South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


"Nur der Wandel ist bestaendig", "Only change is permanent". I believe Schopenhauer once coined this phrase many years ago, and this pertinently describes Helmoed Heitman's excellent yearly discourse he presented at our Society Meeting on 14th September.

We have been told in some newspaper articles that peace has been breaking out all over Africa because all agreements are now working. Well, maybe.... because at the bottom of political upheavals and shenanigans there is greed, the hunt for oil, the fight for power, - military, commercial and political -, by businessmen and armed guerillas posing as liberators. One example is Cabinda, over whose oil Angola and the DRC are fighting, but who would like nothing more than to be independent. This might still become a problem area for us.

Next there are the Comores, who, over the years, have had quite a number of coups, but they are far away, and there is relative peace and quiet at present. Zimbabwe, however, because it is next door, poses the greatest threat, not so much from a military point of view, but because the staggering number of unemployed and dirt poor, once they reach a point of utmost desperation, might just spill across our borders with unimaginable results to law and order.

The elections in the DRC are over, so far things are quiet, but who knows, it only takes a small spark, ignited by either the election loser or the winner, and the powder keg will explode once more, with fallout ending up in South Africa.

In Uganda, Rwanda & Burundi matters are far from being resolved between their governments and guerilla groups, the Hutus doing what they like to the Tsutsis, - again -.

In West Africa there were the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone but at the moment things are quiet. Not so in Guinea and Guinea Bissau and in Togo and Mauritania were they had coup d'etats, and are not stable. Then we have the Ivory Coast where government troops, opposition groups and guerillas are facing each other, kept apart at the moment by UN and French units. And here as elsewhere Islamic armed forces, a lot of them well equipped with the latest and best, and very well trained, keep crossing borders as they wish and attack whom they please.

Turning to Somalia, Ethiopia, Chad and Sudan things are definitely not improving. Darfur, much in the daily news, is the size of France with a small population exposed to Arab infiltration and occupation of their grazing land, and consequently up in arms helped by their relatives in Chad. However, all is not so cut and dried, there are government troops, guerillas and break-away factions, warring in different provinces and across borders, raiding towns and villages. Regrettably, a couple of South African units deployed with the AU did not perform well at all. The Sudan government foments wars and supports guerilla groups in the whole region for its own ends.

Things in Nigeria are not getting any better, in the gulf piracy has become less commercial but more political and even the Biafra question has re-surfaced.

Senegal is run by a corrupt family and that puts paid to any efforts by western nations to assist.

Unfortunately, the Chinese are becoming more active in Africa, they are the biggest importers of oil from Angola and therefore clash with the US. In order to lay their hands on oil from Sudan, Chad and elsewhere they are not coy in their use of their methods, and with the attitude they are showing in Africa, NEPAD is almost dead.

Our speaker then focused on South Africa where some money is spent on the acquisition of arms and equipment, but no money on training. Nevertheless the new class of black officers up to Captain, having been trained by members of the SADF, are keen and interested. Above them the ranks have been swelled by old comrades, not all of them capable or willing to serve the country, which forced the top Army General to appoint white officers if he wanted the jobs done properly. Other positive changes are also happening in the Defence Force, born out of the necessity to be able to defend this country effectively.

Rounding off his most interesting talk Helmoed Heitman listed arms, equipment, aircraft, tanks and ships which had either been ordered or were in the pipeline to equip our forces, making the general statement that things, although not improving worldwide, are at least slightly improving in this part of the continent.

Once again we are grateful to our Speaker for giving us a condensed picture of Africa and look forward to 2007 when, hopefully, he will be able to report on more positive changes within the Defence Force and maybe, just maybe, in Southern Africa as well.


In contrast, Colonel Lionel Crook delved into the past, when, exactly 63 years ago, the final battle of El Alamein in North Africa was fought. Presenting the first part of his talk, he brought history alive. Lionel described the preparations for the battle, concentrating on the part the South African units played, and closed with the night of the attack, showing drawings to illustrate his presentation. The second part of his most interesting talk will come early next year. Judging by the good turnout and the interest shown, this follow-on is eagerly awaited.

It is interesting to read what the German "Kriegstagebuch des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht" has to say about this night:

"The enemy attacked on evening of 23.10. after very heavy artillery bombardment along a ca. 10 km stretch on northern sector of Alamein front, south of the railway line, supported by abt. 150 tanks and many night bombers. He succeeded in breaking into the main battle area at various points. ...... Additional enemy units with abt. 160 tanks attacked on 24.10. on the southern sector and broke through the mine box about 8 km north of Himeimat. About 29 enemy tanks were reported destroyed........For the 25.10. more enemy attacks are expected."

The full review on both parts of Lionel's talk will appear in this Newsletter early next year.



Members please note that two Memorial Services for our old Member Cecil Graham will be held in Hout Bay on 3rd and 5th November 2006. Anyone wishing to attend is asked to contact Anthony Gordon at 021-671-4500.


At our last Meeting the Scribe informed us that he would not be available for re-election at the AGM next year and wishes to hand over his portfolio. He has carried his duties for over ten years and wants to concentrate on his writing. He has a contract with a UK Publisher to translate his father's military memoirs and condense the work into book format. He intends to have his collection of U-Boat anecdotes and stories: "The World War Two U-Boat Commander who did his shopping at Stuttafords" published locally and search for a publisher for his MS: "Saida Aleman", a faction novel about German POW in Egypt from 1945 to 1948.

Anyone interested to take over as Scribe is asked to contact the Chairman or any Committee member soonest.

The Scribe is still missing his MS with the title: "My Fortunate Years". Will the person who borrowed it please return it soonest?


Next Lecture:

9th November TRAGEDY AT KUFRA.
  Illustrated Talk by Francois de Wet on the disappearance of three SAAF Blenheims in North Africa in 1942 in which his uncle, Major de Wet, was lost
December In recess


Society Meetings are held on the 2nd Thursday of every month at 20h00 in the Recreation Room of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX Lower Nursery Road (off Liesbeek Parkway/Alma Road - traffic light), obliquely opposite Rosebank Railway Station. Secure parking inside premises. Visitors welcome. Entrance fee for visitors R 6,00. Tea and biscuits will be served.

Jochen (John) Mahncke
Tel.: 021-797-5167

South African Military History Society /