South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 153

June/Junie 2017

SAMHSEC’s May 2017 meeting took place on 8th at the usual venue.

The members’ slot was filled by Malcolm Kinghorn, who spoke about Esmeralda, the steel-hulled, four-masted barquentine tall ship of the Chilean Navy.

The first Chilean Navy ship with the name Esmeralda was a frigate captured from the Spanish at Callao, Peru, by Admiral Lord Thomas Alexander Cochrane of the Chilean Navy, in November 1820. The second was a corvette which fought against superior forces until sunk with colours flying on 21st May 1879 at the Battle of Iquique. These events mark important milestones for theChilean Navy and the ship's name is said to evoke values of courage andsacrifice.

Construction of the current Esmeralda began in Cádiz, Spain, in 1946 with the intention of becoming Spain's national training ship. In 1947, the yard in which she was being built experienced catastrophic explosions, which damaged the ship and placed the yard on the brink of bankruptcy. Work on the ship was temporarily halted. In 1950 Chile and Spain entered into negotiations in which Spain offered to repay debts incurred to Chile, as a result of the Spanish Civil War, in the form of manufactured products including the not yet completed Esmeralda. Chile accepted the offer and the ship was formally transferred to the ownership of Chile in 1951. Work then continued on the ship.

She was launched on 12th May 1953 and delivered as a four-masted topsail schooner to the Government of Chile in June 1954. She arrived at Valparaíso on 1st September 1954 to much fanfare. Her sister ship is the training ship for the Spanish Navy, Juan Sebastian Elcano. In the 1970s Esmeralda's rigging was changed to a four-masted barquentine by replacing the fore gaff sail by two main staysails. Since her commissioning, Esmeralda has been a training ship for the Chilean Navy. She has visited more than 300 ports worldwide, acting as a floating embassy for Chile.

For the curtain raiser, Anne Irwin discussed the exploits of Jemima Nicholas during the Battle of Fishguard, on the Welsh coast, in 1797. This brief campaign took place between 22nd and 24th February of that year when the French Black Legion, commanded by Colonel William Tate, arrived in a French warship in an attempt to persuade the Welsh to rise up against the perceived yoke of English oppression. The plan went awry when many of Tate’s men went on a looting spree, much to the ire of the locals. It is reputed that Jemima Nicholas, armed with only a pitchfork, single-handedly rounded up a group of French soldiers, had them incarcerated, and went out looking for more! This feisty woman was honoured by having her name changed to Jemima Fawr (Jemima the Great) and was allegedly awarded a £500 pension for life, a fact disputed by recent historians. A stone memorial was raised to her after her death 35 years later. She is also remembered in the 30 metre long tapestry of Fishguard, known as The Last Invasion Tapestry.

The main lecture was replaced by two shorter lectures. Graham Wood recounted his Unscheduled visit to Goose Bay at the time of the Twin Towers attack in New York. On his way to a conference in Canada, his plane was diverted to the military base at Goose Bay in Eastern Canada where both the plane and passengers were grounded for six days while all air traffic over the United Sates was suspended. He described how the passengers were looked after during this period and the various bureaucratic procedures they had to go through to facilitate their temporary stay in Canada.

Pat Irwin gave an illustrated talk on The Carron Iron Works and the making of cannons. Following a brief history of the company, the talk focused on the iconic artillery piece produced by the company – the carronade.

The Carron iron Works was established at Falkirk, Scotland, in 1759 with aim of producing a range of good quality iron products, including both military items and domestic goods. Its first products were sad-irons and cannon balls. As a result of innovative management, the company expanded rapidly and within a few years was exporting armaments, including the relatively new ‘Blomefield pattern’ gun which was to become the standard artillery piece with which the Napoleonic wars were fought. Also among its successes were the cylinders for James Watt’s first steam engine. By 1814 the company claimed to be the largest iron works in Europe employing over 2 000 people. In addition it owned its own mines, railways and fleet of ships.

The original trade mark on the clock tower at the Carron Iron Works in Falkirk.
Photo: Common domain

The carronade is a short smoothbore cast iron cannon designed primarily as a short range anti-personnel and anti-rigging piece for merchant ships to protect themselves from pirates and privateers, particularly American and French. Its low muzzle velocity was intended mainly for grapeshot and canister, but it could also accommodate roundshot and barshot. It came in a range of sizes from 6-pounders to 68-pounders and rapidly proved to be a very successful weapon.Despite some initial reluctance, it was also adopted by the Royal Navy.

The gun had a number of features which made it attractive, the most important of which were: The substantial reduction in weight and the amount of gunpowder it required, thus also reducing barrel heating in action; simplifying gunnery for untrained merchant seamen in both the aiming and reloading of the gun. It also required fewer crew to operate it; the replacement of the trunnions by a ring and bolt underneath,fixed onto a pivoted sliding carriage, allowing a wide angle of fire as well as controlled recoil. Carron Iron Works also sold the gun as part of a system – production of both shot and gun by the same firm allowed a reduction in windage which added to the efficiencies of the piece.

A classic example of the use of the carronade in action was the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. HMS Victory, and other first-rate ships of the line used the two 68-pounders mounted on their bows to great effect. Victory cleared the gun deck of the French flagship, Bucentaure, by firing 500 musket balls through the stern windows, devastating the interior of the ship and causing 400 casualties.

Like all technologies however, the carronade was eventually superseded. The development of steel-jacketed and rifled naval artillery resulted in the changed shape of the projectile,exploding shells replacing solid shot, and fewer naval engagements being fought at short ranges.The carronade and remained in production as an ongoing success until the 1850s at about which time its use was discontinued by the Royal Navy. The gun nevertheless continued to be used on field carriages throughout the American Civil War. The last known use of a carronade in conflict was during the Anglo-Transvaal War, 1880-1881. In the siege of Potchefstroom, the Boers used Grietjie, an antique carronade mounted on a wagon axle, now housed in the Voortrekker Monument,against the British fort.

Grietjie, a 4-pdr carronade c1800 is preserved in the Voortrekker Museum, Pretoria.
Photo: Pat Irwin

Carron Iron Works continued to flourish for the remainder of the 19th century and well into the 20th century, making significant contributions to shipbuilding and to armament production in both World Wars. Post 1945, the emphasis shifted to domestic products ranging from coal stoves and the renowned ‘Carronette’ bathtub, to precision tools, and parts of ships such as the Queen Mary and HMS Hood. With changing times the company failed to make a profit in 1979 and in 1982 it went into receivership, following which a major reorganisation took place. Part of the company still exists under the name of Carron Phoenix and is owned by the Swiss Franke Corporation. Some areas of production have recently moved to China. The company no longer makes cannons.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next SAMHSEC meeting will be on Monday 12th June 2017 at 19h30 at the Eastern Cape Veteran Car Club in Conyngham Road, Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser, Military Vehicles at Stars of Sandstone, will be by Richard Tomlinson. The main lecture will be by Andre Crozier on The Battle of Gazala, June 1942.

A Field Trip to King William’s Town, some of the 9th Frontier War sites of the Transkei area, and East London is planned for Friday 4th to Sunday 6th August. This promises to be a unique opportunity to visit these difficult-to-find Transkei sites. Details will follow.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

New member / Nuwe lid

We welcome Keven Wade and hope his association with SAMHSEC will continue to be a fulfilling one.

Members’ forum/Lede se forum

Richard Tomlinson would like to borrow/use a light table from someone in Port Elizabeth, to trace a very faint blueprint plan of the Swartkops Bombing Range from WW2. If anyone is able to assist Richard, please contact him at 041 581 2108 or 083 558 2277.

Parades /Parades

Grey High School, Port Elizabeth

Trooping the Colour will be performed by the Grey Cadet Detachment on Friday 26th May at 16h00 at Grey High School in Mill Park. Visitors are most welcome to attend this event which, over the years, has attracted thousands of spectators. The 400-strong detachment is the only full detachment of its size at school level in South Africa. It also performed the Retreat Ceremony earlier in the year. Tuesday is ‘cadet day’ at Grey and every boy comes to school in cadet uniform on that day.


The Wreath laying Ceremony of the 3rd Generation will be held at Comrades Algoa Shellhole, 52 King Edward Street, Newton Park, on Sunday 21st May at 10h30 for 11h00. All are welcome.  

Historic Photograph in Port Elizabeth

A year or two back, the photograph below was widely circulated with a query as to what unit this might be. Various suggestions were put forward, none of which seemed to elicit wide agreement. Dean McCleland’s blog on the Anglo-Boer War (Port Elizabeth of Yore: Empire units in P.E. during the Boer War – see below under BLOGS) suggests what may well be the answer: The Queensland Imperial Bushmen, having arrived in Port Elizabeth by sea, marching past the City Hall.

Concordia Memorial unveiled

In a ceremony attended by 700 members of the local community on 27th April, the Concordia Arts & Culture Association unveiled a memorial to ‘The Men Who Would Not March’. The event was a result of a re-interpreting of the community’s history and involvement in the surrender of Concordia during the Anglo-Boer War on 4th April 1902. The monument takes the form of a sundial upon which the names of all the men involved are recorded.

Details of the incident in which men of the Town Guard declined to leave their families unprotected when ordered by the British to march to the defence of mining interests, are available in a 2011 book by David Thomas titled The Men Who Would Not March. There are also various other sources on the Internet.

Book sale

There will be a book sale, including books of military interest by Friends of the Main Library, Port Elizabeth, on Friday 26th May from 10h00-12h00 in the lane next to the Library. The sale includes volumes of: Lloyds Register, Jane’s Fighting Ships, and Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft.

World War I Centenary Years / Eerste Wêreldoorlog Eeufeesjare

Major engagements in June 2017

The dominating engagement of June 1917 was the Battle of Messines on the Western front, a precursor to Passchendaele/Third Battle of Ypres fought from July to November. Following a 17-day artillery bombardment, the offensive was launched on 7th June with the detonation of 19 underground mines beneath the German lines, the target being the Messines Ridge, a German salient and stronghold. Work on excavating 22 tunnels extending some 8 000 metres, and the laying of the mines had begun in early 1916. German counter-miners had discovered and destroyed one, and two were not detonated. The sound of the 19 simultaneous explosions could be heard in London and as far away as Dublin and was the largest man-made sound in history up to that time.

The effect of the mines on the Germans was devastating, some 10 000 being killed in the explosion alone. In the wake of the explosion, nine Allied Infantry Divisions advanced under the protection of a creeping artillery barrage, tanks and gas attacks. The objectives were captured with relative ease. Repeated German counter-attacks were largely ineffective and the battle ended on 14th June,at which time the entire German salient was in Allied hands.

From the Franco-British perspective, it was considered one of their most successful battles. They had gained a small but significant section of ground and it was the first time on the Western Front that defensive casualties exceeded those of the attackers: estimated at 25 000 versus 17 000.

The exact location of the two unexploded mines was ‘mislaid’ by the British and one of them exploded during a thunderstorm in June 1955, fortunately the only casualty being a cow. The location of the other one has not yet been pinpointed with any certainty.

In the naval theatre unrestricted submarine warfare by Germany, reintroduced in February 1917, continued with considerable success from the German point of view.

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

Roman warfare

Roman military technology and tactics

Roman battle tactics

Facts about the Roman legions

World War II

From plumber to monster: chilling photos of Auschwitz guards
Natalie Keegan The Sun 4th May 2017

Holocaust survivor Gena Turgel recalls the abject horror of life at Auschwitz and Belsen

Josie Griffiths The Sun 27th January 2017

15 women of World War II you didn't learn about in history class – an American perspective

Eric March 14th November 2015

Cold War and post-Cold War 1945 Soviets vs Allies: who would have won?[This is real ‘What if?’ stuff. It is nevertheless interesting to conjecture if you can tolerate the poor English and bad spelling. The origin is unclear, but it appears to be East European. – Eds]

Military history miscellany
Jinny McCormick War History Online April 2017

Resource materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundige belang


BLOGS THECASUALOBSERVER is a blog run by Dean McCleland of Port Elizabeth. The following entries are of military historical interest:

Eastern Cape

Port Elizabeth of Yore: The wrecking of the troopship Charlotte

Port Elizabeth of Yore: Fort Frederick

Captain Francis William Henry McCleland


Port Elizabeth of Yore: Empire units in P.E. during the Boer War

Port Elizabeth of Yore: Defences during the Boer War


Port Elizabeth of Yore: Echoes of a far off war

The shameful torching of Port Elizabeth’s German Club in 1915

A haunting reminder of the horrors of WW1

And also supplementing the recent talk by Franco Cilliers:

Can medium size countries still afford Main Battle Tanks?

There is also much more of interest, other than military history, on this blog.


8.8cm Anti-Aircraft gun firing Historical Aviation Film Unit

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 Richard Tomlinson, Malcolm Kinghorn, Barry Irwin, Michael Irwin, Peter Duffel-Canham and Jonathan Ossher.

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


Some thoughts from Robert Lynd (1879-1949) an Irish writer, editor of poetry, urbane literary essayist, strong Irish nationalist and sometime military history commentator.


South African Military History Society /