South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 152

May/Mei 2017

The members’ slot was filled by Pat Irwin who spoke about The rank of ‘Boy’ in the Royal Navy. The origins of the term possibly go as far back as the 16th century. It gradually became more formalised so that by 19th century, the rank was structured around ‘Boy 1st, 2nd and 3rd Class’ depending upon age, ability and acumen. Parallel to it were also the ranks of Apprentice, Cadet and Midshipman. The talk concluded with reference to Boy Jack Cornwell who won the VCat the Battle of Jutland, and a reading of the poem Casabianca recalling the loyalty and steadfastness of a French ‘Boy’ at the Battle of the Nile in 1798.

The curtain raiser and main lecture were combined, with Franco Cilliers giving a spirited and well-illustrated talk on Western Cold War Tanks.

Tank design is a compromise of three factors: protection, firepower and mobility. The protection level of a vehicle is determined by the amount of armour the vehicle is equipped with. The main limiting factor in the amount of armour used by tanks is its weight. The weight limitation has led to the development of composite armour which is lighter and performs better than steel armour.

The effect of different 105mm armour piercing rounds on 250mm steel.

Firepower is a function of the gun and the fire control system carried by a tank. Three main types of armour piercing ammunition are used by tanks, namely High Explosive Anti-Tank (H.E.A.T.), High Explosive Squash Head (H.E.S.H.) and Armour Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot (A.P.F.S.D.S.). H.E.A.T. rounds use chemical energy that is generated by the explosion of a small charge in the front of the round that melts a copper lining which forms a molten jet to burn through the armour. H.E.S.H. rounds pancake onto the armour of the target vehicle and by detonating seconds later, cause scabs of armour to spall off the inside of the vehicle and bounce around. A.P.F.S.D.S. rounds consist of a dart made of a very dense metal that you fire at an extremely high speed at the target vehicle. This round is reliant on its kinetic energy to punch through the armour of a vehicle.

In the first generation of vehicles, the mobility of cold war tanks was initially limited by the use of petrol engines. These were used because of the lighter weight and the quicker acceleration of the vehicle from a stationary position. They were replaced by turbo diesel engines in the second generation of vehicles and, in one case, a gas turbine. The diesel engines were refined in the third generation to provide more power and torque for the tanks.

First generation tanks

The first generation vehicles are identified by the use of petrol engines, steel armour and 90mm main guns. The M26 Pershing was the design that saw service at the end of World War II and was used during the Korean War. The outbreak of the Korean War led to the big tank scare in the USA, which resulted in the development of the M 46 tank. This vehicle was seen as a stopgap until better vehicles could be designed and produced and was essentially an M26 Pershing with a better engine and gearbox. The M46 was followed by the M47, which was rushed into production and initially gave a host of problems. The M47 was actually never utilized on a large scale by the USA; it subsequently provided this vehicle at low cost to its Allies resulting in its widespread use within NATO.

The M48 tank was a completely new design and was intended to replace the M47. The M48 was widely used by the United States and its allies and saw action in Vietnam and the Middle Eastern Wars. This vehicle was also extensively upgraded by Israel with the United States following suit. The British Centurion tank was built on lessons learnt by the United Kingdom during World War II; the British never wanting to be outgunned again. They therefore placed firepower first, with protection a close second. Mobility was not seen to be as important and this led to British tanks being underpowered during the Cold War. The British tanks were generally the heaviest tanks in use by NATO.

The Centurion was designed and built during the last stages of World War II, but arrived too late in Germany to take part in any active service. It was continuously upgraded with better armour, guns and engines and is still in use today. It saw extensive service in the Middle Eastern Wars, southern Africa and Vietnam and was widely used within NATO as well as being adopted by India, Australia, South Africa, Netherlands and Switzerland.

Second generation tanks

The second generation tanks are distinguished by the use of diesel engines, 105 mm main guns and the initial use of steel armour that was quickly upgraded with composite armour. These vehicles were also the first to be integrated with laser rangefinders and thermal sights.

The first tank in the second generation was the M60 Patton, which started off with a diesel engine and 105mm main gun. It had a better ballistic shaped turret than the M48 it replaced and was also better armoured. It was taken into service by the Israelis in the Yom Kippur War and saw action in Desert Storm. The main version of the M60 was intended to use a combination of a gun and a missile launcher of 152 mm diameter. The combination was used because the 1960s tanks’ main guns were only capable of successfully engaging targets up to 1 800 meters, whereas the addition of a missile increased the range to 3 000 meters. Unfortunately, the technology required to launch a missile from the main gun of a tank exhibited too many teething problems and subsequently the vehicle was very unsuccessful in service. All of the M60A2 versions that were equipped with this gun/missile combination were removed from service and replaced with normal main gun turrets.

The Chieftain tank followed the British design philosophy of firepower first, armour protection second and mobility last. This was the first Western tank to mount a 120mm main gun. In the 1970s, a barr and stroud laser rangefinder replaced the ranging machine gun. The Chieftain had a multi-fuel engine as specified by NATO agreements. The L60 multi-fuel engine built by Leyland was the source of multiple problems with the Chieftain tank as the engine never met its power requirements. Israel was initially intended to be licensed to produce the Chieftain, but never did so because of the change in government in the United Kingdom. Iran and Jordan both used the Chieftain; Iran in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.

British Chieftain Tank

The Leopard I tank was the outcome of a competition held between France and Germany to cooperatively build a new tank. National interests took over and France withdrew from the program resulting in the adoption of the Leopard I by Germany. The Leopard I was designed at the time when it was believed that armour could no longer protect tanks against the new generation of H.E.A.T. rounds; therefore mobility became more important than protection. The vehicle was only capable of withstanding 20mm cannon fire over the whole tank and used its speed to escape. It became a widely adopted tank; being used by Germany, Belgium, Norway, Netherlands, Italy and Australia. During its service life, the Leopard I was continuously upgraded. The first upgrade incorporated better armour for the turret. The chassis was used as a base for a variety of other vehicles including engineering, mine clearing and bridging vehicles.

The A.M.X. 30 was the French entry into the German-French cooperative agreement and was the tank adopted by France after its withdrawal from the competition. Even though the A.M.X. 30 had a 105 mm main gun, it was not compatible with NATO 105mm ammunition and was continuously upgraded during its service with France. The Swedish S tank was revolutionary when it came out as it did not have a turret, used an autoloader and had a gas turbine engine. The tank used a hydro-pneumatic suspension to elevate and depress the vehicle. The driver of the vehicle was also the gunner. The vehicle had a very low silhouette of only 1.9 meters. The S tank was only ever used by Sweden and never exported because of high cost. It was evaluated by Britain and the United States – both could find no fault with it – but there was no distinct advantage in using a turretless tank.

Third generation tanks

The third generation tanks that came into service in the 1980s all had composite armour, laser range finders and thermal sights. They utilized complex fire control systems. All were equipped with the 120mm main gun, except the M1 Abrams that came out with 105mm main gun. The tanks all had high powered diesel engines, except for the M1 Abrams, which had a gas turbine engine. The composite armour allowed them to have a very high chance of survival.

The Abrams tank came out of the MBT-70 program failure. The MBT-70 was a program to cooperatively build and design a tank for both the German and American Armies which was cancelled because of technical failures and rising costs. The M1 Abrams was initially equipped with 105mm main gun, which was replaced with a 120mm main gun on the M1A1 version. It has been continuously upgraded and is still in production today. The gas turbine engine used in the Abrams was capable of delivering a lot of power, but had atrocious fuel consumption.

The Challenger I tank was intended to be built for Iran, but because of the 1979 Revolution this order was cancelled by the Iranian government. The British government decided to take over and the vehicle was ordered for the British Army. The Challenger I had the same 120 mm rifle gun as the Chieftain and used the British Chobham armour. Before the Desert Storm campaign, the Challenger I had an operational readiness of 22% in Germany. When the British sent troops to the Gulf War, they also started sending all of the spare gear boxes and engines to the Gulf to insure that those vehicles were readiness improved.

The German Leopard 2 tank was designed as an insurance policy against the failure of the MBT - 70 program. It was the first Western tank to use the 120 mm smooth bore gun. This vehicle had a diesel engine. Roughly 2 500 have been built and it is still being built today. The use of this tank has been widely adopted due to Germany selling off surplus vehicles at the end of the Cold War at bargain basement prices.

The Merkava tank of Israel was built out of experiences of Israel from the 1973 war. The fear arose that the West would not supply Israel with tanks if the Arabs embargoed oil supply to the West. The Merkava amalgamated different technologies; using a British main gun and suspension and a US engine and gearbox. The Merkava was, and still is, only used by Israel. To enhance the crew protection, the engine is placed in the front of the hull. Space is thus available at the rear of the vehicle for additional ammunition storage and as an access point for the crew to use via a rear hatch. The Merkava tank has led to a reduction in the number of crew members killed per hit – from two in the 1973 war to one killed per hit in 2006.

Israeli Merkava Mk1 tank

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next SAMHSEC meeting will be on Monday 8th May 2017 at 19h30 at the Eastern Cape Veteran Car Club in Conyngham Road, Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser will be by Anne Irwin titled Jemima Nicholas and the Battle of Fishguard. The main lecture will be split into two shorter lectures. Graham Wood will discuss My unscheduled visit to Goose Bay and Pat Irwin will give a talk on The Carron Iron Works and the making of cannons.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemenebelang

New member / Nuwe lid We welcome Jeremy Swanson of Ottawa, Canada, as a new member. He has been known to some of our members for some time and we hope his formalised membership will be a fruitful one.

Obituary / Lewensberig

SAMHSEC notes the passing of Bryan Jones, a South African Air Force pilot during the Second World War. He received his wings in 1943 and on 13th August 1944, whilst participating in a supply drop to the Resistance during the ‘The Warsaw Uprising’, his aircraft, a B24 Liberator of 31 Squadron, SAAF, was shot down and he was captured. On 15th March1944 his POW camp, StalagLuft 3 (from where the Great Escape, headed by South African, Roger Bushell took place) was liberated by the Soviet Red Army and he was able to return to South Africa where he was demobilised.Bryan was the last living veteran of the operation to supply the Resistance in Warsaw.

The SAAF WWII Heritage site can be found at:
Try also:

Individual members’ activities / Individuelelede se aktiwiteite

Richard Tomlinson recently visited Sandstone Estates in the eastern Free State.

Malcolm Kinghorn presented a talk to U3A in Grahamstown on Challenges faced in compiling the Roll of Honour for the SS Mendi.

Pat Irwin gave a talk to the Lower Albany Historical Society on The sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915.

The Martello Tower, Fort Beaufort

Mention was made in Newsletter 132 of restoration work being done on this historic fortification, driven by the energy and commitment of Carl Kritzinger, who lives near Post Retief in the Winterberg. Carl has made further progress, having persuaded the Fort Beaufort Municipality to assist in the removal of several rock figs which were starting to cause damage to the structure.

The Fort Beaufort Municipal cherry-picker assisting with the removal and poisoning of the rock figs which threaten the Tower.
Appreciation is expressed to Von der Decken Hardware in Fort Beaufort for donating the chemicals required for this.

He has also obtained support from Woodoc, which has donated the chemicals for restoring and refurbishing the wooden gun carriage on the top of the tower. In due course the 6-inch Howitzer, which is currently lying next to the carriage, will be hoisted back onto its proper mounting, thus restoring the building to what it would have looked like in the 1840s, shortly after it was constructed.

The wooden gun carriage on the Martello Tower in the process of restoration and refurbishment.
Woodoc has generously provided on site advice from their lab as well as the products for this restoration project, Woodoc Wood Reviver.
Thank you Woodoc: Military historians around the world will appreciate this.

Because of its unique nature and location,the Martello Tower has the potential to be a significant tourist drawcard and contribute to economic welfare and employment in the town, particularly if it is linked to the many other historic and cultural attractions in the area. SAMHSEC salutes Carl for his vision, drive and dedication in getting this done.

For those on Facebook, go tothe following sites for further details and more pictures:

Alternatively go to the < Fort Beaufort Heritage Revival > website.

Fighting vandalism

In Newsletter 134 mention was made of the theft of the Bronze Second World War Memorial Plaque in the Cathedral Square in Grahamstown. It has now been replaced with a material less attractive to steal and has all the names recorded on it.

75th Anniversary of Cold War ‘Yangtze Incident’

On 20th April 1942, HMS Amethyst, a Royal Navy sloop on her way to Nanking to support and, if need be, rescue British Embassy staff, was fired upon by Communist Peoples Liberation Army(PLA) shore batteries on the north bank of the Yangtze River, east of Nanking. This heralded the start of what became known as the ‘Yangtze Incident’. Subsequent to the bombardment Amethyst was grounded on Rose Island with casualties including her commanding officer, who was mortally wounded. About 60 crew members subsequently landed on the south bank of the riverand many made their way to Shanghai with the help of the Chinese Nationalist Army. Several ships were sent to assist Amethyst and take her in tow, but were themselves shelled, damaged and suffered casualties. They returned unsuccessfully to Nanking.

During this time Amethyst re-floated herself and moved further upstream,anchoring five kilometres above Rose Island. Further attempts to reach her by naval units were also unsuccessful, but an RAF doctor and naval officer were able to get to her by Sunderland flying boat. On the night of 21st /22nd April Amethyst moved a further 15km upstream while continuing to evacuate wounded from the shore. She remained ‘besieged’ and was effectively trapped there with no supplies coming in, for a further three months while fruitless negotiations between the British and the PLA took place. On the night of 30th/31st July she however slipped her anchor and escaped the 167km downstream to Shanghai,during which voyage she ran the gauntlet of guns from both shores. Upon arrival she sent the laconic signal: Have re-joined the fleet. King George VI, a former naval officer, who had been present at the Battle of Jutland, also sent a signal:

World War I Centenary Years / Eerste Wêreldoorlog Eeufeesjare Major engagements in May 1917

Apart from continuous skirmishing along the Western Front, two major engagements took place between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The 10th Battle of Isonzo started on 10th May and terminated on 3rd June 1917.The previous nine battles over an 18 month period (See Newsletters 143,144 and 146) had been largely unsuccessful for the Italian attackers, and both the Italian and Austro-Hungarian armies were suffering from what had become a war of attrition with no decisive results. Both sides, but particularly the Italians had also had very high casualties. Concerned about possible German intervention in support of their weakened allies, Cadorna, the Italian Chief of Staff felt a need for another attack. Pressed also by the Allies to launch another offensive co-ordinated with Nivelles Aisne Offensive (See Newsletter 151), Cadorna agreed. The battle began with an artillery barrage followed by an infantry advance over a 40km front.

Although partially successful in the Trieste area, an Austro-Hungarian counter offensive in June reclaimed virtually all the lost ground and the battle was called off by Cadorna as little had been gained. The Italians had suffered 157 000 casualties and the Austro-Hungarians 75 000.

The naval Battle of the Otranto Straights took place on 14th and 15th May 1917. Having mounted a series of minor assaults on the Allied Otranto Barrage during the early part of 1917, the Austro-Hungarian Navy decided upon a concerted attack during May. Planned by (then)Captain Miklos Horthy (later to become dictator of Hungary during the Second World War), three cruisers and two destroyers attacked the weakly defended anti-submarine trawlers which comprised the Barrage. The cruisers initially sunk an Italian munitions ship and a destroyer followed by 14 Allied trawlers/patrol craft having first given their crews the opportunity to take to their lifeboats. They also damaged many others.

All this took place within the space of two hours, at which point the Austro-Hungarian forces turned for home. A joint British-Italian counter-attack by two cruisers and four destroyers attempted to cut off this withdrawal, but the Austro-Hungarians escaped with only one cruiser disabled, due to what were described as poor Allied tactics. The Allies cut short the counter-attack when Austro-Hungarian reinforcements appeared.

The functioning of the Barrage was severely impacted as a result of the action and Allied night time patrols were discontinued. Horthy gained much prestige from the event and in March 1918 promoted himself to Admiral.

A minor naval engagement between the German Zeppelin L. 43 and the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney, known as the Action of 4th May 1917, took place in the North Sea. The action was called off after the Zeppelin had dropped all its bombs and the cruiser had expended all its anti-aircraft ammunition, neither side scoring any hits.There were no casualties on either side.

The 21st April was the 99th anniversary of a different kind – the shooting down of legendary First World War fighter pilot and air Ace Manfred von Richthofen, known as the ‘Red Baron’. Widely admired by both friends and enemies, he is perhaps the best known fighter pilot of all time. More to come about this next year.

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang


Scans of Viking swords reveal a slice of Norse culture
Charles Q. Choi Live Science 12th April 2017

Historic aircraft

Last airworthy B-17 Flying Fortress to fly at Southport Air Show 2017
Andrew Brown Visiter 19th April 2017

Historic Ships

USS Constitution

World War II

A fascinating story: Two heroes, two divergent tales but inextricably linked
Dean McCleland The Casual Observer 30th March 2017

Military ceremony

Duties and obligations of the honor guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery, USA

Resource materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundige belang


A relatively new and generally good online military history resource is Military History.The series is generally, but not exclusively American orientated.

An example worth looking at, is one on American Battleships:
This is a substantial package. The URL starts with a very good feature on the USS Missouri and scrolls into a range of other American warships over time. Compiled by Kennedy Hickman and last updated on 17th October 2016.


Pinterest photographs (for those who are subscribers)

Battles of the past

Anglo-Boer War pictures

Members are invited to send 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, Peter Duffel-Canham and Carl Kritzinger.


A man who bought a Russian T54/69 tank on eBay for £30000 got more than his money's worth
after he discovered £2 million of gold bars hidden in the fuel tank.
It is thought that the gold was looted by Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait during the Gulf War in the early 1990s.
They appear to have cut a hole in the fuel tank and stored the gold bars with a view to future recovery.
For the full story see:

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

South African Military History Society /