South African Military History Society


At our March Meeting Rodney Warwick presented his superbly illustrated in-depth lecture on the First Phase of the South African military invasion of German South West Africa: Aug. to Oct.1914. He had selected the virtually forgotten skirmish at Sandfontein where the Union Defence Force received its real baptism of fire. Of all the following set battles in GSWA it was the only one they lost.

Rodney started with an overview of the 1912 Defence Act and the creation of the Union Defence Force. He touched on comments made by some members of parliament for and against, particularly those who were critical of Smuts for dispensing with aspects of the traditional military methods used in the former Afrikaner Republics. In the end Smuts brushed aside detractors, and in Jan. 1913 there were 44 193 volunteers in the Active Citizen Force and a Permanent Force of five S.A. Mounted Rifles Regiments. The latter were intended to fulfill both the military and policing roles in a rapidly industrialising, but still largely rural, society where white worker and black peasantry uprisings had occurred.

In August 1914 the Government under Louis Botha felt honour bound to assist the British government and people, once hostilities had commenced in Europe, and silence German radio-transmitters in Windhoek, Swakopmund and Luderitz Bucht, as well as deny SWA ports to German use.

Following the Nakob "incident", when German troops established sangars inside Union territory, a meeting of high ranking officers and officials was called to Pretoria which, after a lengthy debate, led to a common action plan. One month later components of the ACF and the PF of the UDF had been mobilized. All five Regiments of the SA Mounted Rifles, together with CF artillery support, landed at Port Nolloth and were railed in batches to Steinkopf. Collectively the force under the UDF PF OC, General Timson Lukin, was referred to as the "Namaqualand Field Force", or "A" Force. "B" Force, under later Afrikaner rebel, Colonel Manie Maritz, was intended to move into GSWA from the Upington district, and "C" Force, under Colonel P.S. Beves, was landed at Luderitz Bucht.

By 12 September authority had been received by the Union government to enter German territory, and three days later several skirmishes with German forces ensued with light casualties on both sides.

As elements of "A" Force arrived at a base camp at Steinkopf in GSWA, advance intelligence units scouted deep into German territory and occupied the strategic wells at Sandfontein even before the bulk of the full force had left the ships.

General Lukin, quite rationally, wanted to ensure a proper logistics back-up of his forces before an effective advance could be made on Warmbad by "A" Force, but DHQ with impatient "hurry-up" orders on 12/13 September from ministerial level in Pretoria, forced his hand to bolster troops already occupying the Sandfontein koppie and wells 18 miles from Ramans Drift on the Orange River.

On the 12th, 5th SAMR crossed into GSWA at Geidip, one day later 4th SAMR crossed into GSWA at Ramans Drift, and on 15th a running battle between UDF and German patrols occurred resulting in several casualties.

As SAMR reinforcements arrived at Sandfontein on the morning of 26th September, German forces attacked the position from 4 different directions. After unsuccessful mounted and infantry assaults the Germans bombarded the beleaguered UDF men on the koppie with artillery. The bombardment intensity increased during the afternoon, causing numerous casualties and undoubted terror among the defenders, until at 6.00 pm Lt.Col.Reginald Grant ordered a surrender.

It seems to hold true that, just as later during WW II, 70% of wounds were caused by shelling, and that artillery was far more feared by infantry than any other enemy weapon.

In the final analysis the Sandfontein skirmish had no influence on the outcome of the war in GSWA. The engagement nevertheless underscored the fact that a forward advance without clear intelligence or reconnaissance, combined with political interference, substantially increases the risk of disaster.

Not many members turned up at our Society Evening on 11.4.2002, fearing perhaps a dreary Annual General Meeting. On the contrary, our 26th AGM was informative and lively, and absent members missed out on a talk by Stephan Fourie who had jumped in at very short notice and spoke on Bridge 14 in Angola during December 1975. This replaced the talk by Tony Westby-Nunn who was unable to attend. Due to time constraints the slide presentation on the German Zeppelins and Fliegertruppe had to stand over until later this year, probably October.

The Hon.Treasurer, Bob Buser, reported that our finances are in a healthy state but that subscriptions had to be raised fractionally to cover steadily increasing costs. The Chairman thanked Geoffrey Mangin for providing us with a sound system and Robin Smith for organising a new projection screen at a special price. Geoffrey Mangin was again appointed Hon.Auditor for next year, and his suggestion that the ruins of the old Radar Stations along our coast should be included in the Heritage Trail was noted and accepted for further action.

Our Branch has 104 full and associate members.

The previous Committee was elected unopposed:
Chairman: Derek O'Riley
Vice chairman/Scribe: John Mahncke
Hon.Treasurer: Bob Buser
Members: Maj Tony Gordon, Johan van den Berg and Robin Smith.

Anyone wishing to obtain a copy of the audited 2001 Balance Sheet is asked to phone the Scribe.

Our speaker, Stephan Fourie, again delved into the past, 27 years ago to be exact. With the assistance of Johan van den Berg, who had worked into the early morning hours producing excellent pictures, he gave us the raw story of a little known engagement at Bridge 14 on the main road from Southwest Africa to Luanda, and between Santa Comba and Quibala.

The fighters on both sides were in their late teens and early twenties, and in the case of the South Africans all conscripts. Having been thrown into the conflict without proper briefing, relying on badly drawn maps, they proved eminently adaptable to the fluid war where definite frontlines did not exist. Not having had any previous fighting experience they gained their combat practice first-hand, but were not prepared for the enemy's base brutality against their own people and others. Supplies of any kind like food, guns and ammunition, transport vehicles, cars and first-aid kits, even uniforms, were always short. They fought with a mix of modern and WW Il-era weapons while the enemy was equipped with modern Russian and Chinese hardware and vehicles, a combination of types including red eye rocket launchers.

From Southwest Africa the South Africans advanced quickly through central Angola, driving the poorly led enemy ahead and inflicting heavy losses, because a command structure did not seem to exist. It compelled the South Africans to improvise their advance to a great extent.

The Angolans reasoned that their enemy would have to push forward on the road to the north because the ground alongside was marshy most of the year and did not carry any motorized vehicle, and so they concentrated their fire power on the road itself. But the South Africans managed to advance although they could not avoid some losses when they were shot up at Ebo.

The bridge was reached in November. It had been blown up, and the engineers replaced it fast. Beyond the bridge the ground along the road had fortuitously dried out allowing South African armour to advance, sending the enemy retreating while the artillery inflicted heavy losses. The battlefield looked like a picture from WW I in France, scores of dead all over among the tree stumps. By mid-December the enemy was in full flight on the Luanda road which was now undefended.

But the South Africans had to halt since at that stage the USA withdrew their backing to the conflict and the SA government recalled its troops.

Stephan used a descriptive style or delivery, the "I was there" approach eminently suitable for this type of African conflict. He painted a vivid picture of a war largely unknown and unrecognized, which in the end turned out to be unwinnable due to political constraints. The audience applauded his and Johan's combined efforts sincerely.


13 June 2002
OPERATIONS OF V-FORCE IN ARAKAN/SOUTHWEST BURMA 1942/43 (Japanese occupied territory)
Illustrated Lecture by Richard "Dickie" Bullen
11 July 2002
GALLIPOLI: 1914-1918
Illustrated Lecture by Robin Smith
8 August 2002
Illustrated Talk by John Mahncke
12 September 2002
Illustrated Lecture by J.M. Sweeney

IN MEMORIAM: It is with regret that we announce the death of fellow member, Squadron Leader Patrick Wells DSO, on 3 April 2002 He was one of the last surviving South Af rican Battle of Britain pilots and was shot down twice in 1940-flying Hawker Hurricanes, once by the German fighter ace Adolf Galland. After the war the two former enemies became great friends and visited each other.
Pat fought in several theatres of war and was eventually awarded the Distinguished Service Order for bravery and leadership. With his wry humour, gentlemanly understatement and a wealth of detail he entertained us on a number of occasions.
His funeral took place on 8 April in Constantia in the presence of a large congregation including relatives from overseas, many RAF Association Members and members from our Society. He will be sorely missed.

WELCOME TO NEW MEMBER: Mr. Graham Tennison

SUBSCRIPTIONS. Members who have not yet paid their 2002 subs are kindly reminded to do so soonest. Visitors who requested copies of our Newsletter with a view of joining the Society are asked to please return the completed Application Form enclosed

CASTLE MILITARY MUSEUM: The Museum is still looking for part-time helpers. Anyone interested in assisting Natie Greef can reach him during office hours at 469 1153.

Meetings are normally held on the 2nd Thursday of each month, at 20h00 in the Recreation Hall of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Lower Nursery Road, Rosebank (off Alma Road), opposite Rosebank Railway Station. All visitors welcome. Tea and biscuits will be served.

Jochen (John) Mahncke (Vice-Chairman/Scribe) (021) 797 5167

South African Military History Society /