South African Military History Society


It was a vast canvas our speaker, Johan van den Berg, expanded before us at the May meeting, supplemented by many overhead illustrations, as well as a display of photographs and drawings: a history in themselves.

The German military situation in spring of 1941 was as follows: The Westfeldzug had been successfully concluded, but a landing on the British Isles had to be abandoned because air supremacy over the channel could not be achieved. In October 1940 Mussolini had attacked Greece, had been beaten back, and was now in danger of being thrown into the sea. Despite its sympathies for Greece, Germany had no choice but to assist its ally. The British had landed an expedition force in Greece, were expelled by the German 12th Army, but just managed to pull most of their troops out. However, in the east Russian expansionist politics, occupation of the Baltic states and parts of Finland and Roumania, as well as deployment of vast troop contingents in Poland, led to a decision to wage a preventive war. Before this war could begin, though, the danger in the German flank, posed by Crete, had to be eliminated.

In April 1941 the CIC of the Fallschirmtruppe, General Student, suggested an attack on the Mediterranean islands, and Crete was chosen. The codename was Operation Merkur. Student was not given much time to prepare the assault, a mere three weeks. In comparison to the detailed preparations before the successful paratroop assault on the Belgian Fort Eben Emael during the Westfeldzug, where everything went like clockwork, the deployment in Greece suffered badly. Troops and supplies had to cover long distances to get there, often through mountains. There were not enough jump-off airstrips or airfields for the units, and unplanned difficulties like extensive dust clouds thrown up by aircraft during take-off and landings, and insufficient or non-existent long- distance communication played havoc with time tables. The German's only advantage was their superiority in the air, leading to massive losses the British Navy suffered, which forced it to withdraw its ships during daylight hours..

On the island waited well trained troops, three times the number of the attacking forces, in well fortified and cleverly camouflaged positions. They knew what to expect, having been forwarned by intercepted German signals (Ultra).

Unfortunately, air reconnaissance, photography and evaluation had been sloppy, giving the impression that the designated drop areas could be easily overcome. This proved fatal and led not only to bloody losses but shook prestige and stature of the Fallschirmtruppe to such an extent that they were never employed in large-scale airborn assaults again. Instead they were integrated with army units and increasingly used as ground troops, so called fire-brigades, and with great success, in North Africa, Russia, Italy, France and northwest Europe at the end of the war.

Another minus was Abwehr's (intelligence) underestimation of the local population, who did not cooperate as expected, but fought the Germans fanatically, and committed barbarous atrocities on the captured and wounded.

There were only one airfield and two secondary airstrips on Crete suitable for landing supplies and heavy weapons. Malemes was chosen and, as it eventually turned out, it required all paratroopers to capture and occupy it. The soldiers, that is: those who were not blown over the sea to drown, landed on unreported defensive positions, or in olive groves or on bone-breaking rocks, to become easy targets for the defenders, or crashed in their Lastensegler (gliders), fought bravely and courageously, even when surrounded or in hopeless situations. It was their tenacity that forced the British occupation troops to evacuate the island when army units, especially Gebirgsjaeger, were sent over from Greece.

Johan's tour-de-force presentation based on extensive research was greatly appreciated not only by members but also by the many visitors who had come to share the evening with us, since it was the 62nd Anniversary of the battle.


Committee Member Major Tony Gordon gave us the following article which we believe is worthy of inclusion in our Newsletter:
The Argus recently published an article with four photographs of the large underground magazines of the old Sea Point battery. Tony consulted our history authority, Connander Mac Bissett, who confirmed that there had been a battery overlooking Sea Point, so he phoned the owner, Mr. Douglas Lloyd and arranged a visit by our members.. on that particular day, 15 members and interested friends turned up despite the drizzle, and were made very welcome by Mr.& Mrs. Lloyd, who even produced good eats and drinks down in the magazine which is also their wine cellar.

According to Mac Bissett, the battery, built in 1889, consisted of two-Quick-firing 6 inch breech loading guns and a single "disappearing" 9.2 inch breech loading gun (similar to the one at Fort Wynyard). Those were called "A" and "B" batteries respectively. The exact position of the 9.2 inch gun in relation to the 6 inch is unknown as there are no marks left on the surface. The battery was taken out of service in about 1911, and then, in 1922, the whole site of 40 hectares was sold as "Battery Estate" for houses to be erected there. Mr. Lloyd has plans and photographs of the building of the battery on view. When the British government handed the coast defence to the South African Government, it gave permission for unused land to be sold.

Mr. Lloyd did not realize what he was living on until a few years ago when his neigbour on the west side demolished his house and came upon the large bolts of the gun mounting. He then found out from old diagrams that his own house was on top of the magazine and managed to get access to it through the side wall. The old magazine had been used as a rubble dump and it took him a few years of slow work to remove 30 or 40 tons of rubble thmugh an old "Cartridge lift" hole. He found the brickwork in excellent condition with virtual no dampness - after 110 years! To make it accessible to mere civilians he drilled out a hole about a metre wide, into which he has fitted a very narrow spiral staircase of a suitable design - quite an effort for some of our members!

The magazine is of two parallel vaulted chambers with a central lift for incoming shells and cartridges, the whole structure about 40-50 m long. At each end there is still the "Shell lift" going up to each 6 inch gun. The "cartridge" section has a central entrance with the signs of the usual furniture for changing clothes etc. and at each end is a separate lift to the gun. These lifts were made of wood and are no longer there. The battery was built at about the same time as Lion Battery and parts of Fort Wynyard, and the designs are similar. The signs on the walls are still there, indicating the lifts and purpose.

Tony and the members are most grateful to Douglas and Mrs Loyd for the opportunity to visit their very special house (with a wonderful view towards Robben Island) and their generosity in looking after them.

Tony Gordon will produce some photographs of the magazine at our next meeting.

Jeannette Conacher sent the following from Australia in February 2007:

Figure 1

Old Sea Point Gun Battery

1. Where arrow indicated is part of the circular gun pit.
2. Shows the top of the shaft to take shells into the gun pit.
3. Is part of the old battery.
4. Forms top part of the door leading into the shelter rooms.

I understand the original piece of land was bought by the Southwood family from a D.P. de Klerk in 1931. The land had formed part of the Battery Township Town Grant. This property was Lot 14. De Klerk had purchased the land for 230 pounds and sold it to the Southwoods for 280 pounds on March 7th 1931. The house in the picture was built soon after and was known as 'Almada' at Number 4 Battery Crescent. Family lived here until about 1998.

Two other houses were also built over the battery heading off to the left of the photo. These were owned by 2 Jewish families (one named Greenlaw); the first of these houses in now a double story one; the second was known in th early days as 'The Dungeon' with a rather dank staircase going up through the concrete casing into the house.


12 June 2003
A talk by Mr. Tony Venn on the preparation and execution of operations from a CF perspective
10 July 2003
Speaker: Vice-Admiral Sir Alan Grose KBE, RN
14 August 2003
Botha's advance with the U.D.F. Burger Commandos and the Tvl. Horse Artillery up to the Swakop River
illustrated Lecture by Rodney Warwick

Copies of the History of the S.A. Training ship GENERAL BOTHA are available in English or Afrikans from S.A. Navy Museum in Simon's Town at R 25.- each. Members wishig to obtain copies (perhaps to collect at the next evening lecture) are asked to contact Cdr. Mac Bissett at 021-685-6309.

Meetings are normally held on the 2nd Thursday of each month at 20h00 in the Recreation Hall of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Guildford Road (Off Alma Road), opposite Rosebank Railway Station, below the line.

All visitors welcome. Tea and biscuits will be served.

Jochen (John) Mahncke (Vice-Chairman/Scribe) (021) 797-5167

South African Military History Society /