There was a surprisingly large turn-out for the April meeting, considering that it was also the Annual General Meeting, a function which members normally avoid. The Chairlady, Marjorie Dean, remarked on this unusually good attendance when she opened the meeting. She then asked all present to share a reflective moment as she paid tribute to those members of the SA National Defence Force who had recently lost their lives in the Central African Republic and the helicopter crash in the Kruger National Park. The Society extends condolences to their families and loved ones.
This done, she opened the Gauteng Branch's Annual General Meeting. It is sufficient to say, in summing up the proceedings, that the Branch is in good shape. The membership and attendance at meetings is growing and the annual subscription remains the same as last year. Mrs Marjorie Dean was re-elected as National Chairlady and Mr Peter James-Smith was elected to the Committee to fill the0 vacancy left by the retirement of Bob Smith. The remaining members of the Committee were re-elected en bloc.
Marjorie paid tribute to Bob Smith, who has served with distinction on the Committee for many years, both as Chairman and tour organiser and then presented him and his wife, Joyce, with gifts of appreciation from the Branch. She then asked Colin Dean to step forward and announce the winners of the prizes for the best lectures of the past year. The prize for best curtain-raiser went to Terry Willson for his talk on "The British Lee Enfield Rifle" and to Judge Kathie Satchwell for her winning main lecture on "The Great War and Remembrance". The prizes, which consisted of framed certificates and cash awards, were presented by Mrs Lyn Mantle, the lecture convenor.
Marjorie then closed the AGM and issued a notice regarding an Anglo-Boer War weekend in Richmond, Cape, on 30 May/1 June 2013. Further details can be obtained from the Secretary, Joan Marsh.
It was thereafter time to commence the main lecture of the evening and Marjorie then introduced Mr Pierre du Toit, a keen amateur South African military historian, with the focus on East Africa. Pierre's subject of choice was "SMS Konigsberg" and, using an excellent animated Power Point presentation, Pierre told the history of this ship.
In 1912 the German colony of German East Africa, (modern day Tanzania), was a flourishing one and very capably governed by Governor, Heinrich Albert Schnee. He foresaw that the growing conflicts in Europe could lead to war and requested that the aged steam and sail light cruiser SMS Geier be replaced with something more modern to defend the colony. This request met with a favourable reaction and in April 1914 the much more modern light cruiser SMS Konigsberg was despatched from Germany to replace SMS Geier.
The Konigsberg had been completed in Kiel in June 1906 and was well armed and capable of a speed of 23 knots, which was fast for a coal-burning ship of the period. Her first commission was with the High Seas Fleet based in Wilhelmshaven, from where she was detached for her service in the Indian Ocean under the command of a Captain Loof. The voyage out was a leisurely one and the ship called at Almeira in Spain; Cagliari in Corsica and then Naples, Italy, where she joined briefly with the German Mediterranean Fleet. Moving on to Malta and then Mersin in Turkey, she transited the Suez Canal, stopped at Aden and finally arrived in Dar es Salaam on 6 June 1914. There was a brief idyllic colonial interlude as the war clouds gathered and in July 1914 Loof received news that the British Cape Cruiser Squadron was in Mauritius. Its commander, Rear Admiral Herbert King-Hall, was equally aware of the imminent outbreak of hostilities and determined to blockade the Konigsberg in Dar es Salaam. Loof was just as determined not to allow this to happen and at 16h30 on 31 July 1914 sailed from Dar es Salaam. He almost immediately encountered the British squadron, consisting of HM ships Hyacinth, Pegasus and Astraea. They immediately took up station around the Konigsberg and, keeping a steady distance apart of 3 000 yards, tailed along in company at a sedate 12 knots.
The Konigsberg quietly built up a full head of steam and, when the group entered a rain squall, put on a burst of full speed while simultaneously doubling back on its course. In those pre-radar days, it was thus a simple matter to lose the British ships and disappear into the Indian Ocean. Loof headed for the Gulf of Aden and on 6 August 1914, after the declaration of war, stopped and captured the British cargo liner City of Winchester. He took her as a prize and the two ships moved along to the coast of Oman where they met up with three other German ships, one of them being the collier Somalia. Loof replenished his coal bunkers from her; the ships dispersed; Loof sank the City of Winchester and then moved on back to the Gulf of Aden.
This was a fruitless move as by now the word was out that the German ships Konigsberg and Emden were raiding in the Indian Ocean and all British and French merchant ships were kept in port. Loof then headed for Ras Hafun in Somalia where he once again replenished his bunkers from the Somalia. He then headed down to the French colony of Madagascar. His target was the port of Majunga, which he found empty, so he once again rendezvoused with the Somalia, this time off Aldebra Island. Heavy weather made coaling impossible so the two ships headed off to the Rufiji River delta in German East Africa. This large river was considered un-navigable but had in fact been surveyed by the German ship Mowe and found navigable.
The Konigsberg and Somalia worked their way up this river as far as the village of Salale where they berthed. The German steamer President was dispatched from Dar es Salaam with stores, as was the tug Adjutant with several lighters. On 19 September Loof received news that there was a British warship in Zanzibar. This was HMS Pegasus under command of Commander John Ingles. She was carrying out a boiler cleaning and while she was thus immobilised Ingles used the armed tug Helmuth to watch over the harbour approaches. At 05h00 on 20 September the Helmuth was suddenly confronted by the Konigsberg which drove past her and submitted the Pegasus to a hail of fire, which resulted in her sinking at 13h00. It was Loof's intention to move south and raid the South African coast but unfortunately the Konigsberg suffered a broken piston rod and he returned to his base on the Rufiji for repairs.
The British now launched a major and unsuccessful hunt for Loof and his ship. However, by a stroke of good fortune, Captain Drury-Lowe, in HMS Chatham, captured the German tug Adjutant. She was headed for a rendezvous with the German merchant ship President in Lindi Bay, south of the Rufiji delta. The Chatham followed this up and found the President. Her log showed that she had delivered a cargo of coal which had then been taken up the Rufiji in lighters. This was the prelude to an eight and a half month campaign, the longest recorded naval engagement. Drury-Lowe and a squadron of three cruisers made their way to the Rufiji delta and lookouts reported the Somalia about three miles up the river, with the upper works of a much bigger ship further upstream. The British were unable to venture into the river as the local inhabitants confirmed that the banks of the river were heavily fortified and the river itself probably mined.
On 2 November the British ships opened fire but scored no hits. Loof moved his ships further upstream and the British settled in for a lengthy blockade. In February 1915 the British battleship Goliath appeared on the scene, engaged the Germans for an entire day and then left with engine trouble, without registering a single hit. Several days later Chatham managed to hit and set the Somalia ablaze; the latter sunk.
The next effort was an attempt to block the channel by sinking the collier Newbridge across it, but the Newbridge was sunk in the wrong channel. The British then sent cutters up the river but these were forced back by the German land forces.
It was now decided to get at the Konigsberg from the air and various types of seaplanes and flying boats were brought to the delta but proved of no use. Two shallow draft monitors, HMS ships Mersey and Severn were also brought in and on 6 July they entered the river, coming under intense fire from both the German shore forces and the Konigsberg. Although they had an aircraft spotting for them, both ships were badly damaged and forced to withdraw, after scoring four inconclusive hits. A bombing attack by the aircraft also proved futile.
On 11 July they tried again, this time after carefully rehearsing a spotting routing. The monitors opened fire and Konigsberg replied. The Mersey was hit and forced to withdraw but, aided by her spotter aircraft and a shortage of ammunition in the Konigsberg, the Severn started to gain the upper hand. The damage incurred was so severe that Loof ordered the Konigsberg scuttled and her crew to abandon ship. By 15h00 it was all over and the British retired, leaving a sunken Konigsberg sitting on the mud of the Rufiji. Her crew returned to her, retrieved her usable guns and remaining ammunition and transported these overland to Dar es Salaam. There the guns were fitted with carriages and, together with the surviving crew members, formed a priceless addition to the land forces of General von Lettow-Vorbeck's colonial army. They continued as part of this force until von Lettow-Vorbeck finally surrendered on 25 November 1918, where after Captain Loof and 15 survivors out of her original crew of 350 returned to Germany.
Two of Konigsberg's guns were brought back by the South African Army - a 105mm gun on display at the Union Buildings and an 88mm in the gun park of the Military Museum.
At the conclusion of this most interesting talk Marjorie called upon committee member Hamish Paterson to thank Pierre and then closed the meeting.
The Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point of the American Civil War. After this battle which was the largest ever fought on American soil, the Confederate hopes of establishing a separate nation dwindled.
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