South African Military History Society

Tel (+27)(0)10-237-0676 Fax (+27)(0)86-617-8002


The Chairman, Jan-Willem Hoorweg, opened the meeting with the notices then mentioned the very successful visit to the Light Horse Regiment and thanked Lt-Col Janzen for his excellent guided tour. He further reminded us that the January meeting will be on the third Thursday - 19th January - as is customary.

The first speaker of the evening was Cmdr Jeremy Carew on The Royal Fleet Auxiliary(RFA). This is a civilian-manned fleet owned by the UK's Ministry of Defence, whose purpose is to support the Royal Navy. The RFA enables ships of the Royal Navy to maintain its operations around the world. Its primary role is to provide the RN with fuel, ammunition and supplies, normally by replenishment at sea (RAS). It also transports Army and Royal Marine personnel, as well as supporting training exercises, and engaging in anti-piracy and anti-drug-smuggling operations.

The RFA personnel are members of the MoD civil service who usually have Merchant Navy training and qualifications and, since 2003, special members of the Royal naval Reserve deemed sponsored reserves, who are civilians but must be part of the Armed forces in some capacity, in order to carry out specialist civilian jobs in a military environment. However the RFA itself is not part of RN so officers wear RFA rank insignia with naval uniforms but are under naval discipline when their vessel is engaged on warlike operations. RFA vessels are commanded and crewed by these civilians but augmented with regular and reserve RN personnel to operate and maintain helicopters or provide hospital facilities. RN personnel are also needed to maintain certain weapons but other weapons such as the GMPG or 20mm cannon are operated by RAF personnel.

The RFA was established in 1905 to provide coaling ships for the RN when the change to coal-fired steam engines meant that the supply of coal was necessary for a fleet to operate far from home. At first this was a minor role. However, the need for the fleet to be maintained was unambiguously demonstrated in WWII. The RFA performed important work off Korea 1950-53. As the network of British bases shrank during the end of the Empire, so the importance of the RFA increased. In the largest naval war since 1945, the Falklands War in 1982 (where one vessel was lost and another badly damaged) the RFA played a huge role and also the Gulf War, Kosovo, Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In July 2008, the RFA was presented with a Queen's Colour - a unique honour to a civilian organization.

Cmdr Carew went on to outline the various classes of boats in the RFA and the specific uses of each class. The Wave-class as in RFA Wave Knight are fast fleet tankers. The Rover-class (RFA Gold Rover) are small fleet tankers. The Fort Victoria-class are multi-role replenishment ships whilst the Fort Rosalie-class are solid replenishment ships distributing both armaments and fuel. Dock landing ships in the Bay-class carry tanks, landing craft, vehicles and Chinook helicopters. RFA Argus is specifically for aviation training and is also a hospital ship with 100 beds and 200 medical staff. This ship played an important role helping to stem the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone.

Cmdr Carew showed a DVD about the RFA at work and the actual drills for resupplying other ships including the passing of fuel lines to ships at sea and refueling a helicopter whilst it is still in the air. Many of these activities have to be carried out in darkness and/or bad weather. We also saw the layouts of the holds in RFA ships - just like modern warehouses complete with pallets, trolleys and lifters. The amphibious-landing vessels are huge and carry enormous vehicles including tanks.

This was a fascinating subject showing us naval matters from a previously unconsidered angle.

Instead of a second lecture we watched a DVD - Air, Land and Sea Technology in WWI. This dealt with the use of technology to bring about ruthlessly efficient destruction. The movie looked at each weapon and then assessed its value in the war and afterwards.

First examined was the tank which was supposed to end the stalemate in the trenches. The first British tanks could do 3mph and advance about 600 metres but such was the lack of ventilation that the temperature inside was 100 F degrees. The French made strides with their lighter tank of 39 hp which could do 6mph and had a rotating turret. Only in 1918 did a tank assault successfully push the Germans back so this weapon did not come into its own in WWI.

Next air power was examined. The hot air balloon was very successful at the time as it gave the operator a 14 mile panoramic view and he could send information to the ground via the telegraph that was installed. Some operators took up guns to fire at enemy aircraft! The Zeppelin was used at first for reconnaissance and later bombing raids but it was expensive to build and easily destroyed. The plane would be the biggest technical advance of the war as the size of engines was increased and the whole machine became sturdier and more reliable. Here the breakthrough came when Fokker invented a machine gun that could fire successfully through the turning propeller. Further adaptations were made by both sides resulting in the production of the legendary Sopwith Camel and the Fokker D7.

The Maxim gun with its range of 400 yards was a great success. The gigantic guns like Big Bertha which had ranges of up to 10 miles, eventually proved too cumbersome as they required rail transport to move. Trench mortars proved lethally effective as they were small enough to be moved.

Chemical warfare made strides through the use of gas, although banned by the Hague Convention, but this was circumvented by mixing explosive with the gas itself or in the shell. Chlorine gas with its distinctive yellow cloud was used against the French at Ypres in 1915. Mustard gas which rots flesh was also used in WWI but in the end gas was too unreliable and therefore not decisive.

Submarines were used by the Germans to try to combat the superiority of the British navy and by 1918 there were 44 in the German fleet. They were to come into their own in WWII. Pat Henning

* * * * * * *

Ken Gillings

It is with great sadness that SA Military History Society notes the tragic passing of one of KZN's most iconic personalities, Ken Gillings, who was known for his work as a passionate and extremely knowledgeable battlefields guide.

As a founder member of the KZN branch, a long time committee member, their 2016 Scribe and Secretary and previously (1997) Chairman of that branch, he had been awarded Honorary Life Membership of the South African Military History Society in mid 2005.

He brought the rich history of the area alive for so many visitors over the years. Our condolences go out to his family and many friends in the Military History Society, especially the Durban branch, over this difficult time.

* * * * * * *


Renewal invoices have been e-mailed to members who make use of this technology and will be mailed out with this newsletter to members on the snail-mail list.

* * * * * * *

December 2016 Journal

The Journal is expected to be available for distribution at the January lecture meeting or shortly thereafter in which case it will be posted to all paid-up 2016 members.

* * * * * * *

Branch contact details

For Cape Town details contact Johan van den Berg 021-939-7923
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469
For Gauteng details contact Joan Marsh 010-237-0676
For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Roy Bowman 031 564 4669

* * * * * * *



KZN in Durban:



CR= curtain raiser; ML= main lecture; DDH = Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture; MS= member's slot

* * * * * * *

* NOTE* Fast mirror and backup site      BOOKMARK FOR REFERENCE     Main site * NOTE*

South African Military History Society /