South African Military History Society

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The Chairman, Flip Hoorweg, opened the July meeting and spent a few minutes informing the meeting of the remarkable discovery in an attic in London of a cache of VOC documents relating to life at the Cape in the 17th century. He then gave out the usual notices. The Society is still looking for volunteers to sit on the proofreaders' panel of the Journal, to write booklets for the Museum and to draw up an index for back copies of the Journal. A number of members have already put their names forward for these tasks but more are still needed. If you are interested please contact our Secretary, Mrs Joan Marsh, at Members are also reminded of the forthcoming Gala Luncheon at the Museum on Sunday, 19 November, to celebrate our 40th Anniversary. Booking for this lunch will be opened in September.

He also reminded those present of our regular DVD Raffle. The next one will take place at our August meeting and the DVD on offer is entitled World War II: Air War and Sea War. With "Memphis Belle" shown in William Wyler's famous film & "The Fighting Lady", a film narrated by Robert Taylor. Raffle tickets are R10.

When he had done this, Bob introduced our first speaker of the evening, our National Chairman, Flip Hoorweg. The title of his most informative talk was "The Caves of Umurbrogal Ridge".

In September 1944 the war in the Pacific looked promising for the Allies. The Imperial Japanese Navy had suffered heavy losses. The Battle of the Philippine Sea had broken the back of the Japanese Air Force. American forces had taken Saipan, Tinian and Guam in the Marianas and the possession of these advanced bases would allow American air supremacy to smother the Japanese home islands with B-29 bomber raids. The number of Japanese held islands in the Pacific had become smaller and the garrisons on many of these had become isolated as the Americans carried through their policy of island hopping towards the Philippines. In terms of this policy, the most useful islands were selected for use by the Americans and taken, whilst others were left to "wither on the vine" as the Japanese could no longer either supply them nor evacuate their troops because of their shipping losses incurred as a result of the highly effective US submarine blockade.

The Palau Islands are in the Western Carolines and are situated only 800kms east of Mindanao. This location placed them on the left flank of any projected invasion of the Philippines and, although there were arguments against invading them, Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Forces, felt that the islands were too great a risk to ignore. The 1st Marine Division was therefore detailed off to take Peleliu Island, the site of the largest airstrip in the Palau's on 15 September 1944. It was considered that the operation, codenamed Stalemate II would take two or three days. Unfortunately this code name would prove only too prophetic as the struggle for Peleliu dragged on for weeks.

The Palau Islands are each surrounded by coral reefs and are volcanic in origin, rising several hundred feet above sea level and covered in thick vegetation. Using a detailed transparency, Flip showed that Peleliu is shaped like a lobster claw. The airstrip was on the flat or hinge part and the northern "pincer" of the claw was formed mainly of a range of mountains known as Umurbrogal Ridge. This mountain was a bushy series of ridges honeycombed by old phosphate mines or caves and during 1944 the Japanese had systematically improved these into a fortified series of tunnels. They had also reinforced the garrison with the crack troops of the 14th Division under Lt Gen Sadae Inoue who moved into the more than 500 caves, fitted some of them with steel doors as gun emplacements and stocked them with provision and ammunition. When the US Marines landed, Inoue withdrew his 6 500 combat troops into this redoubt, where they took up carefully prepared defensive positions and from where their mortars and artillery could fire on previously registered targets. When the Marines came ashore this mountain became the lynchpin of the Japanese defence. Preliminary naval gunfire support had had no effect on the cave system but had blasted much of the natural vegetation away, leaving denuded ridges and exposed jagged coral. There was no cover, no secure footing, it was impossible to dig in and no way at getting at the Japanese other than to take each cave in turn at great cost to both sides. It took a month of slow grinding action for the US forces to eventually subdue the Japanese defence and in the process the Americans lost 1 500 killed and 6 300 wounded. The Japanese lost 10 000 soldiers and civilians. It was later worked out that it had taken the Americans 1 600 rounds of ammunition for every Japanese killed in a battle, which ranked with the taking of Tarawa as one of the bloodiest in the US Pacific campaign.

On completion of his lecture and whilst he was still at the podium Flip then introduced the main speaker for the evening. This was Martin Ayres, a long time committee member and former National Chairman of our Society. The subject of his lecture was "The Hundred Years War Part 2 - 1360 to 1453 - Joan of Arc and Henry V".

Martin is a keen member of the Medieval Re-creation Society, which has nothing to do with sport but everything to do with recreating aspects of medieval society. To this end, he was dressed in a costume of the period and was accompanied by a man-at-arms in full infantry chain mail, who, when he took off his helmet, turned out to be Lou Chapman. Martin illustrated his lecture by the now popular power point method and delivered an easy to understand but detailed lecture of England's campaigns in France in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.

The Hundred Years War between England and France had begun in 1337 when Edward III of England laid claim to the French throne. Already in control of half of what would later become France as we know it, he started of by winning a sea battle at Sluys and then the battle of Crecy in 1346. His son, the Black Prince, continued this war and, by defeating the French at Poitiers in 1356, brought this phase to a close. The Black Prince then found that he needed funds to finance his activities in Spain and in 1368 imposed taxes on the English estates in Aquitaine, to cover these expenses. Naturally, this caused discontent and, goaded on by the Duke of Anjou, the Aquitanians successfully appealed for the French king Charles to announce his continued sovereignty over Aquitaine and, in 1369, to declare war on the Black Prince. The elderly King Edward and the Black Prince were by now past participating in any sort of warfare and the problem was passed to John of Gaunt. His idea of fighting a war was to launch a series of large raids into France, five in all, which achieved little, whilst the territory of Aquitaine slowly crumbled into French hands. In the space of five years the unwarlike Charles' men had pushed South and regained all the territory previously lost to France by the Treaty of Bretigny, by means of a combination of diplomacy, guile, guerrilla warfare and the first example of the waging of total war. War weariness now brought about peace in 1375. The main protagonists all died and were succeeded by Richard II of England and Charles VI of France who, in 1396, signed a thirty-year truce. Despite provocation from both sides, this truce held until Henry IV, who had succeeded Richard II, died in 1413 and was succeeded in turn by Henry V.

Although not the matinee idol as portrayed by Sir Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh, Henry was a very competent soldier. He was also hypocritical, unscrupulous, cunning and covetous, harsh to his subjects and pitiless towards his enemies. On his accession to the throne he determined to invade France, both to try and profit from political unrest in that country and also to find an outlet for his troublesome nobles by diverting their energies to France. He adopted the technique of confronting France with a series of demands and then shifting the goal posts whilst he prepared his invasion plans.

In 1415, when he received no further satisfaction from the French, he declared war on that country. Henry's army was a professional one and well led by some brilliant commanders and well stocked with provisions. He landed in the Seine estuary at Harfleur and immediately met stiff resistance from the garrison of that town. The subsequent siege took six weeks and by the time Harfleur surrendered Henry's army was running short of provisions and was losing men to disease. He therefore decided to march north to Calais where he could regroup, but when he arrived at the River Somme was unable to cross due to the defences at the ford and a heavy French presence on the other side. Henry then set off inland along the southern riverbank to find another crossing whilst the French marched along parallel to him on the opposite bank. Near Peronne the river looped north before turning south again and, by cutting across this loop, Henry was able to outdistance his opponents who were forced to follow the bend of the river. Henry found a crossing at Bethencourt and got his troops across before encountering the French at Agincourt. There then occurred one of the great battles of British military history in which Henry's starved, sick and rag tag army defeated 30 000 French and the flower of French chivalry. The narrow battlefield forced the French to bunch up and the heavy cavalry charging at the English soon reduced the wet battlefield to a quagmire. Armoured knights and horses were trapped in the mud where they fell and the English longbow men wreaked havoc on the mass advancing towards them. At the end of the day the French losses amounted to probably 10 000 and the English 500. With this victory Henry could now go ahead with his plan for the conquest of France.

This country descended into political turmoil as Henry slowly ate away at it until his death in 1422. He was succeeded by Henry VI, whilst the French King Charles also died shortly thereafter, being succeeded by the Dauphin. The war continued in England's favour until 1428 when the Duke of Bedford invested Orleans. There he came up against Joan of Arc, the young visionary who had convinced the Dauphin that she could free France from the English. With an army of 4 000 men, she raised the siege and started pushing the English back. With her as inspiration, the French armies were rejuvenated and for a while things went the way of France. The Dauphin was crowned in Rheims as Charles VII and after a succession of victories marched on Paris. This campaign was a failure. Joan fell out of favour and was abandoned to her fate when captured by Burgundians, who then handed her over to the English who executed her. Paris finally fell to the French in 1436 and in 1444 a truce was declared as both sides were once again exhausted. Henry VI married the French princess Margaret of Anjou, but fighting flared up again in 1449.

This time the French were far better prepared than the English and they pushed the English back through Normandy by a series of battles until Normandy was once and for all French. The war finally ended in 1453 when the French pushed the English back to Calais, a foothold which the English were to hold for another 100 years, and then finally relinquish to a united France as we know it today.

After the usual question time, Martin was thanked by Hamish Paterson and the meeting adjourned for tea and to investigate the books on sale in the tearoom.

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Dr Walter Murton, who had addressed the Society on several occasions when he delighted us with his stories of pre-Roman battles, passed away suddenly on July 13th. Committee members Colin and Marjorie Dean and John Parkinson represented the Society at his funeral. Condolences are expressed to Joan, their children and families.

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10th August
CR Ivor Little - Wooden Walls to Dreadnoughts - Gun, Ram, Armour or Torpedo?
ML MC Heunis - OVSAC - Oranje Vrijstaat Artillerie Corps - Boer War Artillery Trophy Guns
14th September
CR Hamish Paterson - Ill-met: U Boat vs Aircraft
ML Paul Kilmartin - SA's last VC, Edwin Swales
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5/6th August
TOUR - Bullers Advance from Ladysmith
Ken Gillings - Organiser - 083-654-5880
10th August
DDH Brian Kennedy - The Curragh Mutiny, 1914
MAIN Dr Ingrid Machin - The History of the Zulu Military
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Cape Town

10th August
Rodney C. Warwick - Threat Perceptions and Strategies during the 1960s and the SADF's Assessments and Responses
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SAMHSEC - Eastern Cape - Port Elizabeth:

10th August
CR Prof Pat Irwin - Elephants in War
ML Dave Whitehouse - Wargaming - a way to re-fight the past
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For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Mike Laing (031) 205-1951
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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