NEWSLETTER NO. 326
17 AUGUST 2002 Following both written and verbal notices, there are some members who still do not realise they must make their OWN reservations with the hotel in Vryheid. The Society has negotiated a special B&B room rate of R240 single, or R320 double, both rates less 10%, with the OXFORD LODGE in Vryheid. Their telephone number is 034-980-9280. Please refer to the booking made by KEN GILLINGS with JEANETTE on the 31 May 2002.
DUNDEE "HISTORY IN ACTION FESTIVAL"
This is scheduled for the weekend of 27,28 and 29 SEPTEMBER 2002. This will include re-enactments of the Battles or Talana, Rorkes Drift and Blood River. It's a comprehensive militaria weekend and further details can be obtained by contacting Tourism Dundee @ 034-212-2121.
Charles Whiteing's DDH talk dealt with Robey Leibbrandt and Operation Weissdorn.
Charles treated us to a rousing tale of derring-do involving Robey Leibbrandt's plan to assassinate General Smuts and bring about a coup d'etat in South Africa with German and Ossewa Brandwag support. This plan, code named Operation Weissdorn, was delivered to Hitler in Berlin.
Germany lost her colony of South West Africa at the end of World War Two when it became a South African mandate. When presented with the plan, Hitler realised the strategic mineral wealth of both S.W.A. and S.A. Foreign Minister Von Ribbentrop decided to increase espionage and propaganda activities in these territories, where there were many German sympathisers.
When South Africa declared war on Germany on 4th September 1939, the Purified National Party and the Ossewa Brandwag movement represented the anti-war faction. Dr Hans van Rensburg, the head of the O.B. was suspected of being a double agent on Smuts' payroll. The elimination of General Smuts was to act as a catalyst to unite the country against the pro-war party.
Robey Leibbrandt of German and Irish descent (his mother was a cousin of William Joyce) was the South African Heavy Weight Champion, and represented South Africa at the 1934 Empire Games. With the S.A Olympic Tearn in 1936, Leibbrandt went to Germany, where he was most impressed with Nazi Germany and as fascinated with Hitler. He returned to Berlin in 1938 to study at the Reich Academy for Gymnastics, and stayed on when war broke out. He joined the German Army where he qualified as a glider pilot, and was awarded his paratrooper wings after completing the course.
Hitler ordered Admiral Caniris to implement Operation Weissdorn. Leibbrandt under the code name of Walter Kempf, was instructed to return to S.A. on the yacht Kyloe. He and radio operator Dorner were to land at Lamberts Bay.
However, Leibbrandt demanded to be put ashore at Mitchells Bay on his own. Is dinghy capsized and then proceeded inland on foot.
After various adventures, he was taken to Cape Town, to make arrangements to meet Dr van Rensburg, the O.B. leader. Van Rensburg was unsympathetic to Leibbrandt's overtures. Leibbrandt continued in his attempts to drum up support, winning converts to his cause with fiery speeches at meetings in the O.F.S. and the Transvaal. These converts took the Blood Oath, and trained in time bomb making sabotage and the planning of raids on banks and explosive stores.
After a confrontation with the police who had been given a tip-off Leibband evaded capture. A reward of R1000 was offered for his capture, dead or alive. The net was beginning to close. On the 21 December, a report in the Rand Daily Mail read, "Leibbraindt Group Smashed." In Berlin, a file labelled 'Operation Weissdorn' was Stamped "Cancelled".
Leibbrandt's treason trial began on 16th November 1942 and he was condemned to death. On 11th March1943 his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by General Smuts who had admired Leibbrandt's father as a "courageous Boer warrior" in the Anglo Boer War.
After the Nationalist Party won the General Election in May l948, Leibbrandt and all other political prisoners were pardoned and released. He later married and had five children. Members of our Society know one son Izan (Nazi spelt backwards) and one of his nephews.
Robey Leibbrandt died in 1966.
The Sidi Rezegh Battles was the title of the main talk of the evening given by Professor Phillip Everitt.
This campaign formed part of Operation Crusader with General Wavell in overall command. In the run-up to the main battle, his forces captured Fort Capuzzo albeit temporarily, but the Italians advanced to Sidi Barani. In January 1941, the British forces were in Bardia having intercepted and defeated the Italian forces. On the 12th February, Winston Churchill diverted British troops to Greece, thus reducing the Allied strength in North Africa, while, on The same day, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel landed, thus strengthening the Axis forces. Rommel struck at El Agheila and the Allies fell back, atthough the Australians held out at Tobruk, and both Rommel and the Italians were driven back. Between 14-18th June 'Operation Battleaxe" had failed resulting in Wavell's recall, to be replaced by General Sir Claude Auchinleck.
The Germans, with two batteries of four x 88-mm guns, of which they made effective use, faced the 8th Army commanded by Lt General Sir Alan Cunningham. Appart from the British, it included the 2nd SA Infantry Division as well as Indians and New Zealanders.
Tne 1st SA Division under Major-General G.E. Brink was made up of three brigades, the first being under Brigadier OH ("Dan") Pienaar. General E. Bastico led the Italians, while the formidable Erwin Rommel led the Panzergruppe Afrika (the Deutche Afrika Korps and Panzer Divisions).
Phil Everitt then detailed the respective specifications of the German and British armour, including the anti-tank weapons and their armour piercing capabilities. The British Armour outclassed that of the Germans and the Italians.
On 28th September 1941, Cunningham planned a three-pronged advance on Tobruk. In the final plan, after the British had established huge arms and ammunition dumps; a four pronged attack was to take place, which involved the South Africans, the New Zealanders, the 22nd Guards Brigade and the 7th Armoured Brigade. Cunningham's first aim was to destroy the Germans armoured strength.
During the advance, both sides experienced drawbacks: a rainstorm prevented the Germans using their air force, with the South African's facing warfare which was very different to that of East Africa, and were hampered by a major transport problem.
At dawn on the 19 November 1941, the Brtish, South African and Allied Advance commenced, with South African armoured cars engaged over a wide area. However, with Rommel about to launch an attack, the Allied air reconnaissance was weak. The 7th Armoured Brigade was split up, with the 4th Armoured Brigade being diverted after chasing the Germans, resultiing in it being stuck in the rear.
Confused movements followed, with the 21st Panzer Division withdrawing, while the15th Panzer Division was sent back to attack the 4th Armoured Brigade. In the meantime, the New Zealanders and the Indians moved around, cutting the road to Bardia. On the 23 November, the South Africans suffered a severe blow when the 15th Panzer Division cut through the South African transport and field ambulances. That afternoon, the 15th Panzer Division teamed up with the Italian Ariete and charged through the 5th SA Brigade resulting in many prisoners being taken, and it ceasing to exist as a fighting unit. Nevertheless, the South African stand at Sidi Rezegh was praised, with the South African gunners inflicting considerable damage to Rommel's Panzers.
On the 24th November Rommel set off at speed towards the Libyan and Egyptian borders (his "Dash to the Wire"), believing he had defeated the 8th Army. However by the 27th November, he had turned back towards Sidi Rezegh, and withdrew to El Agleila. On the 25th December, the Allies captured Bengazi.
Phil Everitt analysed the many problems encountered and mistakes made, including confused communcations and reconnaissance. Cunningham appeared to have no clear objectives for the 8th Army, together with the incorrect use and splitting of his tank forces. Lt General C W M Norrie of the 30th Corps issued confused commands, and timed the committment of his forces badly, with Dan Pienaer seen as cautious, but over excitable. Offset against them, was Rommel's boldness and initiative.
Philip Everitt's talk was supported by computer generated images which illustrated comprehensive maps of the locations and details of the actions.
Maj. Gen. Chris le Roux proposed a vote of thanks to the two speakers for their excellently researched and extremely interesting presentations.
No meeting will take place in August. Instead, a visit to the SAAF base at Durban has been arranged between Ken Gillings and Col Ray Barkse. All visitors to meet at the boom gate (next to Durban Airport) at 19h00 sharp. Much effort has gone into setting this up and we look forward to a most interesting evening.
ANY OTHER ISSUES
Our annual battlefield tour will take place the weekend after the base visit (Sat. 17 August) and you are reminded to make your own reservations at Oxford Lodge. Tel 034-990-9280
Please note details below regarding the Pietermaritzburg visit.
"HISTORY IN ACTION"
28 SEPTEMBER 2002
AT TALANA MUSEUM - DUNDEE
FRIDAY 27 SEPTEMBER 2002
* EARLY EVENING HISTORICAL TALK ON TOP OF MPATI MOUNTAIN (road access) R5 PER PERSON
** MILITARY SING-A-LONG IN MOTH SHELLHOLE & TRADITIONAL ARMY MEAL
SATURDAY 28 SEPTEMBER 2002
TICKET PRICES ADULTS R20 CHILDREN R5 CAR ENTRY R10
"HISTORY IN ACTION" CYCLE CHALLENGE
SUNDAY 29 SEPTEMBER 2002
BATTLEFIELDS TOURS TO RORKES DRIFT AND BLOOD RIVER R50 PER ADULT R20 PER CHILD (includes entrance fee to sites)
OPPORTUNITY TO PARTICIPATE
As we have had so many requests over the years for tourists to participate in the re-enactment we have allowed 10 vacancies for you to sign up and join the forces. Contact Tourism Dundee for the details.
FOR DETAILS CONTACT TOURISM DUNDEE
Tel 034-212-2121 Fax: 034-218-2837
Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
S.A.MILITARY HISTORY SOCIETY
4 Hadley, 101 Manning Road, Glenwood, Durban, 4001