South African Military History Society



February 2002

PAST EVENTS: The January 2002 meeting, with our vice chairman Bill Brady in the chair was slightly unusual in that both speakers were allotted a similar amount of time. As a result the DDH was longer than the usual opener to an evening, and it was given by our Chairman Paul Kilmartin, with a talk entitled Rudolf Hess: His Flight to Scotland 10 May 1941. Speaking entirely without notes, our first speaker of the year gave us a fascinating summary of the life of Hess from his birth up to the time of the flight, then the official record of the events after the flight (and the word "official" was to become particularly relevant as the talk developed) and then an update on the most recent research into what really happened to Hess after his arrival in Scotland. The result was an extraordinary story of government cover up, enough unexpected information to re-write history and a punch line that left most of this well attended meeting in a state of surprise.

Rudolf Hess was born in 1894 in Alexandria, Egypt. His father was a successful businessman and his children were brought up with great strictness. Hess did well at the local German school, and he progressed to a Swiss University where he obtained a science degree. He was an admirer of Great Britain and her empire, spoke fluent English and was due to continue his studies at Oxford University in 1914. With the outbreak of the Great War, he volunteered for the Bavarian Infantry and was wounded by shrapnel in June 1915 during service on the western front, and after winning an Iron Cross for bravery. During convalescence he gained his commission, and was posted to the eastern front, where he was badly wounded again, this time on the Romanian front in June 1916. He was to spend 4 months in hospital and during this time he decided to join the German Air Service. He duly became a pilot, but was only appointed to a squadron in Belgium in October 1918, and only flew in combat in the closing weeks of the war. Flying was to be a total passion for Hess for the next 23 years.

Back in defeated Germany, Hess was horrified to see those he regarded as his real enemy - the Bolsheviks - parading their red flags and being elected to run local and city councils. He went to Munich University to study economics and politics and it was there that he met Professor Hanshoffer, a man who was to have a dramatic impact on his life. Hanshoffer taught geopolitics and Hess became an enthusiastic supporter of the Professor's theories on the need to create a greater Germany. On 1 July 1920, a friend of the professor took Hess to a small political meeting where he heard a speech by a corporal from his old regiment, Adolf Hitler. He immediately joined the party, only the 16th person to do so,and from that moment he became a dedicated supporter of Hitler and his right hand man for the next 21 years. During this time he rose to become the Deputy Fuhrer of Germany.

The official British version of the events that happened, and it remains the "official" version to this day, can be easily summarised. It is that Hess flew to Scotland on a whim, with the idea of negotiating a peace with Britain, without Hitler's knowledge. After bailing out, Hess tried to contact the Duke of Hamilton, who was both a senior aristocrat and a famous pilot, and who Hess assumed would get him an appointment with Churchill and the King. Hess was arrest, spent a short time in the Tower of London, then a year in a country house prison near Aldershot before spending the rest of the war in Wales.

In October 1945 he was tried with other Nazi leaders at Nuremberg, found guilty of 2 of the 4 counts against him and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent the rest of his life in Spandau prison in Berlin where he committed suicide in October 1987. He never did meet Churchill or the King.

Paul then told us about the efforts of a number of historians and other researchers who refused to believe the official version due to available and proven information that did not match the official "facts", and because of the refusal of all British Governments since 1945 to answer questions of fact or to make relevant govenment papers available to historians. Very recently 4 historians decided to pool all their findings and working as a team, and using information provided by earlier sources, they have proved to their satisfaction the "true" version of events, and have published their findings in a book called Double Standards. It was this version that our speaker described, and which can be summarised a follows:
Hess flew to Scotland with Hitler's knowledge and approval to reach a final agreement with the influential Peace Movement in Britain. This movement comprised of senior politicians, the aristocracy and the royal family. If agreement could be reached, Churchill would be persuaded to stand down and Germany, who were in total control of the war at that stage, would allow Britain to retain her position in the world (including her Empire) in return for Britain accepting a Europe dominated by Germany and would not give any support to Russia when their war with Germany broke out Hess. was due to land at the runway in the Duke of Hamilton's estate, negotiate with the Duke of Kent (the brother of King George VI) and fly back to Germany with only a small and select group from both countries being aware of the trip. But when Hess could not locate the runway and had to bail out, the whole plan went wrong and damage limitation with cover up started and has continued to this day. The Hess who moved to Wales, stood trial at Nuremburg and was imprisoned at Spandau was not Hess, but a look alike substitute. The real Hess was killed in the same air crash that killed the Duke of Kent on 25 June 1942. Time did not allow our speaker to cover much of the substantial evidence that is available to endorse this version, but important among the evidence he did quote was the work done by Dr. Hugh Thomas, a British army doctor who exainined Hess in Spandau and proved beyond doubt that the prisoner had never been wounded and was not Hess. Evidence was also given to show that Hess was murdered and did not commit suicide, and finally factual details of years of British government cover up were summarised and the question asked: Why? Why indeed.

The KZN Branch of the SA Military History Society has a record of listening to, and hoping to learn from, the other side's point of view. By the "other side" we mean the opposite view to that heard by the majority of our members, and which in military terms could be called the enemy viewpoint. For example, in the last few years we have listened to speakers who, in their time, have been active members of such organisations as the Wermacht and MK. We have listened with interest to their point of view without ever being convinced by their comments. Another such occasion occurred at the January meeting, when for the first time the Society had a main speaker who is a strong supporter of the IRA and its activities. Fellow member Brian Kennedy gave a talk on The IRA Campaign In Armagh.

Ireland, in its broadest terms, is a complex mix of extremes. Whether it is for Protestant or Catholic, or for Loyalist or Republican, the preference will always show and we knew from our speakers opening comments, that we would get a talk where the bias would not allow an even handed approach - not that one was expected. Brian started his brief summary of Irish history by stating that the Protestants think that Irish history started with the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and then went on to quote the coming of Na Gaeil in 1OO BC and the arrival of Christianity in 432 AD and the key dates through to modern times. With that comment about the Boyne, the scene was set and the audience had to get used to the British army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary being described as "enemy forces" or "occupying forces" as the scene was set for a description of the campaign in the area of Northern Ireland known as Armagh. It is a small area of approximately 500 sq. kms of open mountain farmland and narrow winding roads and high Blackburn hedges. Crossmaglen, as the capital town, was the heart of the action. The first shot in Armagh was fired on 7 August 1971, when an Irishman was killed at an army post. 22 days later, the first British soldier was killed near Crossmaglen and in IRA terms the war "to drive the foreign army from the area and from Ireland" had started. Our speaker did refer to the men of the IRA as guerrillas, perhaps a slip of the tongue or was it a compliment, but said that most of them belonged to families with a long history of republicanism, starting with the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-1922 and on through their support for Germany in WWII and the various IRA uprisings in the 1950's and 1960's. So their bond was strong.

We were then taken through details of the Armagh leader, Tom Murphy - who is still active today, and how he and others received their training in Libya. This Libyan connection was to provide the IRA with hundreds of tons of arms and ammunition and a ton of semtex. Men who had served in both the Irish and British armies provided other training. The campaign itself consisted of the laying of landmines and booby traps, and ambushing and sniping at British soldiers in order to deny British control of the area. With these tactics and clever use of the Irish border, this was achieved by the mid 1970's with the result that all British activity had to be carried out by helicopter, even getting rid of refuse. Graphic descriptions of the killings of individual British soldiers, with names, were described, with particular reference to the murder of a catholic soldier, Captain Robert Nairac of the Coldstream Guards. To clarify that soldiers were not the only targets, mention was made of the murder of Earl Mountbatten when on a fishing holiday. To emphasise the success of the campaign some time was sent describing the action Narrow Water on the Newry/Warrenport Road when the South Armagh IRA killed 18 members of the Parachute Regiment in an ambush. This was, according to Brian, the heaviest casualties suffered by the Para's since Arnhem. His succinct comment about general reaction to this action was that 'There was joy throughout Ireland".

From individual military actions in Northern Ireland, the South Armagh IRA moved in to mainland Britain for the first time on 20 July 1982, when 11 soldiers were killed with two small bombs. Ten years later they moved on from military to economic targets and in a short campaign of just over four years, they detonated two bombs in both the City of London and in Manchester with a further bomb attack in the London Dockland area. It was estimated that the total damage to property was in close to of 1.5 billion pounds, with just six civilians killed. Only with the second bomb in Manchester was reference made to the injuries to innocent civilians, when on this occasion 206 people were hurt.

Brian was critical of the British army, which, with a smile, he called "the best trained army in the world" and then described how the civilian South Armagh IRA won a number of successes against these highly trained, and superior forces. Many of these successes were sniper based, and our speaker gave us a background to the IRA strategic use of sniper teams and how they operated. He also quoted John Major, the British prime minister at the time, who described the deaths caused by these snipers as "cowardly acts". To balance that he then quoted one senior British officer as stating that IRA sniping was "clever", "carried out beautifully" and as a final comment "It wasn't cowardly in the slightest". The meeting was left to make its own decision. Quotes of this kind, from senior officers from both the British army and the RUC were regularly used throughout the talk, as though the IRA needed to be re-assured by compliments from their enemy. In response to the on-going sniper attacks, the British reaction was to further fortify the RUC stations in the area. As a result they became more like military posts than police stations as they were strengthened with huge corrugated iron gates. The high cost of this fortification exercise was immense as was the logistical effort in men and materials. This was all compared with the effort made by the British in the 1980's when a large number of watchtowers were built at great coat, together with successful IRA attacks on certain of these structures.

In conclusion Brian Kennedy summed up the South ArmaghIRA as highly motivated, highly trained, well-disciplined and well-led soldiers. To prove the point he gave, what he called, a balance sheet of those killed in action in the years between 1970 and 1997. It sounded like the results of a rugby tournament between the British Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment, the RUC and the IRA, with the side scoring the least points winning the cup. No civilian deaths were included. Today there has been peace for four years and both sides hope it will last. But, as was also stated, the final aim of the IRA campaign has not yet been achieved.

Our former Chairman, Ken Gillings, proposed a well-received vote of thanks to both our speakers for providing a controversial and stimulating start to the New Year.



From their inception, the KwaZulu-Natal Branch of the Society has been heavily involved with the commemoration events of the centenary of the Anglo-Boer War. Many of our members chaired important committees and sub committees that led to a wide range of successful activities throughout KZN - activities that continue to this day and will continue until the final ceremonies to mark the centenary of the signing of the peace agreement. The most active participant is our previous chairman, KEN GILLINGS, and as part of his activities he has been giving regular talks to the Society on the history of the war as it affected the whole country, on a year-by-year basis. Those who attended his two earlier talks (on the history of 1899 and 1900) will recall how the British had expected hostilities to end by Christmas 1899. For our main talk in February, KEN GILLINGS will present his third talk, A SUMMARY OF THE ANGLO-BOER WAR IN 1901, which will take us through the amazing events during the advent of the guerrilla stage of the War, the establishment of the concentration camps and all the military events that occurred up to 31 December 1901.

A talk not to be missed

The advertised DDH talk by IAN SUTHERLAND on THE RETALIATORY RAIDS ON BATH - 1942, had had to be postponed due to key information not arriving from the UK in time. This talk will now be done at a later date. In its place IAN SUTHERLAND will present an unusual tape, produced by This England magazine, of MEMORABLE SOUNDS OF THE 2nd WORLD WAR. If, for example, you have never heard a broadcast by Lord Haw Haw, then this is your chance. The tape will last 20 minutes, and will be something very different for the Society.


14 March
DDH Col. Harold Rosenberg - Honorus Crux: The South African "VC"
Main Col. Graham du Tolt - South African Casualties in World War 2
11 April
DDH Dr. Ingrid Machin - The Formation of the Zulu "Regiments"
Main Maj. Gen. Chris Le Roux - The SANDF. From the "Old" to the "New"
9 May
DDH Dr. Gus Allen - Irish Cameo No.2
Main Paul Kilmartin - The Battle of Loos. September 1915

Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
4 Hadley,101 Manning Road,Glenwood,Durban,4001
Telephone: (031) 201 3983

South African Military History Society /