South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 176

June 2019

The May 2019 meeting took place in Port Elizabeth on Monday 13th at the usual venue. Our attendance was a bit down on our previous month’s bumper attendance but this we can attribute to the rather chilly prevailing conditions. Winter is upon us!

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Matters of General interest

The Salute at the Old Greys’ Reunion Trooping the Colour parade was taken by Seaman Gunner 2nd Class James Frederick Fisher (RN).He is a survivor of the D-Day landings of 1944 and is now aged 94 years. It was a very sprightly James who with Grey Rector Chris Erasmus of Grey took to the podium to acknowledge the Grey cadets. Grey is one of the last schools in RSA that has a full regiment and annually performs The Trooping and The Retreat ceremonies. The Trooping is attended by thousands who ring the Grey front field on a late afternoon to view the impressive spectacle.

Seaman Fisher has been invited by the British government to attend the 75th celebrations of these landings which took place at the end of May. He will wearing the following decorations: 1939-1945 Star, The Atlantic Star, France and Germany Star, Normandy Landing Star and the Legion of Honour Star awarded by the French Government. The latter is France’s highest honour.

His attendance at the Trooping may be considered a defining moment in local history especially for the schoolboy cadets for it is unlikely that many of them will ever again be in the presence of one who took part in WW2. Seaman Fisher is one of the last.

We have 48 paid up members which is a fair number. As with all organizations we should be very conscious of our membership and new blood is important. Please bring along anyone that you may think would have an interest in our activities to ensure that we continue both strongly and effectively. We always have a need for speakers and Andre would welcome your nominations.

The Battle of Delville Wood which will be remembered on 7 July is an event coming up in the near future .This is an engagement of epic proportions which is looked upon as South Africa’s greatest military contribution.

Our sympathies are extended to member Bill Mills on the sad passing of his wife Kit.

Chairman Malcolm advised the meeting that he intended to ask a representative of the PAG Veterans Association to address us on the preservation of their regimental artifacts which has been suggested may be under threat of relocation.

The next field trip is being mooted to take place on the weekend of 2-4th August so please save the date. Confirmation and details will follow at our next meeting in June

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Member’s Five Minute Presentation

Ian Pringle reflected on ANZAC Day which is celebrated by Australia and New Zealand as a mark of respect .The day is always celebrated on 24 April – the day that the ANZAC forces landed at Gallipoli on the Turkish peninsula in 1915. Ian’s chat was based on his daughter’s reflections as a new arrival to Australia and her experiences at being part of just more than a celebration to commemorate the fallen

It is a day marked by memorial services with the first being held at dawn, of breakfasts, of the whole family being involved with youngsters wearing grandfathers’ medals, of cadet, church and brass bands, with thousands lining the streets and then later in the day major sporting events taking place. It is also a day that pubs open early and the traditional game of “Two- Up” is enthusiastically played – a pastime that is only officially allowed three times during the year in pubs.

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Curtain Raiser – The South African Corps of Marines -Jaco Pretorius- 1950-1954

Jaco delivered yet another interesting talk on the Marines and on this occasion dealt with the establishment of the unit in the period 1950 -1954. The history of the Marines dates to the earlier days of the Royal Navy where the ship’s guns were considered the most important role played by the marines. The marines objective was to reinforce the fighting force and to defend the ships.

The Royal Navy Marines have seen action in many parts of the world including the role that they played in the Anglo- Boer War. Their heavy guns were in evidence at the Siege of Ladysmith – an indication that the unit was equally at home both on water and on firm ground!

The most highly decorated marine in our own history is Lt.Victor De Kock, MBE and DSC, who was born in Caledon and educated at Union High in Graaff- Reinet. A plaque to his memory is to be found in St.James’s Church in that town.

The SA Corps was established in July 1951 and comprised a number of regiments and various other units making a formidable force. Their responsibilities included doing guard duty along our coast, looking after the radar defences of the ports and manning anti-aircraft positions. The marines were trained in water assault and in infantry tactics and sought to emulate the standards set by their counterparts in the Royal Navy.

The corps was in demand for ceremonial purposes and was in attendance at Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation in 1953. Jaco in presenting his interesting talk gave credit to Deon Fourie for much information.

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Main Lecture - The Sherman Tank – Franco Cilliers

The Sherman M4 medium tank lineage starts with the M2 light tank and M2 medium tank, which lead to the M3 medium tank. The design of US tanks was influenced by the doctrine of the US Army in the interwar period. This doctrine stated that tanks are to support the infantry in breaking through the enemy line and then exploiting this success. Fighting of other tanks was a secondary function of tanks. The doctrine gave the responsibility for stopping incursions of enemy tanks to the anti-tank branch. The influence of this doctrine on the design of the M2 Medium can be seen by the vehicle having nine machine guns, light armour and good mobility. The M2 medium was only built in small numbers about 198 tanks. The M3 Medium tank was seen as interim tanks to provide time for complete the design of the M4. The secondary reason for the M3 was British need for more tanks and the need to utilize a 75mm gun on a tank. The 75mm requirement came about because of the use by the Germans on the Panzer IV of the short barrelled 75mm. The British tanks of this early war era had excellent anti-tank guns in the 2pdr and 6pdr. But these guns did not have a good High Explosive shell. This limited the ability of the tanks to deal with German anti-tank guns. The 75mm of the M3 was based on the French 75 of WW1 and therefore had a very good High Explosive shell. To expedite the use of the 75mm gun and not have to wait for the design of new turret, the decision was made to mount the gun in a sponson on the right side of the hull.

The M4 was produced in various engine variants with the M4A3 with a Ford V8 largely used by the Americans. The British preferred the M4A4 with the Chrysler Multibank engine. The Soviet Union and US Marines generally received the M4A2 with the dual diesel engines.

The armour of the M4 compared favourably with early war tanks of the Germans especially the Pz.IV, which had max 80mm hull front and 50mm turret front. The later German Panther, Tiger and Tiger II had much thicker armour than the M4. The M4 armour was sloped and had an effective thickness of hull front 90.8mm and turret front 93.1mm.

The 75mm gun armour piercing was sufficient for the early war German tanks but lacked punch for the later war German tanks a new armour piercing shell was developed for the 75mm, which improved the penetration of the 75mm gun by about 10%. The final solution to remedy this deficiency was to replace the 75mm gun with 76mm gun and to use newly developed two new armour-piercing shells. The new M79 shell was 60% better than the original 75mm AP shell. The M93 HVAP was a 120% improvement. This shell gave M4 the ability to be able to penetrate all German tanks.

The M4 gained an undeserved habit of burning after being hit. The M4 caught fire about 80% of the time when hit while the comparable German Pz IV caught fire 85%. The M4 catching fire was due to the use of high flash powder in the 75mm ammunition and bad placement of the shells and not due to the use of a petrol engine. The problem was remedied with the introduction of the wet stowage of ammunition and reorganizing the ammo placement. The M4 was one of the tanks that was the easiest to escape from as 4 of the 5 crew had their own hatches, there were spring kits added to the hatches to enable easier opening and the size of the hatches was also increased. The M4 was built in large numbers almost 50 000 tanks and the hull and drive train was used for various other conflicts – Please see the picture of the tank engine on the final page of this issue

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The old and new US Military Uniforms

Follow the link below to read and see more on the article;

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June Meeting – Monday 10 June at our usual venue of the EP Veterans Car Club. Proceedings commence at 19.30hrs.

Members slot – How we should remember War – by Anton De Witt

Curtain Raiser – The Treaty Peace of Versailles by Pat Irwin
Curtain Raiser – Bisley Competitive Shooting by Mac Alexander

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Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn
Secretary: Franco Cilliers
Scribes:Ian Pringle.

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South African Military History Society /