South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 126
March /Maart 2015

The meeting on 9th February took place at the Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. Thefinal presentation in Malcolm Kinghorn’s Open House series on Battle Handling, focused on the Principles of War.

The earliest known principles were documented by the Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu,circa 500 BC. The Renaissance philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli published his ‘27 General Rules’ of war in 1521 and Henry, Duke of Rohan, a French soldier, writer and leader of the Huguenots established his ‘Guides for war’ in 1644. The Principles of War identified by Carl von Clausewitz in his essay Principles of War, and later enlarged on in his book On War, which was published posthumously in 1834, have been influential on military thinking in the North Atlantic region. There are, however, no agreed ‘Principles of War’, not even in the NATO alliance. The British Army's ten Principles of War were first published after the FirstWorld War and are based on the work of the British military theorist, General J.F.C. Fuller. These are:selection and maintenance of the aim; maintenance of morale; offensive action; security; surprise; concentration of force; economy of effort; flexibility; cooperation; and sustainability. American General Norman Schwarzkopf had his own ‘Big Five’ principles, namely ‘Achieve your mission’, ‘Look after your soldiers’, ‘Look after your soldiers' families’,‘Build esprit de corps’ and ‘Develop your subordinates’.

The curtain raiser presented by Peter Duffel-Canham was on the topic My Grandmother in World War One. He submitted the following report: My grandmother, Beatrice Lillian Dorcas Davy, was born in a small town in Wales. Her father was a gamekeeper on the estate of the Duke of Norfolk, but by 1908 the family was living in the Borough of Deptford, London.

At the outbreak of World War One, there was a call to arms by the Mayor of Deptford, a Captain Marchant of the 20th London Regiment. Starting on the 7th August 1914, the young men of the area were enlisted. There was also a strong Royal Navy connection with dockyards along the Thames since King Henry VIII. This caused a labour shortage in Deptford factories, among them the Deptford Bridge Tidal Mills, originally powered by the tidal flow of Deptford Creek and later by the large power station able to deliver power to the industries of the area. My grandmother worked in the Robinson Steam Powered Flour Mill for the duration of the War, and as a result had back and lung problems for the rest of her life. She was more fortunate than the ladies in the armaments factories. By 1917, 80 percent of armaments were made by the ‘Canary Girls’, so named because of their yellow skin resulting from exposure to sulphur and TNT.Apart from the riskof explosions, they and their children did not have a long life expectancy.

There were social problems in Deptford too. Firstly anti-German riots, where a mob turned on the local shop keepers, many of them second generation residents of the area, burning their shops and taverns and the flats above, where the families lived. Secondly, 250 000 Belgian refugees were housed in the area, often displacing local residents.

The threat of an air attack on Great Britain was initially not taken seriously, with the emphasis being on coastal defence. The first air raids were on East Anglia, with instructions not to harm the Kaiser’s relatives in London. In January 1915, German Army and Navy Zeppelins flew over London at 11 000 ft., and squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps had to be brought back from the Western Front for home defence.

Deptford had regular Zeppelin raids, notably on 2ndSeptember 1916 by 16 ‘height climbers’ that could operate at 20 000 ft. and again on 5thAugust 1918,by which time the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) had Sopwith Camels armed with incendiary ammunition, rendering the airships vulnerable. Germany then used the Gotha bomber from 1916, with a range of 800km, a 15 000 ft. operational height, and carrying a bomb load of 500kg. Deptford suffered a raid of 22 Gothas in July 1917. Germany also developed the Giant four-engined bomber, carrying a 2000kg load. The last air raid was by a 38 aircraft formation on 19-20th October 1918. It is interesting to note that the London Underground was used as an air raid shelter, and the RFC/RAF saw the effectiveness of heavy bomber raids on their population that influenced their thinking in the Second World War. My grandmother suffered from epilepsy as a result of the stress of working and living with the threat of the air raids.

She left Deptford for South Africa in 1920 when her brother, a Rolls Royce mechanic, accompanied South Africa’s first motorized Merryweather fire engine to the Johannesburg Municipality. She stayed with an aunt in Green Point, Cape Town, and on her daily walk to and from the shop where she worked in the city, she chatted to Richard Duffell-Canham, demobbed from the Royal Navy and then a Customs Officer on the harbour gate. They married in 1921 and their three sons all served in the Navy in World War Two. She said she knew that she was fortunate that all three sons returned safely to her, and that some of her friends were not as fortunate.

My grandmother died at the age of 77, having suffered all her life from problems that could be attributed to her teenage years in the First World War.

The main lecture, by Ian Copley, was titled The Zimmerman Telegram: the sequence of prior events. He submitted the following report: During 1916-1917 Mexico supplied a quarter of the world’s oil at a time when the world’s naval fleets were converting to oil instead of coal. The British fleet was dependent on Mexico for supply, partly due to the holdings there of Lord Cowdray.Various attempts to make an alliance with Mexico had been made by Japan and Germany with offers to recapture Texas and Arizona and a personal attempt by Kaiser Willem II to buy Magdalena Bay in Southern California in 1902.

In 1914, immediately after the declaration of war with Germany, HMS Telconia sailed out to cut Germany’s five international undersea cables. Germany was then dependent on the powerful radio near Berlin to communicate with the fleet and her embassies.

Four radio listening stations were set up along the British coast to monitor German radio traffic and, along with amateur contributions, 200 messages a day reached ‘Room 40’, where the messages were decoded.This was a nondescript title, for a department under the control of Admiral Hall which eventually had 800 wireless operators, 80 cryptographers and clerks.

On 17th October 1914, a German code book was handed to British Naval Intelligence by the Russian Embassy in London. The German light cruiser, Magdeburg, had run aground whilst laying mines in the Gulf of Finland and was spotted by two Russian cruisers. As they approached, the Magdeburg captain ordered his ship to be scuttled and sent a boat out to take the signalman with the lead encased code book to drop in deeper water. By chance, the boat was hit by a shell whilst being lowered, killing the signalman who was still clutching the book when his body was recovered by the Russians.The book had the key to word columns and the key to variable cypher systems and was subsequently used to decode information on Roger Casement, Mata Hari and other agents.

‘Room 40’now had the code 13040, one of two codes needed. The codes used were an arbitrary substitution of letters listed in a code book, or a word substituted for another word. For the duration of the war, Germany never suspected that these communications were being eavesdropped as all their messages were decoded.

When the powerful German radio in Brussels was out of order, it was repaired by a university student of dual nationality. Given access to the consular and diplomatic codes, he copied them and they were sent to ‘Room 40’ via a Belgian agent. After the war, the student was never found again. A free-lance spy in Persia was handed over to the British, but he escaped minus his luggage that eventually reached London. It was found to contain the Berlin - Washington code 13040. This enabled ‘Room 40’to listen to the communications between Berlin and Ambassador Bernstorff in Washington and thus learn of Woodrow Wilson’s peace efforts to avoid the United States entering the war. Wilson would rather broker peace than have America embroiled in the war. Stories of Japanese and German infiltration in California and Mexico also abounded; and the sympathies of German-Americans with questionable loyalty was a cause for concern.

While the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania and other ships got the German Ambassador merely a rap over knuckles, the United States was now suspicious and a watch was placed on German and Austrian embassies.Germany had begun sending messages to the USA via Sweden’s services and then forwarded to Mexico.

1916 was a critical period in the war given the Dardanelles failure; that Romania had surrendered; and that Russia was weakening. The use by Germany of U-boats against neutral shipping was overruled by her government due to the need to avoid USA becoming their enemy.

In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson authorised permission for the German government to send and receive messages in their own cipher between the German Ambassador, Bernstorff, and Berlin via the State Department in both directions. Bernstorff had promised only to transmit messages concerning the peace brokerage.This arrangement was quicker than via the Swedish route and was brokered by Colonel House, a Walter Mitty type of presidential advisor. Under normal international rules such messages should have been in ‘clear’.

Messages from the American Embassy in Berlin went by overland telegraph to Copenhagen, and thence via the Atlantic cable which touched at England. ‘Room 40’ was alerted by the sudden appearance of German cypher in the American traffic.It was an indication of the American simplistic attitude to peace in Europe and Wilson’s rather naïve outlook.

At this stage Germany realised she could not win the war, but she would agree to peace, provided she did not lose what she had gained. The UK and France, however, had no intention of agreeing to a peace. Both countries were bankrupt and heavily dependent on supplies from the USA. The war was costing the UK GBP5.5 million per day.

In November1916, Von Jagalow was replaced by Zimmermann as Foreign Minister. Zimmerman was not one of the Teutonic ‘Vons’ and his personal mission was to avoid the USA becoming an enemy.

In 1916, 200 U-boats were ready. The German intention was to sink ships faster than America could mobilise, and at the same time strangle Britain and France.On 16th January 1917, a request by Zimmermann was sent to Mexico for an alliance against the USA in exchange for U-boat bases. The telegram from Zimmermann was sent via three different routes to Bernstorff for forwarding to Mexico. He attached a longer telegram, No. 157, to Bernstorff with the final decision about theU-boats. Following it, came Zimmerman’s No. 158, most secret instructions to Bernstorff. ‘For Your Excellency’s personal information and to be handed on to the Imperial Minister in Mexico by a safe route.The deadline set for all-out U-boat attacks on any shipping was set for 1st February 1917’.

The telegram read as follows:

The problem was how to release the telegram contents without revealing provenance and then to show it to the Americans. Admiral Hall held on to the telegram for two weeks.
The route of transmission of the telegram was never revealed and its authenticity was questioned by US Senators - a British trick? AGerman plot? It was then put out that the telegram was obtained by a daring spy –who could not be compromised.

There was much disbelief in USA by German sympathisers and pacifists. Zimmerman challenged the US to prove its authenticity. This was difficult as the USA had given its pledge of secrecy to the UK. Then came the inexplicable admission by Zimmermann that he had sent the telegram.

Public opinion in the USA regarded it as a Prussian invasion plot; there was no longer a question of US neutrality. Meanwhile more information revealed that the Germans were trying to stir up anti – US sympathy in Latin America. Incredibly the Germans were still using the ‘betrayed’ code. They thought that a decoded copy of the telegram must have fallen into enemy hands and were trying to find the leak in Washington orMexico City. Bernstorff was already on his way home on a Danish ship when the telegram was published.Admiral Hall ordered the ship to be diverted to Halifax for searching in order to delay Bernstorff’s return with his US pro-peace sentiments. The ship was delayed for 12 days in Halifax to arrive in Germany on 27th February. The Germans now thought it was an American plot; that the leak had come from a Swedish trunk carried amongst Bernstorff’s luggage and that the papers must have been stolen before sailing. Zimmermann appeared in the Reichstag for public debate. He had not followed his own orders to burn compromised instructions.On 18th March three US were ships sunk. The Russian revolution when the Tsar was deposed occurred on 19th March and the United States entered the war on 6th April 1917.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstigebyeenkomsenuitstappe

The next meeting will be at 19h30 on 9thMarch at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The AGM will be held in lieu of the curtain raiser. The main lectureby Mac Alexander will be titled Amphibious Operations – SADF Capabilities and Plans during the Southern Africa 30-Year War.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang
Second World War Award for Bravery

The Russian government has recently awarded the Medal of Ushakov to a number of South Africans who served in the Arctic convoys during the Second World War. This was for personal courage and bravery displayed during these hazardous journeys. The Russian consul general in South Africa travelled to the homes of the recipients to award the medals. One such recipient is James (Jim) Cooper of Port Elizabeth, who served as a Royal Marine on HMS Norfolk at the age of 19. We salute Jim Cooper and his comrade recipients and wish them well.

Battle of Waterloo Bicentenary

The 18th June 2015 will be the bicentenary of the epic and decisive Battle of Waterloo. The following website titled:
Archaeologists and veterans to explore what lies beneath Waterloo Battlefield, 200 years on, is of particular interest in this respect:

S.A. Legion tour to Delville Wood and Ypres in 2016

The South African Legion is planning a Veterans tour to Delville Wood and Ypres in 2016.  The tour may also include a visit to Messines where a memorial to the South Africans is proposed. As the Legion has only just received the ‘official’ dates for the Delville Wood and Arque La Battaille commemorations, the flyer only covers the broad planned tour.

Bekamping van Renosterstropery in die Kruger Nasionale Park (KNP)

The following extract from Wel en Wee van die MilitêreVeterane: BERIG 03/2015 will be of interest to many:
Johan Jooste van die Infanteriedien as Bev SpesialeProjekte in die KNP enrapporteerdat “...  my loopbaanterleiding van die teen-stropingsprojek vir SA NasionaleParke is die grootste uitdaging van my lewe, veral omdat die onwettige internasionale handel in wildlewe-produkte die vierde grootste in die wereld is. Met die onversadigbare vraag uit hoofsaaklik Suidoos-Asië, bied Afrika enspesifiek die KNP die laaste voorrade om die handel te voed. Renosterhoring is ‘n laerisiko, laeinsetkoste en logisties ongekompliseerde smokkel geleentheid. Stropers uit Mosambiek verdien tot R100 000 vir ‘n stel horings, wat finaal vir ongeveer R500 000 verhandel. Die meeste stroping geskied vanuit Mosambiek en hierdie grens van 350 km is deel van die KNP se totale grenslyn van 1000 km. Daar is gewoonlik drie inkursies per dag van stropers in groepies van drie en daar het dus sowat 4 500 stropers die KNP in 2014 betree en meer as 800 renostersgeskiet. Dit is rof en dit gaan nie weggaan nie.

Last year we arrested 386 poachers and seized 179 fire-arms. Fortunately none of our Rangers were killed in the 111 contacts they were involved in. We believe that we reduced the poacher success rate by almost 50% and saved many Rhinos in the process. Our Ranger Corps comprises 400 Rangers, Special Rangers, Protection Services and an Air Wing (four Squirrel helicopters, two Cessna’s and three micro-lites). The Lowveld/ Lebombo Environmental Asset Protection Alliance provide us with support from other Game Parks and allies in the RSA and Mozambique. The legal system is improving with severe sentences and the current success rate is just over 60%. Police and SANDF participation is limited. I was given all the opportunity and space to strategize, plan and execute from the Minister (who leads well) right down through the leadership. Our core strategy and objectives are clear and directed at projects in Mozambique, technology applications and the collapse of crime networks. This part is exciting but taxing due to the limited capacity in all of the ten State Departments responsible for counter-poaching. This task has outstripped the capacity of the state coffers and I was fortunate to mobilize R330 000 the past 18 months and was well received by the Royal Family and even on Capitol Hill. The objectives for the Short Term is the easier part and a portion of it is 54 Bn all over again. If only I could manage to get all participants to match the inputs of the Rangers. Are we winning? Not yet, but we will. Sincere greetings to all and come see us in the Park where we have a second home in Skukuza”.

World War I Centenary Year / EersteWêreldoorlog Eeufeesjaar
German South West Africa

From a South African perspective the major event of 1915 was the Campaign in German South West Africa. A number of engagements also took place in East Africa, foreshadowing South African involvement there from 1916 onwards.

The latter part of 1914 had seen the Afrikaner Uprising, (see Newsletter 118) with some German support, against South African participation in the Great War. South Africa had suffered a defeat at the Battle of Sandfontein in September and there had been fighting in the Keimoes and Kakamas districts of the Northern Cape. In January a combined force of German troops and the remnants of the Afrikaner rebel group had attacked Upington, but were beaten off. On 4th February, Kakamas was attacked by a German force of mounted riflemen and artillery. This was a pre-emptive strike to distract South African invasion plans. The Germans retreated having lost 29 men.

On 11th February General Louis Botha landed at Walvis Bay — a South African enclave — to take direct command of the campaign and soon secured Swakopmund, from where a railway line ran inland eventually to reach Windhuk. He continued to build up his invasion forces, and, having familiarised himself with the terrain and the strength of the German forces, ordered them to advance on 23rd February.South African forces also continued their advance inland from Lüderitzbucht which had been occupied without a fight in September 1914. For more detail see [SA] Military History Journal 13 (2) 42-47.

East Africa

In East Africa the British were the first to violate the Congo Act of 1885 regarding neutrality of the East African colonies in the event of a war. In August, river outposts on the Great Lakes were attacked and Royal Navy warships bombarded Dar-es-Salaam. The German commander of forces in East Africa (a total of 260 Germans of all ranks and 2472 Askari), Lt-Col. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, then began to organise a defence. In November 1914, the British made an amphibious assault on the coastal town of Tanga. It was the first major event of the war in Eastern Africa and saw the British defeated by a significantly smaller force. The Germans scored a second victory over the British at the Battle of Jassin on 19th January 1915. These victories gave von Lettow-Vorbeck badly needed modern rifles and other supplies, as well as a critical boost to the morale of his men.

1915 was also characterised by a number of small engagements on land and on Lake Tanganyika, von Lettow-Vorbeck targeting forts, railways, and communications, with the goal of forcing the Entente to divert manpower from the main theatre of war in Europe. During this period he also developed his guerrilla warfare strategies and tactics which were to serve him well in 1916. The saga of SMS Königsberg also culminated in July 1916 (see SAMHSEC Newsletter 89).

Major engagements in February 1915

The defence of the Suez Canal 3rd February

1915 saw the war spread to Egypt and Palestine.  A Turkish force under Djemal Pasha moved against the British-held Suez Canal, but the defenders broke up the attacks made in pontoon boats and the Turks withdrew.

The Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes opened 7th February

Also known as the Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes, because it began during a heavy snowstorm, this engagement formed part of von Hindenburg's plan for a two-pronged decisive push against Russia by the Germans and the Austro-Hungarians, the aim being to force Russia's defeat and so bring about an end to war on the Eastern Front. In this respect it was not successful. Although vast territory was gained and the Russians suffered massive casualties, the German army was brought to a halt and the Austrians failed to achieve their objectives. Initial Dardanelles bombardment 19th February

A combined British-French naval force commenced bombardment of the Turkish forts on the Gallipoli Peninsula with the aim of neutralising the Turkish defences in preparation for a ground attack.

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

Pearl Harbor Hero Dies at 100

Jonathan Miltimore Warrior 11th February 2015

World War I

A First World War steam convoy still running after 100 years
[A delightful little video clip – something very different.]

First World War officer's time capsule containing perfectly preserved uniform, trench maps and newspapers found tucked away in storage at school history department
Corey Charlton MailOnline 24th January 2015

Forgotten Jewish Great War Poet, introduced to new readers with the help of graphic art
Marjorie Ingall Tablet 8thJanuary 2015

World War II

A final toast for the Doolittle Raiders
Bob Greene CNN Contributor 14th April 2013

Discovery of Nazi secret WMD factory in Austria [Three takes on this one]
#1JennGidman Fox News 1st January 2015
#2 Terrence McCoy Washington Post 30thDecember 2014
#3 The Times of Israel staff 29th December 29

Last of the Few: One of the final surviving Battle of Britain pilots dies aged 98 - leaving incredible archive of aerial photographs
  Sam Matthew Mail Online 17th December 2014

Cold War

USS Nautilus: It is 60 years since the world's first nuclear-powered submarine was launched - the first ‘true’ submarine.
Claire Bowes BBC World Service 22nd January 2014

History in the making

British Royal Marine is world's deadliest sniper
Danny Boyle, and Ben Farmer The Telegraph 2nd Feb 2015

Source materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundigebelang

Internet book access - With Botha and Smuts in South Africa, by W Whittall 1917
For those who may be interested in viewing this book, the URL appears to include the full text. Go to:

Commando comics
Remember them? ‘Commando for Action and Adventure’: a sometimes one-sided view of the past, still going strong. See

An interesting blog on The ‘Warsaw Concerto’: The SAAF and the Warsaw Uprising

We have received the following information via an old soldiers’ network:

A correspondent in England, says that he "... has come across a blog at which contains detail info about the SAAF crews that were killed during this famous relief operation during late 1944 to assist the Polish liberation fighters in Warsaw, popularly known as the Warsaw Concerto. This massive airforce operation was launched from Foggia in Northern Italy and involved 205 Group RAF consisting of four Wings, three from the RAF and one from the SAAF. The overall commander was Maj Gen Jimmy Durrant of the SAAF. The SAAF Wing was made up of 31 and 34 Sqns flying Liberator aircraft. The death toll during this extremely hazardous roof-top height operation, involving a roundtrip distance of more than 3200 km, was very high and numerous South Africans were amongst those killed. The people of Poland have never forgotten their South African allies. Since such deeds of bravery took place 70 years ago, there is a tendency for many people to forget all about them. Sadly, too, some have never even heard of them! It would render a great service to the memory of South Africa's service personnel of WW2 were their names to be brought to the attention of those who continued to serve South Africa over the years since the end of the Second World War".

Members are invited to send 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, Peter Duffel-Canham, Michael Irwin, Andre Crozier and Jonathan Ossher.

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn:
Secretary: Richard Keyter:
Scribes (Newsletter): Anne and Pat Irwin:
Society’s Web address: 

South African Military History Society /