South African Military History Society

Tel (+27)(0)10-237-0675 Fax (+27)(0)86-617-8002


Past ZOOMeetings

Our ZOOMeeting hosted by Johannesburg on 4 March listened attentively to Errol Back- Cunningham as he spoke about the Japanese Submarine fleet's exploits in WWII.

European powers were ignorant of the capabilities of the Japanese submarine fleet and the Allies underestimated the technological superiority of the vessels and torpedoes. Having won a decisive victory against the Russians in 1904-5, sinking over 125 000 tons of Russian as against 450 tons of Japanese ships, the Japanese were ready to embrace new ideas whereas the British and Americans were happy with the status quo.

When air force officer Billy Mitchell claimed he could sink an enemy battleship without even hitting it, it took until 1921 before his claim was tested because of heel-dragging by the US. The captured German SS Ostfriesland went down as a result of water hammer when bombs straddled it and the pressure waves were enough to break the ship's sides. He was court- martialled ... but in WWII the Mitchell bomber was named after him - by way of a belated apology?

The Japanese took note. In 1922 the first purpose-built aircraft carrier, the Hosho was launched. By the 1940s their submarines fleet showed great diversity including 3 000t vessels, of greater than 120m length, with a crew of over 80, right down to midget submarines for suicide missions. The biggest subs carried up to 3 aircraft in pods on their decks. These aircraft could carry bombs or torpedoes and return to the submarines to 'land' on their floats and be recovered. Some smaller subs carried compressed air-catapult launched aircraft which could be assembled in 7 minutes at best and 30 minutes if floats were included.

He told of a midget sub recovered much later at Pearl Harbour; as mentioned in a previous lecture there were subs at Diego Suarez; even an attempt at setting USA west coast forests alight using incendiaries from a submarine-borne aircraft was mentioned.

Their torpedoes were also better in many ways than those available to either Germany or to the Allies. Their giant 9m long torpedo for example was propelled by oxygen so as not to leave a bubble trail.

They were hampered by lacking radar technology. An audacious trip by I-30 to the German submarine base at L'Orient in France, travelling round the Cape and up the west African coast, was rewarded by the Germans fitting Radar equipment and other upgrades to it. Carrying blueprints, it got as far as Penang on the return voyage where it encountered a British sea mine.

The biggest problem however was a lack of understanding of the potential and best uses of submarines on the part of their commanders. Many had never served on submarines and unlike in Germany where the U-boats had a definite place and stature, the Japanese Navy failed to make most effective use of their hunting and attacking capabilities.

Errol's slides - included in the recording - are full of extensive information for any interested listeners/readers.

Both parts of Errol's presentation are accessible from the ZOOM library on the Society's web-site.

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ZOOMeetings and ROOMeetings

The four venues which used to host our monthly lectures - ROOMeetings - have as yet been unable to accommodate the Society due to Covid-19 restrictions.

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Johannesburg's next ZOOMeeting
will be at 19h30 on 8th April 2021

Speaker: Dr Anne Samson
Subject: "9 SAI vs General Smuts - The repercussions of a complaint by 9 SAI in 1916"

Colonel Kirkpatrick was so shocked at the number of men he lost in the march from Himo to Kondoa Irangi in East Africa that he registered an official complaint. This was to lead to an internal enquiry ordered by Jan Smuts, and another three enquiries. The enquiry records help shed light on a little-documented time and South African military unit.

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SAMHSEC - Eastern Cape Branch's next ZOOMeeting
will be at 19h30 on Monday 12th April 2021

Speaker: Robin Smith
Subject: "A Historiography of Warfare with particular reference to the Anglo-Boer War."

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Details of the ZOOM lectures will be sent to all on the master list as usual. There are currently 170 ZOOMINATI from all over the world on this list.

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Just let know in order to be sent an invitation.

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Members with an interesting presentation on any aspect of military history are sought for ZOOMEETINGS. A nominal 30 minute lecture supported by Power Point or similar slides, but not video, is required.

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The Journal has been dispatched to all members who were paid up during 2020. Thank you to the ten hubs in various cities who have already received their copies by courier service for members to collect. The balance of 200 copies have been entrusted to the Post Office. Sadly Australia and the Philippines were not included on the list to which we can currently send post.

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Two recent requests to the Society's web-site follow:

Stalag VIIIB. E.724. Schwientochlowitz

Trevor Coombe asks:

"In July 1944, about 200 South African POWs were moved from the Arbeits kommando E.715 at the I. B. Farben chemical works at Auschwitz-Monowitz to a new camp (E.724) in Schwientochlowitz, where they were put to work at the Hutte "Florian" steelworks.

On 23 January 1945, a week after the Red Army's Oder-Neisser offensive had begun, the E.724 camp was evacuated. The POWs began a long forced march west, under Wehrmacht guard, through bitter winter conditions.

For my father, 3367 Signaller Arnold Walter Coombe. and his companions, the ordeal ended at Güntersdorf, near Moosburg an der Isar, Bavaria, on 29 April 1945, when they were found and liberated by a United States army patrol.

An annotated map of my father's war journeys, including The March, may be accessed at:

I would be glad to hear from any descendant or relative of South African POWs at Schwientochlowitz, or anyone with information about Stalag VIIIB. E.724."

Use the letterhead address to be sent his e-mail details.

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Dr Karen Horn, who spoke to Johannesburg in pre-Covid-19 2020 about nurses in WWI asks for help with her ongoing research:

"I am working on a manuscript on South African servicemen during World War II. I base my research on memoirs, diaries, letters and archival material. I have a number of memoirs and diaries of soldiers who fought in East and North Africa, but I am still looking for the first-hand account of someone who fought in Italy. Can anyone perhaps help with this? Or put me in contact with someone who may help?"

Karen Horn

Tel: 076 481 7956

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Branch contact details


Cape Town details contact Carl Burger 082 333 2706

Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469

Gauteng details contact Joan Marsh 010-237-0676

KwaZulu-Natal details contact Roy Bowman 031-564-4669

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