NEWSLETTER NO. 330
The 11 November 2002 is just not the 84th anniversary of the end of the 1st World War, but also the 117th anniversary of the birth of General George Patton, who was born on that day in 1885. It has become an added tradition with the Society for Professor Mike Laing to give the November DDH on an aspect of the life and career of General Patton. This year the subject of his talk was Patton: Lights the Torch and as we always expect the unexpected when Mike Laing gives one of his talks, again he did not disappoint.. Although the talk was about the role of Patton in Operation Torch he started in Sicily on 1st January 1944 and using a large number of important and rarely seen photographs he worked backwards towards Torch and ended the first half of his talk in January 1943. He then stepped a year back to January 1942 and worked forwards to December 1942. It may sound strange, as Operation Torch - the American invasion of North Africa took place in November 1942 - but it made sound logical sense as a number of the major milestones in Patton's 2sd World War career unfolded.
The starting point was when Patton was relieved of command of the USA 7 Army by President Roosevelt and General Eisenhower, when they made a special visit to Sicily in January 1944. The USA high command wanted to use Patton as part of their future D-Day plans; but they knew they had the difficult task of how to control him. Despite his successful role in driving the German forces out of Sicily he was better known for slapping a soldier in the face and having to make a public apology to his army. The reason given for his action was that he was suffering from battle fatigue. A map of Sicily was then shown and the taking of Messina after Palermo after the invasion in July 1943 was described, as was the planning and the importance of Sicily as the next step in the Allied advance towards the invasion of Europe.
So back to January 1942 when Patton was sent to California to set up a training centre and to prepare troops for the invasion of North Africa. California was chosen as it could reproduce the great heat and desert conditions the soldiers would find in North Africa. Despite the heat Patton, a great believer in flags, signs and badges, was always smartly dressed, as photographs showed. With the training well underway news came through that Rommel had started a major advance, and then that Tobruk had fallen on 21 June 1942. Churchill and General Alanbrooke were in Washington when Tobruk fell and the next day Patton was ordered to Washington where he was told to plan the invasion of North Africa with 1 division (Patton immediately requested 2 divisions) with the initial plan to take Casablanca. It was to be the first amphibious invasion of the 2nd World War. At the same time the USA promised Britain 300 Sherman tanks from the USA 1st Army Division. Patton returned to the training camp for a month before flying to London on 3 August to finalise plans for Torch with Generals Eisenhower (Army) and Doolittle (Air Force). Back in Washington on 22 August, he was now in command of the Western Task Force, which was to set sail from the USA, and travel the great distance over the Atlantic before the amphibious landing in North Africa on 8 November 1943. He also had to finalise the naval side of the plans with Admiral Hewitt, a relationship that led to Hewitt complaining officially to General Marshall about Patton's "profane" behaviour.
The Task Force sailed on 24 October, the day after the start of the 2nd battle of Alamein, and with Patton in command landed on 8 November and forced Casablanca to surrender on 11 November 1942-Patton's 57th birthday.
As Mike Laing concluded, as he passed round one of Patton's favourite drinks, - Happy Birthday George!!
The main talk of the evening was given by Gilbert Torlage, an eminent historian, author and battlefield tour guide, who was making a welcome return as a guest speaker to the Society. His talk, the last one for the year 2002, was entitled: The Private War between General Sir Redvers Buller and General Sir Charles Warren . This has become a famous personal "battle" within the bigger picture of the Anglo-Boer War and our speaker made it clear from the outset that he intended to clarify how the two generals interacted with each other by stating the facts as he has found them and without criticising either side. Equally he did not intend to wash his hands of either personality, but to explain what happened between the two men and to conclude with his own findings. To do this it was important to attempt to get into the private thoughts of both men, to find out why they did what they did and why each did it in their own particular way. During his research, Gilbert Torlage found a previously unknown letter in the Pretoria archives from Warren to Lord Roberts, which helped put Warren's views into perspective (see comment below), but before going into detail an initial explanation was given. Buller and Warren were involved in a series of words, both private and open and both written and verbal, over a period of 3 years that became increasingly complex. Despite their seniority and their conservative backgrounds, their words, even in writing, became "intemperate" and to understand the reasons for this "battle" it was necessary to attempt to understand the motive and what was behind this ongoing clash.
In 1899 Buller was C-in-C British forces in South Africa. He was experienced, respected and well loved by his troops, despite having a sharp tongue and a brusque manner. However, he had one major failing - he lacked confidence and even admitted that he did not like being the "No.1", but felt he was a very good "No.2". On his way to South Africa he exuded confidence in a successful and short war, but on arrival in Cape Town he found that the Boers had taken charge in key areas. He decided that the main problem area was in Natal and that he should base himself in Natal and take charge. As a result he had to take responsibility for the defeats of December 1899 and this hurt a proud man like Buller. After the defeat at Colenso, Buller wrote a famous letter to Lord Lansdowne about his "failure" and his decision to "let Ladysmith go". Two days later Buller was replaced by Field Marshall Lord Roberts and was made C-in-C in Natal with Warren appointed as his second in command. On his arrival Warren diarised that Buller was "a changed man" and "not as he remembered him" and that he had taken "the reverse at Colenso to heart".
The 2 ring factions in the army were now facing each other. Warren was from the Indian ring (who dominated) and Buller was from the African ring and as both were outspoken they soon clashed. Fundamental differences had been there for years and in Natal Buller preferred an open country strategy and Warren disagreed as he thought this would suit the Boers. Buller felt isolated and that Warren was a threat, as he believed that another defeat would promote Warren in his place as C-in-C Natal. A victory was essential and he decided to make another attempt to relieve Ladysmith by a different route, through the Thukela valley. Buller gave vague orders to Warren to outflank the Boers on the right with 62% of the British force while he, Buller, was to wait with the remaining force. From 17 January 1900 the fateful events began that led to the major defeat at Spioenkop with substantial British losses. Buller was determined that Lord Roberts understood that Warren was solely to blame for the defeat, and Buller's second report within 6 days stated that Warren had failed to carry out orders, was slow, employed the wrong tactics, was not properly in control and ended with the comment "I will never employ him in command again". This report was sent to Roberts without Warren's knowledge, which was highly irregular.
Warren was relieved and transferred to the Cape, where he found to his surprise that there was high criticism of him in the press. In August 1900 he wrote to Roberts (and this is the letter mentioned above, and recently found by our speaker in the archives) in which he stated that he did not know of Buller's report, he was not given a chance to respond and then in turn, criticised Buller on 20 detailed points. Roberts passed the letter to Buller for comment, who replied with 8 pages of scathing and vitriolic criticism, with emphasis on Warren disobeying his orders. Roberts now had a problem, as 2 of his senior generals were highly critical of each other. It was decided not to hold an immediate enquiry and Buller and Warren returned to England. An enquiry on the whole war was started in late 1902 but Buller was prepared and was specific about how Warren failed to exploit the opportunity to relieve Ladysmith in January 1900. A copy of his submission was sent to Warren but he only received it from Buller the night before he gave evidence, and he described it as "incorrect and very misleading". Warren eventually submitted an unemotional 16,000-word rebuttal, which included 38 specific points, but his general complaint was that Buller "had given no hint about the report against me, when we were in daily and I thought friendly association" and that as Buller left the field at Vaalkrans "he left me in independent command and I received many complimentary congratulations from Buller but I was never mentioned in despatches". Both men were making their own factual reports that were the complete opposite of each other.
So the question remains - why did Buller start his campaign against Warren? The answer, according to Gilbert Torlage, was that his insecurity after Colenso, followed by the disaster at Spioenkop, left Buller thinking that he was fighting for his command and that the best way out for him was to distance himself from Spionkop and to blacken Warren's name behind his back but at the same time to be friendly to his face. This "battle" was not one of military detail but that was strictly personal. In his final summing up Gilbert felt that most jurors would find Buller responsible for the way he treated Warren.
Major John Buchan thanked both our speakers for fascinating and very well researched talks that brought our year to an end on a very high note.
Please remember that the January meeting will be held on
THE THIRD THURSDAY OF JANUARY, the 16 January 2003,
to allow members time to return from New Year holidays.
The first main talk of the new year will be given by MAJOR GENERAL CHRIS Le ROUX, and will be entitled The SANDF - FROM THE "OLD" TO THE "NEW". No one is in a better position to compare the "Old" SANDF with the "New" than Chris le Roux, as he was involved at a high level with the important and complex task of driving through the transition of the SANDF as it matched the political changes within the country. Countries around the world have admired the political change that took place and we will learn in January whether or not, the military change was as successful. For all of us who have the best interests of South Africa at heart, this is a most important talk, and one that will create an outstanding start to the year 2003. GANES PILLAY gave us a talk in September 2004 on the Indian Mutiny. For the 1st DDH of 2003 he originally gave us a title of AN INDIAN MUTINY CAMEO. This has now been made more specific as THE MOLLY ELLIS AFFAIR - INDIA 1923. It all sounds most intriguing!!!
Held on Thursday 12 December 2002, the Annual Dinner, held this year in the main restaurant of the Westville Country Club, was one of the most successful for many years. Unfortunately 2 members and their wives had to cry off at the very last minute, but 60 members and guests enjoyed excellent food, a most cheerful atmosphere and from all the comments received everyone thoroughly enjoyed their evening. The highlight for the evening was a Society first, as Thomas Fuller played his pipes with great skill both before the meal as we entered the restaurant, and then before and after the main course. He added great value to most friendly and happy evening. Thanks to our Vice Chairman BILL BRADY, for his organisational skills.
Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
S.A.MILITARY HISTORY SOCIETY
4 Hadley, 101 Manning Road, Glenwood, Durban, 4001