South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 170

November 2018

The October meeting took place on 8th October at the usual venue in Port Elizabeth.

The members’ slot was taken by Mac Alexander, his topic being Airborne assault in South America, 1941.

An interesting, though little-known airborne operation, ignored by almost all histories of airborne forces, occurred in July 1941 in South America. Not linked in any way to the Second World War and the battles raging in other parts of the globe, a conflict had erupted between Peru and Ecuador. It was a longstanding border dispute that exploded into open conflict after more than a century of incidents and skirmishes, but did not last more than a few weeks. It saw the first employment of paratroopers in combat in the Americas, and in fact the first application in the New World of the form of manoeuvre that came to be known as ‘vertical envelopment’. This was quite apart from, and unconnected to, the mainstream developments elsewhere in the world.

The Peruvians had been building up their armed forces for some time with the express purpose of settling the border dispute once and for all. By 1941 they had the most modern armed forces in South America. These included bombers, artillery and gun tractors from Italy, tanks from Czechoslovakia, fighter planes from the USA and some French artillery. They had the equivalent of two brigades that included infantry, armour, artillery and engineers, a battalion of marines and a parachute company. Mobility was provided by trucks. Their combat strength was about 13 000.

The Ecuadorians, on the other hand, had a primitive ‘bayonet army’ composed of poorly trained infantry and para-military police, all geared to suppress internal dissent rather than ward off an external aggressor. They had no Air Force and no naval capability other than a few gunboats. Their combat strength was only in the region of about 2 000 and consisted of three battalions and some very antiquated artillery. The only relatively modern armament they had were a few anti-aircraft guns and for, the most part, their army was reliant on horse-drawn transport. Their better-trained and equipped troops were kept in Quito, the capital, to protect the president and his government from Ecuadorian dissenters.

The paratroopers of Perú were trained by the Italians, who had been pioneers in this field during the 1920s and early 1930s. But when the war broke out in 1941, not all of the Peruvian parachute company’s members had yet been trained to parachute. However, they had five Caproni C-111 bombers, each of which could drop about seven paratroopers, enabling them to drop a platoon at a time. The Ca-111 was a large, single engine Italian aircraft.

The objective assigned to the paratroopers to capture was the coastal town of Machala and its harbour, Puerto Bolívar. They would have close air support and naval gunfire support to do this. Immediately after taking the port, a battalion of marines would be landed to reinforce them, and lorried infantry would move 50km overland to the town itself.

On 27 July 1941, the paratroopers were dropped over Puerto Bolívar. It was the first time airborne troops were used in combat in the New World. Although the Germans had by then shocked the world with their successful employment of airborne forces as part of their Blitzkrieg, the Peruvian operation was carried out at a time when none of the Allied powers fighting the Second World War yet had a viable airborne capability. The British had failed miserably in their first airborne operation (a platoon-sized drop to try to destroy the Tragino aqueduct in Italy). Yet it is notable how little credit or recognition the Peruvians have received for their initiative during this obscure South American conflict.

The Peruvian staff planners were inexperienced and the paratroopers who were dropped were widely scattered, some landing in the Jambelí Channel between the port and a large island. Fortunately, the astonished and alarmed Ecuadorian defenders were completely unnerved by the drop and fled in confusion. In the end, only three paratroopers grouped to enter the town (one of them had been rescued in the channel by an Ecuadorian fisherman!) and occupied it against minimal resistance. They were under command of Corporal Carlos Raffo, who had been one of the eight first paratroopers trained by the Italians. They signalled the waiting naval vessels and the marines (who had no landing craft) were landed in the harbour.

In the meantime, the remainder of the parachute company (those not yet trained as parachutists) carried out a tactical assault landing operation (TALO) to take the town of Machala, about 4km away. The Caproni bombers landed in dry lakes close to the town, from where the troops launched their assault with air support. Here too, the defenders offered little resistance, and by the time the lorried infantry arrived from the border about 50km away, the town had been occupied and the Ecuadorians had withdrawn in confusion.

It has not been possible, from available sources, to ascertain whether the parachute drop or the TALO took place first. Neither do available sources indicate exactly how many troops were involved in each of the assaults. The parachute drop was probably first and would not have consisted of more than one platoon. The TALO would therefore have been carried out by about two platoons, ferried in on two successive lifts of the same five aircraft.

Accounts of the operation differ quite radically, depending on whether the source is Peruvian or Ecuadoran. The Ecuadorians prefer to say that their forces had already vacated the area before the airborne troops arrived. Regarding the badly scattered drop, the Peruvians like to claim that they actually only dropped three paratroopers to take the port, and that they were dropped extremely accurately. Of course, in the recording of contemporary history (that within living memory), it is almost always the victor’s version that is given credibility!

In their favour, however, two days before the airborne assault, the Ecuadorians scored an unlikely naval victory in the Jambelí Channel. A small gunboat, the Calderón, inflicted heavy damage to a Peruvian destroyer, the Admiral Vilar, experiencing no damage itself. The crippled destroyer suffered considerable casualties and was forced to limp away in an ignoble retreat.

The significance of the airborne operation undertaken by Perú lies in the innovation and forward thinking of the military in employing a new form of manoeuvre in a part of the world where the Germans, the only other nation to have successfully used it in conventional war at that stage, had no influence at all. This was the first application of the vertical envelopment manoeuvre in the Americas.

The curtain raiser, on the topic Kommandant Willem Diederik Fouchée was given by Jaco Pretorius.

Kommandant Fouchée, the son of a bywoner near Rouxville, was 25 years old when the Anglo-Boer War began. At the time English intelligence classed him as ‘holds no fixed property; is an unthrifty ne’er-to-do-well; is of poor reputation’. The English press branded him as a ‘ruffian, brigand, scoundrel and fire-eater’. It also concluded that ‘as his present mode of life is suited to his temperament, he is not likely to surrender’. The latter is not surprising for Fouchée had a reputation for never sleeping indoors and for doing all his reconnaissance himself.

Fouchée was a man of legendary vision, who was promoted to the rank of Kommandant during the second invasion of the Cape Colony. He was involved in numerous incidents and battles, including Stormberg. He saw action on average every third day during 1901. Fouchée had a reputation as a strong disciplinarian, who always had a sjambok at hand – becoming known as ‘the Sjambok Lord’. He was responsible for the execution of armed black men as well as the burning of farms and houses of loyalists.

Kommandant Fouchée was wounded in 1902. Having moved to the Cape Midlands, he finally surrendered in Cradock on 2nd June 1902, being the last of the rebels/Free-staters to do so. He nonetheless refused to swear the oath of allegiance and later visited the United States of America to seek funds in support of the Boers. He became a member of the Provincial Council in 1910. True to his reputation as a man of action, Fouchée fought as a Colonel under Louis Botha in German South West Africa in 1914. He died in 1939.

[Kommandant Willem Fouchée also operated in the Carlisle Bridge area 40km from Grahamstown. See Newsletter 117, June 2014 –Eds]

The main lecture, titled The Red Baron was by Stephen Bowker.

The 11th November 2018 marks the 100-year anniversary of the end of the First Word War. One of the greatest characters of that conflict was Manfred Von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron. Arguably the greatest fighter pilot of that conflict, if not of all time, The Red Baron was the fighting ace of aces, achieving 80 confirmed kills in his two years as a fighter pilot for Germany. No other pilot on either side of the conflict got close to that. He was awarded both the Blue Max and the Iron Cross.

Manfred Von Richthofen was revered by his own people, respected by his enemies, was a hero that the German high command appreciated, but a ‘menace’ to the Allies – both the British and French. Although he died on 21st April 1918, his legend still lives on 100 years after his death, and the mystery of who shot him down on that fatal day still fascinates historians to this day.

He was born on 2nd May 1892 into a wealthy aristocratic family in the town of Kleinberg, near Breslau, then Prussia, now known as Wroclaw in Poland. He spent his early childhood playing sport, including horse riding and hunting. These skills were to equip him well for his later career in the cavalry.

At the age of 11, Manfred Von Richthofen was entered into Cadet School, and by 18 he was a commissioned officer in the cavalry. He later applied to the Imperial German Air Services to be a fighter pilot. He joined his first bombing unit (Kampfgeschwader) in 1916 and recorded his first unofficial kill over Verdun, flying an Albatross. In that same year, he met and was trained by the German Ace, Oswald Boelcke – the father of tactical air warfare – and joined Oswald Boelcke’s unit, Jasta 2. When Boelcke died in action on 28th October 1916, Manfred succeeded him as the unit leader.

In November of that year Manfred was already an Ace when he shot down Britain’s top fighting Ace, Major Lanoe Hawker VC., DSO, whom he described as ‘a jolly good sport’. This attitude was typical of Manfred, who believed in fair play. It is reputed that he would not attack an enemy plane if that plane was compromised and unable to fight back.

A replica of the Fokker Dr.1 Tri-plane flown by the Red Baron.

In January 1917, he flew his famous Fokker Dr.1 Triplane, which he painted red, and started calling himself ‘The Red Baron’. In the same year he was awarded the Blue Max and, as Captain, took over command of Jasta 11. He later commanded the bigger elite fighting unit known as The Flying Circus.

He was hospitalized from 5th September to 23rd October after receiving a serious head wound. The effects thereof caused severe headaches and nausea later, which some historians surmise may have affected his judgment. The Red Baron was shot down over the Somme River, Northern France near the Town of Vaux-Sur-Somme on 21st April 1918. Initially the kill was credited to a Canadian pilot, Captain Roy Arthur Brown, but this was later disputed because ground troops of the Allied forces had also fired on him and could have shot him down.

Von Richthofen was killed with a single .303 bullet, the same calibre used by both Brown and the ground troops. The bullet entered his torso on the right, exiting under his left nipple. Pathologists reported that it was unlikely that The Red Baron could have still flown on for two minutes as the wound would have been fatal. He would have lost consciousness and died almost immediately.

Such was the respect that the Allies had for ‘The Red Baron’, that he was given full military funeral. 3 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps provided the guard of honour. After the war, The Red Baron’s body was exhumed and buried closer to his home in Wiesbaden, Germany.

The Red Baron probably remains the greatest fighter pilot of all time. When heroes were needed, he was there. He was a hero to his own people, but respected by his enemies. The legend of the Red Baron and the uncertainty surrounding his death is likely to fascinate historians for years to come.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next regular meeting will be on Saturday 10th November. It will be preceded by a morning field trip to look at the war memorials and commemorative plaques in several Port Elizabeth churches. For those interested in attending, full details are provided in the accompanying e-mail. The afternoon meeting, in St. Paul’s Parish Hall, will commence with our traditional Act of Remembrance. The member’s slot will be used by Anne Irwin talking on The Peace Bible. The curtain raiser and main lecture will be combined for an illustrated talk by Pat Irwin on The end of the First World War in which the military and political circumstances which led up to the end of the war will be examined.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

Microsoft co-founder and billionaire, Paul Allen has died at age 65. His passion was naval archaeology and his legacy includes a long list of solved World War II naval mysteries.
Jamie Seidel News Corp Australia Network 17th October 2018. See:

World War I Centenary Years / Eerste Wêreldoorlog Eeufeesjare

Military and political events, closely intertwined, moved rapidly in in November 1918. The last major engagement of the war was the Second Battle of the Sambre on 4th November. This included the Second Battle of Guise and the Battle of Thiérache, all part of the final European Allied offensive of the War. It was a decisive British and French victory against a dispirited and depleted German army.

While all the armies on the Western front had suffered severely from the various incarnations of the 1918 (Spanish) ‘Flu Pandemic, the German army with 700 000 cases had possibly suffered proportionally the most. While the Allies had, particularly in the case of the Americans, experienced more cases of illness and fatality, they were able to replace them with fresh troops which the Germans could not. It is today however still debated as to what extent the flu contributed to the collapse of the German army.

Germany's strategic position was further weakened by the rapid collapse of the other Central Powers, following a series of Allied victories in late 1918. Bulgaria was the first to sign an armistice on 29th September. On 30th October the Ottoman Empire capitulated and on 3rd November, Austria and Hungary signed separate armistices following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By comparison, when Germany approached the west for an armistice in November 1918, its armies were still in French and Belgian territory, Berlin remained over 600km from the nearest front, and the German armies had retired from the field of battle in good order. Notwithstanding this, consensus among historians is that it is doubtful whether Germany could have continued the war. This was certainly the view of the Allied high command, who saw the opportunity to take advantage of the situation.

As a consequence of the German Naval Order of 24th October (see Newsletter 169) there had been a mutiny at the naval base of Kiel which spread to Wilhemshaven and the entire fleet. The revolt triggered the German revolution, which resulted in the replacement of the German federal constitutional monarchy with a chaotic (at least initially) democratic parliamentary republic (later known as the Weimar Republic) proclaimed in Berlin on 9th November. The new government also had to deal with the political chaos, such as the Munich Soviet, and economic hardship, which enveloped Germany in the immediate post-Armistice period.

Kaiser Wilhelm II had abdicated on 9th after he’d been informed that he had lost the support of the German Army, and advised that it was in his own as well as Germany’s best interests. He was offered a home in the Netherlands where he spent the remainder of his life. He took no further part in German politics and died in 1941 at the age 82.

On 27th October General Erich Ludendorff, the effective leader of the German war effort had been forced to resign and hand over power to a civilian government. On the 11th November delegates of this new government signed the Armistice. Given that an armistice is by most definitions no more than a formal agreement between warring parties to stop fighting, while an attempt is made to negotiate a lasting peace, and not necessarily the end of a war the terms demanded by the Allies were in the opinion of many commentators, extraordinarily harsh, uncompromising and, designed to be humiliating – more like an instrument of outright surrender. As a result of the resentment and reaction it provoked in Germany, it proved to be far from a recipe for long term peace. In summary the conditions demanded and not open to any negotiation were:

A painting of the signing of the Armistice. Standing nearest is Matthias Erzberger, head of the German delegation, accompanied by representatives of the German army and navy. Behind the table are two British naval officers, Marshal Ferdinand Foch and French General Weygand. Foch was determined to make it a military event. For his part in this and the subsequent Paris Peace Talks, Matthias Erzberger was assassinated in Germany in August 1921. The painting is in the public domain.

A painting of the signing of the Armistice.
Standing nearest is Matthias Erzberger, head of the German delegation,
accompanied by representatives of the German army and navy.
Behind the table are two British naval officers,
Marshal Ferdinand Foch and French General Weygand.
Foch was determined to make it a military event.
For his part in this and the subsequent Paris Peace Talks,
Matthias Erzberger was assassinated in Germany in August 1921.
The painting is in the public domain.

The Armistice was signed in a carriage of the private train of Marshall Foch the French C-in-C. On 22nd June 1940 the French were made to surrender to the Germans in the same coach. It was taken to Berlin, but was destroyed by the SS in 1945 to prevent its capture and because of its symbolic importance. The French replaced it with a prefect replica in 1950.

Fighting on the Western Front continued to virtually 10h59 on the 11th November 1918. It is believed that the last soldier of the war on either side to have been killed was a Canadian named George Price. While most of the soldiers were keeping their heads down as there were still snipers in the area, the story goes that a pretty woman leaned out of her window and waved at the Canadians in welcome: Price stood up to wave back, and took a fatal bullet for it. It was 10h58, two minutes before the end of the war.

The last shots of the First World War were fired in Tanganyika (a German colony, now Tanzania) as the news of the armistice did not arrive there until the 14th November. The commander of the German forces in East Africa, General Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck, immediately agreed to a cease fire and formally laid down his arms on 25th November. For four years, with a force that never exceeded about 14 000 (3 000 Germans and 11 000 Africans), he gave a much larger force of 300 000 British, South African, Belgian, and Portuguese troops, the run around. It is arguably one of the most successful guerrilla wars in history. Von Lettow-Vorbeck and the remnants of his army returned to Germany to a hero’s welcome in March 1919. Riding a black charger, he led the veterans of the Schütztruppe in their tattered tropical uniforms in a victory parade through the Brandenburg Gate, which was decorated in their honour. As an interesting aside, when Hitler, offered Von Lettow-Vorbeck a key post, he told the Führer to “go to hell”.

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

Historic aircraft

The story behind the famous F7U Cutlass ramp strike
Dario Leone The Aviation Geek Club 11th October 2018

World War I

World War I footage brought to life by ‘Lord of the Rings’ director plus other WWI material
BBC News 9th October 2018

The time in 1919 a WWI German U boat washed ashore on a British beach and ruined “seaside day” for everyone
Brad Smithfield The Vintage News 16th July 2016

World War II

A former Rat of Tobruk, William Corey, has died in Adelaide aged 101
Tim Dornin 10th October 2018

How the Nazis' largest battleship is still affecting Norway today: Decades after it sunk, the battleship Tirpitz is still stunting the environment.
David Grossman Popular Mechanics 11th April 2018

Die Deutsche Panzerwaffe's post. [WWII film footage from the German point of view]

Cold War and post-Cold war

The Long March of the Chinese Navy
Frank Lavin National Review 26th September 2018

Viggen vs Blackbird: How Swedish AirForce JA-37 fighter pilots were able to achieve radar lock on the legendary SR-71 Mach 3 spy plane
Dario Leone The Aviation Geek Club 9th January 2018

Spooks and Spies

Have Russian spies lost their touch?
Sarah Rainsford BBC News, Moscow 6th October 2018

Resource materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundige belang


For those who may be interested in abandoned historical places, the website below includes excellent pictures of several sites of military interest, including the German U-boat pens at Lorient on the French coast


The future of information warfare (7 minutes)
Peter Singer, author of a new book on information warfare, Like War. The weaponization of social media is interviewed by Defense News reporter David Larter.

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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 Malcolm Kinghorn, Barry Irwin, Michael Irwin, Peter Duffel-Canham, Richard Tomlinson and Barry de Klerk.

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Scribes:Anne and Pat Irwin

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Why Redcoats? ‘Red coat’ or ‘Redcoat’ is a historical item of military clothing used widely, though not exclusively, by many regiments of the British Army from the 17th to the 20th centuries. Red was a cheap dye and an easy colour to identify in the confusion of battle. It was worn by London soldiers from Elizabethan times and was adopted by Cromwell’s New Model Army in 1645. By the end of the 17th century red was the main colour of the British infantry uniform and ‘Redcoat’ became the nickname of the British soldier. [Source: National Army Museum, London.]

A modern Redcoat: Goat Major and mascot
of the Royal Regiment of Wales, 1999.
Source: Common Domain.

South African Military History Society /