South African Military 
History Society


November 2005

PAST EVENTS: The Society's October meeting started in sombre fashion with a full house of members standing for a minutes silence to the memory of Virginia Taylor, who had died recently in the Entabeni Hospital after a short illness. Virginia was our oldest member and died 5 months after her 90th birthday. She was a regular attendee at our meetings and we will miss her. The Society then learnt that this meeting was to be the last attended by Dr. Ingrid Machin in her position as Secretary and Treasurer. Ingrid is moving to Howick and as the hardest working member of the committee, her commitment to all things related to the Society will be a hard act to follow. Our Chairman, Paul Kilmartin, gave her a book token as a small gesture for all the work she has done for the Society and she received warm applause from all the members present.

The main purpose of the October meeting was to honour the memory of one of the greatest of all military victories, in the month that celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. Consequently, the evening was a purely naval affair with both talks concentrating on naval matters. The DDH was given by John Oliver, with a talk entitled The All Gun Dreadnoughts, which proved to be a thorough and fascinating review of the range of battleships known as "Dreadnoughts". He started by quoting the damage done to the USS Cole in Aden harbour on 12 October 2000 and explained that in the age of the Dreadnoughts, with their heavy side armour, such an attack would have been shrugged off without damage. 177 Dreadnoughts were built and were the most heavily protected and -armed ships in the history of naval warfare and a number of them fought in both world wars. Their existence in quantity in the hands of no less than 12 countries was a major contributor to the cause of the First World War, but John concentrated his comments more on the developments of the ships of four navies and the increase in gun power as development went ahead. He did this with a splendid array of old photographs of the main ships in their prime.

The era began with the launch of HMS Dreadnought, which had a ship's motto, "Fear God and dread nought" that became a generic name for all ships that followed. Never before had the construction of one man-of-war had such an effect on service opinion, domestic policies and international relations. By a wide margin she was the largest, fastest and most powerful warship ever built. At 18 000 tons, one third bigger than any of her predecessors, with 10 x 12" guns, 12" solid side armour plate and a 21 knots speed with oil fed turbines, she was the greatest ship of the time.

The Dreadnought was the brainchild of Admiral Sir John Fisher and under his guidance over the next 10 years, no less than 24 battle ships joined her, each more advanced than their predecessors. The Germans across the Channel noted this naval build up with alarm. Under the guidance of Kaiser Wilhelm and foreign minister von Tirpitz they set about upgrading the German Navy, from a small coastal force to one that would challenge the Royal Navy. The Americans took their time in building their ships because the only distant possible opponent might be Japan. As a result their first ships, were very advanced for the time. The rise of the Battle cruiser was explained (faster but with less armour) and the development of similar ships in Japan. The impact of one of the last great naval battles - Jutland - was described with explanations of how and why so many ships were sunk. The Jutland experience produced an enormous amount of food for thought across the world and items added to future Royal Navy ships included flash tight doors to the magazines, increased vertical protection to decks - especially around the magazines - and separate shell rooms. But the most famous of ships, HMS Hood was designed before Jutland and the flaws that led to its later demise were discussed in comparison with the post Jutland design of the "all or nothing" armour design of The Bismarck. The post-Great War treaties that limited shipbuilding were explained together with the massive development of new naval and air technology by Japan and the great impact this had on Royal Navy and American losses early in World War II. But the last word was with the Americans who, in 1943, launched the 4 most heavily armoured Dreadnoughts ever built.

The MAIN talk of the evening was given by Captain Brian Hoffmann, SA Navy, Rtd, and was entitled The Battle of Trafalgar and The Death of Admiral Lord Nelson: 21 October 1805. The scene was set as follows: at dawn on the 21st October 1805 the world's most powerful Navy and the combined French and Spanish fleets were sailing on converging courses some 12 miles apart off Cape Trafalgar. One fleet was intent upon bringing the other to decisive battle while the other was intent upon avoiding battle at all costs. Some 12 hours later one of the most decisive Naval battles ever fought had played itself out, which was to establish the undisputable maritime supremacy of Great Britain for more than a century. Over the centuries Britain had developed a large and powerful Navy, which she required to protect her many interests - in particular to stop invasion forces, to protect its seas trade, and to protect its overseas possessions and to fight off any would be aggressor. Brian explained that Britain had always produced a succession of fine Admirals who ensured her freedom and protection of her interests. As 75% of the national budget was spent on the Navy, rich pickings from overseas territories and the capture of prizes laden with valuable cargos were an essential addition to the national coffers.

Throughout the 18th Century pressure from France increased, as she challenged Britain's naval supremacy and what Britain required was a decisive victory that would once and for all remove the threat of invasion, threats to her national interests abroad, and to re-affirm her supremacy at sea. What was also required was a commander who would achieve this. As so many times in the past, the right man appeared - Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson. The first part of Brian's talk was a detailed history behind the Nelson "Legend", starting from his first going to sea as a 12 year old and how he managed through ability alone, to get rapid promotion to the highest levels in the Navy. Each of his major journeys was covered with summaries of all his major battles, and how he lost one eye and one arm in combat. Nelson became a hero in 1798, after his decisive action against French forces at the Battle of Aboukir Bay (Nile). This was followed by the Battle of Copenhagen, his retirement and his recall to the Navy when he was appointed C in C of the Mediterranean Fleet.

Nelson hoisted his flag aboard HMS VICTORY on 18th May 1803 and arrived in the Mediterranean in July. His orders were to blockade Toulon and prevent the French Fleet from sailing, but Nelson had other ideas. He wanted the French to come out of harbour so he could engage them in decisive battle, not just to beat them, but to annihilate them. A simple victory was not good enough and this thinking led to Trafalgar. The blockade lasted over 18 months but by then, Napoleon was ready with 120,00 troops in Northern France to invade England. To do that he had to obtain control of the English Channel; with the French fleet now combined with the Spanish fleet, his plan was to send the combined fleets (CF) to the West Indies to attack British possessions, force Nelson's fleet to give chase, and once they were out of the way to rush back to defeat a weakened Navy in order to allow French troops free travel across the Channel. At the end of May 1805 Nelson did give chase, but crossed to Martinique in 11 days less time than the CF. Nelson missed the chance to bring the CF to battle in the West Indies, but when the CF raced back to Europe, Admiral Calder and 15 British ships of the line challenged them off Cape Finisterre and to Napoleon's dismay the CF returned to Cadiz. News reached London on 2 September that the CF was in Cadiz and Nelson was ordered to return and arrived off Cadiz on 28 September. Nelson's battle plan and the manner in which he presented it to his Captains was so impressive in its simplicity and his belief in its success, that it became known as the 'Nelson Touch'.

His initial plan was based upon a Fleet of 40 ships, which would attack the CF in three columns, one column of 16 ships commanded by Collingwood that would cut the CF line at the 12th ship from the rear and encircle them, a second column of 16 ships commanded by Nelson himself that would cut the line in the centre (16th or 17th ship from the rear), and a third column that would cut the line about three or four ships further ahead, thus leaving some 12 enemy ships untouched. It would thus be some time before they could reverse course and join the battle. However he was only given 27 ships and Nelson was forced to change his plans and attack with two columns instead of the original three columns.

Using excellent slides Brian Hoffmann then explained the battle in detail. He started with the approach as both fleets manoeuvred into position, their dispositions were described, the squadrons and their commanders were given together with the various orders as they were issued up to the first shots fired at 12 noon. With remarkable detail this famous battle unfolded until we were told that by 2.30pm the battle was won. But at a cost with the death of Admiral Nelson himself - a death described in poignant detail. Our speaker ended by describing The Battle of Trafalgar as a glorious example of the noble art of leading men in war; it was a talk worthy of the occasion.

Our Chairman, Paul Kilmartin, gave a warm vote of thanks to both speakers for two well-researched naval talks.



The MAIN talk for the last meeting of 2005, will concentrate on our own city of Durban. Our guest speaker will be PROFESSOR BRIAN KEARNEY, joint author (with, among others, our own DAVE MATTHEWS) of a marvelous book called WARRIORS GATEWAY - DURBAN and THE ANGLO-BOER WAR. His talk in November will be entitled SOME ASPECTS OF DURBAN AND THE ANGLO-BOER WAR.
If you were to make an historical film on Durban, you might call it "Death in a Ricksha", or "'The Inconvenience of Dead Donkeys". It could be a box office sell-out, star-studded with the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill and his mother Lady Randolph, Roger Casement, Admiral Sir Percy Scott and numerous lesser mortals like refugee Hilda Bowesa from Jagersfontein, cowboy Max Gordon from New Orleans and Hendrina Scheffer of the Merebank Concentration Camp. The film would be set against a Hollywood style backdrop of Scott's Royal Naval vessels sitting like cardboard props off Durban. This and much more is the story of Durban and the Anglo-Boer War and what will be covered in the November MAIN talk. Don't miss it!!

Another reason not to miss the November meeting is that it is "possibly" the end of an era. The 11th November is Armistice Day, but as most of our members will know by now, it is also the anniversary of the birth of General George Patton. To mark the birthday date, PROFESSOR MIKE LAING has spoken to us for many years at each November meeting about this remarkable General - and to mark the anniversary of the Generals death, MIKE will give the DDH on THE 60TH ANNIVERSARY of THE DEATH of GENERAL GEORGE PATTON. You have been warned!!


At the end of the October 2005 meeting, our Chairman - Paul Kilmartin - announced that after 7 1/2 years as the Society Chairman, the time had come for him to hand over to a new Chairman. Paul told the meeting that his time as Chairman had given him more pleasure than any other position he had held outside business, but as he intended to spend several months a year with his family in the United Kingdom, it would not be possible for him to continue. During his last trip overseas, the committee had met and asked ADRIAN van SCHAIK to be the new Chairman, a position he was delighted to accept. It puts the Chairmanship back into the hands of the military as Adrian is second in command of the NMR, and holds the rank of Captain. Paul will continue to serve on the committee for as long as he is needed and wishes Adrian every success in the years ahead. Adrian - WELCOME and GOOD LUCK!!


We have been asked to advise all members about a tour of the Kimberley Battlefields being planned for December 2005. This will take place between 15 - 18 December, and will cover the battles of MODDER RIVER, MAGERSFONTEIN, PAARDEBERG and BOSHOF, together with detailed coverage of THE SIEGE of KIMBERLEY. For those interested please contact STEVE LUNDERSTEDT on for details of accommodation, costs and other details.


Just a reminder to all members that the Annual Ceremony with the MOTH's on the anniversary time that the Armistice came into force to end the Great War of 1914 - 1918, will take place at Warriors Gate on 11 November at 10.30am, for a talk on an aspect of the Armistice, and ending for the 2 minute silence at 11.00am. Drinks and snacks will be available after the ceremony.


At the request of a number of members, your committee has agreed to hold the annual South African Military History Society "dinner" as a lunch this year. Also, and again as requested, the lunch will be held at a weekend instead of the normal 2nd Thursday in December. It was soon found out that available weekend bookings in December were few and far between and that for some strange reason (!!) prices were escalating. However, our organiser Bill Brady has now found a wonderful setting in the grounds of the Mount Edgecombe Country Club (near Umhlanga Rocks), overlooking Pani Dam, and has negotiated a full buffet menu, with plenty of choice, at a good price. To secure the booking before the December price increase, the lunch has been brought forward, and will now be held on SUNDAY 20 NOVEMBER at 12 noon for 12.30pm.

Your committee hopes that this change of time and day will suit the members of the Society and we look forward to receiving your comments when the function has been held. Bill Brady's contact details for those who wish to book their places or who may need more information, are: 031-561-5542, or 083-228-5485. His e-mail address is

DIRECTIONS to the restaurant:
* Take the N2 ring road and the Umhlanga Rocks off ramp.
* Continue AWAY from the sea on the Phoenix road
* Almost at once, just after the road narrows to 2 lanes, take the FIRST turning left. (There is a sign to the local SARS office and a SPAR on the left hand side of the corner)
* This is a very short road and, at the junction, turn left. (Before you turn you will see a waterfall and a sign of the Mount Edgecombe Country Club in front of you)
* Drive about 200 metres and take the first turning right.
* This road divides the 2 golf courses at the Country Club; follow it for about 1km and take the first turning left.
* Drive along that road until you see Gate 5 entrance to the Country Club on your left

It is important to book with Bill, as he will have to leave a full list of attendees with security at Gate 5. The same security staff will direct you to Pani Dam as you enter. Lets hope we all have a splendid, if early end of year lunch!!

FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: November 2005 - February 2006

11 Nov 05
(Friday 10.30am) - Armistice Day Warriors Gate
Paul Kilmartin
19 Jan 06 3rd Thurs!!
DDH - John Goodrich - Military History Anecdotes
MAIN - Robin Smith -The American Civil War: Vicksburg - The Key To The Mississippi
9 Feb 06
DDH - Adrian van Schaik - My Border Operational Experiences
MAIN - Prof. Philip Everitt - The South African Regiments at Tobruk


And then on 11 NOVEMBER at 10.30am

South African Military History Society /