Newsletter No. 483
Prior to the AGM, the outgoing Chairman, Roy Bowman, had the privilege of presenting a framed certificate of Honorary Life Membership of the South African Military History Society to Fellow Member Brian Thomas. Brian attended the first meeting of the Society in Saxonwold and later moved to KwaZulu-Natal, where he has been an active member ever since. He is an internationally acclaimed authority on medals and it is a privilege for us to be able to draw on his vast knowledge of this topic. Brian has presented numerous papers at various Branches of the Society and is a regular contributor on this topic in the field on Branch battlefield tours. Here he is seen on the left, accepting his certificate from Roy Bowman on behalf of the National Chairman and Committee.
Brian Thomas (l) and Roy Bowman
The previous Committee was re-elected en bloc at the Branch AGM on the 14th April 2016. In terms of the Constitution, the Vice Chairman and Honorary Treasurer are to be elected at the first Committee Meeting. The National Chairman is now Mr Jan Willem Hoorweg, whose father PH (Flip) served as Chairman several years ago.
The KwaZulu-Natal Branch Committee now comprises the following members:
John joined the South African Army in 1964. Apart from a FN Semi-automatic rifle, his kit issue had changed very little from that which his father was given during WWII. Training was very strenuous and centred around absolute discipline and the quintessence of how a soldier should act and look.
Combat training was solely based on conventional doctrine as laid down in the SOOM (Staff Officers Operational Manual) and a few other manuals of peripheral value. This based on the four phases of warfare, each with their set principles.
This entailed endless trench digging, night movement, stealth training, weapon training and unending use of rolls of white tape.
During this period of relative peace, the SA Police were experiencing situations of unrest in the country and on the Northern Borders of SWA (Namibia).
Slowly a small part of his training involved Guerrilla Warfare, later known as irregular warfare and much later renamed COIN (counter-insurgency) Ops. This was based on the British successes against the Communist rising in Burma and entailed the development of anti-Riot drills and watching British training films on rainy days. Then there was the unforgettable 'Keeping the Peace' part 1, 2 and 3. Also in view one of the principles of Defence is the Domination of No-man's Land. This was not too different from the extended No-man's land, but without marked own or enemy lines.
With the need for Defence Force intervention on South Africa's borders, the whole system of training changed; new uniforms no longer needed starch or hours of polishing. Though Conventional training was still the basis of a soldier's preparation, the weight of training became South Africa's own development of COIN Warfare. It was one great big No Man's land to be dominated. The principles of warfare were not forgotten, but immediate action drills became the evaluation points.
After a positive evaluation, they were off to the SWA northern borders; at that time tours were four months with a staggered two week leave.
Commanders at all levels were loaded into a Hercules C130. At the same time the rest of the Battalion boarded a troop train bound for Grootfontein. Two hours later they touched down at Rundu Air Force Base, after an unexpected spiralling nose down dive. Before the aircraft came to a standstill on the concrete hardstand the tailgate was lowered and the shimmering heat felt like some giant oven door was opened. The large grey coloured trees surrounding the base were dancing from the mirage.
In the bush
The men were immediately each given 240 rounds of 7.62 ammunition, 120 to fill 5 magazines with the rest in reserve. Various assorted grenades were passed around. They were told to use the 5 water bottles filled in Kimberley, and not drink the local water until they settled in their base. The local borehole water had a very adverse effect until one's stomach got used to whatever lurked therein. The platoon commanders were sworn in as censor officers. This was followed by a two day journey by road to 'The Land of Milk and Honey', where there was a sign that read: "Bring net jul eie koeie en bye" ("Bring your own cows and bees")!
The advance party then proceeded with the handing and taking over procedure, after being given stand-to instructions and a stand-to drill, not unlike the allocation of a lifeboat and the drill done at the start of a cruise. There was one serious omission on their part, however; they had no Chef in the Company to take over this responsibility. They did not know about this despite having a mustering for such position. One of the HQ drivers volunteered for the post. He was nicknamed Alfred E Newman as this tooth-missing redhead was the spitting image of the character who adorned the covers of the 'Mad' magazine. As it turned out he became one of the best chefs that John had ever worked with. Most of his recipes came from the piles of 'Farmers Weekly.'
5 Days later the main force arrived from the Railhead at Grootfontein and the outgoing force immediately departed on the same trucks. Before settling in section Commanders allocated their Stand-to positions, manned the mortar pits and mounted their LMGs in the bunkers.
It did not take too long to settle down to the routine of the base. Babwata was on the cutline with Angola and they soon made friends with a Portuguese unit stationed close by. Although the Spinola takeover was long past, this Unit had not been repatriated back to Portugal. One of their Company drivers was of Portuguese descent and became their interpreter.
Less than a kilometre north of them was a Safari Camp run by big game hunter whom they called Pedro. Pedro was a regular at their pub when he had no clients and was nearly a victim of their defensive fire plan on a number of occasions.
The pub, film shows and sport filled the leisure hours. Each section had a pet bush baby and the base had a resident monkey; many a patrol brought in orphaned or injured animals. During the rainy season their refuse pit became flooded and was soon inhabited by giant frogs which were a local delicacy. Some troops braaied these on occasion. They had permanent hot water, fuelled by helicopter fuel and constructed from gas cooker parts, but this exploded one night.
They also had an historic visit by the US Soldiers of Fortune team.
After all this one must keep in mind that there was a war on and their interpreter became the first casualty. John also had the misfortune of being arrested in Botswana after a mishap with a helicopter, together with the crew, Coy 2IC and a Platoon Sgt.
When the Portuguese troops finally left Angola, they no longer had a Northern Buffer and also had to dominate this area. They had six Allouettes and a Super Frelon helicopter at their disposal for this task.
Their time on ops was up and a new Coy advance party soon arrived and the cycle was repeated.
The Main Talk was presented by Lt Col Douw Steyn HC SM MMM PSN. From his post-nominal titles, the reader will realise that our speaker was a highly decorated soldier and his talk dealt with 4 Reconnaissance Regiment's cross border activities during the Border War, taking them north of Luanda and even into Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania. These have been revealed in a highly acclaimed book, which he co-edited with Rear Admiral (JG) Arnè Söderlund PS SM MMM entitled "Iron Fist from the Sea".
Colonel Steyn began his presentation as though we were participants in one of the many raids into the north of South Africa's borders, with a briefing about his task for the evening! He revealed the versatility and effectiveness of this elite unit, which worked with a range of other South African and Rhodesian forces, including the Rhodesian SAS, to engage in a range of raiding and war fighting activities. These operations saw the clandestine reconnaissance of harbours, the sinking of Eastern Bloc shipping and the destruction of shore installations in Angola and Mozambique. They were just some of the tasks undertaken by this extraordinary maritime capability, which totalled no more than 45 operators.
With unparalleled access to previously secret material, the authors, both of whom worked to develop 4 Recce's operating capabilities, trace the origins of the Regiment back to the 1970s when the South Africans determined the need for a maritime force projection capability. The book relates how maritime doctrine was developed within South Africa's wider Special Forces capability and how joint operational approaches were configured with the South African Navy. This saw the development of a range of swimmer, reconnaissance, diving and boat operator training courses, along with the design of specialist raiding craft and amphibious assault platforms, which were originated to operate from the Navy's existing shipping and submarines. All of which demonstrated the immense potential of this newly emergent force and the resourcefulness of its individual operators. Required to successfully complete a gruelling selection process, the operators of 4 Recce were relentlessly tested to prove their physical and mental mettle, not to mention their leadership skills and initiative. Colonel Steyn's chronological analysis of the operations undertaken by 4 Recce and the South African Navy is nothing short of staggering. In the book, the two authors impartially detail the secret and specialised actions which saw both success and failure. From Cabinda on the West Coast to Tanzania on the East, 4 Recce, and whose existence and capability was largely kept secret even within the South African Defence Force, conducted numerous clandestine raids. They attacked shipping and strategic targets such as oil facilities, transport infrastructure and even ANC offices.
Beira still burning
And sometimes the raids did go wrong, spectacularly so in one instance when two operators were killed and Captain Wynand Du Toit was captured. He was later paraded in front of the world's media, much to the embarrassment of the South African Government.
Colonel Steyn is in regular contact with the Russians who were the targets of 4 Recce's activities and he has recently come across a documentary (in Russian) speculating on the South African modus operandi. As is the case with soldiers and soldiering, his erstwhile enemies have become his great friends and they have occasionally met socially.
Both speakers were subjected to intensive and lively questions from the audience, after which Maj Gen Chris le Roux conveyed the appreciation all those present to both speakers for what can only be described as two amazing talks linked to modern South African military history.
The photos are reproduced in this newsletter with the assistance and permission of John Goodrich and Lt Col Douw Steyn.
Any members wishing to purchase a copy "Iron Fist from the Sea" can do so via the following e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday 12th May 2016:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: "The Historiography of World War 1" by Dr Mark Coghlan
Main Talk: "Three Scouts of the Anglo-Boer War and their exploits" by Alan Townsend
Thursday 9th June 2016:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: "The Emden" by Rob Crawley
Main Talk: "General CCJ Badenhorst in the Western Free State during the Guerrilla phase of the Anglo-Boer War" by Dr Arnold van Dyk
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.
Thursday 8th September 2016:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: Military History Quiz
Main Talk: "D-Day 1066" by Charles Whiteing
Meetings are held at the Murray Theatre, Department of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal Howard College Campus, Durban at 19h00 for 19h30.
2016 Subscription. Those members who have not yet renewed their subscriptions, please note that regrettably this will be the last newsletter that will be sent to you. This coming year the Society is going to have differential rates for the subscriptions viz:
2016 BATTLEFIELD TOUR.
Members are asked to indicate their preferences for the Branch's 2016 Battlefield Tour by e-mailing the Scribe, Ken Gillings on email@example.com
APPEAL FOR SPEAKERS IN 2017.
We are short of speakers for 2017 and are appealing to members to share the fruits of their research with fellow members. The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture is 20 minutes duration and the Main Talk 40 to 60 minutes. Please contact the Ken Gillings on firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to present a paper or simply give us a talk on your favourite military history topic.
Please remember that the Branch has donated several books on military history to the Bergtheil Museum in Queen's Avenue, Westville. Our library is being used regularly by researchers, from schoolchildren to senior citizens. Use of the library is free and the Museum itself (which is situated in Jonas Bergtheil's original house) is a fine display of early occupation by Zulu, Indian and German settlers. Jonas Bergtheil brought out numerous German settlers to what was then Natal in 1848 and these industrious workers planted cotton on what they named Wandsbeck, after their home of origin. "Wandsbek" [sic] is the second largest of seven boroughs that make up the city of Hamburg, Germany. The cotton project failed due to infestation of red mite, and most of the settlers crossed the Palmiet River and established a new settlement which they named New Germany. Our Treasurer, Don Porter, was recently given a set of The Times History of the War in South Africa, which the donor wished to go to a good home. Here you see Don and Ken Gillings presenting the set to Ms Mohau Qalaza, curator of the Bergtheil Museum.
Ken Gillings, Ms Mohau Qalaza and Don Porter
CALL FOR PAPERS: "WORLD WAR 1 - SOUTH AFRICA REMEMBERS"
The South African Military History Society and Talana Museum will be facilitating and hosting a Conference to coincide with the centenary of the Battle of Delville Wood. The Conference theme will be "South Africa Remembers" and it will take place at Talana Museum on the 18th and 19th July 2016. A flyer is attached, and members are encouraged to contact either Ken Gillings via e-mail on email@example.com or Ms Pam McFadden on firstname.lastname@example.org .
Lest we forget?