South African Military History 


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 111
December/Desember 2013

The November meeting held in Port Elizabeth on Saturday 9th was preceded in the morning by a visit to the Prince Alfred’s Guard Memorial in St George’s Park and a guided tour of the PAG Museum. Both these events were led by member Terry Pattison, former RSM of the regiment. The memorial was unveiled in 1907 to commemorate those officers and men who, up to that time, had fallen in the line of duty. Their names are recorded on four tablets reflecting the Transkei War (1877), the Basutoland War (1880-81), the Bechuanaland War (1897) and the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). At the foot of each tablet is a laurel wreath. Memorial tablets in memory of those who had paid the supreme sacrifice in World War II were subsequently added at the base of the surrounding wall which was originally designed to retain the pool for a fountain which was fed from the mouths of four lions at the base of the central structure. On the top of the central pedestal is a life-size figure of a sergeant-major of Prince Alfred’s Guard standing at the ‘charge’. Immediately below him are four lions, each holding a decorated shield. The edifice was renovated in 2005 to mark the 150th anniversary of the regiment. Underneath it lies the Service Reservoir, Port Elizabeth’s second oldest, with a diameter of 61m, a depth of 3.2m and a capacity of 7.57 million litres (two million gallons). The cost of the entire structure was £15 525 which in today’s equivalent, taking inflation and the Rand exchange rate into account, would be some R20 million.

The latter part of the morning was spent in the PAG Museum, surely one of the best regimental museums in the country, under Terry’s expert guidance. Apart from a range of muzzle-loading ordnance, including the 3.5m mid-17th century culverin extra (the ‘miracle gun’ and the museum’s pièce de résistance), there are numerous historical documents, portraits, flags and other items of interest. Terry also gave a brief history of the building in which the regiment is permanently housed, and which has been used for every conceivable social purpose from dances to parades and exhibitions – a true community centre at a time during which the Regiment was a major part of the social life of the city.

After a picnic lunch in the NCOs Mess, Colonel Fred Oelschig presented both the curtain raiser and the main lecture. The former was on the topic of Illegal nocturnal flying in SWA/Namibia during 1977.

After the withdrawal of South African Forces from Angola in 1975, intelligence sources were not surprised to see a dramatic escalation of SWAPO activities in southern Angola and northern South West Africa. The void left by the withdrawal of the South African Defence Force and Portuguese forces was rapidly exploited by SWAPO and the MPLA who deployed their forces right up to the border and into Owamboland. Secure air bases were located at Mongue, Xangongo, Caharna and Lubango relatively close to the border, and it is believed that it was from these bases that regular aircraft flights took place into SWA.

There were a large number of SWAPO sympathizers in northern SWA. They were mostly known to intelligence agencies and, as time went by, a picture of air supply by means of nocturnal flights to these known sympathisers was built up. It was ascertained that flights took place on the five days preceding and after full moon; that the aircraft used were mainly single-engined, but occasionally twin-engined, light aircraft. Flights would normally be at a high level, approximately 15 000 ft above ground level, and no aircraft lights were used. As SAAF radar capacity at Ongangua and Grootfontein was at that time very limited, these flights were seldom pickeded up and flight patterns consequently difficult to monitor.

A site was however discovered in the foothills of the Waterberg, in north-eastern SWA, where a small parachute was found together with an impact mark on the ground. Intelligence reports received also indicated that aircraft had been seen landing on roads in remote areas south of Etosha Pan. It was deduced that, clearly, there was assistance on the ground in order to be able to achieve this, as well as radio communication in order to coordinate these actions.

A Task Force was accordingly established in order to deploy a reaction force to follow up solid information/intelligence. The Task Force consisted of Fred Oelschig (in command), members of SWAPOL, SWA commandos, 2 SAI, pilots from the SWA Air wing as well as civilian vehicles and equipment all posing as mineral scientists looking for oil. It deployed south of Etosha Pan, ten days before each full moon, ‘exploring for minerals’. Five days before each full moon, Cessna aircraft were deployed to a landing strip developed on Etosha Pan and observation teams, 50 km apart, were deployed on high ground south of Ovamboland. They were well armed with radios and compasses and were tasked to report all aircraft movement over or near their positions and across the border at night. Mobile observation teams were deployed across the entire East/West sector of Central SWA in order to try and to pick up possible landing areas.

The general modus operandi was, during the dark moon periods, to drive around the possible landing or dropping areas interviewing people regarding possible mineral deposits while also trying to determine nocturnal aircraft movements. During the full moon period the Task Force deployed close to possible landing points and established an HQ to receive and coordinate radio reports. Each reported aircraft overflight received from the various Observation Posts was plotted and vectored to determine possible flight paths and potential landing areas. The aircraft in Etosha were tasked to get airborne in order to try to see possible aircraft and/or landing areas.

The Task Force operated over a period of three months. During this time, it deployed from as far south as Swakopmund, to the Waterberg east of Otjiwarongo and to the south and west of Etosha at Otjiwasandu. It managed to capture two passengers when they disembarked from a single engine aircraft at a mission station in the Otjikondo area, west of Outjo. They were white foreigners and were handed over to SWAPOL. The Task Force was unable to apprehend the pilot as it misjudged the strength of the cable that had been placed around the tail wheel of the aircraft and attached to a Land Rover in the bush. The cable broke on take-off. The ‘air wing' managed to intercept a single engine aircraft one night, but it broke off the engagement and fled north. No more incidents took place after this and the operation was discontinued.

In the main lecture Fred Oelschig addressed the branch on Pre-1994 Officer Training in the SADF.

The South African Defence Force viewed one of their most important assets to be their manpower, resulting in great emphasis being placed on proper training. As a consequence of this, a large number of courses were available to all ranks to attend.

In making this presentation, Fred concentrated on officer training in the South African Army. This was not intended to elevate officer training above that of NCOs and other ranks – they were equally important – but because he was an Army officer and was therefore more familiar with its circumstances. Training was broadly similar for the other services.

The SADF in the 1960s and early seventies was a force that had evolved from the British standards of the Second World War. Apart from French helicopters, it was almost exclusively provided with British equipment. Its first major military action after WW2 was Operation Savannah in 1974/75, in which the SADF entered Angola. It was quickly realised that the SADF was at a serious disadvantage when confronted by the Cubans, who were generally equipped with superior weapons, particularly their artillery.

A number of very important lessons came out of Operation Savannah. Among these were that South Africa needed to improve its equipment; to apply the norms of war to the African theatre of war more realistically; and to improve its training standards. The debriefing after Operation Savannah proved to be very significant in the development of Officer (and all other training) in the SADF. In the first instance officer training was seen to be a very serious matter and there was zero tolerance for any form of dishonesty. Equally, training standards were set high, the minimum pass mark being 60% and failures not being given a second chance.

Training of Army Officers was on various levels, from basic section drills to important strategic decisions. Fred then examined the following variants:
* Becoming an Officer (The Academy)
* Schools (Platoon and company level training)
* Colleges (Battalion level training; Brigade level training; Strategic level training)
* SADF College


Initially, there was the excellent institution of the various Gymnasia: the ‘Army Gym’ in Voortrekkerhoogte, the ‘Air Force Gym’ in Valhalla and the ‘Navy Gym’ in Saldanha. These were the nursery schools of most officers and other ranks, offering the recruit the option of joining the SADF permanently. If the recruit wished to become an officer he was placed on a Junior Leader’s training course for a year, after the successful completion of which, he would become a Second Lieutenant and be posted out to his first unit as a short service officer.

Any candidate who wished to become an officer in the Permanent Force and to study for a degree could apply for entry to the Military Academy. A selection board decided on the candidates and the successful applicants were sent to the Military Academy as First Year Candidate Officers. After the successful completion of the second year the candidate would become a Second Lieutenant and after the third year, a full Lieutenant. The Military Academy offered the following academic (degree) courses: B Mil (BA), B Mil (B Com), B Mil (BSc) and B Mil (BSc Eng).

A recruit who was doing National Service, could also apply for a candidate officer’s course, which was also presented at the Army Gymnasium where he did a three month course and was thereafter posted as a Second Lieutenant to his unit. These officers fed the Citizen Force units. This system later changed to the Infantry School when a one year course was conducted and the successful officer was posted to a training unit for a year. A serving Warrant Officer or NCO could also apply to do a Senior Administration Course. This was normally conducted at the Infantry School and after three months, the successful candidate would be promoted to Lieutenant or sometimes Captain.


There were various schools within the Army covering every mustering from Artillery to Military Police and Catering. The purpose of these schools was to give training in basic weapon handling, battle handling, and manoeuvre of the particular corps to the level of company or equivalent. These schools were the Alma Mater of all officers and other ranks within their particular corps as this was where each individual got their grounding for their future careers.

Courses that were offered at the Infantry School were:
* Support weapon training ( Mortars, anti-tank, machine gun, grenades, rifles, pistols etc)
* Battle handling training up to Company level
* Tactical training up to Company level.
* Training technology.
* Counter insurgency training
* Junior NCO training
* Junior Officer training


Each arm of the service had its own college i.e. Army College, Air Force College, Naval College and Surgeon-General College. These colleges were responsible for higher tactical training up to Brigade level (or equivalent) and were the highest seat of learning within that arm of the Defence Force.

The primary course conducted at the various colleges was their Staff Course. This was an extremely difficult course conducted over 11 months, for each candidate had not only to be nominated but also to ‘qualify’ before being able to attend such a course. The qualifying course consisted of two weeks of intensive evaluation where up to three written examination papers of two or three hours each were written per day. No single examination could be failed, the pass mark being 60 %. Each examination tested the candidate’s academic knowledge of all the subjects that had been covered in his career up to that point. The course itself was divided into two distinct segments – a ‘command segment’ and a ‘staff segment’. The course was extreme in every sense of the word: standards were extremely high as was the competition. Candidates were tested on their individual ability as well as their ability to work in a group. Their skills in leadership as commanders were tested as were their ability to perform staff tasks.

The first three months was devoted exclusively to the development and evaluation of the individual. Any individual found wanting was excluded from the course which was extremely traumatic as most course members were already either at the rank of Major or Commandant/Lieutenant Colonel. The individual phase was followed by the team/group phase with subject matter involving studies up to Brigade level training. On successful completion of the ‘command’ and ‘staff’ segments, an officer was theoretically eligible for promotion to the rank of Brigadier. No formal evaluation results were published i.e. what percentage a participant had received for each individual subject. It was however traditional that the top three candidates were named first during the diploma presentation ceremony after the course.


The College was the highest seat of learning in the SADF. Strategic matters were discussed, presented and evaluated by a multi-spectrum of course members nominated across National Departments of Government. Prominent were members of the SADF (all arms) and thereafter candidates from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Prisons, the South African Police and friendly foreign nations. Lectures were primarily given by a selection of speakers on a wide range of subjects e.g. foreign policy matters, strategic monetary control, state budgetary strategy, intercontinental strategy, concepts of ideologies etc. No examinations were written and evaluation of individuals was done only at Officer Commanding level. Upon completing the course, one received the certificate as well as the option to use the post-nominal title of JSC (Joint Staff Course). The SADF College presented the final formal course, lasting six months, in the career of an officer.


Promotion courses:
Each officer was expected to pass a minimum number of courses for promotion to the next highest rank.
Promotion to 2nd Lieutenant – Basic Candidate Officer Course
Promotion to Lieutenant – at least two platoon weapons courses and Military Law
Promotion to Captain – Battle handling course
Promotion to Major – Tactical training course (Junior SD)
Promotion to Commandant/Colonel/Brigadier – Full Staff course
Promotion to General – Joint Staff Course

Proficiency Courses A large number of proficiency courses were available to officers to attend on request. The commonly known courses were paratrooper training, driving and maintenance, explosives training and training technology (for which there was a special school). One favourite was wine tasting, a two-week course which, significantly, was only available for ranks above Commandant. Various overseas courses were available to nominated candidates viz. language courses, staff duties courses (Spain; Chile; Israel), Special Forces courses (USA; Portugal), special technology courses e.g. propaganda (Taiwan), and mechanised warfare (Israel). These proficiency courses were very popular with officers, when they could fit them in between border duty and promotion courses. Fred, for example, completed a total of 54 courses, ending at the SADF College as the Senior Army Director.
These are the training considerations that led the SADF to be ranked, prior to 1994, as among the best armies in the world.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next meeting will be on 9th December at 19h30 at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The topic for the evening will be Military aspects of the Great Trek presented by Pat and Anne Irwin. The meeting will be preceded by the screening at 18h30 of the next episode of the ‘World at War’ series which was not broadcast on television. This is the remaining 50 minutes left of Episode E which was started in October.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

WW I Celebrations

Attached for general information is a summary of South Africa’s and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s related envisaged involvement in the centenary celebrations of WW1, as received from the CWGC, courtesy of Capt. (SAN) Charles Ross.

2014 Membership subscriptions

The SAMHS National Committee has decided for the second year running, not to increase subscriptions for 2014. Membership therefore remains at R215 for single and R230 for family (two people sharing the same postal address). Half-year subs, which will apply from 1st July will, be R110 and R120 respectively. Loose Journals, for those interested, will cost R50 including p&p until 1st July when this will be reviewed in light of actual printing costs.

Please note that subs are payable to SAMHS, Johannesburg, on 1st January 2014 and that SAMHSEC will assume that those who have not renewed their membership by the AGM on 10th March 2014 do not intend to do so. The SAMHSEC committee looks forward to all current members renewing membership and encouraging others to join. Membership renewal/application forms and SAMHS' banking details are available on the SAMHS website,

SAMHSEC Speakers Roster 2014

This document as it stands at present is attached.

Individual members’ activities

Barry Irwin has co-authored, with colleagues from the CSIR, an article in the . It is entitled ‘A computer network attack taxonomy and ontology’. Anyone wishing to obtain a copy should contact Barry directly at

Konsentrasiekamp besorgdheid en instandhouding Die volgende interessante berig het in die Volksblad op 25 Oktober 2013 verskyn. Kan dit dalk ‘n beter toekoms vir ons begrafplase inlei?

DIE Erfenisstigting het nou ook tot die hofstryd toegetree om die Masilonyana-munisipaliteit te verplig om die konsentrasiekampbegraafplaas by Winburg in stand te hou. Die stigting is gister in die Vrystaatse hooggeregshof deur regter M.B. Molemela as vriend van die hof toegelaat om die hof met ’n skriftelike betoog en mondelingse getuienis in die verhoor by te staan. Die munisipaliteit en sy munisipale bestuurder het die stigting se toetrede in ’n prokureursbrief afgekeur, maar dit nie in die hof teengestaan nie.

AfriForum, wat saam met drie belastingbetalers van Winburg die aansoekers in die hoofaansoek is, het nie beswaar gehad nie. Húlle vra in die hoofaansoek die hof om die munisipaliteit te verplig om binne 30 dae ’n skriftelike herstelplan voor te lê oor hoe hy die begraafplaas gaan herstel, skoonmaak en in stand hou. Die munisipaliteit moet in dié plan ook sê hoe hy die vullisstortingsterrein daar naby en die omliggende gebied tot teen die begraafplaas gaan bestuur en die pad na die twee terreine gaan herstel. Hulle vra ook vir ’n bevel dat dié plan binne 60 dae in werking gestel word. Die munisipaliteit moet gelas word om dadelik toe te sien dat geen verdere onwettige grond- en gruisuitgrawings in dié omgewing plaasvind nie.

Cecilia Kruger, ’n senior bestuurder van die stigting, sê in gister se aansoek die stigting het ’n wesenlike belang by die uitkoms van die hofaansoek.Die stigting is betrokke by die herstel en onderhoud van die konsentrasiekampbegraafplaas by Winburg. Dié begraafplaas is ’n provinsiale erfenisgebied.

Met die uitgebreide ondervinding van die stigting in die herstel en onderhoud van konsentrasiekampe en begraafplase oor die land heen, is die stigting dié geskikte een wat die hof kan inlig oor wat die munisipaliteit moet doen om die begraafplaas te onderhou.

Die stigting se werk aan die begraafplaas by Winburg word belemmer deur omstandighede rondom die terrein. Deur die nabygeleë stortingsterrein te omhein, kan die publiek duidelik gewys word waar hulle vullis mag stort. Deur die begraafplaas behoorlik te omhein, sal dit mense uithou wat daar slaap, skade aanrig en mors. Die munisipaliteit moet ook die pad daarheen herstel en onderhou. Die stigting kan onderhoudswerk in die begraafplaas doen, maar kan nie die omstandighede buite beheer nie. Dit is die munisipaliteit se plig, sê sy. Die munisipaliteit moet ook ’n begroting vir die projek aan die hof verskaf om seker te maak dat dit uitgevoer kan word.

Great Trek 175th anniversary: Military encounters of the Voortrekkers 9

The battle of Boomplaats on 29th August 1848 is the final military encounter in this series which can truly be regarded as a Voortrekker conflict. By this time, 13 years after the first emigrants left the Cape Colony, the Trekkers had by and large become a settled farming community. Several towns had also either been established or were in the process of becoming so.

The battle was a direct consequence of an action by Sir Harry Smith who, in February 1848, had peremptorily declared the area between the Orange and the Vaal Rivers to be British territory, to be known as the Orange River Sovereignty – much to the chagrin of the Trekkers settled there. Andries Pretorius, who had led them to victory at Blood River and Congella was called upon to assist the Trekkers in reasserting their independence.

Events then moved relatively quickly for the times. On 20th July, Major Warden, the British Resident, and his garrison were evicted from their seat in Bloemfontein. Two days later, Smith started to muster a force to ‘put down the rebellion’, and on 26th August he crossed the Orange River with a combined force of 1 400 - 1 500 British and Griqua troops, the latter under Adam Kok and Andries Waterboer. This force then began its march towards Winburg. Pretorius had meanwhile assembled a commando of about 1 000 men and proceeded to move to the southern Free State to confront Smith’s advance. It was decided to ambush Smith at the farm ‘Boomplaats’ where there was favourable terrain of two rows of low hills.

Smith reached the area at mid-morning on 29th August and, having being warned by his scouts of the presence of the Trekkers, advanced northwards towards the hills over a flat plain. The Trekkers had formed a line of defence in the first row of hills and as Smith’s force advanced, opened a brisk fire at about 11h00. At the same time they attempted to enfilade the British left and capture the wagons, a move frustrated by Smith’s artillery. Smith, in the front of the action, ordered a charge on the Trekker positions and, despite casualties, had within 20 minutes cleared the first range of hills on which the Trekkers had been ensconced. The Trekkers reformed a short distance further back, offering stout resistance. They were however again driven out by effective artillery fire and spread out over open ground in considerable disarray, making for a nek in the second row of hills, where they again made a stand to cover their retreat. This time they were pushed back by a combination of artillery fire, the Cape Mounted Riflemen and mounted Griquas. The Trekkers then set the grass alight to cover their retreat and dispersed over the plain to the north. The battle was over by 14h00.

Casualties were not inconsiderable. The British-Griqua coalition lost 24 men killed in action including six Griqua troops, and 39 wounded some severely. The most reliable figures for the Trekkers are nine killed and five wounded. The initial British claim that 49 ‘rebels’ had been killed can be dismissed as nonsense.

Smith then marched to Winburg, which he reached on 7th September, without further resistance and, once there, proceeded to offer large rewards for the capture of the Trekker leaders, levied heavy fines on some of those who had participated, confiscated property and banished individuals from the territory. He also executed a young Trekker who had been taken prisoner at Boomplaats, one Dreyer from the Magaliesburg, on the grounds that he was a British subject. Although the Trekkers had been fairly and squarely beaten on the field of battle, Smith’s intemperate behaviour left a legacy of bitterness.

There are various explanations for the Trekker’s poor showing at Zwaartkoppies and Boomplaats, but they are beyond the present brief. Certainly fighting against a professional army with modern firearms was a different matter to combat with people who lacked this technology. Different tactics and thinking would be needed in the future, a lesson which was yet to be learned by both Boer and Brit.

In concluding the series, we might note that from the early 1850s the Trekkers in both the Free State and the Transvaal, now more commonly being referred to as ‘Boere’ or ‘the Boers’, had developed the beginnings of formal government structures which, amongst other things, allowed them to conduct war on a more systematic basis than had hitherto been the case. It also enabled them to maintain almost continuous low level warfare against other groups within the broad encompass of the Transvaal and Orange Free State. The Free State was, as early as 1852, at the beginning of an extended war with the Basotho kingdom of Moshweshwe; the Transvaalers were, in 1847, at the start of a protracted war against the BaPedi. Other wars against local tribes, such as Makapane’s Ndebele and the BaVenda, took place in the ensuing 46 years. In 1880/81, the militarily much better organised descendants of the Voortrekkers soundly defeated the British in the Anglo-Transvaal War, but they were in turn, after a three year struggle against overwhelming odds accompanied by deliberate massive destruction of their agricultural infrastructure and the genocidal consequences of the British concentration camps, finally defeated in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. They had lost the war but their descendants went on to participate actively in developing a united South Africa.

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

World War I

Conscripted animals
Nick Tarver BBC News 11th November 2013

How Literate Are You by 1918 Standards? Take This Oddly Poetic Test.
Rebecca Onion The Vault 24th September 2013

More on the A 10 Warthog

Air Force Times 17th October 2013

Air Force Times Undated|video

Interesting people and ideas

Bletchley Park code breaker, Mavis Batey, whose Enigma breakthrough proved crucial to the success of D-Day
Anon The Telegraph 13th November 2013

Death of Manfred Rommel
Anon The Telegraph 10th November 2013

How HG Wells created hobby war gaming
Trevor Timpson BBC News Magazine 2nd August 2013

Museum Tries To Save The Plant Where Rosie Riveted
Tracy Samilton NPR 4th August 2013

Dark meaning behind popular phrases
The Telegraph 17th November 2013

Matters American

50 years later, hotline to Moscow still relevant.
David Dishneau The Big Story 29th August 2013

American invasion of Grenada
Stephen Trujillo and Jacob Siegel Michael Yon Online Magazine 25th October 2013

Matters Naval

USS Forrestal, the Navy's first super-carrier, to be scrapped in 1 cent deal
Joshua Rhett Miller 24th October 2013

Japan launches largest warship since World War II
Brad Lendon, CNN 7th August 2013

Resource materials of military historical interest/Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundige belang

We have received the following extract, which first appeared in Rose’s Round-Up No 236, September 1013, from Richard Tomlinson. We are grateful to Rose Willis* for permission to re-produce it as is.

‘On the subject of Anglo-Boer War concentration camps many might argue that it’s all been said. Not so Elizabeth van Heyningen. For years she waded through long-forgotten, dusty archival material in South Africa and Britain to produce a fresh perspective, a social history of the camps. The result is a comprehensive, well-balanced and immensely interesting 400-page book covering everything from overcrowding, poor rations, malnutrition, disease, death and orphans, to music and inmate employment. Elizabeth also scrutenised camp mythology. “These were not simply places to which women, children and old men were sent. Neither were they filled with genteel families whose pianos, silver and chandeliers had been tossed into fires by British troops. Primarily the inmates were landless bywoners, rather than middle class people,” she says. “Also, the camps accommodated thousands of young men from 18 to 35 whom Afrikaners termed cowards, traitors and hensoppers”. This is the first book in 50 years to analyse the reasons for establishing the camps and to delve into their poor management. The Concentration Camps of the Anglo-Boer War: A Social History tells a richer, fuller tale than its predecessors which mostly focused on tragedy. Elizabeth views the Boers in a less monolithic way and takes a fresh look at their outlook on life, their allegiances and their desire to fight. Many knew the war could not be won. Elizabeth blames Lord Kitchener for the scorched-earth policy. "He had no interest in civilians. He created the camps without knowing who and how many had to be accommodated. Frankly he did not care. No provision was made for black people and, sadly, their stories were never recorded.” This book, published by Jacana, is an excellent read. Professor Albert Grundlingh hails it as the work of a master historian and a major reference work. It costs about R280 at most bookstores.’

* The annual subscription for Rose’s Round-Up which from time to time contains items of military historical interest is R75.00 for 12 issues. Rose may be contacted at

Members are invited to send in to the scribes, short reviews of, or comments on, books, DVDs or any other interesting resources they have come across. News on individual member’s activities is also welcome. In this Newsletter, there have been contributions by Richard Tomlinson, Malcolm Kinghorn, Barry Irwin, Michael Irwin and Andre Crozier.

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn:
Secretary: Richard Keyter:
Scribes (Newsletter): Anne and Pat Irwin:

South African Military History Society /