South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 476
October 2015

Ken Gillings 031 702 4828
Roy Bowman 031 564 4669

Our first speaker at the September 2015 meeting was Professor Philip Everitt, whose talk was entitled "Naval actions preceding the Gallipoli Landings". On Monday 10 August 1914, the German battlecruiser Goeben and light cruiser Breslau entered the Dardanelles, and shortly played a part in bringing Turkey into the war after a bombardment of the Russian ports on Thursday 29 October 1914. On Saturday 31 October, the Admiralty authorised hostilities against Turkey although war had not yet been declared, on Monday 2 November 1914 Russia declared war on Turkey

In advance of a declaration of war, an Anglo-French Squadron bombarded the Turkish outer forts, British battlecruisers Indefatigable, Indomitable and French battleships Suffren, Vérité took part. This had the effect of causing the Turks with German allies to increase the defences.

On Thursday, 5 November 1914, Britain and France declared war on Turkey and Britain annexed Cyprus. On Sunday 13 December 1914 Lt Norman Douglas Holbrook (CO, HM S/M B.11) sank Turkish guardship/old battleship Messudiyeh in the Dardanelles. He was awarded the Victoria Cross.

In January 1915 the Russians asked the Allies to take Turkish pressure off their forces in the Caucasus. First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill gained support of the War Council for a purely naval attack on the Dardanelles and on Thursday 28 January 1915 the British Government agreed to naval attack on the Dardanelles

The First Bombardment of Outer Dardanelles Forts on Friday 19th February 1915. pic

The bombardment of the defences around Cape Helles on the European side and Kum Kale/Orkanie on the Asiatic was initially carried out by battlecruiser Inflexible (flag, Adm Carden, C-in-C), battleships Albion, Cornwallis, Triumph, the French Suffren (French flag) and Bouvet, supported by French light cruiser Amethyst. Vengeance (division flag, Adm de Robeck) observed for her division, and the force was later joined by dreadnought Queen Elizabeth and battleship Agamemnon.

On Saturday 20 February 1915, the Second planned Dardanelles bombardment was cancelled because of gale-force conditions. The bad weather continued until the 25th, but on Tuesday 23 February 1915 the Royal Marines occupied the Greek island of Lemnos, off the Dardanelles; the harbour of Mudros became a major advanced Allied base.

The Second bombardment of Outer Dardanelles Forts resumed on Thursday 25th February 1915 and runs were made by battleships Vengeance and Cornwallis, French Suffren and Charlemagne, supported by anchored dreadnought Queen Elizabeth, battleships Agamemnon, Irresistible and French Gaulois. Within a short time, Agamemnon was hit.

By 1500 the outer batteries had been practically silenced by the Anglo-French ships. Minesweeping trawlers escorted by destroyers and covered by battleships entered the straits and by 2000 the sweepers had penetrated four miles without finding any mines.

Friday 26 February 1915 saw the battleships Albion, Triumph and Majestic entered the Straits at 0800 to complete the destruction of the entrance forts and to attack the defences further inside. Both came under fire which they returned, but the fixed shore guns were joined by concealed and mobile howitzer and field gun batteries and only by constantly shifting their positions could the battleships avoid serious damage, although Majestic was hit. Before then, Royal Marine and Royal Navy demolition parties were landed near the entrance forts to complete their destruction.

On Monday 1 March 1915, the Battleships Albion and Ocean, Triumph, and Majestic, engaged the Forts but were continually hit by 4in howitzers. That night the trawlers started sweeping again escorted by destroyers but they were illuminated by searchlights, subjected to heavy fire and withdrew. On Tuesday 2 March 1915, the Battleships Canopus, Cornwallis, and Swiftsure, took part in third attack within the Straits. Late in the day they came under heavy fire

Thursday 4 March 1915 saw landings by beach and demolition parties around Kum Kale resulting in a number of Royal Navy and Royal Marine casualties.

By Friday 5 March 1915, Phase 1 of the Dardanelles Campaign had been successful with the outer defences being destroyed. Now Admiral Carden was ready for Phase 2 - sweeping the minefields, believed to consist of ten lines of mines starting 8 miles inside the entrance and reducing the gun and other defences right up to the Narrows. 14 British and 4 French capital ships and four British light cruisers were available, but there were only eight slow trawlers as minesweepers. Dreadnought Queen Elizabeth fired over the Gallipoli peninsula at the Narrows forts, with spotting by seaplanes and battleship Albion within the Straits. Queen Elizabeth continued indirect fire across the peninsula with Albion spotting the following day, while Agamemnon and Lord Nelson entered the straits to carry out attacks on the Narrows forts. Agamemnon and Lord Nelson, covered by the French battleship division, opened fire on the powerful inner forts but came under heavy fire and were retired for repairs.

On Wednesday 10 March 1915, seven trawlers with 3rd Minesweeping Group accompanied by two picket boats, four escorting destroyers and supported by battleship Canopus and light cruiser Amethyst, took part in attempt to sweep minefields in the dark. One trawler was sunk and others withdrew seriously damaged. Further minesweeping was attempted on Thursday 11th March 1915, but gunfire was so heavy that the trawlers soon withdrew.

On the night of 14th/15th March 1915, the trawlers headed for positions above the mines to be swept, but heavy fire disabled all the working crews of two trawlers. The light cruiser Amethyst was near Kephez Point [when it] was also hit

Thursday 18 March 1915 saw the final naval attack on the Narrows. With Admiral de Robeck now in command (after Carden withdrew due to illness) an all-out attack was launched against the Narrows defences by most of the 14 British and 4 French capital ships in three main groups. Canopus and Cornwallis were reserved for minesweeping cover that night. Line A was in action about 11h30, came under fire from concealed guns and howitzers but was not badly hit until Agamemnon and Inflexible began to suffer.

Queen Elizabeth, was hit frequently on superstructure, but not seriously damaged, and continued in operation with few if any casualties French Line B with Prince George and Triumph passed through Line A at 12h20. Suffren was badly damaged, Gaulois badly holed and had to be beached on Rabbit Island, then as Bouvet passed back through British Line A, she blew up near the Asiatic shore around 13h45.

The British 2nd Division ships proceeded to take the place of the retiring French. At 15h14 there was a heavy explosion alongside Irresistible from a heavy shell. Between 15h30 and 16h00 mines were reported where Bouvet went down. Shortly after Inflexible exploded one, then Irresistible and, after trying to tow Irresistible clear, Ocean detonated yet another nearly two hours later.

This was a new and unsuspected line of mines which had been laid be night by a small Turkish vessel in an area where maneuvering of capital ships had been noted. The general recall for all ships was then hoisted.

The battle cruiser Inflexible immediately flooded, and settling by the head, made for Tenedos and although water continued to rise, reached there with difficulty an hour and a half after the explosion.

The Irresistible, with 2nd Division, had been badly hit and was drifting with engines stopped about 16h15. She was then mined near Eren Keui Bay and the engine-room quickly flooded, leaving both engines disabled. Ocean was ordered to stand by to tow but Irresistible could not be saved; abandon ship was ordered under heavy fire and Ocean withdrew. The Ocean began withdrawing under heavy fire from Dardanos and other forts. Around 1805, she detonated a mine and was also hit by a shell. The tiller-room and starboard steering engine-room flooded and repairs were not possible.

The loss of Bouvet, Irresistible, Ocean and near-fatal damage to Inflexible were all due to the line of just 20 mines laid in Eren Keui Bay parallel to the Asiatic shore by a 365t auxiliary minelayer Nousret or Nusret. The French Suffren and Gaulois were also seriously damaged. The final Allied attempt to break through to Constantinople by naval power alone was over in just one day, with three capital ships sunk and three out of action out of the 16 taking part. This was a major disaster which led then to the use of land forces and the disaster of Gallipoli.

Although Churchill was on the losing side, in reviewing these actions the Turks who survived a possible defeat could rightfully paraphrase his later Battle of Britain speech for their efforts and say: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few (the crew of the Nusret)". It also showed the extreme effectiveness of mines when ships are forced to manoeuvre in confined spaces.

The Main Talk was presented by Mr Simon Pearse, brother of Fellow Member Dr Chris Pearse, whose topic was somewhat intriguing entitled "Mongolia and the Yam Rider". Besides the military history aspect, Simon's talk gave us an insight into the Mongol Derby, a 1000km horse race across Mongolia, described by the Guinness Book of Records as the longest horserace in the world, an event that he has now completed twice.

Mongolia can be best described as otherworldly. It is an inhospitable land half the size of Europe, inhabited by less than three million people. Half live in the Capital City, Ulaanbaatar, and about 30% are nomadic, living off the land with herds of horses, goats, sheep, Yaks, and some cattle. Their diet is mostly dairy products in the summer, mare, goat and yaks milk, and meat in the winter. Everything goes into the pot. They revere the horse and their herds reflect their wealth and social status. There are more horses in Mongolia than people. They are people of the land reflected in their worship of the spirits of the sky, land and water inter alia, as nature determines their survival from one season to the next. A bad winter, with temperatures falling to -50 C, can wipe out half their livestock.

Mongolia has a unique history and the Mongols have had an astonishing impact on the history of the last millennium. They revere Genghis Khan completely. He was voted "man of the millennium" by the Washington Post - but why?

In 1206 he united the tribes of Mongolia and over the following twenty five years forged the largest land empire in history, twice what the Romans achieved in five hundred years. He laid waste to the cities of northern China, middle Asia and northern Persia. His sons and grandsons laid waste to the cities of the Middle East, never to recover. He murdered, it is believed, in the tens of millions. Stalin would never have been chosen "man of the millennium", so why this Mongolian warlord?

To make a mark on humanity, it seems that you need to be a revolutionary; in the form of a soldier, politician, philosopher, explorer, scientist or artist. There are three possible reasons why historians voted Genghis Khan "Man of the Millennium":

This is where Simon's story begins. Genghis Khan created the first passport. He set up a communication system across the empire called the "Yam". It was comprised of Morin Urtuus, or horse stations, run by nomadic families, all about 40km apart. A horse could gallop 40km without tiring, so a Yam rider, carrying a metal disc, the passport, would carry a message rapidly across the empire, swapping horses every 40km; the original pony express.

The Mongol Derby is a recreation of the Yam. It is a 1000km race across the Steppe, during which riders swap horses every 40km at Morin Urtuus. It is largely unsupported, aside from vets and medical backup, with a rider allowed five kilograms of kit. Food and shelter is from the local Mongolian nomads, and there is no defined route aside from twenty seven waypoints on a GPS marking the horse stations.

The two speakers were thanked in the appropriate manner by Ken Gillings, who congratulated Professor Everitt and Simon Pearse on their superbly presented and well illustrated talks.


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 8th October 2015:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:
"The Building of Castle Eyre", by Prof Franco Frescura
Main Talk: "The Cruiser Night Action, 13th / 14th November 1942", by Roy Bowman.

Future Meetings:

Thursday 12th November 2015:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:
"General George Patten and Sicily", by Maj Dr John Buchan
Main Talk: "Four little whalers from Durban to the Mediterranean in 1940", by Donald Davies.

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.

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 unch 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 /