South African Military History Society


Our Chairlady, Lyn Miller, opened the meeting with the usual notices and then introduced Colonel James Jacobs, who was to give the curtain-raising lecture. Colonel Jacobs is a member of the staff of the SANDF War College and the title of his talk was "The Lucy Ring - German Resistance to Hitler, 1939/1945."

Col Jacobs commenced by giving a short background to Hitler's rise to power and the various people who opposed him. Few of them lived to tell the tale but one who did was Roedolf Rossler.

Rossler was a veteran of World War I and had a large number of anti-Nazi friends still serving in high positions in the German armed forces. When Hitler came to power Rossler, a journalist, fled to Switzerland where he continued his journalistic career. He also formed a spy ring, taking the code name "Lucy" for himself, and the ring, which included his still-serving friends became known as "The Lucy Ring".

The group was activated by Hitler's meeting with the German High Command (OKW) on 23 May 1939 where the invasion of Poland was decided upon. Two members of the Ring promptly travelled to Lucerne to meet Rossler and equipped him with a radio transmitter with which he could keep in contact with the Ring members in Germany. Rossler in turn made contact with Brigadier General Roger Masson, the Head of Swiss Military Intelligence, and used this contact to pass a warning to Denmark and Norway when their turn came to be invaded. In March 1940 the ring also warned the French about the forthcoming German intention to break through into France, via the Ardennes. History has proved that all these warnings were ignored. However, Rossler also made contact with the Soviet spy ring known as the "Red Orchestra" and Alexander Foote, a British communist living in Lausanne. The Soviets acted on the information he sent them and Rossler kept them fully informed about the German plans for Operation Barbarossa in 1941; Stalingrad in 1942 and Kursk in 1943. Rossler received a steady stream of information that he passed on to the Allies. The sheer volume of radio traffic emanating from OKW on a daily basis made it virtually impossible for German Counter Intelligence to detect the occasional signal to Rossler. However, in the meantime the Germans had captured documents in Russia that led them to the conclusion that they had a major security leak on their hands and so they established a listening station in southern Germany to monitor traffic from Switzerland. A cat and mouse game then followed with Rossler changing wavelengths, call signs and locations, and with the Gestapo one step behind him. Eventually the Gestapo infiltrated the Red Orchestra and through this pinpointed the Lucy Ring in late 1943. However the Swiss were informed of this and arrested Rossler and Foote before the Gestapo could eliminate them. They held them until May 1944 and then released them to continue their activities until the war's end in 1945.

The existence of the Lucy Ring is still a matter of controversy. Rossler, who died in 1958, never revealed his sources nor wrote his memoirs. He related his story to two French journalists and nothing more. Several experts have debunked the existence of the ring but the Russian Marshall Zhukov stated in his own memoirs that information received from Lucy helped him plan and win his battles. This is borne out by the fraction of Soviet archives dealing with this subject that have so far been translated and by US intelligence papers that are now open for inspection. Was "Lucy" a clever hoax or a brilliant fact? Only time will tell.

Lyn thanked Colonel Jacobs for an excellent and thought provoking expose of the world of intelligence and then introduced the main speaker of the evening, Mr John Parkinson. She apologised to the audience that the advertised speaker, Mr Paul Kilmartin, was unable to be present because of illness and that Mr Parkinson, a national committee member, had been pressed into service at short notice. His talk would be entitled "1858-British Treaties With China And Japan: HMS Furious at Shanghai, The Peiho and Yeddo".

HMS Furious was a typical wooden steam paddle frigate of her time and was commanded by Captain Sherard Osborne, a well-known Victorian naval officer. A small fleet of twelve small shallow draft gunboats was required for the China coast and Osborne in Furious was given the job of escorting it on the long from Devonport on 4 May 1857 to HongKong, where the last one in, HMS Firm, arrived on 22 November 1857.

The arrival of these ships was in response to rising tension between China and the European powers that had started in October 1856 with the arrest in Canton of a British ship, the "Arrow" which the Chinese suspected of piracy. In February 1857 a French missionary was murdered in Kwangsei province and these two acts outraged the British and French representatives in China, who then formed an anti-Chinese alliance. In order to defuse the situation, the British sent out a senior diplomat, James Bruce, the 8th Earl of Elgin and 12th Earl of Kincardine, as Plenipotentiary in China. Following the usual route of the times, Lord Elgin made his slow way East, having his journey interrupted as a result of the Indian Mutiny and it was thus not until December 1857 that Lord Elgin finally boarded HMS Furious in Hong Kong to sort out the Chinese problem. The first step was to remove Commissioner Yeh, the Chinese commander in Canton, the source of much of the problem. A short action then followed in which Canton was bombarded and Yeh captured by a British landing force and shipped off to exile in India. Elgin then sent a note to Peking, which contained the outline of a revised treaty with China and was in Shanghai when he received a most unsatisfactory reply from Peking. Judging that delay would be taken as a sign of weakness, Elgin continued on to the Peiho River which leads up to Peking. The area was badly charted and shallow so Osborne used his gunboat fleet for the operation of reaching Peking. The action was quite straightforward. On 20 May 1867 HMS Cormorant sailed up the river and broke a boom which the Chinese had strung across it. The smaller gunboats, each towing boatloads of men, then followed her through the breach. The riverbank was lined with forts, particularly at the entrance at a place named Taku, and these forts fired at the ships as they passed but with little effect. 1,178 British and French troops were landed in the rear of these forts, which quickly succumbed. With the way to Peking open, the Chinese consented to discuss the proposed treaty with Lord Elgin in nearby Tientsin and signed it on 26 June 1859.

Elgin in Furious then moved down to Shanghai and then, encouraged by what had so far transpired, decided to continue with his mission in Japan. Consequently he re-embarked in Furious and crossed to Nagasaki where they arrived on 3 August 1858. Japan was still very insular. The Dutch had a trading station there and the American, Commodore Perry, had visited in 1853 and achieved the so called "opening up" of Japan. He had been followed by a British naval visit in 1854. The Japanese had however signed a treaty with the USA and the first US Consul took up his appointment in 1856. The British had only managed an agreement and Elgin hoped to build this into a treaty during his visit. The US Consul, and the Dutch Resident were very aware of Britain's success in China and wary of her approaches to Japan and this led to a series of diplomatic manoeuvres with the Japanese by them out of which the US gained an improved treaty. Elgin, in Furious, arrived at Nagasaki and then moved around to the US Base at Shimoda, battling heavy weather all the way.

Discussions with the US Consul ensued and it was decided by Elgin to try and obtain the same terms for Britain as the US had recently obtained. Elgin and Furious, together with HMS Retribution and Emperor which had now joined him, sailed for Yeddo, now Tokyo. Instead of anchoring Osborne took the Furious as close to Yeddo itself as he could. There his flotilla was augmented by the gunboat HMS Lee which took Elgin and his party even further up the Bay, to the consternation of the Japanese. From the Lee they transferred to cutters and proceeded a further three miles before making an official landing. Negotiations proceeded smoothly. HMS Emperor was handed over to the Japanese to serve as an Imperial yacht and a treaty similar to the one signed by the USA was agreed upon and signed. There were many gun salutes and much pomp and ceremony and hosting back and forth before Elgin left again for Shanghai, where he arrived back on 2 September 1858.

Elgin had succeeded in Furious in obtaining valuable trading rights for Britain in both China and Japan that would serve the British Empire well over the next century.

Bob Smith thanked John for his excellent presentation and most interesting lecture. It had been wide ranging and the illustrations were outstanding. After the usual question time Mrs Geraldine Parkinson drew out the winning numbers of the two DVD's offered as a raffle. These were claimed by members present and the meeting closed.

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Donations of equipment, please!

The new Library at the SA National Museum of Military History is up and running, and Librarian Rowena Wilkinson has cordially invited members who are visiting the Museum during working hours to come up the stairs from the Entrance Hall Area and see it. She divulged the following wish-list to Marjorie Dean who is co-ordinating all donations. Things need not be new.

Filing cabinets; aluminium three-step set of steps; bar stools; spare office chairs; small table for the telephone; comfy armchairs; large table; guillotine; a mending tape holder; digital recording machine; a small fridge; a microwave oven; grey melamine for shelf tops (or a contact for such at discounted prices); map cabinets and lastly, "... first prize, if anyone wins the Lottery, would be some spanking new retractable-door cupboards, dimensions available, which house lateral fixed suspension files."

Anybody able to donate items needed by the Library please contact Marjorie Dean (011) 792 5611.


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13th October
CR Marjorie Dean - Trafalgar - the Making of a Hero
ML Terry Willson - The Order Book of Major Tottenham, 12th Lancers
10th November
CR Martin Ayres - Admiral Nagumo and his Fateful Decisions: Pearl Harbour to Midway
ML Gerald Zwirn - The last days of Mussolini
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13th October
DDH John Oliver - Battleship: The All Gun Dreadnought
MAIN Captain Brian Hoffman - The Battle of Trafalgar: The 200th Anniversary
11th November - Friday - 10.30 am
Paul Kilmartin - Armistice Day - Warriors Gate
13th November
DDH Prof. Mike Laing - 60th Anniversary of the Death of Gen. G. Patton: Dec 1945
MAIN Prof. Brian Kearney - Aspects of Durban in the Anglo-Boer War
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Cape Town

13th October
Col Lionel Crook - The Fall of Tobruk, 1942
10th November
Richard Benson - Die Franse Generaal (de Villebois-Mariual)
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SAMHSEC - Eastern Cape - Port Elizabeth:

13th October
PO Ian Pringle - In search of Smuts' Commando member Piet De Reyt
Piet was an Adelaide district rebel who was executed by the Brits after being captured wearing Brit uniform while with Smuts' commando in the Adelaide district. Ian was involved in locating Piet's grave on a Pringle family farm.
ML Prof Pat Irwin - Battle of Trafalgar
10th November
PO Des Kopke - The battle of Amalinde
MAIN Jan Sieben - Video on the "Swordfish" aircraft of WW2
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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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