributed. If you have not paid your will receive a reminder Invoice - please check your bank records as there are at least two deposits without any surname to allow the deserved crediting to be made.

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Forthcoming Lectures

Johannesburg:

8th August:
CR: Marion Mangold Hubert's Descent by Silk 1942
ML: Alan Mantle Scapa Flow & History beneath the Waves

12th September:
CR: John Bleloch The Lion of the West : de la Rey
ML: John Parkinson HMS Durban in the Mediterranean 1934-36

KZN in Durban:

8th August:
DDH Dr Alex Coutts Shaka: The appearance and character of the Zulu King
Main Bill Brady HMS Glorious

12th September::
Ross Cairns Julius Caesar's Invasion of Gaul
(Note: Ross is a student at Kearsney College).
Roy Bowman The Naval Battles of the Guadalcanal Part 1

Cape Town:

15th August 2013:
Willem Steenkamp "DAAR KOM DIE (CSS) ALABAMA"

SAMHSEC:

Monday 12th Aug at 1930 in the EP Veteran Car Club.
Curtain raiser: Andre Crozier 1939 to 1941: South Africa's Finest Hour?
Main lecture: John Parkinson HMS Hermes: Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf in 1941
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BRANCH CONTACT DETAILS

For Cape Town details contact Ray Hattingh 021-592-1279 (am) ray@saarp.co.za
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469 culturev@lantic.net
For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Ken Gillings 031-702-4828 ken.gillings@mweb.co.za
For Gauteng details contact Joan Marsh 010-237-0676 scribe@samilitaryhistory.org

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