South African Military History Society


It was with deep regret that the society received the news of the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Dr Felix Machanik MM JCD on 16 March at the age of 86. Felix was retired from his long and distinguished career as an orthopedic surgeon. He was one of the founders of the SA Military History Society, and remained the longest-serving member of the committee until being obliged by ill health to resign last year. Among members he was the doyen. He attended lecture meetings regularly, and was a frequent speaker. His interest in military history was wide and varied, and until a few years ago he was an avid collector of military memorabilia. He also sponsored the annual prize for the best lecture given during the year. The society will greatly miss his staunch support.

The subject of curtain raiser at the 13 March lecture meeting was the Jacob Rifle. The speaker, Terry Willson, has mentioned before the double-barrelled, muzzle-loading military carbine. This time he concentrated on how its development and history was influenced by the personality and circumstances of its inventor, Brigadier John Jacob, of the British East India Company's Army in the decade prior to the Indian Mutiny of 1875.

As commander of the Scinde Irregular Horse, Jacob had become increasingly frustrated with the inferior weapons issued to his Indian cavalrymen. Being a wealthy man, he spent many years and much money on developing the perfect weapon for his 'sowars'. He eventually produced the rifle that bears his name. It could be sighted to 2 000 yards (1 830m), and fire explosive bullets designed to destroy artillery limbers. It also sported a 30 inch (76,2cm) bayonet based on the Scottish claymore.

Jacob was an opinionated man who chose to ignore changing trends in firearm development, and he adopted a pattern of rifling that was both obsolete and troublesome. Nevertheless, his influence was such that during the Mutiny he was permitted to arm a new regiment with his design of carbine. It was named Jacob's Rifles.

Orders for the manufacture of the carbine and bayonet were placed in Britain, and all was set for its demonstration when Jacob died. In the hope the East India Company would honour the order, production continued for over a year. But the Jacob Rifle was never issued in India. After the Mutiny Indian troops were always armed with weapons inferior to those issued to British soldiers.

The carbines were eventually sold off as sporting rifles. The bayonets were bought by certain volunteer regiments for use as side arms. The only lasting influence of the Jacob 'weapons system' was in the design of sporting ammunition, where explosive bullets of Jacob's design were used against large game for a further 20 years.

The evening's main lecture was given by Paul Kilmartin, chairman of the society's KwaZulu/Natal branch. His subject was The Mystery of the Flight of Rudolph Hess, May 1941. Hess had been badly wounded twice as an infantryman in WW1, but was to finish the war as a fighter pilot. He was an anglophile, spoke English well, and had planned to go up to Oxford when the war intervened. After the war he rose rapidly in the ranks of the Nazi party, and by the outbreak of WW2 he was deputy of Adolf Hitler himself.

In May 1941 the British people were startled by the news that Hess had flown across the North Sea and parachuted into Scotland. The official version of events was that Hess had acted on a whim, and without Hitler's knowledge, but with the madcap idea of negotiating a peace with Britain. He was arrested and sent to the Tower of London, then to a year's stay in Aldershot. He spent the rest of the war in Wales, was sentenced to life imprisonment at Nuremberg in October 1945, and committed suicide in Spandau prison more than three decades later. The official records of the events have never been released.

Recently a team of private researchers has come up with a set of entirely different conclusions revealing an astonishing cover-up. They conclude that Hess flew with Hitler's approval carrying a detailed plan for peace with Britain that he planned to present to the king through the agency of the still-influential peace movement. Under this plan Britain would be allowed to keep her position in the world, and her empire, in exchange for agreeing to German hegemony in Europe and neutrality in the coming attack on the USSR.

But things went horribly wrong for Hess and his friends. The cover-up started immediately, and has continued to this day. The Hess who was moved to Wales, and thence to Nuremberg and Spandau, was not the real Hess, but a look-alike who, conveniently, was also insane. The real Hess was killed in the same air crash in which the Duke of Kent, brother of King George VI, was killed on 25 June 1942. The two, along with other distinguished members of the peace movement, were on their way to Stockholm.

The entire truth of all this is still shrouded in official secrecy. But it's known that Hess's behaviour puzzled his co-defendants at Nuremburg. He did not recognised his wife and daughter when they visited him at Spandau. When the body was examined at the post-mortem no sign was found of the scars the real Hess would have carried from his war wounds. Hess did not commit suicide. He was murdered.

Much of what happened went on behind Churchill's back, although not necessarily without his knowledge. It was at a time in the war when Churchill might have wished to keep his options open.

The society chairman, Colin Dean, wishes to remind members that the annual general meeting will be held on 10 April, and urges them to attend. It is vitally important for the successful running and development of the society that members be present at these annual meetings.



10 April
Annual General Meeting
ML John Murray - The Easter Rising, Dublin 1916
8 May
CR Ivor Little - The Warship That Wouldn't Die
ML SA Arms & Ammunition Collectors Association: - The Development of the Gun


10 April
DDH Prof. Philip Everitt - Bagged But cheerful: A POW at Tobruk
ML Lt. Col. Clive Wilsworth - The Battle of Bakenlaagte

Cape Town

10 April
Annual General Meeting
Capt. Robert Taylor - Naval Experiences in WW2

George Barrell (Scribe) (011) 791-2581

Contact number in Cape Town: John (Jochen) Mahncke (021) 797-5167

Contact number in Durban: Dr Ingrid Machin (031) 201-3983

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