Newsletter No. 501
The 12th October meeting of the KZN Branch was opened at 19h30 with the announcements for the month.
The main point of the announcements was that this branch was to join forces with The Society for the Preservation of Militaria in an effort to restore the military installations on the Bluff which are deteriorating through lack of care and the ministries of the bush people and scrap metal dealers. This effort will start with a meeting with the stakeholders and owners of the installation, the SANDF, and will be titled “THE RESTORATION OF FORTRESS DURBAN” The Chairman requested any members who were able to assist in the momentous task to come forward and lend their effort.
The Chairman has been involved with the discussion between SAN, UKZN and Arthur Gammage regarding the relocation of a commemoration plaque to Ethel Campbell from the offices of the SA Legion to the Killie Campbell Museum, Muckleneuck. The location of the plaque, donated by Australian ex servicemen organisations to the “Angel of Durban” to acknowledge Ethel Campbell’s work to make the time of the Aussie soldiers ashore in Durban as close to home as Ethel and her team could make it. For more information on Ethel, please Google Ethel Campbell.
Charles Whiteing was requested to give an update on the END OF YEAR LUNCHEON which will be held on 5th November 2017 at the Blue Waters Hotel.
The Chairman then introduced Mr Mathew Marwick, a history teacher at Maritzburg College and invited him to deliver the DDH.
His talk was titled “The contribution by South Africa’s traditional boys’ schools to World War I” and was based on an article penned by him that had appeared in the Military History Journal in June 2015.
Marwick described how, as a resident master at Maritzburg College, he had for a number of years been intrigued by the precisely 100 names that appeared on the school’s World War I memorial, including that of the only beloved son of one of his great heroes, Mr Robert Clark MA (Oxon), regarded as the “Father of College”.
His research over the last few years into the 97 old boys and three masters whose names appear on the memorial had in turn spawned an interest in other boys’ schools across the country – how many alumni might they have lost in the war? And so, over the following few years, Marwick built up a decent body of research on the topic, using his now fairly vast collection of school histories and magazines – from the Grey College magazine of 1896 and World War I magazines from King Edward VII School (KES) and St Andrew’s College, to the far more recent and rather more glossy school histories of Queen’s College, Grey High School, Pretoria Boys High School and the SA College School (SACS), and many more in between.
In a nutshell, of the total of nearly 9 000 white South Africans who died in World War I, nearly 1 300 were educated at just 17 schools:
* A staggering 164 old boys of SACS perished, while St Andrew’s College and the Diocesan College (Bishops) lost 125 and 113 of their alumni respectively, with the last-mentioned enjoying the distinction of having the honours and awards earned during the War by its old boys brought to the attention of the House of Commons.
* At other so-called “traditional” English-speaking boys’ schools to lose over 50 of their alumni, we have already referred to Maritzburg College’s losses – 93 Dalians perished, as did 86 boys from Durban High School (DHS), 80 Queenians, 66 boys from the newly-established KES in Johannesburg, 61 boys from Kingswood College, 60 boys each from St Patrick’s CBC (Kimberley) and St John’s College, 59 boys from Grey High School, 56 boys from Rondebosch Boys’ High School (including three masters), 52 Hiltonians, and 50 each from Graeme College, Kimberley Boys’ High School and Selborne College.
However, in referring to the rolls of honours of the various schools, Marwick explained that his research was offered in respectful remembrance of the men who had lost their lives – not as some odious “hit parade”. In doing so, he quoted the words of the wartime headmaster of Charterhouse (1911-1935), Sir Frank Fletcher, who expressed the following when it was suggested that “league tables” be compiled of the leading public schools’ casualty and medal lists:
“Lists of this kind seemed to suggest competition and comparisons inappropriate to a matter in which all schools are loyally doing their utmost.”
During the course of his 20-minute address, Marwick also touched on related issues, like –
* The sacrifices of leading schools elsewhere in the Empire – for example, 302 boys from Sydney Grammar School died in the War (out of 1 772 who served – 17%) and 285 boys (out of 1 400 – 20%) from Auckland Grammar School.
* The power of photographs – like the photo of 11 old boys from Glasgow Academy serving in the Scottish Rifles posing proudly for the camera before their departure for Gallipoli in December 1914 – eight of them were to be killed on one day, 28 June 1915; or of the triumphant DHS First XV of 1914, all of whom volunteered for service – four were to perish; or the photo from The Witness dated 16 December 1916 of old boys of Maritzburg College who gathered together in France shortly before the start of the Battle of the Somme. Titled “College Boys at the Front”, the photo depicts 18 young servicemen, of whom eight were to perish before the guns fell silent in November 1918.
* The fatality ratios at these leading SA schools. While the average fatality ratio of SA troops who served in World War I was about 8.5% (i.e. 1 in 12), at many of these so-called traditional schools it was a lot higher. At DHS, 17% of all old boys who volunteered were killed, while a total of 46 Michaelhusians perished (including three members of staff), out of only 198 who served (23%), and at St John’s 60 old boys out of 299 who enlisted did not return (20%).
* Michaelhouse enjoyed the sad distinction of having the only headmaster of a British and Empire public school to have died as a result of enemy action in the War. Anthony Brown had only joined the staff of the Balgowan school in 1910 and in August 1915 he was granted leave of absence by the Bishop of Natal to enlist. Commissioned into the Rifle Brigade, he was shot dead by a long-range sniper near Guillemont on the Somme in August 1916.
* Other headmasters and future headmasters who were to serve with distinction during the Great War included Lt-Col EG “Oubaas” Gane, who served Kingswood as its headmaster from 1892 until 1927 and was described as “every inch a military man”; Lt (future Lt-Col) AC “Betsy” Martin, a product of Maritzburg College, who earned a Military Cross and was thereafter not only the commanding officer of the Royal Durban Light Infantry but the head master of DHS (1943-1952); former St Andrew’s Rhodes Scholar Ronald Currey, who earned an MC and bar with the Black Watch and in due course was to serve both Michaelhouse as its rector (1930-1938) and his alma mater in Grahamstown as its headmaster (1939-1955); the seventh headmaster of St John’s College, Old Carthusian Lt-Col Fr Charles Runge, who earned an MC and bar and a DSO; and Runge’s predecessor at St John’s, Father Eustace Hill, who famously served as an Anglican chaplain to the “Springbok Brigade” at Delville Wood, and although he received an MC for fearlessly attending the wounded during the battle, such was his utter disregard for his own safety that “[the] men declare that he won the VC again and again”.
* The contributions made by these traditional schools at the Battle of Delville Wood. For example, 12 old boys from DHS died during the course of the seven-day battle (with a further nine wounded and three captured); 11 old boys from Maritzburg College and 10 from St Andrew’s were killed; nine boys from St Patrick’s CBC and seven boys from Kimberley Boys’ High died etc.
* Notably, the majority of the Victoria Crosses earned by South African-born servicemen in World War I were earned by the products of these traditional schools, including Capt Oswald Reid (St John’s), Acting Lt-Col John “Jack” Sherwood Kelly (DSO, CMG) (he had been educated at Dale, Queen’s and St Andrew’s Colleges – and expelled from all three!), Acting Capt Reginald Hayward (MC and bar), who had been schooled at Hilton; and the diminutive, highly-decorated “balloon buster”, Lt Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor (DSO, MC and bar, DFC), who had attended both St George’s Grammar School (founded in 1848) and the country’s oldest school, SACS.
* The bonds and allegiances of such SA boys to their old schools proved enduring and inspiring throughout the war years, and, judging by the regular, personal correspondence between soldiers at the Front and their former headmasters and housemasters, the goings-on at the old school, news of the success of the First XV etc. were sources of not just great interest but some solace to servicemen, far away from home and anxious for parochial news.
* For some old boys of these traditional schools, facing the immediate possibility of a painful death in no-man’s-land, anxious and quite possibly terrified, they were known to often lapse into thoughts of happier times – often the carefree days of their youth. Indeed, memories of their school days were at times amongst their very final earthly thoughts. In this regard, one thinks of the old boys from DHS who went over the top to their deaths with the cheer, “School, School, School!” on their lips.
Lastly, Marwick was able to report that he had led a 37-person strong touring party to the battlefields of the Western Front in time for the centenary celebrations in July 2016 of the Battle of Delville Wood. With a chuckle, he was able to report that he had smuggled soil from Maritzburg College in his shoe and had sprinkled that soil on the grave of Capt DS Dalrymple-Clark MC, the only son of his hero, Mr Clark, and in turn had returned soil from his grave, to be sprinkled at the School’s Remembrance Day Parade in November 2016.
“At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.”
After a short break the Raffle was drawn and the Chairman then introduced the speaker for the Main Talk, Steve Watt, with his subject “The U-Boat War off Southern Africa”.
Admiral Karl Dönitz requested a meeting, and later another, with Adolf Hitler. Dönitz began his presentation explaining that the U-boats fighting off the American seaboard were no longer profitable. American ASW measures by air patrols and the extension of the convoy network was the main reason. To regain the U-boat success, the following was urgently required:
1.0 Long range bombers were needed, to seek convoys and to warn of approaching aircraft.
2.0 A new attack submarine of high speed to out run/out manoeuvre escorts during attack and withdrawal phases.
Hitler was not in favour of new aircraft, instead, he strongly endorsed the construction of new U-boats, the long range Type IXD and Type IXC.
Dönitz favoured the idea to attack shipping off Southern Africa. Four U-boats formed a group named called Eisbär (Polar Bear) and were destined to attack shipping off Cape Town; U-68 (Kapt zS K-F Merten), U-159 (KL H Witte) U-172 (KK C Emmermann) U-504 (Kapt zS G Poske).
Forewarned of a pending attack, the British Admiralty instructed ships to re-locate with immediate effect. U-68 and U-178, whose mission was to sink ships in Table Bay discovered the bay “empty”. Dönitz then instructed the skippers ‘freedom of action’. Within 48 hours twelve vessels were sunk in the environs of Cape Town. The onslaught continued. Believing the South African traffic had been diverted far to the south of the Cape several boats proceeded beyond ‘the roaring forties’, a term given to the region noted for its gale force winds and mountainous seas. Success was achieved with three ships sunk by U-504 and U-159. Two boats then proceeded to the east coast of South Africa adding another four ships. Eisbär boats departed the Cape Town area in high spirits after torpedoing two lone ships. Its mission was considered a great success, having sunk 24 ships.
Close on the heels of Eisbär was the U-Cruiser force of four submarines: U-178 (Kapt zS H Ibbeken), U-179 (FK E Sobe), U-177 (KK R Gysae) and U-181 (KaptzS W Lüth). Their mission was to proceed to the eastern seaboard of South Africa. They were confronted with increased ASW measures but this did not impede the enthusiasm of the U-boat skippers. Lüth sank 12 ships in four weeks. Gysae (U-177) patrolling the area near Lourenço Marques (today Maputo) sank 7 ships including the troopship Nova Scotia with the loss of 858 lives. Ibbeken arrived off Cape Town before proceeding to the north of Durban. Bedevilled by engine problems U-178 headed for home having sunk 7 ships. U-179 was hunted down attacked and destroyed with a loss of all hands after having sunk 1 ship. The U-cruiser force achieved success in which 28 ships were sunk.
The second foray to the Indian Ocean began in February – March 1943. Five U-boats were to mount attacks on shipping. U-160 (KK G Lassen), U-509 (KL W Witte), U-182(KL N Clausen), U-506(KL E Würdermann) and FK G Wiebe in U-516. In two weeks Lassen sunk seven ships. A congratulatory message from Hitler entitled him to be awarded Oakleaves to his Ritterkreuz. With the implementation of more ASW measures with Enigma encrypts, the other submarines were to complete their tours with modest results, having sunk 17 ships. Würdermann sank 2 vessels, Witte 2, Clausen 4 ships and Wiebe 3.
Donitz directed U-boat control to launch a third foray to the Indian Ocean in March- April 1943. Seven U-Cruisers were designated for the task: U-198 (Kapt zS W Hartmann), U-196 (KK E-F Kentrat), U-195 (KK H Buchholz), U-197 (KK R Bartels), U-178 (FK W Dommes).
On 4 May 1943 the British South Atlantic Command, stressing the immediate threat posed by U-boats rounding the Cape, made the decision that the convoy system was to be introduced. Independent sailings were to be suspended, except fast ships, while vessels approaching Cape Town, were diverted to reach the coastal area early.
Hartmann on rounding the Cape sank one ship but encountered ASW trawlers and air attack and was forced to sail 600 km eastward encountering a lone ship which he sank. Returning to the Durban area he sank two ships.
In early June, U-boat control decided that submarines with plenty of torpedoes should extend their patrols and seek replenishment from the supply ship Charlotte Schleimann, positioned in the mid Indian Ocean.
Returning to the Cape, Kentrat, turned eastward and torpedoed one ship off Durban then proceeded to rendezvous with Charlotte Schleimann.
Buchholz in U-195 followed Hartmann. He encountered a lone vessel off Cape Town, which he failed to sink. Beset with engine problems, he headed for base in France. Robert Bartels, in U-197 reached the Cape in time to refuel with Charlotte Schleimann. After eighty days at sea, he did not sink a single ship.
U-181 returned to his familiar hunting ground. En route, Lüth, after sinking a ship off West Africa, was worthy of a decoration. Hitler added Crossed Swords to the Oakleaves of Lüth’s Ritterkreuz. Lüth rounded the Cape and patrolled the waters north of Lourenço Marques to then South as far as Durban. Between mid May and early June he sank three ships. As per plan he then rendezvoused with Charlotte Schleimann.
Robert Gysae in U-177, like Lüth, was on his second patrol to the Cape. He encountered a convoy of 16 ships escorted by seven warships. In late May he sank two ships. Upon hearing this success Dönitz radioed Gysae with the news that Hitler awarded him Oakleaves to his Ritterkreuz. At the suggestion of U-boat control, Gysae was ordered to the Saldanha area but failed to sink a single ship. Thereafter he set course to meet Charlotte Schleimann.
The third and last experienced U-Cruiser of the foray was U-178. She had a new skipper, Wilhelm Dommes, who was awarded the Ritterkreuz for success achieved in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Dommes reached the Cape in early May where he located a small convoy but was attacked and forced to dive. Patrolling off Durban he attacked and damaged a freighter. The convoy’s tug took the damaged ship in tow but in a storm the freighter broke up and sank. Dommes patrolled the Mozambique Channel for several days, then turned east to rendezvous with Charlotte Schleimann. Like Kentrat (U-196) and Bartels (U-197) Dommes sank only one ship.
U-Boat Control then issued orders to the six cruisers. They were to remain in the Indian Ocean and mount simultaneous attacks. Gysae (U-197) carried out attacks south of Madagascar and sank four ships. Thereafter he returned to France. Dommes (U-178) sank two freighters near Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) followed by another two. Having received fuel he proceeded to Penang in Malaysia, to assist in the construction of a U-boat base. Hartmann (U-198) proceeded to the north of Lourenço Marques and sank three ships. Thereafter aircraft based in Durban harassed him almost daily. However he managed to sink another ship before he set course for France. Lüth proceeded Northward to Mauritius to sink three ships, followed by another three. Upon learning about these successes, Hitler approved the award of Diamonds to his Oakleaves and Swords to his Ritterkreuz.
Since leaving Charlotte Schleimann, Bartels (U-197) had sunk only one ship. At end of August Lüth intercepted a report from Bartels stating that he had sunk another ship. The Allies intercepted the U-boat chatter and reacted with the despatch of Catalina aircraft to Bartel’s U-boat. Unable to withstand attack, U-197 was sunk, with the loss of all hands.
The overall returns of the U-cruiser force was mixed: One U boat was sunk and another aborted its mission. Three U-boats bagged twenty ships while three cruisers sank only seven ships between them.
The third U-cruiser force set sail in April 1944. Commanded by BH von Waldegg in U-198 he torpedoed and sank one ship off Cape Town, then he proceeded to an area in the North of the Mozambique Channel, where he sank three British freighters. A Catalina aircraft took up tracking the U-boat, and assisted by three frigates, U-198 was located destroyed by depth charges and Hedgehogs. There were no survivors.
The last U-cruiser to sail was U-861, commanded by Jurgen Oesten and was to patrol the Indian Ocean. In August Oesten attacked a convoy near Durban and sank a British freighter and a Greek freighter. Thereafter he proceeded to Penang.
So ended the U boat menace off the South African Coast.
After a lively question and answer session the Chairman requested Committee member Don Porter to present the Vote of Thanks from the audience.
The Chairman then announced the meeting for 9th November 2017.
The DDH will be presented by Donald Davies with the subject “Radio waves along the Durban’s Shoreline”.
The Main Talk will be presented by Don Porter with the story of “The Actions at Kheis Drift, 28/05/1900 and 18/11/1914”.
SOUTH AFRICAN MILITARY HISTORY SOCIETY
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