South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 444
February 2013

Contact: Ken Gillings 031 702 4828
Bill Brady 031 561 5542
Society's web site address:

Chairman Bill Brady opened the meeting and asked all to observe a minutes silence for former Western Cape chairman Derrick O' Reilly.

The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture ('DDH') was presented by fellow member Roy Bowman on "The DUKW". The designation of DUKW is not a military acronym; rather, the name comes from the model naming terminology used by the manufacturer, GMC; D indicates a vehicle designed in 1942 U meant utility K indicated driven front wheels W indicated two powered rear axles. The DUKW is a six wheel drive amphibious truck that was designed by a partnership, under military auspices, of Sparkman & Stephens and General Motors Corporation (GMC) during World War Two, for transporting goods and troops over land and water and for use approaching beaches in amphibious attacks, with sufficient sea going capabilities to handle rough sea swells, rough surf and be able to drive over obstacles such as reefs and sandbars. The truck would have to be based on a type already in service and be as similar as possible to the land going version to ensure maximum standardization of parts and maintenance services.

Designed to last only long enough to meet the demands of combat, DUKW's, a design based on the 2.5 ton, GMC CCKW 353 series truck, "deuce and a half", used by the U.S. Military in World War Two, Korea and Vietnam have gone on to be used up to this day in marine environments around the world.

The DUKW was designed by Rod Stephens Jnr of Sparkman& Stephens Inc., yacht designers, Denis Puleton, a British deep water sailor, resident in the US and Frank w. Speir, a reserve Officer's Training Corps lieutenant from MIT. The DUKW was built around the GMC, cab over engine version of the GMC six wheel drive military truck (CCKW), with the addition of a watertight hull and propeller driven off of a PTO (Power Take Off. The DUKW was powered by the GMC straight six engine of 4.4 The total number manufactured was 21,137

It was not an armoured vehicle, being manufactured of 1.6 and 3.2 mm sheet steel to minimize weight. There was no thought of longevity in the design of this vehicle but despite that many are still being used today in rescue and fire roles as well as tourist trips. A necessity was a high capacity bilge pump system which would keep the DUKW afloat in the event of it being breached by a hole up to 51mm. There was also a hand pump which could be used in the event of failure of the mechanical pump. One in four vehicles was produced with a ring mount for a machine gun, usually a 0.50 cal Browning HMG. The DUKW was the first vehicle to allow the driver to vary the tyre pressure from the cab, through an ingenious system devised by one of the designers, Frank Speirs. The tyres could be fully inflated for hard surfaces, such as roads and deflated for crossing sand and mud. This attribute added greatly to the DUKW's versatility and is now a feature of many military vehicles. Between 12th and 26th June 1942 the prototype was subjected to surf tests in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean, off road tests at Fort Belvoir and loading capability tests at Fort Eustis, Virginia. The prototype performed admirably and passed each test with flying colours. As a result an initial order for 2 000 DUKW's was placed and production was begun at the GM plant allocated to produce this unique vehicle. There were some last minute problems to solve, for instance the DUKW would share the production facility with LCVP landing craft and many of the parts such as gears for the steering and propulsion were the same which created shortages. However after this glitch was solved, both production lines were soon operating at full speed.

The DUKW's participated in the Salaua and the Lae campaigns of New Guinea and during these campaigns they displayed their versatility by carrying artillery ammunition directly from the anchored ships to the guns ashore whilst under fire from Japanese pill boxes and artillery. Although DUKW's were used primarily by the military, many ex service vehicles found their way into civilian service. Police Departments, Fire Services and Rescue Units have all found the amphibious capabilities of the vehicle invaluable in an emergency, as was illustrated dramatically during the rescue phase after the Katrina Hurricane in the New Orleans and Louisiana areas. They are also used in their amphibious role as tourist attractions such as on the Thames in London, Seattle and the Charles River in Boston.

The main talk of the evening was a presentation by fellow member Steve Watt on The 9th Frontier War.

The Xhosa had long ceased to be a united chiefdom, and how the tensions as culminating the 9th Frontier War developed, is clearly reflected in the careers of the two most important chiefs. These were Sarhili, the chief of the senior section of the Xhosa nation Gcaleka, and Sandili chief of the Ngqika section which under his grandfather, Rharhabe in the previous century, had broken away from the parent chiefdom and moved west. Until the 1850s, the Gcaleka occupied the region between the Kei and Mbashe River and it was here that that the white interventions across the Kei were made. This occurred as a result of Sir Benjamin D'Urban(1) holding Hintsa, the Gcaleka chief, responsible for the outbreak of the war in December 1834 (the 6th Frontier war) and for retrieving the cattle of those who had taken up arms against the Cape Colony. Hintsa was punished at the hands of Sir Harry Smith, D'Urban's deputy, who led a colonial force across the Kei to which Hintsa voluntary surrendered. But, when to act as law enforcement officer on behalf of Smith, he tried to escape and this led to him being shot and his body was mutilated by colonial volunteers. This was the unenviable inheritance of Sarhili, son the murdered chief.

From now on Sarhili learnt not to risk confrontation with the Cape authorities, tried instead to maintain his people's independence by, for example, rendering indirect aid in two further frontier wars, the War of the Axe (1846-47) and the War of the Malenjeni (1850-53), the 7th and 8th Frontier Wars respectively. As in the case of his father, this earned Sarhili colonial mistrust and brought about retaliation. In both conflicts there was a white invasion of Gcalekaland and the seizure of thousands of head of cattle. So having run out of means of warding off white pressure, Sarhili turned to the vision of a prophesy that promised his people abundance and the disappearance of the white man provided that they entered into an adherence of total sacrifice - the slaughter of livestock. Not only did the sacrifice, which he urged on his people nearly decimate them, but white mistrust of his motives deepened where his fate was sealed. He and his people were driven across the Mbashe River in 1858.

Six years later a new governor, Sir Philip Wodehouse partly rescinded the order of banishment by allowing the Gcaleka to return to their former territory. Wodehouse went further by creating an area in the former Gcaleka homeland into a Mfengu settlement. In the main, at the root cause of the 1877-78 frontier war was the fact that the policy of Sarhili and his followers was hostile to colonial attitudes and official colonial policy. Both feared his influence and potential power. In particular Sarhili had given a demonstration of Gcaleka military superiority with the defeat of the Thembu in October 1872. Indeed this phase created a precedent why the war broke out in 1877. The defeat of the Thembu greatly increased the confidence of the Gcaleka, and with the colonial authorities unable to prevent the fighting, encouraged to turn them on their bitterly resented Mfengu. For their part the colonial authorities took active steps to constrict the Gcaleka power by extending British rule over Thembuland.

Hemmed in and with their independence slowly restricted the Gcaleka had been forced into a corner when the most serious of a series of Gcaleka-Mfengu flare-ups took place. This was the famous beer drinking incident which occurred at a wedding party given by Ngcayecibi, a Mfengu living near Butterworth on 3 August 1877. In this incident two Gcaleka chieftains were beaten up and one of their companions killed(4). To make matters worse there were some white officials like James Ayliff(5), resident with the Mfengu, was anti-Gcaleka, and Commandant JH Bowker(6) of the Frontier Armed Mounted Police who regarded the Gcaleka incursions into Mfenguland which followed the ill-fated Mfengu wedding as an opportunity to expand colonial rule over Gcalekaland.

However it must be said that that senior officials like Sir Bartle Frere(8) acted as far as they could to prevent war. Yet the military risk, and the lack of overall consensus, were not confined to the local authorities. Amongst the Gcaleka there were many to risk hostilities. In addition there was the dilemma facing Sarhili as to how to preserve peace when peace seemed to promise no better than the slow erosion of his people's independence. He had to weigh that consideration against the certainty that war against the Mfengu and their white allies would have the same consequences. Finding himself in this quandary he seemed powerless (or unwilling) to resist the slide into war against the Mfengu with raids into their territory. This led to an atmosphere courting for disaster.

For Thesiger, the war of the Ngcayebi was in a sense only a brief interlude. By September 1878 he moved to Natal. On the death of his father in October, Thesiger became Lord Chelmsford and began preparing for the masterpiece of British government of South African confederation. It was shattered and with it all but the military reputation of Chelmsford and his staff as well when King Cetshwayo's army surprised and defeated with heavy loss on both men and material at Isandlwana on 22 January 1879.

Following a lively question and answer debate, the vote of thanks was presented by Professor Phillip Everitt who congratulated our speaker on an outstanding presentation.

THE SOCIETY'S NEXT MEETING: 19h00 for 19h30. Venue: Murray Theatre, Dept of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban

14th February
DDH -"The Raid on St. Nazaire". By Bill Brady.
Main - "Military History Travels". By Robin Smith.

FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: March - February 2013:

14th March
DDH - "The Prince Imperial's Last Journey". By Ken Gillings.
Main - "Being a Peace Keeper in Africa". By Maj Peter Williams.

11th April
DDH - "Trench Raids on the Western Front." By Captain Brian Hoffman.
Main - "Gen Ignatius Ferreira (1844-1900) - my father". By Gerhardt Buchner

9th May
DDH - "Fireforce." By Captain Chris Cocks.
Main - "Operation Mincemeat". By Charles Whiteing.

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South African Military History Society /