South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 493
March 2017

Roy Bowman
Land-line; 031 564 4669
Mobile; 084-951 2921

After the announcements regarding the AGM in April and the need for members to elect the Chairman and Committee of their choice for the coming year and the need for all members to keep their subscriptions updated a new format was tried by the Chairman! A video entitled "The road to Iwo Jima" was shown and the audience was left spellbound by the action photography showing the US Marine Corps in action during the 3 months that it took to suppress fanatical Japanese resistance and take the island of Iwo Jima enabling it to be used as a stepping stone and emergency air-base for the B29 bombers and escort P51's bombing the Japanese homeland. The audience asked if more of these videos could be shown, as an ice-breaker before the talks. A new trend was set!

South Africa's Last Colonial Exploit
Phil Everitt gave the DDH presentation, on South Africa's annexation of the Prince Edward Islands in 1947, which is summarised in the timeline and notes below:

Friday 19/12/1947 Lt Commander John Fairbairn of HMSAS frigate Transvaal was summoned from a wedding reception in Cape Town to meet Director of Naval Forces, Commodore J F Dean on his arrival at Brooklyn airfield from Pretoria. He was asked: "How soon can you be ready to sail". His answer on Sunday, Monday latest. Fairbairn, Dean and CSO Lt Comdr A K Ryall, only ones to know the objective of the mission, known as "Operation Snoektown."

Sat 20/12/1947 Working through the night Fairbairn and Ryall, agreed the Transvaal would be ready next day Sunday. Top Secret Orders were delivered on Saturday morning. Cipher expert (Cpl R J Smith SAAF), engineer (Capt A D Anderson SAEC) and meteorologist (Maj J A King) would embark under Captain's orders. They would be joined by Dr Lt Max Berelowitz, SAMC and Capt D A Broadhurst (SAAF). It should be noted that with Christmas in 5 days and many crew on leave recalls and replacements were a matter of urgency. Provisioning had to be done on Saturday morning before the suppliers closed for the weekend.

Sun 21/12 Transvaal left Duncan Dock at 10.30am and once at sea the Captain announced they were to annex Prince Edward islands. (Prince Edward Island (code named William) and Marion (Orange))

Tues 23/12 Transvaal crossed into the "Roaring Forties",

Noon Thurs 24/12 Lat 45° south was reached

Thurs 25/12 Radar picked up the islands at just after midnight (ie dawn of Christmas). Christmas dinner postponed for landing operations but no landing possible was possible due to the weather.

Fri 26/12 Atrocious weather continued but Christmas was celebrated by all on board with special meal courtesy of the ladies of the Navy Welfare fund who had sprung into action on the Saturday before sailing to ensure poultry, pudding, nuts, raisins and even crackers were available.

Sat 27/12 Found better wind conditions but, sleet and snow, with a maximum temperature of 44° Fahrenheit made landing still impossible.

Sun 28/12 The weather had cleared somewhat, but the marked landing place on the chart was rejected. Fairbairn wanted to land on the NE corner of Marion Island but weather deteriorated sharply again.

Mon 29/12 With improved weather, the 1st officer took the motor launch to check for landing places, on the East coast of Marion, but was recalled as the weather deteriorated. Transvaal moved to NW side and re-launched the boat. A sheltered landing place was found and landing operations commenced. The launched towed in a "trawler boat" (oars) with Fairbairn and a picked crew to the thick kelp bed 50 m wide and 15 fathoms deep. They rowed, to the shore. Fairbairn and PO Steward Schott scrambled ashore and proceeded to a cliff top where they planted a metal Union flag and brass plate, "HMSAS Transvaal", Date 29/12/1947. The Deed of Sovereignty was duly read by Fairbairn with the PO as witness. Finally all returned to the ship but with boat holed and crew bailing. Further operations were suspended.

Tues 30/12 3am The work of landing a flagstaff and stores began and Anderson, Broadhurst and King were put ashore, but due weather and kelp problems all were recalled by 3.30pm.

Wed 31/12 The bad weather continued but orders were received to put ashore a party with stores for a 2 months as soon as possible.

Thurs 1/01/1948 With the weather still too bad, an attempted recce of Prince Edward Island was also abandoned.

Fri 2/01/1948 Another attempt was made to land but abandoned. Meanwhile permission to return home on 6 January had been received but all annexations had to be complete and the shore occupation party put in place first if possible.

Sat 3/01 The weather was perfect, the shore party returned and the flagstaff was erected and flag hoisted, all then returned to ship.

Sun 4/01 The shore party finally landed, and Fairbairn decided to attempt a landing on Prince Edward Island 13 miles distant. After much difficulty Fairbairn on his own managed to get ashore soaked head to foot and repeat the ceremony completely alone. Thus the annexation was completed single handed between 3.50 and 4.11pm and South Africa's land area extended accordingly!

Mon 5/01 Transvaal was now back at Marion base to drop off First Officer Grindley (who had been retained aboard while the Captain was ashore) and the reluctant MO, and at 21:00 Transvaal left to return to the Union.
The shore party left to reset the flagpole and start constructing a landing stage on 10/01 for the HMSAS Natal due on the 11/01
Transvaal met the Natal off Mossel Bay, transferred code books and information in return for cigarettes and returned to dock in Cape Town 11:02 10/01.

Background Operations in the Union.

Wed 17/12/1947 Prime Minster General Smuts ordered the immediate annexation of the islands in order to forestall their occupation by a foreign power which could use them for attacks on South Africa by ballistic missiles which were rapidly becoming a reality. HQ in Pretoria under Major-General Evered Poole started planning events which occurred rapidly thereafter.

Wed 17/12 DOT were tasked to lead the permanent occupation planning under Mr Crawford, then on Tristan da Cunha, with help of many other Government Departments and planning for hutments, medical requirements, food and clothing began. The 300 tons of equipment to be carried by Government coaster Gamtoos (ex HMSAS Gamtoos).

Mon 29/12 The loading of a train in Pretoria began, and Crawford was asked to find 6 volunteer Tristan Islanders (mostly paid in potatoes the 'local currency') and a small flock of Tristan geese, to accompany the landing. HMSAS Good Hope would collect them all from Tristan along with 2 of the Tristan islanders' canvas boats.

6/01 Train left Pretoria

Arrangements for the Occupation
7/01 HMSAS Natal left Cape Town to take over from the Transvaal
12/01 Gamtoos left with stores
18/01 Gamtoos rendezvoused with the Natal off Prince Edward Island
19/01 Both ships closed with the Island
Tues 20/01 Landing was made and delivered mail to the Transvaal party, who were then relieved and handed over to the army.

24/01 Formal annexation of both Islands finally took place by the Captain of the Natal.

Post Scripts
The presenter then showed a few interesting events that had taken place.
These included details of the deaths of 3 persons over the years of which Seaman "Ironman" Joseph Daniels of the Gamtoos who drowned in the initial landings of stores and was buried on Marion Island, with a cross marking the grave.
Others were PO John George Bold of the Transvaal who had been on the 1947 expedition and who drowned under very similar circumstances in 1956, and although buried at sea has an unmarked memorial cross on the Island and finally Frank Wheeler, Chief Electrician of the R.S. Africana II who drowned in 1963 but whose body was returned to South Africa for burial.
Other snippets included details of the new base opened in 2011 and winner of a number of design awards and the shocking behaviour of young male seals observed in 2014 forcing themselves sexually on female King Penguins, a behaviour not currently understood.
Finally the end of the 3 famous South African frigates was discussed. Natal was converted to a survey ship in 1957 and finally sunk by gunfire in 1972, while Transvaal and Good Hope were scuttled to form artificial reefs off of Smitswinkel Bay in 1978 where they have become well known diving spots.

Discussion on the discovery and naming of the Prince Edward Islands ensued after the presentation and the following information was requested to be included in this summary.
The islands were discovered by the French explorer Marion du Fresne on 13 January 1772, the charts showed no islands although the Dutch explorer Van Keulen fifty years earlier reported two islands at 41° S which have never been seen since! Marion named them "Ile de L'Esperance" (Isle of Hope) and "Ile de la Caverne" for the cave on the current Prince Edward. After unsuccessfully trying to land he may have changed the name to Iles des Froides (the Frigid islands). He was killed later by Maoris in New Zealand (Marsh J H, 1948).

Five years later Capt James Cook 'discovered the islands and named them Prince Edward Islands after the fourth son of the King of England. On finding they had been discovered earlier he named the larger Marion after the French explorer. They were then visited by sealers and whalers but remained unclaimed. According to my French speaking neighbour he has a French reference claiming, Marion Dufresne discovered the islands named Prince Edward island "Terre de l'Espérance" (Land of Hope) and Marion Island "L'íle de la Possession" (Island of Annexion). Further that they were long considered as French; donated to Great Britain by the IIIe Republique de France (1870-1940); annexed by South African union in 1947. Wikipedia states "in 1908 the British government assumed ownership of the islands". It seems an entire presentation could be done on the history, but what is certain is that they were first annexed and permanently occupied by South Africa (with British consent) and are now a part of the magisterial district of Cape Town a fact which seems to be accepted universally.

Bibliography and acknowledgements
Marsh J H "No Pathway Here," Howard Timmins, Cape Town May 1948
Antarctic Legacy South Africa Website including "This Day in History"
Mail Online
Larousse du XXe siècle 1931
Le petit Robert des noms propres 1995

After the lively question and answer session, a break was taken and the last call for ticket sales for our highly successful raffle was given. The draw was done by one of our lady guests and the prize winner, presented with his "ill gotten gains".

Fellow member Donald Davies then presented the Main Talk entitled "The Struggle for South Africa".
In 1985 there was a change in the Chief of the South Africa Defence Force, from General Constance Viljoen to General Jannie Geldenhuys. At this time the State of Emergency was declared, and the South African Defence Force was fighting a Border War in Angola.

The Talk related a number of events during the life of a typical white South African male during the period from 1966 (the start of the Border War) to the present.
These included a retrospective related to the School Cadets, detailing which SADF Military Unit these Cadets were detached to, and the importance that the School attributed to this Activity.
As the Border War increased in magnitude in Angola, so did the South African casualties, which included some friends which had grown up together. These instances were related to Land Mine Explosions up on the Border. Later the speaker reported for His stint of National Military Service.

This period was the year before the Battle for Cuito-Carnavale in 1988, and followed by the withdrawal from Angola by the SADF and the run-up to Democratic Elections in Namibia.
During this period the United Nations Peace-Keeping Force named UNTAG was deployed in Namibia.
The Namibian political analyst Andre du Pisani claimed that UNTAG did not to have any Maps of the Area for them to effectively monitor or control, but in fact 1 in 50,000 maps were issued to UNTAG by the South African Government, ... they just didn't have the positions of the South African troops marked up on them.

In 1994, a few months before Democratic Elections in South Africa, an APLA Hit Squad carried out two attacks on unarmed patrons of a church and tavern in Cape Town. The APLA Commander who ordered these attacks did not apply for amnesty to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He now has been convicted to work towards Reconciliation.

In 2015 a violent strike on a construction project that Donald is working on, up the North Coast of kwaZulu - Natal reminded the speaker of those dark days of the 1980's and 1990's when violence held sway.

After question time, Dr. John Cooke was called to give the audiences Vote of Thanks to both speakers for their varied and most interesting talks on two diverse subjects.

It remained for the Chairman to give the programme for 9th March:
DDH: Lt. Col Dr. Graeme Fuller talking about "The South African Medical Corps in W.W.I".
Main Talk: Dr. Arnold van Dyk talking about "Deelfontein".

And wish the audience and presenters a good evening and a safe trip home.

Roy Bowman

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South African Military History Society /