South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


Our speaker on 10th August 2006 was Rodney Warwick who presented an account on threat perceptions and strategies during the 1960s, and the SADF's assessments and responses, based on the research he is doing for his doctoral thesis.

The peaceful decolonization of Ghana in 1957 had been followed by bloodshed and chaos in the Congo and the murder of Portuguese settlers in Angola in 1960-1961.

These were used by the South African Government to justify its apartheid policy.

Rodney discussed the SADF general staff in 1960 and pointed out that the Commandant-General from 1958-1960 was General S.A. Melville, a brother-in-law of J.G. Strydom, the Prime-Minister from 1954 until 1958.

After their victory in the General Election in 1948, the Nationalist Government had taken steps to make the UDF more acceptable to Afrikaner nationalists and established within the Defence Force a politically motivated "cultural organization", the "Afrikaner Vereniging Volk and Verdediging" under the chairmanship of Colonel (later General) R.C. Hiemstra. The Minister of Defence, Mr. F.C. Erasmus, had revived traditional republican forces' ranks like field-cornet and commandant, designed new uniforms, medals and decorations, and replaced monarchist designations, symbols and badges. Many non-nationalists of both language groups had resigned in disgust.

During the 1950s the UDF was re-equipped, the SA Army with 200 Centurion tanks, and the SAAF with Vampire and Sabre jet fighters, while a limited ballot national service was introduced from 1953. Negotiations occurred with the British government for the Union to provide forces for the protection of the Middle East in the event of global war. This was never ratified and Erasmus' half-hearted diplomatic overtures were effectively rebuffed, while the SADF was increasingly run down by poor management. The State of Emergency after Sharpville in March 1960 exposed these weaknesses which Mr. J.J. Fouché, who had been appointed Minister of Defence in December 1960, set about attempting to rectify, including drawing both white communities into feeling some sense of belonging with the SADF. Mobile Watch PF units and CF traditional units played a role in the enforcement of the State of Emergency. Under the new minister non-Nationalists were given a share of promotions, and white unity was encouraged, although under explicit Afrikaner national leadership and vision. The military service ballot system was extended throughout the early 1960s.

One of Mr. Erasmus' most memorable achievements was the Simon's Town agreement which resulted in the handing over of the RN base at Simon's Town to South Africa in 1957, although the RN retained the right to use it in war and peace. It also resulted in the purchase of new ships by the SA Navy from British shipyards but was couched to the advantage of the British government as the NP were desperate to retain such military/diplomatic arrangements against increasing international hostility to apartheid. During the 1960s East/West relations were extremely strained over Britain and the development of the submarine-launched nuclear armed missile (SLBM), changing strategic options in a possible global nuclear war.

Rodney then discussed the perceived threats to the RSA as identified by the SADF High Command at that time. Guerilla warfare in Vietnam and Algeria were regularly noted both in terms of insurgency and decolonization. He pointed out that there were some marked similarities between Algerian and South African issues.

Most Umkhonto We Sizwe sabotage attacks were carried out between 1961 and early 1962, and continued until May 1963. SADF commanders were told by military Intelligence that groups of guerillas were to be landed at the coast of the Transkei and Pondoland after unrest in the latter, following some of the "Operation Mayebuye" evidence led at the Rivonia trial. These purported operations and suspected Soviet offshore collaborative naval activity, which was regularly mentioned in SADF intelligence reports, resulted in intensive air and sea patrols. SAAF Sabre jets were used to intercept aircraft using SA airspace without permission, after two of the Rivonia detainees, Messrs. Goldreich and Wolpe, escaped from prison and fled the country.

Arguably the best known sabotage operation was carried out by the African Resistance Movement; the Johannesburg station bomb planted by John Harris who was arrested, tried and executed. Documents studied by Rodney Warwick as part of his research, including intelligence reports on the future role of the ARM in October 1964 and potential ANC/PAC plans to attack the RSA, Poqo attacks on whites in Paarl and the Transkei seemed similar to those of the PNLA in Angola and the Mau Mau in Kenya. Poqo violence was at its worst between November 1962 and February 1963.

The overthrow of the Sultan of Zanzibar in January 1964 was believed by SA Military Intelligence officers to have been instigated by Communist China. The ANC's, MK and PAC's Poqo military training camps were established near Dar-es-Salaam and Tanzania and mentioned in many SADF threat perception appraisals, particularly because of the Chinese presence there.

In the event of another world war it was clear that South Africa's strategic position and the Cape Sea route would be as important as ever. Soviet Russia's interest in South Africa was confirmed by regular submarine sightings and purported spying by his ships. Articles in the SADF monthly magazine "Commando" speculated as to how the RSA would be positioned regarding atomic warfare.

Conventional new threat perceptions included two forms of military interventions by the UN: a sea-launched attack on the RSA to end its apartheid policy, or amphibious assaults on South West Africa through Walvis Bay to end South Africa's mandate. The capacity of the Afro-Asian block to mount such attacks was investigated. India's invasion of Portuguese Goa made it a potential threat, and World's opinion no longer supported Colonial powers. Another concern was the RSA's vulnerability to air attack.

The SADF responded quickly to the threat perception. There was a considerable increase in the acquisition of conventional warfare equipment. An SADF popularization campaign culminated in a huge Republic Day military parade in 1966. Conscription for all 18 year old white males was introduced in 1967 and a formidable full time force of initial service national servicemen was established.

After the assassination of Dr. Verwoerd, Mr. B.J. Vorster was elected Prime Minister by his party. Vorster viewed the SA Police as the country's first line of defence and sent contingents to Rhodesia to counter the ANC insurgency that accompanied anti-Rhodesian guerillas. During August 1972 in a top secret operation the submarine SAS Emily Hobhouse landed SA commandos in Dar-es-Salaam where their successful operations were thought to be the work of the opposition party there.

We are really indebted to Rodney for his well-presented and fascinating talk.


The Scribe regrets that in the last Newsletter he credited Rodney with only three talks he presented to the Society. In fact he gave four talks altogether.


Mr. Helmoed Heitman's excellent and informative talk on - and evaluation of - the current political and military situation in Africa, and elsewhere, will be reviewed in our November Newsletter. SPECIAL NOTICES:

Last month's AEROSPACE AND AFRICAN DEFENCE EXHIBITION at AFB Ysterplaat was, by all accounts, an outstanding success. Fellow Member Johan van den Berg, who organized and manned a combined stand for our Society and the Southern Africa Militaria Collectors' Association (SAMCA) will give us a review which will be included in our November Newsletter. The Cape Town Branch wishes to congratulate the organizers and all those responsible to make it the success it was as well as thank them for the opportunity to promote our organization.

The 5th "WAR AND SOCIETY IN AFRICA CONFERENCE", was held by the Faculty of Military Science University of Stellenbosch, Saldanha, from 13th to 15th September 2006. The Cape Town Branch of the SA Military History Society was represented by Colonel Lionel Crook, Commander Mac Bisset and Rodney Warwick who all presented papers on the theme of "South Africa and World War Two".

Forthcoming Lectures:

  Speaker: Colonel Lionel Crook
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 /