South African Military History Society


Our Chairlady, Lyn Miller, opened the meeting with the usual notices and then introduced Hamish Paterson who read out a "wish list" of items the Society would be pleased to receive as donations from members for passing on to the Museum library. Lyn then called for one minute's silence to remember those who gave their lives in recent and past conflicts, as a small gesture on the part of our Society to participate in Remembrance Day. She then introduced Mr Martin Ayres, a former committee member and well-known local historian, who would present the curtain-raising lecture.This was entitled "Admiral Nagumo and his Fateful Decisions: Pearl Harbour to Midway".

Admiral Chuichi Nagumo was born in 1887 and at the time of the commencement of World War II was a Rear Admiral with a strong destroyer background. He was not an advocate of naval air warfare but, despite this, was placed in command of the Imperial Japanese Navy's First Air Fleet, which contained six aircraft carriers and tasked with the attack on Pearl Harbour. His subsequent actions and decisions were to profoundly affect the outcome of World War II in the Pacific.

Nagumo's attack on Pearl Harbour was a masterpiece of planning and surprise. His fleet arrived undetected north of the Hawaiian group of islands, after a round about voyage through heavy weather, and launched the famous surprise air attack on Pearl Harbour. This two-wave attack was expertly delivered and caught the United States Pacific Fleet completely unprepared, sinking and damaging most of its ships and damaging the surrounding port facilities. Unfortunately for Nagumo, the US carrier fleet was not present in Pearl Harbour and thus escaped destruction. One ship, the USS ENTERPRISE, was approaching Pearl Harbour at the time and actually lost a number of aircraft during the Japanese attack. After the second wave of Japanese aircraft had carried out their successful attack, Nagumo's air staff requested permission to launch a third wave to demolish the shore installations left untouched in the previous attacks. This request was refused by Nagumo. With his lack of air warfare background he considered that a third attack would result in heavy losses caused by the now alert defenders, and as he had successfully sunk the enemy's surface vessels he, as a surface warfare man, considered the job done and withdrew to Japanese waters and a triumphant return to Japan.

This decision of his to overrule his air staff had serious repercussions for Japan later in the war. A third wave might conceivably have picked up the USS ENTERPRISE on its way in and would certainly have done great damage to the remaining shore installations. As it later transpired, the original attacks had missed the bunker installations, ammunition dumps and dry dock facilities. The US carrier fleet which arrived at Pearl Harbour shortly after the attack was therefore not only intact but was able to make full use of the logistic support still existing at Pearl harbour. If these had been properly destroyed, the nearest repair and refuelling bases would have been on the US West Coast. The shore facilities at Pearl Harbour thereafter played a major role in the Pacific War and the ultimate Allied victory.

Six months later, and after a spell in the Indian Ocean, Nagumo was back in the Pacific and in the region of the island of Midway. His mission was to attack Midway and, by so doing, lure the US carrier fleet out to attack him in return. Nagumo would then rely on his apparent superiority in numbers to finish them off.

Things did not work out quite as they should have done. Faulty Japanese intelligence and the US ability to read Japanese signals enabled the US fleet to set up its own surprise attack. Not knowing this, Nagumo went ahead with his air strike against Midway. He had four carriers and, for some strange reason, used half the air complement from each ship for his first strike. These aircraft were armed with general-purpose bombs. The Midway defences proved tough so the Japanese air staff requested a second strike against the island. Nagumo agreed and the remaining aircraft from each carrier were brought up on deck for arming with the same weapons. At this stage the US carrier force was detected in the vicinity and Nagumo was placed in a quandary. Should he continue the assault on the island or attack this US force? He chose the latter course. This resulted in utter confusion on all four Japanese carriers. Planes being "bombed up" with general-purpose bombs now had to be rearmed with torpedoes and armour piercing bombs. At the same time, planes returning from Midway had to be landed-on and refuelled. All four carriers had their decks strewn with bombs and refuelling equipment and Nagumo thus lost the advantage of a "first strike" by having to delay his attack. That advantage went to the Americans, who launched a devastating series of attacks against Nagumo's ill prepared fleet. Three of Nagumo's carriers were sunk and the fourth one was caught and sunk later. The Japanese Navy suffered a serious loss in ships, aircraft and above all experienced veteran pilots. Nagumo's decision to fly planes off all four carriers at the same time and then to attempt to rearm them to attack the US carriers led to his immediate defeat. The irony was that if he had carried out the previous attack on Pearl Harbour as completely as his staff wanted him to do, the US carrier fleet would probably not have been able to confront him at Midway. These two poor decisions had a far-reaching effect on subsequent events.

Nagumo went on to become overall commander at Guadalcanal and then was appointed to command the Japanese Central Pacific Fleet. He committed suicide on 6 July 1944 on Saipan, when US forces approached his headquarters.

Lyn thanked Martin for an excellent and most interesting lecture and then introduced the main speaker of the evening, Mr Gerald Zwirn. Mr Zwirn served for a number of years with the Foreign Press Club in Rome and has strong Italian connections. He is a member of the Professional Editors Group and a well known radio personality. His talk would be entitled "The Last Days Of Mussolini".

Gerald is well known for his excellent son et lumiere type productions and this talk was no exception. Using old Italian recordings, which he simultaneously translated for us, and captured Italian and German newsreels, together with a wide selection of historic photos, Gerald took us on a pictorial voyage through Mussolini's career. Starting with his birth and ending with his re-interment in his hometown cemetery after the war we followed Il Duce's career with interest. His gaining control of Italy, his wars of imperial aggression and his undoubted administrative capability were all examined. His fatal mistake was to jump on the victory bandwagon to ensure a share of the spoils when it seemed as if Germany were going to win World War II. The sound bite made when he announced this decision from the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia clearly records a large number of groans and jeers amongst the cheering. Gerald's poignant description of a British major interfering with a vicious crowd to ensure Clara Pettaci's decency after death was a graphic description of a little known fact and added interest to the slides of Mussolini and his mistress being strung up upside-down together in death.

Gerald was thanked for his excellent presentation by Flip Hoorweg, who reminded the audience that at one stage of his career Mussolini was Hitler's role model until their roles were reversed later in World War II.

* * * * * * *

Society News Snippets

It is with great regret that we inform our members of the recent resignation of the chairman of the KwaZulu-Natal branch, Paul Kilmartin. Paul has been at the helm for the past eight years, during which time the KwaZulu-Natal branch has benefited from his outstanding leadership qualities in many ways. Our Johannesburg members have been privileged to hear some of Paul's excellent lectures over the years and he will be delivering one on Edwin Swales in September, 2006. The new Chairman of the Durban branch is Adrian van Schaik and our best wishes go to him in his new post.

* * * * * * *

It is with sadness too that we announce the resignation of Dr Ingrid Machin, the treasurer/ secretary of the KwaZulu-Natal branch. Ingrid has filled this position for many years with enthusiasm and dedication and we wish her well in her retirement to Howick.

* * * * * * *

Congratulations to the Eastern Cape branch (SAMHSEC) on their first anniversary. Malcolm Kinghorn has performed miracles in starting up and running what has proved to be a very successful branch and we wish them the best of luck in their future endeavours.

* * * * * * *

The Committee would like to wish all members a happy Christmas and a safe holiday season.

* * * * * * *


For a change we'll start with the Coastal branches:


8th December
Bill Brady - Organiser - Annual Dinner
19th January 2006 - NB THIRD THURSDAY!
DDH John Goodrich - Military History Anecdotes
MAIN Robin Smith - The American Civil War: Vicksburg - The Key To The Mississippi
* * * * * * *

Cape Town

In recess
19th January 2006 - THIRD THURSDAY OF THE MONTH.
Commander W.M. Bissett - SA and British campaign medals from WWI and WWII
* * * * * * *

SAMHSEC - Eastern Cape - Port Elizabeth:

10th December 2005 - Saturday
SAMHSEC will have a day trip to Grahamstown in lieu of the Thursday evening lecture meeting.
12th January 2006
CR Barry de Klerk - Warfare by numbers
ML Col (ret) Gerhard du Plessis - The SA Army Battle School
* * * * * * *


8th December
CR Felicia Fourie - The Peace Negotiations - Anglo-Boer War
ML Colin Dean - Flying Bombs
19th January 2006 - NB THIRD THURSDAY!
CR Flip Hoorweg - Defeat into Victory: Mons 1914 vs Mons 1918
ML David Williams - The history of rank
* * * * * * *

For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Mike Laing (031) 205-1951
For Cape Town details contact John Mahncke (021) 797-5167
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn (041) 373-4469

Ivor Little (Scribe) phone (012) 651-3647 until mid-December

* NOTE* Fast mirror and backup site      BOOKMARK FOR REFERENCE     Main site * NOTE*

South African Military History Society /