South African Military History Society

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A reminder of the WWI commemorative movies at the Museum every few months - booking and detailed information - The Majestic 011 486 3648.

David Scholtz outlined the itinerary of the Boer & Brit Event on 20th June when Professors Fransjohan Pretorius and Jackie Grobler from the University of Pretoria, and a Canadian military historian, Tony Maxwell, will give short informal talks. There will also be a stop at the Heidelberg Cemetery for a short guided tour.

Prices are now available for the Tour to WWI Battlefields - contact Ken Gillings 083 654 5880.

On 30th August there will be a museum tour of Anglo-Boer War and World War I exhibits guided by our own Hamish Paterson.

There will be a banquet to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo on 18th June. For details contact Dominic Hoole 083 274 1669 or

The 7th May was the centenary of the sinking of the Cunard liner, Lusitania. MHS was sent a commemorative article by Peter Wood whose grandfather, David Wood, worked as clerk-of-works at James Brown of Clydebank when the Lusitania was built there. The ship was near Queenstown off the southern coast of Ireland, just 15 hours from its destination of Liverpool, when it was hit by a torpedo from the German submarine U-20. The torpedo struck just under the bridge on the starboard side and was followed by a second explosion of something in a hold. The ship sank in only 18 minutes - nine times faster than the Titanic - and 1198 people died [61% of the people on board]. There was huge international outrage at this attack on an unarmed passenger ship. Four South Africans had been on board. The full version of this article can be viewed on the MHS web-site.

Ian Thurston's curtain raiser talk was entitled The Audie Murphy Story 1925-1971. Audie Murphy was born 20 June 1925 to Texas share-cropper farmers. His father abandoned them and then his mother died when he was 16. As he had left school after 5th Grade, he did menial work and hunted to support the family. The hunting was to pay off later in life.

He wanted to join the Defence Forces to better himself but he was rejected as underage and underweight. His sister signed an affidavit saying that he was 18 so he was accepted by the American Army on 30 June 1942, actually aged 17 and 1 week. He shone during basic training and was awarded a marksman badge for rifle and an expert badge for bayonet.

He was shipped to Casablanca 20 Feb 1943 assigned to B Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division which then moved to Algeria. He was quickly promoted so when his Division landed in Licata, Sicily on 10 July 1943, he was a division runner. He killed two fleeing Italian officers whilst on a scouting patrol there.

Ian detailed many engagements in which Murphy participated and for which he was awarded medals; two representative tales follow here:
Murphy took part in the Salerno landing in Sept. 1943 and after the company returned to Anzio, whilst sheltering in an abandoned farmhouse, he and his platoon killed the crew of a passing German tank. He then crawled out alone to destroy the tank with rifle grenades - for this he received the Bronze Star.

Murphy received the Medal of Honor when Germans scored a direct hit on an M10 tank destroyer causing it to catch on fire and the crew to abandon it. He remained alone at his post firing his M1 and directing artillery fire whilst himself under direct fire. Then he mounted the burning M10 - which could have blown up at any time - and began firing its 50 calibre machine gun, killing an advancing German squad. He stayed on the M10 for an hour firing at advancing infantry and tanks - killing or wounding 50 Germans. He sustained a leg wound and only stopped firing when out of ammunition. Despite this he rejoined his men and led them back to repel the Germans. He also insisted on staying with his men whilst receiving treatment. When asked later why he took on an entire company single-handed he replied simply, "They were killing my friends."

He received several battlefield promotions, ending up as commander of B Company. He was also wounded three times receiving a Purple Heart and 2 Oak Leaf Clusters (i.e. bars).

While still 19 he had won every US military combat award for valour. He was later awarded the French Legion of Honour, two Croix de Guerre, the Belgian Croix de Guerre plus all the various campaign and participation medals. In June 1945 he was returned to USA.

In late 1945, he was introduced to Hollywood by James Cagney and embarked on a moderately successful film career. He played himself in the very successful film To Hell and Back based on his own 1949 book of the same name. He died in a light plane crash on 28 May 1971 just before his 46th birthday. Audie Murphy was interred at Arlington National Cemetery with a plain headstone at his own request as Medal of Honor winners normally have a more elaborate one. His grave is the second most visited after J F Kennedy's.

The main lecture of the evening was General Sir Ian Hamilton and the Opening of the Dardanelles by Robin Smith.

The Dardanelles are a water passageway from the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara and thence via the Bosphorus to the Black Sea. They are the route for all trade from the rivers Danube, Dniester, Dnieper and Don. They are also Russia's lifeline to ice-free water. There is no tide in the Dardanelles but the water flowing through creates a permanent current of 5 knots.

Winston Churchill as First Sea Lord was the author of a scheme which was conceived as a naval operation to take Turkey out of the war, encourage the Balkan nations to join the Allies and relieve pressure on the Russians in the Caucasus. On 18 March 1915 the British attacked with 18 battleships surrounded by an armada of cruisers and destroyers. It was a disaster. The Turkish minefields, shore batteries and concealed howitzers prevented the ships from getting close enough to the forts. Three ships were lost and 3 more badly damaged.

Kitchener was convinced that troop landings would be needed. The problem was the British had nowhere to land troops: to solve this Rear-Admiral Wemyss had been sent to the Greek island of Lemnos in February 1915, without instructions, staff or means. Lemnos had been found to be totally lacking in the necessary facilities, even drinking water.

General Sir Ian Hamilton was summoned to the War Office on 12 March 1915 by Kitchener, and tasked to conquer European Turkey and occupy Constantinople thus opening the Dardanelles. He would 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 - 70 000 men in all. It was hoped that he wouldn't have to land his army but that if he did he would have the powerful fleet at his back. Hamilton was rushed out to the Dardanelles the next day having had no time to study or plan and apart from Kitchener's brief instruction, a pre-war Admiralty report on the defences and an out-of-date map; he had been given practically no information. Arriving at Lemnos he had had to go to Cairo to have the ships re-packed. Security had utterly collapsed and the press was speculating on the campaign so there was no element of surprise. Guesswork assumed that the Turks had about 170 000 men in the Dardanelles and 40 000 to 80 000 on Gallipoli.

The "Young Turks" were in power in Turkey and the man to watch was Mustafa Kemal, but also in this group was Ismael Enver who was pro-German. The men in the Turkish army had been very well trained by the Germans so Enver invited Liman von Sanders to take command of the Turkish 5th Army at the Dardanelles. The defensive measures there were quite mature by the time he arrived as they had been laid in place during the Balkan War of 1912-13. Gallipoli had regiments of veteran soldiers which had been mobilized in 1914 against a Greek naval threat so fire plans had been developed for the howitzer batteries. Von Sanders was pleased by all this and that the British "allowed us a good four weeks .. to complete our preparations."

The British invasion plan had called for an ambitious and hazardous landing on the southern end of the Gallipoli Peninsula. The 29th Division was to land on 5 tiny beaches: S, V, W, X and Y with the objective of seizing the high ground of Achi Baba. Birdwood's Anzacs were to be the first to land before first light on April 25th. They were landed on the wrong beach, Anzac Cove, behind which is a confusion of cliffs and ravines where no army would land on purpose. The Anzacs made amazing progress but the Turkish defence was formidable. Birdwood asked to have his men re-embarked but Hamilton refused, telling him to dig in.

Whilst the landing on X Beach had gone without a single casualty, on W Beach, a mile south, the Lancashire Fusiliers were having a terrible time and the regiment had won 6 VCs, 2 DSOs, 2 MCs and a DCM by 11h30 that same day. V Beach was a natural amphitheatre where the Turks held their fire until the boats grounded and then the awful fusillade began. Nine VCs were awarded at VBeach.

There were 10 000 wounded on the beaches, not 3 000 as had been estimated, and there was only hospital ship provision for 1 400. Hamilton would not allow the small boats used to land troops to be diverted to evacuate the wounded. The wounded endured a terrible time.

During May the French and British attempted to take Achi Baba but hardly advanced with the loss of one-third of their 25 000 troops. Hamilton believed that they gained ground "surely, if slowly, every day" and requested reinforcements. During June and July the British continued to try to take Krithia and Achi Baba from the front resulting in 12 300 casualties [the equivalent of a division].

A flanking movement was planned, a left hook around the Turks, with a breakout from Anzac by Birdwood followed by further landings at Suvla Bay. Two columns would head north and then turn sharply east to reach the Sari Bair ridge. The ground they had to traverse was incredibly difficult. Neither made it to the top of the ridge. The Turks, under the command of a Bavarian cavalry officer, Major Willem Willmer, held the high ground, holding back 27 000 men with 3 000 before their reinforcements arrived. Hamilton felt that his Suvla generals were "unfit for it" and had them sacked. Nonetheless, this theatre of the war brought VCs to 7 Australians. De Lisle, a real fighting general - a brute, Birdwood called him - took over at Suvla but it was too late and both sides reverted to trench warfare. Meanwhile, in London those in power had begun to wonder about Hamilton.

An Australian journalist, Keith Murdoch, began to speculate about the mismanagement of the campaign - how Hamilton and his staff were out of touch. This resulted in a letter he wrote being circulated by Asquith - it made Murdoch's career but finished Hamilton's. Hamilton was replaced by General Sir Charles Munro who quickly recommended a withdrawal. The men at Suvla were evacuated by night and this was completed by 20th December. The men at Helles were similarly taken off in small boats by 8th Jan 1916. This was the only operation at Gallipoli that was perfectly performed and not a single man lost. Whatever his failings as a commander, Hamilton had been let down by Kitchener, Churchill and the Cabinet so he could not be solely to blame for the whole disaster. And disaster it was, as not a single one of the original objectives was achieved.

This talk was illustrated by excellent maps which pulled together the landings and campaigns for the audience.

Pat Henning

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CR = curtain raiser; ML = main lecture; DDH = Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture;

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