South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 486
August 2016

Ken Gillings 031 702 4828
Roy Bowman 031 564 4669

Death of Matthew (“Midge”) Carter.

We regret to advise that one of the Society’s earliest members, Matthew Carter, has passed away in Perth, Australia. Known affectionately as “Midge” (he was over 1.8 m tall), Midge was a stalwart in the KZN Branch of the Society until he relocated with his family to Australia, and was a regular contributor to the Military History Journal. We convey our sincere condolences to his wife Trish and his Family.

"Midge" Carter

Our first speaker for the July 2016 meeting was Fellow Member and recently elected Honorary Life Member of the SA Military History Society, Brian Thomas, whose talk was entitled: "The last man to leave Delville Wood”. Brian’s talk was extremely relevant because it was almost 100 years ago to the day that the Springbok Soldier was ordered to take and hold the Wood “…at all costs”.

Our speaker is one of South Africa’s foremost experts of medals, so appropriately he dealt with a single medal group relevant to the events in the Somme during WW1. British campaign medals over the last 200 years have, with only very few exceptions, been impressed with the recipient’s name, rank and regiment.
They represent a man’s service to King and Country, and to a medal collector, this opens up exciting opportunities for research about the man himself, or the history of the regiment and the part it played in a certain war, and even to a particular battle.
The medals of Captain Garnet Green were added to Brian’s collection more than thirty years ago and it is his story which he dealt with as part of his presentation.

Our speaker briefly reminded us of this epic battle in South Africa’s military history, before considering the story of the last man to leave the trenches.

Using a power-point presentation, the first picture told the story of timber in two different forms. In the background a forest of trees almost totally destroyed; and in the foreground a growing cemetery of wooden crosses.

John Buchanan in his book “The History of the South African Forces in France” says
“….among the many Brigades in France, the SA Infantry Brigade may be said, without boasting, to have had no superior and not many equals”
The Times of London in 1917 stated – “No battlefield on all the Western Front was more bitterly contested than as “Devil’s Wood”, where fighting, practically uninterrupted and intense, went on for six consecutive weeks from mid July, till August 26th of 1916”

Using a map of the Western Front as at 30 June 1916, before the Battle of the Somme, which was fought between 1st July and 18th November, Brian pointed out the locality of Delville Wood, which is east of Amiens and north of the Somme River, and measured only 1.3 by 1.1 kms.

The front line extended from the English Channel just south of Ostend to almost the Swiss border, over nearly 600 kms.

The SA Brigade formed part of the 9th Scottish Division, together with the two Scottish Brigades, numbered 26 and 27.

These two Brigades were in action at the village of Longueval on 14th July, with the SA Brigade in reserve as they were then considered to be inexperienced in trench warfare.
By the afternoon Longueval remained untaken in its entirety, so the SA Brigade was called in as reinforcements. With Longueval taken, the South Africans were ordered to take, and then to hold the adjacent DW “at all costs”, beginning at 05h00 on the 15 July 1916.

Taken from a Commonwealth War Cemeteries map, Brian showed only a small area of the Somme battlefield measuring 20 x 20 kms, on which about 90 numbered cemeteries were indicated, including the Delville Wood Cemetery and the S.A. National War Memorial.

On 14th July the strength of the SA Brigade is recorded as 121 officers & 3 052 other ranks.
Six days later, at 6pm on 20 July when Col Thackeray marched out of Delville Wood, the remnants under his command consisted of 2 wounded subalterns and 140 other ranks.
Ian Uys in his book “Roll Call”, records the names of 4 082 men who he considers to have been in DW, established by scrutiny of record cards and personnel files retained by the SANDF archives.
Only 700 officers and men were able to parade before their General on 22 July, in the ironically named “Happy Valley”.

The extent of the SA casualties illustrated - 2 536 in all, representing 62% of Uys’s 4 082. Officer casualties were at 85%: 105 out of 123.
Sadly, a further 510 of all survivors would lose their lives before the end of the war.

Of the 763 South African dead and missing at Longueval and Delville Wood, only 151 are buried in the Delville Wood cemetery, and 70 of these are of unknown soldiers. A small number are known to be buried in nearby cemeteries.

The majority of the South African dead have no known graves, and their names are commemorated amongst 868 South Africans on the Thiepval Memorial to the 73 087 Missing of the Somme battlefields, 90 % of these casualties of 1916.

The remains of approx. 612 men of the SA Brigade can be assumed to be in Longueval and Delville Wood – still in the trenches, rifle pits and shell holes where they fought and died.

Brian then dealt with the main subject of his talk. This was the story of Second Lieutenant Garnett George Green of the 2nd S .A. Infantry Regiment, and where he found the statement that he was the last to leave the trench on 20 July when relief arrived after six horrific days of fighting.

At 6 pm on that final day 20th July, the last 3 officers and 140 other ranks were relieved and marched out of DW. All are named in Ian Uys’s book “Roll Call”
Of this group, Colonel Thackeray and Second Lieutenant Garnett Green and 81 other ranks had entered the Wood on 15th July, and are thus the only men to have endured the full six days of the fighting.

Second Lieutenant Phillips and 59 other ranks of the Trench Mortar Battery had only been sent in as reinforcements on 18th July.

Green was born at Dundee in 1889, and was educated at the local secondary school. He was unmarried, and employed in the Native Affairs Department in Pretoria at the time of his enlistment in the Great War.

Captain Garnett Green

He had served as a Trooper in the Natal Carbineers from August 1905 until November 1911. During this period he participated in the 1906 Poll Tax (Bhambatha) Rebellion and was on active service for three periods between 9th February 1906 and 24th December 1907.

For this he received his first medal, the Natal Medal with clasp 1906. Green re-enlisted as a Trooper with the 1st Mounted Rifles (Natal Carbineers) on 25th August 1914, and served during the campaign in German South West Africa from August 1914 to May 1915.

He was present at the Battle of Gibeon on 27th April 1915. Gibeon now appears on the Regimental Colour of the Natal Carbineers as one of its proud record of 35 Battle Honours from 1877 to 1989. For the campaign in German South West Africa, Green was awarded the 1914-15 Star.

Discharged on 23rd July 1915, he re-enlisted five weeks later on 1st September 1915 as a Lance Corporal in B Company of the 2nd SA Infantry Regiment, of the S.A. Overseas Expeditionary Force.

After training at Potchefstroom, the S.A. Brigade went to England for further training, and then saw their first action against the Senussi in Egypt between January and March 1916.

Green was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant on 16th March 1916.

He was wounded on 18th July on the fourth day of the battle of DW whilst in command of C Company of the 2 SAI, but remained engaged in action.

This was the day of the greatest casualty losses to the South Africans, in total 260 killed and missing, excluding the wounded and those who died of wounds after this date. Green’s battalion - the 2nd SAI - lost 82 killed.

German regimental histories record that 116 field guns and upwards of 70 medium and heavy guns, not to mention howitzers of every calibre, were used in the bombardment, firing 20 000 shells in 7 ½ hours.

Medical treatment received after the battle, was to keep Green out of action until 8th September 1916. In the War Diary entry for 20th July, the last day of the South African involvement, Lt-Col Thackeray wrote the following:
“Heavy shelling and sniping continued. In the evening the few details left with me in Buchanan Street were relieved by the Suffolk Regiment. These details consisted of, 1st SAI nine OR, 2nd SAI one officer Lt Green and 33 OR, 3rd SAI 14 OR, 4th SAI 25 OR, Light Trench Motor Brigade one officer Lt Phillips and 59 OR.”

Thackeray then goes on to give figures for his own regiment:
“3rd SAI which marched into DW on 14th July and on relief, re-joining the Brigade on 21st, mustered only 1 officer (himself) and 104 OR – 28 officers and 749 OR being killed, wounded and missing.”

For his gallantry at DW, Green was awarded the MC. The hand written recommendation dated 3rd October reads as follows:
“This officer was sent up to the Front Line at DW to take over C Company of 2 SAI after all the officers of this Company had been killed or wounded. He behaved with great gallantry and coolness under fire, and by his example put fresh energy and confidence into the remaining men. He kept up communications with Colonel Thackeray who was in command at the time, and moved with his men to support Col Thackeray in Buchanan Street trench, holding a portion of this trench and attacking and dispersing a body of Germans who were endeavouring to dig in about 30 yards away. He was the last to leave the trench when relief arrived, and throughout behaved in a fearless and gallant manner instilling energy and confidence into his men. His conduct on all occasions has been exemplary”(LG 1.1.1917)

The words in the second last sentence “the last to leave the trench when relief arrived” is the basis for Brian’s story.

A study of the decorations awarded for DW makes for interesting reading. Out of 106 recommendations made, there were only 62 decorations awarded, representing 1.2 awards for every 100 men involved.

We all know of the VC awarded to Private William Faulds. There were four others recommended for the VC, but instead these men only received lesser awards.

In Brigadier-General Lukin’s dispatch he recommended Lieutenant-Colonel Thackeray for the VC, but he was only awarded a Distinguished Service Order. Lukin wrote thus:
“Lt-Col Thackeray’s Headquarters had been established in a narrow trench in the south west portion of the wood known as Buchanan Street. Here this gallant officer, in spite of heavy bombardment and constant fierce attacks by the enemy held on with his few remaining men. During the night 18/19 July, several bombing fights took place during which Lt-Col Thackeray’s fine work stimulated his much exhausted men to fight on. Lt-Col Thackeray with the remnants of the force held the south-west portion of DW until the 20th July when he was relieved. I have no hesitation in stating that in my opinion it was the splendid gallantry, fine example and devotion to duty of this officer that enabled the British troops to retain a footing in DW. I recommend that he be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Thackeray’s father received a VC as a Lieutenant with the Bengal Engineers at Delhi during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. His medals are on display in the Ditsong War Museum in Johannesburg.

There are only three cases of father and son both winning the VC, these being Roberts, Congreve and Gouch. Thackeray could have been a fourth.

The 10 Royal Welsh Fusiliers entered Delville Wood at 2.45 am on 20th July and were relieved only 24 hours later at 3 am on 21st July. Two of their men were awarded the VC.

It seems as though the British may have different rules for recognizing gallantry amongst the Colonials… In the second last paragraph of Brigadier General Lukin’s despatch he makes the point that it had been impossible to obtain all recommendations of regimental officers because of the heavy casualties. Green, however, is one of regimental officers and other ranks specifically mentioned by Lukin. This entitled Green to have the bronze oak leaf emblem placed on the ribbon of his Allied Victory Medal.

In 1917 Green was recommended for further gallantry. This time to receive the Distinguished Service Order, but instead he was awarded a Bar to his MC. His medals are shown below.

Captain Garnett Green's medals

The late Don Forsyth, a former Chairman of our Society, in his research has recorded the names of 453 South African recipients of the MC in the Great War, in the six different campaigns in which the South Africans served. Of these officers only 15 received a second award Bar, ten of which were for Belgium & France and seven to Infantry officers.

This recommendation reads as follows:
“For conspicuous gallantry during the afternoon of 12th April 1917, when in order to obtain definite information regarding the result of our attack east of Fampaux, he voluntarily reconnoitred the ground under heavy machine gun fire, and returned with the position clearly shown on his map, and thus cleared up a situation which up to this time was unknown” (20.4.1917 LG 26.7.1917)

The heavy casualties of the three battalions of the SA Brigade involved that day numbered 712
Green was promoted Captain in January 1918.

On 17th February 1918, the South African Brigade was again at Delville Wood, and took the opportunity of holding a Memorial Service on this hallowed ground. At this service, ribbons for gallantry medals were presented to 40 officers and men. The entire Brigade thereafter marched past them in salute.

Green’s Bar to his MC was the highest award given that day. Of the 40 recipients of medals, many would have fought in the epic July 1916 battle, and one can only imagine what their thoughts must have been, with their subsequent gallantry being recognised on that site.

On the UK National Archives website, there is a short silent movie tape of the medal ribbons being presented.

In the last great German Spring Offensive commencing in March 1918, Green commanded B Company of the 2 SAI in a rear guard action at Gauche Wood on 22 March. His stubborn resistance held up the Germans at a critical time, but Green was killed and his Company destroyed.

The Cape Times of 29th March, tells us that Green was mentioned by name in Parliament by the South African Prime Minister General Botha. There cannot be many low ranking officers given such recognition. This is what Botha said:
“I have already referred to the great battle which is being waged, and when one hears of the deeds of valour being performed by our boys one feels ones heart swell with pride, one feels ones blood run thicker through ones veins – one feels proud that we have produced men who have made the whole world speak of their great valour and gallantry (cheers). Our brothers over there in that far away land are conducting themselves in a manner so gallant so brave, that the historian will chronicle their deeds in golden letters (cheers). I have before me the report of the deeds of 120 South Africans under Captain Green. It was at Gauchemont the other day, where the battle was raging with full fury and Captain Green and his 120 men were in the midst of it, and the report which we received shows that these 120 men for 24 hours held up three German divisions (loud cheers). The bravery displayed there by these men was grand – it was a bravery which was even greater than that displayed in the immortal DW battle, Those men who stood there, and have fallen there, have done honour to our name, they have upheld our reputation, they have shown that South Africa produces sons which the world may be proud of (loud cheers)”

In the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Green does not have any known grave.

His name appears with those of 321 South Africans amongst 14 695 names on the Pozieres Memorial to those without known graves who fell during the Fifth Army retreat on the Somme from 21 March to 7 August 1918.

Fellow member and great friend of our speaker Ian Uys found this grave of an unknown Captain in the Gouzeacourt Military Cemetery very close to Gauche Wood.

The headstone reads – “A South African officer (Captain) of the Great War – 7 September 1918. Known unto God” By going through the SA Roll of Honour, Brian found that there are 15 South African Captains with no known grave in Belgium and France.

Of these only four were killed in 1918, and two of these names appear on the Menin Gate Memorial far to the North.

Two were killed on 22nd March, the other being Capt Max Saphir M.C. of the 2nd SAI, seconded to the 4th SAI, born in Russia, but working in Durban when he attested for WW1.

This headstone, therefore, could only be that of either Green or Saphir.

Gauche Wood is almost on the same latitude as DW but 20 km further East. When the German Spring Offensive began on 21st March, the British 5th Army was beaten back over vast areas of the former battlefields of the Somme. The South Africans were almost at the furthest East at a point of the British Line. In only 16 days from 21st March, the Germans were able to push the British back 42 kms, way past the July 1916 Somme battlefield shown, before their advance was halted on 15th June. By the 7th October the British line had regained the territory, and had advanced to 10 kms east of Gauche Wood.

Brian’s contention is that the Germans found Green’s body, identified him as a South African Captain by his badges, and buried him in a marked grave. The grave was later found in September 1918 when the British re-took the ground, and hence the date 7 September appearing on the headstone.

Fairly lengthy letters of condolence to Green’s brother from the Mayor of Pretoria and from Col Christian who commanded the 2 SAI in 1918, have survived. The Colonel describes at length the action of Green’s company, and ends by saying: “Your brother was the best officer we ever had in the regiment and if he had only lived he would have gone far. I am very proud to say that he was a great personal friend of mine”

A few days after Gauche Wood on 25th March, the South African Brigade which then numbered only 500, fought at Marrieres Wood until all ammunition was expended, and having suffered 400 casualties, the remaining 100 were taken prisoner. This action must surely rank second, if not equal to that of Delville Wood.

The Main Talk was presented by Branch Chairman Roy Bowman, and entitled “The Battle of Tassaforonga and Rennell Island”.

In the wake of the Japanese defeat at the two Naval Battles of Guadalcanal, Cruiser Night Action and Battleship Night Action, the Japanese began using submarines to carry ammunition and food to their forces on Guadalcanal. Whilst these missions were successful, the submarines were unable to carry sufficient amounts of these vital commodities and a food crisis began to grow on the island. In an effort to alleviate the situation the Japanese Eighth Fleet devised a new plan which called for buoyant, supply laden drums to be carried to Guadalcanal by destroyer and dropped overboard offshore. The drums would be strung together and could be recovered by personnel ashore. It was thought that this approach would reduce the destroyer’s exposure to danger while increasing the amount of supplies reaching the troops. Planning for the first mission of this phase of the “Tokyo Express”, so named by the American forces on Guadalcanal, was given to Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka and slated for the night of 29th/30th November 1942.

For the mission, Tanaka planned to use the destroyers Oyashio, Kuroshio, Suzukaze, Kagero, Kawazake and Makinami to carry the drums while the destroyers Nagami and Takami would provide a screen. After the two victories of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the Allied naval commander for the area, Rear Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, reorganized his forces. Creating Task Force 67 he assigned to it the heavy cruisers USS Minneapolis, USS New Orleans, USS Northampton, USS Pensacola the light cruiser USS Honolulu as well as the destroyers USS Fletcher, USS Drayton and USS Perkins, equipped with the latest radar controlled gun systems.

Track chart

Based at Espiritu Santo, command of TF 67 was given to Rear Admiral Carleton H. Wright.
Meeting with his captains, Wright outlined his approach for night fighting and stated that he wanted his radar equipped destroyers to scout in front and attack the enemy with torpedoes when contact was made. They were then to clear the area to allow the cruisers to attack. Alerted to Tanaka’s mission through radio intercepts, Halsey ordered Wright to take TF 67 North and intercept the enemy. Departing late on November 29th, Wright picked up the destroyers USS Lamson and USS Lardner en route and assigned them to the rear of his column. After dark on 30th November, Tanaka departed Shortland Islands and began moving down “The Slot” towards Guadalcanal.

Approaching from the Northwest, Tanaka’s destroyers spotted Savo Island at around 21h40 and at around the same time Wright’s TF 67 passed through the Lengo Channel into Ironbottom Sound. An hour later, Tanaka turned around the South end of Savo Island and slowed as his ships approached their unloading points at Doma Reef and Tassafaronga. At 23h06, Wright’s destroyers led by Commander William M. Cole of Fletcher, began to make radar contact with the enemy. Tanaka’s ships, lacking radar, were unaware of the approaching Americans. Six minutes later, lookouts on Takanami spotted Wright’s column, establishing a firm radar fix on Takanami and the destroyers heading for Tassafaronga. Cole requested permission to launch a torpedo attack.

This was vetoed by Wright, who believed the range to be excessive. Cole protested as his ships had an ideal firing set up. Two vital minutes passed before Wright gave permission. During this time, the Japanese had moved into a less ideal position. At 23h16, having been made aware of the American presence, Tanaka ordered the resupply operations suspended and his ships to attack. Four minutes later, Fletcher, Drayton and Perkins fired a spread of Mark 15 torpedoes at the enemy. At 23h21 Wright, aboard Minneapolis opened fire. While the torpedoes failed to score any hits, fire from the American cruisers pounded Takanami. Firing star shells to illuminate the area, Cole and his four destroyers moved to clear the vicinity and began looping around Savo Island to the North.

Within four minutes, Takanami was reduced to a burning wreck. Commanding from Nagami, Tanka turned to Starboard and began laying smoke. To his rear, Kawakaze and Suzukaze turned to Port and each fired eight torpedoes toward the American cruisers. As the battle raged the other four Japanese destroyers passed inshore of Wright’s force. Passing the wreck of the Takanami, Kuroshio fired four and Oyashio fired eight torpedoes at 23h28. Pressing on, Wright maintained his course and speed as the battle progressed and did not conduct evasive manoeuvres of any sort.

At 23h27 Minneapolis was hit by two torpedoes in quick succession. These detonated aviation fuel storage tanks forward of turret one and bent the ship’s bow down seventy degrees. Losing power, the cruiser was soon dead in the water. As Minneapolis was hit, a torpedo struck New Orleans in a similar location causing a forward magazine and fuel storage to explode. This severed the ship’s bow back to just forward of number two turret. Steering around the two damaged cruisers, Pensacola attempted to pass to port but was hit amidships by a torpedo which caused a list and loss of power. Observing this damage Honolulu accelerated and steered to Starboard. Passing unscathed through the area, it fired on Tanaka’s destroyers which had begun leaving the area.

The last cruiser in the American column, Northampton, followed, to pass the two damaged cruisers ahead to starboard. Unlike Honolulu, Northampton did not increase speed or attempt any radical manoeuvres. At 23h48, after returning to base course, Northampton was hit by two of Kawakaze’s Long Lance torpedoes. One hit 3m below the waterline abreast of the aft engine room, and 4 seconds later the second hit 40 feet further aft. The aft engine room flooded, three of the four propeller shafts ceased turning and the ship listed 10 degrees to port, and caught fire! 50 men were killed.

The crew were unable to contain the fires and the list and the ship was abandoned at 01h30 finally sinking at 03h04. Fletcher and Dayton rescued 773 survivors.

Though badly damaged, Minneapolis, New Orleans and Pensacola were able to limp back to Tulagi for emergency repairs. The fighting at Tassafaronga cost Wright one heavy cruiser sunk, three badly damaged and 395 killed. Japanese losses were limited to the loss of one destroyer, Takanami, and 197 killed. Though the three American cruisers were repaired, they were out of action for nine months. A disaster for the U.S. Navy, it reduced American cruiser forces in the Pacific to four heavy cruisers and nine light cruisers. Despite the defeat, Wright was awarded the Navy Cross for his performance, while Halsey tried to pin the blame on Cole for launching the torpedo attack from long range and then leaving the area, rather than staying to aid the cruisers. Though a tactical victory for the Japanese, the battle had prevented Tanaka from releasing the drums of supplies. Over the next two weeks, three attempts were made to land drums of supplies. While a mission on 3rd December successfully released 1500 drums, the majority were destroyed by Allied aircraft the next morning, before they could be recovered. Subsequent missions on 7th December and 11th December also failed to land a meaningful amount of supplies.

Unable to adequately resupply their forces ashore, the Japanese began to contemplate withdrawing from Guadalcanal. On December 12, the Japanese Navy officially proposed that the island be abandoned. Still believing that victory was possible, the Japanese Army opposed such a move. After some debate, the Imperial General Headquarters, eventually, on 31st December, ordered the island to be evacuated.

Designated Operation Ke’, the evacuation, was scheduled to begin on 14th January 1943. The removal of ground forces was scheduled for later in the month and was to be preceded by an air superiority campaign commencing on 28th January. With the situation rapidly deteriorating, the Japanese successfully evacuated the balance of their forces from the island in early February 1943.

Our speaker then referred to the Battle of Rennell Island. Learning of Japanese ship and aircraft movements associated with Operation Ke’, the Allies misinterpreted the intelligence and believed that the Japanese were planning a new offensive. Assessing the intelligence reports, the Commander South Pacific Forces and South Pacific Area, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, hoped to draw the Japanese Naval Forces into battle. In addition, he sought to deliver fresh US Army troops to Guadalcanal to aid in finishing the ground campaign. To this end, he deployed five Task Force Groups in the waters around the Solomon Islands in late January 1943. Amongst these ships was Task Group 62.8 which consisted of four transports carrying US Army units and four escorting destroyers. Forward of T.G. 62.8, operating between Rennell Island and Guadalcanal, was Rear Admiral Robert C. Giffen’s Task Force 18, which consisted of the heavy cruisers USS Wichita, USS Chicago, repaired after the first action of the Guadalcanal campaign, and USS Louisville as well as the light cruisers USS Montpelier, USS Columbia and USS Cleveland. Giffen’s force also contained the escort carriers USS Suwannee and USS Chenango, converted Oilers, along with eight destroyers.

Map of battle area

Although Giffen was charged with screening TG 68.2, he also had orders to rendezvous with destroyers from Tulagi for a sweep up “The Slot”, North of Guadalcanal. Realizing that he would miss the rendezvous due to the slow speed of Suwannee and Chenango, he detached the two carriers along with two destroyers at 14h00 on 29th January.

Concerned about Japanese submarines he formed his remaining ships for anti- submarine defence and increased speed to 24 knots. Steaming North, Giffen’s cruisers were in two parallel lines of three, whilst his six destroyers were deployed forward. While TF 18 was being followed by Japanese submarines, it was also being tracked by enemy aircraft. Using these sightings, the 705 Air Group launched 16 Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers from Rabaul. This force was soon followed by 16 Mitsubishi G3M “Nell” bombers from the 701 Air Group. Led by Lieutenant Tomo Nakamura and Lieutenant Commander Joji Hagai respectively, all of the Japanese aircraft were armed with torpedoes, the aerial version of the highly successful “Long Lance” torpedo.

As the sun set TF 18’s combat Air Patrol returned to the two escort carriers. Around this time, Giffen’s ships began to detect the approaching Japanese aircraft on radar. Operating under radio silence, Giffen provided no guidance regarding how to proceed.

Having lost an aircraft due to engine trouble, the remaining 31 Japanese bombers circled around to the East so that they could attack out of complete darkness with the American ships silhouetted against the twilight.

Attacking at 19h19, Nakamura’s bombers failed to score any hits on Giffen’s ships and lost an aircraft to American fire. Thinking the attack was over, Giffen directed his ships to cease evasive manoeuvres and resume a course for Guadalcanal. Tracked by a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft, which marked TF 18’s course with coloured floating flares, the American ships were struck by Hagai’s bombers at 19h38. Launching their torpedoes, the Japanese hit Chicago with two torpedoes which brought the cruiser to a standstill. A third struck Wichita but failed to explode. In the attack, two bombers, including Hagai’s, were shot down. Ceasing fire, TF 18 successfully hid in the darkness until the last Japanese aircraft left the area at around 23h35. Taking Chicago in tow, Louisville steamed South with her stricken charge.

In an effort to protect Chicago, Halsey directed that a task force centred on the Enterprise move to the cruisers aid and ordered the fleet tug USS Navajo North to take over towing duties from Louisville. An enhanced CAP consisting of aircraft from the two escort carriers and Enterprise was in place at dawn and the tow was transferred to Navajo by 08h00. Although several Japanese reconnaissance aircraft entered the area during the morning, they were chased off by the CAP but not before reporting Chicago’s position. Using this information the 751 Air Group launched 11 G4M “Betty” bombers from Buka at 12h15.

Although aware of the enemy’s approach, via reports from Australian Coast Watchers, Halsey directed TF 18’s cruisers to leave Chicago and make for Efate at 15h00. Departing, Giffen left six destroyers to escort Chicago and Navajo. Thirty minutes later the CAP downed a “Betty” that was scouting ahead of the main force. At 15h45 Enterprise detected the approaching bomber force on her radar.

Initially believing that the Japanese force was targeting Enterprise the CAP fighters engaged them but as they did so the 751 Air Group bombers turned towards Chicago, their original target. Approaching the wounded cruiser, they quickly lost two aircraft before dropping their torpedoes. Turning away they lost a further six bombers to the American escorts fire. One torpedo struck the destroyer La Vallette whilst four hit Chicago.

With his ship fatally damaged, Captain Ralph O. Davis ordered Chicago to be abandoned. Closing the sinking cruiser, Navajo and the destroyers were able to take off 1,049 of her crew. Chicago sank stern first twenty minutes after the attack. Approaching La Vallette, Navajo took the destroyer in tow and the American ships sailed for Espiritu Santo.

In the course of The Battle of Rennell Island, the Allies lost a heavy cruiser and one destroyer badly damaged. Personnel losses totalled 85 killed. Japanese casualties amounted to 60-84 killed and 12 bombers lost. Although Halsey and Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet, were angered over the loss of Chicago, the action at Rennell Island distracted the Japanese and allowed for the successful arrival and disembarkation of US Army forces on Guadalcanal. Conversely, with the withdrawal of TF 18, few Allied naval vessels remained in the immediate area of Guadalcanal, which allowed the Japanese to complete Operation KE’ between February 2 and 7, evacuating 10,652 men from Guadalcanal.

Learning of the Japanese evacuation, after the fact, the Allies declared Guadalcanal secured on 9th February 1943, so ending the campaign.

In summarising the Guadalcanal Campaign, Roy drew our attention to the following main points.
The “Europe First” policy of the United States, had, initially, only allowed for defensive actions against Japanese expansionism in order to focus resources on defeating Germany. However, Admiral King’s argument for the Guadalcanal invasion as well as its success in putting the 1st Marine Division ashore on a Japanese held island, convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt that the Pacific Theatre could be pursued offensively as well.

The Battle of Guadalcanal was the first prolonged campaign in the Pacific. This campaign was a series of battles that strained the logistical capabilities of the combatant nations involved. For the U.S., this need prompted the development of effective combat air transport for the first time. A failure to achieve air superiority forced Japan to rely on reinforcements by barge, destroyers and submarines with very poor results.

Early in the campaign, the Americans were hindered by a lack of resources, as they suffered heavy losses in destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers, with replacements from ramped up ship-building programs still months away from materializing.

The U.S. Navy suffered such high personnel losses during the campaign that it refused to publicly release total casualty figures for years, however, as the campaign continued and the American public became more and more aware of the plight and perceived heroism of the American forces on Guadalcanal, more forces were dispatched to the area. This spelled trouble for Japan as its military / industrial complex was unable to match the output of American industry and manpower. Thus as the campaign wore on, the Japanese were losing irreplaceable units whilst the Americans were rapidly replacing and even augmenting their forces.

The Guadalcanal campaign was costly to Japan strategically and in materiel and manpower losses. Roughly 25,000 experienced ground troops were killed during the campaign. The drain on resources directly contributed to Japan’s failure to achieve its objectives in the New Guinea campaign, which followed Guadalcanal.

The USS New Orleans with her bow missing

Japan also lost control of the Southern Solomon’s and the ability to interdict Allied shipping to and from Australia. Japan’s major base at Rabaul was now directly threatened by Allied air power based on Guadalcanal. Most importantly, scarce Japanese land, air and naval forces had disappeared forever into the Guadalcanal jungle and surrounding seas.

The Japanese could not replace the aircraft and ships destroyed and sunk in this campaign, as well as their highly trained and veteran crews, especially the Naval aircrews, nearly as quickly as the Allies.

So ended the story of the Guadalcanal campaign and the eight most important naval battles of the Second World War in the Pacific.

After a great deal of comment and questions, the Acting Chairman (Lt Col Dr Graeme Fuller) asked Maj Dr John Buchan to convey the thanks of the meeting for two superbly researched and presented talks.

Next Meeting:. Thursday 11th August 2016: Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: “Military Geoscience Survey of our Battlefields” by Michelle Dye. Michelle has been undertaking this survey of KwaZulu-Natal Battlefields, San Paintings and other historical sites for several years and the results are astounding. Main Talk: “Publications: A historiography of the Anglo-Boer War” by Professor Fransjohan Pretorius. Note that Professor Pretorius will be travelling from Pretoria to present his lecture. Professor Pretorius is one of South Africa’s most eminent military historians and an internationally acclaimed authority on the Anglo-Boer War. Two talks that simply should not be missed. FUTURE MEETINGS. Thursday 8th September 2016: Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: “South African memorial devices issued to next-of-kin” by Brian Conyngham. Main Talk: “D-Day 1066” by Charles Whiteing Thursday 13th October 2016: Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: “The WW2 Arctic Convoys of William Foster” by Clyde Foster Main Talk: “Isis” by Maj Peter Williams. Thursday 10th November 2016: Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: “General Patter in Sicily” by Maj Dr John Buchan Main Talk: “The voyage of Admiral von Spee, Sept to Dec. 1914” by Robin Smith Meetings are held at the Murray Theatre, Department of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal Howard College Campus, Durban at 19h00 for 19h30. 2016 BATTLEFIELD TOUR. It has been decided that the 2016 Battlefield tour will take place over the weekend of the 27th and 28th August 2016. The tour will include sites in and around Pietermaritzburg and the Midlands and those wishing to stay over in that area will be welcome to do so. The following sites have been identified for possible inclusion in the itinerary: The Natal Carbineers HQ Fort Napier (including the military cemetery) St George’s Garrison Church Commercial Road cemetery Maritzburg College World’s View Howick Concentration Camp site and graves Goodman Household Aviation Monument, Karkloof No 4 Stationery Hospital military cemetery, Bruntville Maj Gen Sir Edward Woodgate’s grave at Weston Nelson Mandela capture site Several members and guests have agreed to be presenters / guides. These include Lt Col Dr Graeme Fuller, Prof Philip Everitt, Steve Watt, Jack Frost, WO2 Izabel Gebhart, Mathew Marwick and Ken Gillings. We recommend that members use the Ezemvelo / KZN Wildlife chalets at Midmar Dam should they wish to stay over in the area. They are reasonably priced and the following is available at R310 per person per night, bed only: 10 x two sleepers; 5 x four sleepers; 2 x five sleepers. Bookings can be made via the Ezemvelo / KZN Wildlife website or directly with the reservations office on 033 845 1000. There are other lodges and hotels in the area as well, of course but participants are requested to make their own arrangements. We are hoping to arrange a communal dinner but will inform you in due course. The rendezvous will be the Woodburn Shell Service Station (as you enter Pietermaritzburg on the left) at 09h00 for a 09h15 departure. Further details will be circulated in due course. Next Meeting:

Thursday 14th July 2016:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:
“The Last Man to Leave Delville Wood” by Brian Thomas
Main Talk: “The Battles of Tassafarongo and Rennell Island, Guadalcanal” by Roy Bowman.

Future Meetings:

Thursday 11th August 2016:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:
“Military Geoscience Survey of our Battlefields” by Michelle Dye
Main Talk: “Publications: A historiography of the Anglo-Boer War” by Professor Fransjohan Pretorius

Thursday 8th September 2016:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:
“South African memorial devices issued to next-of-kin” by Brian Conyngham.
Main Talk: “D-Day 1066” by Charles Whiteing

Thursday 13th October 2016:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:
“The WW2 Arctic Convoys of William Foster” by Clyde Foster
Main Talk: “Isis” by Maj Peter Williams.

Meetings are held at the Murray Theatre, Department of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal Howard College Campus, Durban at 19h00 for 19h30.


It has been decided that the 2016 Battlefield tour will take place over the weekend of the 27th and 28th August 2016. The tour will include sites in and around Pietermaritburg and the Midlands and those wishing to stay over in that area will be welcome to do so.
The following sites have been identified for possible inclusion in the itinerary:

Several members have agreed to be presenters / guides. These include Lt Col Dr Graeme Fuller, Prof Philip Everitt, Steve Watt, Jack Frost, Robin Smith and Ken Gillings.

We recommend that members use the Ezemvelo / KZN Wildlife chalets at Midmar Dam should they wish to stay over in the area. They are reasonably priced and the following is available at R310 per person per night, bed only:
10 x two sleepers;
5 x four sleepers;
2 x five sleepers.

Bookings can be made via the Ezemvelo / KZN Wildlife website or directly with the reservations office on 033 845 1000.

There are other lodges and hotels in the area as well, of course but participants are requested to make their own arrangements. We are hoping to arrange a communal dinner but will inform you in due course.

Further details will be circulated in due course.


We regret that due to lack of support and interest, the above conference that was scheduled to take place at Talana Museum on the 18th and 19th July 2016 has been cancelled.

South African Military History Society /