South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 471
May 2015

Ken Gillings 031 702 4828
Roy Bowman 031 564 4669

The audience was welcomed by outgoing Chairman Charles Whiteing, who introduced former Chairman Paul Kilmartin (on holiday from the UK) who gave us a brief account of the military activities of Major Edwin Swales VC. Paul pointed out that 2015 is the centenary of Major Swales's birth and the 70th anniversary of his death. Several years ago, the eThekwini Municipality erased the memory of this Durban WW2 hero by renaming Edwin Swales VC Drive. This travesty was remedied by the erection of a monument to him at Durban High School (where he was educated) and a memorial tablet at the Wall of Remembrance at the Natal Mounted Rifles (his former Regiment). Paul informed the audience that a commemorative service would be held at these memorials in May, and that further details would follow in due course.

Charles then handed proceedings over to Major General Chris le Roux, who conducted a brief AGM at which Mr Roy Bowman was elected Chairman unopposed and Lt Col Dr Graeme Fuller was elected to serve on the Committee. Charles Whiteing was thanked for his chairmanship over the past two years. The new Committee comprises the following members (in alphabetical order): Mr Roy Bowman (Chairman), Major Dr John Buchan, Dr John Cooke, Prof Philip Everitt, Lt Col Dr Graeme Fuller, Mr Ken Gillings, Maj Gen (Retd) Chris le Roux, Mr Don Porter and Mr Charles Whiteing.

The new Chairman then introduced the first speaker, Ken Gillings whose topic was entitled "World War 1 comes to the Northern Cape". When the South African government declared war on Germany in 1914 (following the German incursion into South Africa at Nakob), it resulted in a bitter feud between several Afrikaner leaders who opposed going to war against a former ally during the Anglo-Boer War.

One of these was General Manie Maritz, who had joined the newly established Union Defence Force with the rank of Lt Colonel. Maritz gathered together a party of Boer rebels and decided to attack Upington on the 24th January 1915 although first encounter with Union troops had in fact been on the 19th January 1915 at Lutzputz, approximately 70 km west of Upington. By remarkable coincidence, the rebels' advance had been observed by a gentleman named George St Leger Gordon Lennox who was none other than the legendary Scotty Smith and who warned the garrison of the impending attack. Maritz had, however, evidently sent a message to the garrison commander - who happened to be Colonel Jaap van Deventer - demanding his surrender. Van Deventer refused and Maritz responded with a note boasting that he'd have breakfast in Upington the next morning.

The inhabitants of Upington were warned to take shelter in the local church and the two hospitals and at dawn on Sunday 24th January 1915, Maritz, accompanied by Major Jan Kemp (another UDF officer who had joined the rebels) attacked with 1 000 Boer rebels, four German guns, two pom-pom guns and two machine guns. The Cape Field Artillery had already taken up a position on two koppies north of the town and they engaged in a duel with the German guns. The rebels - led by a rebel leader from Kakamas named Stadler - approached the town along a dry water course and occupied a kraal belonging to a man named Pearson who demanded that Stadler leave since his wife was not feeling well. Stadler responded that Pearson should leave the house immediately but before long bullets and shells were whizzing through it while Pearson and his family took refuge on the floor. A fierce battle took place between the rebels in the kraal and the government troops and after an hour, Stadler and the remnants of his men jumped over the wall and fled, pursued by Colonel van Deventer's men.

Maritz and Kemp attempted to charge down the water course on horseback, but the CFA fired into their ranks at a range of 920 metres (1 000 yards). After five hours of fighting, Maritz retreated. During the battle, the CFA fired 243 shells and the German artillery 150, most of them falling amongst the houses.

Maritz lost 12 killed, 23 wounded and 97 POW to the UDF's 3 killed and 22 wounded. Kemp surrendered on the 4th February 1915 and he was imprisoned until 1916. Many of those rebels captured were wearing German uniforms. The dead rebels were buried in hastily dug graves in the dry river bed, but the wind soon uncovered the bodies and the Union troops reburied them in deeper graves in the same area. After the war, in 1920, Kemp became a Transvaal MP and he obtained official permission to rebury them in his constituency of Wolmaransstad.

The South African casualties were buried in the Upington cemetery and their graves are well maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

There was a second prong to this attack; a force comprising Germans under the command of Major Hermann Ritter. Ritter's force headed for Steinkopf but on hearing of Maritz's defeat, decided to attack Kakamas instead. He camped outside the town, mindful of his orders not to remain in South Africa for longer than 14 days. At dawn on the 4th February 1915, Ritter launched his attack under cover of his artillery, hoping to capture the two drifts across the Orange River and then proceed downstream. His force comprised 205 mounted riflemen, four guns and four machine guns. The telegraph line to Upington was then cut and a South African outpost was captured. The German guns opened fire at a range of 920 metres targeting the force of South Africans guarding the ferry while the German mounted riflemen charged down towards the drift. They hit a snag, however, when they were stopped by barbed wire fences, so they dismounted and headed towards the ferry landing on two flanks. The South Africans on the south bank tried to send reinforcements across the river but were prevented from doing so by heavy artillery fire from the German guns.

Ritter's men then managed to capture 11 members of the Calvinia Commando at the ferry landing. On arrival at the drift, the Germans discovered that the ferry was on the south bank and they therefore had no means of crossing the deep, fast-flowing river. To complicate matters, some South African soldiers managed to position themselves between the two flanks and realising that he was in danger of a counter-attack, Ritter decided to withdraw.

The South Africans then seized the initiative; reinforcements were transported across the Orange River on the ferry and on arrival on the north bank, they subjected the retreating Germans to heavy rifle fire. The German artillery swung their guns' trails and opened fire in an attempt to cover their comrades' retreat, but the German rearguard was captured and the guns withdrew. The one section and the guns reached their rendezvous at Biessiespoort by nightfall while the other section was still dealing with the strong South African counter-attack and they only managed to break away at 23h00, reaching Biessiespoort shortly before dawn on the 5th February 1915. The soldiers were parched after fighting without water for the entire day in the scorching sun. That day, they crossed the border back into German South-West Africa, having lost 7 officers and other ranks killed, 6 wounded and 16 taken POW in the battle. The German soldiers who were killed in the action were buried on the slope above the north bank of the Orange River a short distance outside Kakamas, where they still lie buried under an impressive monument. Ironically their graves are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, while the Kriebsgräberfürsorge in Namibia assists the Commonwealth War Graves Commission with the maintenance of Springbok graves in that country.

Two South African soldiers who died while on duty in Kakamas lie buried in the town cemetery; they are Lieutenant J Neethling of the Remounts Department, who died of wounds received on the 3rd February 1915 and Trooper JC Kruger of the Britstown Commando, who died in the town on the 5th December 1915. An interesting aspect of the Battle of Kakamas was that the Kakamas Commando's commanding officer was on sick leave, and led into battle by an ordinary burgher named du Preez. One of the men fighting under him was his aged father.

This was the furthest south that German forces attacked into South Africa during WW1. Two more attacks occurred on the 1st and 19th March 1915 at the remote police border post of Rietfontein but they were beaten off with heavy losses. The campaign for German South West Africa had by then begun in earnest and the South African forces converged on GSWA from four directions, eventually concluding what has been described as one of the most successful campaigns in modern military history.

The Main Talk by the immediate Past Chairman, Charles Whiteing, was entitled "The Normandy Massacres". Many members of the audience thought that this would cover the Normandy landings, but Charles had delved into another aspect, namely the atrocities carried out by the Nazis during the German occupation of France.

Liberation came to the European continent in a storm of death and destruction. On D Day alone, Allied bombing killed about 3 000 French civilians in Normandy; roughly the same number of American servicemen who would die on that day, and about twice the number of British troops killed.

Following the successful Allied landings on the beaches of Normandy, the major German commands in the West would cling to the delusion that the Normandy operation was merely a diversion intended to draw off forces from the German 15th Army stationed in the Pas de Calais. This view stemmed from Adolf Hitler who did not welcome debate or dissent from any quarter. The Allies had implemented a massive deception operation which reinforced Hitler's view. Once the Allied beachheads were established, the next phase of the battle would reveal more challenges that not even the best Ultra information could have revealed. The Bocage or hedgerows were a natural defensive environment and had the ability to conceal all manner of enemy activity. The German Army, and especially the Waffen SS, fought with skill and desperate ferocity. As the American, British and Canadian forces moved inland, the savagery of the encounters were often comparable to the Eastern Front campaign.

Casualties on both sides began to mount, as with the tensions between the respective commanding officers. To add to the mix, there were the French civilians caught in the middle, and the various Resistance groups, with their own respective differences and politics. However an incident occurred well before the Normandy landings in 1944, and may well have been a foretaste of the standards of warfare some four years later. Hitler's controversial order to halt the German "Blitzkrieg" near Dunkirk on 24 May 1940, later resumed on the 28th when elements of the SS Totenkopf Division were surprised by 20 British tanks that had penetrated their position. The bravery showed by the Germans was offset by an atrocity committed elsewhere on the same day.

Lieutenant Fritz Knochlein has surrounded a strongpoint held by soldiers of the 2nd Royal Norfolk Regiment. Surrounded by a stronger force and having run out of ammunition, the Norfolk's showed a white flag and surrendered. On Knochlein's orders, the prisoners were first searched, and then machine-gunned. Among the dead and dying were two British soldiers who survived, not only to tell of the account after the war; but to see Knochlein hang for his crime.

In the spring of 1944, the 12th SS Panzer "Hitler Youth" Division transferred from Belgium to France and was ordered to occupy the area between the lower reaches of the Seine and Orne Rivers in Normandy. SS Sturmbannfuhrer (Major) Hubert Meyer, chief operations officer of the 12 SS arrived ahead of the transfer to reconnoitre their newly assigned sector. His concern was that they had been located directly behind the coastline which was untenable in the light of the Allied invasion & would result in them being exposed to both naval bombardment and air strikes.

He raised his concerns with OB West and the division was reassigned to an area south / south-west of Rouen.

By June 1944, and under the command of Obersturmbannfuhrer (Lt. Colonel) Max Wunsche; the division was up to strength with 20,500 soldiers, 177 tanks, 52 artillery pieces, 300 armoured personnel carriers and with 1600 machine guns, represented one of the better equipped and thoroughly trained German formations of the Second World War. The Hitler Youth Division was one of the most indoctrinated of all Waffen SS divisions. It was underscored by its ties to the super elite Liebstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Division.

The emblem of the 1st Panzer Division LSSAH insignia was a skeleton key. The significance of its insignia is found in the name of its first commander Sepp Dietrich, with "Dietrich" meaning key in German. The link with the 12th SS Hitler Youth Panzer Division was a key running through a single gothic letter S, thus imbuing it with the same fighting qualities and prestige of its sister division.

Although seeped in Nazi ideology from their pre-teen years, intense training, and in some cases having serving in Russia, nothing could have prepared them for the realities of the forthcoming battles in Normandy. On April 1st 1944, some 90 trains transporting men and equipment steamed towards Normandy, an exercise which would take about two weeks. All proceeded smoothly with the exception of an incident involving the French underground who mined the railway line resulting in two flat cars being derailed and an exchange of small arms fire. The incident occurred near the small town of Ascq near Lille.

The commander of the troop convoy, SS Obersturmfuhrer (Lt. Colonel) Walter Hauck ordered the town searched and the rounding up of all males between the ages of 17 and 50. The search resulted in the arrest of between 20 to 30 suspects. Hauck who was extremely agitated ordered the suspects be shot and it was only through the intervention of the German military police that the massacre was terminated.

On 6 August 1949, Obersturmfuhrer Hauck and seven other members of the 12 SS Reconnaissance Battalion were sentenced to death by a French military tribunal.

Of the enemy troops advancing towards the Normandy front, one of the most notorious was the 2nd Panzer Division Das Reich commanded by Brigadefuhrer (Brigadier-General) Heinz Lammerding which had participated in the brutal crushing of partisan uprisings in Russia, and the mass murder of Jews in the Minsk area. Moving to Toulouse from the Eastern Front in April 1944, their officers maintained their infamous status quo with the massacre of 15 French civilians in the village of Lot on the 21st May 1944 as a reprisal for shots fired at their passing columns.

The killing of Allied prisoners was considered their revenge for the "terror bombing" of German cities. The bitterness between Canadian soldiers and the Hitler Youth became a vicious circle throughout the battle for Normandy.

One of the first incidents after D Day took place on 7 June 1944 in the village of Authie where a Frenchwoman found the bodies of about 30 Canadian soldiers that had been massacred and mutilated by German troops.

The rising of the Resistance throughout France was a cause of alarm to the German forces, with a Communist led FTP group taking over the village of Tulle. They inflicted 122 casualties on the Germans, including the shooting of some of their prisoners and mutilating German corpses. This was bound to provoke a violent reaction from the Waffen SS.

On 8 June the SS regiment Das Reich began to advance northwards from Montuban and arrived in Tulle the following day. Here they proceeded to hang 99 citizens from trees with a further 200 citizens deported to Germany as a reprisal for Resistance activities.

At the age of 33, Kurt Meyer was a Standartenfuhrer (Colonel). He was later promoted to Oberfuhrer (Brigadier General) of the Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler, and was the youngest divisional commander in the German army. His field talents had earned him the nickname of Panzermeyer.

The Abbey Ardenne, just west of Caen was taken over by the SS Panzergrenadier Regiment commanded by Kurt Meyer. Situated directly in line with Juno beach, the Abbey battlements provided a strategic vantage point to observe the Canadians forces whose armoured spearhead was advancing on the village of Authie and the airport of Carpiquet beyond.

Kurt Meyer later succeeded SS Oberfuhrer (Brigadier General) Fritz Witt who was killed on 12 June when naval gun fire targeted the divisional headquarters of the 12 SS Panzer Divisions at Venoix on the outskirts of Caen.

A number of Canadian prisoners of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles had been brought into the abbey grounds, whereupon Meyer, angered at the arrival of the prisoners asked, "Why do you bring prisoners to the rear, they only eat up our rations. In future no more prisoners are to be taken."

One of the officers took the papers of the respective prisoners and a guard was positioned in the Abbey garden. Each of the seven prisoners were called by their names, and as they came out of the stable they shook hands with each other before walking into the garden where the Unterscharfuhrer shot each of them as they passed him.

Troops of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles later found the SS had shot a total of 18 of their men who had been taken prisoner and interrogated at the Abbey Ardenne. The group included Major Hodge who had been decapitated. It was later said that the 12th Hitler Jugend had been responsible for the deaths of 187 Canadian soldiers within the first few days of the invasion.

Kurt Meyer was later wounded while escaping from the Falaise Pocket where he was captured. In November 1945, he was flown to Aurich in Germany, where the Canadians brought him to trial for his part in the execution of Canadian prisoners.

He was found guilty and sentenced to death on 28 December 1945 but this was later commuted to life imprisonment. He was released on 7 September 1954, and died of a heart attack on December 23, 1961 while celebrating his 51st birthday. Meyer later agreed to what had taken place, but said it was difficult for an officer to admit to such things to an enemy court.

On the 8th June; the 12th SS Hitler Jugend Regiment attacked the Canadian Regina Rifles Regiment in the town of Norrey. The Germans were repulsed, but on 10 June, together with a Pioneer battalion, the 12th SS recommenced their frontal attack, and were again repulsed. Here too, incidents of war crimes were perpetrated by both sides.

South of the village of Cristot, a detachment of the British Inns of Court armoured reconnaissance regiment, captured the commanding officer and a small group of the Panzer Lehr artillery regiment on the 8th June. The British ordered the German prisoners to climb onto the front of their armoured vehicles as there was no room inside for them. The Germans refused, indicating they were being used as human shields. Two British officers then proceeded to beat up Oberst (Colonel) Luxenberger, who was a one armed veteran of the First World War, and then tied him to the front of one of their armoured vehicles. As they drove off, they machine-gunned the remaining German prisoners. The British armoured unit was later ambushed by a German anti-tank gun position, which killed the two British officers and Oberst Luxemberger was seriously wounded. In retaliation, a further three Canadian prisoners were shot by members of the 12th SS Hitler Youth regiment on the 9th June. At a post war tribunal; members of the Hitler Youth stated they had captured Canadian orders which revealed that German prisoners were not to be taken as it impeded their advance.

British & Canadian soldiers especially those in the armoured regiments did in fact occasionally shoot prisoners, as there was no infantry available to escort them to the rear. On Sunday 10 June 1944, at about 14h00, the town of Oradour-sur-Glane was disturbed by the sound of German Lorries driving into and surrounding the village. The troops were of the 3rd company of the der Fuhrer regiment who proceeded to round up the inhabitants and gather them on the village green. The men were then separated from the women and children, and led into three barns, two garages, a warehouse and a hangar. The women and children were locked inside the church.

At about 16h00, the troops opened fire on the men, finishing off those who had not died in the initial volleys. The SS then set fire to the buildings, and the dying and mortally wounded were burned alive. From inside the church, the women heard the sound of gunfire and realised what was happening. Some time later, the church door opened, and two soldiers stepped inside, igniting explosives and combustible material. In the smoke filled church, the women and children ran around and attempted to open windows and leave via the exits. Under the mass of human pressure, the door of the sacristy gave way, but the SS had positioned themselves opposite the door and the windows and opened fire.

By a miracle, Mme Rouffanche managed to crawl behind the altar and found a ladder used to light the candles. Above the altar there was an open window, which, among the flying bullets and glass, she was able to escape by jumping nine feet to the ground. Hearing cries above her head, she looked up to see another woman who had just thrown her baby out. The mother followed, but it was just too late as their escape had been noticed. Mother and baby were killed and the badly wounded sole survivor collapsed in the garden where she laid hidden, semi-conscious, for hours. The tragedy reached its climax when the SS opened the doors to the church and opened fire into the smoke. But the evidence of these mute corpses had to disappear; pews and chairs were piled up, set alight and the church of Oradour was consumed by the flames. Ironically at 19h00, the tram from the neighbouring village of Limoges arrived and was stopped by the SS. The passengers including 20 inhabitants of Oradour were lined up against a fence with a machine gun trained on them. The other passengers were ordered to return to Limoges. Three hours later the SS ordered them to leave and they dispersed to surrounding villages as they were forbidden to return to Oradour. The entire village was then torched with a total of 642 people killed in this massacre. With a backdrop of the burning houses, the Germans troops spent the night celebrating on looted food and drink; departing in the morning after burning the two remaining houses. The inhabitants who had been sent away, slowly returned to their village of blackened walls, twisted steel, burnt out cars and the skeletal frame of the church with its gruesome contents.

The sole survivors were the 46 year old woman, and 8 year old Roger Godfrin who had run away from the initial round up. But why did the massacre take place? None of those murdered were members of the Resistance. The absolute tragedy was that the SS had chosen the wrong Oradour.

The SS officer, Major Kampfe whose kidnapping and execution by the Resistance they were avenging, had in fact been killed in Oradour-sur-Vayres, fifteen miles away. Whatever the motive, the torturers of this hardworking little French community had set themselves beyond the pale of human standards. On the 12 January 1953, the trial opened in Bordeux. Of the 65 participants, only 21 appeared, the majority having been freed through lack of specific evidence. These comprised 7 Germans including 1 warrant officer, and 14 French Alsatians including 1 sergeant. They were all members of the Das Reich division, but not a single officer was present. Of these, Commandant Dickmann was later killed in Normandy, Captain Kahn had evaded capture by escaping to Sweden, and Lieutenant Barth was eventually traced after living a peaceful life in East Germany for 37 years. At his trial in East Berlin, SS Lieutenant Barth admitted to the charges, and stated that Commandant Dickman had issued the order to '"destroy the locality and its inhabitants." Barth said he had no regrets and said in wartime one acts harshly and with all means available. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

After the war, General Lammerding had successfully hidden his identity in the prison camps, and it was only in July 1951, that a Bordeaux court condemned him to death in absentia for the Tulle affair. He was living in Dusseldorf under his own name in the British zone of occupation. He later sent the Oradour tribunal a letter excusing his men, as "they were only following orders." The French attempted to extradite him, but since 1953, the General had moved to Mitttenwald on the Austrian border in the American zone of occupation with extradition never done. With so much to answer for, he died peacefully in his sleep in 1971.

The court delivered its verdict on 13 February 1953. Of the Germans, the warrant officer was condemned to death, one was acquitted, and five sentenced to between 10 and 12 years respectively. Of the French Alsatians, the sergeant received the death sentence with the rest receiving between 5 to 8 years. The verdict shocked and sickened the families of those killed.

In fact in the Alsace region, the press defended their fellow countrymen, with the resulting media pressure causing the French parliament to vote for an amnesty which pardoned the 13 convicted Alsatians. The day that they were released from prison, together with 6 Germans who had completed their sentences, an outcry arose from friends and family alike. Even those condemned to death were later pardoned. Disgusted with events, the town of Oradour-sur-Glane returned the Cross of the Legion of Honour, together with the Cross of War it had been awarded by the French Government some years earlier.

The same SS regiment under command of Generalleutnant von Brodowski was also credited for the massacre of 67 civilians at Argetan. He was later captured by French troops on 19 September 1944 while sleeping in a barn at Corre, 40km north of Versoul. He was found to be carrying incriminating documents relating to the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre, which as Oberfeldkommandant, was within his area of responsibility. On 20 October 1944, he was taken to the citadel at Besacon, where he was shot by his Free French guards while 'trying to escape.'

Although it was a terrible price to pay, the Resistance succeeded in delaying the Das Reich regiment by 17 days in reaching the front; 14 more days than had originally been scheduled.

This campaign by the Resistance which included the sabotage of railways, fuel dumps and ambushes was one of its greatest contributions to the battle for Normandy. Following a raid by B17 Flying Fortress and Liberator bombers on the morning of the 25th July, in the St Lo' / Periers area, the US infantry advanced across what was described as a lunar landscape of dead Germans and destroyed armour. The savagery of the battle was illustrated by a group of Germans who wished to surrender, but as two American troop leaders stepped forward to receive them from behind a hedgerow, the Germans opened fire with two American soldiers killed. The consequence of this action was that in future, Germans who wished to surrender were shot out of hand.

Treatment of German deserters by their own forces, especially the SS was very harsh. According to a Fuhrer decree, SS soldiers could be accused of high treason if taken prisoner unwounded. It was hardly surprising that the British and Canadians captured so few SS troops alive. This cruel discipline is illustrated by a SS trooper who had deserted and attempted to hide himself in a column of French refugees. Unfortunately he was spotted by his fellow members of his Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler regiment, and the commander ordered him beaten to death, with his corpse thrown into a shell hole. On the 6 August, it was reported to General von Kluge that the American advance on the Brittany port of Brest had been assisted by the Resistance who had provided intelligence, blown bridges and cleared the area of snipers.

The predictable German reprisals included massacres on the 4 August when 25 civilians were shot in St Pol-de-Leon, and on 7 August, 42 men, women and children were killed by sailors of the 3rd Marineflakbrigade in the village of Gouesnou. The French civilians were equally surprised by the casual manner of some Americans when it came to killing. In one small town a French woman asked a lieutenant of the 10th Tank Battalion what she should do about four Germans hiding in her house. The lieutenant later reported that "there was no one to take care of them so we put them up against a wall and shot them." The Resistance targeted the Gestapo and SS at every opportunity. On 6 August, Sturmbannfuhrer Ludwig Kepplinger of the 17th SS Panzer grenadier Division was ambushed at Villiers-Chateaumagne and the following day the head of the Gestapo in Chateauroux was gunned down.

On the 10 August, German authorities announced that they had "eliminated 128 terrorists." Three days later 18 men were shot in Tourouvre and the main street set on fire by members of the 12th SS Hitler Jugend regiment. In the town of Bucheres, an SS unit killed 68 civilians including women and children. On the 25 August following an attack by the Resistance on a German lorry, the SS murdered 124 people including 42 women and 44 children.

Later troops of the SS Liebstandarte and the Hitler Youth killed a total of 34 civilians at Aisne, of which only one was a member of the Resistance. The Falaise Pocket was the worst catastrophe endured by Wehrmacht units in the West, resulting in the deaths of 40% of all troops killed in the summer battles, with nearly 200,000 missing. The clinical RAF Bombing Analysis Unit report calculated that over 600 tanks, 450 armoured vehicles and 7000 Lorries, cars and motorcycles had been lost. This included a convoy with 10 medical vehicles which were not spared the onslaught by the RAF fighters. There was a blatant disregard by the Allied pilots for the internationally recognisable sign of the Red Cross. These clearly marked ambulances each prominently displayed their Red Crosses. The cars and half track armoured ambulances in the convoy carried large Red Cross flags draped over their roofs with the motorcycle sidecar combination displaying four Red Crosses in addition to a Red Cross on the side car.

All armament and seating of the half-track personnel carriers were removed when converted to ambulances with large red crosses applied as required by the Geneva Convention. The scene was described afterwards by Rudi Cihotzki, a SS trooper. "This was the most gruesome scene I`ve seen throughout the whole war. Ambulances are burnt out and in the melted hulks you can see the remains of men looking like shrivelled dolls. One look at the bloodstained encrusted bandages makes you realise that these had been helpless wounded men."

Massacres were perpetrated by the Germans until the end of August even after they realised they could no longer hold onto France. As the Allies advanced through France, the various Resistance groups emerged with the different groups beginning to settle accounts.

A degree of political and personal opportunism was also concealed. Resistance groups killed some 6 000 people before the Germans withdrew. There followed the "epuration sauvage" or "unofficial purges," where a further 14 000 civilian people were killed. A few British and American troops also killed French collaborators, but most preferred not get involved, as they had not experienced the German occupation and were in no position to pass judgement. One of the most shocking statistics to emerge was that in Brittany alone, a third of those killed were women. These were women accused of "collaboration horizontale" with German troops. There was public head shaving, some daubed with tar with some stripped half naked and some painted with swastikas. Over and above the physical assaults, these young women were easy vulnerable scapegoats, particularly for men who were ashamed of their own lack of Resistance credentials.

The boys of the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitler Youth were plunged into the abyss of a modern total war. Too young to fear death, yet old enough to face it and die, they were "worthy of a better cause, than that which the man whose name they once wore on their sleeve had to offer." Much has been made of the shooting of prisoners - most notoriously, the Canadian prisoners by the 12 SS Panzer and other units in Normandy. However propaganda has in many instances distorted the truth. Among the scores of post war witnesses interviewed, almost everyone had direct knowledge or even an experience of the shooting of German prisoners during the campaign. In the heat of battle, and in the wake of seeing comrades die, many men found it intolerable to send prisoners to the rear, knowing that they would survive the war, while they themselves had little prospect of doing so. Many British and American troops shot SS troops routinely, which explained to a certain extent why they fought so fanatically and why so few were ever captured. In the 26 worst massacres in France during 1944, 1 904 civilians were murdered. Fewer than 2,000 German soldiers died at the hands of the Resistance before the retreat in August 1944. Accurate figures during the retreat have proved impossible to establish. Yet up to the Liberation, the Germans and the Vichy Milice killed some 20,000 people.

Another 61,000 were deported to concentration camps in Germany, of whom only 40% returned home alive. In addition 76,000 French and foreign Jews were deported east to concentration camps. Very few returned.

Max Hastings is quoted as saying, "Once a definitive atrocity has been discovered, as with the bodies of the Canadians killed by the 12th SS and the conscious decision is taken to respond in kind; it's difficult in hindsight to draw a meaningful moral distinction between the moral behaviour of one side and the other on the battlefield."

The village of Orador-sur-Glane was never rebuilt, and stands as a stark reminder of man's inhumanity to man in yet another atrocity that occurred in WW2.

After several questions were posed to the two speakers, Major Dr John Buchan thanked them on behalf of the audience in the appropriate manner.


(Venue - Murray Lecture Theatre, Department of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal Howard College Campus, Durban.
Time: 19h00 for 19h30):
Thursday 14th May 2015:

Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: "Leon Schauder - South African War Correspondent, 1945" by Donald Davies.
Main Talk: "Aspects of Atomic Warfare", by Major Dr John Buchan.

FUTURE MEETINGS: Thursday 11th June 2015:

Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: "Operation Vimbezela", by Major General Chris le Roux.
Main Talk: "August 1914: 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.


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 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:

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 /