South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 456
KwaZulu-Natal March 2014

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

KwaZulu-Natal Newsletter No. 458, March 2014 An enthusiastic audience packed the auditorium of the Murray Theatre, Department of Civil Engineering (University of KwaZulu-Natal) to listen to two outstanding presentations at our February 2014 meeting.

The first speaker was past Chairman Bill Brady whose presentation was entitled "The Eclipse of the Luftwaffe". In the final stages of NAZI Germany's air defence, Luftwaffe fighter pilots sacrificed their lives in a last desperate effort. With the German defence perimeter shrinking; the air war entered a final ferocious phase. In an unequal challenge, the German pilots took off time and again to contest Allied air forces that completely outnumbered them. The heavy air losses suffered by the Allies, despite their superiority during the last six months of the war; is testimony to the bravery displayed by Luftwaffe airmen in their frantic endeavours. After almost six years of continual fighting on several fronts, the once powerful and feared Luftwaffe was reduced to only a token force. The once mighty Luftwaffe that had dominated the European skies was no longer able halt the Allied formations that were pounding Germany. The development of Allied long-range fighters escorting the bombers deep into Germany had turned the tide. By mid-1944, the Luftwaffe had virtually disappeared from the skies over occupied territory; thus leaving the German Armies to fight without air support.

Hermann Göring, refusing to accept the true situation, boastfully asserted that "his Air Force" would soon regain mastery of the air. But when losses mounted; he accused the pilots of incompetence and cowardice. Now, taking all of this into consideration, it should be remembered that, from its inception the Luftwaffe was developed for an offensive strategy, principally to support the ground troops. And, as was proved in the early campaigns this strategy appeared correct. However, the lessons of the Battle of Britain had not been heeded, and offensive thinking remained in the ascendancy. Meanwhile, the Allies, having formed a correct appreciation of the likely turn of events, were able to build up powerful strategic air forces. By the time the Luftwaffe High Command realised the danger, the fighter force was suddenly thrown onto the defensive. They now had to thinly spread out in penny-packets and were short of manpower, fuel and equipment, until Speer took charge. Under his management, production of fighter aircraft reached its peak in September 1944. But this proved to be too little too late due to losses, inadequate training of pilots and overstretched resources.

The Me 262 was the world's first operational jet fighter and was demonstrated to Hitler on November 1943. To everyone's surprise he immediately decided that the Me 262 should be a fast bomber, not a fighter. Despite protestations, Hitler remained adamant. He demanded that the Me 262 be developed as a bomber; a role completely alien to its concept. His obstinacy delayed the aircraft reaching operational status eventually as a fighter. And due to inadequate training, many pilots made only two training flights before going into action.

In April 1944 the first Me 262s underwent their first operational sorties and quickly claimed successes. The Allies soon realised that the most effective, indeed, almost the only counter measure against this aircraft was to destroy it on the ground. They placed standing patrols above their airfields to shoot them down when they took off or came in to land. The jet fighters were mainly used to attack four-engine Allied bombers - a tactic that many German fliers considered wasteful. They thought the jet should engage the fighter escorts, leaving the German piston-engine planes to attack the bombers. The Allies now recognized the Me 262 as a real threat, and considered that one Me 262 was the equal of eight Allied fighters. But however good its performance, it could not succeed against overwhelming odds.

Allied escort fighters were by now thrusting deeper into Germany and occupied territory. The Allies also started to launch raids on Austria and South Germany from Italy. Thus, opening up a new front where fighter defences had to be urgently set up, placing further strain on the Luftwaffe. In early 1944, the new long range American escort fighter, the P-51 Mustang came into service. Bombers could now be escorted to any German target. There can be no doubt that the appearance of the Mustangs constituted a major turning-point. They were given greater freedom of action, from now on the fighter escorts no longer stuck close to the bomber formations. They now could seize the initiative to seek out and hunt down their attackers. Once the Mustang formations dominated the airspace, it was inevitable that German fighter losses would rapidly rise. There seemed little left to stem the inexorable advances by the Allies from west and east; the Ardennes offensive had crumbled and the Luftwaffe had failed to blunt the Allied tactical air strength.

As the Germans were forced to abandon their air bases, due the Allied advance, the much maligned Luftwaffe prepared to launch its last great offensive. By April, Soviet spearheads were crossing the River Oder and began to establish beachheads.

The Luftwaffe formations, outnumbered two to one in manpower and four to one in equipment, fought valiantly. Every unit available for combat operation was thrown into the desperate battle. However, the flow of Soviet troops and equipment continued almost un-molested by the air attack. By the early hours of the April 18th, the Soviet Army crossed the river. German defence positions crumbled in the face of superior numbers and firepower. At the same time, inside Hitler's Berlin Bunker the situation was nearing its climax, with Hitler issuing orders to many non-existent Luftwaffe combat units to attack the Soviet formations. When the Soviets surrounded Berlin, Hitler came to the conclusion that the war was lost. Many of Hitler's inner circles tried to convince him to leave the capital but he refused. Meanwhile, Göring planned to take over command of the Third Reich. Before all communication was lost with the Berlin bunker and sent a cable directly to Hitler, stating he would take over the German government as its official head. Göring even demanded that Hitler respond to the cable before 10:00pm of that day. Hitler lambasted Göring, branded him a traitor, and ordered his arrest. Thus, at the time of its greatest peril, the Luftwaffe was left without leadership. Conditions were rapidly deteriorating. Fuel and ammunition had almost run out. On April 30th, Hitler named Admiral Karl Dönitz his successor and committed suicide.

The organised defence of Germany was at an end; an inevitable end.

The Main Talk was the first in the Branch's WW1 Commemorative Lecture Programme and was presented by Pietermaritzburg based fellow member Robin Smith.

By Christmas 1914, in only its fifth month, the war against Austria and Germany had become a stalemate. It was a war of attrition and the two lines of trenches that stretched from the North Sea to Switzerland left no opportunity for flanking movements. Any flanking movement will have to be outside Western Europe.

Winston Churchill was the author of a scheme to force the Dardanelles. It was conceived as a naval operation. If successful, it would take Turkey out of the war and encourage the Balkan nations to join the Allied camp but the Secretary of State for War, Field Marshall Lord Kitchener told Churchill the obvious place was the Dardanelles but said that "we have no troops to land anywhere."

On 12th March 1915 General Sir Ian Hamilton was summoned to the War Office by Lord Kitchener. He was 62 and had been a soldier for 42 years. He had seen more war in Afghanistan, India, Burma, the Sudan and South Africa than just about any of the senior generals in the British army. In 1915 He knew Kitchener well from his time in Egypt, as his Chief of Staff in Pretoria, and in India. He told Hamilton "We are sending a military force to support the fleet now at the Dardanelles, and you are to have Command." Hamilton said he had some questions. "... my knowledge of the Dardanelles was nil; of the Turk nil; of the strength of our own forces next to nil."

Hamilton was told that he will be given the 29th Division from the British regular army, two divisions of Australian and New Zealand troops then in Egypt, the Royal Naval Division and a French contingent, about 70,000 men "which will do you handsomely. He left the following day so no thorough study was even attempted. The question of whether the British Empire had adequate resources to undertake operations simultaneously in France and Gallipoli was not examined.

The Dardanelles are a water passageway from the Aegean Sea to the Black Sea of Marmara, are a highway for all Russia's trade and the export of grain. The problem of forcing the Dardanelles has engrossed the attention of naval and military strategists for centuries. An all-out naval attack on 18th March with no less than 18 battleships, surrounded by an armada of cruisers and destroyers was a disaster. Three ships were lost and three more crippled, more than 700 sailors were killed.

Hamilton arrived on the Greek island of Lemnos, the British base, on 16th March and sent a message to Kitchener that he would be unable to begin landing operations on Gallipoli before the middle of April. The element of surprise was completely gone.

By 1875 the Ottoman Empire was bankrupt. The Young Turks under Major Ismael Enver grabbed power in 1908. Enver was pro-German and Germany sent Lieutenant General Otto Liman von Sanders and a number of army officers to Turkey. Von Sanders took command of the Turkish Fifth Army at Gallipoli.

The commander of III Corps was Brigadier General Esat Pasha whose division commanders were veterans, Colonels Mustafa Kemal (19th Division) and Halil Sami with the 9th Division. The Ottoman army was very well trained, much of it under German officers.

The invasion plan called for a hazardous landing on the Gallipoli peninsula and the Navy was confident that their massive bombardment would crush the defenders. The 29th Division would land on five tiny beaches, S, V, W, X and Y. Their objective was to seize the high ground of Achi Baba.

Birdwood's Anzacs would be the first to land on 25th April, needing to hit the beach at 4.30 a.m. They should have landed on a {beach} that looked so pleasant that it was named Brighton Beach. In fact, they were landed on Anzac Cove, the wrong beach. Behind Anzac Cove is a confusion of cliffs and ravines. No army would land here on purpose. By 6 a.m. about 4,000 Anzacs were ashore and by the end of the day more than 20,000 had landed.

Kemal had alerted his 19th Division and was attacking the left flank of the Australians. Sami ordered his men to take orders from Kemal and the two regiments formed a 180° ring bringing the Australian advance to a halt.

On W beach, the Lancashire Fusiliers were engaged in heavy fighting and six V.C.'s were awarded before breakfast time. They lost 533 casualties but secured the beach and joined up with a detachment of the Royal Fusiliers on X beach. Ships' boats carried the 1st Battalion the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. The Turks held their fire until the boats grounded - very few survivors managed to get onto the beach. The men of the Munster Fusiliers and the Hampshire Regiment met the full blast of Turkish fire now concentrated upon the River Clyde. Only a handful of men, slithering across the lighters and through the red water managed to reach the shore. Hamilton was a horrified witness from the battleship Queen Elizabeth but could not interfere with the orders of Major-General Aylmer Hunter-Weston, Commander of the whole invasion. Even so, Hamilton reported to London that night that "On the whole - the news is good."

The estimates of the numbers of wounded were 3,000 from the beaches. There were two hospital ships which could handle only 700 serious cases. The 10,000 wounded could only be taken off over two days to transports. The wounded were in for a terrible time.

In a few days the campaign went from an invasion to a siege. Advance towards the village of Krithia and Achi Baba got nowhere. Clearly the peninsula could not be taken with five divisions. Casualties after numerous frontal attacks amounted to more than one division.

Kitchener told Hamilton that he was disappointed to discover that his thoughts on how to conquer the Dardanelles were "miscalculated". Hamilton cabled back "...we gain ground surely, if slowly, every day".

A German submarine U21 arrived off Gallipoli and on 25th May and torpedoed the battleship Triumph off Anzac. A Turkish torpedo boat sunk another battleship Goliath, and yet a third battleship, the Majestic, was sunk on 27th May. All the large ships were recalled to the island of Imbros and only destroyers with their 4-inch guns would support the troops. Even with the 52nd Division as reinforcements the British were unable to make any forward progress. Kitchener agreed to send three divisions of the New Army, Churchill lobbied for more and so two more were sent, the 53rd and 54th. With this enormous increase in his force, Hamilton now had 13 divisions against 16 for von Sanders. Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Stopford was sent to command the new divisions which constituted a corps. Landings at Suvla Bay and a breakout from Anzac soon ground to a halt.

Keith Murdoch, father of Rupert, wrote a letter to the Australian Prime Minister that was highly critical of the Gallipoli operation. The British Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith demanded action; Stopford was dismissed and Lieutenant-General Julian Byng was sent to take command of the new corps. Nothing could now be done to make forward progress. General Sir Charles Monro replaced Hamilton and advised immediate evacuation. Kitchener was not satisfied until he himself came to Gallipoli. The withdrawal was done at night and completed on 20th December. The men at Helles were all similarly taken off on small boats by 8th January 1916. This was the only operation at Gallipoli that was perfectly performed with not a single man lost.

Whether it was a good idea or not, Churchill imposed the Dardanelles adventure on a government that had no notion of how to carry the idea through. There had never been any doubt about Hamilton's physical bravery but now he showed a higher form of courage. Whatever his failings as a commander he had been let down by Kitchener and the Cabinet. Later in 1916 most accepted that the case against Kitchener was stronger than the case against Hamilton. In temperament he was the wrong commander for the Gallipoli campaign but just who could have succeeded under the conditions Kitchener imposed. When he died in London in 1947 a memorial was opened for him in St Paul's cathedral. Churchill spoke of a brilliant and chivalrous man. He was not wrong.

Thursday 13th March 2014:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: "Guadal Canal - The Naval Battles"
by Roy Bowman
Main Talk: No 2 in our WW1 100 Commemorative Lectures: "The German Invasion and Occupation of Belgium and North-East France, from August 1914" by Paul Kilmartin. Note that Paul will be travelling to South Africa from the UK on holiday to present this talk.

Thursday 10th April 2014 (NOTE:
April will see the Society's AGM throughout all Branches):
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: "RN Gunboats & Motor Launches - I was on them" by Prof Ken Knight
Main Talk (as part of our WW1 100 series): "Prelude to the First World War" by Capt (SAN) (Retd) Brian Hoffmann. Note that Capt Hoffmann will be travelling from Cape Town to deliver his lecture.

Thursday 8th May 2014:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: WW1 100: "Forts in Belgium and France"
by Prof Philip Everitt
Main Talk: WW1 100: "The War against disease in German East Africa, 1916 - 1918" by Donald Davies.

Thursday 12th June 2014:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: "Central Flying School Dunottar"
by Colonel Steve Bekker
Main Talk: "The 70th Anniversary of Normandy; Neptune", by John Oliver

COMMEMORATION OF THE 115TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE START OF THE ANGLO-BOER WAR, 1899 TO 1902: "From Anglo-Boer War to World War 1" - Talana Museum, Dundee, KwaZulu-Natal, 20th to 22nd October 2014.
The Society and Talana Museum have combined forces to bring you an impressive array of speakers with an equally impressive series of topics, from the UK, Ireland and South Africa. This event will coincide with the Talana Museum's Annual "Talana Live Weekend" from the 17th to the 19th October 2014. This is an event that military history enthusiasts simply cannot afford to miss. Conference Delegates' attendance costs have been kept to a minimum at R350 per day or R950 for the three full days. A copy of the programme will appear with the next newsletter.


Members are reminded that all branches of the Society will hold their AGMs during APRIL 2014. Kindly e-mail your nominations for Chairman and Committee to or post them to him at 19 Bearemount Park, 4 Ryan Road, Pinetown 3610, before the meeting.

South African Military History Society /