South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 154

July/Julie 2017

The June meeting took place on 12th at the usual venue.

The Members’ slot was taken by Mac Alexander. He described the circumstances in which Detective Johann Christiaan (Christie)Hoehler, his wife’s grandfather, was awarded the King’s Police Medal for gallantry in 1928. This was for saving the life of a man who had fallen on the tracks of an oncoming train. Christie Hoehler was born in 1904 of German parents who were strongly pro-Boer. Christie too was sympathetic to the Boer cause and apparently had some reservation about wearing the SAP badge with the crown on it. The medal itself does not have a crown on it – just the British sovereign’s head! After retiring from the SAP, he went into business and died in 1980.

The curtain raiser was by Richard Tomlinson, who gave an illustrated talk on some of the military vehicles which he had seen on a recent visit to the Stars of Sandstone display at Sandstone Estates near Ficksburg in the Eastern Free State. Among those which he highlighted were a Marmon-Herrington Mk II armoured car, a Daimler Ferret Scout Car, an American M4 Sherman Tank (also called a ‘Ronson’ by British troops because of its propensity to catch fire due to its petrol engine, and sometimes a Tommykocher by the Germans), a British Crusader tank, a 25-pdr field gun (G1) with tractor, and a QF 3.7 inch Heavy Anti-Aircraft Gun as used during WW II. Many of these items, several of which were on loan from the Museum of Armour in Bloemfontein were used by the SADF.

Daimler Ferret Scout Car
Photo: Richard Tomlinson

An interesting short video on this vehicle can be seen at
For more information on the Sandstone Estate see:

The main lecture by Andre Crozier, was titled The Battle of Gazala 1942. Andre reports as follows:
The subject of the fall of Tobruk has long intrigued me ever since it was first recounted to me by my father. It was a shattering blow that influenced the lives of many people in South Africa. The Australians had held onto Tobruk for eight months so why couldn’t the South Africans have done better? General Klopper had to make the decision that saved thousands from a pointless death but condemned them to three years of suffering in prisoner of war camps in both Italy and Germany. Despite a commission of inquiry that Klopper, being a prisoner of war himself, was unable to attend, there has long been the vague suggestion that he could have done better and that the fall was somehow his fault. This was not helped by Winston Churchill’s well publicized utterances on hearing of the fall of Tobruk: “Defeat is one thing, disgrace is another.”

In trying to come to my own conclusions, I felt one must first examine the Battle of Gazala as the fall of Tobruk was preceded by that battle. The Battle of Gazala has been described as follows: David Chandler writing in Purnell’s History of the Second World War, noted that:

Major General Von Mellenthin, writing in Panzer Battles, stated “I propose to consider the courses open to the British; my excuse for doing so is that the military situation at Gazala at the beginning of June 1942, was one of the most interesting in my experience.”

In my talk I endeavored to set out all the different factors that came into play during this battle, starting with the logistical problems facing both the Allied and the Axis forces, the significance of the island of Malta, and the position of Tobruk which was over 800km from Cairo and to which all supplies had to be brought by road, rail or sea.

I discussed and compared the commanders on the Allied and Axis side, followed by a comparison of weapons (particularly tank and anti-tank) and force size. I then gave a brief description of the battle stressing the most important events as it raged from the 26th May to the 16th June.

I concluded by showing some photographs of the Gazala Line taken by Gunner Jimmy Mullins (South African Artillery) and by Corporal Vivian Irwin of 2nd Regiment Botha, taken during the hair raising evacuation of the Gazala Line by the 1st SA Division and their descent of the escarpment towards Tobruk and beyond on the 14th June. This was the start of the chaotic retreat all the way to El Alamein – the so called ‘Gazala Gallop’.

The Battle of Gazala was dominated by the military genius and the courage, drive and determination of Erwin Rommel. It was without doubt his greatest victory. But what if the Allied 8th Army had had a more competent general? Rommel could possibly have been stopped in his tracks and the entire Afrika Korps captured. What if Ritchie had concentrated his armoured divisions as recommended by General Auchinleck and deployed them by corps rather than by brigades? And what if British General Ritchie had immediately counter attacked the Cauldron using every available resource when Rommel was at his weakest in the period 29th May to 1st June instead of waiting until the 5th June by which time Rommel had disposed of the 150 Brigade Box and secured a line of resupply though the minefields to his rear?

Finally, what if the British had deployed their 3.7 inch guns in an anti-tank tank role as the Germans did with their famed 88s? The questions and permutations are endless. At the end of the day, following Chandler “the 8th Amy had been out-generalled, out-manoeuvred and outfought.”

With this background, how was General Klopper, a new arrival to the desert who had only just taken command of a division, expected to do better? I will attempt to answer this in my talk on the Fall of Tobruk later this year.

A near miss on the 1st Division column as it retreats from Gazala.
Photos: Corporal Vivian Irwin, June 1942

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next SAMHSEC meeting will be on Monday 10th July 2017 at 19h30 at the Eastern Cape Veteran Car Club in Conyngham Road, Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser will be by Peter Duffel-Canham on Some historical sites on the R63. The main lecture, Operation Green Sea (Portuguese Colonial War in Guinea) will be by Brian Klopper. The warning order for the August Field trip will be sent out shortly.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemenebelang

Anglo-Boer War exhibition of oil paintings

The attention of members is drawn to an exhibition of oil paintings of the Anglo-Boer War by one of South Africa's leading contemporary realist painters, John Meyer, in the GFI Art Gallery in Park Road. Titled Lost in the Dust, it is a powerful series of narrative paintings from the perspective of the vanquished rather than the victors. The exhibition runs until mid-July and Peter Duffel-Canham, who attended the opening, gives the assurance that it is well worth a visit.

The last survivor of the Battle of Jutland

HMS Caroline, a light cruiser which took part in the Battle of Jutland, and possibly the only surviving vessel of that encounter, has been fully restored and refurbished at a cost of €19 million. She is now permanently moored in a specially constructed mooring system at Belfast Docks and is open to visitors. For further details and the history of the ship, see:

World War I Centenary Years / Eerste Wêreldoorlog Eeufeesjare

Major engagements in July 1917

The Battle of Passchendaele also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, Flandernschlacht and Deuxième Bataille des Flandres, which took place from 31st July to 6th November 1917, was fought for control of the ridges south and east of the Belgian town of Ypres in West Flanders. The first and second battles of Ypres in 1914 and 1915 were launched by the Germans: this third battle was planned by General Haig to force a breakthrough in Flanders. Further operations and a British supporting attack along the Belgian coast combined with an amphibious landing, were intended to have reached Bruges and then the Dutch frontier, destroying German submarine bases on the Belgian coast. They, however, failed to materialise.

Haig’s mistaken belief in the immanent collapse of the German Army, the tough resistance of the German 4th Army, unusually wet weather, the onset of winter and the diversion of British and French resources to Italy following the Austro-German victory at the Battle of Caporetto (also known as the 12th Battle of the Isonzo) in November 1917, enabled the Germans to avoid a strategic withdrawal, which had seemed likely in early October. The campaign ended in November, when the Canadian Corps finally captured Passchendaele. While the offensive led to some gains for the Allies, it was by no means the breakthrough intended.

The prosecution and management of the battle, which was the last great battle of attrition of the war, remain controversial to this day. Casualties were massive: 275,000 Allied troops and 220,000 Germans killed and wounded. At the end, the point of it all was unclear. In 1918, all the ground gained by the Allies was evacuated in the face of the looming German Spring Offensive.

Aerial view of Passchendaele village before and after the battle

50th Anniversary of the Six Day War

The six day war between Israel and its neighbours took place between 5thand 10th June 1967

To mark the event the Israeli Cabinet has released previously classified documents relating to the war. These contain some interesting surprises and rich ironies, among which are that:
Jerusalem was conquered almost by accident as there was no political intention to do so; Israel’s National Religious Party, forerunner to the current West Bank settler movement, lobbied for military de-escalation at every turn; nobody in Israel’s security cabinet seems to have seen the country’s most momentous war coming; and the cabinet, split between ‘hawks’ and ‘doves’, dithered to the extent that, to save the country from multiple invasions and possible annihilation, the generals had to take matters into their own hands. Two outline articles and a discussion on these events by Yaacov Lozowick can be foundin Tablet in two parts. The original documents with English translations can be read by clicking on the links in these articles:

Part I: ‘The Secret Transcripts of the Six-Day War’ can be viewed at :

Part II:‘Israeli Security Cabinet Secret Transcripts, The Accidental Occupation’,focuses on the deliberations of the Israeli cabinet on what to do with the conquered territories they unexpectedly found themselves with, a situation which remains unresolved today. It can be seen at:

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

Historic Aircraft

Newly restored Messerschmitt Bf109G flies again: Test pilot shares his experience...
Rick Volker War History Online 27th February 2017


The Tiger Collection: Porsche and Henschel turrets?
The Tank Museum


Australian convict pirates in Japan: evidence of 1830 voyage unearthed

Joshua Robertson The Guardian 28th May 2017

World War I

Imperial War Museum /Lives of the First World War

World War II

Virtual memorial for WW2 code-cracker
BBC News: Technology 15th May 2017

A machine used to encrypt the messages Hitler sent to his generals has been recreated online as a tribute to the Bletchley Park codebreaker Bill Tutte who originally cracked it. Tutte worked out how the Lorenz SZ42 machine scrambled messages, despite never seeing the device in action. This virtual version of the machine which was created to mark the 100th Anniversary of Tutte’s birth, has been made available so that people can see how it worked.

To read the complete article see:
See and play with the tool here:

The minesweeper disguised as an island: the remarkable story of HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen

HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen disguised as an island and as a Dutch museum ship in 2011

Resource materials of military historical interest/ Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundige belang



Readers of Len Deighton’s military history books and novels may be interested to note thata video of one of his best sellers, SS-GB, has recently been released. Known initially for his award-winning The IPCRESS File published in 1962 at the age of 33, Len Deighton in 1978 published his 13th novel,SS-GB. Set in 1941, it deals with life after the Battle of Britain had been lost and Britain was occupied by Nazi Germany. It soon became a best seller and has been in print ever since.

For those who have read the book, the video will probably be something of a disappointment. While it follows the broad theme of the book, it differs substantially in sequence, interpretation, characterisation and conclusion. Viewed on its own without the background of the book, it might be more enjoyable as a thriller with a historical setting.

Deighton, now 88, has published a total of 19 stand-alone novels and nine works of non-fiction including Fighter (1977), Blitzkrieg (1979) and Battle of Britain (1980). Apart from his novels, many of which have a military theme or background, Deighton is an acclaimed military historian, writer of cookery books and graphic artist. He is renowned for his meticulous research, the accuracy of his descriptions and his narrative skills. Bomber (first published in 1970 and focussing on a Lancaster mission over Germany) for example, was highly praised by former members of RAF Bomber Command for its realism and accuracy of detail in every respect.


Christine E Hallett 2017 The Nurses of Passchendaele: Caring for the wounded of the Ypres Campaigns 1914-1918
Pen & Sword Books Ltd London Scheduled for publication 30th June.

In casualty clearing stations, on ambulance trains and barges, and at base hospitals near the French and Belgian coasts, nurses of many nations cared for the wounded and traumatised men of Passchendaele. Drawing on letters, diaries and personal accounts from archives all over the world, Nurses of Passchendaele recounts the experiences of nurses working behind the Allied lines of the Ypres Salient, one of the most intense and prolonged casualty evacuation processes in the history of warfare.


Further to the listfrom THECASUALOBSERVER blog given in Newsletter 153, the following relate to the Second World War and to monuments and memorials in the Eastern Cape:

The Rheinwiesenlarger: Did the Americans kill German POWs?
By Dean McCleland in Military History December 23, 2016

WW2 Military Record: Harry Clifford McCleland
By Dean McCleland in McClelands October 21, 2016

Lost photographs of Berlin between 1939 & 1940
By Dean McCleland in Military History November 26, 2016

Port Elizabeth of Yore: A town at war during World War II
By Dean McCleland in Port Elizabeth of Yore March 3, 2017

Port Elizabeth of Yore: PE’s Machine Gun Section in WW1
By Dean McCleland in Port Elizabeth of Yore February 27, 2017

WW2’s unusual, amazing and sometimes ironic statistics
By Dean McCleland in Military History February 10, 2017

Albert Göering: Genetics or heredity is not destiny
By Dean McCleland in History March 25, 2017

The funny side of war
By Dean McCleland in Opinion Pieces January 3, 2017

Port Elizabeth of Yore: Memorials to the Fallen in War
By Dean McCleland in Port Elizabeth of Yore November 10, 2016

Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Horse Memorial
By Dean McCleland in Port Elizabeth of Yore July 12, 2016

Members are invited to send in to the scribes, short reviews of, or comments on, books, DVDs or any other interesting resources they have come across, as well as news on individual member’s activities. In this Newsletter, there have been contributions by Jonathan Ossher, Andre Crozier, Barry Irwin and Peter Duffel-Canham.

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn:
Secretary: Franco Cilliers:
Scribes (Newsletter): Anne and Pat Irwin:
Society’s Website:


Kaiser Wilhelm II inspecting the Imperial German High Seas Fleet before the First World War.
Painting by Willie Stöwer (1846-1931), a well-known German war artist.
Picture: Common Domain.

South African Military History Society /