South African Military History 


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 118
July/Julie 2014

The sixth meeting of 2014 took place in the usual venue in Port Elizabeth. The open house slot was filled by Malcolm Kinghorn’s third presentation in the Battle Handling series aimed at assisting in understanding WWI, focusing on ‘formation level organisation’. While this varies from country to country, units (regiments, battalions and supporting arms such as signals and medical facilities) are often grouped into ‘brigades’ commanded by a brigadier.Brigades are grouped into ‘divisions’ commanded by a major general, divisions into ‘corps’ commanded by a lieutenant general, corps into ‘armies’ commanded by a general and armies into ‘army groups’ commanded by a field marshal. The pattern may be summed up as follows:

Major General
Lieutenant General
Army Group
Field Marshall

The curtain raiser was also presented by Malcolm Kinghorn, standing in for Alan Moolman who had had a fall and was unable to attend. The subject was the European Union Naval Force's (EU Navfor) first naval operation, Operation Atalanta, launched in 2008 to protect merchant vessels from piracy off the coast of Somalia.

Operation Atalanta’s mandate is the protection of vessels of the World Food Programme (WFP) delivering food aid to displaced persons in Somalia; protection of the African Union Mission on Somalia (AMISOM) shipping; the deterrence, prevention and disruption of acts of piracy and armed robbery; and the monitoring of fishing activity off the coast of Somalia, seeking to disprove what is often claimed by suspected pirates i.e. that they are only fishermen that have their fishing grounds denied. Key elements in the operation are the Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSCHOA), the UK Maritime Trade Operations Centre (UKMTO) and the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) in the Gulf of Aden. EU Navfor operates in cooperation with other Naval forces in the area, specifically NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield and the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF)’s Combined Task Forces CTF150, CTF151 and CTF152. The European Union also has other missions in the area, namely the EU Training Mission (EUTM) Somalia, which is based in Uganda to train Somali security forces and EUCAP Nestor, which is a civilian mission to strengthen rule of law in Somalia, and developing the maritime capacities of Djibouti, Kenya, and the Seychelles.

These measures have contributed to pirate attacks in the area dropping from 160 in 2011 to seven in 2013. The problem of Somali piracy has, however, not been solved and indications are that pirate attacks will revert to previous levels if the naval forces are withdrawn, which is possible, given the EU’s current economic restraints.

The main lecture, The 1914/1915 Rebellion was delivered by Alwyn du Preez.

Twelve years after the end of the Anglo-Boer war in 1902 and four years after the Union of South Africa was established in 1910, South Africa was again in turmoil. Rebellion had broken out in the Free State and Transvaal and in the northern region of the Cape Province in September 1914. Many Boers, still embittered by the result of the war, had refused to sign a pledge that they would abide by the terms spelled out at the Peace Treaty of Vereeniging in 1902. Some, like Deneys Reitz, had gone into exile.Over the following decade many returned, but there was still a strong feeling against Britain and all things British. Not everybody in the Union was, however, of this inclination. Many Boers, now referring to themselves as Afrikaners, became, or were, loyal to the fledgling Union Government headed by Generals Louis Botha and Jan Smuts. They were trying to rebuild their lives after a devastating war and had had enough of strife and deprivation. The outbreak of hostilities in Europe in August 1914 precipitated a crisis in South Africa as the government, supported by a parliamentary majority, not only decided to declare war on Germany, alongside Britain and the Empire, but to accede to Britain’s request to invade the German colony of South West Africa (GSWA). South African troops were mobilized along the border under Brigadier-General Henry Lukin and Lieutenant Colonel Manie Maritz. Many former Boer fighters who had defended their Republics in a bitter struggle, against overwhelming odds, to prevent their country from becoming part of the British Empire were opposed to these decisions, arguing that South Africa had no argument with Germany, which had sympathised with the Boers during the Anglo-Boer War. For some it sparked a belief and hope that the Government of the Union of South Africa could be ousted by an armed uprising.

Some of the former Boer generals such as Koos de la Rey, Christiaan de Wet and Advocate Barry Hertzog, ex-President Steyn of the Orange Free State and others protested strongly, but in vain. It is probable that Botha’s decision was influenced by a ‘border incident’ at a police border post at Nakob, North West of Upington, in which German troops were alleged to have crossed into South African territory.

Consequent to parliament’s decision, some Afrikaners, led by Generals Christiaan de Wet, ChristiaanBeyers, Lieutenant Colonel Manie Maritz and Major Jan Kemp, the last three being members of the Union Defence Force, decided to take up arms. All three resigned their commissions, but Maritz claimed his resignation was ignored by the army. They, and the several thousand men who followed them, were poorly prepared and equipped for what was to follow. The government’s armed forces by comparison were reasonably well-equipped both to defend theSouth African border and to invade German South West Africa. Within these forces however, there were men who had been on opposing sides twelve years earlier, many of whom had looked to Germany for support during that conflict.

After the declaration of war against Germany, General Beyers, who was Chief of the Army, resigned his post and General Koos de la Rey called the burghers in the Western Transvaal to the meeting on 15th September. Events on that day sparked off severe feelings of anger against the government. Beyers and de la Rey departed in a motorcar from Pretoria to head the meeting. On their way through Langlaagte in Johannesburg they came across a check-point. Probably concerned that it was a government plot to capture them, the driver of the vehicle drove through the road block, the police opened fire and a ricochet bullet hit de la Rey in the heart. He died in Beyers’s arms. It turned out that the road block was held in an effort to capture the notorious Foster Gang. De la Rey’s funeral was held in Lichtenburg on 20th September. His death lead to widespread unrest and all over the Western Transvaal and the Northern Free State angry meetings were held.

The day after de la Rey’s funeral at Lichtenberg, Kemp, Beyers and de Wet addressed a large crowd at Treurfontein near the town. It was a district in which pro-rebellion feelings were strong amongst burghers and where, amid wide-spread anger at the death of de la Rey, it was widely believed that he had been assassinated. They called for protest meetings against the invasion of GSWA all over the country. The meeting was further stirred by prophesies or visions of ‘Siener’ Niklaas van Rensburg. Siener, who was present at the meeting, was known to leaders amongst the Boers as he had fought in the Anglo-Boer War, during which he had often been consulted by Generals de la Rey and de Wet. He had had some 700 visions in his lifetime: some predictions came true while others were vague and their outcomes difficult to interpret. His prophesies were random having no chronological order, but he had accurately predicted the death of de la Rey. It is also believed that it was from this point on that Maritz started down-playing the significance of the event, leaving the government with a sense that there was no real threat on the border.

This situation provided the catalyst for the Burghers in the Free State and the Transvaal to rebel and form their own commandos. They gathered at Kopjes near Kroonstad on 20th October 1914 where they chose Generals Beyers and de Wet as their leaders. Virtually within days every town in the northern Free State and the western Transvaal was occupied by pro-rebellion forces. In the Free State their number rose to 7 000 men; in the Transvaal 3000 were mustered and in the Cape Province 2000 burgers joined in the revolt. Open rebellion was the order of the day. The rebels however, did not really stand a chance at success. They were outnumbered, not properly organised, decided on offensive strategies on the hoof, and were poorly provisioned in all respects – angry, ready, but doomed from the onset. Over the weeks that followed much hardship had to be endured by these men with hope in their hearts. It was a tragedy in the making.

Botha was forced to postpone the planned invasion of GSWA and concentrate on putting down the rebellion. As far as possible he used Afrikaner commandos loyal to the government rather than English-speaking troops. De Wet with most of the men under him was trapped and defeated at Mushroom Rock north-east of Bloemfontein on 12th November. De Wet managed however to escape with a small number of men and decided to move to the west to link up with Lieutenant Colonel Manie Maritz and his followers, but was captured near Kuruman on 1st December.

It was at this juncture that Major Jan Kemp, Officer Commanding the army camp at Potchefstroom, and Lieutenant Colonel Maritz, based at Kakamas, became seriously involved in the conflict. It was the death of de la Rey, the subsequent subversive meetings and the actions of the Union Forces which ultimately drove Maritz over the edge. He crossed the border into GSWA with most of his men on 20th October, an action which furthered the rebellion.General Beyers had moved from the western Transvaal to the Free State where they were continually harassed and dispersed by Union forces. Here another tragedy occurred. Beyers, pursued with just a few of his men, drowned whilst swimming across the Vaal River. It is believed he suffered a heart attack as a result of the cold water.

Jopie Fourie, a former Boer scout and despatch rider, joined the Active Citizen Force in 1913 and rapidly rose to officer rank. Initially avoiding hostilities, but feeling deeply aggrieved by what was happening in his country, he eventually sided with the rebels. He and his brother Hannes joined General Beyers. He was appointed as Commandant under General JJ Pienaar, to serve in the northern Transvaal. Jopie and Hannes made two serious mistakes when they took up arms against their own government. Although they removed all insignia,such as buttons and rank, from their uniforms they continued to wear them whilst fighting in a rebel commando. More seriously, they did not resign as members of the Union Defence Force (UDF).

Botha in the meantime, thinking that the Rebellion was at an end with the two main leaders out of contention (Beyers dead and de Wet in gaol), issued a declaration that the revolt was virtually at an end, the only task remaining being to neutralise Kemp and Maritz’s forces, both of which at that stage were over the border. What the government did not take into serious consideration was the pocket of resistance in the Northern Transvaal, where Commandant Jopie Fourie and his small band of fighters continued to harass the Union troops, causing considerable casualties amongst them. On 21st November Louis Botha, a man with a forgiving heart, with agreement of the government, granted amnesty to all rebels prepared to hand in their weapons, stating that while punishment had to be just and reasonable, “we must also forgive and forget in this fight of brothers against brothers.” Many of the men under General Pienaar took the opportunity to hand them over and go home, but not Fourie and his men. Their number was strengthened by those of Pienaar’s men who had decided not to capitulate. On 23rd November, near Hammanskraal north of Pretoria, a large contingency of government troops engaged the rebels: 450 well-armed soldiers, against Fourie and his commando of fifty pursued and tired men. A battle ensued, but after losses on both sides the Union troops withdrew. In the weeks that followed the commando kept up its fight. With each success Fourie’s hero status grew amongst the Volk. This was an embarrassment to the UDF which felt that it had to put an end to these last ditch efforts of the rebels. In a subsequent bloody battle lasting three hours Commandant Fourie finally surrendered. The Rebellion was over: he and his forty-three remaining men were captured, imprisoned in Pretoria, and put on trial.

At the time of the trial Botha was on his farm and had no idea of the ensuing events which were to take place. General Jan Smuts, in Pretoria at the time, was however ‘a hard man of the law’: justice and retribution was his mantra. His contention was that Fourie and his men had not availed themselves of the amnesty afforded and if found guilty of treason the law had to follow its course. Fourie’s court martial commenced just two days after his capture. He was shown no leniency and was found guilty of treason. He died by firing-squad in Pretoria Central Prison on 21st December 1914. The execution of one its heroes was a great shock to the Afrikaner nation.

As noted earlier, with the declaration of war in August 1914 Lieutenant Colonel Manie Maritz, commanding officer of Union troops in the Northern Cape entered the arena. He was stationed at Kakamas, not far from Nakob which is on the main road between Karasburg and Upington. On 26th September a column of the newly established UDF under Brigadier-General Henry Lukin, which had penetrated GSWA, clashed with German troops at Sandfontein and were heavily defeated. Pretoria instructed Maritz to move his troops in support of Lukin but Maritz argued that the German Force, at that time numbering 3000 well trained soldiers and artillery encamped at Ukamos, would overrun his untrained men. He stated that he would, however, support Lukin on the South African side of the border. Smuts and Botha suspected Maritz of duplicity and appointed a Major Enslin, nominally as his chief of staff, to watch over him.

Additional mounted soldiers and infantry were deployed at Upington under command of Colonel Coenraad Brits, a staunch Botha man. This alarmed Maritz and he moved his unit closer to the border. On 7th October he met with the German Commander, Colonel J von Heydebreck across the border at Ukamos and obtained German support for the rebellion. Brits, in the meantime had ordered Maritz to report to him in Upington on 9th October. Maritz ignored the order. Brits then sent Major Ben Bouwer to Maritz with instructions to hand over his command to Bouwer. Before Bouwer’s arrival however, Maritz had called his troops together and gave them one minute to decide whether they would join him to fight with the Germans or not. About 60 men refused: they were disarmed, arrested and taken to the border where they were handed over to the Germans as prisoners of war. When Major Bouwer arrived he too was arrested, Maritz informing him that he had decided to join the rebellion.

From here on Maritz and the remainder of his men were at war against their own government. They engaged in battles and skirmishes with Union troops (in many instances involving Afrikaners against Afrikaners) backed by the Germans. At a skirmish at Keimoes Maritz got a bullet in the knee and he had to retreat. In the meantime General Kemp and his force were fighting their way westward to link up with Maritz. Kemp had with him Siener van Rensburg. By the time they reached Maritz’s force they were exhausted and their horses and boots worn out. Maritz, now a ‘general’ in the rebel force, and Kemp did not always see eye to eye as to the course of action and tactics to follow. There was also some rivalry between them with respect to seniority. Their force was about 1200 men strong.

Fighting continued into the new year. On 24th January 1915 the rebels, with German support attacked Upington. Here again the two leaders were in disagreement as to the plan of attack. Siener had had a vision of the road ending in Upington. As it turned out, this battle was the end of the South African Rebellion. The short version of the battle is as follows: General van Deventer, OC of the Union Force stationed at Upington, was well-entrenched in the town with a garrison of 2000 men. The fighting was intense with heavy losses on both sides. The rebels fought bravely, but as the days went by their situation deteriorated. In the end 70 battle-tired and disillusioned Boers were captured and all that was left for Kemp and Maritz was to flee or capitulate. On 2nd and 3rd February 1915 most of the remaining rebels surrendered, including General Kemp. Maritz fled over the border into German territory.

The Rebellion had been quelled but the cost was high in terms of loss of life, and immeasurable in terms of hardship and loss of trust. Its legacy significantly shaped the politics and the development of South Africa and its peoples.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstigebyeenkoms en uitstappe

The next meeting will be at 19h30 on 14th July at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The ‘open house’ will be the next in the Battle Handling series presented by Malcolm Kinghorn. The curtain raiser and main lecture will be condensed into one, with Pat Irwin giving an overview of WWI. Prior to the meeting Jonathan Ossher will at 18h30, screen the first of a two-part series on the Anglo-Boer War.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

Individual members’ activities

Six members of SAMHSEC (Peter and Karen Duffell-Canham, Richard Tomlinson, Andrew van Wyk, Johan Loock and Tony Lombard) attended the 3rd Annual Richmond (Northern Cape) Anglo-Boer War Conference and Commemorative Weekend from 29th-31st May, which this year was in lieu of the normal field trip at this time of the year. See report below.

We congratulate fellow members Taffy and David Shearing who have recently published their latest book Malan Attacks Richmond. See under ‘Resources’ below.

World War I Commemorations in Port Elizabeth

The following information regarding events planned for this year, has been received from Lyn Haller, Secretary of the Mandela Bay Heritage Trust:

28th June 16h30. A talk by Adrian Kohler titled A horse’s eye view of the First World War: Handspring Puppet Company and the making of Warhorse at the Metropolitan Art Museum, 1 Park Drive. Details of this puppet show have been circulated to SAMHSEC members.
July. Olive Schreiner book launch at Bayworld.
19th September 11h00. Opening of the WW1 exhibition at Bayworld.
10th October. Author and well known military historian Ian Uys will be speaking on Delville Wood at Bayworld.
October. The SAAF Museum will be emphasising WW I during the PE Air Show and holding a WWI banquet.

For further details watch the press or contact Lyn’s office at:041 379 1629 or 082 302 2690

Richmond Conference and Field Trip, 29th– 31stMay: A report by Peter Duffell-Canham

Richard, Karen and Peter arrived in Richmond early Friday afternoon,while those who had arrived on Thursday were having a look at points of interest in and around Middelburg. This afforded them the time to have a look around Richmond.  The town has promoted itself as a ‘book town’ and has attracted a good selection of bookshops, artists and craftsmen, with some effort being made to decorate the buildings with interesting murals and signage.

On the Saturday morning, suitably fortified by a traditional Karoo lamb braai and English breakfast, delegates set off to look at the blockhouse at Merriman, unusual for the fact that it is built from off-shutter concrete and not the usual masonry. Here we met the new owner, farmer and businessman John Luscombe, who is intending to restore the blockhouse for leisure purposes. Having climbed a nearby kopje with John, who could point out places of interest in the vast plains, one could see its strategic position guarding the railway bridge and siding. Of particular interest on the top of the kopje were the remains of protective skanse, and two large flat rocks on which soldiers had left graffiti with their names, regiments and dates; the majority of names were from members of the Bedfordshire Regiment.

We then stopped at the cemeteries of the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital atDeelfontein, where the graves are immaculately tended. In addition to the graves of soldiers who died in the hospital, there is also a memorial to the hospital staff who died of disease and in one case, a train accident. Nearby are the ruins of the Imperial Yeomanry Hotel, built to house relatives of the fallen who would want to visit their graves. It must have been an oasis in the dry Karoo, as a look through the broken windows reveals what must have been large cool rooms decorated with soothing landscape paintings.

Due to time constraints the three speakers in the afternoon had to give shortened versions of their presentations. Herman Binge gave us the background to and showed us the DVD of Song vir Emily, featuring the dynamic singer Karen Zoid, which is an attempt to revitalise interest in their heritage among young South Africans. The singer travelled locally and overseas to places of importance in the life and work of Emily Hobhouse, while giving a commentary in modern colloquial Afrikaans. Of interest was the work she did after the Anglo-Boer War assisting in the resettlement of Boer women and children released from the concentration camps, and her work among the German women and children after World War I, as well as Cornish miners in America. Professor Kay de Villiers gave us an overview of some medical aspects of the war, including the training overseas of South African doctors, and the ambulance crews from around the world who came to assist the Boer forces.In his talk ‘Die BittereindePredikante’, Dr Arnold van Wyk looked at the lives of the ministers who had endured the hardships of the war with their people, seeing to their spiritual needs on commando, in the overseas POW camps and the concentration camps in South Africa.

On the Sunday morning before heading home, some of us climbed up Vegkop behind the main street to see the remains of the ABW fort and to take in the view. In the social sessions we got to know our fellow delegates, including old friends like fellow member Johan Loock (who guided us on our visit to the battlefield at  Boomplaats in  August 2011) and Allen Duff (our guide in pursuit of the commandos in the Eastern/Western Cape border area in May 2013). We felt it was worth the effort to attend. The hospitality of the local people is special, and we learned about some unusual aspects of the War.

[For anyone wanting further information on the extensive cemeteries at Deelfontein, see the article by Steve Watt ‘Deelfontein: A hospital in the Karoo during the Anglo-Boer War,a cemetery today’ inthe Military History Journal 7 (4) 151 – 159 December1987. – Eds.]

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang


Chester Nez, last of the World War II Navajo ‘code talkers,’ passes away quietly at 93
William Knowles InfoSec News 5th June 2014

D-Day 70 year commemoration

D-day revisited - virtually! French recreate Normandy landings from the original blueprints
Mark Prigg Mail Online: Science and Tech 29th May 2014

World War I

The secret of the poster that sent millions to war: Recruitment poster featuring Lord Kitchener
Keiran CorcoranMail Online: News 31st May 2014

Faces of our dead: Australians killed at the First World War Battle of Fromelles in 1916 identified with DNA 26th May 2014


The past and future history of a possible jet fighter June 2014

The Messerschmitt 262in action against B-17 bombers: some fascinating footage


The Pentagon’s no-fuss rifle experiment: The Low Maintenance Rifle was an easy-breezy M-16 replacement
Joe Trevithick 4th June 2014

Ukraine separatists try to crank up WWII tank
Brendan McGarry Defensetech 9th June 2014

Die TroepieStandbeeld

Vir ’n interessante onderhoud met Generaal GertOpperman, Besturende Direkteur van die Erfenisstigting, insake die verskywing van die Troepiestandbeeld na die Voortrekkermonument, kyk na

Resource materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundige belang

‘Now You Too Can Be a World War I Historian’: Operation War Diary lets anyone tag and vet battle accounts.
Go to:

The Imperial War Museums in the UK are attempting to piece together the Life Stories of more than 8 million men and women who made a contribution during the First World War. You are invited to participate and share in this information. See further details at:

Shearing Taffy and David 2014 Malan Attacks Richmond Cape Commando Series No 6. Published privately. The following information has been received from the authors:
The village of Richmond in the Northern Cape was isolated and far from the railways, but it put up a fight on two occasions against the Boer commandos under Commandant Wynand Malan. The town was led by a determined magistrate, George James Boyes. The book includes Malan’s subsequent career as a guerrilla fighter. Among other sources, the authors have used a diary written by a Field Cornet of Richmond, who was among the locals sticking it out in the Cape Colony at war. There is a list of Malan’s men as well as the Richmond Town Guard. Also included is a large collection of photographs, Brabant’s on the March, which makes this book a little different.

The book is in B5 format; 195 pages long; lists 340 members of Malan’s Commando and 151 Town Guards. There are 184 photographs. The price of the book is R220 plus R35 postage and packing in South Africa. Anyone interested in purchasing the bookshould contact the authors at: Tel: 044 6930601; Fax 086 5166714 or Overseas enquiries welcome.

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 as well as news on individual member’s activities. In this Newsletter, there have been contributions by Peter Duffell-Canham, Richard Tomlinson, Malcolm Kinghorn, Barry Irwin, Michael Irwin, Franco Cilliers and Jonathan Ossher.

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

Germany, Austria and Italy are standing together in the middle of a pub when Serbia bumps into Austria and spills Austria’s pint. Austria demands Serbia buy it a whole new suit because of the new beer stains on its trouser leg. Germany expresses its support for Austria’s point of view. Britain recommends that everyone calm down a bit.

Serbia points out that it can’t afford a whole suit, but offers to pay for the cleaning of Austria’s trousers. Russia and Serbia look at Austria. Austria asks Serbia who it’s looking at. Russia suggests that Austria should leave its little brother alone. Austria inquires as to whose army will assist Russia in doing so.

Germany appeals to Britain that France has been looking at it, and that it’s sufficiently out of order that Britain not intervene. Britain replies that France can look at who it wants to, that Britain is looking at Germany too, and what is Germany going to do about it? Germany tells Russia to stop looking at Austria, or Germany will render Russia incapable of such action anymore. Britain and France ask Germany whether it’s looking at Belgium.

Turkey and Germany go off into a corner and whisper. When they come back, Turkey makes a show of not looking at anyone. Germany rolls up its sleeves, looks at France, and punches Belgium. France and Britain punch Germany. Austria punches Russia. Germany punches Britain and France with one hand and Russia with the other. Russia throws a punch at Germany, but misses and nearly falls over. Japan calls over from the other side of the room that it’s on Britain’s side, but stays there. Italy surprises everyone by punching Austria. Australia punches Turkey, and gets punched back. There are no hard feelings because Britain made Australia do it.

France gets thrown through a plate glass window, but gets back up and carries on fighting. Russia gets thrown through another one, gets knocked out, suffers brain damage, and wakes up with a complete personality change. Italy throws a punch at Austria and misses, but Austria falls over anyway. Italy raises both fists in the air and runs round the room chanting. America waits till Germany is about to fall over from sustained punching from Britain and France, then walks over and smashes it with a barstool, then pretends it won the fight all by itself.

By now all the chairs are broken and the big mirror over the bar is shattered. Britain, France and America agree that Germany threw the first punch, so the whole thing is Germany’s fault. While Germany is still unconscious, they go through its pockets, steal its wallet, and buy drinks for all their friends.

South African Military History Society /