South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 472
June 2015

Ken Gillings 031 702 4828
Roy Bowman 031 564 4669

The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture was presented by fellow member Donald Davies, and entitled 'Leon Schauder - South African War Correspondent'. Schauder was born in 1919 in Port Elizabeth and began producing films whilst in High School, one of the first of which was of the schools rugby tour to Natal in the 1930s.

After school he successfully made films with private funding, giving him the confidence to head off to London and seek work in the cinema industry there where he achieved some initial success in being co-opted into the making a few films. Whilst in London he persuaded Harry Bruce Woolfe of Gaumont-British Instructional to give him a contract to make a number of 'shorts' in South Africa.

He returned to South Africa and started work on films such as 'Twelve OP', 'Karoo' and 'Nonquassi' which were produced from 1938 to 1939. He then returned to England to edit them as part of the series 'Focus on the Empire'.

He worked as an Editor on 'Guards in the Air' for Gaumont - British Instructional and the British Ministry of Information purchased the rights to 'Twelve OP' and 'Nonquassi'.

On his return to South Africa he joined the Union Unity Truth Service and, together with Henry Cornelius, travelled throughout Southern and Central Africa gathering film material, some of which found its way into African Mirror, and he was subsequently credited as co-photographer on 'Oproep' made in 1943 for African Film Productions.

During the period that he was working for the Union Unity Truth Service, he and JP Vorster (later the Photo Editor of the Libertas magazine) were sent up to North Africa as War Correspondents following the advance of the British 8th Army through Egypt and Libya.

Whilst travelling West of the town of Tobruk, the two War Correspondents' vehicle experienced engine trouble, but they managed to reach Derna where they came across South Africans from 12 Squadron SAAF who had occupied the airport there. It was Christmas and Schauder wrote about the cordial manner in which he and Vorster were taken in by these airmen - an occasion they would not forget.

Back in England (and working for GBI) he was one of the photographers for 'Fishing Grounds of the World' in 1946. Tragically, while on his way back to South Africa on the 25th January 1947 the chartered Dakota aircraft in which he was travelling crashed at Croydon Airport and he was killed. Leon Schauder was a soldier who fought for the hearts and minds of the Peoples of the Commonwealth in support of the Allied cause during the Second World War.

The experience he gained in film making during those war years, and the people from all walks of life and social status that he engaged with provided him with a platform from which he could roll out his plan as part of the South African Film Industry, to a degree that had not yet been achieved before. Sadly his enthusiastic ideal ended before this vision could be fulfilled.

The Main Talk, entitled 'Aspects of Atomic Warfare' was presented by Major Dr John Buchan.
The two aspects covered were the Production of the Atomic Bomb and South Africa's Nuclear Activities.
It was one of the ironies of history that the splitting of a uranium atom was first reported just prior to the outbreak of WWII, and from work in Germany. Because of the rudimentary theoretical knowledge of nuclear physics then available, Prof. Otto Hahn in Berlin, required assistance from Lise Meitner, his long term assistant, then based outside Germany, like many other scientists, because of Hitler's anti-Semitic measures, to analyse the December 1938 event. During 1939, significant advances in nuclear physics occurred and the theoretical possibility of developing an atomic bomb was appreciated.

The Maude Report produced in Britain in mid 1941, and largely the work of Peierls and Frisch, presented the first practical plan for atomic bomb production. This centred on the separation of the uranium U235 isotope by membranous diffusion and envisaged bomb production during 1943. With hindsight, this plan was grossly over-optimistic with respect to the rate of uranium isotope separation. The Russians also duly obtained a copy of this report.

Consideration of this report, in the USA in December 1941, at the time of Pearl Harbour, led to the Manhattan Project for atomic bomb production. This secret military project was headed by General Groves. Several top scientists supervised the relevant theoretical and technical development.

On December 2, 1942, just prior to the anniversary of Pearl Harbour, the first reactor achieving atomic chain reactions, was demonstrated in Chicago. Prof. Enrico Fermi, previously from Italy, was the scientist in charge. Uranium slugs and graphite moderating blocks were used. This primitive unit had no cooling system.

There was tremendous financial outlay at the Oakridge plant in Tennessee for U235 isotope separation. At the end of 1944, with three different types of separation techniques being used, only enough enriched uranium for one bomb had been produced. The recently developed technique of introducing an additional neutron into the commonly available U238, to transmute it into the fissile element plutonium proved to be the most cost-effective route in obtaining the fissile material for bombs.

Once the technical difficulties had been resolved at the plutonium reactor sites in Hanford, Washington, adjacent to the Columbia River, a steady output had been achieved by late 1944. As plutonium and uranium were separate elements, chemical separation methods could be used at the separation plant adjacent to the reactors. The Los Amigos centre in the New Mexico desert commenced activities in April 1943, under the scientific leadership of Ernest Oppenheimer. This unit, which included British scientists, had been established to attend to the practical aspects of bomb construction.

It was found that the uranium isotope, more difficult to produce in large quantity, was easier with respect to bomb production. A relatively simple "gun type" of ignition system would initiate the chain reaction and subsequent nuclear explosion.

By contrast, the more readily available plutonium required the development of a complex "implosion type" system in which the central plutonium core in the bomb underwent circumferential compression in order to initiate the required chain reaction. The theoretical analysis of the ignition system for uranium core bomb resulted in great certainty that the system would function successfully.

This was fortuitous as only enough enriched uranium for one bomb was available, and thus no preliminary testing was possible. A testing of the more complex plutonium system was required. Adequate plutonium was available for this.

The successful trial explosion duly took place on 16th July 1945, at the adjacent Trinity test site in the New Mexican desert. At this stage, Truman had succeeded Roosevelt who had died on April 12th 1945 and Germany had surrendered on May 10th 1945. The war in the Pacific still continued. The July 16th date had been chosen to facilitate arrangements at the pending Potsdam Conference.

The use of the atomic bombs was duly made to avoid the estimated 1 million American casualties that would occur in an invasion of the Japanese Islands, and to curtail the planned Russian commencement in August, in the war against the Japanese. The uranium bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 6th August and the plutonium bomb on Nagasaki on 9th August. These bombs ended the war against Japan, but started the Cold War.

In 1944, General Smuts had been briefed on the Manhattan project by the British and requested to investigate South Africa's uranium reserves. Large deposits, associated with the gold reefs, were found. The first Uranium Production plant, funded by American and British capital, opened in 1952 in Krugersdorp. America and Britain were developing their nuclear stockpiles. In the 1960's, South Africa received a nuclear research reactor, the SAFARI 1, from America. It was commissioned at Pelindaba in 1964. In 1967, the site was chosen for the Koeberg nuclear power station.

Around this period contact with the Israelis commenced. In 1967, they had been involved in the Six Day War in which their air force had figured prominently.

At this stage, the Israelis had obtained nuclear and missile capability with covert French assistance, and planned to develop this. In 1969, the rocket range at Lake St. Lucia was developed. Missile testing in the Middle East was difficult for the Israelis and the St. Lucia range was utilised.

Early in the 1970's a central decision was made to commence development towards the production of nuclear weapons. Armscor was involved in this activity, but the extreme secrecy of this involvement, together with central funding arrangements, were such that the Armscor board members were unaware of this work.

The benefit of possessing a nuclear capability was apparent in 1973 with the Yom Kippur War. Prior to hostilities, regular supplies of Soviet arms were being flown into Cairo and Damascus. President Nixon was doing his best not to get involved, terming this a regional conflict. When the CIA appreciated that Israel had nuclear warheads and the missile systems for their delivery, a sudden change in American policy occurred, and delivery of conventional arms to Israel commenced.

The 1974 political change in Portugal, and the subsequent involvement of Soviet and Cuban military assistance in Angola, strengthened the resolve to develop a nuclear capability for S.A. The Velindaba Y and Z plants for uranium enrichment had been earlier constructed adjacent to Pelindaba. In 1977, underground nuclear tests were planned north of Upington at the Vastrap site.

The Soviets received information regarding this test project through Dieter Gerhardt, the head of the Simonstown Naval Base. His spying activities were later detected in 1982. The routing of a Soviet Cosmos spy satellite over the Vastrap area in 1977, led to this incident receiving wide publicity in the international press, through the efforts of President Breshnev.

The passing of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Act in the American Congress in 1978, during the Carter administration, was a response to this. The act terminated the previously arranged American supply of uranium to the Koeberg plant. Construction of this project had commenced in 1976, by the French Framatome Consortium. With Israeli assistance, the SA rocket and missile programme developed during the 1970's. In September 1979, an American Vela type survey satellite to detect nuclear explosions, noted a "double flash" incident about 2,000 km south of the Cape. The likelihood of a 2 to 3 kiloton nuclear explosion was detected. A rocket related secret SA/Israeli project was suspected, but this event has remained contentious. South Africa was fortunate that the 1980 American election saw President Reagan assuming office in 1981. The benevolent approach of this administration enabled the uranium supply for Koeberg to be re-established from a European source. This assistance was linked to an undertaking by the S. A. Government to work seriously to the granting of SWA independence. In this respect, Dr. Chester Crocker became involved in subsequent discussions.

In the early 1980's, the atomic bomb project proceeded. The first of the uranium gun type bomb being produced around 1982. Ultimately enough refined uranium for 6 bombs was available, and that for a seventh bomb was in preparation. It is of interest to appreciate the extent of the S.A. missile programme carried in the 1980's to facilitate likely long term military ability to oppose the possible long term Russian presence in Angola.

In 1983, the St. Lucia range was closed, and a larger Overberg Test Range in the Cape, near Bredasdorp was developed. The long term plan included the development of 3 stage solid fuelled rockets capable of putting into orbit observation satellites. It had also been appreciated that if long range missiles with nuclear warheads were initially able to complete a single earth orbit, their accuracy in reaching their destined target was greatly increased. In line with this, a mini Cape Canaveral control centre had been developed at the Overberg centre.

However, as the 1980's progressed, with a peace treaty ending the Border War, the associated withdrawal of the Russian and Cuban forces, and the commencement of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the need for a political rather than a military solution was becoming apparent. Contributory to the social unrest then present in the country was the fact that there had been a fourfold increase in the African community during the period of National Party rule.

In 1989, a change in political leadership took place in S.A. The newly incumbent President de Klerk had from the start been determined on dismantling the nuclear programme. This was done between 1991 and 1993 without public awareness and the process duly confirmed by the required international authorities. It was noted by several of the authorities that they had been struck by the relatively crude technology evident in the six atomic bombs that were dismantled. Several observers considered that more sophisticated nuclear technology including objects such as the miniaturised artillery war-heads had been developed in South Africa.

There were also rumours that much of this type of technology had left the country in 1990 - 1991 for an unknown destination. The dismantling of the S.A. nuclear programme was publicly announced by the President in September 1993. Post the 1994 elections, the S.A. rocket and missile programme was still in place.

At the insistence of the Clinton administration, this was duly dismantled. There was some local opinion that American interest in pushing for the dismantling of the rocket programme was directed more to a monopoly in the pending commercial satellite launching industry, rather than concern for its use as a potential intercontinental missile.

Both speakers were thanked for their well researched presentations by Major General Chris le Roux on behalf of the audience.


(Venue - Murray Lecture Theatre, Department of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal Howard College Campus, Durban.
Time: 19h00 for 19h30):
Thursday 11th June 2015:

Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:  :   "Operation Vimbezela", by Major General Chris le Roux.
Main Talk:  :   "The escape of Goeben and Breslau", by Robin Smith.


Thursday 9th July 2015:

Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:  :   "Operation Drosdy - a seaborne raid in 1984 on Namibe, Angola", by Lt Col Douw Steyn HC
Main Talk:  :   "The Battle of Waterloo & its impact on European History", by Capt (SAN) (Retd) Brian Hoffmann

Thursday 13th August 2015:

Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:  :   "The World of Admiral de Ruyter", by Jesse Wesseloo.
Main Talk:  :   "The Great Escape - the South African Connection", by Stephen Coan.

Thursday 10th September 2015:

Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:  :   "General MacArthur - the American Caesar", by Bill Brady.
Main Talk:  :   "Mongolia and the Yam Rider", by Simon Pearse.

Colonel Mike Bradley (who was the Specialist Guide during the SAMHS tour to the Battlefields of Egypt and Libya in May 2009) has offered to put together a Centenary Pilgrimage of about 10 days to Delville Wood (and other battlefields of the Somme) in July 2016. Members will be kept informed of developments, but in order for us to determine the viability of such a tour, please advise Ken Gillings (031 703 4828 / 083 654 5880 / ) if you are interested in participating. A day's visit to Normandy will also be included in the itinerary. The proposed itinerary is attached.

ADVANCE NOTICE; 2015 BATTLEFIELD TOUR, 15TH - 16TH AUGUST 2015: The Branch's 2015 Battlefield tour will focus on the Transvaal War of Independence (1880-1881). It will include visits to Fort Amiel, Lang's Nek, Mt Prospect Military Cemetery, Schuinshoogte / Ingogo, Majuba and O'Neil's Cottage. The following special rate has been arranged with Majuba Lodge in Newcastle:

There are of course other forms of accommodation available and for those wishing to camp, there are campsites in Newcastle, at Chelmsford Dam and of course at Majuba itself. Should you wish to accompany us on the tour and make use of the special rate quoted above, kindly contact Melissa Janse van Rensburg at Majuba Lodge on 034-3155011, fax 034-3155023 or e-mail IT IS IMPORTANT TO REFER TO THE SAMHS TOUR TO OBTAIN THIS SPECIAL RATE.

The provisional programme is as follows:
FRIDAY 14th AUGUST 2015:
Drive to Newcastle (+- 4 hours)

08h00 departure for Fort Amiel and Fort Amiel military cemetery. Host will be Mr Louis Eksteen, the curator of the Fort Amiel Museum.
10h00 departure for Lang's Nek Battlefield. NOTE: Low clearance vehicles will be left at the farm house; those with high clearance vehicles will be asked to help transport the party to the summit of Engelbrecht's Kop / Deane's Hill. Description of the Battle and walk to the 58th Regiment Graves.
12h00: Drive to Mt Prospect. Picnic lunch
14h00: Drive to Schuinshoogte / Ingogo Battlefield for a full description of the Battle and walk to the graves and monuments.
16h00: Commence return journey to Majuba Lodge, Newcastle.

08h00 departure for Majuba. A R25.00 per person entry fee will be payable. Full description of the Battle from the foot of the mountain, followed by a climb to the summit for those who wish to (between 40 and 60 minutes, depending on state of fitness).
13h00 - 13h30 : picnic lunch for those who would like to.
13h30: Commence drive to O'Neil's Cottage for final details about the War;
14h30: Commence return journey (+- 4 1/2 hours)

Note that timings may differ depending on circumstances.

Participants will be required to make their own travelling and accommodation arrangements. Should you wish to participate in the presentations, please e-mail Ken Gillings on

South African Military History Society /