South African Military History 


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 122
November 2014

The 13th October meeting took place at the Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The Open House continued with Malcolm Kinghorn's seventh presentation in the battle handling series, focusing on Command and Control. Soldiers know what to do because they are subject to Command and Control(C2). Command is the process whereby soldiers are told what to do and Control is ensuring that they do as they are told. C2 is achieved through Orders, which may be either verbal or written. Orders are usually in a set sequence covering Situation (of own forces, enemy forces, terrain andweather), Mission including Guidelines and Restrictions (what must be achieved, how it is to be achieved and what may not be done), Execution (additions and detachments from normal order of battle and what each elementunder command is to do), Coordinating Instructions (applicable to more than one element of the force under command, for example timings), Command and Signals (for example headquarters location and radio frequencies), Administration and Logistics, Questions and Synchronisation of Watches. Orders were of particular importance during the First World War due to the large forces involved, and the fact that battlefield communications were for practical purposes impossible once battles commenced.

The curtain raiser was presented by Andre Crozier,who showed a series of slides on his and Lynn’s recent tour of the Normandy area in France. Many of the slides showed ‘then (1944) and now’ pictures of places, which made them particularly interesting.

The main lecture by Mac Alexander was titled Telescope, Dingo and Reindeer. Some personalities and approaches to airborne operations in Africa: Egypt 1956, Mozambique 1977 and Angola.

In examining three significant airborne operations that took place in Africa, some interesting personalities and approaches to command and control during such operations come to light. Operation Telescope was the Anglo-French airborne assault on Suez as part of the larger Operation Musketeer in November 1956; Operation Dingo was the Rhodesian airborne Assault on Chimoio and Tembué in Mozambique in 1977; and Operation Reindeer which was part of the South African airborne assault on Cassinga in Angola in 1978.All three showed senior officers appearing on the battlefield when they should not have been there, and the value of using an Airborne Command Post was very clearly illustrated.


The nationalisation of the Suez Canal by President Nasser of Egypt in 1956 was seen by Britain, France and Israel as threatening their interests and, in terms of a secret tripartite alliance, a plan was made to retake the canal. Israel would launch an airborne attack on the Mitla Pass in the Sinai Peninsula (Operation Kadesh), provoking the Egyptians to react. Britain and France would issue an ultimatum to both sides to cease hostilities, knowing this would not happen. They would then use it as an excuse to attack Suez – Operation Musketeer.

Musketeer was a huge undertaking to carry out a combined airborne and amphibious assault. The bipartite air-sea-ground force consisted of approximately 45 000 Britons and 34 000 Frenchmen; 200 British and 30 French warships, including seven aircraft carriers; more than 70 merchant vessels; hundreds of landing craft; 12 000 British and 9 000 French vehicles; hundreds of aircraft (fighters, bombers transports and helicopters); and the equivalent of three divisions of troops.

Operation Musketeer was a tactical success, but a massive political blunder and a strategic failure.


In the event the French and British were forced into a humiliating withdrawal as a result of American pressure on them to do so.


In Rhodesia in 1977 the Bush War was at its height. Mugabe’s ZANU was operating primarily from Mozambique with its armed wing, ZANLA. The Rhodesians were fighting a war on two fronts and were unable to stem the infiltrations. Politically, Rhodesia had its back to the wall; militarily, there was no wall! Like Alan Wilson’s Shangani Patrol 84 years earlier, they were surrounded!

The two main ZANLA bases in Mozambique were located near Chimoio and at Tembué in the northeast of Mozambique. The Rhodesians saw the destruction of these bases as an action that would inflict a serious blow on ZANLA and result in a huge setback for its prosecution of the war. A plan to attack the bases was accordingly formulated by two senior officers, Major Brian Robinson, OC Rhodesian SAS, and Group Captain Norman Walsh, the Rhodesian Air Force’s Director of Operations. When the operation was given the go-ahead, it was launched from several bases, using almost the entire Rhodesian Air Force. Walsh, with Robinson sitting next to himorbited the Command and Control G-Car, The army commander of the forces on the ground was therefore a major (a total of 184 assault troops). The Air Force commander of all aircraft involved was a group captain (colonel). Lt Col Peter Rich CO 1 RLI, a veteran of the Korean War and the Malayan Emergency, and also a former OC of the Rhodesian SAS, also participated in the helicopter assault at Chimoio as a private soldier under his son, who was one of his 2nd Lieutenants.

Dingo was tactically a brilliant operation with massive casualties amongst the insurgents and the total destruction of the base. The Rhodesians had capitalised on the joint expertise they had built up during Fire Force operations and successfully applied it to a bigger undertaking.


OPERATIONREINDEER (the Airborne Assault)

Operation Reindeer was carried out by the SADF in May 1978. It involved four independent attacks on different objectives in Angola, each by an approximately battalion-sized force and conducted simultaneously or within a few days of one another. One of these was an airborne assault on an objective named Cassinga. At the time SWAPO was increasing the ability of its PLAN fighters to operate inside Namibia, almost without impediment, from the neighbouring countries of Angola and Zambia. Militarily, the initiative had been lost by South Africa and it was becoming a strategic necessity to regain it.

Cassinga, 260km north of the border with Angola, had been identified as the key operational HQ and logistics base for the PLAN insurgency campaign in South West Africa/Namibia. The man who was determined to attack it and who was the driving force behind the subsequent airborne operation was Lt Gen Constand Viljoen, the Chief of the South African Army at the time. He was a paratrooper, but unlike the British, French and Rhodesians, no South African airborne generals or brigadiers had any combat experience.

In overall command of Operation Reindeer was Maj Gen Ian Gleeson, who was not an airborne man. In command of the parachute brigade was Brig M.J. du Plessis, a former parachute battalion commander, who was tasked to man an airborne command post during the operation. This he failed to do, electing rather to jump with the battalion, along with a small HQ element, rather like Brig Butler at Suez. The commander of the composite parachute battalion that carried out the drop was Col Jan Breytenbach, probably the most experienced combat commander in the SADF at the time. He had been the first commander of South Africa’s Special Forces and had founded the legendary 32 Battalion. He had also jumped operationally with the Rhodesians in Mozambique, fought in both the Nigerian and Angolan Civil Wars and interestingly, participated in Operation Musketeer at Suez as a navigator in carrier-based strike aircraft.

The air strike on Cassinga went in during morning muster parade, with the Canberras, then the Buccaneers dropping bombs, followed by a strafing run by the Mirages. Then the paratroopers (some 367 of them) jumped from four C-130B Hercules and two C-160Z Transall aircraft. But unlike the Rhodesian Dakota pilots who had frequently dropped paratroopers under fire, this was a new experience for the South African pilots. The drop went badly, with the paratroopers scattered over incorrect places. Breytenbach, however, retrieved the situation and changed his plan, recovering the initiative and carrying out the assault against considerable resistance in places, to eventually take and largely destroy the objective. During the withdrawal of the last elements by helicopter, a Cuban counter-attack took place and they were only able to get away because of repeated attacks by a lone Buccaneer aircraft. Gen Viljoen, who had been helicoptered in to the objective after it was taken, was himself almost captured along with his paratroopers.

It had been a near thing, but the operation was a tactical success. Strategically, however, it was effectively turned into a propaganda coup by SWAPO, who focused on the deaths of civilians who had been in the base, calling it a “massacre of innocent refugees”. This refrain was the one accepted by the world. On the tactical level too, the success was short-lived, as within a few months the insurgency had reached unprecedented levels.

There had however been a second brigadier at Cassinga, and in an attempt to counter the propaganda attack by SWAPO he was now touted as the actual commander of the South African paratroopers at Cassinga. Hannes Botha had been a rugby Springbok in the early ‘60s and was the Army’s Director of Operations. He too, was a paratrooper, and like Du Plessis (himself a one-time Commonwealth Games athlete) he decided to jump at Cassinga. He had no appointment or role, and was merely there as an observer. But in newspaper reports following the press conference where he spoke, he was applauded as the iron-hard disciplinarian who had commanded the paratroopers in battle.

The intention was probably to gain the attention and sympathy of the fanatically rugby-conscious white South African public! Breytenbach, the actual commander, was given no publicity or acknowledgement at the time. He certainly was not decorated for his role in the operation.


Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next meeting will be on Saturday 15th November. There will be a field trip in the morning for those interested, and lectures as normal during the afternoon. The morning programme is as follows:
09h45: RV at the Sacramento gun in Schoenies 10h00-11h00 walk to and from the Sacramento Monument 11h00-11h45 visit the Second World War Observation Post above the village 12h00-14h00 bring your own picnic lunch – to be in the Sappershoek Hall.

The Schoenmaker, after whom Schoenmakerskop is named, is believed to have been a member of the Dutch East India Company expedition led Colonel Jacob Gordon, which visited the area in 1778. The Portuguese galleon Sacramento,with its cargo of cannon, was wrecked close to the present day village in1647. The Dutch warship Zeepaard was wrecked in nearby Sardinia Bay in 1823. The Second World War observation post on Schoenmakerskop is described in Richard Tomlinson's article in the Military History Journal 12 (3) 102-106 (June 2002). Our lunch and afternoon venue, Sappershoek, has associations with the South African Corps of Engineers. Anyone with knowledge to share on any of these subjects or anyother military history related event in the vicinity is welcome so to do onthe day.

The afternoon programme will begin at 14h00, opening with the Act of Remembrance. The curtain raiser is provisionally planned to be by a SAAF Second World War fighter pilot, with Pat Irwin on stand-by with a talk on The Sinking of the Lusitania should the former option not be possible. The main lecture by Geoff Hamp-Adams, titled SAAF history made, heritage lost, will focus on the challenges facing the stalwarts fighting to preserve South African military aviation history.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

Individual members’ activities / Individuele lede se aktiwiteite

Fred and Brenda Nel, Stephen Bowker and Pat Irwin attended the International Military History Conference From the Anglo-Boer War to the Great War, in Dundee, KwaZulu-Natal. A total of 27 papers were presented with plenty of time to network and socialize. During the conference, a commemorative service for the Battle of Talana Hill was held on the battlefield adjacent to Dundee’s Talana Museum. This was the first battle of the Anglo-Boer War,and the commemoration took place 115 years to the day after the event. Following the conference, Ken Gillings led a tour to the Battlefield of Elandslaagte. This superbly organized conference was held at Dundee Museum which was the joint organizer with the KZN Branch of the Military History Society.

After the conference Pat Irwin and Stephen Bowker visited the Isandlwana and Spioenkop battlefields as well as some sites of Voortrekker interest in the company of fellow member Sarie Mehl.

Remembrance Day Parades

The Remembrance Memorial Day Service at Grey High School will be held on Tuesday 11th November. Please be seated by 10h30. A fly past in a suitable aircraft piloted by Patrick Davidson will take place over the School at 11am. Tea, coffee and refreshments will be served afterwards in the restaurant. This service lends itself to the older generation as it is held in the sheltered Memorial Quad with ample under-cover seating. All the service organizations and representatives from the local military units lay will lay wreaths.

The times and venues for Remembrance Day Parades in the Eastern Cape, all on Sunday 9th November, are as follows:
Port Elizabeth: 08h30 for 09h00 at the Walmer Town Hall Cenotaph.

Grahamstown: 10h30 for 11h00 opposite the City Hall in the Cathedral Square. The St Andrew’s College Pipe Band and the Kingswood College Brass Bands will be in attendance.

East London: 10h15 for 11h00 at the Cenotaph. A platoon of the Buffalo Volunteer Rifles will take part in the parade and the Selborne College Band will be in attendance. Refreshments will be available after the parade.

World War I Centenary Year / Eerste Wêreldoorlog Eeufeesjaar

In Newsletter 121 mention was made of the Battle of Square Hill.

The Battle of Square Hill took place near Jerusalem on 19th – 20th September 1918 during the Palestinian Campaign of the First World War.

During 1916 troops of the Ottoman Empire had threatened the Suez Canal but after the Allied victory at the Battle of Romani in August of that year, the initiative passed into the hands of the Allies. A series of battles in Palestine followed, leading to the capture of Jerusalem in December 1917, and the front line being consolidated north of the city in a line from north of Jaffa and Jerusalem to Jericho and the Jordan Valley. For a number of reasons, including the 1918 German Spring Offensive on the Western Front, which caused Allied troops to be transferred to France, further advance in Palestine was halted until mid-1918 when an offensive was planned. Part of this offensive involved the 1st Battalion of the Cape Corps (CC), which had given excellent service in the East African Campaign. The Battalion was brigaded with the 7th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, the 17th Indian Infantry and the 21st Punjabis, all regiments of high standing, and formed part of the Allied 20th Corps.

By 18th September the Allied forces were ready for the planned breakthrough of the Turkish/Ottoman line, the Cape Corps being located at Rham Alla, 22km North West of Jerusalem. As darkness fell, the CC was one of the first units to move forward with the intent to capture a number of hills upon which the Ottoman army was ensconced. Square Hill, which was heavily defended, was one of these, but after supporting artillery fire followed by a bayonet charge and a determined Turk counter attack, it was captured by the CC adding a significant battle honour to their record. The operation had lasted 10 hours and the 1st Bn CC had had only one member killed and one wounded, while they had captured some 200 enemy troops and a German field gun. This was due largely to the initiative and courageous action of Corporal Marinus February, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), second only to the Victoria Cross in prestige. The unit also captured a German field gun (a Krupp 7.7cm FK M 16), which they were later presented with as a trophy, and which today stands at the Square Hill Memorial in Kimberley honouring the men of the Cape Corps from that city who paid the supreme sacrifice in the First World War.

These is however a tragic sequel to the victory at Square Hill. On 20th September two Companies of the 1st Battalion were given the task of leading the attack on another heavily defended position, Kh Jibeit, a high point just north of Square Hill which was the last enemy position of importance, covering their retreat. It was one of those occasions when everything seemed to go wrong: Turkish resistance was determined, the artillery bombardment was late and the Battalion’s runner got lost. The result was a disaster, the battalion suffering severe casualties. Of the 400 men who went into action 51 were killed including seven of the eight officers, and 101 wounded. The day was saved by the NCOs who took over and with the help of an RAF pilot, who used his Lewis gun to strafe the Turks from the air, were able to extricate themselves. Four DCMs and one Military Medal were awarded for this action.

The Battalion was one of the last units to return to South Africa in September 1919. Upon arrival in Cape Town, they were given a civic reception in the city hall and paraded through the streets before a large crowd. (See Resource materials of military historical interest below).

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

World War I

How bad were the First World War generals?
Seán Lang from First World War For Dummies

Military influence on fashion: The trench coat's forgotten WW1 roots
Simon Armstrong BBC News 4th October 2014

Tower of London's moat turns red in tribute to the fallen: Aerial photo shows art installation containing 900,000 ceramic poppies is nearing completion
Emily Kent Smith Mail Online 3rd October 2014

‘If people really knew’: the work of Australia’s first Great War correspondent 4th October 2014

World War II

Operation Market Garden Commemoration
The 17th – 25th September marked the 70th Anniversary of Operation Market Garden, an unsuccessful Allied military operation, fought in the Netherlands and Germany in an attempt to cross the Rhine. It was the largest airborne operation up to that time, and is remembered not least for the courageous fight of the British 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem, supported by the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. The following three videos are among many commemorating the event. See also the links from them.
Video of Waal River Crossing
Air Assault at Grave Bridge (82nd ABN DIV)
Take offs and landings Eindhoven Airport Market Garden 70

Kokoda myth put to rest: Australian victory on the Kakoda Trail. 6th October 2014

The Border War

Terry the lion
[Terry is reputed to on occasion have shared a bed with Malcolm]


The A-10 Warthog is by any measure a remarkable aircraft. Having been developed in the 1970s to combat the possibility of Soviet tanks rolling across the plains of northern Europe, the A-10 has also given excellent service in Afghanistan. On the eve of now being taken out of service, it is being reconsidered for its potential in combating IS ground forces. Here are a number of sites relating to the A-10’s past and present.

Military history in the making?

The 12 Labours of Vladimir Putin
Steve Rosenberg BBC News, Moscow 7th October 2014

AFSOC boss wants directed energy weapons
Bryant Jordan Defensetech 15th September 2014

Russia releases photos of its submarine fleet
Mike Hoffman Defensetech 9th September 2014

Mathematics of war: a short video
Sean Gourley, physicist and military theorist

Resource materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundige belang

For those interested in further information on the Battle of Square Hill, the following publications are helpful:

Difford Ivor D (Capt.) c1920 The story of the 1st Battalion Cape Corps (1915 – 1919) Cape Town Hortors Chapter 15 (pp 188-236) covers Square Hill and the capture of the guns.
This book is difficult to find but it is available without any redaction at:

Engelbrecht Leon 2010 ‘Remembering Square Hill – the Cap[sic] Corps at Megiddo, September 1918’.
Written for defenceWeb on 20th September 2010 and available at:

Gleeson Ian (Lt. Gen.) 1994 The unknown force: Black, Indian and Coloured soldiers through two World Wars Rivonia Ashanti Publishing Chapter 6 (pp 83-99) covers Square Hill. This book is available in many libraries and is still relatively easy to access.

Jordan Moses (L/Cpl.) 2008 ‘A brief account of the 1st Cape Corps’ fight at Square Hill, 18 to 21 September 1918’ Military History Journal 14 (3) 118 An interesting account by a participant in the battle.
It is interesting to note that The Union of South Africa and the Great War, 1914 – 1918: Official History, compiled and published by the General Staff, Defence Headquarters, Pretoria, in 1924 makes only a passing reference to the South African role in the Palestinian Campaign. Vic Alhadeff in South Africa in Two World Wars (1979) makes no mention of it whatsoever.

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 Fred Nel, Richard Tomlinson, Malcolm Kinghorn, Mac Alexander, Barry Irwin, Michael Irwin and Peter Duffel-Canham.

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


"Ambrose Everett Burnside (May 23, 1824 – September 13, 1881) was an American soldier, railroad executive, inventor, industrialist, and politician from Rhode Island, serving as governor and a U.S. Senator. As a Union Army general in the American Civil War, he conducted successful campaigns in North Carolina and East Tennessee, as well as countering the raids of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, but was defeated in the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg and Battle of the Crater. His distinctive style of facial hair became known as sideburns, derived from his last name."

South African Military History Society /