South African Military History Society


Newsletter / Nuusbrief 217
October / Oktober 2022

SAMHSEC 12 September 2022 meeting

Stephen Bowker told us about Group Captain Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire, Baron Cheshire, VC, OM, DSO & 2 Bars, DFC (7 September 1917 – 31 July 1992), who was a Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot during the Second World War and a philanthropist.

His full name was Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire, but he preferred to be known as Leonard. He once described himself as an ordinary man, yet his extraordinary achievements during the Second World War and the establishment of the International Homes for the disabled after the war, refutes the concept of him being an ordinary man. Judge Cecil Margo went as far to say that “Leonard’s war record must surely be the greatest ever in the British Commonwealth Forces and must rank him amongst the most distinguished warriors in all history.”

He was born into a long-established legal family in the town of Cheshire, England. His father, Geoffrey Chevalier Cheshire was a prominent British Barrister and author of books on law.

Leonard attended school at Stowe, but showed no real inclination to scholastic achievements, except for languages. He played the requisite sports, preferring tennis and cross-country running to rugby.

Leonard completed his schooling in Germany as the guest of Admiral Ludwig von Reuter. When attending a German parade at the insistence of the Admiral, Leonard refused to give the Nazi salute, which caused the Admiral no small anxiety.

After school he attended Oxford to study law like his father, but with very little enthusiasm for the task. He preferred to fly. He joined the Oxford University Air Squadron, which was far more to his liking. On 16 November 1937, Cheshire was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and on 7 October 1939 received his permanent commission.

Cheshire was to serve in four squadrons in the RAF:102, 35, 76 and finally 617 Squadron of Dam Busters fame, commanding both 76 and 617 Squadrons. At 76 Squadron, he was responsible for training, which was not to his liking. On the death of Guy Gibson, Cheshire immediately applied for the position of Commanding Officer at 617 Squadron, taking a drop in rank to Wing Commander.

Cheshire always put himself at the forefront of danger. At 617 Squadron he was a pathfinder, flying low at 400 feet in a Mosquito, dropping markers on V2 rocket sites, enabling the Lancaster bombers to drop their bombs more accurately. It was at 617 Squadron that he flew his 100th operational mission. Statistically, he should have been killed four times by then. He was then grounded and invested with the Victoria Cross.

On 9 August 1945 in a B-29 Bomber, he witnessed the dropping of the atomic bomb over Nagasaki. The experience was an epiphany for Cheshire.

After the war Cheshire took disabled patients into his own home, nursing and caring for them through his own ill health and mostly at his own expense. As the number of patients grew, so too did the number of homes grow internationally to over 270 homes in 49 countries.

The recording of Stephen’s talk is in the SAMHS Zoom library, see

SAMHSEC RPC 26 September 2022

SAMHSEC Requested the Pleasure of historians’ Company to talk about military history on 26 September 2022.

In session 1, Malcolm Kinghorn spoke about submarine disasters since 1960.

The K-19 was one of the first two Soviet nuclear submarines and had been plagued by breakdowns and accidents even before launch. During its first voyage, the submarine suffered a complete loss of coolant to its reactor off the south-east coast of Greenland. The engine crew sacrificed their lives to jury-rig an emergency coolant system. Twenty two of the 139 men on board died of radiation exposure. The remaining 117 suffered varying degrees of radiation sickness. The accident was depicted in the 2002 film “K-19: The Widowmaker”. In 2021, a Russian expedition to search for radioactive waste intentionally scuttled by the Soviet Navy found the dumped reactor compartment of K-19.

The nuclear submarine USS Thresher was lost with all hands when the submarine broke apart in 2,560 metres of water during deep-dive trials south-east of Cape Cod on 10 April 1963. The most likely explanation is that a pipe joint in an engine room seawater system gave way, shorting out electronics and triggering a shutdown of the reactor that left the submarine without enough power to stop itself sinking.

The K-129 was a Soviet nuclear submarine which sank with all hands in the Pacific Ocean on 8 March 1968. A US navy submarine found it northwest of the Hawaiian island of Oahu in 4,900 metres of water. A deep-sea drill ship was able to salvage part of the K-129 in a secret operation. The remains of the 6 Soviet crew members found on board were buried at sea.

The US nuclear submarine USS Scorpion with 99 men on board disappeared about 644 kms south-west of the Azores in May 1968 in more than 3,050 metres of water. The have been several theories about the cause of the accident: the accidental firing of a torpedo which circled back and hit the Scorpion, a battery explosion and even a collision with a Soviet submarine.

The Israeli submarine INS Dakar was lost on 25 January 1968 between Crete and Cyprus.

On 27 January 1968 the Daphne class French submarine FS Minerve was lost off Toulon.

A fire disabled the Soviet nuclear submarine K-8 in the Bay of Biscay on 8 April 1970. The crew abandoned ship, but boarded again after the arrival of a rescue vessel. The submarine sank while under tow in heavy seas, killing the 52 submariners on board.

The Russian nuclear submarine K-141 Kursk sank in the Barents Sea after 2 explosions in the bow. All 118 men on board died. After recovering the remains of the dead, it was found that 23 crew members, including the Kursk’s captain, had survived the initial accident before suffocating.

The Argentinian submarine ARA San Juan was lost with all hands in the South Atlantic on 20 November 2017. It was found in 2018 in 900 metres of water.

A fire onboard the Russian nuclear deep water research submarine Losharik in July 2019 killed 14 crew members, 5 survived. The submarine was recovered and repaired.

The loss of the Indonesian submarine KRI Nanggala on 21 April 2021 was a reminder that submarines are inherently dangerous to operate.

There is an excellent article on operating submarines by South African submariner Captain John Lamont, LWM, MMM, SAN (Rtd) in the SAMHS Cape Town newsletter 451 March 2017, see

In session 2, Franco Cilliers briefed us on the current military situation in the Russian/Ukrainian War.

SAMHSEC 10 October 2022 meeting

Campbell Cooke is to tell us about the SADF Amphibious Boat Squadron.

SAMHSEC RPC 31 October 2022

SAMHSEC Requests the Pleasure of your Company to talk about military history on 31 October 2022.

In session 1, Peter Duffel-Canham will tell us about the model of the ME 262 at the GFI Art Gallery in Port Elizabeth. This talk was postponed from 26 September due to loadshedding.


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