South African Military History 


Newsletter / Nuusbrief 101 February/Februarie 2013

The open house series was given by Barry de Klerk on the Daphne Class submarine SAS Assegaai (formerly the SAS Johanna van der Merwe), now part of the SA Navy Museum in Simon’s Town. Barry described his visit to the submarine which lies within the Naval Dockyard, although it is intended to be moved to the museum complex at some time in the future. He illustrated his talk with a number of slides taken inside the vessel.

The curtain raiser presented by Stephen Bowker was on the The tapestries at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria. After briefly outlining the origins and setting of the Monument, Stephen described the inspiration for, and the making of, the tapestries. The idea was driven by women within the framework of the Afrikaanse Taal en Kultuur Vereeniging (ATKV) who felt that the role women had played in the Great Trek needed to be brought more to the fore. 15 panels were designed by the artist W H Coetzer to depict significant scenes in which women had played a part. Nine women from the ATKV worked on the embroidery for eight years to complete the tapestry which added up to some 3.3 million stiches – a labour of devotion if ever there was one.

Stephen then examined six of the 15 tapestries in some detail. Die Verjaarsdag reflects a festive time prior to the Trek against a background setting of Graaff Reinet. As in all the panels, dress, habits and activities of the time are faithfully portrayed. Die Uittog represents a scene of departure from the Cape Colony, in this case from the Tarkastad area showing the well-known hills of Martha and Maria as geographical context. Essential items for the Trek such as hymn books and medicines are also shown. The third panel discussed was the Battle of Vegkop in which the Trekkers repulsed Mzilikazi’s amaNdebele army, but lost all their cattle. The Trekkers were subsequently aided by the BaRolong of Thaba’ Nchu, who were delighted to see the last of Mzilikazi’s marauders whose depredations they too had suffered. The Trekker sojourn at Thaba’Nchu was the subject of the next panel in which a number of interesting domestic activities, such as riempie making are shown. The last two panels discussed were the massacre at Bloukrans in which over 500 individuals, mainly women, children and old men, were killed; and the Battle of Blood River (iMpi yaseNcome) in which about 470 Trekkers fighting from the protection of their wagon laager repulsed a Zulu dawn attack by an estimated 10 000 warriors, killing approximately 3 000 of them. The trekkers suffered three wounded.

The main lecture on The Dickin Medal was delivered by Tiaan Jacobs, a medal collector and SAMHSEC’s medal expert. The medal was instituted in 1943 in the United Kingdom by Maria Elizabeth Dickin CBE, the founder of the People’s [Royal] Dispensary for Sick Animals, an NGO devoted to the care and treatment of sick and injured animals. It is known in South Africa as the PDSA.

Maria Dickin was aware of the bravery often displayed by animals on active service and on the Home Front. Inspired by the animals’ devotion to man and duty, she introduced this special medal, later popularly referred to as ‘the animal’s Victoria Cross’. It was awarded to honour animals displaying conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty associated with, or under the control of, any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence units during World War II and its aftermath.

The award, which can only be considered upon receipt of an official recommendation, is exclusive to the animal kingdom. Traditionally, the medal has been presented by the Lord Mayor of London. It is a large, bronze medallion, the obverse bearing the initials ‘PDSA’ at the top, the words For Gallantry in the centre and We Also Serve at the bottom, all within a wreath of laurel. The reverse is blank for inscribing the details of the recipient. The medal ribbon is green, dark brown and pale blue, representing water, earth and air to symbolise the naval, military, civil defence and air forces.

Of the 54 Dickin Medals awarded between 1943 and 1949, 32 were presented to pigeons, 18 to dogs, three to horses, and one to a cat, the latter being Simon of HMS Amethyst. [See SAMHSEC Newsletters 91 and 93.] In 2002 the medal was revived and since then recipients have included dogs who worked in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in America and continue to serve in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afghanistan and Iraq. 64 Dickin Medals have been awarded to date.

Tiaan then highlighted a number of specific recipients of the Medal. Amongst these were Bob, a mongrel, who worked on patrol with the 8th Army in North Africa; Beauty, a Wirehaired terrier, who assisted in the location of buried air-raid victims in WW II and was considered to be the first real search and rescue dog; and , a Collie who assisted in the rescue of four American airmen lost in a blizzard after a crash in December 1944.

Pride of place in Tiaan’s pantheon of gallant animals was however given to Antis, an Alsatian owned by Czech airman Václav Bozdech. This dog served with him in the French Air Force in North Africa and the RAF in Bomber Command from 1940 to 1945. Antis served, with his master, in 311 (Czech) Squadron which was equipped with Wellington bombers. Refusing to be left behind, he accompanied the crew in over 30 bombing missions over the Reich, lying in the cockpit between Bozdech and the co-pilot, where he sometimes had to share his master’s oxygen mask. This was not the safest seat in the plane and the raids themselves were terrifying experiences with blinding searchlights, flak, violent manoeuvres to avoid night fighters and sometimes lightning storms. Antis was injured by flak twice, once seriously, but he never complained and was always eager to be on the next trip. The crew rapidly reached the conclusion that Antis brought them luck; his fame began to spread, and he became an inspiration for many, a hero and a treasured mascot. Initially, his existence in this capacity was officially denied, but the RAF soon relented and capitalised on his presence. He was eventually awarded his Dickin medal by Field Marshall Wavell himself, who remarked that “Antis had inspired others through his courage and steadfastness. This was the remarkable thing.” Antis’ exploits also earned him the distinction of being the first foreign dog to receive the Dickin Medal.

Subsequent to the War, Bozdech returned to his native Czechoslovakia but, together with Antis, had to flee after the 1948 communist coup and the purges which followed. Antis was 13 years old when he died in Britain and is buried along with other animal heroes in the PDSA cemetery at Ilford in north-east London. Tiaan concluded by briefly describing his own relationship with a number of Alsatians.

Following the lecture, some interesting questions were raised about animal consciousness with regard to bravery. Jon Ossher has subsequently drawn our attention to the role of a pit-bull x terrier in the US Army, Sergeant Stubby, which might throw some light on the issue. See A list of all recipients of the Dickin Medal can be seen at:

The following recently published book also deals with current dog heroes: Goodavage Maria 2012 Soldier Dogs New York Penguin. See details at:

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next meeting will be at 19h30 on 11th February at the usual venue. The curtain raiser will be St Helena Visit by Richard Tomlinson and the main lecture The Battle of Silkaatsnek, 11th July 1900, by Ian Copley. The meeting will be preceded by the screening at 18h30 of the next episode in the ‘World at War’ series, titled Japan (1941 – 1945)

. Notice is given of SAMHSEC's AGM to be held in the EP Veteran Car Club at 19h30 on 11th March 2013. Nominations for the committee and points for discussion should be submitted to the chairman at by 28th February. The AGM will take place in lieu of the Curtain Raiser and the Main lecture will be A dependent’s tale by Barbara Kinghorn.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

Individual members’ activities

Ian Copley and Richard Tomlinson have received recognition for the assistance they gave to British author Alan Stennett, for his recently published book Lincolnshire lads on the veldt: Letters home from volunteer soldiers in the South African War 1899-1903. More details about this book will appear in the next Newsletter.


Richard Tomlinson reports an interesting glimpse into South African aviation history as a result of a discussion he had with Major Sam van den Berg of Regiment Piet Retief. Major Retief’s grandparents farmed near Thabazimbi in the 1930s and one day four biplanes made a forced landing in a field on the farm. He says they turned out to be a consignment of aircraft to be gifted to the Union of South Africa by the British government, but had run out of fuel. Phone calls were made to Pretoria, extra fuel duly arrived, and the planes took off and arrived safely in the capital. Imagine that happening today! Members wishing to receive notifications on the latest Military History publications from Random House Struik, are invited to send an email to with “Yes: Military History newsletter” in the subject line.

An informal seminar on South Africa’s military history since 1945 is planned for Apr 2013, which will be attended by military historians and researchers concerned with the recording of South Africa’s military campaigns since 1945. It will be held at Pretoria Regiment and the moderator will be Prof André Wessels of the UFS. Presentations will be delivered by James Jacobs, Marius Whittle, Helmoed Römer-Heitman, Louise Jooste, Nicol Stassen, Marius van Graan, Marius van Aardt, William Marshall, Danie van den Berg, Tinus de Klerk, Paul Els, Marius Dippenaar and H W Short. Further details can be obtained from Mr Short at his e-mail address at

Notable anniversaries in February / Merkwaardige gedenkdae in Februarie

2 Feb 1942 8th Army, including the SA 1st Division, stabilise the line at Ein Gazala-Bir Hakiem. (The line was overwhelmed during the Battle of Gazala in June.)
2 Feb 1943 German 6th Army, under Field Marshall von Paulus surrenders at Stalingrad which, after the Axis defeat at El Alamein in October 1942, marked the beginning of the end for the Third Reich.
3 Feb 1488 Barthlomew Diaz lands at Mossel Bay and skirmishes with the KhoiKhoi. The earliest known black-white conflict in South Africa.
4 Feb 1915 Battle of Kakamas. A skirmish for control of two fords over the Orange River between a German invasion force and the Union Defence Force. The South Africans succeed in preventing the Germans gaining control of the fords and crossing the river.
4-12 Feb 1942 Yalta Conference. Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin begin to shape post WWII world.
5-7 Feb 1900 Battle of Vaalkrantz. General Sir Redvers Buller defeated by Boers under General Louis Botha.
6 Feb 1901 Battle of Chrissiemeer. Botha attacks Smith-Dorrien but fails to obtain the supplies he needs.
7 Feb 1878 Battle of Centane Hill. Really a series of skirmishes. Combined Gcaleka-Ngqika force versus 1/24 Regt and their Mfengu allies. The Galekas suffered heavily and it was to be their last appearance as a fighting force in the war.
8 Feb 1881 Battle of Schuinshoogte (Ingogo). Boers under General Nicolaas Smit (the victor of Bronkhorstspruit) defeat Btitish under General Sir Pomeroy Colley
11 Feb 1941 HMSAS Southern Floe sunk by a mine off Tobruk with only one survivor. South Africa’s first naval loss of WW II.
12 Feb 1941 Rommel arrives in North Africa with the first contingent of the Afrika Korps to bolster the Italians.
12-17 Feb 1838 Battles of Saailager, Veglaer and Rensburg Koppie near Estcourt. Zulu attacks repelled by defending Trekkers.
13 Feb 1929 Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin which was to save an estimated two million lives in WW II.
13 Feb 1945 The bombing of Dresden. Still a controversial issue.
14 Feb 1943 Battle of Kasserine Pass. Afrika Korps inflict defeat on Americans.
15 Feb 1900 Siege of Kimberley relieved by General Sir John French.
15 Feb 1942 Surrender of Singapore. 80 000 British, Indian and Australian troops become prisoners of war, more than half to perish in Japanese slave camps.
17 Feb 1838 Massacres at Bloukrans and Weenen when Zulus surprise unprepared Trekker laagers.
17 Feb 1917 The Mendi disaster in which 646 South African troops lose their lives by drowning.
18 Feb 1915 First use of submarines by the Germans against Allied commerce in response to the British blockade.
18 Feb 1982 SAS President Kruger sinks in a collision with SAS Tafelberg during night exercises.16 Crew members perish.
18-27 Feb 1900 Battle of Paardeberg. Ends with General Piet Cronje surrendering, with 4 000 men, to Lord Roberts.
21 Feb 1916 Siege of Verdun begins – was to cost over 100 000 German and French casualties.
21-26 Feb 1900 Battle of the Tugela Heights. Results in the British breakthrough to relieve the siege of Ladysmith.
23 Feb 1945 South African Major Edwin Swales (formerly of the Natal Mounted Rifles) posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross after leading a bombing raid on Pforzheim. Swales was the captain of an Avro Lancaster in the R.A.F.Pathfinder Force. He was killed on the same day as his D.F.C. award was Gazetted.
24 Feb 1992 Operation Desert Storm ground attack starts in order to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.
25 Feb 1902 Battle of Ysterspruit. General De la Rey inflicts a significant defeat on the British, capturing rifles, ammunition and other supplies, which enable them to continue operations in the closing stages of the war.
26 Feb 1838 Piet Retief and 65 of his men executed by Dingane.
26 Feb 1882 The Birkenhead disaster. 450 British soldiers and sailors drown, but all women and children aboard the stricken vessel are saved due to the discipline of the troops. Gave rise to what is still known as ‘The Birkenhead Drill’.
27 Feb 1881 Battle of Majuba Hill. General Piet Joubert and Comdt. Nicolaas Smit decisively defeat General Sir George Pomeroy Colley, the latter losing his life.
28 Feb 1900 Battle of Pietershoogte. Final British breakthrough to relieve the Siege of Ladysmith on the same day. Lord Dundonald, with Winston Churchill at his side, enters the town as the Boers withdraw after an 118 day investment.
28 Feb 1902 Battle of Lang Riet. General Lucas Meyer and 650 men ambushed and captured by the British.
28 Feb 1941 Allied shipping losses for the month amount to 403 000 tons of ships with the Germans losing no U-boats. Two years later on 28/2/1943, shipping losses for the month were again approximately 403 000 tons, but the Germans had lost 11 U-boats – a crippling loss.

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

World War I

The First World War: The real lessons of this savage imperial bloodbath
The Guardian (UK) Seumas Milne 31 December 2012

World War II

Polish fighter pilots
This 49 minute BBC documentary on 303 (Polish) Squadron in the Battle of Britain is definitely worth watching if you haven’t seen it before.

Searching Lake Garda for WWII missing
BBC News, Italy 12 January 2013 Alan Johnston

Alfie Fripp, longest serving prisoner of war at Stalag Luft III, site of the Great Escape, dies aged 98
BBC News 3 January 2013

Bletchley code breaker Raymond Roberts appointed MBE
BBC News 29 December 2012

Alan Turing: Scientists call for pardon for code breaker
BBC News 14 December 2012


The Final Days of the Longest War
The Politics Blog 16 January 2013 Brian Mockenhaupt

Books and DVDs of military interest/ Boeke en DVDs van militêre belang

Nöthling C J 2012 Kroniek van die SAW (1912 – 1994) Silverton Group 7 Drukkers en Uitgewers

Dié publikasie is 'n SAMHIK-vrystelling wat die stigting van die Unie-Verdedigingsmag/Suid-Afrikaanse Weermag 100 jaar gelede op 01/07/1912 gedenk. Die kroniek van 10 fases bevat onder meer ‘n inleidende gedeelte oor die voorgeskiedenis tussen 1652 en 1912, waarin die ontwikkeling van militêre stelsels voor Uniewording beskryf word. Daar word ook gelet op die invloed van plaaslike oorloë en die stryd tussen Boer en Brit op die totstandkoming van ‘n nuwe militêre bedeling na 1902. Uitstaande gebeure in die UVM se stigting en groei tot 1918 word behandel, onder andere die stigting van die Zuid Afrikaansche Mediese Dienst en die Zuid-Afrikaanse Vliegenierskorps. Twee afdelings word aan die UVM se deelname aan die twee wêreldoorloë gewy en vervolgens word gekyk na die na-oorlogse jare tot 1959. In hierdie tydperk het die UVM se naam na die SAW verander en ‘n nuwe Verdedigingswet is deurgevoer. In die laaste vier afdelings word dekadegewys aandag geskenk aan die vier weermagsdele se groei, operasionele optredes en rol in die Grensoorlog. Ten slotte word aandag geskenk aan die SAW se integrasie in die nuwe Suid-Afrikaanse Nationale Weermag en vertoë wat namens die SAW aan die Waarheids-en Versoeningskommissie voorgelê is. Die skrywer, Kol. C J Nöthling, is ‘n afgetrede Weermagoffisier. Rig navrae by sel no 072 336 2096, tel no 012-803 0067 of e-posadres by

Joyce Peter 2012 100 moments that mattered: events that built South Africa Cape Town Zebra Press

This book is noted because the publishers are marketing it amongst military history titles. Roughly 18 of the 100 ‘moments’ can be construed as military history. As far as these sections are concerned, the book contains significant misinformation and misrepresentation. Whenever, for example did the Baqulusi chief Sikobobo ‘march on Vryheid’ with a ‘1 000 strong impi’? This is at best a distortion of the 1902 Holkrantz incident and at worst pure fiction. Similarly the claim that the SS Mendi sank due to ‘striking a mine’ is an unacceptable error for such a well known event. There are more such errors. Overall the book is simplistic in tone and there are no references whatever for the many sweeping, assertions made. It is not military history.

Stout Janis P 2005 Coming out of war: poetry, grieving, and the culture of the World Wars Tuscaloosa The University of Alabama Press

Military history with a difference, this book probes the works of poets and musicians in order to highlight the impact of the two World Wars on society. While the author deals with the well-known and influential ‘soldier-poets’ of the First World War, she explores specifically the meaningful contribution of women poets of the time to the broader understanding of war. Stout argues that the Second World War also produced poetry of distinction and comments on the continued widespread public preoccupation with war. This is evident in cultural products such as comics, films, plays, fiction, poetry and music. The final chapter, in which she explores Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem – commissioned for the re-consecration of the bomb-destroyed Coventry Cathedral in England is a worthy companion to understanding and appreciating the complexities of that stirring music.

French Paul 2012 Helion & Company Limited, Solihull and GG Books Rugby,UK

This informal memoir contains a wealth of information, much of it previously untold, resulting from the experiences of the author, who served in 21 SAS (UK Territorial Army) during the late 1960s; C Squadron (Rhodesian) SAS and the Selous Scouts in the 1970s; 6 Reconnaissance Commando in the South African Defence Force (SADF) in the early 1980s as well as in the private security industry in Angola and Iraq.

The main thrust of the book details operations with the Rhodesian SAS and the Selous Scouts, including an attack on ZANLA insurgents at Mavue in 1976, the raid on Joshua Nkomo’s home in Lusaka in 1979 and Operation Tepid, an attack on an entrenched ZANLA position in Zambia. Operation Cheese, the SAS operation 750 km into Zambia to sabotage the main road and rail link over the Chambeshi River between Zambia and Tanzania is undoubtedly one of the highlights of Paul French’s Rhodesian military career, as he reveals the vital contribution made by a South African Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft to the success of the operation.

The author’s description of the origin of Renamo, the Mozambique Resistance Movement, his contact with early leaders of the movement including Andrea Matsangaise and Luka Mhlanga, operations with these forces, SADF support to Renamo, together with his personal experiences while ‘handing over’ Renamo to members of the Reconnaissance Commando will undoubtedly serve as a valuable addition to the primary source material on this organization.

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.

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn: -
Scribes: Anne and Pat Irwin
Correspondence to:
Society’s Web address: 

South African Military History Society /