South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 451
KwaZulu-Natal September 2013

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

The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture at the August 2013 meeting was presented by Dr Alex Coutts, who very kindly agreed to replace Mr Nino Monti, who had taken ill. It was entitled “Shaka; the appearance and character of the Zulu king”.

Dr Coutts opened with a listing of the last twenty Zulu kings, of whom Shaka ka Senzangakhona was the twelfth, and then spoke of the European concepts of kingship and emperor, which have consequently been applied to many tribes of South Africa.

The Zulu king was known for his stature and magnificent physical presence. He projected dignity and a sense of command, was powerful in build and indeed displayed ‘remarkable athletic prowess’.  If he were to be portrayed in sculpture or graphic arts, he would need to be presented as a robust, rugged and dignified man.

A statue approximately three metres in height would give the necessary weight to his presence, while not being bizarre for its reliance on massive proportions alone. The build should be even more muscular and athletic than most earlier attempts, showing a man whose tall stature was instantly recogisable in a crowd.  The posture should be alert, coiled, prepared for action; a man moving with the times and ready for engagement.

King Shaka was a man of considerable intellect who planned campaigns with great insight, undertook the training of his complex fighting forces with great skill and managed the integration of numerous tribes and clans into the growing Zulu nation. It was a task requiring considerable gathering and processing of information, logical, rational, critical and creative thinking, and an acute ability to understand how social systems work.  His was a considerable intellect!

There were notable examples of honourable conduct on the king’s part, admiration for bravery and the discharge of duty, forgiveness for those who spoke the truth boldly, and compassion for the poorest amongst the nation.  There were even glimpses of humour at times. With the later politicization of the king’s record, those who wished to discredit him neatly omitted these attributes while magnifying the harsher side of a harsh world.  Yet even the more brutal of the recorded anecdotes are no worse than what was done at the time in apparently ‘civilized’ nations such as England and France; or in many other countries throughout much of recent times, for that matter. Any artwork should reflect a penetrating intelligence and the dignity befitting a man of massive presence and gravitas.  He need not be particularly handsome, since there is no clear record of his features, yet the sculptor must shy away from portrayals that do not get the features anatomically in proportion. The face must be absolutely right.

For decoration and a display of power, King Shaka had a band of strung lion’s teeth encircling his neck.  In less formal attire he wore tassels and even genet skin. He sported a loin covering of assorted genet and other tails of a length befitting a senior man, and wore a ubeshu hanging to behind his knees in his mature years. His full headdress was magnificent, being usually bedecked with an apron of red lourie feathers inserted in a thick band of leopard skin or brown otter pelt, all surmounted by a sixty centimetre long blue crane feather at the front. Around each upper arm and lower leg was a tassel made of long bleached hair derived from the extremities of cattle tails. Plugs of shiny yellow cane were inserted in his ear lobes. The clash and contrast of the primary colours; blue (the crane feather), red (lourie feathers) and yellow (cane for the ear decorations) was impressive.

His weapons consisted of a great white shield taller than most men, made of layered cattle hide with a small black patch the size of the open human hand slightly offset at the center. It was a blemish to show that even the king did not regard himself as perfect.  His spear was the iklwa stabbing spear, a metre long with a massive blade. The wood was flared at the lower extremity so that it would be secure in the king’s grasp during battle. It must be displayed in the right hand, held low since the attacking thrust was upwards under the ribcage, and not a futile overhand jab.  The shield must be that engineered by the Zulu king, and not the smaller version that crept in during ensuing years under Kings Dingane, Mpande and Cetshwayo.

Dr Coutts read a poem he had written (Ballad of the great Zulu king), dealing with a brave man Gala who confronted the king after his mother’s death, and berated him for endangering the welfare of the Zulu nation. It is attached for the record.

He concluded the talk with anecdotes that displayed the king’s intelligence, displays of magnanimity and occasional sense of humour. He stressed the conflicting views on the king, explaining that subsequent commentators portrayed him in ways fitting their personal agendas, whether they are political or literary. One could be hanged, drawn and quartered in Europe during the period when Shaka was a boy, yet despite atrocities worldwide and even in the present day, the king was singled out for accusations of excessive brutality. There were no doubt times when his discharge of judicial punishments was cruel, yet no worse than what was implemented in many other parts of the world.

The book Shaka Story of a Zulu King is obtainable from Amazon or Createspace. Information is on the website

The Main Talk, entitled “HMS Glorious, was presented by immediate past Chairman Bill Brady. It was a very alert seaman, on watch on the German battle-cruiser Scharnhorst, who first sighted smoke just after 1600 hours on Saturday 8th June, 1940. Scharnhorst and her sister ship Gneisenau were patrolling off the coast of Norway hoping to intercept. Allied convoys evacuating Allied troops after the disastrous campaign in Norway. The German ships turned towards this unexpected sighting and soon made out the unmistakable aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, escorted by two destroyers HMS Acasta and HMS Ardent, steaming west. In a short gun action lasting just over an hour, all three British ships were sunk. Several hundred men survived on rafts and floats, but in the Arctic cold and without food or water, many died of their wounds and of exposure. When rescue finally came three days later, there were only thirty-nine survivors from Glorious and one each from Acasta and Ardent. More than one thousand five hundred men were lost, including highly trained RAF pilots who had gallantly flown their Hurricanes and Gladiators on board the previous evening rather than abandon their aircraft in Norway.

In 1940, the exact circumstances of this tragedy were shrouded in wartime security, but, even after the war, the official explanation left questions which puzzled historians, politicians and the families of those who had died.

Why had Glorious left the main troop convoy to proceed independently?
Why was she not flying a reconnaissance patrol for her own safety?
Why did British Intelligence give no warning that the German battle-cruisers were at sea?
Why were the survivors not found for three days?

In a lonely parish church situated in the Lake District, there is a stained glass window that commemorates one of the least known incidents of World War Two. The incident occurred on the eighth of June 1940 when the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her two escorting destroyers HMS Acasta and HMS Ardent, were intercepted and sunk by the German battlecruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst in the Norwegian Sea. This resulted in the loss of over one thousand five hundred officers and men of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, and Royal Air Force.

The severely embarrassed British Admiralty ordered that the official report should be closed for one hundred years, but pressure from families and relatives led to some earlier releases.

The question arises, how; on a day of calm sea and clear visibility did the German battlecruisers overwhelm the carrier and her escorts in just two hours? And why did no British warship in the vicinity receive a signal of an enemy sighting, as was alleged by the naval authorities at that time?

  It is necessary to look at the background of this warship. HMS Glorious was the second of the Courageous class cruisers built for the Royal Navy during the First World War. Glorious was completed in 1916 and spent the rest of the war patrolling the North Sea and was present when the German High Seas Fleet surrendered at Scapa Flow. After the First World War, The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 compelled the Royal Navy to scrap many of her older ships. However, some could be converted into aircraft carriers, and the Courageous-class ships with a combination of a large hull and high speed made them ideal candidates for conversion. Glorious was re-commissioned as an aircraft carrier on February 1930 and could carry up to forty eight aircraft. On the outbreak of World War Two, Glorious was serving with the Mediterranean Fleet. Later in November 1939 she moved through the Suez Canal into the Indian Ocean where she became part of the task force that was organised to hunt for the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. Then in April 1940 she joined the Home Fleet to provide air cover for British forces in Norway.

Glorious and Ark Royal made several excursions between Scapa Flow and Norway to ferry aircraft that attacked enemy shore based positions. But, by this time, Hitler had launched his blitzkrieg in the west. Allied troops and aircraft were needed to counter the threat, and ordered to evacuate from Norway. Glorious arrived off the coast to provide air support and take on board land based aircraft. Gladiators and Hurricanes were flown aboard during the afternoon of June seventh.

The Hurricanes had a much higher landing speed than the biplanes, and the pilots showed great skill in performing this feat without loss. Particularly, as this was the first time that high speed monoplanes without arrester hooks had landed on an aircraft carrier.

Both speakers responded to questions put to them, after which the customary vote of thanks was presented by Dr Graeme Fuller.

2013 Battlefield Tour. A reminder that the 2013 Battlefield Tour will focus on the Great Trek in Natal. It will take place over the weekend of the 30th November / 1st December 2013. The cost will be R30 per person, all of which will go to Branch funds. The provisional programme is as follows:
SATURDAY 30TH NOVEMBER 2013. Rendezvous at 09h00 at Midway Service Station (turn LEFT at the exit to Estcourt South on the N3. The Caltex Service Station is clearly visible to the left of the N3. Sites to be visited will include the site of Veglaager, the Kaalvoetvroumonument, Kerkenberg, Marthinus Oosthuyse’s grave (the hero of Rensburgskop) Sooilaager and Doornkoplaager. Accommodation has been arranged at a very special rate with the Willow Grange Hotel. Please make your own reservations by phoning the hotel on 036-352 7102 and referring to the SAMHS Tour.
SUNDAY 1ST DECEMBER 2013. Rensburgskop Battlefield, Bloukrans and time permitting Weenen.

Please add your name to the list that is being circulated at meetings, or e-mail Ken Gillings to confirm your attendance.

NEXT MEETING – 12TH SEPTEMBER 2013. 19h00 FOR 19H30.
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: Ross Cairns on “Julius Caesar’s Invasion of Gaul” (Note: Ross is a student at Kearsney College)
Main Lecture: “The Naval Battles of the Guadalcanal Part 1” by Roy Bowman.

Future Meetings and Events:

Thursday 10th October 2013:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:
“The Terracotta Warriors”, by Dr John Cooke
Main Lecture: “British Psychological Warfare in Aden in the 1960s”, by Donald Davies.

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 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.

Unless otherwise stated, monthly meetings are held in the Murray Theatre, Department of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal Howard College Campus, Durban at 19h00 for 19h30.

South African Military History Society /