South African Military History Society


After the usual preliminaries and notices the Chairlady, Lyn Miller, introduced Mr John Murray, a committee member, who is the Regimental Representative of the Irish Guards in South Africa. John informed the meeting of the erection of a monument to the formation of the regiment which, as a result of action by our Society, is to be placed in the forecourt of the Ladysmith Siege Museum. The monument will be unveiled at noon on Friday 1 April 2005. The Irish Guards have been granted the Freedom of the City of Ladysmith, the first non-South African regiment to be granted this privilege, and will be represented by a contingent at the unveiling. A press release has been issued.

The Chairlady then introduced the first speaker, Ms Susanne Blendulf, who presented the curtain raiser for the evening, entitled "Women's Territorial Service. East Africa". Ms Blendulf's interest in her subject was sparked off when, as an employee of the Military Museum, she came across a rather fine collection of military badges donated to the Museum in 2003. Amongst these were a pair of brass WTS shoulder titles and a brass button bearing the letters FANY in a cross. The button was stamped with the manufacturer's name in Nairobi and was made of rough yellow metal. Further research revealed that these artefacts related to a unique women's formation known as the Women's Territorial Service (East Africa), an offshoot of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) in the United Kingdom. The FANYs (as they were popularly known) were founded by Capt E W Baker in 1907. Baker had the idea of frontline nurses in the British Armed Forces as a link between the front line and base hospitals, a unique concept at that time. He was successful in his efforts and the first FANY public parade was held in 1909. On 6 January 1912 Capt Baker and his daughter Katie were voted off the FANY hierarchy and Grace Ashley-Smith became Organising Officer. She was a determined woman and turned the FANYs in to a serious organisation with official co-operation from the War Office. However, official recognition was not forthcoming and when WWI broke out the War Office declined the offer of the FANYs' service. Undeterred, Ashley-Smith then offered their services to the Belgian Army, which accepted the offer. FANYs served throughout WWI, mainly as ambulance staff.

During the ensuing inter-war period their focus was shifted away from nursing. In 1926 they finally gained recognition from the British authorities, when they were called up during the National Strike to act as transport drivers. Their title was no longer suited to their function and was changed to the Ambulance Car Corps, with FANY in brackets. In 1928 the name was again changed to Women's Transport Corps (WTC) (FANY). With the outbreak of WWII the WTC (FANY) was incorporated into the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), thus losing its role and identity completely, except in East Africa where a FANY section was founded by Lady Sidney Farrar in 1931. This was the first FANY outside the British Isles and had 16 members. Membership was voluntary and unpaid but the quality of training attracted a large number of recruits. The first training camp was held in 1932 and by the outbreak of WWII the unit had grown to 600 women. In 1935 the FANYs became the first British women's auxiliary unit raised and trained outside the United Kingdom to be recognised by the British War Office, when they were called up as transport drivers with the Northern Brigade of the King's African Rifles.

On 29 August 1939 the East African FANYs were called up for war service and given the task of guarding about 100 enemy alien women and children who were interned at Summit Mau, about 200kms from Nairobi, at an altitude of 8 700 feet in freezing weather. In 1941 a section of FANYs were the first British service women to enter Ethiopia when they were posted to Addis Ababa as part of the occupying force. In 1941 also the FANY in East Africa was re-designated the Women's Territorial Service (East Africa) and made an official military unit. They continued to serve with distinction in Africa and the Middle East and six WTS women were amongst those lost in transit from Mombasa to Colombo when, on 12 February 1944, the troopship in which they were travelling, the Khedive Ismael was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, with a heavy loss of life. The unit was disbanded at the end of WWII.

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The main speaker of the evening was Mr Stuart Sterzel the chairman of the Special Forces League. Mr Sterzel gave a well-illustrated and comprehensive "power point" lecture on "The Battle of Cuito Cuannevale, Angola, 1987". He commenced by explaining that the battle for Cuito Cuannevale was actually a series of battles between the Cuito River and the Longwe river valley in Southern Angola and not, as is popularly supposed, a battle for the town itself. During the latter stages of the Cold War the taking of the Republic of South Africa (RSA) became a priority in the Africa policy of the USSR. The RSA's strategic position, its mineral wealth and the prestige to be gained in Africa by its submission, made it of great strategic value. The countries on South Africa's northern borders were all allied against the RSA but, except for Angola, posed no real military threat. In Angola however a large conventional force backed up by Cuban and at least 16 000 USSR and other Warsaw Pact forces posed an extreme threat to the RSA. To prevent having to eventually fight these on South African soil, the RSA had to keep the opposing conventional forces north of the then South West African/Angolan border. This was a costly exercise for the RSA and by 1987 had imposed a severe strain on that country's economy.

Angola had two opposing political parties, the MPLA and UNITA, who were waging a civil war in that country. Since 1974 the MPLA had been supported by the Warsaw Pact, and UNITA by the West and the RSA and by 1987 Cuban troops had been fighting in Angola for 13 years, without any great gains. The war had become unpopular in Cuba whilst the USSR was becoming dissatisfied at the lack of success and the costs it was incurring. All three parties felt that something had to be done and the USSR took the initiative. Up until then the main FAPLA (MPLA Army) thrust under USSR command had been into what the South Africans called "Sector 10" (from Angola's Cunene Province into Ovamboland) where the main RSA military resistance was concentrated. Now a new strategy was to be adopted by the USSR in which forces under Russian command would launch a big offensive in "Sector 20" (Cuando Cubango area) which was held by UNITA troops and a sprinkling of South Africans. A collapse by UNITA in this area would force the South Africans to withdraw and pave the way for an invasion of South West Africa and, ultimately, an attack from there into the RSA itself. For South Africa the situation thus became critical. Their aim became to bolster UNITA and make every effort to destroy the Warsaw Pact forces' equipment. To attempt to beat back the manpower reserves of the combined forces against them would be to attempt an impossibility, but destroying their equipment would mean that it could only be replaced with difficulty, because of the long logistical lines into the battle area.

Thus the stage was set. FAPLA troops under Russian command massed at Cuito Cuannevale with the intention of taking the town and its bridge over the Cuito River, to take Mavingo with its strategic airstrip and to cross into South West Africa. The RSA forces were heavily outnumbered in all respects and so devised the strategy of drawing the FAPLA forces across the river and into the Lomba River valley, where the bridge behind them could be cut at Cuito Cuannevale and where their equipment could thus be surrounded and destroyed. This is exactly what happened in June 1987. Both sides followed their own strategies and as the FAPLA forces advanced into the Lomba valley the RSA Special Forces cut the bridge behind them, thus trapping them, as per plan, on the western side of the river where they were subjected to a heavy artillery barrage. Sustained contact between the opposing forces led to the RSA launching "Operation Modular" between September and 26 November, during which fierce fighting resulted along the Lomba River. Heavy air strikes and artillery barrages caused large FAPLA losses and eventually forced their withdrawal. By 17 November FAPLA were being pursued north up the Chambinga River. On 26 November the last attack under "Operation Modular" took place.

For FAPLA it was a stunning setback but the RSA had achieved its best-case scenario. FAPLA's incursion into South West Africa was abandoned because of its equipment losses. From January to March 1988 FAPLA withdrew over the Cuito River, leaving a rearguard at the Tumpa triangle at the Tumpa River. South African Citizen Force units attacked this rearguard on 25 and 29 February as "Operation Hooper" and again on 23 March as "Operation Packer". At this stage Russian and Cuban negotiators met their RSA counterparts in Havana to discuss peace. Whilst these discussions were in progress, the RSA launched three more attacks against the Tumpa triangle before handing over to UNITA troops as the war was basically over. However the Cubans launched one final push southwards against South West Africa as a show of force to gain leverage before the negotiations were completed. This force was mauled by the South African 32 Battalion and a cessation of hostilities then occurred.

The threat to South West Africa by the USSR was lifted and South Africa was able to withdraw from that country and concentrate on her own negotiations for a peaceful internal political settlement. The USSR withdrew from Angola and concentrated on her own ailing economy, as did Cuba. Angola was left to sort out her own internal affairs satisfactorily, finally bringing military stability to the region.

Mr Sterzel was subjected to a barrage of questions before being thanked by our Vice Chairman, Flip Hoorweg. The winner of the DVD lucky draw then received his prize and the members and guests adjourned for tea and to view the selection of "Border War" weapons on display.

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This serves as notice that the 39th AGM of the Society will take place at 20h00 in the J.C. Lemmer Auditorium at the SA National Museum of Military History on Thursday 14th April 2005.

The Agenda will include:
1. Minutes of the previous Annual General Meeting;
2. Chairman's Report for 2004;
3. Statement of Accounts for 2004;
4. Matters arising;
5. Approval of such report, accounts and minutes;
6. Appointments of Chairman, Committee members and Auditor;
7. General.

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Day Trip to Pretoria - Saturday 16th April - entitled "The Anglo-Boer War in Pretoria - some highlights." The tour commences at 09h30 at the Kruger House Museum, with particular emphasis on the memorabilia relating to the war; proceeds to the Pretoria cemetery; then the Staatsmodel School which served as an Officers' POW camp and was the scene of the famous Churchill and Haldane escapes. At Melrose House we'll enjoy self-provided picnic lunch and then visit this house which served as Kitchener's HQ for 18 months before the negotiations and the signing of the peace treaty. The tour ends at 15h30. Book with Bob Smith at 482-5222 (w) or 675-0836 (h)

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What is SAAACA?

The Southern Africa Arms and Ammunition Collectors Association consists of independent chapters in the main centres such as Gauteng, Free State, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and KZN. It incorporated the Historical Firearms Society in 2003. SAAACA caters for a large range of collectors interests from antique muzzle-loaders to modern African conflict weapons, bayonets, swords, equipment, cartridges, reloading tools and related books. Since its inception in 1994 SAAACA has played a leading role in negotiations with the SA Police Services in developing legislation for firearm collectors and with the SA Heritage Resources Agency in ensuring that historical pieces are preserved for future generations. It also has the responsibility of recommending prospective members to the SAPS for accreditation as collectors.

Membership is open to all collectors, whether you are just starting or already have an established collection. Just phone Jenny Nixon at 011-679-1151 for further information. View their website at

SAAACA will hold a "Cut and Thrust" display at the War Museum on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th April. The event will include displays of swords, bayonets, knives and other edged weapons as well as trade tables. Live action will be provided by the society of Creative Anachronism whose members will beat the daylights out of each other in true medieval tradition. Free valuation and identification of edged weapons will be given; food and drinks will be available. The show opens at 08h30 and closes at 15h30 both days.

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Congratulations to Life Member Taffy Shearing on receiving her Doctorate!

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14th April
Annual General Meeting
ML Frank Bullen - No Scarlet, No Bearskin
12th May
CR Terry Leaver - V E Day
ML SAAACA group - Cut and Thrust: A Century of British Swords


14th April
Lt. Col. Graeme Fuller - Organiser BASE VISIT to 1 Medical Battalion Group
12th May
DDH Prof. Philip Everitt - The Devil of a Gentleman
MAIN John Parkinson - Vice Admiral Nagumo in the Indian Ocean: April 1942

Cape Town

14th April
Annual General Meeting
Major H Roemer-Heitman - An Update on the Military/Political Situation on the African Continent
12th May
Brig Gen Dick Lord - My career in the S.A.A.F.

Eastern Cape - Port Elizabeth:

14th April Venue - Ron Belling Art gallery - 19h30
CR Clayton Holiday - Acquiring the ME 262 in the SA National Museum of Military History
ML Geoff Hamp-Adams - Japanese Undersea Aircraft Carriers
12th May Venue - PAG Drill Hall
CR Ken Munro - Capt Agnes Martin, OBE of Bletchley Park
ML Judge Tom Mullins - he South African Army Postal Service in WWII
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For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Ingrid Machin (031) 201-3983
For Cape Town details contact John Mahncke (021) 797-5167
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn (041) 373-4469

Ivor Little (Scribe) (012) 651-3647

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