Newsletter No. 448
KwaZulu-Natal June 2013
The May meeting was chaired by Vice Chairman Dr John Cooke, since the newly elected Branch Chairman was the main speaker for the monthly meeting. After dealing with administration matters, Dr Cooke introduced the first speaker for the evening, Dr Richard Woods BA(Hons) Rhodes, PhD Edin, FRHistS, on his topic 'Fire Force', dealing with operations in Rhodesia from 1974 to 1980.
The vastness of the operational area and the small number of troops available demanded high mobility. The acquisition of the French Matra 151 20mm cannon in early 1974 enabled the Rhodesians to convert some of their Alouette III helicopters into 'K-Car' gunships and to evolve the highly successful Fire Force which exploited the agility of the helicopter and its troop carrying capacity to provide a rapid reaction force which could trap and destroy the elusive enemy. The Fire Forces (three were usually deployed) comprised a K-Car carrying the Army Fire Force commander and three Alouette III, 'G-Cars', carrying four infantrymen. Despite the small number of troops involved, the Fire Force units would achieve kill rates of over 80:1.
Securing Fire Force targets was achieved by observation, patrolling, finding spoor, aerial visual and photo-reconnaissance and by intelligence. The SAS penetrated the neighbouring countries to identify incoming groups, their routes and supplies. Intelligence was gleaned from villagers and captured insurgents but much was lost through poor interrogation techniques and the use of force because the handful of effective Special Branch interrogators was not always available. The most successful move was the use of pseudo-gangs suggested by the ecologist, Alan Savory, in 1966, and advised by Ian Henderson, the Kenyan exponent of pseudo-warfare. The new Selous Scouts Regiment deployed captured-and-turned insurgents to impersonate ZANLA sections to uncover the contact men, the sources of food and comfort, and to pinpoint the insurgents for Fire Force.
The Fire Force became more efficient with practice and therefore deadly as more helicopters and strike aircraft were added and tactics were refined. Then in late 1976 Dakota-borne paratroopers were available reinforcing the helicopter-borne stop groups on the ground and providing sweep lines. The acquisition of Agusta-Bell 205 helicopters freed up Alouettes in 1979 and allowed the formation of 'Jumbo' Fire Forces (two Fire Forces combined) with deadly results.
The Fire Force experience underpinned the Rhodesian external camp attacks in which vertical envelopment was standard practice. It also provided young, battle-hardened troops. No other paratroopers jumped so many times into action, jumping as low as 300 feet into trees and rough ground.
The Fire Force effort blunted the insurgency and contributed ultimately to the bloody stalemate which was broken by the political settlement at Lancaster House in later 1979.
The main speaker for the evening, Branch Chairman Charles Whiteing spoke on "Operation Mincemeat".
Prior to the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, an invasion of Sicily or Sardinia was envisaged which would ensure air cover over the central Mediterranean Sea route and future air and naval operations against Italy. Winston Churchill envisaged a campaign to strike; as he put it; "the soft underbelly" of Axis Europe. The Allies wanted to divert German pressure from the Russian Front while preparing for the invasion of France scheduled for the following year. Sicily was of great strategic importance as it was seen as the platform for the invasion of Italy. The Germans were particularly vulnerable to an invasion of Sicily as much of their forces had been affected by the depletion of Italy's military support.
The Pact of Steel was beginning to unravel with Hitler having concerns with Mussolini's failing health and resolve. However, as logical as an invasion of Sicily was to the Allies; it was as obvious to the Germans. The question was how to change their mindset? Hence a small classic operation of deception was born that was brilliantly elaborate in detail and successfully implemented. It was the brainchild of Lt. Cdr. Ewan Montague & Flt.Lt. Charles Cholmondeley who were liaison officers on a committee responsible for the managing of "turned" German spies. On the 5th November 1942, Cholmondeley presented Operation Trojan Horse to the Twenty Committee for consideration. This was a plan to plant deceptive documents on the enemy by dropping a corpse from an aircraft. The Twenty Committee was so named after the Roman numerals for 20 being XX or "Double Cross," and was a WW2 anti espionage and deception branch of the British Intelligence arm, MI5. The plan was to float a corpse containing fake documents on to the Spanish shore as if from a crashed aircraft. Officially Spain was neutral, but was actually pro German & if the corpse was not examined too closely by the Spanish, there was a reasonable certainty that any documents carried on the body would be examined by local German agents.
The next step was to obtain a corpse which had to be physically uninjured showing no obvious cause of death. The eminent forensic pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury was consulted as to the sourcing of a suitable corpse, and said that if a man who had died from suitable causes was washed ashore in Spain, no one would be able to tell that it had not died in an air crash at sea without an elaborate post mortem. He recommended a pneumonia victim as the lungs would be full of fluid, which only an expert pathologist would identify as not being sea water, with shock and exposure being contributing factors to the death. It was noted that the Spanish were bad pathologists and being Roman Catholic, had a dislike for post mortems. On the 26th of January 1943, a man was found in an abandoned warehouse near Kings Cross Station and was taken to the nearby St Pancras Hospital, Fulham. He was barely alive and it was thought he had ingested scraps of bread coated with rat poison. By the 2nd February 1943 the rough outline of Montagu's plan was complete and the code name "Mincemeat" was registered to enable signals to be made concerning the operation. The body was of a labourer of no fixed abode and his name was Glyndwr Michael, 34 years of age. He was an insane tramp, and an illegitimate offspring of illiterate mining stock, His consumption of phosphorous rat poison was unlikely to reveal itself in a post mortem except by faint traces in the liver. The body was kept at St Pancras Hospital until the 1st April, when it was relocated to Hackney and dressed in underclothes provided.
On the 3rd April, Montagu and Chalmondeley completed the dressing of the body with the exception of the Mae West life jacket, boots and gaiters, all standard items of clothing worn by staff officers. They were assisted by the Coroner and the local Mortuary Keeper who was not aware of the purpose of dressing the corpse. There was difficulty in putting the boots on the frozen body, but this was solved by using an electric heater to thaw out the ankles. The mortuary maintained a temperature of + 4C which merely delays decomposition, but after three or four days, the eyes dry out and fall in as can be seen in this illustration.
The body could not be frozen solid as this would have the effect of fracturing the fragile body tissues as the body fluids ice up and expand. This would be a dead (pardon the pun) giveaway should the Spanish carry out a detailed autopsy. The core of the deception was a document that was to be planted on the enemy which required careful devising. Montagu concocted a letter from the Vice Chief of the Imperial Staff, Sir Archibald Nye to Eisenhower's Deputy, General Sir Harold Alexander Commander of the Mediterranean and Allied Land Forces. The letter was intended to get the Germans to believe that two operations were under consideration. The planned objective was to be casually identified, with the other two locations identified as a cover, one of them being Sicily itself, and the other thrown in for good measure. This was in case the Germans decided the document was a plant, and that Sicily would not be identified.
Firstly that there was to be an initial assault on Greece by Eastern Mediterranean Forces under the command of General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, and a second attack by forces in North Africa under command of Eisenhower and Alexander. The letter also served to convey to the Germans the reason for Major Martin being flown to North Africa was that he was an expert on seaborne operations and an ideal officer to assist Cunningham on the planned assault. But Major Martin had to become a live personality. His uniform pockets contained letters from his father, and from the manager of Lloyds bank concerning his overdraft. There was a letter from his solicitors, McKenna & Co. confirming the drawing up of a will. There were three bills, one from the Naval and Military Club, another from Gieves Outfitters for a shirt, and one for an engagement ring. He wore a wrist watch and in his pockets he had a bunch of keys, a packet of Players cigarettes, a box of matches, a pencil stub and some change. There were also two bus tickets and two ticket stubs for the Prince of Wales theatre for a show on the 22 April 1943. His wallet contained a photograph of his fiancée Pam, and two of her letters. She was actually a clerk working at MI5 and the photograph had been taken while she had been on holiday.
It also contained a book of stamps, a St Christopher medallion, and an invitation to the Cabaret Club, three one Pound notes, one five Pound note, his Admiralty ID Card, and his expired pass to Combined Operations. Attached to his braces were two ID Discs inscribed 'Major Martin, RM' and a silver cross on a chain around his neck. Major Martin was now equipped for war.
A special asbestos lined container had been made to transport the body in a shielded environment to reduce it from further decomposition. On the evening of Saturday 17 April 1943, Major Martin was wrapped in a blanket and lowered into the container which was filled with dry ice. Additional ice was packed around the corpse, and the lid was bolted down and loaded onto the back of a Fordson 2 ton van. The cylinder was labelled "Optical Instruments for F.O.S. Submarines." The destination "Fleet Officer Submarines" would disguise the contents from the crew of the submarine HMS Seraph, an S-Class Submarine commanded by Lt.Cdr. Norman Jewell. Ten days later she surfaced 1600 yards off the Spanish coast at Heulva. At 0415, the canister containing Major Martin was brought up on deck through the torpedo loading hatch by three crewmen with Cdr. Jewell being assisted by three other officers. The blanket was opened up, revealing the body with the briefcase firmly secured to the wrist. The face was heavily tanned with the lower half, from the eyes down covered in mould. The skin had started to break away from the nose and cheek bones with the cadaver beginning to smell. Cdr. Jewell inflated the Mae West life jacket and read the 39th Psalm: "I said I will take heed to my ways that I sin not with my tongue."
At 0430, about 8 miles off the beach, the body was gently pushed overboard, & Major Martin dressed as a Royal Marine Officer, his briefcase handcuffed to his wrist; set off on his one and only important mission of the war and started to drift ashore. The inflated RAF rubber dinghy was later placed upside down in the water about half a mile away, with only one aluminium oar in it to simulate haste in escaping from the crashed aircraft. Early on the morning of the 30th the body was sighted by the crew of a fishing boat, and handed over to the Spanish authorities. The local Abwehr agent Adolf Clauss, who was operating in the Heulva area, was alerted to the corpse with its briefcase of documents. The documents were copied and forwarded to Berlin, with Clauss reporting that they had been in a briefcase manacled to the man's wrist. The documents identified him as Major William Martin, an amphibious landings expert with the British Royal Marines. The documents revealed information of vital strategic importance to the Germans as they indicated that the Allies would attack both Greece and Sardinia, but only after feigning an assault on another large island - Sicily.
The body was later handed over to the Francis Haselden, British Consulate in Huelva with the briefcase apparently unopened. The British Vice Consul made arrangements for a military funeral at 12h00 with one of the wreaths laid from his grieving fiancée Pam. The success of the Sicily landings on the 10th July 1943 was proof that the deception had succeeded.
In the final analysis the outcome of Operation Mincemeat was a resounding success with Hitler ordering the Corsica fortifications be reinforced; a Waffen SS brigade despatched to Sardinia and Field Marshal Rommel travelling to Greece to inspect its defences. One of the major results was Hitler ordering two Panzer divisions that were en route to Russia, to be redirected to Greece, contributing to their defeat at the Battle of Kursk in Russia.
The original gravestone in Heulva, Spain had a blank panel at its base as though left by Montague, that one day Major William Martin may be accorded his rightful name.
In January 1998, as a fitting tribute, the gravestone was removed for alterations with the following wording inscribed on that blank panel: "Glyndwr Michael served as Major William Martin RM".
The usual lively question time followed Charles's talk and both speakers were thanked by Ken Gillings, who presented Dr Wood with the customary set of glasses for visiting presenters as a token of appreciation from the Branch.
Appeal for Assistance - O'Neil's Cottage, Majuba Area. Major General (Retd) Gert Opperman is Chairman of the Voortrekker Monument's Erfenisstigting (Heritage Foundation). They have been given the go-ahead by KwaZulu-Natal's Heritage body - Amafa aKwaZulu-Natali / Heritage KwaZulu-Natal - to assist with the restoration of O'Neil's Cottage, where the Boer and British delegates met to discuss terms for peace that ended the Transvaal War of Independence after the Battle of Majuba on the 27th February 1881. Amafa will be strictly monitoring the restoration process and this has necessitated recruiting the services of Ladysmith based architects to assist them with drafting the stringent specifications for the project. They require R20 000 which was not budgeted for in the original estimate. Should you be aware of any individual or organisation that may be prepared to donate towards this very noble cause, please contact Gen Opperman on any of the following numbers: Telephone - 012 325 7885; Fax - 086 617 8067; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Benghazi War Cemetery. Photographs of Libyan youths vandalising the Commonwealth war graves in the Benghazi War Cemetery have been doing the rounds on the internet again. This destruction took place shortly after the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime and many of our members are under the impression that it has occurred recently. This is not the case and the South African head of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Capt (SAN) (Retd) Charles Ross has sent us the following message:
Restoration to graves in the Benghazi War Cemetery
There has been progress recently on this matter and we thought you might find it helpful to be informed of the current situation. Since the incident took place, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has made significant progress in restoring the desecrated commemorations in Benghazi. To date, the 241 damaged headstones at Benghazi War Cemetery have been re-erected in their entirety. The Commission has also seen fit to erect a sign in both Arabic and English stating that the Cemetery includes Muslim soldiers who died liberating the people of Benghazi.
Work is now also underway to replace the damaged commemorations in Benghazi Military Cemetery. The Commission has been working with the local Libyan police and other Libyan authorities to progress matters. Written permission has been granted to continue with the re-erection of the 84 outstanding headstones and tablets and work is scheduled to recommence on 17th May.The Commission continues to monitor both cemeteries on a regular basis.
Call for Papers - Msunduze Museum. The Msunduze Museum (Voortrekker Cluster) has circulated a Call for Papers to be presented at a Conference that will take place at the Ncome Museum (across the Ncome / Blood River, opposite the Blood River Monument. Entitled "Courageous Conversations", the conference will coincide with the 175th anniversary of the Battle of Blood River / Ncome. The Museum writes: "We invite contributions discussing issues related to the Battle of Blood River/Ncome - Looking back and looking towards the future. This historical event is commemorated each 16 December on Reconciliation Day. What developments have taken place since 16 December 1838? How have we been celebrating the 16th of December as a nation? How far have we come in our quest for reconciliation and social cohesion? What challenges do we face today - 175 years after the battle? What programmes and initiatives have we implemented since the birth of our Democracy and how have they contributed towards nation building? In 2014 our country will commemorate 20 years of Democracy - what have we achieved, what struggles do we face today and where can we improve?
Please send your title and abstracts (no longer than half a page) to Elrica Henning at (email@example.com). The deadline for sending your abstract is 31 July 2013.
NEXT MEETING OF THE KWAZULU-NATAL BRANCH:
Date: Thursday 13th June 2013.
Time: 19h00 for 19h30.
Venue: The Murray Theatre, Department of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal Howard College Campus, Durban.
Speakers: Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture - "The Paratroopers in Operation Meebos", by Maj Gen Chris le Roux;
Main Lecture - "The History of Submarines, their disasters and rescues", by Ms Joyce Peet.
Future meetings of the KwaZulu-Natal Branch:
Thursday 11th July 2013: "Cowra", by Ian Sutherland and "Dr Jim and the Matabele War", by Chris Ash
Thursday 8th August 2013: "Gallipoli Revisited", by Nino Monti and "HMS Glorious", by Bill Brady.
Thursday 12th September 2013: "The Ancient Roman Military c 117 AD", by Ross Cairns and "The Naval Battles of the Guadalcanal Part 1" by Roy Bowman.