South African Military History Society

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


The curtain raiser talk was given by Adina Bregman, who had spoken to the branch in 2018 about the Gweru Museum. Her topic was "A journey into the heart of the Second World War: The Museum of the Great Patriot War Moscow." Here is her summary:

The Third Reich launched Barbarossa, a surprise attack, on their erstwhile ally the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. Three million Germans, Hungarians, Romanians, Slovaks, Croatians, Bulgarians and Italians tore into a similar number of unsuspecting Red Army troops in the largest land battle in history. The titanic struggle lasted four bloody years and delivered the rampant Wehrmacht to the gates of Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad. However, victory eluded the Germans, and the inferno of destruction and mass murder ended with the conquest of the Nazi capital Berlin in April 1945.

The human and material cost was staggering with the Soviet Union losing an estimated 20 million dead in their costly endeavour to tear the heart out of the seldom-defeated Wehrmacht and SS hordes. The Soviets overcame insurmountable odds and almost single-handedly delivered defeat on the most fearsome fighting machine the world had ever witnessed. Citizens, economy and resolve were mobilised in a colossal effort to face the first massive defeats at the hands of the unbridled Nazi war machine. The conflict and final victory became known as the Great Patriotic War, was central to the Soviet Union and, after its collapse, to the Russian Federation.

This great victory is commemorated in the magnificent Victory Parade in Red Square on 9 May every year and in the extensive and epic exhibits and memorials of the Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Moscow. The 20 000mư of exhibit space is accommodated in the immense 2500-hectare Victory Park.

The park contains a plethora of enormous monuments to the Soviet war effort as well as the Holocaust Memorial Synagogue. This presentation delivers a visual journey through the vast halls and vistas of this impressive museum and the monuments that adorn the vast park. It is an awe-inspiring expedition into aspects of the history of the Second World War unknown and ignored in the West.

Her photographs were able to give an impression of the grandeur and reverence attached to the memorials. They illuminated her contention that the Russian people were immensely proud of the sacrifices of their nation during the War in which they lost 26 million people, fully 6 million of whom were civilians.

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The main lecture entitled "Blood Money - the world's most dangerous job in the world's most dangerous country" was by Johan Raath, an ex-South African Special Forces member who became a Private Military Contractor (PMC). Since his return to South Africa he has written "Blood Money - A look into the lives of Private Military Contractors in Iraq". Here is an extract from his summary:

"Up until the Afghanistan & Iraq Wars the use of Private Military Contractors (PMCs) by the USA was fairly limited although PMCs were deployed after the 1991 Gulf War and in the mid to late 90's in Bosnia (former Yugoslavia). The use of PMCs in the beginning of the Afghan campaign started slowly, with the most sought-after contract being the Presidential Protection Detail for Karzai. It was in Iraq where the supply and demand market for PMCs boomed after the conclusion of the 2003 conventional war.

Unfortunately, the PMC industry that has grown into a multi-billion-dollar business has been tainted by incidents where PMCs have used perceived excessive force in the execution of their duties, most notably the Blackwater Nisour Square shooting in September 2007. Pundits are arguing that Private Military Security Companies (PMSCs) lack oversight and that PMCs are not held accountable for their actions when using force in the execution of their duties. As PMCs we have observed the influence in policies with the successful deployment of Executive Outcomes to Angola, Sierra Leone and in recent years in Nigeria where 300 PMC mentors aided the Nigerian Army to corner Boko Haram in the northwest of the country in 2015."

Johan started by explaining that the two main sects in Islam - Sunni and Shia - dated back to the generation immediately following the death of the Prophet Mohammed and that there would be no magic stopping of their feud, which was already over a thousand years old. He attempted to give an overview of how the political fortunes in various countries in the Middle East were intertwined with the Sunni/Shia conflict.

Asked about the difference between a PMC and a mercenary, Johan explained that a mercenary was involved in attacking an enemy, while a PMC was primarily involved in protection eg of power stations and specific installations; providing security services for personnel eg engineers constructing infrastructure and for logistical support for troops. If attacked they were allowed to defend themselves but they were not involved in front line fighting. However the "front line" in the Iraqi conflict was literally everywhere and their camps and bases were frequently attacked. Roadside IEDs and suicide bombers became more common and it was almost impossible to separate the enemy from the general populace.

Since the SA PMCs were effectively supporting the active soldiers, they enjoyed a lot of assistance from the US Army - eg helicopter trips and access to canteens. The British were, initially at least, not as helpful. Strangely the shadow of the 1899-1902 Anglo-Boer War ("South African War") was still a factor in some of these relationships.

His photographs concluded with an eight minute slide-show of scenes and people which were of importance to his narrative or to him personally and covered the period from 2003 to 2011. Having been injured, arrested, poisoned and recovered, he left the area in 2017 because his body was not up to it any more. Proceeds from his book will go to the injured PMCs who came back and to the families of those 38 South Africans who did not.

Members interested in buying his book "Blood Money" can contact him at

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REQUEST FOR HELP - Liberty Cavalcade

I wonder whether there is anyone in your society who had knowledge of the Liberty Cavalcade that took place in Bloemfontein in either 1944 or 1945?
If there is, I would be pleased to be put in touch with him/her.
Ms Sigi Howes, Principal, Centre for Conservation Education & Education Museum, Cape Town Tel: +27 (0)21 762-1622

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As per the Society's constitution, formal notice of the AGM has to appear in the newsletter at least once before the meeting:


This serves as notice that the 53rd AGM of the Society will take place
in the J.C. Lemmer Auditorium at the Ditsong National Museum of Military History
at 20h00 on Thursday 11th April 2019.

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Voting for Prizes

In order to allow Johannesburg members two opportunities to vote for their choice of the best lectures in 2018, the announcement and awarding of the Lt Col (Dr) F Machanik Memorial Prize for the best main lecture and the George Barrell Memorial Prize for the best curtain raiser will only be made at the May 2019 meeting.

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Request for assistance - finding South African WW2 veterans

My name is Chris Dennett and I am the founder and historian of We Will Remember, a global documentary initiative to capture the memories of the Second World War generation and distill their experience into wisdom for future generations.

I am British, but having interviewed a significant number of veterans around the world, I am delighted to announce that I have moved to Cape Town in search of South African WW2 veterans and holocaust survivors. I am not a journalist and this is not a commercial initiative.

Chris Dennett (+27) 083 288 7161.

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Soundcloud - to retrieve Johannesburg lecture recordings
or type "soundcloud" into search engine. When the main page of SoundCloud opens type in "sa military history society lectures" which will take you to our site. Just click on our page tab and you will then see all recorded talks. There is no need to sign in or register on the site.

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CR = curtain raiser ML = main lecture
DDH = Darrell Dickon Hall Memorial lecture MS = member's slot


Ditsong Museum next to Zoo at 8pm

KZN in Durban:


Rosedale Complex


EP Veteran Car Club, Conyngham Road, Port Elizabeth at 19h30

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Branch contact details

For Cape Town details contact Carl Burger 082 333 2706
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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