South African Military History Society

Tel (+27)(0)10-237-0676 Fax (+27)(0)86-617-8002


Due to another organisation having booked and paid for the use of the auditorium in July 2017, the March lecture meeting had to be held upstairs. Apologies are extended to members who were unable to attend the meeting due to the venue's inaccessibility.

David Scholtz spoke for a few minutes about the day trip he was sponsoring to the annual Boer 'n Brit day at Val which was to take place on Saturday 10th March.

The curtain raiser was by Joan Marsh whose topic was "The Society and (some of) its people" She talked about the founding of the Society in 1966 with support from Col Duxbury, the then director of the "War" Museum; the first newsletter appeared in January 1967, the first AGM was in April 1967 - there were 51 members - and the first Military History Journal was published by the Museum in conjunction with the Society in December 1967.

In those days there were no desktop computers so the Society's "badge" - registered with the State Herald - and the calligraphy of our letterhead were both designed by Joan Pell, who was Mrs Teddy Winder. He was a cartoonist for the Rand Daily Mail, a military Major and a member of the Society's committee early on.

There are four current branches: Johannesburg, Durban (now KZN) which branch started in 1968, Cape Town which started in 1975 and SAMHSEC started in 2004, as well as closed ones in Bloemfontein, Klerksdorp and PE in times gone by. Members total around 500, half of those in Johannesburg, about 30% in KZN and even 18 who live overseas.

Then the power point show changed to snapshots from battlefield tours undertaken by the Society from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties. These were organised by the Museum staff while the Society provided most of the participants. By the time of the centenaries of the Anglo-Zulu conflict at Isandlwana and Ulundi, two large busloads went on extended long weekends to sites which were then still undeveloped, using roads which sometimes proved problematic. The man who always got the buses going, the late Hymie Amoils, even wore a T-shirt emblazoned "Military History Tour Chief Engineer" - and he earned it many times over.

Isandlwana battlefield continues to impress visitors with its extreme malevolence and brooding atmosphere while the unveiling at Ulundi of the first memorial to the Zulu fallen (as opposed to the British), a century after their conflict was observed with great pomp and ceremony with ambassadors and similar notables present.

Perhaps the highlight of the MHS tours was the climbing of Majuba a hundred years to the day after Gen Pomeroy-Colley's night march in 1881. The 41 intrepid participants had to deal with a forest planted up the lower slopes in the intervening century as well as carrying no lights and enduring a continual, if soft, rain on their climb. Those of us who slept soundly and dry in a nearby motel were way too enthusiastic in comparison with them when we rejoined them and enjoyed the local fête at the campground half way up the Transvaal side of the hill the next day. The Museum issued a certificate to the 41 successful climbers.

Day trips to places like Heidelberg, Rooiwal station, Melrose House, Kruger House and the old Pretoria cemetery followed. Joan finished with more recent day trips to Val, and again Pretoria: the SAAF Museum and the camp area in the siege of Pretoria in 1881 and several to Kedar Lodge were also mentioned.

The main lecture was presented by Col James Jacobs, retired military college historian and lecturer, who has spoken to the branch on several occasions. His topic was "The Development of German Tactical Doctrine during the 1st World War, 1914-1918 and the birth of the concept of Blitzkrieg".

Here is his précis:
More or less 100 years ago the German Army began its drives on the Western Front in March 1918 in a desperate effort to win the war before American industrial might and preponderance in manpower tilted the strategic balance decisively in favour of the Allies. The initial German advances brought an end to the stalemate on the Western Front that had frustrated commanders on both sides since 1915 but failed to win the war, yet they laid the foundation for a more successful doctrine, Blitzkrieg, that enabled the Germans to defeat France in six weeks in 1940.

Ironically the transformation to the partially successful offensive doctrine of 1918 and the improved further development of 1939 and 1940 had its origins in the successful adaptation to defensive tactics, countering the Allied preponderance in resources with originality in the approach to trench warfare. Suffering as much losses as the British and French armies during the battles of 1915 and 1916, the Germans developed the tactical system of "elastic defence", using defence in depth combined with ingenious use of artillery fire to inflict higher casualties and prevent large scale penetration of their defensive system during 1917. This happened in spite of the successful use of mass tank attacks by the British at Cambrai.

Victory on the Eastern Front and the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Soviet Russia, enabled the German Army to transfer large numbers of troops to the Western Front. The elastic defence was converted into new infiltration tactics that led to the initial success in 1918. What lacked was formations other than infantry that could exploit the initial breakthroughs created by infantry storm troopers but the development of German tanks in 1918 fell short of this idea.

The rise of Adolf Hitler in 1933 led to the development of the Panzer Division which got the credit for the successes of 1939 against Poland and 1940 against France. However, the 1918 infantry tactics still provided the initial breakthrough that enabled the panzers to exploit and gain a more decisive strategic result.

His lecture was illustrated by power-point diagrams to explain various concepts.

Committee member Peter Rush thanked both speakers and presented them with the usual gifts.

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KZN in Durban:



CR= curtain raiser; ML= main lecture; DDH = Darrell D Hall Memorial Lecture;

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Branch contact details

For Cape Town details contact Johan van den Berg 021-939-7923
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469
For Gauteng details contact Joan Marsh 010-237-0676
For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Roy Bowman 031 564 4669

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