South African Military History 


Newsletter / Nuusbrief 100 January 2013/Januarie 2013

The December meeting was devoted to the screening of the film Oh! What a Lovely War organised by Jonathan Ossher. This was preceded by the showing of Genocide (1941 - 1945) in the ‘World at War’ series.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next meeting will be on 14th January 2013 at the usual venue. As it stands, the 2013 speakers’ roster is as follows:

Date Curtain raiser Main lecture
14th Jan The Tapestry at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria - Stephen Bowker The Dicken Medal - Tiaan Jacobs
11th Feb St Helena Visit - Richard Tomlinson The Battle of Silkaatsnek 11th July 1900 - Ian Copley
11th March AGM A dependent’s tale - Barbara Kinghorn
8th April The mystery of Lt Pilkington - Ian Copley H.M. Schooner Pickle - John Stevens
13th May An overview of World War I - Pat Irwin A dependent’s tale - Barbara Kinghorn
8 or 15th June CR Still to be finalised This meeting in Grahamstown will be preceded by a morning visit to 6 SAI Base and one of Piet Retief’s houses. 6 SA Infantry - Fred Oelschig
8th July 1939-1941: South Africa’s finest hour -Andre Crozier The Pondoland Fusileers - Mac Alexander
12th August Open (Ladies night) Open (Ladies night)
9th Sept Scotland - Alec Grant An Armoured car driver in Ops Savannah -Sam van den Berg
14th Oct The ‘Palmach’: Pre-independence Special Forces of Israel - Brian Klopper The role of pigeons in WW I - Kathleen Gordon
9th Nov SADF officer training ending in Defence College - Fred Oelschig  :
10th Dec Film - to be confirmed.  :

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

Individual members’ activities

Barry Irwin has co-authored a paper in the [Australian] Journal of Information Warfare 11 (3) 17 – 24 November 2012. It is titled ‘Social Recruiting: a next generation social engineering attack’. Anyone interested in obtaining a copy should contact Barry directly at:

Malcolm Kinghorn continues to work on maritime counter-piracy training in Africa. Any members considering a career change to piracy should think twice!

In response to the websites listed under ‘A Christmas story’ below, Peter Duffel-Canham, who has a particular interest in naval history and has addressed us on the topic on a number of occasions, reminded us that his uncle Alf Duffel-Canham, now 92, remembers the loss 70 years ago, on 25th November, of his many shipmates when the battleship HMS Barham sunk with the loss of 841 men, including seven South Africans. Alf was one of the 343 survivors. An account of the sinking of HMS Barham may be found at

The Great Trek / Die Groot Trek

2013 marks the 175th anniversary of the start of the Great Trek in which several thousand people, collectively known as the Voortrekkers, who were dissatisfied with the inconsistency and vacillation of British policies and rule, emigrated from the Eastern Cape to the regions beyond the Orange and Vaal Rivers. A major point of departure for many of the Trekkers was Grahamstown, where today the ‘Bible Monument’ stands as mute testimony to the event. During the course of the Trek, a number of military activities, including several major battles, numerous skirmishes and a number of massacres took place, dramatically changing the course of South African history. As part of the noting of these events, SAMHSEC will visit one of the homes of Piet Retief near Grahamstown during June (details to follow).

In dié verband het ons het die volgende inligting van die Erfenis Stigting onvang: Die Erfenisstigting het Kerkenberg einde 2011 by die Voortrekkermonument oorgeneem. Kerkenberg is, saam met die nabygeleë standbeeld van die Kaalvoetvrou wat ook onder die Erfenisstigting val, ‘n besonder kosbare erfeniskleinood en word goed instand gehou. Dit is die plek waar die Retiefklip geleë is, waar Piet Retief se dogter, Deborah, sy naam op die klip geverf het terwyl hy op besoek aan Dingaan was. Die Erfenisstigting het R14 000 bygedra vir die gooi van twee betonspore oor die slegste gedeelte van die grondpad na Kerkenberg. Dit is gedoen om die terrein makliker toeganklik te maak vir gewone sedanvoertuie en besoekers aan die gebied (veral díe wat by die nabygeleë, uitstekende ATKV-oord te Drakensville tuisgaan).

Notable anniversaries in January /Merkwaardige gedenkdae in Januarie

Historically, in the northern hemisphere, the winter months were times of low military activity. At the height of summer in southern Africa by contrast, battle was readily joined.

January 1866The OFS re-opened their campaign against the BaSotho with a determination to continue the war to the end. They isolated and defeated Molapo and Letsie separately, but as before were unable to dislodge Moshoeshoe from his mountain stronghold at Thaba Bosiu. The British intervened on the side of the BaSotho and on 12/2/1969 peace was finally concluded between the OFS and Basotholand.
January 1900Mafeking, Kimberley and Ladysmith under siege.
January 1901Kitchener implements the ‘Blockhouse System’, but Boers under Smuts, Beyers, de la Rey and de Wet continue to harass the British and attack their lines of communication.
January 1941Allies lose over 320 000 tons of shipping while Germany loses no U-boats. It is called the ‘happy time’ by U-boat crews.
January 1944Red Army advance westward unstoppable: Germans retreat on all fronts.
January 1944Allies lose 130 000 tons of shipping while Germany loses 15 U-boats.
January 1945American advance on Japanese territory unstoppable. Japan retreats on all fronts.
1-8 Jan 1940Finnish ski troops destroy Russian 44th Division during the Russo-Finish War. USSR loses 27 500 dead; Finland 900.
1 Jan 1945The Luftwaffe launches its last major attack of the war. 800 planes attack airfields in Holland, France and Belgium.
1 Jan 1959Fidel Castro seizes power in Cuba.
2 Jan 1666Foundation stone of the Castle in Cape Town is laid.
2 Jan 1897Ignominious end of the Jameson Raid.
5 Jan 1897Battle of Khamalane Plateau. Lerotholi, Letsie and British defeat Masupha, marking the end of the old Basutoland and Thaba Bosiu as the BaSotho seat of power.
5-6 Jan 1900Battle of Platrand, Caesar’s Camp and Wagon Hill. These were the most determined of the Boer attacks on Ladysmith and the closest they came to capturing the town.
6 Jan 871King Alfred of Wessex decisively beats the Danes at the Battle of Ashdown.
6 Jan 1806British troops land unopposed at Losperd’s Bay (now Melkbosstrand) in the 2nd British occupation of the Cape.
7 Jan 1851Battle of Fort Beaufort (8th Frontier War).
8 Jan 1806Battle of Blaauwberg. British defeat Dutch and their allies (French sailors and marines, German and Hungarian mercenaries, locally raised levies – the Hottentot Regiment –, Javanese artillery and slaves from Angola and Mozambique).
8 Jan 1806HNMS Bato, a Dutch warship of 800 tons is set on fire and sunk off Long Beach, Simon’s Town.
9 Jan 1929The first use of penicillin by Alexander Fleming – it was to save millions of lives in WW II.
11 Jan 1941Formation of the Deutche Afrika Korps.
11 Jan 1942Japan declares war on the Netherlands and invades the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).
12 Jan 1945HMSAS Treern is sunk by a mine off Greece. Only one survivor.
13 Jan 1823MaNthatisi’s BaTlokwa fall upon the Seleka BaRolong town of Thabeng. While most BaRolong escape, those remaining are massacred.
14 Jan 1941German commerce raider Pinguin attacks the Arctic whaling fleet.
15 Jan 1945Battle of the Bulge concluded with the defeat of German forces.
16 Jan 1917The armed raider SMS Wolf disguised as a Scandinavian merchantman lays 50 mines in the approaches to Table Bay. The first casualty was the liner Matheran on 26th January 1917.
16 Jan 1979Ayatollah Khomeini seizes power from the Shah in Iran ushering in a Muslim fundamentalist theocracy and spreading the idea of Islamic revolution.
17 Jan 1941The 8 000 ton cargo ship Sandefjord is captured by the German pocket-battleship Admiral Graf Scheer off the South African coast.
8 Jan 1806Governor Jan Willem Janssens surrenders the Cape to the British eight days after the Battle of Blaauwberg.
20-22 Jan 1900Battle of Thabanyama. British withdraw after gaining the initial advantage, but unable to sustain the attack in the face of stiffening Boer resistance.
21 Jan 1879Zulus besiege British garrison at Eshowe. Siege lifted by relief force on 3rd April 1879.
21 Jan 1943HMS Barcross, a boom defence vessel, is transferred to the SA Naval Forces. Renamed SAS Somerset in 1952; it is now a museum ship at the SA Maritime Museum in Cape Town. It is the last of its kind in the world.
22 Jan 1879Battle of Isandhlwana. Zulus inflict a major defeat on the British army. 2/24th (Warwickshire) Regiment together with logistic troops, some Royal Artillery and some Natal Native Contingent annihilated – over 1 300 in total. Zulu losses perhaps as high as 3 000.
22 Jan 1879Battle of Rorke’s Drift. British successfully defend a makeshift fortification against a determined Zulu Attack. Record number of Victoria Crosses awarded.
22 Jan 1879Battle of Nyezane. British defeat Zulus.
22 Jan 1944The Allies land at Anzio in an attempt to outflank the German defences in Italy. 73% of the high Allied casualties were due to artillery and mortar fire. ‘Anzio Annie’ and ‘Anzio Express’, two 28 cm railway-mounted guns were in action here.
23-4 Jan 1900Battle of Spioenkop. Claimed to be one of the most intense acres of slaughter in military history. Both sides abandoned the field, but the Boers were the first to re-occupy the empty ground.
24 Jan 1915Battles of Upington, Keimoes and Kakamas. Union Government under Louis Botha versus Manie Maritz and the 1914 rebels, the latter with German support. Rebels retreat to German South West Africa.
24 Jan 1915Battle of Dogger Bank. German High Seas fleet gets the better of the British Grand Fleet in a short engagement.
24 Jan 1941HMSAS Southern Maid is one of the first ships to enter Tobruk harbour after its capture from the Italian Army on 22nd January 1941.
25 Jan 1971Idi Amin seizes power in a military coup in Uganda, ushering in years of despotic rule.
26 Jan 1943SAS Gamtoos, a converted whaler, is the first Allied ship to enter Tripoli harbour after its capture. Congratulated by Churchill and Montgomery.
27 Jan 1942First US bomber raid over Germany using B-17 ‘Flying Fortresses’.
27 Jan 1943Soviet troops surround Stalingrad and German 6th Army breaks into isolated pockets of defence.
28 Jan 1871The end of the Franco-Prussian War – Paris surrenders to the Germans with echoes resounding through two world wars.
28 Jan 1881Battle of Laing’s Nek. British withdraw after attack on Boer defences.
30 Jan 1838Battle of AmaQongqo/Maqongqo Hills. Mpanda decisively defeats Dingane bringing an end to his rule.
31 Jan 1941Battle of Singapore begins.

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

World War II

A story for Christmas:

One fewer of the Few: Hero Spitfire ace William Walker, 99
The Sun 20 December 2012 Ryan Sabey

Veterans win medals battle
The Sun 20 December 2012 David Willets

Secret Weapons of the Third Reich
TechNews Daily 21 July 2011 Andrea Leontiou

UK spies unable to crack coded message from WWII carrier pigeon
CNN 24 November 2012 Michael Martinez
See also:

The Cold War

Cambridge Spies: MI5 diaries revealed
BBC News 26 October 2012 Gordon Corera

The War in Afganistan

Afghanistan: the Mad Max war 2 December 2012


F-111 belly landing
Mil.Com undated

China lands J-15 jet on Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier
BBC News China 25 November 2012

Russia’s Stealth Fighter Could Match U.S. Jets
WIRED 16 November 2012 David Axe

Navy Drone Boards Aircraft Carrier for 1st Time
TechNewsDaily Staff 28 November 2012

Restored Spitfire flies again
The Sun 20 December 2012

[The restored Spitfire: then and now. Note the SAAF Springbok on the fuselage.] Technology

BAE Banking on Hybrid-Electric Combat Vehicle
Defensetech 20 November 2012 Matt Cox

Remote U.S. base at core of secret operations
Washington Post 26 October 2012 Craig Whitlock

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

Stapleton Timothy J 2010 A military history of South Africa: From the Dutch-Khoi wars to the end of apartheid Santa Barbara, California Praeger

The promising title of this book belies its poor quality from an historical point of view. The book is regrettably characteristic of some self-styled ‘experts’ and academics who write from a distance. Such works are often written without sufficient attention to detail, cognisance of local circumstances, or use of local primary source material. One wonders how much time the author actually spent in South Africa, including in local archives, as this work appears to have been written primarily from secondary sources.

Many of these have furthermore been used quite uncritically such as Nasson’s comments on World War I. In places classic errors are repeated – such as the well known myth about Elizabeth Salt at the Battle of Grahamstown – as if they were well established facts. On the small-scale but pivotal – arguably even decisive – Battle of Grahamstown, not a single primary or near primary source is to be found in the reference list. On the references in general, the question arises whether Stapleton only consulted those which tended to coincide with his own world view. In the context of the Bulhoek incident, for example, where is Makobe’s seminal and archive-based work on the event?

The book is replete with gross simplifications of complex issues, such as the history of the amaMfengu (the use of the old colonial term ‘Fingo’ is ironic given that the book purports to be a post-colonial endeavour). The narrative itself is fragmented and appears to be dictated more by the author’s ideological persuasion than by any imperative for an even account of events. He is, for example, generally disparaging about South Africa’s efforts in World War II which he does not have a good grasp of: trivial detail alternates with grand sweeps. As an example of unevenness, well deserved mention is made of Cpl. Lucas Majozi’s DCM but not a word about South Africa’s three VCs and other recipients of top order decorations. The writer also seems to be confused about, amongst other things, such basics as the differences between ‘Divisions’ and ‘Brigades’ – not really acceptable in a book on military matters. Elsewhere use is made of terminology such as ‘wagon trains’ which was seldom used in the South African military context. There are no photographs and maps are few and inadequate. The text has not been carefully proofread: it contains numerous typographical errors such as ‘Colonial Somerset’ for ‘Colonel Somerset’ – a Freudian slip perhaps? It was also disappointing to see that the publication is endorsed by John Laband, whose meticulously researched military historical work is light years away from this one.

In summary, this book might satisfy historians and military historians who have little knowledge of South African military history, but for anyone with any knowledge of its complexity and depth, it is barely worth wasting time on and certainly not at the price it is sold for. An even reasonably good overview of South African military history is clearly yet to be written.

Davidson Martin 2010 The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering my SS grandfather’s secret past and how Hitler seduced a generation London Viking/Penguin

For anyone who has ever had difficulty in understanding how the people of Goethe, Kant, Bach and Beethoven fell under the spell of Hitler and Nazism, when most of them actually knew better, this book is an absolute ‘must’. With painstaking care, dogged persistence, and considerable discomfort, Davidson (Commissioning Editor for History at the BBC) and his sister trace how their maternal grandfather, Hauptsturmführer Bruno Langbehn, a dentist by occupation, came to not only embrace Nazism, but to become a staunch supporter and activist working his way through the SA (Storm Troopers) to eventually become a middle ranking officer in the Sicherheitsdienst of the SS – the most notorious arm of that that vicious organisation – the level of official which put theory and ideology into practice. Langbehn worked with and for many of the main characters of the Third Reich: Rohm, Himmler, Eichmann, Heydrich, Goebbels and many others are all there. He, however, unlike many of his kind managed, by subterfuge, to evade post-war retribution and denazification programmes, and lived relatively comfortably until his death in 1992. He never showed any regret, contrition or remorse for his past.

Very well written and meticulously documented, this riveting book is as much a study of psychology and the human condition as of military history.

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

South African Military History Society /