South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 166

July/Julie 2018

For SAMHSEC’s June meeting, members met in Port Alfred at 10h00 on Saturday 23rd. The meeting was convened as a joint venture between SAMHSEC and the Lower Albany Historical Society. The morning was given to visiting a number of sites of military historical interest in the town. The tour started at Richmond House, the private home of Sue and Neville Gordon, which has an excellent private museum. It houses a fascinating collection of exhibits, including a number of muzzle-loading cannon among which are two VOC demi-culverins from the 1697 wreck of the Oosterland in Table Bay. Also on display are two examples of early breech-loading cannon. From there the group visited the site of the remaining wall of the former redoubt on Wesley Hills. Regrettably little detail is known of its history.

At the Kowie Museum, Curator Yvonne Surtees gave a brief presentation on the history of 43 Air School located just outside of Port Alfred, followed by a guided tour of the museum. Pat Irwin gave a brief talk on a group known as the ‘undesirables’ who were re-located to Port Alfred during the Anglo-Boer War. These were individuals and families who were removed from towns and farms in the north east Cape Colony because of their suspected sympathies for the Boer cause. It was also feared that they would provide assistance to the 1901 incursions into the Cape by commandos under Smuts and Kritzinger. While they were restricted to the Port Alfred area, those ‘undesirables’ who could afford it were permitted to rent houses in town; those who could not, were housed in tents on the banks of the Kowie River, opposite to where the museum is now located . These were not concentration camps, but more like forced refugee camps: there was no shortage of food and none of the disease, deaths and genocide which are associated with the Kitchener-type concentration camps elsewhere in the country.

At the formal meeting in the afternoon, the members’ slot was taken by Peter Duffel-Canham who spoke briefly on South African naval casualties on both South African ships and those of the Royal Navy during the Second World War. He mentioned in particular the loss of South African sailors when HMS Barham was sunk in the Mediterranean in November 1941.

There was no curtain raiser.

The main lecture, given by fellow member Dermot Moore, was on the topic Korea: The forgotten war in perspective.

The lecture started by painting the background to the Korean War (1959-1953) and the perspectives which influenced the way it played out. These were:

Strategic perspectives. These included the tensions which had arisen from the Second World War. They included a bipolar world split between East and West, and their respective value systems, which had in turn resulted in divided nations as in Germany and Korea. From this arose different interpretations of borders and sovereignty such as that which led to the 1948 Berlin Air Lift. To these were added the nuclear arms race after the USSR exploded its own A-Bomb in 1949 and the rise of communist hegemony in China.

The perspective of Korea itself. Dermot outlined its history, its strategic position, its geography (a rugged terrain with steep-sided mountain ranges running north to south with deep valleys in between), its division along the 38th parallel, and the United Nations supervised elections which led to two Korean governments being established. These were constituted as the Republic of Korea (The ROK or ‘South Korea’) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (The DPRK or ‘North Korea’). The DPRK followed a communist form of government while the ROK was western aligned. For ideological reasons, attempts at unification of the two Koreas fell on barren ground.

Operational perspectives. By 1950, despite the withdrawal of both Soviet and American troops, communist infiltration from North Korea and related guerrilla activityand intimidation had come to dominate a large part of the ‘South’. In reaction, the ROK, with American support, developed a successful counter-insurgency operation which in turn led to a full scale invasion of South Korea by the ‘North’ on 25th June 1950. The communists rapidly overran the country, except for a small enclave centred on Pusan in the South East, between July and September 1950. This is widely considered to have been orchestrated and directed by the Russians.

The United Nations Security Council responded by sending troops from 16 countries, under the leadership of the United States, to support the ROK. The UN counter-offensive pushed the invaders back to near the Chinese border between September and November 1950, at which point the Chinese intervened with troops and increased material support. Between November 1950 and June 1951 the UN forces were forced to retreat halfway down the peninsula. From June to November 1951 the communists were again pushed back to roughly the 38th parallel, at which point a stalemate ensued until the signing of an armistice on 27th July 1953. This is still in place, a peace treaty never having been concluded.

The conflict was essentially a ground and air war. The communist forces tended, through numbers, to dominate the ground while the UN forces, through superior technology and air power, dominated the skies and hence what could happen on the ground. It was in this sphere that the South African Air Force played a significant role. Although the then National Party government in South Africa had been reluctant to send troops to Korea as part of a UN Force, increased international and domestic pressure put on them resulted in an Air Force Squadron of volunteers being sent. This was No. 2 Squadron – the ‘The Flying Cheetahs’, which had built up an enviable reputation in North Africa, Italy and Yugoslavia during the Second World War. They formed part of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing of the US Air Force and were soon admired and respected by the Americans for their skill and fortitude.

A description of the combat conditions and performance of the Flying Cheetahs was covered. They functioned primarily in support of ground formations in four spheres:

The Squadron initially flew North American F51 D Mustangs but towards the end of the war converted to F86 F Sabres. Their principle opponent was the Russian MiG 15. The talk concluded by looking briefly at the experiences and exploits of some of the pilots involved.

F-51D Mustang fighters of No. 2 (Flying Cheetahs) Squadron of the SAAF in Korea, in May 1951.
Photo: Wikipedia Common Domain.

Scribe’s note:
The following quotation has been taken from McGregor 1978 p89 listed under Resources below.

The squadron was awarded both the United States and Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citations for gallantry and exceptional determination against the enemy while its members were awarded two Silver Stars, 55 Distinguished Flying Crosses, one Soldier’s Medal, 42 Bronze Stars, 174 Air Medals and 152 clusters to the Air Medal.

A measure of the high regard in which the ‘Flying Cheetahs’ were held came as the last of them were about to embark for home, when the Commander of the 18th Fighter Bomber Wing issued a Policy Order which stated: ‘In memory of our gallant South African Comrades, it is hereby established as a new policy that at all Retreat Ceremonies held by this Wing, the playing of our National Anthem shall be preceded by playing the introductory bars of the South African National Anthem, “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika”. All personnel of this Wing will render the same honours to this anthem as our own.’

The Korean War memorial plaque at the Union Buildings.
Photo: Pat Irwin.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next SAMHSEC meeting will be on Monday 9th July at 19h30 at the Eastern Cape Veteran Cape Car Club in Conyngham Road, Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser will be by Jaco Pretorius on the subject: Red Tabs - life and death of the 6th Armoured Division, 1943 -1945: James Fraser Bourhill. The main lecture will be by Anton de Wit on the topic of War and the environment.

Members are reminded too of the Field Trip to Cradock, Tarkastad, Modderfontein and the Stormberg area,planned for 3rd to 5th August. Details were sent out with Newsletter 165. Please note that those intending to join need to advise Malcolm Kinghornby 16thJuly bye-mail toculturev@lantic.netproviding him with the following information:
* The names of the persons in your party. Guests and friends of members are welcome.
* When you will be joining the field trip.
* If you are prepared to provide lifts for other participants and, if so, how many.
* If you require a lift.

Further correspondence regarding this field trip will be sent to you only if you have indicated an interest in attending.

Obituary / Lewensberig

It is with sadness that we record the passing of one of our long time members, Barbara Uys of Knysna. Our thoughts are with her husband, fellow member and noted military historian Ian.

This is not our usual kind of obituary, but worth noting in this context is the death of David Douglas Duncan, on 7th June 2018 at the age of 102. As a photographer of international repute, he has left the world a unique record of the conditions of war and the circumstances in which people find themselves. For further details see:

World War I Centenary Years / Eerste Wêreldoorlog Eeufeesjare

Major engagements in July 1918

By this time the German Spring Offensive had come close to a standstill. Its frontline was now under attack and the army had been pushed back in several places. Many of its leaders, including the Crown Prince Wilhelm, felt the war was lost.

The Battle of Le Hamel, launched on 4th July, where a German salient was straightened out, was an example of a small, but significant success for the allies. It came at a time when German morale engendered by the Spring Offensive, was beginning to flag and when, to a greater extent than the Allies, they were falling prey to the great ‘flu pandemic which flourished in the confined spaces of the trenches.

The Second Battle of the Marne which ran from 15th July to 5th August began as the last significant German offensive action of the war. Ludendorff had aimed to split the French army in a final drive towards Paris but, despite early successes, the initiative turned into a costly failure for the Germans with combined British, American and Italian forces halting their advance and preventing a breakthrough. Facing a strong Allied counter-offensive, Ludendorff ordered a retreat on 20th July and by 3rd August the Germans were back where they started before the Spring Offensive. Although they had temporarily halted the Allied advance on 6th August, no further large-scale attempts to win the war were undertaken.

Naval engagement

At dawn on 21st July 1918, a U-boat attacked the town of Orleans, Massachusetts, and some nearby merchant vessels. U-156 surfaced about 4km off the coast and, using its deck guns, sank the tug Perth Amboy and four barges which it had in tow. The crews were rescued by a boat which put out from the shore. The U-boat then shelled the town but caused neither damage nor any fatalities. U-156 was in turn attacked by aircraft from a nearby base, but got away and headed north, where it continued to attack other Allied ships. Orleans did however achieve the distinction of being the only part of the United States to have been under direct enemy attack during the war. It was also the first time the United States had been shelled by a foreign power since the Mexican-American War of 1846. (Remember the Alamo!)

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

Ancient and Mediaeval Military History

Rise and fall of Roman Empire exposed in Greenland ice samples
Katie Lang in Science 14th May 2018

The ruins of Alamut Castle, Iran: headquarters of the legendary Hashshashins [Assassins]
Alireza Javaheri Abandoned Places u/d
Barbara van Cleve Abandoned Places u/d

Aircraft making history

Britain’s new £150m F-35 Lightning fighter jets land in Norfolk after flight across Atlantic
Jay Akbar The Sun 7th June 2018

French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars

Napoleon's Waterloo hat sold on anniversary of battle
BBC News Europe 18th June 2018

Building 1790s era French cannon wheels
Blog: Engels Coach Shop Published 9th Apr 2017

Reinhard Hardegen, the last U-Boat captain has died at the age of 105
Telegraph Obituaries 20th June 2018

King Tiger buried since 1944 to be recovered by author Gary Sterne
Damian Lucjan War History Online 24th May 2018 <
War History Online 19th April 2018

Family loss in war

Chasing the ghosts of my uncle, who was killed in action in Normandy during WWII
Jeffrey Greenberg Tablet 28th May 2018

Dale Wilson: B-25 Mitchell Bomber
Blog by Joy Neal Kidney

Keeping alive the memory of my uncle, lost at sea in WWII
Roy Hoffman Tablet 28th May 2018

World War One unknown soldier found to be a Scottish major
BBC News Scotland

Cold War and post-Cold war
Bill Speakman, who won the VC fighting off an enemy onslaught in Korea has died at the age of 90. He was the first soldier to receive the VC from the Queen

Telegraph Obituaries 21st June 2018

Resource materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundige belang

The following sources are useful for anyone interested in finding out more about the Korean War and the role of the SAAF in it: