South African Military History 


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 140

May/Mei 2016

The members’ slot was used by Franco Cilliers to present a brief talk on The Infantry School Memorial at Oudtshoorn. It is situated at the entrance to the Infantry School and is dedicated to members and former members of the School who have died since 1964. Nearby is a bronze statue of an infantryman which was donated by the Oudtshoorn Municipality and unveiled in 1980 by General Magnus Malan. It is similar in stance to the 1959 Follow Me Infantry Memorial located at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. Also in front of the memorial is a 3.7cm Maxim-Nordenvelt (Pom-pom) gun of German origin. The gun is dated 1903 and its cradle 1900, but other than that it was made by Krupp of Essen, details of its providence are unknown. The gun is in fair condition but, being located outdoors, it will deteriorate in due course.

The curtain raiser was by McGill Alexander on the topic of Airborne Operations in the First World War.

The concept of vertical envelopment has long been a dream of the warrior. In ancient Greek mythology, the tale of Daedalus and his son Icarus and their escape from King Minos of Crete must have fired the imagination of classical military men. If Daedalus could fashion wings that enabled him to fly from Crete to Sicily, then this held staggering possibilities for military adventures. Yet the fate of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun so that it melted his wings, causing him to fall into the sea and drown, could be seen as an omen warning of the risks of aerial movement.

The ancient Greeks clung to the idea of movement by air, giving it a more martial application with another mythological story, that of Bellerophon and Pegasus. The winged horse, Pegasus (or Pegasos), captured and tamed by the hero, Bellerophon, became the steed he rode into battle. Famed for slaying the Chimaera, a fire-breathing monster, Bellerophon is said to have ridden into the air with spear in hand, mounted on Pegasus, and to have swooped down upon the monster and destroyed it. But Bellerophon too, flew too high, and in one of the stories recounted about him, in attempting to reach the top of Mount Olympus he was unseated from his horse and fell to the earth, where he spent the rest of his life as a cripple. Some traditions say the fall killed him. This is perhaps another omen for airborne forces: high aspirations can lead to disaster. The tale so inspired even modern soldiers, however, that the British Airborne Forces adopted Pegasus and Bellerophon as their insignia in 1941.

In the ancient East too, riding by air to battle had assumed mythological proportions. In Hindu mythology the Puranic king, Shatrujeet, rode a winged horse called Kuvalaya. Using a divinely gifted arrow, Shatrujeet was said to have slain a mighty demon. The love between Shatrujeet and his flying steed grew so intense in the telling of the tale that they were eventually merged into one being, having a winged horse’s body and a man’s head, arms and torso. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that the Indian Airborne Forces adopted the Shatrujeet as their insignia in 1952.

The Renaissance in Europe produced a number of ideas to address this problem, conceptually at least. The drawings of designs of flying machines and even parachutes that emerged from the fertile mind of the great scientist and artist, Leonardo da Vinci, have led to him being erroneously credited with formulating the concepts behind these theoretical ‘inventions’ which were never put to the test at the time. In fact, Leonardo owed much to other Italians of the 15th century, specifically a group of engineers from Siena known as the Quattrocentos, whose designs preceded his by at least 40 years.

A Dalmatian inventor, Fausto Veranzio, is thought by some to have successfully tested a parachute in 1616. He called his parachute Homo Volans (flying man) and he is said to have carried out the feat by jumping from the top of a Venetian tower. However, there is more solid evidence that Louis-Sébastien Lenormand jumped from the Montpelier Observatory in 1783, using what seems to have been little more than a fairly substantial umbrella to slow his descent.

Nevertheless, it was the advent of the Montgolfier Brothers’ hot air balloon in that same year of 1783 in France that presaged the more general use of parachutes. In 1789 Garnerin carried out the first recorded parachute descent from a balloon and in 1802, during Napoleon’s planning to cross the English Channel and invade Britain, a concept for using gigantic balloons to float his army across the water by air was mooted.

An American, ‘Professor’ James Price, carried out the first parachute descent in South Africa, in Pietermaritzburg in 1891. Another American, Captain Albert Berry of the US Army, is believed to have carried out the first ever parachute descent from an aircraft in 1912, using a ‘Guardian Angel’ canopy-last parachute that was attached to the aircraft.

After the outbreak of war in 1914, these somewhat bulky parachutes were used extensively to save the lives of artillery observers who were winched up to heights of several thousand feet in baskets suspended below captive balloons filled with highly inflammable gas. Parachutes as an emergency device for pilots were only introduced much later. Too bulky for the cramped cockpits of the early fighter aircraft, advances in technology eventually resulted in more compact folded parachutes that could be worn by pilots, and cockpits graduallybecame relatively more spacious. The Germans introduced parachutes for their pilots in May 1918; the British only did so in September of that year, barely two months before the end of hostilities.

The first recorded ‘airborne operation’ during the war appears to have been a clandestine air-landed sabotage operation by the Germans in 1916. A Leutnant Kossel and Oberfeldwebel (senior sergeant) Windisch were flown as passengers across the Russian lines near Rowno, and landed in a field. The aircraft took off again and the two men successfully blew up a railway line 80km behind enemy lines. They were then picked up by the returning aircraft and safely flown back to their own lines. It was a modest operation, and was not a parachute action, but it was certainly airborne, and was significant because it was the first such action ever to be carried out.

The first parachute operation took place in mid-1918. Three Italian agents (Tandura, Nicolso and Barnaba) were dropped at night on three separate flights by British airmen to carry out missions behind Austrian lines on the Piavre River front. Using Guardian Angel parachutes with black canopies, they had no prior parachute training and, in the case of Nicolso and Barnaba, they parachuted with a consignment of homing pigeons. Apparently their missions were all successful.

During the final year of the war the French carried out a small airborne operation when a Lieutenant Evrard was dropped with two others as a sabotage team in the German-occupied Ardennes Forest. Landing with explosives and radio equipment, they returned to their own lines within a week after blowing up a road.

However, the first proposal to truly embrace the concept of vertical envelopment as viable tactical manoeuvre was far more ambitious than these small actions. It had the strategic intent of ending the stalemate on the Western Front. In October 1918, the head of US air operations on the Western Front, Colonel Billy Mitchell, envisaged dropping 12000 men of the US 1st Division by parachute behind the German lines.

Using the aircraft of sixty squadrons equipped with the British Handley Page bombers (each of which could carry ten men), Mitchell felt he could break the deadlock of trench warfare by landing the division in the Menin-Roselare region in order to take the strategically important town of Metz.The intention was for the operation to be executed in the spring of 1919. It was presented to the Commanding General of the US 1st Army, General John ‘Black Jack’ Pershing, on 17 October 1918, but the war ended less than a month later.

It was a revolutionary plan that entailed a vision with all the conceptual elements for success, as shown by airborne operations in theSecond World War. Although no really significant airborne operation took place during the First World War, the seeds had been sown.

“A visionary idea is frequently impracticable when first put forward. It takes a visionary to conceive, inventors to fashion and pioneers to test a new device; then, when the theory has been proved, practical men of action seize upon it and put it to work.” - Brigadier Maurice Tugwell, British Parachute Regiment.

The main lecture, titled Sir Roger Casement and his South African connections, was presented by Alec Grant.

While the name of Roger Casement will not mean much to most South Africans, in Ireland he is widely known and for compelling reasons, the two most significant being:

The British authorities claimed that the diaries proved that Sir Roger was a promiscuous homosexual; opponents claimed that the diaries were forged and had been maliciously leaked. The issue of the authenticity of the diaries often overshadowed the role that Roger Casement had played in the Irish Nationalist Movement and whether he should be executed for treason.

The reason for the authority’s use of the allegations was to ensure that any arguments for the reprieve of a death sentence would become very difficult as public sentiment at the time would see the alleged behaviour as abhorrent. After Casement’s execution all five diaries were kept in secret by the Home Office, which further fanned suspicion of underhand behaviour. Many articles and numerous books have been published about the authenticity or otherwise of the diaries, the authors being adamant about their opposing positions. A full account of the diaries and of Roger Casement’s life was published by Peter Singleton-Gates and Maurice Girodias in The Black Diaries of Roger Casement. Casement denied that the published content was indeed his. During his incarceration he wrote to his family and supporters reinforcing his support for Irish Nationalism and his willingness to pay the ultimate price for that cause.

Alec then gave a summary of Casement’s life leading up to his capture and execution. There are numerous aspects to his story which are of South African interest, amongst these being the role of his brother Tom Casement who spent many years in South Africa and became an acquaintance of General Smuts. Smuts played a significant role in the events leading up the 1921 Irish Peace Treaty.

Roger Casement was born at Dublin on 1st September 1864 and spent his early years there. His father was a protestant and a captain in The Regiment of Dragoons. Although both parents were practising Protestants, it is claimed that his mother Anne Jephson had him secretly baptised as a Catholic. The family were living in England when his mother died 1873. He was nine years old and the family returned to County Antrim in Ulster to live near paternal relatives. When Casement was 13, his father died and the four children become wards of John Casement, at Magherintemple House in County Antrim. He was educated at the Diocesan School, Ballymena, and left school at the age of 16 to look for work in England, finding employment as a clerk with a Liverpool shipping company.

Roger Casement then followed his brother Tom abroad, landing up in the Belgian Congo where he worked for the African International Association, which was a front for King Leopold II of Belgium, from 1884. There he met other like-minded Europeans who believed in the progress colonisation would bring. They soon saw that this was certainly not the case in the Congo and Casement began to document the conditions which he sent to the British Government. He also routinely kept records in his diaries and submitted reports to England. In the spring of 1895 Roger returned to England where he met Lord Salisbury, Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister. He was subsequently sent to Lourenço Marques as Acting Consul, where his performance over the next eight years indicated his worth to England.

By 1895 Rhodes had been scheming to annex the port of Lourenço Marques to gain access to the sea for his northward territorial ambitions. Lourenço Marques was of vital importance to the two Boer Republics. The Germans, who were strengthening alliances with the Boers, also realised its strategic importance but the Portuguese were reluctant to let go. In 1895 the ZASM Railway linking Lourenço Marques to Pretoria was completed. Casement’s sentiments were pro-British and he was anti-Boer because of what he felt was bad treatment of their labourers, and so he provided valuable information to the Foreign Office detailing arms shipments mainly from Germany destined for Pretoria.

Following the Jameson Raid in December 1895, President Kruger grew in stature because of the way he managed the aftermath and the clemency which he displayed. It was ironical that Casement was to write: I am certain the trial and sentence were part of the put up game to enable Mr Kruger to again display his "generous forbearance and magnanimity". An imported Judge from the Free State was got in on the plea of impartiality, but really because the Transvaal judges would not have passed the death sentence; then the solemn lecture from the bench was delivered, the charge of high treason was trotted out at length and the five guilty chiefs of the Reformers [Jameson Raiders] were commended to the hangman and the Almighty- while the rest were sent to banishment, fines, and imprisonment.

After a visit to the UK, Casement was sent to Portuguese West Africa based in Luanda. He reported back to the Foreign Office on a host of different issues including the vital rubber trade. By the end of 1899, he was ordered by Lord Salisbury to return to South Africa and to play his part in the conflict developing there. He wrote: Lord Salisbury employed me in South Africa during the Boer War for nearly a year in a political capacity which had nothing to do with my being consul at St Paul de Luanda, but had some relation to my previous experiences at Delagoa Bay. His role was obviously to provide intelligence to Britain. He met Lord Milner in Cape Town in December and suggested that the railway bridge at Komatipoort be destroyed to prevent supplies from reaching Pretoria. For some reason this plan was vetoed by Buller. He then went to Delagoa Bay for some months but no transgressions were uncovered that would indicate lack of neutrality by the Portuguese.

Sir Roger Casement

During this time there was a renewed interest in Casement’s plan to destroy the rail link in Cape Town. The idea was to send men and artillery to Komatipoort, half through Zululand and half through Kosi Bay and Swaziland. Joseph Chamberlain quoted Roger Casement and agreed with his views. In a message to Lord Milner he said: It is the wish of HM Government that you and Lord Roberts will consider this question most seriously and fully report your views. Lord Milner replied: I have taken it on myself to detain Casement who is here on his way back to Luanda ... Scheme is being kept very secret. It was decided that it would be undertaken at the end of May by 540 men of a Canadian Cavalry Regiment, Strathcona’s Horse.The plan was aborted however as it had been leaked and the element of surprise had been lost. [See Military History Journal 12 (6) pp 206-212 ‘The Lebombo Intelligence Scouts’]

Somewhere around this time Casement had a change of sympathies.When captured in 1916 and imprisoned in the Tower of London he wrote: I arrived home in July 1900 and I was then becoming a pro-Boer as a result of what I had seen in South Africa ... the lessons of the Transvaal brought my thoughts back to Ireland.

It is significant to note too that Roger was not the only Casement in South Africa at that time. His brother Tom was variously involved in mining and commercial operations from before the Anglo-Boer War, during which he fought for the British. Other Irishmen involved in the Boer War, though on the side of the Boers, were John MacBride and Arthur Griffiths who formed the Irish Brigade. John MacBride married Maude Gonne who was the love of poet W B Yeats’ life. They lived for a while in Paris and a son Sean MacBride, later UN Commissioner for Namibia in the 1980s, was born. Arthur Griffiths was one of the founders of the IRA and although very involved in the 1916 uprising, avoided execution.

In 1903 Casement was sent to the Congo to investigate forced labour in the rubber industry. His reports published in February 1904 were extremely controversial and highly critical of King Leopold, and started a movement which led to the king disposing of his interests there. Casement then became British Consul-General for Sao Paulo and Panama and conducted a comprehensive investigation into rubber slavery in South America. He also kept a detailed diary and received considerable recognition for his work which led to international condemnation against Peru. He was also alleged to have kept a separate private diary, his so-called Black Diary recording his personal feelings and dispositions, which was to feature prominently in his 1916 trial. On 6th July 1911 he received a knighthood from King George V in recognition of his achievements, having previously been appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George following his work in the Congo.

Sir Roger then left the diplomatic world and returned to Ireland where his Irish nationalist feelings grew and he became increasingly involved in political activities. In mid-1913, he returned briefly to South Africa to see his brother and met General Hertzog with whose views he felt aligned.

On his return to Ireland Roger Casement helped form the Irish Volunteers. He and Eion MacNeill wrote the Volunteer’s Manifesto. With the outbreak of the Second World War, Britain advised John Redmond, leader of the Irish Nationalist Party, that Irish Home Rule Legislation would be placed on hold. Redmond supported the British war effort. In July 1914 Casement journeyed to New York to raise support and funds for the nationalist movement and established ties with John Devoy’s Clan na Gael Group and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. It was decided that he should go to Germany to obtain arms and to recruit Irish POWs there to join him in an uprising against Britain. Casement spent most of his time in Germany seeking to recruit an Irish Brigade from among more than 2000 Irish prisoners-of-war taken in the early months of the war. His plan was that they would be trained to fight against Britain in the cause of Irish independence. Fifty-two of the 2000 prisoners volunteered for the Brigade. Contrary to German promises, they received no training in the use of machine guns, which at the time were relatively new weapons. Germany offered the Irish only a fraction of the quantity of the arms Casement had hoped for, with no military expertise on how to use them.

With the Easter Rising, the Germans agreed to send arms to Ireland by sea. Casement thought the proposed Rising in Ireland was futile and did not wish to send the Irish Brigade. The Germans provided a submarine to take him and two others, Monteith and Bailey (a sergeant in the Irish Brigade), to Ireland ahead of the arms shipment in the AudNorge.The landing of the arms was a debacle: the party sent to meet the AudNorge in Kerry had taken the wrong road and plunged into a river in the dark; three were drowned. The AudNorge was intercepted by the Royal Navy and the captain scuttled it,sending its load of armaments to the seabed. The U-19, failing to find the AudNorge, eventually landed Casement, Monteith and Bailey by dinghy. The dinghy overturned in surf on Banna Strand, near Ardfert. Casement had been ill for some time before the journey and was far too weak to travel or run. He took refuge in ‘McKenna’s Fort’ while Bailey and Monteith tried to make contact with the local IRB. However the local Irish constabulary were alerted and both Bailey and Casement were arrested.

Casement was held in the Tower of London. He was subsequently tried and convicted of treason, sabotage and espionage against the Crown on 29th June 1916. He appealed but it was turned down and he was hanged at Pentonville Prison on 3rd August 1916.

When His brother,Tom, heard of Roger’s execution he was fighting against the Germans in East Africa. He wrote to General Smuts to say he was resigning his position. General Smuts’ response was: Do not be a bloody fool Tom. Tom subsequently saw out the war and in 1921 was instrumental in getting General Smuts to meet with De Valera to discuss the future of Ireland, Smuts being in favour of home rule with dominion status.

Future meetings and field trips / Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

his father’s participation in the First World War. The main lecture will be by Margaret Snodgrass titled The unfortified military villages of Sir Harry Smith. Proceedings should be over by about 15h30.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

Members’ forum/Lede se forum

Following upon Franco Cilliers presentation in Newsletter 139 on Die Engelsman se Graf, Fred Nel has offered the following interesting item of information: Brenda and I missed the March meeting, but I was interested to see Franco's talk on the above.

Members may be interested to know that there is another identical sign and grave where the road to Calvinia turns off the N7 near Clanwilliam. There is a sign that says "Englishman's Grave/Engelsman se Graf" and refers to Lt. Graham Clowes of the Gordon Highlanders, who was killed on 30 January 1901 during a skirmish with a Boer commando. Brenda and I discovered this when traveling in the area on the way to the Wupperthal mission station.

Obituary for Major Arthur Walker, HC and Bar, SM.

Johan van den Berg of the Cape Town has forwarded to us an obituary for former SAAF helicopter pilot Major Arthur Walker, Honoris Crux (Gold) and Bar, SM, issued by the SA Legion. This has been circulated to all SAMHSEC members. SAMHSEC too salutes this extraordinarily brave man. See official citations for Major Walker’s HC and bar at:

Individual members’ activities / Individuelelede se aktiwiteite

Pat and Anne Irwin recently visited a number of battlefields in the vicinity of Estcourt and Colenso. The highlight of these was the relatively remote Rensburgkop where, during the general massacre in the Blaauwkranz area on 17th February 1838, eight to ten Voortrekker families managed to flee to a small kopje and successfully defend themselves against an impi of 1 500 Zulu warriors. We were able to get there and to other significant Trekker sites through the kindness and generosity of Francois Meyer, whose family currently farm on the site of the Zaailager battlefield. They are descendants of Trekker leader Gerrit Maritz who first farmed there in 1838. We also visited the Old Fort at Durban and Fort Durnford Museum at Estcourt. Both are well worth spending some time at.

Francois Meyer at the vandalized monument on the summit of Rensburgkop
Photo: Pat Irwin

Parades and Remembrance

The 22nd May is scheduled for the MOTH ‘Third Generation Parade’ to be held at the Comrades Algoa Shellhole, 52 King Edward Street, Newton Park, at 10h30 for 11h00. This year there will also be a SADF Medal Parade. Retired General Roland de Vries will give a talk on the Bush War. All are welcome. There will be seating available for those visitors who want watch proceedings from the side. Veterans who would like to, can take part in the parade. There will be refreshments and a Cash Bar available after the parade.

The 24th May is Jan Smuts Remembrance Day. General Smuts was born in Riebeek West on 24th May 1870 and died at Irene on 11th September 1950. He shared a birthday with Queen Victoria who was born in 1819 and died in 1901 while Smuts was waging guerrilla warfare against her armies in South Africa.

World War I Centenary Years / Eerste Wêreldoorlog Eeufeesjare

Part 4 of 5 of John Stevens’ ‘Road to the Somme’

So great was the enthusiasm for recruitment that within the first five months of Kitchener’s appeal 1 186000 men had flocked to join the colours. By late 1915 some 2, 5 million men would volunteer raising fivenew armies named K1 – K5 of roughly 500000 men in each. The call went out to the Dominions where India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, among others, raised further volunteers. Organising, training and equipping these men rapidly would prove a serious challenge. Meanwhile the initial 6 BEF divisions deployed in France now carried the sobriquet the ‘Old Contemptibles’ in honour of Kaiser Wilhelm’s condemnation of this “contemptible” little army, had the unenviable task of playing a subservient supporting role to the massive French Army. BEF Strength in France gradually increased by scouring regular army garrisons around the world (two more Divisions) and the introduction of the Territorial Army towards the end of 1914. They would take the brunt while the ‘New’ armies assembled and trained, but even so the British Army remained the unwilling subservient partner on the Western Front at this time, and was subject to the controlling influence of France operationally.

Major engagements in May 1916

The 1916 Trentino Offensive and the Battle of Asiago started on 15th May. The Austro-Hungarian plan was to drive through the Trentino mountains and occupy the north Italian plain. Launched during a lull in the Italian Isonzo offensives, the initiative was well timed, the Italians initially being pushed back up to 18km in places. By the 2nd June, Italian resistance and clear thinking had stabilised the position, their net loss of ground being only about five km. Casualties were heavy on both sides – about 150 000 each. Two interesting results were that the Austrians were never again able to launch an offensive without German support, and the fear of invasion galvanised Italian public opinion in favour of the war.

The Battle of Jutland, fought in the North Sea on 31st May and 1st June was an engagement between the main German and British fleets, respectively known as the High Seas fleet and the Grand Fleet. It was the only time the two fleets met and the only battle of its kind during the First World War. Both sides claimed victory: the Royal Navy lost more ships, but gained a strategic victory as the Imperial German Navy retreated to its safe bases at Wilhelmshaven, and did not,as a whole, venture out to again do battle during the War. [This battle was the subject of a lecture by Franco Cilliers in May 2012. See Newsletter 93.]

Suspension of unrestricted U-boat warfare:

In early 1916 Germany, in response to the continued British Naval Blockade of the North Sea, which aimed to starve the German people into submission, re-introduced a policy of limited unrestricted Submarine warfare in which passenger ships were not to be attacked. The policy was not entirely successful, and resulted in the torpedoing of the French cross-channel ferry Sussex with considerable loss of life, including a number of prominent personalities, on 24th March 1916. A number of Americans were injured leading to a diplomatic furore between the United States and Germany. Germany, in consequence, issued a declaration, known as the Sussex Pledge, in which unrestricted U-boat warfare was again suspended on 7th May.

Websites of interest / Webwerwe van belang

A NOTE from the scribes:
There are an increasing number of adverts and related junk coming with URLs such as War History Online. For those who find them problematic or objectionable we suggest that you make use of the free installation of AdBlock. See:

World War I

Four great British doctors of the First World War
Anon War History Online 19th March 2016[War+History+Online]+Your+Daily+Dose

How Germany lost the WWI arms race
Saul David BBC News Magazine 16th February 2012

Vimy Ridge cave carvings in Montreal 3D exhibit recall soldiers' lives underground
Jeanette Kelly CBC News Montreal 6th April 2016

World War II
The capture of U-110 and its secret cypher books by HMS Bulldog, Broadway and Arbretia on May 9, 1941,
which led to the breaking of German naval codes at Bletchley Park
See also
for the career of U-110

Last of the German Troops to Surrender – May 13th 1945
Anon War History Online 11th February 2016 er-may-13th-1945.html

A trunk full of Britain’s WWII secrets saved the world
Maureen Callahan New York Post 27th September 2016

BMW’s dark history in WWII
Alan Hall Mail Online 22nd March 2016

German U-Boats surfaced off Nags Head, and watched Americans partying on the beaches.
Anon War History Online 18th March 2016

Historic aircraft

DC-3 DakotaZS-BXF Klapperkop – 73 years old SAA Museum Society / The Dakota Association of South Africa

Focke-Wulf 190 – Selected pictures
Anon War History Online 19th March 2016

Resource materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundigebelang


A very useful resource for those with naval interests is