South African Military History 


Newsletter No 13 - October 2005.
Nuusbrief Nr 13 - Oktober 2005.

After the first full year the Branch can look back with satisfaction on a period of growth and consolidation. An average of 34 members have attended the monthly meetings where topics covering a wide range of military history have been delivered on and discussed. The Society has enjoyed two weekend outings and under the enthusiastic guidance of Chairman, Malcolm Kinghorn, the branch has blossomed. Special thanks must also be afforded to the Prince Alfred's Guard Regiment for the use of the meeting room and adjacent pub. The atmosphere is convivial more so that one meets in a Drill Hall with a long history which is aligned to the aims and objectives of the Society.

Chairman Malcolm in his announcements made mention that the December meeting would take place on Saturday 10th December with an outing planned to take place in Grahamstown. Pat Irwin and members residing in The Settler City would plan the day and members should diarise the date . That City has much to offer and it promises to be a most interesting outing. Details to follow.

Apologies were received from Jock Harris, Ivor Markman and Alan Bamford. In looking back on the month in history which is a regular slot in the programme one reflects on many events. To list them all is not possible but all credit to Malcolm and Pat who take the time to compile the slide presentation. Amongst the odd events in September were,
* The unsuccessful bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore by the British which event gave rise to the National Anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner", of the United States of America.
* Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin and thus saved thousands of lives in World War Two.
* A Lt. Nelson led the D-Day landings !

The Curtain Raiser was delivered by Dave Whitehouse whose subject was "The Current State of Anti-Tank Warfare." It is a subject close to his heart and on completion one was left with a clear picture that a tank was just more than a military component that one sees most evenings on television. Times and tanks have changed radically since the tank first made its appearance in World War One. The present day weapon is both extremely sophisticated with a high-tech design and which Dave elaborated on in his address.

He started by saying he had great admiration for anyone who went to war in a tank. All the information given in the talk, except for a couple of things from a contact within the European defence industry, were from open sources and the pictures used extensively to illustrate his talk were either from the UK Ministry of Defence or from a Czechoslovakian website.

He firstly divided up the two ways to destroy the AFV, either by Kinetic energy or by chemical energy via a chemical reaction. The slowest rate of development was in kinetic energy systems. Modern tank guns have reached the peak of development where they simply cannot fire an antitank projectile faster. The various types of shell were then described in detail. He went on to explain some of the controversy regarding Depleted Uranium, why it was used and its dangers.

The latest rounds, AHEAD (Advanced Hit Efficiency and Destruction) and (FAPDS) Frangible Armour Piercing Discarding Sabot were also explained. These rounds have only been in full service in Western Nations in the last six months!

Dave then went on to to talk about Chemical energy rounds including Anti Tank Guided Weapons such as Hellfire, AT14 and Swingfire missiles. This included mention of the latest Soviet missiles which can now be fielded with a Fuel Air Explosive warhead. Something that Western Forces deployed in the Gulf hope never falls into the wrong hands!

After finishing with the armaments he went on to tell us about the various measures a tank can use to defend itself. This included various arrays of radar, flares, Infra Red jammers and area defence systems. Dave explained Thermal Imaging sighting and its abilities and problems in use including the amusing story of British Tankers in the First Gulf War who were convinced they were about to be overrun by hundreds of enemy tanks they had seen in their thermal sights. These proved to be hundreds of desert rats! (Not the 8th Army type either!)

He concluded by covering the two new types of armour found on modern tanks, Slat armour (That looks like giant venetian blinds) and Electrostatic panels which disrupt the plasma jets formed by chemical energy rounds. Again these were illustrated extensively with pictures pointing out the various items on actual vehicles.

He stressed that this was not Star wars but items found on many Main Battle Tanks presently in service!

The Main Lecture was delivered by the Rev. Edwin Pons, one time Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in South Africa and a veteran of the last War. It is not often one is privileged to hear of and listen to the accounts of that War. There are not many veterans left. Edwin Pons was ordained as a Minister in 1942 and his talk was entitled, "My Service as a Chaplain with the South African Forces in World War Two".

He served in North Africa and then went into Italy. His duties included pastoral work amongst the troops and his quiet recollections of attending and burying the dead were poignant reminders of another time many years ago. He first found himself in Alexandria and on the Suez Canal where he ministered to the crews of 18 gun emplacements attached to 43rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment. He found time however to amuse himself by visiting The Holy Land, The Sea of Galilee (where he met up with his brother), the Dead Sea and the Temple of Jerusalem amongst many other places. His slides detailed much of those countries, the activities of the troops and the places of interest that he visited. By 1944 he had been transferred to the Engineers Corps of the South African Railways and found himself on the 400 mile Haifa - Tripoli railway line. There his work involved much travel and it was soon there after he was in Lebanon where he found old Roman bridges still in use together with roads that had been used by the Crusaders. Amongst the sights he photographed were the Temple of Jupiter and that of Venus with its 60 foot high columns. From there it was to Italy and to Rome with the advancing troops but he still found time to have an audience with The Pope and be shown much of Rome by a cousin. He claims The Pope treated very him politely and shook his hand which is saying something for a good Presbyterian! He tells of the damaged goods yards of Florence and the repair work that was carried out by the troops in the city which became his Head Quarters. He recalls the heaviest Allied bombardment of that War in a campaign which involved the Cape Town Highlanders. The guns opened up at 23,30 hours that night and it was the next day that he was present when Col. Angus Duncan together with 23 troops died. He and George Daniel, of South African rugby fame, buried the men. It was a time of reflection coming towards the end of a long five years of strife.

On the 3rd May 1945 there was a surrender and end of hostilities followed on the 5th May by a thanks giving attended by 700 soldiers. The end had arrived but not for Edwin. He was to visit the sick and wounded in Florence and Rome before returning to Turin before it was finally home. A highlight in his sojourn was the opportunity to climb Mont Blanc accompanied by nine men of his unit. From his accounts it appears as if it was an easy exercise done in bright sunshine after being delayed by a storm!

Rev. Pons retired from the Church in 1983. He has continued with Christian work since and is a spry man of slight build. His voice is however commanding and firm. One would expect nothing less from a man of his experience and years.

Next Meeting - 13th October, the usual venue, The PAG Drill Hall , with a time of 19,30 hours on Thursday 13th October. The Curtain Raiser will be by Ian Pringle on, "The Search for the Grave of Piet De Reyt, Boer War Commando Member" and the Main Lecture will be "The Battle of Trafalgar" by Pat Irwin.

Ian Pringle - Scribe/Secretary - SAMHSEC and or 083-636-6623

South African Military History Society /