South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 454
KwaZulu-Natal December 2013

Contact: Ken Gillings 031 702 4828
Chairman: Charles Whiteing 031 764 7270
Society's web site address:

The November meeting was opened by Acting Vice Chairman Dr John Cooke, since the Chairman was one of the speakers for the evening.

The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture was presented by fellow member Major Dr John Buchan, and entitled: “General George Patten and the Falais Gap”. John has taken the Patten baton from the late Prof Mike Laing and we were privileged to have Mary Laing in the audience to listen to him speak.

In earlier 1944, Patton was in England, involved in arranging the American 3rd Army he was due to lead in France. While not involved in the D-Day planning, Patton was a central figure in the successful deception plan – Operation Fortitude South – to mislead the Germans as to the location and timing of the invasion.

Patton travelled to France on 6th July, a month post D-Day, by plane. After meetings with General Bradley and Field Marshal Montgomery, Patton was mainly at his secret base at Nehou on the Contentin peninsula, below Cherbourg Harbour, prior to the 3rd Army becoming operational on 1st August. This was at the stage that the successful Operation Cobra, commencing on 25th July, had resulted in the breakthrough at Avaranches, at the base of the Contentin peninsula. The subsequent breakout that followed Patton’s use of armoured columns was a major setback for the Germans.

After inspecting the front, Field Marshal von Kluge, the current German Commander sent a report to Hitler, then at his Eastern Command post 1,600 km away. Hitler ordered a counter-attack; it was to commence at Mortain and to proceed to Avaranches, to cut the supply lines of the 3rd Army. In spite of this venture being regarded as ill-advised by the local commanders, it commenced in the early hours of the 7th August. Failure of this offensive, and advancement by Allied forces on the flanks, put the attacking German forces in danger of encirclement. The residual gap was between Argentan and Falaise.

Patton ordered Maj. Gen. Haislip, commanding the XV Corp, to proceed to Argentan, which he reached on the night of the 12th. The Canadian force approaching on the opposite side of the gap had been unable to reach Falaise. This left a residual gap of approx 20 miles separating the Allied forces.

In this situation, Patton instructed Haislip to disregard the Army Boundary line passing through Argentan, and proceed towards Falaise. In the early hours of the 13th, Haislip’s reconnaissance parties were nearing Falaise.

Montgomery’s refusal to allow transgression of Army Boundary lines, and the acceptance of this by Bradley and Eisenhower, resulted in the return of Patton’s forces to Argentan.

On 14th August, Patton received approval by Bradley for his forces to continue their drive to the Seine. At this time the continued Press censorship on Patton and his 3rd Army was stopped. Widespread, positive press coverage rapidly followed, resulting in the Military Affairs Committee in the American Senate discontinuing their considerations of Patton’s previous indiscretions in Sicily.

Closure of the Falaise pocket finally occurred on 22nd August after a final, organised rearguard action by Field Marshal Model, then the German GOC.

Losses in the Falaise pocket were discussed, as was the influence of the rocket firing Hawker Typhoons. What the outcome would have been if Patton’s attempt to close the Falaise Gap had been allowed to continue will never be known.

The Durban Branch is privileged that fellow member Brig. General Albie Gotze is one of only two remaining Typhoon pilots in SA.

The Main Talk entitled “Camouflage” was presented by Branch Chairman Charles Whiteing. Camouflage can also be described as Deception. The word “camouflage” itself is a French word derived from the Parisian slang word camoufler meaning to disguise. It’s described in the Oxford Dictionary as “The act of hiding anything from your enemy is termed “camouflage”.” Early days of human conflict saw elaborate head-dresses, shining armour, shields & war paint, worn by legions of English Knights, Romans, Zulu warriors or British troops, each creating an identity & to alarm the enemy. The British later decided that their bright red tunics were best kept for the parade ground. The development of modern accurate weapons put paid to this military cabaret, giving way to the familiar drab field uniforms of today’s modern soldier. The British soldier’s white helmet became a prominent target resulting in him staining his white webbing with ‘chai’ or tea, with khaki first appearing in the Indian Army. The first unit to wear khaki coloured uniforms were the Corps of Guides, an irregular Indian force used by the British in the Punjab in 1846. By 1885 khaki drill was worn by the British Army in India & by the re-conquest of the Sudan in 1897-1898, it had became standard uniform for the British Army on Foreign Service. The US army adopted khaki after their colonial wars in the Philippines and Cuba, as did the Japanese fighting the Russians in Manchuria in 1905. The Imperial German army adopted ‘feldgrau’ or field green in 1910. By the outbreak of the First World War, a number of countries were experimenting in ways to conceal them from opposing forces be it in the air, sea or on land.

On the 12 February 1915 the French Army established a “section de camouflage” with the aim of disguising their guns and gunners from the enemy. One of the British pioneers was the artist Solomon Joseph Solomon who was 54 at the outbreak of the First World War. As the art of camouflage brought artists, painters and designers into World War 1, ‘Propaganda’ required authors, critics, poets and playwrights. The devastating effect of German sniper fire in the trenches led to Major Hesketh Pritchard using model heads on sticks in the trenches as decoys to establish the position of German snipers. Camouflage assisted snipers in the creation of hides and OP sites which could be in the form of shattered brickwork, a swollen dead horse or even a corpse of a dead soldier. Full length “sniper robes” were introduced in applicable earth & vegetation colours which were named “Ghillie Suits” and are used by British Army snipers to this day.

The British Army however saw the camoufleurs as an integral part of the sappers as “they have the materials for making replicas, and deception targets, supported by engineers who see landscapes with a better understanding eye than most soldiers do.” Solomon is credited with using fishing nets instead of canvas as a medium of camouflage for strategic sites, and by the end of the war, 7.5 million square yards of netting had been used. In 1916 Colonel Ernest Swinton and Winston Churchill met to discuss armoured protection for troops in the open battlefields. This led to the development of an armoured vehicle called a “tanks” to confuse the enemy inso far [as] metal liquid containers were being constructed. An excellent example of deception was the integration of Major Lawrence among the fractious Arab tribes, uniting them in a cohesive fighting force, & introducing guerrilla warfare against the Turks. In October 1917, the first razzle dazzle camouflage was applied to the British merchant fleets and the Royal Navy. On the 22 August 1939, Hitler said “I shall supply a propaganda justification to bring about hostilities. It is of little consequence whether the reasons are believed. No one asks the victor whether he has told the truth.”

The catalyst leading to the outbreak of the Second World War was the Gleiwitz incident on the Polish border. As First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill ordered the construction of dummy ships for Scapa Flow to deceive German reconnaissance aircraft. Churchill later ordered that garbage was to be ditched daily at the bow and stern of the decoy vessels so as to “feed the gulls and fool the Germans". General Wavell developed the concept of “special forces” & “secret fraud” by selecting Orde Wingate for guerrilla war operations in Ethiopia & Dudley Clarke for strategic deception. Rear Admiral John Godfrey was appointed director of Naval Intelligence and appointed Ian Fleming as his right hand man named. The Government Code and Cipher School located at Bletchley Park manned by a team of somewhat eccentric geniuses including Alan Turing, who was linked to the breaking of the German Enigma code known as Ultra. The Ministry of Supply encouraged fishermen to braid fishing nets for camouflage purposes. The cartoon artist who best captured the absurdity of early British camouflage was the graphic genius Edward Heath Robinson. The successful occupation of Norway and Denmark was facilitated by Major Vidkun Quisling which became a synonym for traitor in the English Dictionary.

Lt Col Dudley Clarke undertook an undercover mission in May 1940 to neutral Eire to advise that Britain had a mobile column ready to assist the Republic should the Germans invade. There were concerns that the IRA may become a German Fifth Column. Churchill later made an offer of a united Ireland should they join the war as an ally but the president Eamon de Valera wanted neutrality more than unity; and a historic opportunity in history disappeared forever. On 4 June 1940, Churchill suggested raiding parties on the occupied coasts of Europe be developed on a ‘butcher and Bolt’ policy.” Raids on Vaagso, Bruneval, St Nazaire and Dieppe led Hitler in October 1942 to issue his infamous ‘Kommando Befehl’ which ordered that any Commandos captured were to be executed. The term ‘Fifth Column’ originated from the time when Franco’s Nationalists had four military columns but also claimed to have a fifth column secretly operating inside the Republican defences. The Daily Express and Daily Telegraph wrote that there were traitors in England waiting to assist German paratroopers disguised as vicars, policemen or air raid wardens. The Treachery Act was passed in May 1940 which carried the death sentence.

A right wing spy was discovered in the US Embassy passing information to the Germans and Italians and the Metropolitan Police raided the HQ of the British Union of Fascists arresting 34 members including their leader Oswald Moseley. There were also some aristocratic sympathisers like Lord Tavistock, the Duke of Buccleuch and the Duke of Westminster who had been involved in the Nordic League and an Anglo-German association, the Link. The Duke of Windsor was equally enamoured with the Nazis and visited Hitler in October 1937. He was later packed off as Governor of the Bahamas. Britain at war saw the creative camoufleurs concealing of an array of coastal defences and military establishments. The jagged concrete profiles of pill boxes were disguised as beach huts, café’s, railway signal boxes, bungalows and gentleman’s toilets. The Home Guard was actually a camouflage cover for the Auxiliary Guerilla Units formed to harass the German forces behind their lines as they advanced across England after Operation Sea Lion. The volunteers included gamekeepers, poachers and foresters, who were trained in unarmed combat, explosives, weapons and field craft, operating from underground lairs known as OB`s or Operational Bases which by 1941 totalled 534.

The film industry contributed to the national camouflage project with the Shepperton film crews building fake aircraft factories as decoy’s from the real ones which included Short’s at Rochester, De Havilland at Hatfield, Boulton-Paul at Wolverhampton, and Bristol at Filton. Dummy RAF aircraft including Blenheims, Hurricanes, Wellingtons, Whitley’s and Spitfires were built for dispersal on actual and dummy RAF airfields. The Blitz was a challenge to Colonel John Fisher Turner to set off artificially controlled fires were to be set off to simulate different visual effects of burning buildings as decoys during Luftwaffe raids. Post war evaluation concluded that these pyrotechnical decoys probably wasted about 5% of the German bombing effort, and saved the lives of 2600 civilians. The airways from Germany resonated with the famous call of Lord Haw Haw`s “Jairmany calling, Jairmany calling,” the voice of William Joyce the Irish traitor who dominated Josef Goebbels propaganda airwaves till the end of the war.

The Western Desert was another theatre to exploit the art of camouflage where dummy tanks & lorries made from wood & canvas used to create diversions including the massive task of hiding fuel dumps, workshops, ammunition dumps, camps, men & AA Batteries. The Long Range Desert Group and later Special Air Service adapted & honed their skills in the desert environment. Uniforms and vehicle colours of both the Allies and the Afrika Korps blended in with this “sea of sand.” There were two German spies working in Cairo with the Egyptian Army officer Anwar el Sadat. Code named “Kondor,” they operated from a Nile houseboat, transmitting from a wireless hidden in a radiogram.

Impersonations played an important role during WW2 including the use of corpses, as with Operation Mincemeat to deceive the Germans as to the Sicily landings. Clifton James, a lieutenant in the Pay Corps had an uncanny resemblance to General Montgomery and was used to create an impression that Montgomery was visiting Gibraltar and the Middle East to form an army for the invasion of southern France. The plan succeeded beyond belief with fellow Allies, enemy agents and Germans equally duped with Lt Colonel David Niven offering a role in a forthcoming production. Camouflage extended to prisoners of war whose duty it was to escape. Other than the Red Cross, parcels from charitable organisations contained articles [of] clothing, books, underwear, scarves etc. Some contained games of Monopoly which had useful maps on Germany printed on silk squares when the London streets from Old Kent Road to Mayfair were peeled away. Fly buttons held compasses, fretsaws in pencils, flying boots with false heels, German money stitched into book covers, and blankets of similar material to that of German uniforms. The Quebec conference in August 1943, led to the implementation of Operation Bodyguard to get the Germans to disperse their forces in all places other than Normandy. Fortitude North implied that landings could take place in Denmark and Norway, with Fortitude South giving the impression of landings in the Pas de Calais. The fictitious First United States Army Group or FUSAG was stationed in South-East England under the command of General Patton complete with fake oil terminals, storage tanks, dummy vehicles, tanks, storage tanks etc., enhanced with dummy radio traffic.

As such, twenty-one German divisions were held in the Pas de Calais area not for at least two days which Eisenhower had required; nor for two weeks, but for nearly two months, by which time the Allies had established themselves in north - west France. The Normandy landings could have gone very wrong, with Omaha Beach being a foretaste of that potential. However the intricate web of propaganda, and camouflage was a solid foundation, based on a bodyguard of lies.

Roy Bowman congratulated the two speakers on their excellent presentations and thanked them appropriately on behalf of the audience.

Appeal for Speakers.
While all the slots for Main Talks in 2014 have been filled, we have the following vacant slots for 20 minute Darrell Hall Memorial Lectures (referred to as the ‘DDH’):
11th July;
14th August;
11th September;
9th October;
11th December.

Please contact the Programme Organiser (Ken Gillings) on 031 702 4828 / 083 654 5880 / if you would like to fill one of them.

Next Meeting:

Thursday 12th December 2013 (note one talk only):
“Groenkop - General Christiaan de Wet’s Christmas Day surprise”, by Ken Gillings, followed by end of the year Cocktail function. Snacks will be provided but members are requested to bring along their own refreshments.

Future meetings:
Thursday 16th January 2014 (NB – Third Thursday):
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: “Tin Tin and Military History” by Dr Mark Coghlan
Main Talk: “Update on Syria” by Major Peter Williams.

Thursday 13th February 2014 (NB – back to the 2nd Thursday):
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: “The Eclipse of the Luftwaffe” by Bill Brady
Main Talk (this will be the first of the WW1 100 series): “Gallipoli” by Robin Smith

Thursday 13th March 2014:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: “Guadal Canal – The Naval Battles” by Roy Bowman
Main Talk: WW1 100: “The German Invasion and Occupation of Belgium and North-East France, from August 1914” by Paul Kilmartin. Note that Paul will be travelling to South Africa from the UK on holiday to present this talk.

We wish all members a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous 2014.

South African Military History Society /