South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 452
KwaZulu-Natal October 2013

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

The topic for the Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture of 12 September 2013 was Julius Caesar’s invasion and conquest of Gaul. What made this presentation all the more unique was that the speaker was 15 year old Ross Cairns, a Grade 10 pupil from Kearsney College and elder son of fellow member Neil Cairns. Ross used a power point presentation to illustrate his talk.

The Gallic Wars were a series of military campaigns waged by the Roman General Julius Caesar, which culminated in the annexation of what is now France and Belgium into the Roman Republic. Despite its scale, it took only 8 years from start to finish.

The talk started with a brief description of Julius Caesar’s life and circumstances, as well the bigger political picture concerning the growing Roman Republic, and a quick look at the large Gallic tribes bordering the Republic.

The talk then moved onto a description of the Roman Army, (justifiably regarded as one of the greatest fighting forces of its age) its men (the Legionaries), and its basic tactics and fighting methods. The Gallic warriors were then discussed, and compared to the Roman Legions.

Caesar’s reasons for the invasion and subsequent conquest were then examined. Caesar’s basic reasons for the invasion were as follows: 1) It was a defensive action (at first, at any rate); 2) Pre-emptive strikes, to end the Gallic threats and invasions; and 3) He was invited to intervene in Gaul by many Gauls themselves. These reasons, however, have been challenged by many Historians. These Historians contend that the main reasons for Caesar’s invasion were 1) to boost Caesar's political career. (Military Victory would be very useful in his future political career.) 2) Caesar was heavily in debt by the beginning of the campaign, but the war made Caesar a very wealthy man. 3) Caesars substantial personal ambition would have been a big part of his decision to invade.

The main section of the talk gave an account of Caesar’s campaign against the marauding Helvetii tribe, and his march to repulse the Germanic invasion coming over the Rhine, both in 58 BC, followed by Caesars wars with the Belgae (a collection of tribes from Belgium and the North of France), and slightly more precarious battle with the Nervii, in which the Romans conquest nearly came to an abrupt end in 57 BC. 56 BC saw the strange fight between the Romans and the sea-faring Veneti tribe, as well as the harsh punishment by the Romans of the said tribe, and the Romans campaign against the Morini and the Menapii. The section of the talk on the year 55BC chronicled Caesar’s prevention of a Germanic invasion, as well as Roman atrocities committed here and Caesar’s crossing of the Rhine.

The talk touched briefly on the invasions of Britain, and continued to the action of the revolts of 53BC. These revolts involved the complete destruction of a Roman Legion, and the start of the revolts that would decide the fate of Gaul.

52 BC was crunch time for the fate of Gaul. The talk gave an account of Gallic Leader Vercingetorix’s bid for freedom, brief victory at Gergovia, and final, bitter defeat at Alesia, won by Roman fighting supremacy.

The talk rounded off with an examination of the various reasons of just how Caesar was so phenomenally successful against all the odds, and a summary of how the conquest of Gaul affected the Republic and the Western Europe overall.

The Main Talk was presented by fellow member Roy Bowman and was entitled “The Naval Battles of the Guadalcanal Part 1”. Roy made use of a well illustrated power-point presentation. On 7th December 1941, the so-called “Day of Infamy”, Japan attacked the U.S. Navy fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. Much of the American battleship fleet was crippled in the sneak attack and a formal state of war was declared between Japan and America. The goals of the Japanese leadership was to neutralize the U.S. Navy, establish strategic military bases to defend Japan’s empire in the Pacific Ocean and Asia and seize possessions rich in natural resources such as the Oil fields of the Dutch East Indies. Japanese forces moved through the Asian and Pacific region with lightning speed capturing the Philippines, Thailand, Malaya, Singapore, Burma, the Dutch East Indies, Wake Island, Gilbert Islands, New Britain and Guam.

There were two attempts by the Japanese to extend their outer defensive perimeter in the South and Central Pacific in attempts to threaten Hawaii and Australia which were thwarted at the naval battles of Coral Sea and Midway. The Battle of Coral Sea was a tactical stalemate but a Strategic victory for the Allies. The Battle of Midway was the Allies first clear victory and significantly reduced the Japanese carrier forces offensive capabilities. These two strategic victories provided the Allies with the opportunity to seize the initiative from Japan.

The first target chosen by the Allies for their forthcoming offensive was the Solomon Islands as the Japanese had constructed a seaplane base on Tulagi but concern grew in July 1942 when it was discovered that the Japanese had begun construction of an airfield on Guadalcanal. This would leave the sea lines of communication between Australia and the West Coast of America open to air attack by Japanese long range bombers if they were based at this airfield. By august 1942 The Japanese had about 2,800 personnel on Guadalcanal involved in this construction project. U.S. Admiral Ernest King, Commander in Chief, United States Fleet, conceived the Allied plan to invade the Southern Solomon Islands and deny their use to the Japanese as a base and with President Roosevelt’s tacit approval, put the plan to the Combined Joint Chief’s, despite the disapproval of General George C. Marshall. King insisted that the Navy and Marines take command of the operation and eventually won the argument with Marshall and the invasion went ahead.

In preparation for the offensive in the Pacific in May 1942, Marine Major General Alexander Vandegrift moved his 1st Marine Division to New Zealand and the Commencement date for OPERATION WATCHTOWER was set for 7th August 1942.

The OPERATION WATCHTOWER force, numbering 75 warships and transports assembled near Fiji on 26th July 1942 and after an unsuccessful rehearsal left for their destination, Guadalcanal. The expeditionary force was under the command of Vice Admiral Frank Fletcher, hero of Coral Sea and Midway. Commanding the amphibious force was Rear Admiral Richard Kelly Turner with Major General Vandegrift leading the Marine force.

Unfortunately there was a major shortage of supplies from fuel for the ships and aircraft to ammunition for the invading force and the operation became to be referred to as Operation Shoestring. After a successful landing, with minimal resistance, the task of unloading the hastily loaded Attack freighters and attack transports began. This part of the operation turned into a nightmare as supplies had been packed into the ships in the wrong order for easy retention and piles of supplies started to accumulate on the beach whilst much needed crates of food, water and ammunition were sought aboard the ships moored in Savo Sound.

Japanese Naval aircraft based at Rabaul attacked the Allied amphibious force several times over the 7th and 8th August damaging a destroyer and causing an attack transport to catch fire and sink. In the air attacks over the two days, the Japanese lost 36 aircraft whilst the U.S. Forces lost 19, including14 carrier fighters.

The losses of carrier aircraft and the high fuel usage of the covering carrier task force caused Fletcher some anxiety and he requested that he be allowed to leave the area to enable his valuable carriers and associated escorts to be refueled on the evening of 8th August. As a result of the loss of the carrier air cover Turner decided to withdraw the transports from the area despite the fact that only half of the supplies had been offloaded on the morning of 9th August

That night, as the transports unloaded, two groups of screening Allied cruisers and destroyers, under the command of Rear Admiral Victor Crutchley, RN, set up a patrol in Savo Sound to guard the transports from attack. A Japanese force under the command of Vice Admiral Mikawa, of seven cruisers and one destroyer, had made a successful dash down the “Slot” from Rabaul. Despite the fact that this force had been sighted by two Hudson aircraft of the Australian Air Force, on two separate occasions during the morning of 8th August, the message was only received by Turner at 18h07, with a low importance notification from Pearl Harbour.

In this battle, THE BATTLE OF SAVO SOUND, the first surface action that the US Navy had been involved in modern times, they suffered their worst defeat in history.

One Australian and three American cruisers were sunk and one American Cruiser and two destroyers damaged. The Japanese force sustained minor damage to one of its cruisers. Mikawa, unaware that Fletcher was withdrawing his carriers and air cover to refuel, immediately turned back to his base at Rabaul without attacking the transports, which had been his initial mission prior to him stumbling across the Allied screening force.

At daybreak the following morning Turner withdrew all of the transport ships to safety out of range of the Japanese aircraft from Rabaul but leaving the marines ashore on Guadalcanal with only the supplies that had been offloaded.

The loss of the American ships and crews was the subject of the HEPBURN INVESTIGATION which went deeply into the causes and did much to change the methods of operation of the US Navy.

Both speakers were congratulated on their outstanding presentations by Professor Philip Everitt.

Battlefield Tour: Members wishing to participate in the Branch’s Battlefield Tour on the 30th November and 1st December 2013 are reminded that they need to make their own reservations with the Willow Grange Hotel on 036-352 7102. All of the accommodation at Willow Grange Hotel has now been booked; the overflow will be accommodated at a nearby facility at the same rate. Participants will be e-mailed rendezvous details.

Call for Papers; ‘HISTORY WARS, WARS IN HISTORY & OTHER SOUTHERN AFRICAN HISTORIES’. Dr Johan Wasserman has sent us a call for papers for the above Conference: Announcing the Historical Association of South Africa (HASA) Biennial Conference. University of KwaZulu-Natal – Innovation Centre, Durban. Thursday 26, Friday 27, Saturday 28 June 2014.

For further information or queries about the conference, visit their website or e-mail Prenisha Rajdev (
The document will be attached with the newsletter to members who have e-mail addresses.

Music From Scotland – Sunday 6th October 2013. We have received details about this excellent event from Fellow Member Lieutenant Colonel Dr Graeme Fuller. The venue will be the Durban Light Infantry Hall, 5 DLI Avenue, Greyville. Tickets and Table Reservations are available from Capt Ken Mustard Tel 031 702 5311. A “flyer” will be attached for members with e-mail addresses.

Next Meeting: Thursday 10th October 2013. Venue: The Murray Theatre, Department of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal Howard College Campus, Durban. Time: 19h00 for 19h30.

Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: “The Terracotta Warriors”, by Dr John Cooke
Main Lecture: “British Psychological Warfare in Aden in the 1960s”, by Donald Davies.

Future Meetings and Events:
Monday 11th November 2013:

10h00. Remembrance Day Assembly at Durban High School by kind invitation of the Principal.

Thursday 14th November 2013:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:
“General George Patton and the Falais Gap”, by Major Dr John Buchan
Main Lecture: “Camouflage”, by Chairman Charles Whiteing.

Sunday 17th November 2013:
Branch Luncheon, Westville Country Club. Please confirm attendance with Charles Whiteing. Tel 031 764 7270 or . Payment in advance at the next meeting please.

Thursday 12th December 2013:
Topic to be confirmed (one talk only) followed by end of the year Cocktail function.

Thursday 16th January 2014 (NB – Third Thursday):
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:
“Tin Tin and Military History” by Dr Mark Coghlan
Main Talk: “My experiences in the Falklands War in the SAS” by Gareth Langley.

South African Military History Society /