South African Military History 

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Our speaker on 15 January 2015 was Dr Rodney Warwick, a History Master at Bishops, whose topic was the 1914 Afrikaner Rebellion. He introduced his talk by explaining that there were many varying interpretations of the 1914 Afrikaner Rebellion. While the new centenary history Rebelspoor by Dr. L. J. Bothma describes all the skirmishes (there were no real battles) which took place, contains excellent maps and covers the topic in great detail, Dr Warwick felt that the book was not sufficiently interpretative. History is not simply a story but should be a critical study which examines difficult questions.1

Dr Warwick commenced his illustrated presentation with a colourful picture that appeared in a supplement to the Cape Times on Union Day 31 May 1910. It showed the launching of a new ship named Union, representing the Union of South Africa. In the background are Royal Navy dreadnoughts, the rising sun and Table Mountain. On the quay stands Brittannia, holding a dove and the statue of a crouching lion, and waving farewell.

Our speaker pointed out that the overwhelmingly British tone of the painting was what many Cape Town readers would have expected at the time. He next showed a picture of a mother and child in a British concentration camp as a reminder of what General Smuts described as a "vast tragedy in the life of a Nation - the Anglo Boer War of 1899 - 1902".

Our speaker then discussed the political parties which were represented in the Union Parliament in 1910.The seats held by these were
* Labour Party 3
* Independents 12
* S.A. Party 66
* Nationalist 0 (only formed in 1914)
* Unionist 36

The S.A. Party was the governing party of Generals Botha and Smuts and the second largest party, the Unionist, was led by Sir Thomas Smartt. The Nationalist Party was founded in 1914 by General J.B.M. Hertzog, who had been a member of Botha's cabinet until he advocated a policy in conflict with that of the S.A. Party. Dr Warwick noted that the Independent group included three members representing white mineworkers and others representing the mining magnates.

He noted that the British Government had recognised that the bittereinders, the members of the Republican forces who had fought to the very end of the Anglo-Boer War, were the authentic leaders of the Afrikaner part of the population. Those who had cooperated with the British Army by serving in the National Scouts or similar units or who had laid down their arms during the war were ostracized as "sell-outs" or "hensoppers".

Increased mining operations resulted in increasing capitalisation in agriculture and, after the Anglo-Boer War, the gap between the wealthy landowners and the bywoners widened. The later were also being displaced by black sharecroppers who were frequently recruited by the wealthier farmers. The historian Sandra Swart has researched this.

Dr. Warwick noted that the historian Dr. Albert Grundlingh had used previously neglected records in the War Museum of the Boer Republics in Bloemfontein to write his doctoral thesis on the hensoppers. This was published in book-form, entitled "The Dynamics of Treason". This book confirms the hardships suffered by the hensoppers after 1902. They were denied significant government relief by the Transvaal Indigency Commission in 1906. This would have included a debt moratorium, provision of jobs, government grants and cattle. The poor relief provided included employment projects which were not popular because they entailed rights to the land.

In 1912 the Land Bank stopped granting loans to non-landowners. Loss of land and continuing urbanisation resulted in the loss of status [as] farmer, patriarch and provider and meant moving to towns, where they lived in often squalid conditions and earned inadequate wages.

Dr Warwick pointed out that, while the rebel leaders were authentic bittereinders officers, the rank and file rebels were mostly poor and destitute farmers and bywoners (poor tenants on farms). The new Union of South Africa was not working for them.

Our speaker explained that Great Britain's declaration of war against the Central Powers on 4 August 1914 automatically meant that South Africa and the rest of the British Empire were at war. But each of the Dominions could decide on the extent of its commitments.

In South Africa, General Botha's immediate response was to release the British garrison in South Africa for service and replace this with Union Defence Force personnel who would take over the defence of the Union. The British gratefully accepted this offer but added that it would consider it a "great and urgent imperial service" if the Union Defence Force would seize the German radio stations at Lüderitz, Windhoek and Swakopmund.

Parliament reassembled on 9 September 1914 and news that a German patrol had crossed the South African border helped persuade the members to support the government. The South African Party, Unionist Party and Labour Party voted in favour of the expedition, which was opposed by the Nationalist Party. General de la Rey was opposed to the expedition so he did not vote in favour of it. General C.F. Beyers, Commandant General of the Active Citizen Force, and Major J.C.J. Kemp resigned their commissions. An important factor which influenced the parliamentary debate was the fact that, if South Africa did not invade German South West Africa, Australian or Indian troops would be used to do so.

On 15 September 1914, Generals de la Rey and Beyers left by car from Pretoria for Potchefstroom where they planned to speak to the troops based there. Unbeknown to them, the South African Police had set up road blocks to capture criminals known as the Foster gang. When de la Rey and Beyers saw these roadblocks, they thought that the government were trying to prevent them from getting to Potchefstroom and so did not stop. At Langlaagte, the policemen manning the roadblock fired at the speeding vehicle - a bullet ricocheted off the road, penetrated the passenger compartment of the speeding motor vehicle, and tragically killed General de la Rey.

Generals Botha and Smuts were blamed for de la Rey's death, which was a huge setback for the rebel cause. The "prophet Nikolaas "Siener" van Rensburg's" dream had come to pass but its interpretation was not what he had foretold.

On the day after General de la Rey's funeral at Lichtenburg, generals de Wet, Beyers and Kemp held a public meeting there and passed a resolution calling for the government to withdraw the Citizen Force from the German South West border before the end of the month.

On 15 September 1914, the first transports had sailed from Cape Town for German South West Africa and Lüderitz was soon occupied by Union Forces.

In October 1914, Lt.-Col. S.G. "Manie" Maritz, a former Republican general who was in command of the U.D.F. camp at Upington, concluded an agreement with the Germans and, when he and his troops joined forces with the Germans, he handed over those who had remained loyal to the Union as prisoners of war. He then promoted himself to his Anglo-Boer War rank of General, declared the independence of South Africa and declared war on Great Britain. He next issued an ultimatum to the Union Government, demanding permission to hold a meeting with Generals Herzog, Beyers and de Wet. If not, he would invade South Africa. The Germans made it known that they had no quarrel with the Afrikaners.

The government responded by declaring martial law and calling up troops to defend the Union. General de Wet responded by raising his own commandos in the Orange Free State, the province which Dr Warwick noted, provided the greatest number of rebels. On 22 October 1914, the rebel force comprised 7 000 Free Staters, 3 000 Transvalers and 2 000 men from the Cape.

Our speaker explained that the Union Defence Force established in 1912 comprised five regiments of S.A. Mounted Riflemen each with an artillery battery. Each regiment included a number of policemen. Its main function was the containment of industrial and rural unrest and civil or tribal disturbances. He mentioned as one of these the Zulu Bambata rebellion of 1906. In addition to this small force there were to volunteer forces - the Active Citizen Force whose regiments, batteries and other units were largely urban units and English-speaking and the Commando Force, who were largely Afrikaans-speaking and based in rural areas.

Although ex-president M.T. Steyn (of the Orange Free State) assisted with attempts at mediation, he refused to make a public statement despite General Botha's plea that "a word from you will go far". The Right Honorable John X. Merriman felt that the government was too lenient with the rebels and ended his friendship with ex-president Steyn.

The Active Citizen Force had been mobilised for the German South West African campaign and their part in dealing with the rebellion was largely to act as a reserve for use if needed. The main anti-rebellion force comprised the Commandos who were Afrikaans-speaking. This was so arranged by Generals Botha and Smuts so that there would be no danger of a second Anglo-Boer War. There is a story told of one commando commandant who rode up to General Botha and exclaimed: "Here we are General. Who do we fight - the English or the Germans?"

Dr Warwick then discussed the Battle of Sandfontein on 26 September 1914 where Lt- Col. R.C. Grant and his men of A Force were either killed or taken prisoner by a German force ten times their number after a gallant fight.

Our Speaker pointed out that the rebellion was very poorly organised - a campaign of bits and pieces, of skirmishes. It suffered another important set-back when General Beyers was drowned in the Vaal River when his horse was shot under him, while he was trying to escape from pursuing Union forces.

General de Wet's son Danie was killed in a skirmish at Doornberg on the Sand River in the Free State, on 5 November 1914, and he and his forces were defeated by General Botha at the Battle of Mushroom Valley (the subject of next month's lecture) on 12 November 1914. Although General de Wet escaped, he was captured near Kuruman on 2 December 1914 by U.D.F. troops using motorised transport - surely the first such operation in world history. General Kemp with 500 men remained on the run until he was captured in February 1915. General Maritz fled to Angola.

On 15 December 1914, Joseph Johannes "Jopie" Fourie, a U.D.F. captain who had not resigned his commission and had been appointed commandant in the rebel forces by General Beyers, was captured by government forces on the farm Nooitgedacht near Pretoria. It is reckoned that he was responsible for about 40 percent of the casualties during the rebellion and he continued fighting long after most of the rebels had accepted the government's very lenient amnesty offer. He was tried by court-martial, sentenced to death and executed by firing squad. J.M. de Wet's biography of him was advertised in the U.D.F. periodical Commando in 1966.

Dr Warwick then showed the results of the 1915 General Election -

* Labour Party 4
* Independents 5
* S.A. Party 54
* Nationalist Party 27
* Unionist Party 40

He highlighted the growth of the Nationalist Party which was founded in 1914 and which was led by General Herzog, which won nearly all of the Orange Free State's seats.

He also listed some statistics applying to the rebellion:

Total Rebel Forces: 11 372, comprising 7 123 Free Staters, 2 998 Transvalers and 1 251 combatants from the Cape Province.

The Cape Province number included 1 059 men under Maritz

U.D.F. Forces: 30 000 (two-thirds of these were Afrikaans-speaking)

Casualties: U.D.F. - 132 killed/died of wounds and 242 wounded.

Rebels - 190 killed/died of wounds.

Total cost of the rebellion: 5 100 000 pounds.

In conclusion, Dr Warwick explained that the loyalty of the Permanent Force and the S.A. Police, the poor rebel leadership, combined with the deaths of Generals de la Rey and Beyers, all contributed to the failure of the rebellion.

Cdr. Mac Bisset thanked the speaker and complimented him on the quality of his audio-visual presentation and presented him with the customary gift.

[1] In all fairness to the author, Dr Bothma is quite explicit in his Foreword to REBELSPOOR, in stating that his study is exploratory in nature and should serve as an introduction to further study on the subject, which has hardly been touched by historians. In fact, he is taking historians to task, for having neglected an important part of South Africa's history. To that end he purposely had written his book to be easily readable and understandable by both the layman and researcher alike. As he has stated on p.VIII: "This must not be the last word on the subject". Even that venerable historian, Dr G.D. Scholtz, viewed his own input on the subject (1942) as a cursory study only - "`n werkie oor die Rebellie". - Ed.


We welcome Mr P Wigzell who joined us as a new member at the meeting and hope to see him at all our future meetings.




A pamphlet advertising the above-mentioned book - authored and recently published by this month's speaker, Nigel Fox - is enclosed with the February newsletter. Copies of the book will be on sale at the February meeting. Retail Price: R195 (incl. VAT)



In the centenarian commemoration of the First World War, hardly any mention is made of a political upheaval and armed reaction locally that had direct bearing on the global cataclysm - the Rebellion of 1914-15. It is not surprising, as the "insurrection" hardly received any mention in the mainstream histories of the First World War other than brief mention in a paragraph or two, or a footnote. In modern South African histories it also receives scant coverage - at most a page-and-a-half - pictures included. Very few books on the subject had been published in the previous century - mostly in Afrikaans, a few in Dutch and hardly any in English. This can be explained by the fact that most participants were rural Afrikaners who were still republicans at heart and ex-combatants of the "English War" of 1899-1902, as they tend to refer to it, with a mere twelve years separating the two events. It was, however, a major crisis for the subjugated Afrikaner section of the population in the Union of South Africa: It pitted bittereinders from the South African War fighting on the Rebel side against bittereinders fighting on the government side. Brother against brother, family against family, and friends and comrades of yesteryear, against each other. It was a civil war in microcosm, in the context of the larger European civil war then underway. It had a profound impact on the Afrikaner psyche, having to deal with the fact of now being an imperial subject loyal to a king thousands of kilometres away whose subjects not only caused them immeasurable hardship, suffering and physical loss, but also having to come to terms with the fact that Afrikaner took up weapons against fellow-Afrikaner twelve years ago and having to forgive them for that. The Rebellion only served to bring all that mental anguish and bitterness to the surface again. It certainly was the greatest test of the noble imperialist idea of "union", since its inception in 1910, but it can be argued that had the sore not burst open in 1914, it could have taken place at a later stage, and have had a much more profound impact on the British efforts at appeasement amongst the various population groups in South Africa.

Dr Louis Bothma's book is a fresh and thought-provoking look at the origins of the 1914 Rebellion and is the first substantial work to appear since the ground-breaking work of Dr G D Scholtz, Die Rebellie, 1914-15, published in 1942. It is certainly the most comprehensive and substantial work on the subject to date, and is highly recommended to the serious, as well as layman historian with an interest in contemporary South African history, and those interested in the history of the First World War. It can only be hoped that Dr Bothma's book will in due course be translated and published in English, so as to enable a greater market to be reached, but also to counter a general bias amongst English readers and speakers, as well as regards the radical decision for Afrikaner subjects to oppose the government of the day's automatic entry in the First World War. As it was an almost spontaneous, popular uprising amongst the largely bittereinders of the war of 1899-1902, poorly co-ordinated and provisioned, it was rapidly suppressed by the better-equipped, mechanised and superior-armed government forces.

Self-published 2014; Paperback: 530 pages; colour & b/w photos, 13 maps. RRP R295,00



This seminal work documents the clandestine seaborne operations undertaken by South Africa's 4 Reconnaissance Commando Regiment. It breathtakingly reveals the versatility and effectiveness of this elite unit which worked with a range of other South African and Rhodesian forces, including the Rhodesian SAS, to engage in a range of raiding and war fighting activities. These operations saw the clandestine reconnaissance of harbours, the sinking of enemy shipping and the destruction of shore installations in Angola and Mozambique. Just some of the tasks undertaken by this extraordinary maritime capability which totalled no more than 45 operators, both black and white.

With unparalleled access to previously secret material, the authors, both of whom worked to develop 4 Recce's operating capabilities, trace the origins of the Regiment back to the 1970's when the South African's determined the need for a maritime force projection capability. They relate how maritime doctrine was developed within South Africa's wider Special Forces capability and how joint operational approaches were configured with the South African Navy. This saw the development of a range of swimmer, reconnaissance, diving and boat operator training courses, along with the design of specialist raiding craft and amphibious assault platforms, which were originated to operate from the Navy's existing shipping and submarines. All of which demonstrated the immense potential of this newly emergent force and the resourcefulness of its individual operators. Required to successfully complete a gruelling selection process, the operators of 4 Recce were relentlessly tested to prove their physical and mental mettle, not to mention their leadership skills and initiative.

Steyn and Söderlund's chronological analysis of the operations undertaken by 4 Recce and the South African Navy is stunning to behold. They impartially detail the secret and specialised actions which saw both success and failure. From Cabinda on the West Coast to Tanzania on the East, 4 Recce, and whose existence and capability was largely kept secret even within the South African Defence Force, conducted numerous clandestine raids. They attacked shipping and strategic targets such as oil facilities, transport infrastructure and even ANC offices. And sometimes the raids did go wrong, spectacularly so in one instance when two operators were killed and Captain Wynand Du Toit was captured. He was later paraded in front of the world's media, much to the embarrassment of the South African government.

This is a fascinating work and one that will enthral anyone with an interest in Special Forces operations. Profusely illustrated with many previously unpublished photographs, it stands as a testament to the author's endeavours as, respectively, the former Operations Commander of 4 Recce and the former Commander of the Task Group of the SA Navy - as well as the incredible operators of 4 Recce.

Publisher: GG Books UK & Helion & Company (November 2014); Paperback: 496 pages, c 100 colour & b/w photos, 10 maps. RRP R685,00


Forthcoming Meetings: 12 FEBRUARY 2015: MACHINE GUNS OF MUSHROOM VALLEY by Nigel Fox

The 1914 Afrikaner Rebellion is a highly neglected piece of South African history, perhaps because it represented a bloody broedertwis between Afrikaner heroes. In reality, it was South Africa's civil war and could have changed the course and outcome of World War 1. The most crucial battle of this three month conflict took place in Mushroom Valley in the Free State between armies amounting to more than 5,000 men - led, on the government side, by Prime Minister Louis Botha and, on the rebel side, by the venerable Gen Christiaan de Wet.

New technology played a major part in the outcome of the battle with the telephone and motorcar making significant contributions and one of the first ever battlefield actions involving motorised machine guns. (Coincidentally, private motorcars were being fitted with machine guns in Flanders by airmen of No. 3 [Eastchurch] Squadron of the Royal Naval Air Service under Wing Commander Charles Samson at around the same time and did valiant service against German cavalry and as scouts until the warfare bogged down in the trenches.

Nigel Fox is an independent advertising consultant and copywriter and, as a long term immigrant to South Africa, has been inspired to research and document some of the many fascinating stories that make up the rich and complex fabric of South Africa's past. His recently-published book, A Bullet in the Back, covers major events of the 1914 Rebellion and is the first in a planned series of South African historical novels.


The Dardanelles Campaign was bold and brilliant in its conception, but it was beyond the imagination and conservative training of the man who was suddenly given the responsibility for carrying it out. The result was the beginning of what is considered by many military historians to be the most ignominious defeat the British ever suffered at the hands of an enemy for whom they had utter contempt and a country which they labelled "the sick man of Europe". In his presentation Alan Mountain deals briefly with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of the Young Turks and why they sided with Germany rather than Britain, notwithstanding the long-standing historic relationship between Britain and the Ottoman Empire. He deals in some detail with the events of the naval bombardment of the Turco-German defences in the Dardanelles and ends with an overview of the campaign and its consequences with the advantages of hindsight.


BOB BUSER: Treasurer/Asst. Scribe
Phone: 021-689-1639 (Home)

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