Our evening lecture on 11th June, 1944 - Year of Decision, was constructed on such a vast scale by Johan van den Berg, that the Scribe finds it impossible to do it justice in the limited space of our Newsletter. Anyone who wishes to once again enjoy Johan's talk, may borrow the voice tapes from the Scribe, or ask for a copy of the complete text from Johan.
The main chapters of the presentation revolved around the operational deployment of paratroopers and airborne forces. At the beginning of 1944 the tide of war had turned at last in favour of the Allies, and the combined assault on Fortress Europe could go ahead.
The first battle in January 1944, in which paratroopers were involved, although in an infantry role, was on Monte Cassino in Central Italy and it lasted for almost a month. It failed through a combination of furious German defence and atrocious winter conditions. Allied losses were heavy. The second battle, trying to dislodge the Germans from positions on the slopes of the mountain and in the ruins of the monastery during February, also failed. The third battle, preceded by a bombardment from the air and shells from the ground, damaged the village badly, but developed into a stalemate at the end of March. All during April more troops and their guns were massed to attack, and on 11th May the entire allied front opened fire. This time nothing was left standing, and when, at last, allied troops entered the monastery ruins, the mountain top was deserted, except a handful of German wounded. Otherwise it was a place of the dead, resembling a churned up WW I battlefield.
With the numbers of US-manufactured aircraft and gliders for airborne attacks steadily increasing, the stage was set for massive air drops in the west of Europe, i.e. Operation Overlord. A vast number of operational plans were devised in the following two months by Allied Generals and their staffs on how and where to invade, and where and how to drop the divisions plus guns, ammunition and tanks, plus all the necessary equipment, and how to transport them inland.
It was 5th June, when at last the Invasion began, and despite all the grand-scale planning, things went disastrously wrong in places and execution of plans was scrappy. It had perhaps not been sufficiently anticipated that carrying out mass paratroop drops required extended training periods, an iron hand from the top, and, even more important, a lot of luck.
Another fact was underrating the German resolve to fight and to defend their positions to the last, although not everywhere. That depended on the moral of the units involved of whom some had been thrown together at short notice.
Where the Allies met seasoned German units, losses mounted considerably. There were exceptions. Glider landings inside French territory to secure bridges went like clockwork, misfortune befell others and, if the numbers of soldiers involved in Operation Overlord had been less, the drops would have achieved nothing.
Operation Market Garden that followed soon afterwards, could not be described as a success, it suffered from even more faults than previous plans, but then - hindsight is flawless and acknowledged as the only perfect science.
The large audience enjoyed Johan's talk immensely, and it is hoped that he can be persuaded to present part II of his presentation in a few month's time, since he has a vast store of details assembled to carry on.
P.A. System: Fellow member Geoffrey Mangin has advised the Society that he would like to retire from his post as PA Operator and hand over to someone else. Anyone interested is asked to contact the Scribe.
Subscriptions: There are a few subscriptions still outstanding. Would members, who have not yet paid, kindly do so.
Audio Tapes on the last few Lectures can be borrowed from the Scribe.
Boer War - SWA and SA History: Mr.André Martignalia has researched these subjects, especially the foreign contingents who fought on the side of the Boer Forces, (Italians in Natal). Anyone interested can phone him at 021-671-3593.
Meetings are held on the 2nd Thursday of each month, except December, at 8 pm (20:00) in the Recreation Room of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Lower Nursery Road (off Alma Road), opposite Rosebank Railway Station, below the line. SECURE PARKING inside the premises. All Visitors welcome. Tea and biscuits will be served.
Jochen (John) Mahncke, Vice-Chairman/Scribe, (021)797-5167