South African Military History Society


Newsletter / Nuusbrief 221
February/Februarie 2023

Three Ships Commemoration Service

The annual Three Ships Commemoration Service is at 1130 on 19 February 2023 at St Paul’s Church, Tucker Street, Parsons Hill, Port Elizabeth to commemorate the sinking of SS Mendi on 21 February 2017, HMSAS Southern Floe on 11 February 1941 and SAS President Kruger on 18 February 1982.

New members

We welcome the following new members and members of other SAMHS branches who have chosen to join our distribution lists to SAMHSEC: Andrew Appelby, Guy Barker, Brian Davey, Chris Dooner, Dylan Fourie, Gordon Gloyne, Bill Harding, Andre Olivier, Malcolm Prew, Richard Reid, Theo van Wyk and André Wessels. We look forward to the pleasure of your company.

SAMHSEC is an open house where all SAMHS members are welcome without prejudice to their relationship with another branch.

SAMHS 2023 subscriptions

Thanks to members who have renewed their SAMHS membership for 2023.

For those members who have yet to do so, details are on the SAMHS website, see

SAMHSEC 9 January 2023 meeting

In the first part of the meeting, John Adeney of Perth, Australia told us about the Australian involvement in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902. The second part of John’s presentation focussed on the 1st Contingent of the Western Australia Mounted Infantry, including the Battle of Western Australian Hill near Colesberg on 9 February 1900. Recordings of John’s presentation are in the SAMHS Zoom library.

SAMHSEC RPC 30 January 2023

In session 1, Dylan Fourie told us about the Battle of Castle Itter, which is considered by some as the strangest battle of WW 2, and rightfully so. Castle Itter was part of the Dachau Concentration Camp system and housed high profile French figures and some Eastern European prisoners for maintenance.

The prisoners got in contact with their friend, SS Officer Kurt-Siegfried Schrader to help them escape. A Czech cook volunteered to cycle to the nearby town of Worgl. In the town he met Wehrmacht Major Josef Gangl, a defector who worked with the Austrian Resistance in the town. The two men set off to find the closest American troops.

In the town of Kufstein, they met US Army Captain Jack Lee. When the newly formed alliance arrived back in Worgl, they picked up Gangl’s men and set off to the castle with a force of 19 people and 1 tank. The defenders were ill equipped and would only be able to hold out for a short time.

At 2300 on 4 May, Waffen SS troops began an assault on the castle. The following day, the French VIPs joined the fight to help their saviours. Major Gangl was killed while pushing one of them out of the field of fire of a sniper.

With Major Gangl’s death, Lee took command of the defences by withdrawing everyone into the castle’s keep. Jean Borotra, a French tennis player, volunteered to travel to Worgl to bring reinforcements to the castle. He vaulted the walls and made his way to the town. A short while later, gun and tank fire came from the town of Itter as American forces advanced to defeat the remaining SS soldiers.

For his valiant effort, Lee was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Josef Gangl was honoured as an Austrian National Hero and a street in Worgl was named after him. Schrader was arrested and imprisoned for 2 years after the war, a reduced sentence because he had helped defend the castle.

A few months before his death in January 1973, Lee was asked by a reporter in his hometown of Norwich, USA how he felt about the long-ago incident. Lee thought for a minute, then replied, “Well, it was just the damnedest thing.”

The talk is recorded in the SAMHS Zoom Library.

In session 2, Nick Cowley reviewed the book Going Solo by Roald Dahl. Roald Dahl wrote two autobiographical books, far less well known than his children’s and adult fiction. The second of them, Going Solo, describes his initial part in WW 2.

The book starts with his first job, working for an oil company in the then British colony of Tanganyika and describes some hair-raising African wildlife adventures.

When war broke out in September 1939, he was ordered to join the King’s African Rifles (KAR) in Dar es Salaam. Despite a total lack of military experience, he was made a temporary Lieutenant and placed in command of a platoon of experienced KAR soldiers. He was given command of a roadblock to stop a convoy of German settlers from fleeing south to Mozambique to avoid internment. The leader of the German convoy threatened Dahl with a Luger pistol and was then shot dead by the KAR platoon sergeant concealed in the bush.

Dahl decided to join the Royal Air Force, which meant a journey north to Nairobi for training in Tiger Moth biplanes. After eight weeks he was passed as a competent flier and sent via Egypt for training at Habbaniya in Iraq, a place he found very dreary and desolate after East Africa. Six months of training in Hawker Harts and other combat biplanes saw him promoted to Pilot Officer. He was sent back to Egypt to join the RAF’s 80 Squadron, then fighting in the North African campaign. Dahl flew off in a Gloster Gladiator to join his squadron at a remote airfield south of Mersah Matruh, but was given the wrong position and ran out of fuel. He crash-landed in the desert, fracturing his skull among other severe injuries. British troops rescued him and he was taken to Alexandria’s military hospital for an operation, followed by six months’ convalescence.

Dahl was then given a Hawker Hurricane – his first monoplane - and ordered to join 80 Squadron in Greece, where they were part of the hopelessly small Allied force trying to stave off a German invasion in April 1941. Flying in combat for the first time, Dahl enjoyed some success against mainly Junkers 88 bombers. The climax of the book comes on April 20 with what Dahl calls the Battle of Athens. A “dogfight for democracy” was waged over the ancient Greek capital between only twelve Hurricanes and an estimated 100-200 Messerschmitt (Bf) 109’s and 110’s. Despite the odds, 22 of the enemy were shot down as against five Hurricanes. The four RAF pilots lost included the legendary South African-born air ace from the Eastern Cape, Marmaduke ‘Pat’ Pattle. Pattle’s recorded 40 to 51 “kills” in aerial combat made him the highest-scoring Western Allied air ace of the war.

Dahl survived the battle and was soon evacuated to Egypt along with the surviving Hurricane pilots, as the Allies withdrew from Greece. Next he was sent to take part in the Allied invasion of Syria, then a French mandate occupied by forces loyal to the collaborationist Vichy French government and so effectively pro-Axis. Dahl took part in operations against French air force units in Syria until he began to suffer blinding headaches while flying, a delayed effect of his crash in the Western Desert. His combat career ended abruptly when he was invalided home to England – the point where Going Solo ends.

Going Solo is packed with real-life incidents and adventures told with vivid simplicity by a master storyteller. Some of them have been turned into YouTube videos. The military historian will find in the book, along with some scathing criticism of British military leadership at various levels, fascinating cameos on some little known episodes of WW 2.

SAMHSEC 13 February 2023 meeting

Franco Cilliers is to discuss the development of the Ratel Infantry Combat Vehicle.

SAMHSEC RPC 27 February 2023

SAMHSEC Requests the Pleasure of your Company to talk about military history on 27 February 2023.

In Session 1 at 1930 South African time, Pat Irwin will speak about the wars and battles of the Barolong people of Central South Africa from the 16th to the 19th centuries as recorded by Dr Silas Molema (1875-1950)

In Session 2 at 2015 South African time, Ian Copley will tell us about Corporal Ward, a UK National Serviceman who served in Ian’s Field Ambulance unit in Kenya. The talk deals with the challenges of tackling boredom amongst servicemen.

SAMHSEC Field Trip 12 March 2023

Early warning that we are planning a return same day field trip to the Bain Monument at the Ecca Pass on the Queen’s Road between Grahamstown and Fort Beaufort, Fort Brown and Fort Double Drift on 12 March 2023.

Notice of SAMHSEC AGM 13 March 2023

Notice is hereby given of the SAMHSEC AGM to be held at 1900 on 13 March 2023 by means of Zoom. The Chairman’s and Treasurer’s reports for 2022 will be distributed to members in advance. Nominations for members to serve on the SAMHSEC Committee for 2023 and agenda points for the AGM are to be submitted to me by e-mail to before 28 February 2023, please.

Military History Journal December 2022

The journals have been received from the printers and are being distributed.


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