South African Military History Society


Newsletter / Nuusbrief 215
August / Augustus 2022

To be read with SAMHSEC Supplementary Newsletter 006 August 2022 which is part of this file.

With August being Women’s Month, it is SAMHSEC’s pleasure to recognise our Lady Members and zoominar participants. Thank you for your contributions, Ladies, without which SAMHSEC would be a dull affair, indeed!

SAMHSEC 11 July 2002 meeting

Franco Cilliers’ presentation was on the Post WW 2 development of French wheeled Armoured Fighting Vehicles and the deployment of these vehicles in Operation Serval to oust Islamic militants from northern Mali.

The recording of Franco’s presentation is in the SAMHS Zoom library.

Franco’s notes on these vehicles are in SAMHSEC’s Supplementary Newsletter 006 August 2022. (appended to this newsletter)

SAMHSEC RPC 25 July 2022

SAMHSEC Requested the Pleasure of the Company of military historians to talk about military history on 25 July 2022.

In session 1, Pat Irwin gave an overview of Fort Willshire as background to a SAMHSEC field trip later in the year.

Between 1819 and 1836, Fort Willshire was the most important military post in the Eastern Cape, even though no battles, or even significant skirmishes, were fought in the vicinity during that period. For 10 years it was a major trading centre on the East Cape Frontier. Historically, it was the focal point between military, social and economic issues. Within this framework, it is an interesting study, with financial management, or mismanagement, political highhandedness, widespread corruption, poor building construction and poor decision making, all playing a role in military operations in the area and the history of the fort.

The recording of Pat’s presentation is in the SAMHS Zoom library.

Pat’s brief overview of the history of Fort Willshire is in SAMHSEC’s Supplementary Newsletter 006 August 2022.

SAMHSEC is planning a Sunday return same day field trip to Fort Willshire in late October/early November. Please contact Malcolm by e-mail to if you are not a SAMHSEC member and are interested in attending. Note that Fort Willshire is not accessible for low ground clearance vehicles.

In session 2, Linda Nissen Samuels discussed her recently published biography [of] her father The Man Under the Radar. Linda’s father, Jack Nissenthal, was the RAF radar expert who volunteered to go ashore during the Dieppe Raid to gather information on German radar.

Linda writes: “Jack Nissenthall was born and educated in London. At the heart of Jack’s story is the Dieppe Raid Operation Order that under no circumstances was he to fall into enemy hands.

Jack wrote: “I had some time previously volunteered to Squadron Leader Keir at 78 Wing Headquarters at Ashburton in Devon for dangerous operations and had received special army training to defend and maintain myself in action. After some four years of working on each and every facet of the radar science, I was in the unique position of being able to examine radar equipment and accurately estimate its purpose and, perhaps, its modus operandi. I would also be able to assess with a reasonable degree of certainty, when confronted with the radar equipment, which were the parts worth removing and taking back to England for further examination.

The first intimation I had of an impending operation was when I was asked to report to Air Ministry in London. After an interview with the Senior Intelligence Officer at Air Ministry, I was asked to agree to conditions of non-capture if it was decided to send me to enemy occupied Europe.

Air Vice Marshall Victor Tait, the Director of Radio in 1941 and the Director of RDF, the early name for radar, in 1942, was most unhappy at the execution clause in the arrangements and I gained the impression that he disapproved of the whole idea. During our discussions, I feel that he did his best to make me withdraw, certainly giving me time to think it over. Being Jewish, I could expect no quarter from the SS if captured. Ten Canadians of the South Saskatchewan Regiment were to be delegated to assist me in any operations I wanted to carry out and, as a sort of negative safeguard, they were to make sure that I did not fall into enemy hands alive. I myself agreed not ever to be captured.”

My father underplays this in The Wizard War but, in later life, he spoke of this interview with bitterness. There was no question that he was being asked to go on a suicidal mission. The odds of his coming back were very slim. What made the whole decision more difficult was the conversation he overheard as he left the room. Referring to an army captain, who is quoted in Green Beach, as he reached the door, he overheard him remark grumpily to his colleagues “You would think they could find someone better than a Jew for a special job, wouldn’t you, whatever it is?”

He was being asked to give up his life for his country, but his country (or some of it) still considered him to be a second-class citizen and an interloper.

His actions in the raid contributed to Britain’s knowledge of German radar, which proved to be most useful on D-Day. He emigrated to South Africa immediately after the war and lived there for 30 years before going to live in Canada, where he was invited to be an honorary citizen.”

The recording of Linda’s presentation is in the SAMHS Zoom library.

SAMHSEC 8 August 2022 meeting

Martin and Jean Urry are to tell us about The SAAF Heavy Bombers in Italy and the tragic events of the night of 12/13 October 1944 when 6 SAAF Liberator bombers with 48 airmen were lost during a mission in Northern Italy to drop supplies to partisans behind enemy lines. This remains the largest loss of aircraft and men for a single SAAF mission to date.

SAMHSEC RPC 29 August 2022

SAMHSEC Requests the Pleasure of your Company to talk about military history on 29 August 2022.

In session 1, Anne Samson will tell us about the WW 1 military service of Vic Clapham, who was the founder of the Comrades Marathon. It is the world's largest ultra-marathon and is run annually between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. The 2022 run is on 28 August.

29 August 2022 at 1930 South African time

In session 2, John Moran will tell us about his research for a book about a member of prominent Australian family who was involved in an accident in Egypt in 1942 which led to the death of Rifleman Harry Toyk of the Kaffrarian Rifles.

29 August 2022 at 2015 South African time

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SAMHSEC Supplementary Newsletter / Aanvullende Nuusbrief 006 August 2022

Addendom to SAMHSEC Newsletter 215 August 2022

SAMHSEC 11 July 2002 meeting

Franco Cilliers’ presentation was on the post WW 2 development of French wheeled Armoured Fighting Vehicles and the deployment of these vehicles in Operation Serval to oust Islamic militants from northern Mali.

Franco’s notes on these vehicles are:

Panhard EBR

1179 built in total. Initially equipped with the same 75mm cannon used on M4 Shermans, up gunned to 90mm by boring out barrel and using AML 90 HEAT shell. Its 12-cylinder, low octane petrol engine was mounted under the turret and the turret had to be removed when major work was required on the engine. It was evaluated by the SADF as a replacement for the Marmon Herrington armoured cars. It was too expensive and a proposal was made to exchange 80 Centurion tanks for 40 EBR.

Panhard AML 60/90

The Panhard AML (Auto Miltrailleuse Legere Light Machine Gun car) was built as a private venture by Panhard and was derived partially from the Ferret scout car. First prototype was built in 1959 and production started in 1960 with 4000 + built. South African Eland production is about 1600. The skirmishes in Algeria required indirect rather than direct fire support. The North African conditions also required a less complex vehicle. This requirement led to the purchase of Ferrets. The Defence Ministry issued a requirement for a vehicle similar to the Ferret, but with a breech loading mortar. By end of 1961 one regiment in Algeria was receiving AML 60s. The primary concern was the conventional Soviet threat. South Africa was looking for an armoured car that could replace the Marmon Herrington and initially wanted to purchase the Saladin, but delayed development led them to the AML. But South Africa required a bigger gun. This led Panhard to fit the 90mm low pressure gun to the AML. South Africa bought 100 AMLs and enough turrets, engines and associated parts for the assembly of another 800 in South Africa.


240 in service with French Army. RC stands for roues-canon which translates into wheeled cannon. It is used for reconnaissance missions in hostile environments and for fire support. It is a 6x6 wheeled vehicle with 105mm medium pressure cannon. The basic version weighs 15.8 tons and the fully updated and upgraded version 22 tons. Frontal armour will stop 23mm API from 300m and 14.5mm AP all round. First production was 1981. The AMX RC was used in most of France’s operations after its introduction.

ERC 90 Sagie

Engin Roues, Canon or Engine with Wheels, Cannon. The Sagie is a 6x6 vehicle weighing 8.3 tons. Max speed is 90km/h on tar roads. It is armoured to 10 mm. The ERC 90 was a private venture by Panhard aimed at AML clients and marketed as a successor to the AML. It was offered to the French Army and declined, with the first customer being Argentina for 36 units. The French Army ordered 190 in 1984. The French Army had planned to equip a second regiment with AMX-10RC, but the AMX-10 was not air transportable and most bridges in Africa have only 6 to 8-ton load capacity.


VAB means Vehicle de l’Avant Blinde. Armoured Advance Vehicle. It is an Armoured Personnel Carrier designed and manufactured by Renault Trucks Defence. It entered service in 1976 and more than 5000 have been produced. It has about 23 variants. It is a 4x4 or 6x6 vehicle armoured against 7.62 mm bullets and shell fragments. It can be up armoured. Its road speed is 110km\h, weighs 13.8 tons loaded and is amphibious. It has been upgraded with better armour, engine and transmission.


Véhicule Blindé de Combat d'Infanterie means Armoured Infantry fighting Vehicle. It is designed to replace the AMX-10P. It is armed with 25mm cannon, can reach 100 km/h and carry 8 troops. The vehicle stems from a French project called Vehicule Blinde Modulaire. Initially Germany, UK and France were looking for a new IFV. The program came to an end in 1999. France ordered 700 vehicles in November 2000. The initial prototypes were delivered in 2004 and testing showed problems with the turret. Production has been completed. The vehicle has seen combat in North Africa and the Central African Republic.

EBRC Jaguar

EBRC Jaguar means Engin Blindé de Reconnaissance et de Combat Jaguar. This will replace the existing French Army AMX 10 RC, ERC 90 Sagie and the VAB Mephisto ATGM variant. The vehicle can reach 90km/h on tar roads, weighs 25 tons and has a 40mm telescoped ammunition canon, 7.62 machine gun and 2 MMP ATGM. The vehicle is proof against 14.5mm Armour Piercing rounds. France plans to purchase 300 Jaguars by 2030. The vehicle shares 70% commonality with the VBMR Griffon.

VBMR Griffon

Véhicule Blindé Multi-Rôle Griffon means Multirole Armoured Vehicle Griffon. It is an APC that is intended to replace the VAB. It comes in 6x6 or 4x4 versions. It can reach 110 km/h on tar roads and weighs 25 tons. The vehicle is based on a commercial all-terrain truck chassis and can carry 8 soldiers. It is armed with a remote weapons station that can be armed with a 7.62 or 12.7 machine gun or a 40 mm grenade launcher.

VBL Véhicule Blindé Léger is 4x4 light amphibious armoured vehicle. It was intended to be used in conjunction with the AMX-10RC as reconnaissance vehicle. It is air transportable.


CAmion Équipé d'un Système d'ARtillerie Truck equipped with a French self- propelled 155mm 52-caliber howitzer on a 6x6 or 8x8 truck. Its rate of fire is about 6 rpm. It is air transportable by C130 or A400M. Caesar has seen combat in Afghanistan, Iraq, Thailand, Mali and Ukraine. The Caesar system can be ready to fire in under a minute and be ready to move in about 30 seconds.

SAMHSEC RPC 25 July 2022

SAMHSEC Requested the Pleasure of the Company of military historians to talk about military history on 25 July 2022.

In session 1, Pat Irwin gave an overview of Fort Willshire as background to a SAMHSEC field trip later in the year.

A brief overview of the history of Fort Willshire by Pat Irwin

From 1819-1836 Fort Willshire was the most important military post in the Eastern Cape, even though no battles or even significant skirmishes were fought in its vicinity. For 10 years, it also became a major trading centre on the east Cape Frontier. The origins and subsequent functioning of the fort can best be understood in the context of what was called the Ceded Territory, a strip of land located about half-way between present day Port Elizabeth and East London.

Following the 5th Frontier War and the Battle of Graham’s Town in April 1819, Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of the Cape Colony, visited the frontier for the second time in October 1819. He conferred once more with Ngqika and the assembled chiefs during which Ngqika, under considerable duress, was coerced into ceding a strip of country between the Keiskamma, Tyumie and Great Fish Rivers, and the Winterberg Mountains. This was envisaged by Somerset to be a neutral zone occupied by neither white nor black colonists and patrolled by troops stationed at two military posts, Fort Willshire and Fort Holloway, within the ceded territory. The latter was never built, but Fort Willshire, the most ambitious and most forward military station, was started in November 1819.

There was no written agreement between Somerset and Ngqika, the only documentation relating to it being a letter from Somerset to Lord Bathurst, Secretary of State for the Colonies, informing him of the arrangement. The Ceded Territory was roughly 7 770 square km: 140km long 35km wide at its broadest and only 9km at its narrowest. Fort Wilshire was to be strategically located at this narrowest part and intended to 'police' the area and monitor what was a convenient crossing point and regular smuggling and cattle-reiving route on the Keiskamma River.

The Fort was built in two stages. The first, initiated by Somerset, was an irregular pentagon in shape with walls some 66m in length with a bastion in each corner. They were of rough unsquared, undressed stone except for the coins. The mortar was local strong red clay without any lime. Planning and supervision were done by Major Holloway and the Royal Engineers, and labour was initially provided by the Royal African Corps and later by other infantry units. It was located on high ground of Somerset’s choice, both for defence purposes and for climatic reasons as the Keiskamma River valley was uncomfortably hot during the summer months. Provision was made for water supply from higher up the river.

In the early part of 1820 Somerset returned to Britain on leave, and was temporarily replaced for the duration by Sir Rufane Donkin as Acting Governor. In this capacity, Donkin visited the site on 29 May 1820, when the structure was quite advanced including a hospital, field ovens, stables, magazine, saw pits, a carpenter’s shop and six cells. The estimated cost for completion at that stage was £700.

At this point the second stage of building was initiated by Donkin. He was apparently unhappy that the actual accommodation had not yet been built and thought that the structure should be closer to the river to ensure an adequate water supply. These reported concerns of Donkin’s seem to be questionable as they had been taken into consideration in the original planning. It is not clear whether Donkin had another agenda or whether there was some (mis)interpretation on his part, but he apparently felt justified enough in his high-handedness to change the plans and arrangements already in progress. He, accordingly, in October 1820 ordered a new set of barracks to be built on a site close to the river. This in effect involved re-siting the entire structure without Somerset’s approval or knowledge while he was away on leave. Initially known as the Keiskamma Barracks, they were also later referred to as Fort Willshire.

The buildings had not been completed by 1821 when Somerset returned and was infuriated to be told of the changes, but the construction of the barracks was too far advanced to be reversed. Somerset’s anger was compounded by Donkin’s establishment of the village of Fredericksburg within the ceded territory. He regarded this a violation of the treaty with Ngqika and a gross breach of trust. Somerset effectively demolished the village by withdrawing all support for it. Such was the level of animosity between them, that the two men never met for discussion or a handover, Donkin figuratively leaving the Castle by the back door as Somerset entered by the front door.

The new barracks buildings were occupied by the troops on 4 April 1821 and completed on 18 June 1821. In this case poor quality lime was added to the mortar but proved to be of little value after 3 or 4 years when the buildings started deteriorating. By 1827 the poorly built nature of the fortification structures had starting showing, particularly in walls, roofs, windows and tiles, and by 1831 the estimated cost of repairs excluding stables and outbuildings was £2 466 – over three time the original cost.

There was also one other structure in the vicinity: a small (2-3 metre) tower known as Fort Harry. Today the foundations have been traced, but it was originally known only from a passage in Sir Harry Smith’s autobiography. Scattered around the area are also ruins of cottages and other civil establishments – of traders and craftsmen who perhaps had some regular business with the Fort. Thus far I have found no detailed information on them.

Two final interesting points on the infrastructure of the Fort are the existence of a ‘bake oven’ and a good underground drainage system, both of which appear to be unique to Fort Willshire and thus far, not being found in any other British colonial forts.

There are few direct accounts of what life was like at Fort Willshire, but several pointers give us some insight into it. These are: the records of which regiments served at the Fort between 1821 and 1836; the Trade Fairs held at the Fort from 1821 to 1834; and the graves and remaining gravestones in the vicinity.

In addition to the Royal African Corps, who were sent there in 1820-1821 to keep them out of mischief, the Royal Engineers had a more or less continuous presence during the building period. On occasions there was also a small troop of mounted infantry of the Cape Regiment there until, in a short-sighted decision, they were disbanded in 1827. Thus far I have traced eight regular infantry units (usually in Company size) who served in and occupied the fort at various periods ranging from a few months to four years. We can reasonably assume that garrison regulations would have applied, but there were also natural restraints due to the remoteness of the site and consequent limits to communication. While we know that some of the men had their wives with them, life for the average soldier might have been more than usually tedious. Against this, however, there may have been some entertainment in the regular trade fairs which operated at the Fort.

Initially no trading was permitted, as Settlers and amaXhosa were to be kept strictly apart, but from 1824 Lord Charles Somerset (partly on the advice of his son, Lt Col Henry Somerset), allowed this to take place at the Fort. This proved to be a successful undertaking and the exchange of goods developed into regular fairs with social and economic interaction between traders from both sides. This ceased with the outbreak of the 6th Frontier War in December 1834 and the Fort was temporarily abandoned by the British. By 1835, traders had however penetrated the amaXhosa homeland.

The Fort was re-occupied in 1835 when it was again seen as an important strategic point, but it was again decided to withdraw from it in December 1836, the date of the final abandonment being March 1837. While the site continued to be used as a point for local trade there were no longer trade fairs as such. At some stage the land was restored to Maqoma (Ngqika’s son) and it is reported by Una Long (1982) that he sold the fort 'as it stood' to a trader for two cows. Many of the cut stones were taken to the town of Fort Beaufort where they were incorporated into buildings as the town grew.

Several contemporary writers such as Stubbs and Goldswain have commented on the goods traded. Among these were: ivory (22 700kg i.e. 50 000 lbs, between August 1824 and March 1825 alone; hides and from March 1827, cattle; buttons, beads, and metal utensils; blankets and clothing; and (illegally) guns and ammunition.

There was also much cross-cultural social interaction, with principal chiefs and other worthies regularly visiting the canteen. Major Hollaway describes these events as:
A spirit of reconciliation is now inculcated…and it must not be omitted that several of the principal chiefs having had European dress bestowed on them, were invited at times to the tables and parties of the British officers in authority, both civil and military, where they conducted themselves with a singular degree of decorum.

Such guests often included Ngqika and his legendary wife Thuthula, of whom it was said by many that her poise, demeanour and conversational ability would have graced the best courts of Europe.

One particularly interesting perspective on life in the Fort comes from survivors of the wreck of the French ship, Eole on the Kaffrarian coast on 29 April 1829. The tale of this party who were walking to Cape Town and passed through Fort Willshire was recorded in November 1829 by C E Boniface, a Frenchman living at the Cape of Good Hope. Having met and interviewed the eight survivors he recorded, amongst their experiences, their brief sojourn at the Fort. It led to the first French book, and the first travel narrative published in South Africa. The book was first translated and published in English in 2012.

The section relating to Fort Willshire describes the kindness and warmth with which they were treated as well as a trade fair at which they were present. There is also brief description of the Fort, and its surroundings and functions at that time.

Finally, the few graves for which records still exist give us a further, if limited, indication of life at the Fort. There are two cemeteries, a private one (about which we know virtually nothing) and a military one which, according to the records, has 48 graves. Following Colin Coetzee in 1994, only 25 of these were visible and only 10 had headstones. Among the headstones of the soldiers is one which contains the following epitaph which is to be found on soldiers’ graves throughout the former British Empire

Remember man as you pass by
As you are now so once was I
As I am now so must you be
Prepare yourself to follow me.

There is also a lonely grave located within the area of the 1st Fort Willshire, today identified by a clump of Euphorbia. In it a young woman, Mary Darling, is buried. It is the earliest recorded burial within the precincts of the Fort and it is possible she was the first European woman to be buried on the frontier. Her tombstone contains a verse enjoining her husband to take care of their three young children. In today’s measure, it is astonishing that a woman with three small children should accompany her husband to this outpost on the frontier, which even today, is relatively remote. It suggests fortitude and courage of a high degree. One is also apt to wonder how in these circumstances, her husband, Sgt Darling, would have coped in this situation. There were quite probably other wives who could help, but facilities for them must have been harsh and primitive in the extreme.

Readers wanting a more detailed account of the history of the Fort will find the following sources useful:

Beck Roger B 1987 Legalising and developing Trade on the Cape frontier, 1799-1830
Phd Dissertation Indiana University

Boniface C E 2012 Narrative of the shipwreck of the French vessel the ‘Eole’ on the coast of Kaffraria in April 1829 Cape Town National Library of South Africa.

Coetzee Colin 1994 Forts of the Eastern Cape: Securing a Frontier Published privately

Henchman H L 1927 The town of Alice with Lovedale and Fort Hare Alice Lovedale Press

Long Una 1949 (Ed) The chronicle of Jeremiah Goldswain (Volumes I & II) Cape Town Van Riebeeck Society

Long Una 1982 ‘Notes on Fort Willshire’ Africana Notes and News 25 (4) 78-82

Maxwell W & McGeogh R T (Eds) 1978 The Reminiscences of Thomas Stubbs Cape Town Rhodes University / Balkema

Randles B M 1990 ‘Mary Darling’s grave at Fort Willshire’ Africana Notes and News 29 (2) 45-49

Randles B M 1982 ‘Fort Willshire Bake Oven and Fort Harry’ Africana Notes and News 25 (4) 138-138

Theal G M 1908 History of South Africa since 1795 Vol 1: The Cape Colony from 1795 to 1828 London Swan Sonnenschein & Co

Western Cape Archives and Record Services


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South African Military History Society /