South African Military History 


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 127
April 2015

SAMHSEC’s annual general meeting took place in lieu of both the open house series and the curtain raiser. The Chairman’s and Treasurer’s reports (see attachments to Newsletter 126) were adopted. The Chairman informed the meeting that contingency plans are in place for Eskom blackouts. The following committee was elected for 2015/16:

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn
Secretary: Franco Cilliers
Treasurer and venue co-ordinator: Dennis Hibberd
Speaker co-ordinator: Andre Crozier
Field trips co-ordinators: Ian Pringle
  Stephen Bowker
Social co-ordinator: Donna Cilliers
Co-ordinator for country members: John Stevens
Scribes: Pat Irwin and
  Anne Irwin

The following decisions were taken:

SAMHSEC is to continue with 12 meetings per year consisting of three presentations, namely a five minute presentation on varying subjects, a 15 minute curtain raiser and a 40 minute main lecture. A speaker requiring more time should reserve more than one slot. The May meeting will be held in Grahamstown on the 16th – the third Saturday of the month, with a field trip in the morning. The November meeting will be on the second Saturday of that month with a Port Elizabeth field trip in the morning followed by a meeting in the afternoon. There will be two weekend field trips during the year: 6th and 7th June and 14th – 16th August.

The main lecture, titled Amphibious operations – SADF capabilities and plans at the end of the southern Africa ‘30-year war’was presented by General McGill Alexander.

The battles in south eastern Angola between the SADF and UNITA on the one side and the Cuban and MPLA forces on the other during 1987 resulted in a change of strategy by both sides and a start to a negotiated settlement for SWA/Namibia. In the climate of mistrust that prevailed, however, Cuba began a massive build-up of forces in south western Angola, opposite Owamboland. This led to the South Africans preparing a pre-emptive operation to counter a possible invasion.

By then the SA Navy had developed a very limited offensive amphibious capability for its modest Marine Branch, including the building of small landing craft known as D-80 boats. These were operated from the SAS Tafelberg and SAS Drakensberg. An offensive Marine Amphibious Company (MAC) was formed along the lines of an infantry company, but equipped with some heavier weapons, while a specially trained Amphibious Boat Squadron (ABS) crewed the D-80 boats.

A decision was made in 1987 to develop an amphibious capability within the SA Army, supported by the Navy. Project TELJOY was registered and 44 Parachute Brigade tasked with building up this capability. A Naval amphibious exercise in Saldanha Bay was attended by the paratroopers and a start made on cross-training the paratroopers for this new role.

During planning for the operation to pre-empt the Cuban threat, the paratroopers identified the port of Namibe as crucial in the logistic support of the Cuban forces in southern Angola, and were authorised to plan a raid on the town to destroy harbour and rail facilities. The plan was approved by the Chief of the Army and the Minister of Defence and given the code-name Operation KWÊVOËL. It was held in abeyance, however, pending the outcome of political negotiations for a settlement in SWA/Namibia and a possible withdrawal of the Cubans from Angola.

The plan envisaged an assault on the Angolan town by a parachute battalion group of 1 000 troops and 16 vehicles, approximately half of which would be delivered by parachute and the other half by means of an amphibious landing. There would be a first-light attack, supported by naval gunfire, but without close air support because of the distance involved. Specific targets would be destroyed and that night the withdrawal would take place to the ships under cover of darkness. For this, a composite airborne/amphibious unit known as 14 Parachute Battalion Group was formed and held in readiness.

The operation remained on hold, however, because of the political negotiations. Nevertheless, a joint exercise called STRANDLOPER, involving the paratroopers with the SA Navy and SAAF, was held at Walvis Bay in August 1988 as a dress rehearsal for the operation. Preceded by an intensive period of training in the desert and with the Navy, it formed part of Exercise MAGERSFONTEIN, the largest naval exercise held by South Africa at the time.

All aspects of the actual operation were fully rehearsed, except the parachute drop, due to the non-availability of the aircraft: they were flying SADF equipment out of Angola at the time. The successful night landing of the amphibious elements (over 400 men and several vehicles) went without a hitch and the attack was carried out on simulated targets in the Pelican Point area with naval gunfire support. The SAS Tafelberg had remained at sea throughout the day, up to 180km from Walvis Bay, but when night fell it was again just 8km off the coast for the withdrawal. That night a total of 1010 men were brought aboard the ship within four-and-a-half hours, using the six Delta boats and two helicopters.

The political settlement ensured that the envisaged attack never took place. In retrospect, Operation KWÊVOËL, the planned SADF airborne/amphibious raid on the Angolan port of Namibe, would probably never have been carried out because of the risks that it would have entailed. It remains a fact, however, that the concept was a prime example of a possible strategic action by a relatively small contingent of paratroopers, completely independent of any other ground forces. It would have been a classic example of the indirect approach, aimed at paralysing the enemy by severing his logistic lines and showing the value of both airborne and amphibious forces.

Although another, more ambitious amphibious exercise did take place the following year, the conventional war had by then ended, there was no longer a need for an offensive amphibious capability and the defence budget was being heavily slashed. Project TELJOY was terminated, the Marines were disbanded in 1990 and the SADF’s brief venture into amphibious operations came to an end.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next meeting will be at 19h30 on Monday 13th April at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser will be by Richard Tomlinson, titled Lake Malawi,while the main lecture will be Collisions and naval accidents, to be delivered by Barry de Klerk.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemenebelang


SAMSHEC extends condolences to the Duffel-Canham family on the passing of Peter's sister, Glynis Baer, on 9th March.

Membership subscriptions

There are still a few annual membership subscriptions outstanding for 2015. These were technically due on 1st January and, if not renewed by the end of March, it will be assumed that those concerned no longer wish to continue their membership.

Buffalo Volunteer Rifles Museum

BVR is currently undergoing alterations and maintenance resulting in the temporary closure of its excellent museum. With the help of BVR historian Tony Step, the East London Museum has mounted a First World War exhibition which will be on display until the end of the year.

World War I Centenary Year / Eerste Wêreldoorlog Eeufeesjaar

German South West Africa

During March and April 1915, South Africans, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, General Louis Botha, continued their advances into GSWA. By the end of April four separate forces were advancing: the Central Force from Luderitzbucht towards Keetmanshoop; a Southern Force striking across the Orange River from Upington and moving north towards Keetmanshoop and the railway terminal at Kalkfontein; an Eastern Force marching across the Kalahari from Kuruman; and a Northern Force, under direct command of Louis Botha, advancing eastwards from Swakopmund to Windhuk. Botha had won his impressive victory against entrenched German positions at Riet and Pforte on 20th March. From the German perspective resistance was largely a delaying action as they had neither the manpower nor the resources to seriously confront the much larger South African army.

[Unable to display map of The thrust of the four forces invading German South West Africa in 1915]

Major engagements in March and April 1915

The Battle of Neuve Chapelle

Fought between 10th and 13th March 1915, the Battle of NeuveChapelle was originally intended to comprise part of a wider Allied offensive in the Artois region. However, delays in the arrival of relieving British troops for Ypres, owing to a redirection of effort towards Gallipoli, resulted in the attack on NeuveChapelle being launched as a distinct action in its own right.

The Attempt on the Dardanelles Narrows

Having paused to consolidate following the clear failure of the previous month's attempts to batter the Turkish protective fortresses on the Gallipoli peninsula, a further naval effort was briefly launched on 18th March in an attempt to break through The Narrows: so-named because just 1 600 heavily-mined metres separated the shore on either side.

Battle of Shaiba

Following the British successes at Basra in November and Qurna in December 1914, Turkish forces withdrew up the Tigris to prepare an offensive in April with a view to retaking Basra. Shaiba and Qurna were bombarded on 11th April, followed by an infantry battle on the 14th, after which the Turks withdrew. It was the last time the Ottomans would threaten Basra. After the battle the British generally held the initiative in Mesopotamia.

Second Battle of Ypres

Following the First Battle of Ypres the previous autumn, the Second Battle of Ypres was fought from 22nd April to 25th May 1915 for control of the strategic Flemish town of Ypres in western Belgium. It marked the first mass use of poison gas on by Germany the Western Front. As part of this wider battle, the Battle of Gravenstafel was fought on 22nd and 23rd April. It was followed on 24th April by the Battles of St Juliaan(including Kitcheners’ Wood) from24th April to 5th May. This was the first time a dominion force, the 1st Canadian Division, defeated that of a European power on European soil.

The landing at Cape Helles

The first amphibious landing on the Gallipoli peninsula took place by Australian, New Zealand, British and French forces on 25th April. Although Helles, at the foot of the peninsula, was the main landing area, it was in concert with other diversionary and feigned landings. These and related subsequent actions, mismanaged by the British commanders, together with effective Turkish defence, resulting in massive casualties and, ultimately, Allied withdrawal from the peninsula in January 1916.

TheFirst Battle of Krithia

The Battle of Krithia was the first Allied attempt to advance after the Gallipoli landings. Starting on 28th April, three days after the Landing at Cape Helles, the attack broke down due to good Ottoman defence, poor leadership and planning, lack of communications and exhaustion and demoralisation of the Allied troops.

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

Ancient warfare

Oldest Roman Fort Protected Soldiers from 'Infamous Pirates'
Charles Q. Choi, Live Science 16th March 2015

World War I

Anzac phantom current: Gallipoli’s biggest myth exploded
Ian McPhedran 18thMarch 2015

Sunken WWI U-Boats a Bonanza for Historians: Explorers find dozens of WWI U-Boats off United Kingdom coast
War History Online / Der Spiegel 22nd July 2013

Hitler hypnotized during World War I
Pravda 29th July, 2009

World War II

Did Hitler Want to Destroy This New York Basement?

The Household Cavalry — the Mounted Regiment and its Horses


30 stunning pictures of Spitfires
War History Online 25th December 2014

How the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight keeps Spitfires and Lancasters in the air
Angus Batey Mail Online15th August 2010

Victoria Crosses

Lance Corporal in 1 Parachute Regiment awarded the Victoria Cross for actions in Afghanistan
Ben Farmer The Telegraph 26th February 2015

10 living Victoria Cross recipients
The Telegraph 27th February 2015

Resource materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundigebelang

Aslet Clive 2013 War Memorial: The story of one village’s sacrifice from 1914 to 2003 London Penguin Books

War memorials are present in most South African towns and on the many battlefields scattered around the country. Each bears the names of those who have died in one of the wars over the last century. All raise questions such as: Who are these people? Where did they come from? What were they like? Who did they leave behind? Under what circumstances did they die?

Would that there comes to be a South African equivalent of Clive Aslet’s book which focuses on the war memorial in the village of Lydford in Devon, England. The memorial covers a wide geographical spread and crosses a century in time.

It is with considerable attention to detail that Aslet traces the social, economic and familial circumstances of the twenty-two men and one woman whose names appear on the memorial. While most died in the two World Wars, the memorial also includes victims from the Falklands War and the conflict in Iraq.

Aslet expertly weaves information about these individuals with contemporary sources to create a broad and insightful view of the circumstances in which they fought and died. In doing so, he makes a valuable contribution to the intersection of social and military history. The narrative flows easily and is effortlessly informative. It is an excellent way of bringing that particular war memorial ‘alive’ and of kindling a meaningful way of remembering those whose lives it commemorates.

Aslet’s book is a touching tribute to a group of ordinary people caught up in events over which they had little control. It will, hopefully, pave the way for more of its kind the world over so that, as Aslet says, such memorials will “continue to be bearers of meaning.”



The 1968 film Majuba, staring Patrick Mynhardt, James White and Ian Yule, is to be re-released on DVD. It will be available at Musica stores @ between R100 - R150.00


Soldiers’ kit from 1066 to 2014

The Telegraph 27th February 2015

War History Online is an interesting resource. Two examples of the material to be seen are:

Members are invited to send in to the scribes, short reviews of, or comments on, books, DVDs or any other interesting resources they have come across, as well as news on individual member’s activities. In this Newsletter, there have been contributions by Richard Tomlinson, Malcolm Kinghorn, Barry Irwin, Michael Irwin, Andrew van Wyk and Peter Duffel-Canham.

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn:
Secretary: Franco Cilliers:
Scribes (Newsletter): Anne and Pat Irwin:


On the west (left) side of the road between Cradock and Hofmeyr, 34km from Cradock and about 40 metres before the 25km sign to Hofmeyr stands a roughstone monument. It can only be viewed from about 10 metres away as there is a barbed wire and jackal-proof fence between it and the road, so that binoculars or a long lens are needed to see any detail. The structure stands about 1½ - 2 metres high. On it is a small plaque made of what looks like slate. It has a picture of a horse and some writing scratched on it. Above the horse is ‘SWO’ and below it what appears to be ‘3 okt 1838’.

Does anyone have any idea of the origins or significance of this monument? 1838 may give us a hint as this was during the period of the Great Trek, many of which participants came from the Cradock District. It is also one of several dates attributed to the Battle of Vegkop, a major Trekker victory. Perhaps it has a more domestic intention such as a tribute to a much loved horse?

South African Military History Society /