South African Military 
History Society


July 2005

PAST EVENTS: The Society 2005 Battlefield Tour took place on 4/5 June at The Siege Battlefields of Ladysmith. In perfect winter weather, 59 members and friends (including 10 from Johannesburg) enjoyed a memorable weekend as we visited the sites of the major military events that took place during the siege. As always our organiser and main speaker was Ken Gillings and this year he excelled with his planning by getting 2 local farmers - on whose farms 2 of the battles took place - to be become involved and even, on day1 had a farmer lay on a splendid lunch and a new standard was set!! Although Ken was the main speaker he was given assistance through contributions by Robin Smith, Cliff Cooper, Keith Archibald, Ganes Pillay, Dave Matthews, Paul Kilmartin, Mike Laing, Philip Everitt, Charles Whiteing and a guest Ronnie Parla. In addition our 2 farmers Jan Human and John Hawkesbury also added to the talks over the 2 days. After lunch on the 2nd day there was an unexpected and happy ceremony, when Lyn Miller - the chairperson of the Society's National Committee in Johannesburg announced that they had decided to make Ken Gillings an Honorary Life Member of the Society - a decision greeted with long, warm and well deserved applause.

In the D.D.H. TALK, Bill Brady considered the personality, career and death of Adolf Hitler in the context of Germany before and during WWII. Hitler realised that Germany needed to re-arm and achieve economic self-sufficiency. An ambitious demagogue, Hitler came to real power in 1933 as Fuhrer of the German Reich, taking direct control of the armed forces in 1941.

Early in the war the German forces gained numerous victories, but as it progressed their position deteriorated, especially after the entry of the U.S.A. on the Allied side. Hitler's interference in military operations caused enormous logistical problems and fatal delays, while the Allied armies smashed into Germany from East and West.

Eventually, following massive casualties, the German troops, under-equipped and under-trained, were mostly recruited from the Home Guard and the Hitler Youth, many of them over sixty or as young as eleven years of age. Nevertheless, despite these weaknesses, Hitler clung to the delusion that Churchill's fragile alliance of Great Britain, the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R would ultimately collapse as the Western powers realised that Bolshevism was their real enemy, and they would join Nazi Germany in a common crusade against it.

At this stage, General Eisenhower, the Allied Supreme Commander, ordered the Allied forces to swing south, away from Berlin, to counter the imaginary German last stand in the Bavarian Alps, thus laying Berlin open to being taken by the Russians. The German command system crumpled, with a starving population and exhausted troops as well as much material damage of buildings.

Hitler, at last facing the certainty of defeat, named Admiral Doenitz as his successor, and dictated his last will and testament, blaming the Jews for provoking the war. In his bunker, he married his mistress, Eva Braun and when she took poison, shot himself. Their bodies were doused with petrol and burnt. The merciless conflict in Europe came to an end on 8 May 1945. The Third Reich had outlasted its founder by one week. Hitler had become the victim of his own delusions. The entire German army became prisoners-of-war, and the sovereignty of Germany passed into the zones of the four occupying powers.

The question from the audience after the talk queried the proposition that Germany's disaster could be ascribed entirely to one man. Dr Gus Allen gave the main talk of the evening, the Spanish Armada: the battles, in considerable and interesting detail, especially analysing the naval engagements between the Spanish and English fleets.

In the conflict between England and Spain in the 16th century, for the control of the riches of the "Indies" (Central and South America), the Spanish king, Philip II resolved to send the Spanish Armada against England in the Enterprise of England.

The Spanish king's choice for Captain-General of the Ocean Sea to lead the expedition was Don Alonso Perez de Guzman, Duke of Medina Sidonia, a soldier with a reputation for fitting out, arming and manning the trans-Atlantic convoys sailing from Andalusia to the Indies. However, he had no inclination to go to sea as he feared he would suffer from rheumatism and sea-sickness and catch cold. He begged Philip to excuse him. The Spanish councillors insisted that Medina Sidonia lead the Armada and he set about assembling the fleet with some success in spite of some muddle in the provision of armaments. Ships were requisitioned from all Spain's dominions. Provisions, packed on board many months before the fleet set sail, were inferior and even inedible.

The so-called "Invincible Armada", blessed by the Church, and consisting of 130-140 ships, sailed down the Tagus on 28 May 1588. With 16th century naval battles being virtually land battles fought at sea, with opposing ships grappled together to form fighting platforms, there were more soldiers than sailors aboard the fleet. The front line of the Armada consisted of two squadrons of galleons, the second line of four squadrons of ten ships each, and there were 22 light pinnaces used for communications within the fleet.

The plan for the invasion of England included the embarkation of the Spanish forces under the Duke of Parma once the Armada reached the Cape of Margate, where Parma would go ashore in Kent. Parma declared this plan was impossible as he could not evade the Anglo-Dutch blockade.

When the Armada put to sea a storm scattered many ships and drove others to seek shelter and revictualling in the harbour at Corunna, resuming their journey on 22 July. The Spanish leaders, especially Don Alonso Martinez de Leyva then pressed for an attack on the English base at Plymouth. With some flaws in the equipment of the English fleet and land defences, English propaganda painted a grim picture of what would happen in the event of a Spanish victory. However, John Hawkins, Treasurer of the navy from 1577, an experienced privateer and slave trader, had transformed and strengthened Queen Elizabeth's ships, using new designs to produce fast and agile vessels. These English ships carried 251 guns firing shot of 16 pounds or more, while the Spanish Armada carried only 126 guns of similar calibre. Armed merchantmen added to the strength of the English fleet. This fleet was commanded by the Lord Admiral, Lord Howard of Effingham, with the main fleet, and Sir Francis Drake as Vice-Admiral with a detachment of the main fleet at Plymouth, while Lord Henry Seymour headed the smaller Eastern squadron to patrol the Straits.

Dr Gus Allen used several maps, pictures and diagrams to illustrate the events and personalities involved in his story.

When, at the end of July, the Armada was sighted off The Lizard, the English ships left Plymouth and were positioned windward of the Armada, which was now drawn up in a crescent formation. Battle was joined off Eddystone Rocks on 31 July and an exciting running fight ensued. By 2 August, both fleets were becalmed west of Portland Bill. Further lively engagements took place from 3 - 4 August when the Armada continued its progress towards the Isle of Wight and, by 6 August, beyond, until the fleet dropped anchor in the roadstead of Calais, 25 miles west of Dunkirk and Parma's army of Flanders. Communications were so poor that Medina Sidonia and Parma were unable to arrange a rendezvous.

The English commanders held a Council of War and weather conditions being favourable, decided to launch a fireship attack, on the night of 7 August, with eight fireships. The Spanish cut their ships' cables, losing their anchors, and fled to avoid this menace. No Spanish ships caught fire and the fireships drifted harmlessly across the anchorage.

Four or five of the Spanish ships rallied around the San Martin and on 8 August battle was joined off the shallows between Gravelines and Ostend. Martin Frobisher and Hawkins in the Revenge followed up the attack on the San Martin. By late afternoon the English were running out of ammunition. The contestants drifted, or were being driven, in an easterly direction towards the sands and shoals of the banks of Zeeland. A brief and violent south-westerly squall hit and separated the two fleets. The Armada headed northwards, running before the wind. The exhausted English shadowed the Armada which now faced the uncertain waters of the North Sea and, ultimately, disaster.

Brian Kennedy expressed the appreciation of the audience for two well-researched talks.


The MAIN talk for the July meeting is entitled ‘UBIQUE – THE SOUTH AFRICAN ARTILLERY IN ANGOLA”, and will be given by LT. COL. CLIVE WILSWORTH. The talk will cover the period from 1975 – 1988. It looks at each operation involving the SAA and describes the forces deployed, and also includes some of the characters, as well as their successes and failures.

The D.D.H. will be given by MAJ. GEN. CHRIS LE ROUX and is entitled “THE HISTORY OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN PARACHUTE REGIMENT”. Chris will give a breakdown of the organisational structure and describes the “soul” of the Regiment.

“HISTORY IN ACTION” The Festival - Talana Museum – Dundee will take place from Thursday 20th to Sunday 23rd October 2005 inclusive. A very full programme, starting at 17:30 on the Thursday and continuing until noon on the Sunday, has been arranged with numerous events of interest to everyone. This promises to be a weekend not to be missed! Full details, including contact details, are included in the pamphlet attached to this notice.

FUTURE SOCIETY DATES : July 2005 - September 2005

14 July 05
DDH Maj. Gen. Chris le Roux - History of the South African Parachute Regiment
MAIN Lt. Col Clive Wilsworth - South African Artillery
11 Aug 05
DDH Prof. Mike Laing - The Chemistry that made the Atom Bomb Work
MAIN Bill Brady - The End of World War 2 in the Pacific: Aug '45
8 Sep 05
Gilbert Tolage - Missionaries in Zululand in Times of Conflict
Robin Smith - Gravestones and Memorials of the ILH
Dr. Mark Coglan - The History of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles
13 Oct 05
DDH John Oliver - Battleship: The All Gun Dreadnought
MAIN Captain Brian Hoffman - The Battle of Trafalgar: The 200th Anniversary
SEE YOU ALL ON 14 JULY 2005!!!

South African Military History Society /