South African Military History Society

P.O. BOX 12926

NEWSLETTER NO. 307 - January 2004

It was a humdinger of a talk our speaker, Helmut Heitman,presented us with on our evening of 9th October. He simply dumped us into deepest Africa, pulling us along on information highway not normally revealed by international journalists. Once again he proved that political greed and the unstoppable desire for oil and diamonds are at the root of Africa's persistent ills, and the basis of innumerable wars, border clashes and calculated tribal extermination along racial and/or religious lines.

While not much is happening in North Africa, the situation elsewhere is totally different. The war in Angola is over, - so far, although with the bulk of the oil flowing from Kabinda, friction between the various factions can still develop.. Although the war in the DRC is finished, the killing continues, fuelled by guerillas from Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, with rebels fighting each other. Somalia and Sudan are unstable, to say the least. The war beween Eritrea and Ethiopia is over, but they are still growling at each other. Kenya is somewhat better off, but there is the constant danger of banditry from its neighbours, for instance, cattle raids conducted from Ugandan and Sudanese territory. Nigeria and Cameroon are busy wrangling over oil, while trouble is a constant companion of Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. A new threat in Africa is ocean piracy which is growing alarmingly on the East and West Coasts, especially Tanzania, and, in one case, even on our Coast. It happens that warships (painted grey without national markings) are used to conduct armed operations, and it is not expected that this scenario will improve noticeably it in then near future.

Although our Army is woefully small in numbers, 34,000 soldiers in total, we still manage to deploy almost 1,800 on border control, while 3,000 soldiers serve in Burundi and the DRC. But we might be expected to become strongly involved in Liberia which, taking our SANDF strength into consideration, might not be feasible. It is possible that the Navy could be asked to assist, although with the present number of few ships available, this seems wishful anticipation.

Three military operations are being conducted in the DRC with troops from South Africa, (ca. 1500), and the UN, (ca.10,000 soldiers) to identify and disarm guerillas from all over, in total abt. 80,000 (of whom some 20,000 - 30,000 are armed), and re-integrate them into civilian life and job, - a tall order by any means..

The figure of 34,000 soldiers in our Army is probably incorrect, since it includes the HIV cases who, despite all the noise made by the "constitutional rights" clique, are totally useless in battle conditions somewhere in Central Africa. Apart from this, it is planne to reduce their number down to 28,000, perhaps even to 23,000. which puts us at a distinct disadvantage if we are expected by the UN to play a definite military role in Africa.

Fortunately, South Africa is the leading power in the whole of Africa, the 20th biggest economy in the world, and because of our model standing, we are expected to be actively involved in stopping the turmoil and slaughter.

But before South Africa can play a leading role in the military field, we have to look at our own internal structures and problems of which high unemployment is the most pressing. If nothing is done, if our economy does not grow considerably, if we do not receive foreign investment then the threat of an internal revolution cannot be discounted.

Nevertheless, it is imperative that the SANDF increases in size and stature, and we also have a moral obligation to take part in peace keeping operations on our continent, as some African states already do, and do well, if we are asked by the UN. Or we participate in a mutual SADAC defence pact in which the continent is divided into five defense regions, each organizing a stand-by Brigade. It is in our self-interest to be a leader on the continent for purely business reasons, and therefore we have to put our country's internal affairs in order and deal with cross-border banditry, while preventing spill-over from other wars. As far as development of the Navy is concerned, they are moving on the right track, with their main concern the protection of our coastline and the shipping and fishing. The Air Force though, is not in a happy position. Protecting our Country and its long borders, assisting Army and Navy prior to and during operations elsewhere on this continent, a totally different strategy must be developd, and superfast Fighter Jets are not the answer as can be seen in Israel where gun-helicopters are almost exclusively employed. Preferably a mix of both should be used.

Army training is getting bettar, discipline is good, the only problem being selection and training of good black officers. Voluntary national service on a 2 year basis has been introduced, with the thorny problem of integration having to be tackled with more vigour. In the meantime, we have to do the best we can and soldier on. The projected growth of the SANDF will require a big increase in our government budget, but this cannot be avoided since they will become very busy, with Special Forces getting even more involved all aronnd AFRICA ... by invitation.

Helmut Heitman's excellent and farsighted report was well received and commented on by all present. Our Society is most grateful for his regular contributions since they keep us well informed.

Our November evening, however, was dedicated to a different military scenario in that our speaker, Brigadier W.A. Godwin, talked about his experiences in a terrorist war, fought more than forty years ago and far away from our continent. Although it hadd its origins in the colonial era, the fuse was lit in WW II by the brutal Japanese occupation of Malaya.

In 1948, the Communists, unable to wreck the British designed Federation agreement, took to the jungle once again. Following the murder of the Governor and three European Managers, a State of Emergency was declared. It was to last until 1960, and during that time a great number of British, Malay- and Federation Regiments took part in fighting the terrorists.

Our speaker served as company commander in the Rhodesian African Rifles in what was then Rhodesia. In 1954 they received orcders in Bulawayo that they would take part in operations in Malaya two years on. They were to take over from the Northern Rhodesian Regiment for a stint of two years. After training and other detailed preparations he and the advance party left early in 1956 for Singapore, and pushed across the Straits to Kluang, where they were issued with proper kits, and sent on a familiarisation tour into the jungle with the Northern Rhodesian Regiment. The jungle made an indelible impression on the troops. It was an enormous wall of trees, it was dark, no sunlight, extremely hot with visibility reduced to five and ten yards, and verbal communication was done in a whisper.

Thereafter, the main body arrived by sea in the Empire Clyde. The whole battalion trained for two weeks in living, fighting and surviving in the jungle, it was dangerous to repeat the same route and search patterns because the enemy might observe their movements. The troops aim was to fight the communist Chinese terrorists who had their eyes set on taking over a country rich in rubber, lumber and tin, in demandi all over the world.

Since WWII they had built up a terrorist army, armed it with captured Japanese weapons and those supplied to them by the British Force 136 during the war, and in 1948 they struck. They killed Europeans and indiginous people, always with the aim of harassing the British. Immiediately, troops were flown to Malaya and comprehensive defensive measures adopted for the local population as well as for the military.

The Rhodesian African Rifles were exclusively deployed in Jahore state and got to know the jungle in all its variants and difficulties, from thorn covered plants to the grid of rivers and rivulets which kept them always wet, made orientation most problematic, and forced them to move at a slow pace. Map reading was hard under those conditions, and they only marched by compass. At night the jungle was totally black, nothing couuld move.

The speaker then described in great detail the trials and tribulations of daily patrol duties he and his soldiers had to face and endure, the unimaginative selection of rations in tins, the boredom, hut above all the camaraderie and spirit of the soldiers despite all setbacks. There were elephants, panthers, tigers, deer, big and small, all making their own tracks through the jungle. Although the soldiers knew of their existence, the jungle made them difficult to see. And, of course, the pests of creepy-crawlies of many kinds and sizes added to their discomforts.

Lt.Gen. Sir Harold Briggs was appointed Director of Operations in 1950. His BRIGGS Plan resettled the Chinese rural population, who had suffered under the communists, in protected villages. In 1952, Gen. Sir Gerald Templer took over as Commander-in-Chief, and under his leadership the the tide was turned. From 11 infantry battalions in 1948, the force increased to 22 battalions in 1952, and the terrorists were on the run. In 1957 the emergency was almost over and ended officially in 1960.

It was a campaign which proved how inventive and adaptable the British soldier was. Many battles and engagements were fought under dangerous conditions, with all units acquitting themselves well..

It was a junior ranks war, platoon commander, sergeants, corporals, lance/corporals, just doing their duty. It was not a war during which glory could be earned, but the soldiers did their best and helped the local population in removing the terrorists from their country. Brig. Godwin's talk was a very personal description of his experiences as a soldier and company commander during a trying time, humorous and full of detail and enjoyed much by his audience.

Tony Gordon had brought a mass of old army equipment of Malaya to examine, some a bit smelly, even boots, of which, it has been said, one battalion used up 15,000 pairs (?) during its stint of 30 months, and this gave rise to quite a few witty remarks..


Speaker: Major Tony Gordon
Speaker: Commander Gerry de Vries
Speaker: John MahnckeTHE MALAYAN EMERGENCY - Service with the Rhodesian African Rifles
12 February 2004
(From student, commissioned to East Africa, the Western Desert
and Coast Defences in the Union of South Africa)
Lt Commander Robert Sharpe (SA Navy)
11 March 2004
The South African Air Force at Sea (Crash Boats)
Speaker: Guy Ellis
8 April 2004
Illustrated slide talk by Stan Lambrick
13 May 2004
Col "Tom" Seccombe, CBE, Royal Marines (Rtd)
Deputy Landing Force Commander, later Deputy Commander of 3 Commando Brigade
10 June 2004
8 July 2004
A Talk by Denzil Cochrane

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 /