South African Military History 


Newsletter No 8 : May 2005
Nuusbrief Nr 8: Mei 2005

The monthly meeting was held, due the nature of the talks, in the Ron Belling Art Gallery and what a change it proved to be, sitting surrounded by the finest impressions of aircraft, including those that made up the content of our lectures.

Thirty eight persons were in attendance including a number of new faces and Chairman Malcolm Kinghorn welcomed all to the meeting. He advised that Tom Mullins would not be available for a Main Lecture due his present incapacity and that, in Tom's absence in May, he would fill in by delivering a talk on Operation Savannah - The Angola Campaign. It would appear that the first tour went off very well and from all accounts the participants had their expectations fulfilled. A more detailed report appears later in this newsletter. He called for feedback from members and intimated that the next tour was in all likelihood being planned for August.

Clayton Holiday, well known for his contribution to the Arts over decades, then took to the floor and delivered a most informative talk on the German ME 262 Fighter Aircraft - known as the Night Fighter. Clayton is a South African Engineers veteran and has had a long involvement with museums in the country. He is recognized as having saved the last remaining ME 262 aircraft, which now stands on display in Gauteng. The aircraft, the first turbo type, had been found gathering dust in a hanger at Dunnotter. It is believed it had come into South Africa soon after the last war, when it could have been part of a repatriation parcel. The SAAF offered the aircraft free to be restored at Snake Valley near Pretoria, but to obtain approval from the Museum to take transfer of it proved to be a task. It was found that the colour of the aircraft was black and that all the numbers were original and, upon Ron Belling's advice, the plane was fully restored to its former glory. The radar was intact, as was the leather upholstery and the only the nose cone was not restored to its original state. It was found that new tyres could be obtained from Germany and these were duly supplied and fitted - one wonders how the item ever survived the war?

Clayton, in tackling his subject, linked the ME 262 to his own life and the effort and enterprise shown by Belling over many years to rescue this particular plane and to ensure that many others were painted for the sake of posterity. Those very same impressions now adorn the walls of the gallery, which constitutes a must visit by anyone calling in on The Friendly City.

The Main Lecture was delivered by Geoff Hamp-Adams, who is the Curator of the Ron Belling Art Gallery. He has an intimate knowledge of the Japanese Underwater Sea Carrier that was designed initially to carry observation aircraft. Known as the Seiran this craft had, on the advent of the last War, become an integral part of the Japanese forces. In essence, the aircraft was housed in a hanger fitted to a submarine. The aircraft was stored on a cradle and when so required, the cradle would be slipped out and the aircraft would be made ready. That process took only seven minutes! From there it was a question of taking to the air, gathering information and then returning to the submarine. Once having landed on the water, the plane would be winched on board, back on its cradle, into the housing and the submarine would submerge. It is little known that a recce mission was carried by the Japanese over Port Elizabeth on the 22nd April, 1942 from a submarine sitting offshore. The target was obviously to monitor movement in the harbour and, if there capital ships at anchor, for the submarine to engage and destroy. That did not, however, take place. The largest of these submarine carriers was the 1-400 Class and was the largest submarine in operation during that War. It was only eclipsed in size by the new nuclear submarines that came in later years into place. It held three Serion planes, twenty torpedoes and had a length of 122 metres- more than the length of a rugby field. It could cruise at 14 knots and had a 90 day endurance. This carrier had a decidedly offensive capability. The carriers were built by Kawasaki at Kobe.

Geoff had an impressive Powerpoint display for the audience. His slides depicted the assembly of the craft, the submarine itself and he also took his audience through the Pacific theatre of war where the American Navy was engaged in bitter battles with the Japanese. It was towards the end of this campaign that the Japanese High Command ordered that the Panama Canal be destroyed. It was the intention that the carriers with their craft would undertake this vast sea journey and bomb the canal. The Japanese were under severe pressure, supplies were flooding into the Pacific through the Canal from the United States and their oil supply was critical. The carriers could only be replenished on the China coast and, against all odds, the fleet found themselves in position to do the necessary. This mission was however aborted as the Emperor surrendered and the fleet were given orders to destroy all important documents.

Today the saga of the Seiran, as it was known, is hardly recognized in the history of that war. No real relics were retained, but one aircraft found its way to be displayed at Udvar-Hazy complex which is an extension of the Smithsonian at Dulles International Airport. All in all a most informative revelation of an aircraft and submarine that few knew existed.

Tour Report.

Seventeen members and friends took part in this the first tour organized by the Tour Convener, Piet Hall, who was ably assisted by Jock Harris. Both have an intimate knowledge of the Frontier Wars and over the two days enthusiasts learnt much of the local history in the area visited. The old military outposts of Committees Drift, Fort Willshire, and Double Drift were visited on the first day. Each has its own story and there were some highlights. The re -discovery as it were, of the grave of Mary Darling near the original fort at Fort Willshire was a moving experience. The grave and its location was described by Prof. Coetzee in his book on the Forts of the Eastern Cape. That was detailed many years ago and time has taken its toll of the old structures. The cemetery at Fort Willshire was visited and later, at sunset , prior departure, the gathering stood in quiet memory of all those that had died in those long forgotten wars. The pipes were played and one could almost imagine and hear the march of the old 74th Regiment in the dark ravines and valleys of the Fish River Bush. Saturday night was spent with Lynne Phillips who runs a tourism business from the family farm which borders the Double Drift Reserve. A comfortable night was spent after having made light of hearty potjie and enjoying good company round a large camp fire.

On the Sunday the party stopped over at Adam's Krantz within the Reserve. Where else can one look down on eagles- the view of the distant Fish River is rated as being one of the top ten in the Country. The historic Milkwood Tree near Peddie was visited. It was here that the Fengu people swore allegiance to Queen Victoria and to join in later times the side of the British in frontier war engagements. The tree stands tall and firm and must be of all of 200 years old. The cavalry charge by the 7th Dragoons at Gwangwa was aptly put by Piet and one can well image the carnage over what is now open veldt. Fort Peddie was visited as was Fraser's Camp where the party broke up after a welcome and tasty boerewors roll lunch. One could expand at length on the tour- the taking of wagon trains at Breakfast Vlei and Trompetters Drift by the Xhosa is a chapter by itself. To hear more may we suggest that you join the next tour!

Next Meeting

This meeting will be held at the Prince Alfred's Guard Drill Hall on Thursday 12th May at 19,30 hours. Our speakers for the evening include:

* Ken Munro , who will speak to us on his aunt, Agnes Martin, in a pipe opener entitled , "Captain Agnes Martin OBE of Bletchley Park

* Malcolm Kinghorn, in the Main Lecture, will deal with " Operation Savannah : South African participation in the Angolan Civil War 1975 / 76."

Ian Pringle,
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South African Military History Society /