South African Military History Society

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The Chairman, Malcolm King, opened the meeting by announcing that at the December meeting there had been 51 members and 20 visitors present. He then made a small presentation to Hamish Paterson of the MHS committee to mark his 60th birthday. He also announced that Tim Waudby would be 93 the following week.

He notified us that there was a flyer available on the Steinaecker's Historical-Archaeological Research Project for 2015 and that a limited number of places to help at the site (inside the Kruger National Park) were still available. Enquiries can be directed to Dr Anton van Vollenhoven at

There was also an outline itinerary available for the SAMHS Tour of Europe in 2016 for a centenary visit to Delville Wood - contact Ken Gillings.

Malcolm introduced the first speaker of the evening , Bob Smith, whose talk was titled The Entebbe Raid, a Tribute to Israeli Commandos. On Sunday 27th June, 1976 an Air France Airbus took off from Tel Aviv for Paris. Flight 139 was carrying 246 passengers and 12 crew. Contact was lost but the Israelis tracked it to Benghazi where a Briton, Patricia Martel (30) was released because of her advanced pregnancy. She disclosed the details of the hijack to Scotland Yard. On June 29, terrorists broadcast their terms for the release of all hostages - this was the release of 53 terrorists held in Israel and other locations. On June 30, a further 30 non-Jewish hostages were released. Under cover of negotiating the Israelis let Brigadier General Dan Shomron evaluated the possibility of a rescue mission. Finally, 106 Jewish hostages were held along with the crew who had refused to leave. The Israelis had plans of the airport at Entebbe, which they had built, so careful preparation and rehearsals were carried out: they even obtained a Mercedes and had it painted black so it would look as if Idi Amin was driving into the airport. By this time the hostages were ill and conditions were appalling. The Israeli planes landed very quietly on partially deflated tires.

Inside the leading aircraft were commandos led by Yonni Netanyahu (brother of the politician). The operation went like clockwork with the troops using AK 47's so that they could appropriate terrorist ammunition. They also shouted instructions to the hostages in Hebrew. Casualties among the hostages during the rescue were two killed and three injured plus Mrs. Dora Bloch who had been taken into hospital in the nearby town and was never heard of again. Some of the rescued hostages were confused and kept asking for their baggage as they were rushed away. The Israelis later renamed the raid "Operation Netanyahu" in honour of the commando leader killed during the raid.

The next lecture was given by Dr Anne Samson - With Kitchener, Smuts & von Lettow-Vorbeck in East Africa. She first looked briefly at the men's backgrounds and how this impacted on WWI in Africa.

Kitchener had spent most of his time in Africa and India and although his colleagues did not understand him his strength was that he got to know local culture. He spoke fluent Arabic; he could ride a camel; he owned a farm in Kenya; he had walked the Zanzibar boundaries; he had travelled widely. Kitchener had spent time in SA and had pushed Smuts and Botha to signing the peace treaty at the end of the Boer War. He was a man of clear aims but no administrative experience who distrusted the British War Office. Sadly, Kitchener drowned in 1916.

Von Lettow-Vorbeck was from a Prussian military background and before WWI spent time in Africa then went to China during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. From his experiences in these areas and the GSWA Herero campaign, he had a good knowledge of guerrilla fighting plus he knew the Boers and their tactics. It is surprising that he wasn't used on the Western Front.

Smuts was the consummate politician and, after his time at Cambridge, was experienced at dealing with the British. Often overconfident, he relied heavily on Botha as he himself had no formal military training or military admin experience. All three men were patriots with clear focus, breadth of experience and were completely ruthless. During the actual campaign, Dar es Salaam was bombed to destroy the German radio stations. The Battle of Tanga was also known as the Battle of the Bees - as bees were disturbed during the action and attacked both British and Germans. The battle was hailed as a great victory for von Lettow-Vorbeck although there was a time during the night when the British could have walked into the empty town. The battle of Salaita Hill was a disaster for the South Africans but fortunately the Indians saved the day. Hoskins took over from Smuts who was bored in East Africa. Although Von Lettow-Vorbeck got his own way in East Africa as a result of his victory at Tanga, basically his troops in western Tanganyika did their own thing.

Kitchener had thought that Germany should get its colonies back when the war was over otherwise this would result in another war. Unfortunately, during the peace negotiations the planned rearrangement of land in Africa did not come about and later proved Kitchener's prediction correct.

Dr Samson then discussed the leaders' attitudes. Kitchener was definitely the best general because of his work with shells and supplies. Von Lettow-Vorbeck led by fear and, as he was grossly outnumbered, was forced to use guerrilla tactics. Smuts, on the other hand, was ever the politician who sent out press releases and was very keen on the concept of the British Empire and Commonwealth.

Pat Henning

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Book launches in Johannesburg

Launches of Ken Gillings' books Discovering the Battlefields of the Anglo Boer War and The Relief of Ladysmith will be held on 24 February at Herbert Park Bowling Club, Turffontein and 25 February at the Indulgence Cafe in Northcliff - details from and booking with Aulette on 071 877 9177 or

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For Cape Town details contact Johan van den Berg 021-939-7923
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469
For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Ken Gillings 031-702-4828
For Gauteng details contact Joan Marsh 010-237-0676

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