South African Military History 


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 110
November 2013

In the open house series, John Stevens presented a short talk on The Boy Colonel of the North. Arthur MacArthur was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 24th Wisconsin Regiment at the age of 17 in 1862. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Missionary Ridge by grabbing the regimental colours and leading his trapped Regiment and 13 000 other Union Army Soldiers straight towards the enemy Confederate army which subsequently withdrew. General Grant awarded him a field promotion to Colonel on the spot and recommended him for the Congressional Medal of Honour. A year later he was promoted to Major and then Lieutenant-Colonel eventually commanding the 24th. MacArthur further distinguished himself at the Battle of Franklin and was made a full Colonel as the war ended. He returned to civilian life to study law but, being unable to settle down, he re-joined the peacetime US Army as a 2nd Lieutenant. He eventually rose to the rank of Senior Lieutenant General of the Army. It is claimed that MacArthur’s greatest wish was to die at the head of his Regiment. By a twist of fate this happened when, while attending a Regimental reunion in 1912 as guest speaker, he collapsed and died while delivering his address, at age 63. His comrades then laid him out on the Regimental Colours and carried him out at the head of the Regiment. He is also one of only two father and son Congressional Medal of Honour recipients in the history of the United States: MacArthur’s son was General Douglas MacArthur of WW II fame.

The curtain raiser entitled The Palmach was presented by Brian Klopper. Palmach is an acronym for Plugot Machatz, which translates loosely into ‘Strike Forces’. These strike forces were the shock troops of the Haganah, which was the underground army of the Yishuv, the name given to the Jewish community during the British Palestine Mandate which lasted from 1919 to 1947. The Palmach dates its provenance to 1941 and by the time the Israeli War of Independence broke out in August 1948, there were 2000+ men and women in the organisation. With the establishment of the Zahal, or Israeli Defence Force after 1948, the Palmach was disbanded. It is very important to note that that Palmachim were ALL Zionists, politically affiliated and politically active. This may be fine when you amount to an irregular fighting force but is imminently undesirable when you serve in a regular army as a career soldier. That is the approach to politics in the armed forces of all liberal or liberal-social democracies and therein lays the reason for the necessary demise of the Palmach. Palmachim contributed seminally to the culture, social ethos and political economy of Israel, over and above the military role they played in securing the right of Israel to exist. Many members of the Palmach ended up in the High Command of the Zahal/IDF, or became high profile politicians, authors, artists or scientists. To mention but a few: Yehuda Amichai (poet), Moshe Shamir (playwright), Vidal Sassoon (hairdresser), Yigal Alon, Moshe Dayan, David Elazar, Yitzhak Rabin (senior military leaders).

The raisons d’être for the establishment of the Palmach were firstly to defend Zionism in the event of an Axis victory in North Africa and subsequent invasion of Palestine and secondly, to protect the Yishuv if the British Army retreated from Palestine in the face of German conquest and the Jewish communities were attacked by Palestinian Arabs. Its first Commander was Yitzhak Sadeh. Initially, the Palmach was a mere 100 strong and it embarked on joint activities with the British armed forces against the Vichy French in Syria and Lebanon. Interestingly enough, it was during one of these skirmishes that Moshe Dayan, then a young middle echelon officer, lost his right eye.

The British ordered the dissolution of the Palmach after the 8th Army victory at El Alamein in October 1942, and it was hereafter that the organisation went underground. During this period, it funded itself by having its members work in kibbutzim on a mutualist basis. Each kibbutz would adopt a Palmach platoon and provide its members with board and lodging. The Palmachim would then provide area protection for the kibbutz and work in the fields. In terms of routine, Palmachim would spend eight days in military training, 14 days at work on the kibbutz and have seven days’ furlough.

Basic training included physical fitness, small arms training, kappa (hand-to-hand combat training), topography, map reading and orienteering, first aid and squad operations. Advanced training included courses in sabotage, explosives, reconnaissance, sniping, communications and radio, light and medium machine gunnery as well as 2-inch and 3-inch mortar. Leadership training included courses for Squad Commanders, Company Commanders and Major Commanders. Many Haganah commanders completed the Palmach training at Major Commander Level and many of these men were fed into the IDF High Command structure over the next 30 years.

When David ben Gurion launched the armed struggle against British rule in Palestine in 1947, the Palmach was involved in a number of operations against the British Army. It was also involved in many retaliation raids against the local Palestinian Arabs, who attacked Yishuv settlements after the British relinquished the Palestine Mandate in 1948. During the Israeli War of Independence, the Palmach was reorganised into three Brigades – the Negev, Yiftach and Harel Brigades – under the overall command of Yigal Alon, later a general in the IDF and a leading Israeli politician. The Negev and Yiftach Brigades operated on the southern front against the Egyptian army, which they fought to a standstill and gradually crammed into the Gaza Strip and Sinai, whilst the Harel Brigade (under the command of Yitzhak Rabin, later a general and prime minister of Israel) fought on the Jerusalem front against [British] General Glubb’s Arab Legion, which was the elite component of the Jordanian army. The Yiftach Brigade also fought in Eastern Galilee, against Syrian forces.

The three brigades included Special Units, of which there five in total. These were:

In all, 1 187 Palmachim laid down their lives so that Israel might survive. They died in various actions against the Vichy French, the British army and the Arab League forces during the War of Independence. Of the 899 killed during the War of Independence, 313 were members of the Harel Brigade, 312 were with the Negev Brigade and the remaining 274 fought in the Yiftach Brigade. In terms of the overall total on the roll of honour, 34 were Sabras, 17 of whom were killed in action. 520 of these Palmachim were born in Palestine from Ashkenazid parents, 550 were from Europe, 13 from the USA and the remaining 131 were Sephardic Jews.

A magnificent museum has been constructed in honour of the Palmach. It is located in Tel Aviv, right next to the Eretz Israel Museum and it contains many interesting exhibits, including a massive archive of original photographs, maps, equipment, personal memorabilia and the like. Visitors undertake a virtual journey with a group of recruits, from the early days of its inception and continue through the various actions prior to and during the War of Independence, until the dissolution of the Palmach in 1948. [Those interested in further details might start with - Scribes].

The main lecture, An overview of the use of pigeons in WW I, was delivered by Kathleen Gordon. Carrier pigeons have been used on the battlefields of the world for centuries, often for mobile units to communicate with their stationary headquarters. The earliest large scale communication network using pigeons as messengers was established in Syria and Persia in about the 5th century BC. It was a pigeon that delivered the results of the first Olympics in 776 BC and a pigeon that brought news to Britain of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. Until the invention of the telegraph in 1844 and the invention of radio in 1895, ‘Pigeon Post’ remained the fastest and most reliable method of communication in many parts of the world. India’s ‘Pigeon Post’ serving remote areas was shut down and its birds retired in 2004. The last messaging service using pigeons was only disbanded by the police force in the city of Orisa, India in 2006 when 600 birds reverted to civilian status and were found new homes in bird sanctuaries and private lofts. Over the centuries, pigeons have contributed to both military victories and to saving the lives of many thousands of combatants and civilians. Even in more recent times, when total radio silence has been necessary or radio communication impossible, they have been the only means of communication. Homing pigeons, which can fly between 1 000 and 1 200 km in a single day, are thought to navigate by sensing the earth’s magnetic field and using the sun for direction. Other theories suggest the use of roads and even low frequency seismic waves to find their way ‘home’. Experienced pigeons can do so even if they are transported anesthetized and deprived of outward journey information. Aircraft tracking has shown that they make relatively straight tracks on their homeward journey. Because pigeons can see in colour as well as UV light, they have also been used in search and rescue missions at sea. During WW II, specially trained pigeons rode in the bellies of rescue planes, pecking a button upon spotting the orange survival vest of downed pilots.

Kathleen then described a number of instances in which pigeons had played a significant role in warfare. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870 – 71) when Paris was besieged, pigeons were used to maintain communication between the city and the French government 130 km away. The brand new technique of microfilming was used to convey detailed information and as a result, many thousands of messages were sent in and out of Paris. A total of 302 largely untrained pigeons left Paris in the course of the siege, and 57 returned to the city. The remainder fell prey to Prussian rifles, cold, hunger, and the falcons that the besieging Germans hastily introduced to intercept France’s feathered messengers.

By 1899 many European countries had established their own military pigeon services. The British viewed these developments by their continental rivals with some alarm sometimes describing it as the ‘pigeon gap’. The subsequent development of a British military pigeon service that compared with the best is credited to Lt. Col. Alfred Osman, himself a pigeon fancier. At the start of WW I however, the British, convinced that their country was seething with German spies using the birds to send messages home, slaughtered thousands of pigeons. Once their value was grasped, it become illegal to kill or harm a pigeon. By 1915 there was a chain of lofts along the east coast of Britain and pigeons were being used by trawlers in the North Sea to send home information on German naval movements. They were also used to report shipping losses and the subsequent state and position of survivors.

On the Western Front, with the horrors and problems of trench warfare, pigeons also came into their own. Telegraph wires running from the front back to headquarters were easily cut by artillery bombardment and signallers with their coils of wire were easy targets for snipers. Before the development of two-way radios it was very difficult for units to remain in touch when engaged on an assault and in difficult circumstances pigeons were greatly valued as an option for sending vital messages. They also turned out to be conveniently immune to gas attacks. Figures compiled by the British Pigeon Service showed that messages sent during the Battle of the Somme got through in an average time of not more than 25 minutes, more than 90% being delivered safely. They were also used to a limited extent in tanks where, however, the birds sometimes became stupefied due to the fumes. Their versatility of use ensured that the British pigeon corps remained fully employed until the end of the war despite advances in technology that made radio, telegraph and telephone communications much more certain. By the end of the war 100 000 birds and 350 handlers had been trained in Britain alone.

Kathleen concluded with the story of a pigeon called Cher Ami associated with what was known as the ‘The Lost Battalion’. This was the name given to nine companies of the United States 77th Infantry Division, roughly 554 men, isolated and surrounded by German forces after an American attack in the Argonne Forest in October 1918 when expected French support did not materialize. For six days they were under continuous attack resulting in 347 men being either killed or missing. As every runner dispatched either became lost or ran into German patrols, carrier pigeons became the only method of communicating with headquarters. In an incident on 4th October while the unit was the target of an intense German bombardment, they were also erroneously subjected to a barrage of ‘friendly fire’. Only one pigeon, called Cher Ami, was left and it was dispatched as a last hope. As he rose into the beehive of deadly missiles, and was stunned by the concussions around him, Cher Ami initially flew erratically and then alighted in the lower branches of a tree.  With hope fading, the soldiers yelled encouragement to the small bird and urged him to flight with some well-placed rocks. As the Germans saw him rising they opened fire and for several minutes, bullets zipped through the air all around Cher Ami.  For a minute it looked like the bird was going to fall and that he wouldn’t make it.  Somehow Cher Ami managed to spread his wings and start climbing again, higher and higher beyond the range of the enemy guns. When he finally reached his coop, twenty-five minutes later, Cher Ami could fly no longer, and the soldier that answered the sound of the bell found him lying on his back, covered in blood.  He had been blinded in one eye, and a bullet had hit his breastbone, making a hole the size of a thumbnail.  Attached to his almost severed leg was the silver canister, with the all-important message to stop the barrage.

Cher Ami subsequently became the hero of the 77th Infantry Division, and the medics worked long and hard to patch him up.  When the French learned the story of the Americans’ circumstances and Cher Ami’s bravery and determination, they awarded him one of their country's great honours, the Croix de Guerre with palm leaf. An Allied relief force broke through on 8th October, and the men of the ‘Lost Battalion’ were relieved of their ordeal. Cher Ami was taken back to America where he also received a gold medal in recognition of his extraordinary service during the War. He died as a result of his wounds a year later and is today mounted in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. Further details on this interesting bird can be found at

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next meeting will be on Saturday 9th November 2013. The programme is as follows:
09h45: Meet at the St George’s Park gate at the intersection of Park Lane (Park Street on some maps) and Park Drive to visit to PAG War Memorial. If you haven’t been there before, remember that time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted.
10h30: Move to PAG Drill Hall.
1100 to 1200: Guided tour of the Drill Hall led by fellow member Terry Pattison.
1200-1400: Lunch break. You can bring your own picnic lunch, use PAG’s gas braai, visit any of the nearby restaurants or do as you choose. Please bring your own crockery, cutlery etc. There will be a cash bar available for your own account.
1400-1630: Monthly meeting. The speaker will be Fred Oelschig on SADF Officer Training. There will not be a World at War series episode this month.

The December meeting will be on 9th 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 TV. This is the remaining 50 minutes left of Episode E which was started in October.)

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

Individual members’ activities/ Individuele lede se aktiviteite

Tiaan Jacobs en Pat Irwin het ’n vergadering van die Grahamstad Rapportryers te herdenking van die van die Groot Trek bygewoon, waar Tiaan ’n a gesprek oor Piet Retief aangebied het.

Die toespraak is gevolg deur ’n vergadering by die Bybelmonument te Grahamstad waar Ds. Strauss de Jager ‘n gesprek gelever het oor die geskiedenis en symboliese belangrikheid van dié monument. ’n Moderne Bybel wat deur dele van die land sal reis as ’n simbool van versoening tussen alle Suid-Afrikaners is deur dié wat teenwoordig was geteken. Dié Bybel sal eindelik by die Voortrekkermonument in Pretoria gehuisves word. Pat Irwin het ook in Grahamstad ‘n openbare lesing oor die Voortrekkers se militêre strede aangebied. Albei geleenthede was in erkenning van die 175ste herdenking van die Groot Trek.

Mike and Sue Heywood visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza and the General Grant National Memorial in New York. The latter, better known as Grant's Tomb, is a mausoleum containing the remains of Ulysses S. Grant, a prominent general in the American Civil War and 18th President of the United States, and his wife, Julia.

Annual Poppy Run

The following communication has been received from the Port Elizabeth Branch of the South African Legion

You and your members are cordially invited to take part in the Annual Poppy Run on Sunday 3rd November 2013. This project, organised by the South African Legion of Military Veterans, aims to place a Haigh poppy on every war grave in the Mandela Metro cemeteries in remembrance of those who died in the many wars. If you and /or your members wish to participate in this noble project, please be at the Aloe White Ensign Shellhole by 08h30. The transport will be via the members’ cars and departure from the Shellhole to the various cemeteries at 09h00. When your team has completed their part of the project, they must return to the Shellhole where refreshments and snacks will be available to sustain the weary bodies. If you would like to participate with us please contact Tertia at 0721243303 or Brain Klopper at 0812704374. Please join us on this Annual Event to pay homage to our fallen.

O’Neill Kothuis

Met verwysing na Nuusbriewe 93 en 107 het ons woord van die Erfenisstigting onvang dat die restourasieprojek by O’Neill se huis afgeskop het. Op 30 September 2013 het drie vakkundige personeellede ‘n inspeksiebesoek aan die terrein gebring. Sigbare vordering op die terrein word gemaak: die hek is verwyder en toegang tot die terrein is nou aansienlik makliker. Die ou heining is ook vervang en nuwe draad is agter die huis aangebring om die werf van die bewoners van die opsigtershuis te skei.

Wat die eksterieur betref, is die trappe en stoep ten volle herstel en die houttraliewerk is behandel en geverf. Werk aan die interieur vorder ewe goed. Daar is tentatiewe samesprekings met die nuwe huurder op die terrein gehou wat beskikbaar sou wees om die gebou oop te sluit wanneer restourasie en die nuwe uitstalling gefinaliseer is. Daar word ook tans aandag gegee aan die inwoners op die terrein en die moontlike toekomstige aanwending van die buitegeboue vir die doeleindes van ‘n opsigter op die terrein.

Great Trek 175th anniversary: Military encounters of the Voortrekkers 8

This month we record two minor armed encounters involving the Trekkers in the southern and central Free State. In early 1845 the Trekkers, who had settled between the Orange and Riet Rivers and in the Winburg Republic, and the Griquas, who since 1825 had occupied what is now the south western Free State, were at loggerheads over land and livestock. The British had signed a treaty with Adam Kok’s Griquas recognising their authority over the disputed territory. The Trekkers refused to recognise the treaty which set them on a collision course not only with the Griquas but with the latter’s British allies.

After a series of incidents, matters came to a head in March 1845 when the Trekkers under Commandant Jan Kock, formed a laager at Touwfontein, about 30km from the Griqua capital of Phillipolis. From this time on, regular sniping took place between the Trekkers and the Griqua in which no casualties were recorded. Adam Kok however felt threatened and appealed to the British in terms of their treaty. This was duly given when a small British force crossed the Orange River at Alleman’s Drift, followed by further reinforcements (including the 7th Dragoons) sent from Fort Beaufort. Attempts were made at negotiation but the Trekkers refused to back down, at which point the British commander decided to move against them immediately, using both his own and Griqua forces.

As this force approached Zwartkoppies (also called Driekoppen), a range of low hills or ridges not far from the Trekker laager, on or about 30th April, about 250 Trekkers under the command of Commandant Jan Kock met them and began skirmishing. As the British-Griqua force continued to advance, the Trekkers employed the well tried tactic of firing and then riding out of range of the enemy guns. In this tactic they also enjoyed the advantage of better guns with a greater range than their opponents. This pattern seems to have gone on for much of the day until at about 17h00 when the 7th Dragoons unexpectedly appeared on the scene and immediately ‘charged’ the Trekkers. Kock, inexplicably, had failed to carry out appropriate reconnaissance and the Trekkers were taken completely by surprise.

This led to a rapid conclusion to the engagement. The Trekkers, who had no intention of being caught in the open by sabre-wielding cavalry, withdrew to take up firing positions on the ridge. The rapid advance of the Dragoons gave little opportunity for this and the withdrawal soon turned to flight, the Trekkers abandoning their laager in the process. Most returned to Winburg but some remained to surrender. Had the British chosen to press home their advantage, it might have turned into a disaster for the Trekkers, but for reasons not clear, they chose not to.

Casualties at Zwartkoppies are difficult to determine with accuracy. Widely accepted figures are three Trekkers killed, including a French gunner serving with them, and 15 taken prisoner. Either two or three Griqua troops were killed.

A minor sequel to the Zwartkoppies affair was a small skirmish along the Vet River early on the morning of 24th June 1845. Commandant Jan Kock had assembled another small commando of about 100 men on the north bank of the river. Major Warden, the British Resident in Bloemfontein, then advanced upon them with about 25 Cape Mounted Riflemen and 130 Griqua, Koranna and BaRolong allies who took up a position on the south bank of the river. An exchange of messages and demands followed to no avail, and for about 45 minutes shots were exchanged. Despite strong urging from Warden, his allied troops refused to charge the Trekkers and he eventually broke off the engagement as evening approached. Each side lost two men killed. It is unknown now many, if any, were wounded. An uneasy peace then reined until 1848 when the next, and final encounter marking the military actions during the Great Trek, took place, again in the southern Free State.

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang Catch 22 Catch-22: Is the novel still relevant to modern soldiers? Virginia Brown BBC News Magazine 27th October 2011 Aircraft A-10 Thunderbolt II Gets New Wings Roll Call 13th October 2013 See also: X-47B drone successfully lands on Navy aircraft carrier for the first time Joshua Kopstein The Verge 10th July 2013 Korean War Kiwi's photos show real M*A*S*H Anon 26th July 2013 Middle Eastern and North African conflicts Israeli F-4s Actually Fought North Korean MiGs During the Yom Kippur War David Cenciotti, The Aviationist 25th June 2013, Israeli military intelligence unit drives country's hi-tech boom Mathew Kalman The Guardian 12th August 2013 The 20th anniversary of ‘Black Hawk Down’: Some lost lessons Benjamin Runkle War on the Rocks 3rd October 2013 U.S. pilot scares off Iranians with ‘Top Gun’-worthy stunt Douglas Ernst The Washington Times 19th September 2013 The recent US raid on al-Shabaab in Somalia and what went wrong. The Guardian 9th October 2013 Vietnam Could one man have shortened the Vietnam War? Anon 8th July 2013 BBC News Magazine WMD/Chemical weapons Buried Soldiers May Be Victims of Ancient Chemical Weapon: an historical perspective on Syria’s chemical weapons. Stephanie Pappas LiveScience |   8th March 2011 World War I Inside the First World War Anon The Telegraph 21st October 2013 [A very useful website – Scribes] World War I soldier wills digitised for online archive Matt Lee BBC News Online 28th August 2013 The following two sites contain, and lead to, multiple sources and a wide range of material and information on World War I. * Great War Forum: * GMIC (Gentleman’s Military Interest Club): World War II The Nazi women who were every bit as evil as the men Tony Rennell Mail Online 26th September 2013 Artists stencil 9,000 bodies onto Normandy beach to mark Peace Day Aaron Sharp Mail Online 26th September 2013 How Lockheed Aircraft Plant was hidden in WW II Anon Undated WW II Enigma machine to be auctioned Kieran Corcoran Mail Online 12th October 2013 How French secretly filmed prison camp life in WWII Christian Fraser BBC News, Europe 31st July 2013 Great Escape: Secret film documents WWII prison camp breakout Anon BBC News Europe 31st July 2013 Spooks and Spying The Black Budget: Exploring secret funding for covert action, surveillance and counter-intelligence. Anon The Washington Post Undated Resource materials of military historical interest/ Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundige belang The following note has been received from Richard Tomlinson:   I have had a lady contact me who has been widowed recently and is disposing of some of her late husband's effects. Amongst them is the 'World War 2 Collection' made by the BBC, over 32 hours of viewing in a boxed set of DVDs. I have no idea what she wants for them, but she is open to offers. Her name is Janet Davies, Tel: 041 373 3022; she is in and out so callers must take pot luck, but she says best time to catch her is usually 8 - 9 am and 2.30 - 4.30 pm. Those interested contact Janet Davies directly. World War I Centenary The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Centenary Commemoration First World War update is available from Malcolm Kinghorn on request. This is the third ‘14 – 18 monthly report’ received from Colin Kerr. 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 Peter Duffel-Cannon, Mike and Sue Heywood, Richard Tomlinson, Malcolm Kinghorn, Barry Irwin, Michael Irwin and Jonathan Ossher. Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn: Secretary: Richard Keyter: Scribes (Newsletter): Anne and Pat Irwin: Society’s Web address:  Tailpiece Ever wondered where the name of Fanta drinks came from? Your scribes will not vouch for the accuracy of this story, but here it is for you to consider: The product name Fanta originated as a result of difficulties of importing Coca-Cola syrup into Nazi Germany during World War II due to a trade embargo. To circumvent this, Max Keith, the head of Coca-Cola Deutschland (Coca-Cola GmbH) during the Second World War, decided to create a new product for the German market, using only ingredients available in Germany at the time, including whey and pomace – the "leftovers of leftovers", as Keith later recalled. The name was the result of a brief brainstorming session, which started with Keith exhorting his team to ‘use their imagination’ (Fantasie in German), to which one of his salesmen, Joe Knipp, immediately retorted Fanta! While the plant was effectively cut off from Coca Cola headquarters during the war, plant management did not join the Nazi Party. After the war, the Coca Cola Corporation regained control of the plant, formula and the trademarks to the new Fanta product — as well as the plant profits made during the war! 12 | Page In the open house series, Ian Pringle described the event at the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899 which became known as Marwick’s March. As the mine owners and uitlanders departed from the ZAR on the eve of the war, the majority of migrant black mineworkers were left behind. Most of them came from Natal and found themselves without employment or means of sustenance.

John Sydney Marwick the representative of the Department of Native Affairs in Natal, as part of his duties, was responsible for their general welfare. This included their health, assisting them to remit money home, dealing on their behalf with any injustices to which they had been subjected, and to offer advice where needed. With war pending Marwick decided he would assist as many as possible to return to their homes in Natal and Zululand while they still had a chance. As the railways were beginning to shut down and little support was forthcoming from his bosses in Natal (least of all any money), Marwick obtained permission from Commandant-General Joubert for the men to walk home. So began what became known as the Marwick March led by Marwick and his assistants, called Wheelwright and Connorton. Rations were purchased, 70 sick were put on what trains were still running and the remaining 7 000 departed on foot on 6th October, four days before the outbreak of the war. They were accompanied by a small escort of Transvaal police provided by Joubert. Tight discipline under the leadership of Hlobeni Buthelezi, who was related to the Royal House, was maintained by the men themselves. A few minor cases of looting along the way were severely dealt with.

The men took roughly ten days to reach Ladysmith, the major dispersal point, some 3 000 having already turned off to Zululand once in Natal. Hunger, fatigue and inclement weather had dogged them for most of the way, although for much of the journey the marchers received substantial kindness and support from farmers as well as from townsfolk in the villages they passed. The Boer army too was at times helpful and co-operative, even when the marchers were in no-man’s-land between them and the British. Upon reaching Hattingh Spruit near Ladysmith they found there were trains to take those who wished, and who could pay, on to Pietermaritzburg and final dispersal.

Marwick was widely praised both for his efforts and his humane attitude. The man they called Umuhle – the good one – was not forgotten by the descendants of the marchers. When he died in 1958, hundreds declined buses arranged for them to take them from the funeral to the cemetery and rather walked in tribute to him.

The curtain raiser, entitled Alexander Scotland, was presented by Alec Grant. Alexander Scotland was born in Perthshire Scotland in 1882. He was blind until the age of fourteen, which possibly accounts for his extraordinary facility with languages later in life. At the age of 20 he sailed for South Africa to join the ranks of the British Army engaged in the Anglo-Boer War, but arrived in Cape Town after the action had ceased. His uncle worked for a business called South African Territories Ltd and Scotland got a job managing the company’s operations at Raman’s Drift and Warmbad in the then German South West Africa. He became fluent in German and well versed in their culture.

After the start of the 1903 Herero/Nama uprising he was told by officers of the German Garrison that it was too dangerous to ride unarmed on horseback in the territory. As only military personnel were allowed to carry weapons it was suggested that he join the German army, which he did and became known as ‘Hauptman Schottland’. He was responsible for supply logistics and kept the soldiers well stocked. His duties took him to Cape Town where Dr Leander Starr Jameson, at that time prime minister of the Cape Colony, gave him discretion to issue permits for goods entering German SWA. In addition to German, Scotland had become fluent in several local languages and consequently played a role in the peace negotiations. During this period he met with the British military attaché, Major Wade, who told him he would be very useful to Britain if he learned all he could about the German military establishment in the territory.

When, in 1914, the South African Government declared its intention to side with Britain and invade German South West Africa on behalf of the British Empire, Scotland was able to provide a great deal of useful military intelligence which he sent to Smuts just before he (Scotland) was arrested as a spy and jailed in Windhoek. Scotland had requested Smuts to protect him in the event of his being incarcerated and this appears to have been what happened for although threats were made, he was not executed.

Following an initial defeat at the Battle of Sandfontein, the South African Campaign progressed at a rapid pace, some of this attributed to information received from Alexander Scotland. He was freed when the German forces in SWA surrendered in 1915 and returned to Britain. Using Smuts as a reference he obtained a post in military intelligence and was sent to France to get behind enemy lines in occupied Belgium. There he was able to present himself as a German colonial and again obtained useful intelligence, narrowly escaping arrest. While in France his skills came to the fore: he was able to organize POWs by acknowledging their backgrounds and predicting their behaviour, once again providing valuable information on German troop demographics. During this time he also met both Churchill and the Prince of Wales. At the end of World War 1 Alexander Scotland was awarded the OBE.

After the war he returned to South West Africa where he was involved in business. He visited Germany in the late 1930s and briefly met Hitler. In 1940 he received a notification requiring him to report for duties with the rank of Major. He was placed in the Prisoner of War Interrogation Section (PWIS) and was tasked with the establishment of POW Interrogation Centres in Britain, the main centre being ‘The London Cage in Holland Park’. His work soon saw him in France where again his experience of the German Army was put to use. When Germany invaded France, Scotland had to sail to Britain to avoid capture. He nevertheless took with him some German POWs on two Belgium trawlers which he commandeered.

Alexander Scotland was subsequently appointed to the War Crimes Investigation Unit. His main responsibilities were to interrogate prisoners accused of war crimes. The three major incidents in which he was involved were:

There were many accusations by defence teams during these trials that the inmates at ‘The London Cage’ were tortured in order to obtain confessions, but Scotland always maintained that this was not the case.

Alexander Scotland wrote a post-war memoir entitled London Cage, which was submitted to the War Office in 1950 for purposes of censorship. Scotland was asked to abandon the book, was threatened with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, and had his home raided by Special Branch officers. The Foreign Office insisted that the book be suppressed altogether as it would help persons ‘agitating on behalf of war criminals’. An assessment of the manuscript by MI5 listed how Scotland had detailed repeated breaches of the Geneva Convention. The book was eventually published in 1957 after all incriminating material had been redacted. It also contained a War Office disclaimer. Among its fascinating contents Scotland talks about the Rudolf Hess saga: according to him this could not have happened on Hess’ own initiative. Records filed in Kew are, however, only due for release in 2017. The film The two-headed spy, produced in 1958 and based on Alexander Scotland’s account, was in large measure fiction.

The title of the main lecture, given by Sam van den Berg, was Ops Savannah 1975: The story of 43 Charlie and her crew. ‘43 Charlie’ was an Eland 90 Armoured Car – part of Troop 3 of D Squadron of 2 SSB, at that time based at Walvis Bay. Her crew consisted of MCE (Pottie) Potgieter, the commander, Philip (Fielies) Rossouw, the gunner, and Sam van den Berg, the driver. Sam recounted and described his experiences in Angola over the period October - November 1975. He began by briefly sketching the background to Operation Savannah, including the significance of the Ruacana Hydro Electric Scheme to South Africa and the collapse of Portuguese rule in Angola.

For Sam and his crew, Operation Savannah started on 12th August 1975, when a column of armoured cars left Rooikop near Walvis Bay and moved north to Ruacana. Tragedy struck almost immediately when crew commander Potgieter was accidently fatally shot. He was temporarily replaced by Troop Sergeant ‘Tenk’ Fourie and later by Harry du Toit.

The following five weeks were spent on training and building fortifications. The crew enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere at Ruacana, where the South African base was regularly visited by the ELP (Exercito Libertacao de Portugal) the Liberation Army of Portugal, a group who did not accept the left-wing coup which had resulted in Portuguese withdrawal from Angola. While at Ruacana, the armoured cars were stripped of all insignia which could identify them as South African and painted light desert beige. The South African troops were given green uniforms similar to those worn by FAPLA, the armed wing of the MPLA. In describing the general tone of Operation Savannah, Sam highlighted the constant readiness to move – at night crews slept in the open next to their cars, the nature of their rations, and cooking facilities. The men generally preferred ‘captured’ rations to the South African issue.

Using maps and aerial photographs, and illustrated by slides and the artwork of gunner Fielies Rossouw, Sam gave a day by day account, starting on 20th October, of the crew’s experiences during their advance into and later withdrawal from Angola. While much of the next six weeks involved relatively routine activity, several events could be highlighted.

In summing up, Sam made a few general observations: Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

SAMHSEC’s next meeting will be on 14th October 2013 at 19h30 at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser will be Palmach [The pre-independence special forces of Israel] by Brian Klopper. The main lecture will be presented by Kathleen Gordon on The role of pigeons in WW I. The meeting will be preceded by the screening at 18h30 of the fourth episode of the ‘World at War’ series which was not broadcast on TV. This is the remaining 25 minutes of Episode D and 25 minutes of Episode E, both titled Hitler’s Germany 1933 – 1939. (The remaining 50 minutes left of Episode E will be shown in December as there is no showing in November.)

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

New Members/Nuwe lede

We welcome Gary and Caleb Human of East London as new members of the South African Military History Society and hope that their association with SAMHSEC will be happy and fulfilling.

Ons verwelkom ook terug Johan Loock van Bloemfontein. Ons hoop dat sy assosiasie met SAKVOC gelukkig en vervulling sal wees.

Members’ activities

Stephen Bowker gave a talk on the Battle of El Alamein to the Johannesburg branch of the Society during August. Six members of SAMHSEC, Fred Nel, Richard Tomlinson, Stephen Bowker, Tony Lombard and Anne Irwin joined the Grahamstown Historical Society field trip to Fort Willshire in September, led by Pat Irwin.

Richard Tomlinson and Ian Pringle have followed up several possibilities, including contacting Charles Ross of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, relating to the repair of the Anglo-Boer War monuments recently vandalised in the South End Cemetery.

Australian request for information

This is an extract from a request Ken Gillings (KZN scribe) received on behalf of a former Rhodesian now living in Perth:
... She is trying to locate any details on her father, who according to family history, enlisted in the South African Army during WWI, at the age of 13? He told how he had served in the trenches etc., he mentioned being at the Somme etc. She has been looking for any details on him for the last 40 years and I thought that perhaps a request in the SAMHS Newsletter may have some results for her. Her father's name was Francesco Auditore and he was born on 16.11.1903 and was in an orphanage in Parow, Cape Town. He may have also used the names Frank Auditore, Frank Canovi, Frank Grassi and Frank Mangiagalli (all family names). On her mother's side, she is a granddaughter of (General?) Pieter de la Rey Swartz, a first cousin of Koos de la Rey. She would appreciate any assistance and can be contacted at or Unit 4, 71 Motivation Drive, Wangara, Western Australia, 6065.

Kransleggingsgeleentheid in die begraafplaas van die Irene Konsentrasiekamp

Almal is uitgenooi na die kranslegging by die Irene kampkerkhof: Stopfordstraat 10 (S 25°52’ 14.4”  O 28°13’ 13.9”). Dit sal Sondagoggend 13 Oktober 2013 met sonsopkoms 5:30 plaasvind en word gereël deur die Centurion-Erfenisvereniging in samewerking met die SAVF en die Voortrekkerbeweging. Kontak, Dr Rentia Landman   h 012 664 2590 sel 083 306 549

Great Trek 175th anniversary: Military encounters of the Voortrekkers 7

By 1839 Dingane’s power had been broken by a combination of Trekker military actions and internal political dissension within the Zulu nation – aided and abetted by the Trekkers. As, after their victories 1838, the Trekkers struggled to establish civic society and structures in addition to the interminable conflicts over cattle with neighbouring groups such as the amaBhaca, they once again found themselves up against British meddling and colonial ambition in Natal. The net result was the British occupation of Port Natal by Capt. Thomas Smith and approximately 500 troops on 4th May 1842. They had marched from Fort Peddie and Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape Colony over a period of four months and encamped on a site which is still known as the Old Fort. They immediately constructed an earth fort both for protection and to serve as their operational headquarters.

Knowing of British intentions, the Trekkers had in the interim established a military presence at Port Natal under Andries Pretorius. Pretorius had located the Trekker laager, which on occasions reached a strength of 1 500 fighting men, at Congella on the western side of the bay, roughly where the Sugar Terminal is today. Both prior, and subsequent to the arrival of Capt. Smith, the Trekkers had made attempts to negotiate with the British and to express in the strongest terms, their independence from Britain, but these had been intransigently rebuffed, resulting in three armed encounters viz. the Battles of Congella, Point and Port Natal (Durban) Bay. In addition to these the British fort was besieged for 27 days.

At 23h00 on 25th May, Smith attempted an attack on the Trekker laager at Congella in retaliation for the Trekkers’ provocative appropriation of the British cattle. The attack was made both by land and by boat across the bay, but due to both bad planning and Trekker vigilance it was a disaster for the British, resulting in a hasty retreat to their fort with the Trekkers in pursuit. Their losses were 22 dead, 33 wounded and six missing. Depending on the sources consulted, the Trekkers’ losses were either none, one or five men. Thus ended the battle of Congella, which was fought almost entirely in the dark.

The following day the trekkers attacked a stone building on the Point serving as a blockhouse and rather ostentatiously named Fort Victoria. After a very brief engagement 21 British soldiers and three civilians surrendered. One civilian had been killed and two soldiers wounded. That was the ‘Battle of the Point’.

Pretorius then laid siege to the fort from 31st May, bombarding it daily with cannon and sniper fire. There was only one sortie out of the fort during what was to become a 27 day siege. In the sortie the British lost four dead and four wounded. While the civilians in the embryo settlement had, at Pretorius’ suggestion, taken refuge on a ship in the harbour, the Mazeppa, conditions in the fort rapidly deteriorated, the garrison being reduced to close to starvation. It was during this period that Dick King made his famous ride to Grahamstown to summon aid.

The aid arrived on 26th June, and as far as Captain Smith was concerned, came just in time. This was in the form of the schooner Conch, which slipped into the bay with 100 redcoats hidden below decks. She was followed a day later by HMS Southampton, a 60 gun ship of the line, with a further 300 troops on board. As these troops landed covered by the guns of the Southampton, the Trekkers put up only a brief and ineffective resistance. Completely outgunned, they melted away as their descendants were to do so often six decades later. In this action, the ‘Battle of Port Natal’, the British lost two killed and four wounded. There is no record of any Trekker losses although a number of farmers were killed after the British encouraged local Zulu residents to plunder the Trekkers’ farms. This minor encounter in Durban Bay ultimately allowed the permanent establishment of British rule in Natal.

So ended the first encounters of what was to become generations of animosity and conflict between the Trekkers and their descendants on the one hand and British imperialism on the other. The next encounter was to take place three years later in the southern Free State not far from the northern bank of the Orange River.

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

Keeping calm and carrying on

Resuscitated WW II Poster

RAF Typhoon pilot flies up back door of C 130 Hercules
Sailing Anarchy 26th August 2013

Nuclear bomb nearly exploded over North Carolina in 1961
MSN News 20th September 2013

Why a cyberwar won't happen
New Scientist Opinion 9th September 2013

World War I

WWI tourism: Looking for your family hero
BBC News 7th August 2013

Victoria Cross hero Lt Col Philip Bent excluded from commemoration
BBC News 25th August 2013

World War II

68th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
MSN News 20th September 2013

Recovering a WWII bomber hidden in a French cave
Chris Bockman BBC News 21st September 2013

3D interactive: The last Dornier 17 bomber
Anon BBC News 10th June 2013

Cold War

Jeff Carney: The lonely US airman turned Stasi spy
Alison Gee BBC World Service 19th September 2013

The great Cold War potato beetle battle
Lucy Burns BBC World Service 3rd September 2013

Viva la France

A secret plot to rescue Napoleon from St Helena
Past Imperfect 8th March 2013

Something different

Historical figures for the 21st century
The Telegraph 9th September 2013

Resource materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundige belang

Couzens Tim 2013 South African Battles Johannesburg Jonathan Ball

This is a revised and expanded version of Couzens’ 2004 Battles of South Africa. Twelve new battles have been added to the original 26 and several more are mentioned in passing. Couzens has visited all the sites, consulted widely, often with the locals, and refers to a range of sources.

The style is a delight for those who enjoy a raconteur. It is chatty and conversational, laced with personal experiences and anecdotes, all spiced with good humour. The text makes military history accessible to the novice military historian and to those who might never have thought of battles as integral parts of South African history. A serious military history, however, it is not, and anyone attempting to use it as such will quickly realise that they are going beyond one of its apparently intended purposes, that of public education.

The book is refreshingly politically incorrect. Couzens does not, for example, mince his words about the conditions of our roads in general, and particularly those leading to many of the battlefields. He makes similar comments about signposting and interpretation and the crumbling monuments themselves and asks what we are losing in both local and overseas tourism potential as a consequence. His acerbic comments on our short-sighted, ill-informed and self-serving politicians, within the context of military history and South African history in general, is to be welcomed as a courageous statement of affairs.

I have no doubt this book will sell as well as it deserves to, as did its predecessor. Priced at R199.00 for the p/b version at Bargain Books, this is a real bargain.

415pp. which includes 21 simple, but useful, maps to supplement the text. Illustrated with 32 colour and b & w plates. Contains a record of source material used (it is not a reference list) and people consulted, but regrettably no index. - PI

The following book has been drawn to our attention:
Van Emden Richard Meeting the enemy: The human face of the Great War London Bloomsbury Publishing
While we have not yet had the opportunity to examine it, the following website contains an interesting review. The tail piece at the end of this Newsletter is an extract from the book.

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 Peter Duffel-Cannon, Mike Heywood, Richard Tomlinson, Malcolm Kinghorn, Barry Irwin, Michael Irwin and Jonathan Ossher.

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn:
Secretary: Richard Keyter:
Scribes (Newsletter): Anne and Pat Irwin:
Society’s Web address:


Among the fascinating aspects of World War I unearthed by Richard Van Emden is the following based on correspondence between the British Foreign Office and their German counterparts.

In 1916 at the height of WW 1 Captain Robert Campbell, 30, 1st Battalion East Surrey Regiment, then a Prisoner of War in Germany was allowed to travel to the UK to be at the bedside of his mother who was dying of cancer. This he had been allowed after writing directly to Kaiser Wilhelm II. He promised to return to Magdeburg POW camp which he did and remained a prisoner until the conflict ended in 1918. Capt. Campbell died in 1966, aged 81. The Kaiser’s reasoning when asked why he allowed it was “Captain Campbell was an officer and he made a promise on his honour to come back. Had he not turned up there would not have been any retribution on any other prisoners.” Van Emden adds the comment that it was even more amazing that the British Army let him go back to Germany. “Britain rejected a request by German POW Peter Gastreich to be allowed to leave the Isle of Wight to visit his dying father".

South African Military History Society /