South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 449
KwaZulu-Natal July 2013

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

The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture was presented by Maj Gen (Ret) Chris le Roux, whose power-point talk centred upon the role of the Paratroopers in Operation Meebos in August 1982. He commenced by placing the operation in context of the Border War of the eighties.

The aim of Operation Meebos was to prevent Angola's FAPLA army from re-occupying the towns of Xangongo and Ongiva. The secondary aim was to destroy their headquarters and caches and to disrupt their logistical routes. The general outline of the operation was basically to establish a Helicopter Administrative Area, to conduct airborne operations, make the final assault and the mopping up and withdrawal phase.

The operation was under command of Sector 10 in Oshakati where Brigadier "Witkop" Badenhorst was the Officer Commanding Sector 10. The Task Force itself was under command of Col Jan Pieterse, a professional and competent officer. The Combat Participants were described by our speaker; Combat Forces available in the Helicopter Administrative Area were 5-7 Alouette Helicopters, 9 Puma helicopters for trooping and two companies of 32 Battalion and one Parachute Company under command of Major JAB Swart. This highly professional officer sadly passed away on 1 May 2013. These forces were pleased to have a 20mm Anti-Aircraft Battery under Captain Carl Lindsey in the Helicopter Administrative Area and 61 Mechanised Battalion under Commandant (later Maj Gen) Roland De Vries as the mobile reserve. The sequence of events i.e. the operations on the 2nd of August, the Mechanised ambush on the 3rd and the 4th of August, the continuing operation on 5-7 August and the tragic shooting down of a Puma helicopter with 12 Paratroopers and 3 Aircrew on the 9th of August 1982 was discussed.

The important part played by Capt. Neall Ellis of the South African Air Force on the 9th of August 1982 was emphasised by our speaker. Appropriate tribute was given to the 12 Paratroopers and the aircrew who paid the highest price during the operation. Finally, the successful operations of the 10th of August were explained. Operation Meebos was one of the success stories in the history of 1 Parachute Battalion but by the same token it was also one of the operations where the biggest loss in one incident took place. The talk was concluded with an account of the 30 year reunion that took place in Bloemfontein in August 2012. About 30 members of A Company of 1 Parachute Battalion of 1981-1982 gathered to pay tribute to their fallen comrades. General le Roux told the audience how appropriate, moving and enlightening it was to have attended such a reunion, and he included several slides to highlight the event. General le Roux was somewhat modest about his participation in this operation. He played a significant role in it and it was a privilege to have had the opportunity to listen to his frank and fascinating appraisal of this relatively recent aspect of South African military history.

The main talk was presented by visiting speaker Ms Joyce Peet. Entitled "The History of Submarines - accidents and disasters", our speaker saw them as another dimension of the navy.

For centuries ships were built to sail the seas, to discover new lands, win battles, & establish trade routes. To meet this need, ship designers had met this challenge throughout the centuries. Sailors such as Drake, Nelson, Cook, Frobisher etc became legends while writers and poets inspired others with their tales of ships on high seas.

When Jules Verne's book "20,000 leagues under the sea" was produced as a film, our speaker's imagination was set on fire. Life beneath the waves was something unheard of so she set about finding out all she could about submarines and submariners. She discovered that Alexander the great was lowered in a glass barrel to the sea bed where he remained for some time. On surfacing, he described the wonderful things he had seen. Inventors from then on till today set about designing the ultimate submersible. The potential for it to sink shipping while submerged was an attraction and aim of inventors. At no time, however, was any thought given to how to escape from a submarine and many lives were subsequently, and are still lost till this day.

In 1776 the "turtle" designed by Bushnell attempted to sink the British warship "HMS Eagle" with a limpet mine off new York harbour during the American War of Independence. He was unsuccessful! In 1894 Hunley designed a boat which was a converted boiler tube with a spar torpedo as a weapon. The "Housatonic" was sunk during the American Civil War with a total loss of the crew. In late 1880, John Holland an Irish American took his submarine designs to America and they were subsequently adopted by America, Britain, Japan, Russia, & Sweden. They were powered by a petrol engine when surfaced which operated a generator to charge the electric batteries. Once submerged, the engine was stopped and the batteries powered the boat. By 1901, the Royal Navy introduced the "Holland" to the fleet.

Up to the First World War, experiments with submarines designed to hold guns and aircraft were conducted with which resulted in some tragic accidents. By the outbreak of the First World War, Germany had designed the "U Boat Type V11" submarine. Its primary task was to blockade shipping channels and sink merchant vessels. The operations code was: "board - remove crew - then sink". This did not last long & by the outbreak of the Second World War, Germany had improved the design of its U Boats (albeit in great secrecy) and Donitz advocated the wolf pack concept. The modified type 7 to 9 U boats were larger and used as supply boats known as "milk cows" and mine layers. By the end of the war, the Type XX1 submarines were larger boats with improved torpedoes and armaments which would have altered the course of the war had they been in produced in any substantial numbers before 1945.

Co2 scrubbers are used to help clear the air when boats are forced to remain submerged during depth charging or to escape enemy vessels for long periods.

The atmosphere in the boats was terrible. There was a build up of smells including diesel, cooking, unwashed bodies and stale air. Condensation ran down the bulkheads and there was a limited amount of fresh water available for drinking, washing and cooking. Food supplies barely lasted a patrol and hot bunking was the norm. The men selected for the submarine service had to have a good physique and be capable of sustaining a considerable level of body stress. A comprehensive medical examination ensured the candidate was of good health and free of any organic, cardiac or pulmonary diseases. Additional defects included syphilis, albuminuria and rheumatism. They were to have no history of fits, addiction to alcohol, or oral sepsis unless treatable. Submariners required a robust constitution to face the living conditions when at sea. The oxygen starved atmosphere placed strain on the cardiovascular system and the intimate lifestyle made communicative diseases a significant risk. They were prone to skin conditions due to their poor hygiene and prolonged irritants such as diesel fumes.

America invented the Gato class boat; large high speed vessels with a very effective radar system for the war in the Pacific. The Japanese submarines were large very technically advanced boats designed to carry aircraft in hangars, deck guns and mini submarines, (5 were used to attack Pearl Harbour.)

The alliance between Germany and Japan ensured German bases on Japanese held islands with submarines transporting supplies of all kinds between Germany and Japan. This was of particular significance as German bases in Europe were captured by the Allies. With the advent of the atomic bomb and Russia's interest in nuclear fission, America designed the first nuclear submarine propelled by a nuclear reactor and in 1954 the Nautilus was launched, the first of its kind. Russia's first nuclear boat the K9, had a poor safety record with the crew having to contend with onboard fires, radiation leaks resulting in many deaths from radiation.

In 1963, the American nuclear submarine the "Threasher" imploded on the sea bed during diving trials as a result of an engineering fault with all hands lost. During the cold war there were a number of accidents with the Russian submarines refusing offers of help from other navies resulting in the loss of many lives. The race between the super powers resulted in a build up off two massive fleets of missile carriers and attack submarines. These submarines carried nuclear missiles, nuclear tipped torpedoes and were the ultimate weapons of the cold war. Russia's largest submarine of 26,500 tons is the Typhoon class, capable of firing intercontinental missiles. Britain launched HMS Astute, it's most powerful attack submarine of 7400 tons. Its spearfish torpedoes and Tomahawk Cruise missiles have a range of 1,400 miles. It doesn't have a conventional periscope but a fibre optic tube which pops up above the surface for three seconds, rotates and feeds a colour image to a computer which can be studied at leisure.

America's has designed the Virginia class "Texas" built on similar lines to the "Astute." Prior to the nuclear boats, was limited to a maximum breathable air time of between 8 - 12 hours at a push. They had to surface to vent the boat and charge their batteries which propelled the boat when submerged. Later the "Schnorkel" was invented which enabled the boat to remain submerged while recharging their batteries when vulnerable from an attack from aircraft.

Nuclear boats are more comfortable, making their own fresh water and air. The large Russian boats, such as "Typhoon" even have a swimming pool. Two Watches, Port/ Starboard - In and Out are required. Unless major repairs or maintenance are required the life of a submarine is determined by the strength of the hull - prone to stress from long periods submerged at great depths, in spite of double hull thickness.

Within a space of a hundred years, the propulsion systems in submarines have developed from human propulsion to that of steam, petrol, electric batteries, diesel / electric, hydrogen peroxide (to drive a turbine), nuclear and now sterling a.i.p. (air independence propulsion), which is two Stirling units including liquid oxygen tanks and electrical equipment inserted aft of the conning tower.

The new German class 212 is a small boat of 1450 tonnes which came into service in 2005 and is the first submarine in the world to be equipped with an ultra- modern hydrogen fuel cell engine. These fuel cells are used for long duration operations at moderate speeds and the diesel/electric combination for high speed manoeuvres. Submarines can now go faster, deeper, quieter and can fire a missile at the enemy 5000 miles away without even leaving harbour. They can also land insurgents from a compartment in the hull and have the capability to recover them later. Submarine Rescues. Due to the extreme weather conditions experienced by submariners, the survival suit is standard equipment in all submarines. It protected the sailor from the cold, fire and acts as a life raft. In recent times the Russian ballistic missile boat, the "Kursk" was lost with all 110 hands, in spite of offers of assistance from foreign countries. Russia bungled its own rescue attempt and still refused foreign aid until it was too late. More recently Russia's submersible rescue craft got entangled on the sea bed while carrying out a military intelligence mission. However this time they agreed to foreign assistance with Britain sending a remote controlled vehicle which was able to sever the cables the submarine had become entangled in. The Russian craft reached the surface with only five hours of oxygen remaining but all seven crew members were saved. Rescue Chambers are available with the Deep Sea Rescue Vessel which has been invented by America & is ready at all times to be flown an accident site.

The high quality of both talks was reflected in the calibre of questions from and comments by members of the audience and both speakers were suitably thanked by Committee Member Roy Bowman, who presented Ms Peet with a set of glasses as is the custom for visiting speakers.

NEXT MEETING: Thursday 11th July 2013. The speakers will be Fellow Member Ian Sutherland on "Cowra" and guest speaker Chris "Bulldog" Ash on "Dr Jim and the Matabele War". Chris has recently published a highly acclaimed book entitled "The IF Man" (Dr Leander Starr Jameson: the inspiration for Kipling's masterpiece) (ISBN Number 978-1-920143-58-9). A Flyer is attached for those members who receive the newsletter via e-mail. Should you wish to order a copy from our speaker, please let Ken Gillings know on 0317024828 or via e-mail on
Venue: The Murray Theatre, Department of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal Howard College Campus, Durban.
Time: 19h00 for 19h30


Thursday 8th August 2013: "Gallipoli Revisited", by Nino Monti and "HMS Glorious", by immediate past Chairman Bill Brady.

Thursday 12th September 2013: "Julius Caesar's Invasion of Gaul", by Ross Cairns and "The Naval Battles of the Guadalcanal Part 1" by Roy Bowman.

Thursday 10th October 2013: "The Terracotta Warriors", by Dr John Cooke and "British Psychological Warfare in Aden in the 1960s", by Donald Davies.

Annual Battlefield Tour - 30th November to 1st December 2013. This year marks the 175th anniversary of the Battle of Blood River and other aspects of the Great Trek. To commemorate this event, the Society will be visiting Voortrekker sites over the weekend of the 30th November / 1st December 2013. These will include "Die Kaalvoetvrou" monument, the Kerkenberg, Marthinus Oosthuyse's grave, Zalflaager, Doornkop laager site, Zaailaager, Rensburgskop Battlefield, the Bloukrans Monument and time permitting, Weenen. The cost will be R30 per person (which will be a contribution towards Branch funds). Any members wishing to participate in the presentations are requested to contact Ken Gillings on 031 702 4828 / 083 654 5880 or We have negotiated a very favourable rate with the Willow Grange Hotel, of R370 per person, DBB. They are able to accommodate 35 people sharing and another 90 sharing at a recently acquired hotel 2 kms away. Participants are required to make their own booking with Mr Paul Catlett on or 036-352 7102. The account details are as follows:
Name of account: P G Catlett
Bank: Capitec
Branch: Estcourt
Code: 47-00-10
Account Number: 1330 274 812

Advance Notice - Conference to commemorate the 115th anniversary of the beginning of the Anglo-Boer War, October 2014. The Society will be playing a leading role in arranging a Conference to commemorate this event. It will be held in Dundee in October 2014, to coincide with Talana Live, 17th to 21st October 2014. The theme will focus upon the link between the War and WW1 and several overseas and local speakers have indicated their willingness to present papers. Please diarise those dates.

South African Military History Society /