South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 477
November 2015

Ken Gillings 031 702 4828
Roy Bowman 031 564 4669

In view of the fact that the Branch Chairman was one of the speakers at the October 2015 meeting, Vice Chairman, Lt Col Graeme Fuller, chaired it.

Our first speaker was Professor Franco Frescura, whose topic was entitled "The Building of Castle Eyre". Keiskammahoek is a small settler village in the foothills of the Amatola Mountains, located some 50km from King William's Town, at the confluence of the Gxulu and Keiskamma Rivers. It has long been known to local inhabitants as a sheltered and fertile spot and, despite being located in a drought-ridden region, it has never lacked for water. The indigenous name for the area is "Qobo Qobo" which, loosely translated, means "a fragile thing" but, since 1847, it has also been known as Keiskammahoek. This name, derived from Dutch and Khoikhoi roots means, quite literally, "corner of shining waters".

The area was first settled by British during the 1846-7 border conflict, more popularly known as "The War of the Axe", when a military outpost, generally referred to as "the camp in the mountains", was established there. At the end of hostilities the camp was abandoned by the military and in 1849 a Scottish missionary, the Rev Robert Niven, and his family established the Uniondale Mission Station, their aim being to preach the gospel to Mfengu and Xhosa clans already residing in the area. The first buildings consisted of little more than a few wattle and daub huts. However this mission was short-lived as the Rev. Niven and his family was forced to flee when their home was burnt down upon the outbreak of further hostilities in 1850.

In 1851, as a direct result of this war, the British re-established a tented camp at Keiskammahoek under the command of Colonel Henry Somerset. In April 1852 a body of Royal Engineers joined the contingent and began the erection of a fortified tower, which was completed in 1855 and named Castle Eyre after Colonel John Eyre of the 73rd Royal Highlanders. In March 1853 the Cape Colonial Government declared the area immediately surrounding Castle Eyre a "Royal Crown Reserve" with the expressed intent of establishing a permanent village on this site. The first settlers began building homes at Keiskammahoek soon after the end of hostilities in 1853. During the next decade the village's white population rapidly expanded its numbers with the settlement of German legionaries and their families who immigrated to South Africa during 1857 and 1858. A further influx of German settlers brought more families to the region in 1876-7. In about 1858 a Lutheran church was built in the village but this structure proved unsatisfactory and was replaced by a more permanent building during 1877.

The fact that, for the next decade, the area was governed by the military gives rise to a number of questions to which I have not, as yet, been able to find an answer.

Professor Frescura invites anyone with answers to these questions to contact him. This can be done via the scribe.

The Main Talk was presented by current Chairman, Roy Bowman, and entitled "The Cruiser Night Action, 13th / 14th November 1942". The decisive naval actions of the campaign in the Pacific took place during the period 12th November to 15th November 1942. These were not what are commonly thought of as the typical World War II naval action. Air power only played a supporting part. The actions centred upon fierce night surface actions in confined waters.

These actions are called by a variety of names but for the purpose of his talk our speaker referred to them the CRUISER NIGHT ACTION - 12TH TO 13TH NOVEMBER 1942 and the second and most important action which became the turning point of the campaign, THE BATTLESHIP NIGHT ACTION - 14TH TO 15TH NOVEMBER 1942. The Battleship night Action was a desperate gamble by Vice Admiral Halsey, which involved risking the last American heavy surface force in the Pacific, in a way that was contrary to established doctrine and in a type of fighting that the Japanese had shown themselves to be masters, Naval night fighting.

Guadalcanal is the largest island in the Solomon's Chain. It lies South of the Equator in the Coral Sea, Southeast of New Guinea and Northeast of Australia. The Solomon's are arranged in a loose column of two's heading Northwest from Guadalcanal towards Rabaul. The water lying between the columns was nicknamed "The Slot" by the Americans who fought in the Solomons campaign. At the Guadalcanal end of The Slot is another body of water, Savo Sound, with an American nickname, "Iron-bottom Sound".

Prior to 1942 no one took much interest in Guadalcanal. It was discovered by Spanish explorers in the 1560's but nothing came of their plan to colonize the island. The French rediscovered it in the 1700's but the malaria-ridden island was devoid of natural resources and inhabited by such cantankerous natives that no one wanted it. At the end of the 19th century, the European powers divided up the Pacific Islands and Britain agreed to take Guadalcanal. A few missionaries and coconut planters from Australia came to the island, however the overpowering stench of rotting vegetation, dense jungle, swamps, meadows with seven foot tall grass, that cut through clothing, and steep mountains, the island went undeveloped.

In July 1942, aerial reconnaissance detected that the Japanese were constructing an airfield on Guadalcanal. This information required immediate action because when the airfield was completed it would pose a threat to the line of communication between the U.S.A. and Australasia. Moreover it could be used to launch a new thrust towards Port Moresby, New Guinea, the objective that the Japanese had been prevented from taking in the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Although the bulk of American resources were being sent to the European Theatre, an amphibious landing force was quickly cobbled together and on the 7th August 1942, the First Marine Division was landed on the beaches of Guadalcanal and Tulagi. The Marines captured the Guadalcanal airfield the next day, renaming it Henderson Field, after a Marine flyer killed at the Battle of Midway.

On 11th November, the Japanese assembled eleven transports loaded with 13,500 troops and supplies. This convoy would be supported by a cruiser and destroyer screen as well as a battle group Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto assembled around the two sister battleships, Hiei and Kirishima, which had been loaded with special fragmentation shells, designed to inflict maximum damage on the aircraft and the Marines, whilst bombarding Henderson Field.

American intelligence got wind of the Japanese plan and Vice Admiral William Halsey jnr., who had replaced the ineffectual Vice Admiral Robert Ghormley as South Pacific Commander, dispatched Enterprise, screened by USS Washington and USS South Dakota as well as by two cruisers and eight destroyers to counter the Japanese attack. Since Enterprise was still under repair in Noumea, after being damaged during the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, Halsey ordered the two battleships and half the destroyers to proceed ahead, if the carrier could not make the battle zone in time.

Meanwhile two American convoys reached Guadalcanal loaded with supplies and reinforcements. The first was escorted by the anti aircraft cruiser Atlanta and four destroyers under Rear Admiral Scott, while the second was escorted by the heavy cruiser San Francisco, three other cruisers and five destroyers under Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan.

Task Force 67.4 was formed by combining the two escort groups under the command of the senior Rear Admiral. This command went to Callaghan who was senior in service to Scott by one day - despite his lack of combat experience, although Scott had already beaten the Japanese at the Battle of Cape Esperance.

When coast-watchers and aircraft reported a large force of two battleships, a light cruiser and 14 destroyers, moving down "The Slot" the Americans realized that the their relief force would not arrive in time and that defending the island was up to the convoy escort ships of Task Force 67.4.

After thwarting an attack by Japanese bombers on the afternoon of 12th November in which San Francisco took a hit, with numerous casualties, Callaghan took the transports to sea. After dark, the escorts broke away from the transports and formed a line of battle to await the Japanese in Iron-bottom Sound.

Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan's Task Force 67.4 consisted of the two heavy cruisers USS San Francisco and Portland, the light cruiser Helena plus two anti-aircraft light cruisers USS Atlanta and Juneau provided the main firepower whilst the destroyers Laffey, Monssen, O'Bannon, Sterett, Barton, Aaron Ward, Cushing and the brand new class leader, Fletcher, were to screen the cruisers. Five of these ships were equipped with the new SG radar but Callaghan inexplicably did not put them in the forefront of his column, nor did he choose a flagship, USS San Francisco, that was radar equipped. On a rain-swept, moonless night, Callaghan was proceeding blind against a superior force who were experts at night fighting.

Led by Rear Admiral Hiroake Abe, the Japanese fleet sailed through intense rain squalls into Iron-bottom Sound arriving at approximately 01h00 on 13th November 1942.

Rear Admiral Abe's fleet outnumbered and outgunned the Americans and consisted of the battleships Hiei and Kirishima, the light cruiser Nagara and fourteen large fleet destroyers. Their mission was to destroy Henderson field and because they were not expecting to do battle with surface ships, their decks, magazines and gun turrets were crammed with fragmentation shells, instead of the armour piercing shells required for a naval battle. Their lack of radar was not a hindrance.

The intense rain squalls caused problems for both sides. The Japanese ships lost visual contact with each other, while Callaghan didn't trust his radar, and radio problems kept him from receiving reports from his lead ships as to the location of the Japanese fleet. At 01h48 on the 13th, as the two columns of ships began to intermingle, Japan's Hiei and Akatsuki turned their searchlights on USS Atlanta at 3 000yds and the Japanese immediately opened fire.

A series of confusing orders emanated from Callaghan's flagship including directions to cease fire, fire at the "big ones", and that odd number ships fire to port and even numbered ships fire to starboard - failing to take into account the actual position of the various ships in relation to the enemy.

Atlanta was slammed by both Japanese torpedoes and gunfire, causing heavy damage topside and severe engineering damage below decks. She then drifted into San Francisco's line of fire, whose friendly fire killed Admiral Scott and most of his bridge crew. Sailing behind Atlanta the destroyer Cushing was hammered; powerless and drifting, she was later torpedoed and sunk by her consorts. Little Laffey, 1,700 tons, took on the 29,330 ton Hiei. From 20 yards away, so close that Hiei's massive 14" guns could not be sufficiently depressed to fire, Laffey raked Hiei's bridge with machine gun fire wounding Admiral Abe and killing most of his staff while Sterett and O'Bannon moved in and raked Hiei with their 5" shells and anti-aircraft guns. At 2,500yards from San Francisco, Hiei's main guns were perfectly situated, and she and San Francisco traded salvo's until Hiei's 14" tore into San Francisco's bridge killing Callaghan and his staff. Hiei might have caused more damage, but she was still firing the fragmentation rounds designed for ground fighting, her crew not having had time to replace them with armour piercing rounds. In the dark, identification was next to impossible, American firing on American, Japanese on Japanese and every ship except Fletcher was hit. Barton blew up, Laffey, Monssen, Cushing were sunk as was the cruiser Atlanta, the following morning. Instead of next shelling Henderson Field, the Japanese were running; they had had two destroyers sunk, and, limping behind the fleeing IJN ships was Hiei, leaking oil, taking on water from torpedo hits from Sterett and her superstructure still in flames from the 50-85 hits scored by the American warships.

After nearly 20 minutes of brutal, close-quarters fighting, the two sides broke contact as Abe and Captain Gilbert Hoover (the senior surviving U.S. officer) ordered their forces to disengage, with Abe also choosing to abandon his mission and depart the area. It was one of Abe's last order's, his failure to aggressively push his attack against an inferior enemy force and bombard Henderson Field caused him to be relieved of his command by Yamamoto.

Most importantly the bombardment group had turned back without destroying Henderson Field. The Americans knew, however, that the Japanese would return.

In the daylight, aircraft from Henderson Field, found Hiei crawling up The Slot and finished her off, but the Japanese struck back. Before noon of that day, 13th November, USS Juneau, suffering from a broken keel, along with two other cruisers damaged in the battle Helena, Capt Gil Hoover and San Francisco, Lieutenant Commander Schonland headed towards Espiritu Santo for repairs. Fate had placed Gil Hoover's formation of badly mauled survivors in the periscope cross-hairs of the IJN submarine I-26, the same submarine that had hit the Saratoga in August.

Lying along the Eastern Flank of the column's Southerly course to Espiritu Santo, the IJN boat had four torpedo tubes flooded and ready. Juneau was steaming on one screw, in deference to her broken keel, keeping station 800yds off the Starboard quarter of the also damaged San Francisco. She was down 12ft. by the bow, but able to maintain 13kn. A few minutes after 11h00, two torpedoes were launched from I-26. These were intended for San Francisco but both passed ahead of her. One struck Juneau in the same place that she had been hit during the battle.

There was a massive explosion, accompanied by a gigantic brown cloud; Juneau broke in two and disappeared in just 20 seconds. Within moments the 6,000 ton anti-aircraft cruiser had disappeared. Debris such as searchlights, 5" gun-mounts, huge pieces of armour plating and bodies rained down onto the surrounding ships.

Fearing more attacks from I-26 and wrongly assuming from the massive explosion, that there were no survivors, Hoover ordered Helena and San Francisco, together with the accompanying destroyers not to stop and the convoy sped off, without attempting to rescue any survivors.

In fact, more than 100 sailors had survived the sinking of the Juneau. They were left to fend for themselves in the open ocean for eight days before rescue aircraft belatedly arrived. While awaiting rescue, all but 10 died from the elements and shark attacks, including the five Sullivan Brothers. Two of the brothers apparently survived the sinking, only to die in the water; two presumably went down with the ship. Some reports indicate the fifth brother also survived the sinking but disappeared during the first day in the water.

This tragedy changed the policy of the Armed Forces of the United States of America. The "Sole Survivor Policy" or DoD Directive 1315.15 "Special Separation Policies for Survivorship" was brought into being in June 1948.

Remarkably Portland had made a zig zag path towards Tulagi and was taken in tow by a tug and safely berthed in one of the many inlets where, under camouflage, temporary repairs were made to get her seaworthy enough to make the journey under tow to Sydney where she entered dry-dock and her hull was miraculously repaired. She later made her way across the Pacific with her two remaining screws for permanent repairs, a full refit and new propellers.

Callaghan's Task Force 67.4 had suffered 1,439 killed including the Sullivan brothers, while the Japanese had lost 550-800 dead during and after this key battle.

The loss of ships was;

On the following morning, 14th November 1942, airmen from Henderson Field and the Enterprise, now some 200 miles from Guadalcanal, and B17's from Espiritu Santo, found the transport convoy and managed to sink six transports. But even this was not enough to stop the attack. The Japanese loaded the survivors from the sinking transports onto destroyers. The remaining transports eventually were able to beach themselves on Guadalcanal and disembark their troops. Meanwhile, at Rabaul, a heavy bombardment group, including the battleship Kirishima, two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and eight destroyers, was placed under the command of Vice Admiral Nobutaku Kondo and given the task of neutralizing Henderson Field. The raid was planned for late on the night of 14th November 1942.

Abe's decision to retreat turned the tactical Japanese victory into a strategic defeat. Henderson Field remained operational and the Marine's Cactus Air Force remained ready to keep the Japanese Navy transports from resupplying their ground forces with the troops and supplies necessary to defeat the marines and recapture Henderson Field.

Dr John Cooke conveyed the thanks for the meeting to the two speakers for their well researched and extremely interesting presentations.

Charles Whiteing is organising this year's luncheon, which will be held at the Blue Waters Hotel, Marine Parade, Durban, on Sunday 29th November 2015.
Time: 12h00 for 12h30.
Cost: R185 per person for 'normal people' (!) and R165 for pensioners.
Dress: Smart casual.
No advance payment is necessary but we need to inform the hotel of numbers and names. Please contact Charles on 031 764 7270, 082 555 4689 or

Thursday 12th November 2015:

Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:
"Poppy Power" by Charles Whiteing
Main Talk: "Four little whalers from Durban to the Mediterranean in 1940", by Donald Davies.

Future Meetings:

Thursday 10th December 2015:

One speaker only - Professor Donal McCracken: "How the Irish won the Anglo-Boer War!" This will be followed by a cocktail function. The Branch will provide the snacks but members should bring their own liquid refreshment.

Thursday 21st January 2016 (NB: This is the third Thursday of the month; we'll revert to the second Thursday in February 2016):

Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: "Durban / Natal Sportsmen and World War 1", by a team from Glenwood High School.

Main Talk: "The von Blücher Brothers and the Invasion of Crete", by Adrian Nesbitt.

Thursday 11th February 2016 (NB - Back to the second Thursday of the month):

Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: "Cpl John Joseph Davies' VC near Delville Wood", by Donald Davies;

Main Talk: "The Polish Africans of World War 2" by Anthony Zaborowski

POSSIBLE CENTENARY PILGRIMAGE TO DELVILLE WOOD. 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 as follows:

Day 0 Mon 27 Jun
                            Overnight flight from South Africa to Paris
Day 1 Tue 28 Jun
                            Arrive Paris, meet guide, and drive to Ypres
                            Orientation tour of Ypres battlefields
                            Check into Novotel Ypres Centre with dinner in town centre
                            Attend Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate
                            Overnight in hotel (D)
Day 2 Wed 29 Jun
                            All day tour of main battle areas around Ypres
                            Drive to Amiens and check into Holiday Inn
                            Dinner and overnight in hotel (B, D)
Day 3 Thu 30 Jun
                            All day tour of Somme battles including Delville Wood
                            Dinner in City Centre and overnight in hotel (B)
Day 4 Fri 1 Jul
                            Centenary of first day of the Battle of the Somme
                            Programme given at a later date when details known
                            Dinner in City Centre and overnight in hotel (B)
Day 5 Sat 2 Jul
                            Free day with no coach travel (B)
Day 6 Sun 3 Jul
                            Drive to Caen in Normandy
                            Check into Quatrans Hotel in City centre
                            Free evening in Caen and overnight in hotel (B)
Day 7 Mon 4 Jul
                            All day tour of British and Canadian D Day beaches
                            Snack lunch at Café Gondree at Pegasus Bridge
                            Lay a wreath at Bayeux War Cemetery
                            Free evening in Caen and overnight in hotel (B)
Day 8 Tue 5 Jul
                            All day tour of American D Day beaches and St Mere Eglise
                            Visit American War Cemetery and pay our respects
                            Free evening in Caen and overnight in hotel (B)
Day 9 Wed 6 Jul
                            Spare day for further visits around Caen and Bayeux
                            Farewell dinner in local restaurant and overnight in hotel (B, D)
Day 10 Thu 7 Jul
                            Day visit to Dieppe or Paris by request
                            Late evening flight from Paris to South Africa (B)
Day 11 Fri 8 Jul
                            Early morning arrival and disperse

The Official Guide, Colonel Mike Bradley (who was the Guide for our tour of Egypt and Libya in May 2009) would like to bring the following points to your attention:
The price included 9 nights' accommodation on B&B basis at:
Novotel Ypres x 1 night
Holiday Inn Amiens x 4 nights
Hotel Quatrans Caen x 4 nights
10 days coach as per itinerary (only 1 driver) using UK coach plus driver
Dinner on 3 nights
Entrance Fees
Royal British Legion accredited battlefield guide (Colonel Mike Bradley)
Costs: £1550.00 per person in a twin room
£400.00 single supplement
VERY NB: This cost is based on 20 people. If we do not achieve this number, the cost may change. It also EXCLUDES the cost of flights to and from Paris.
The tour price does not include drinks, meals not specified, travel insurance and items of a personal nature like phone calls.
Colonel Bradley makes the following points:
1. We have extracted all meals less breakfast each day and 3 dinners to keep costs down. I also find that these days, people do not eat much lunch.
2. We have had to insert a day off for the driver which is the law otherwise the costs for a second driver would be prohibitive.
3. Each hotel is in a town centre so there is no problem with people finding places to eat in the evenings.
4. We have heard nothing yet about the Centenary celebrations so that part of the programme will have to be flexible.
5. If you are able to get a coach load of participants, we might be able to afford a second driver and the costs would reduce, but that will have to be negotiated nearer the time.
It will be necessary for us to transfer the funds directly to an overseas account. Once you have confirmed your participation, I'll obtain those details from Colonel Bradley.
Your SAMHS Contact for the tour will be Ken Gillings from the KwaZulu-Natal Branch of the Society. His contact details are:
Tel -: Landline +27 (0)31 702 4828; Cellphone 083 654 5880
E-mail-: / Skype kenheath1

South African Military History Society /