South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 189

June / Junie 2020

Lockdown has brought with it many challenges including the ability to hold our monthly meetings. It goes without saying that members have missed each other’s good company and the opportunity to enjoy both a drink at the bar and a very pleasant evening.

Nothing daunted, Chairman Malcolm has become well versed in the new fangled methodology of conducting virtual meetings and we were able to hold our first official monthly meeting in this manner on 11 May. Some members may have experienced the same feeling in connecting to Zoom as their forefathers when learning to drive their first motor cars back in the day!

But all went well and the slide presentation on Biological Terrorism went off without a hitch. We welcomed in all 28 members and visitors from as far afield as the New Forest in the UK, Johannesburg, Uitenhage, Grahamstown (Makhanda), Bloemfontein and even Nanaga and Redhouse!

We were joined by our National Secretary Joan Marsh who complimented our branch and especially Chairman Malcolm on taking the initiative in holding a virtual meeting. We are the first branch to do so and we anticipate that many members residing beyond our own local catchment area will become part of future meetings.

Please note the login details for our next virtual meeting which will take place on Monday 8 June. The details appear at the end of the last page of this newsletter. Those familiar with Zoom will need to make use of both the ID and the Password. You are requested to log in at least 5 minutes ahead of the scheduled starting time. The period offered by Zoom is strictly limited and to attempt to log in after the start of the meeting will cause a disruption. Our interest is after all anything of Military interest and the Military are always on time!

There are two meetings. During the first, the presentation will be given by our speaker and on the second there will be an opportunity to put questions and to conclude by wrapping up on the evening

(Presented at an earlier trial run on 4 May)

In the summer of 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain, Lord Beaverbrook’s Ministry of Aircraft Production needed to explore all possibilities to expand production of aircraft for the RAF, with top priority set on fighters. Help from the public was required and, with the Spitfire’s publicity record, the idea of Spitfire Funds was born. Funds were raised all over England. Other countries followed and subscribed to the ‘Buy a Spitfire Fund’.

The Ministry of Aircraft Production set £5,000 as the cost of one aircraft. The amount was arbitrarily chosen, as the true production costs were covered by the Treasury. The policy was that, if the sum raised was more than £5,000, the donor was allowed to name an aircraft.

The true cost of a Spitfire was £8,897, with the fuselage costing £2,500, the Rolls Royce Merlin III engine £2,000, the wings £1,800 and the tail £500. The eight Browning .303 machine guns cost £100 each and the thousands of rivets cost 6 pence each. As the designated presentation aircraft rolled off the production line, the name was stencilled or painted onto the fuselage in front of the cockpit and a photograph, certificate and plaque were sent to the donor.

The choice of a name was left to the donor. There were, however, certain restrictions, for instance company names were not permitted. Some were straight forward like ‘City of London’, others were more imaginative like ‘The Dog’s Fighter’ subscribed by the British Kennel Club.

The people of Natal raised more than £250,000. The Air Ministry decided this would used to equip and maintain a squadron which was already operational. The choice fell to 222 Squadron which officially became 222 (Natal) Squadron. The squadron badge reflects the South African connection - its central feature is a Wildebeest and the motto "Pambili Bo" means "Go straight ahead" in Zulu.

Main Talk - BIOLOGICAL TERRORISM - by Malcolm Kinghorn.

Biological terrorism is the deliberate release by non-state entities of biological agents such as viruses, bacteria or toxins to cause illness or death in target populations.

In spite of the international effort to eliminate such weapons through the Biological Weapons Convention, some states are suspected of being likely to have offensive biological weapons, which could target animals and crops in addition to humans. There is also international concern that some terrorist groups are recruiting the expertise required to develop bio-weapons.

During the latter half of the 20th century, enormous capital, engineering and scientific resources were required to develop and produce biological weapons. Today, small nation states and some non-state entities can develop, weaponise and deliver sophisticated bio-weapons capable of killing tens of thousands of people if released in a metropolitan area.

The “Reload Effect” means that an organisation capable of producing, for example, 500 grams of a bio-agent required to attack a target, would have no difficulty in producing several kilograms to attack several targets simultaneously. The ready availability of the equipment and skills sets required to acquire, weaponise and deliver bio-weapons makes multiple and repeat attacks possible. Because there are no technical barriers to large scale bio-attacks, prevention as a bio-defense is virtually impossible.

An example of a bio-terrorism attack occurred in Oregon in 1984, when followers of an Indian mystic intentionally infected restaurants with salmonella as part of a plan to incapacitate the electorate to influence local election results. Some 750 people were infected, but there were no casualties.

One of the most likely attacks today would be anthrax released in a subway system. Such an attack would kill thousands of people in the initial attack and contaminate the area for months, if not years, as anthrax is the only known persistent bio-weapon.

One may not be aware of an attack since symptoms may not appear for days or even weeks.

Effective response to a bio-attack requires rapid detection and diagnosis, the ability to produce vaccines and therapeutics quickly and cheaply, as well as a significant surge capacity in hospitals. In the event of an attack, the most likely form of detection would be by doctors in hospital emergency rooms.

The anthrax attack in Washington DC is the only significant bio-terrorism incident in the 21st century to date. This attack used approximately 1 gram of anthrax powder delivered to 3 buildings via letters. The attack caused 22 people to become ill, 5 of whom died. The direct economic cost of the attack was estimated at more than US $1 billion. An aerosol release of 1 to 2 kilograms, for example by a crop-duster aircraft or a drone over a city, could cause hundreds of thousands of illnesses and deaths and require city wide decontamination at an estimated cost of more than US $1 trillion.

Terrorists appear to have chosen not to make more use of bio-weapons and have instead focused on methods that provide stunning visual impact via global news services. The impact of the COVID 19 virus in 2020 has shown how vulnerable we are to bio-terrorism attacks.


Our next meeting – Monday 8 June- A Zoom Meeting – The Military Service of the Wiggill 1820 Settler Family by a direct descendant – Mac Alexander.

Ian Pringle - Scribe.


Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn
Scribe (newsletter):Ian Pringle.

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South African Military History Society /