South African Military History Society


November 2004

PAST EVENTS:The DDH talk at the October meeting was given by Colonel Pat Acutt and his subject was The Reserve Forces. Our speaker handed over command as O.C. of the Natal Mounted Rifles in March 2002 when he became Senior Staff Officer of the Reserve Force Division Regional Office in KwaZulu-Natal, so we had the ideal man to talk to us with authority on this important subject.

During his long military service Colonel Acutt has seen transformation progressing well with 80% of the Reserves in KwaZulu-Natal being black. The Defence Force Reserve component is unquestionably vital in promoting peace in the region and on the Mrican continent as a whole. It is equally important in defence from external attack, but is severely under funded and in urgent need of the support of South African business. Since 1994, in spite of the intervention of Project Phoenix, the Conventional Reserve is still not a combat-ready and deployable force. Funds need to be raised for an intake of at least 3,000 Military Skills Development System trainees in 2005, as a start to providing a limited flow of trained personnel for the Reserves from 2007. The Makgae Plan to recruit leader group members from the Regular Force has been disappointing.

A decentralised training program now enables Reserve Force members to be recruited directly into the units for basic and individual training, to deliver six deployable sub-units (infantry and engineers) by October 2004. Another linportant development is that the Commandos and the army support for the South African Police service are ultimately to be phased out by March 2009. project Phoenix allows for the development of interim and/or alternative solutions before it is flilly implemented.

Colonel Acutt's map of Africa, showing explosive points was enlightening, as it highlighted the religious divide of a predominately Muslim north and predominately Christian south. He pointed out that in this situation, the defence of South Africa has depended more on the absence of a present threat than on the presence of a prepared SANDF. However, a major non-military threat is posed by the influx of numerous refugees. This requires firm control over our northern borders against these refugees and against the spread of disease, cross border trafficking in drugs, stolen goods and small arms.

The future needs of the Army Conventional Reserve are, through Project Phoenix, to be addressed in advanced training at Lohatla in the Ex Sopoka plan. The SAAF Reserve is faring well with some increased funds and the delivery of 24 Hawk trainer aircraft, to be delivered at the rate of 2 per month, which will be used to train pilots of the 28 new Grippen fighters to be delivered from 2005.

The South Africa Naval Reserve is to be restructured. Four new stealth frigates have been acquired and 3 German submarines will be delivered later.

The South Africa Military Health Service Reserve of part4ime staff and 4 Medical Battalion Groups for battlefield medical support will be further strengthened under project Phoenix, by a Reserve Officer Training Scheme at a university medical school. The HIV/Aids pandemic presents a special health problem for the Reserve Forces. The Joint Support Division includes units of the Logistics Support Formation with various branches; a Military Police Agency; a Chaplains Service; and the Military Legal Service.

In listing all the groups that make up the total reserve Force, Colonel Acutt stated with confidence that all these considerations are being addressed by Project Phoenix in such a way that it will prepare South Africa for the long4erm defence capability of the country.

The MAIN talk of the evening was given by Charles Whiteing on one of the most famous raids by Bomber Command during World War 2 - The Dam Busters Raid. The talk started in dramatic fashion with a showing of one of the great scenes from the film of the raid, with 3 Lancaster bombers flying low over the North Sea and then over the low flat countryside of Holland on their way to the dams, all to the sound of the famous music that helped to make the film so successful. Before going into the detail, our speaker confirmed that the film was not a true representation of the events (much of the so called "drama" was added for effect) and that the autobiography of Wing Commander Guy Gibson is also not reliable due to strong censorship being imposed when the book was published immediately after the war.

Our speaker concentrated on the 3 major integrated aspects that made the raid such a success (despite the high cost) - a designer of genius, an aircraft of outstanding qualities and bravery that became the stuff of legends.

He emphasised that the planning of the raid started well before the war started, in September 1937, when the Air Ministry identified the Moehne, Sorpe and Eder Dams, as potential targets that if successfully breached would cause considerable destruction of the Ruhr industrial area and its local infrastructure. However, the problem to be overcome was how to successfully breach gravity and earth dams and this was only finally solved shortly before the raid. The problem arrived on the desk of Barnes Wallis, a high ranking civilian engineer, who having discarded the traditional bomb approach, and the various options of size of bomb and the height that it should be dropped from, started work on a much needed new approach.. His new weapon was designed to skip over the torpedo nets that defended the dams and then to detonate at an agreed depth (30 feet) and close up against the dam wall. During many experiments, Wallis established that a backspin motion would ensure that, if dropped at the right time, speed and height, the bomb would adhere to the face of the damn and explode with maximum impact at the correct depth. The bomb, codenamed "Upkeep" was finally built; 5ft long, 4 ft in diameter, a total weight of 9,250 pounds of which 5 tons were explosives. The weapon was mounted under a specially modified Lancaster bomber and the final practice run was only completed on 14 May 1943, 2 days before the planned raid. Only at that time, did Wallis express his satisfaction with the results.

At 21h25 on the night of 16/17 May 1943, and led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, 19 Lancasters' of 617 Squadron took off from RAF Scampton, on what has become one of the most significant dates in the history of Bomber Command. They took off in 3 formations, with formation 1 (led by Gibson) to attack the Moehne Dam, formation 2 to attack the Sorpe Dam and formation 3 to attack the Eder Dam. On arrival over Moehne Lake, Gibson turned wide over the surrounding hills, flew in over the lake at a height of 60 feet and dropped his bomb at the right height, distance from the dam and the correct speed, but it failed to breach the dam. Of the remaining 8 aircraft scheduled to attack the Moehne 1 crashed, but it was the 5th aircraft, piloted by Maltby that had Gibson shouting out "Its gone, its gone", as 134 million tons of water was sent crashing through the valley below the dam.

The Eder Dam was difficult to find due to heavy fog but was eventually attacked and successfully breached. The Sorpe Dam was located in rolling hills and that, together with thick mist made the approach very difficult for all the attacking bombers. It was later found out that the dam had a concrete core and this combination of all factors allowed the Sorpe to survive the attack. The remains of 617 Squadron now turned for home; of the 19 Lancasters that set off on the raid just 10 returned, and of the 133 air crew that set out only 77 returned - meaning that 56 were missing. Of these only 3 managed to bale out and of these, 2 spent the rest of the war as POW's. These were statistics that devastated Barnes Wallis when he heard the news after his euphoria on hearing of the successful breaching of the Moehne.

The first photographs of the damage showed empty Moehne and Eder lakes with unbelievable destruction to all areas below the dam. The town of Kassal, 40 miles from the Eder Dam was totally flooded, and civilian losses were given as 1294. The raid resulted in a diversion of German manpower and logistics, with hundreds of troops and flak guns relocated to guard the dams and, as an example, 7000 men were moved from the building of the Atlantic Wall to help repair the damaged dams. Whether the raid was worth the losses, or if it had as much impact on German industrial productivity as has been claimed is still a question open to debate, but at the time it had a most positive impact on morale in both allied Europe and the USA. The awards presented to members of 617 Squadron by the Queen on 22 June 1943, included 1 x VC, S x DSO, 14 x DFC, 2 x CGM, 12 x DFM.

Having explained the detail of the raid, Charles Whiteing ended his talk in a most unusual way; recently on TV a number of interviews were held with people who survived the raid, including aircrew and German civilians. Charles edited some of these interviews and left his audience pondering on the comments given to justify the opinions of those who applauded the raid and those who did not.

After an interesting question time to both speakers, Lt. Colonel Graeme Fuller, an active member of the Reserve Force and a close friend of Colonel Acutt, gave the vote of thanks. He spoke eloquently and in detail about the 2 talks we had heard and as a result both our speakers earned a warm round of applause.


The November meeting falls on Armistice Day, the 11 November 2004 being the 86th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended the Great War in 1918. It is therefore apt that the MAIN talk for the November meeting will highlight the first major naval battle of the 2nd World War. The title of the talk will be THE BATTLE OF THE RIIVER PLATE: DECEMBER 1939. The talk will be given by Deputy Chairman BILL BRADY and he will outline the great expectations the German Naval Command placed on their unique and revolutionary "pocket battleships." He will explain how three outgunned and outranged British cruisers outfought their mighty adversary in a classic naval engagement off the South American coast almost exactly 25 years since the 1st World War opening encounter in the same region. The ships, key personalities, and the results will be evaluated by utilising computer graphics, slides and video presentations.

The DDH is equally apt, for not only is 11 November a date synonymous with the ending of the 1st World War but it is also the birthday of General George Patton. So we will start the November meeting with PROFESSOR MIKE LAING talking to us on GENERAL GEORGE PATTON IN WORLD WAR 1. A Double Act not to be missed!!!!

ARMISTICE DAY - Thursday 11 November at 10.30am

The Society's Annual ARMISTICE DAY Ceremony with the MOTH's will be held, as last year, at WARRIORS GATE. The Ceremony will start at 10.3Oam, with a talk on an aspect of The Armistice and Remembrance by our Chairman PAUL KILMARTIN. This will end in time for the 2-minute silence at 1100 Hours. We encourage all members to attend this important occasion; drinks and snacks will be available after the silence.

THE ANNUAL DINNER - December 2004

The Annual Dinner will be held in a Private Room in the Cotton Fields restaurant in Umhlanga Rocks, on 9 December - the 2nd Thursday of the month - and it looks as though we are fully booked already!! Marvellous news!! Would all members who have indicated that they will attend please send your money (R70 per head) to Bill Brady (cheques payable to W. Brady and NOT to the Society) or make a plan to pay at the November meeting.


FUTURE SOCIETY DATES : December 2004 - February 2005

9 December 2004
Annual Dinner - Cotton Fields Restaurant - Umhlanga Rocks
Bill Brady - organiser
7.00 for 7.30 pm
20 January 2005
DDH - The Life of Vera Brittain - Phylomena Badsey
MAIN - The Battlefield of Normandy - Dr. Stephen Badsey
10 February 2005
DDH - I Was Under the Bombs Dropped by Swales - Peter Zeeman
MAIN - 60th Anniversary of the Death of Edwin Swales - Paul Kilmartin


Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
4 Hadley, 101 Manning Road, Glenwood, Durban, 4001
Telephone: 031-201-3983

The following fliers were also mailed to members during November:
8 JANUARY 2005

Re-Enactment & 105th Commemoration
of the Battle of Wagon Hill/Platrand

Wreath Laying Ceremony; Hike to Long Tom Position;
Launch of Historical Trail; Delicious Food
New Visitor Centre; Arts & Crafts
Gun Displays; Anglo Boer War Revue

Full Programme available on

The Decorative Arts Society




will present an illustrated lecture on


Durban branch:
Tuesday 16 November
5.30 for 6-7pm, Durban Botanic
Gardens Education Centre
Enquiries: Val 031-767-3145

Pietermaritzburg branch:
Wednesday 17 November
12.30 for 1.2pm, Voortrekker
Museum hall
Enquiries: Ted 033-396-9933

Visitors R30, Decorative Arts Society members R15,
includes light refreshments

South African Military History Society /