South African Military 
History Society


August 2006

The DDH talk was given by our member Brian Hoffman, entitled "Naval Traditions".

They were mainly of Britain's Royal Navy, which were handed down to the South African navy. The term Admiral derives from around the year 1300 and the Cinque ports of England. A "Yellow " admiral was one who was given no ships to command. The admirals had special flags: a red cross on a white background with two balls, one ball or no balls at all. Originally the ensign flags were red, blue or white; a decision was made to introduce only the white ensign due to the fact that the limp French tricolour could be confused for a limp blue or red ensign.

A midshipman was called a Snotty because his jacket cuffs had 3 buttons to prevent him from wiping his nose on his sleeve. A middle had the status of a Dungbeetle, and they were also called warts and crabs. A doggie was the aide to the Captain and was so called because he always followed one pace behind the Captain awaiting orders.

Arriving in a foreign port was a wonderful formality. The bugle would call 'extend', ladders would be lowered; crew would line the decks and man their stations. Everything happened simultaneously. Flags would run up the mast, anchors would be dropped and honours would be paid if necessary. Officers would be invited ashore to visit local officials while dignitaries would be invited aboard for lunch or a cocktail party on the quarterdeck. There would always be a formal dance with girls from the local Technical College or hospital being the partners for the officers.

Rum was introduced after the capture of Jamaica in 1665 to replace brandy and wine. It was found that rum matured better than brandy or wine at sea. In 1731 the issue was half a pint per man per day. The term Grog was for rum diluted with water. Admiral Vernon who was known as Old Grog from his wearing of Grogum clothing introduced this practise.

A ship's displacement is measured in tuns - which is the number of tuns (casks) of beer that can be loaded. An admiral was issued with 1700 gallons per year: equivalent to about 270 glasses per day. The consequence of this was that many suffered from gout. In the various 'Messes' toasts would be drunken sitting down due to the fact that the decks of the square-riggers were so low that if they stood up they would bump their heads. From 1914 officers would stand for the toast "God save the King" after a sail past review by Queen Victoria in the Royal Yacht and she asked that they stand for the toast. [The French navy used to toast Little Black Monmouth, a brave British seaman.]

Some of the daily toasts would include:

Some of the etiquette in a formal mess:
The bosun's whistle stems from Babylon where it was used to call the crossbowmen. A corpse would be piped ashore. Winston Churchill was the only civilian to be piped aboard. Gun salutes originally were powder and ball. Celebration would be held on odd numbers while funerals are on even numbers.

Queen Victoria was unhappy with bare heads when saluting. The naval sword hangs below the belt after the navy refused an order. The wife or girlfriend of an officer always walks on the left hand side of an officer to enable the officer to protect him and her by drawing his sword with his right hand. In the British forces it is always the Navy, being the 'Senior Service" which would pull the gun carriage at a funeral.

The Main talk was by Bill Brady, entitled: "Operation Sea Lion (the invasion that never was)"

The German invasion of the West had been so successful, and the collapse of the British and French so fast, that Hitler was taken by surprise. He had not planned for an invasion of Britain. After the Dunkirk debacle Hitler expected the Britain to sue for peace. This did not happen. He was faced with a dilemma. His strategic aims were continental Europe; he had never envisioned a long term war with Britain; the Kriegsmarine was severely weakened after the Norwegian campaign; but to defeat Britain his army must cross the English Channel. The landings were to be between Hastings and Folkestone in Kent. This required control of the waterway. But this was only possible with total air superiority.

How serious was the threat of invasion? Was it real? Was Hitler bluffing? In the Reichstag speech of July 19, 1940 he offered to negotiate a peace with Britain. But Churchill would never accept (no matter how good the terms). Hitler now had no choice; he gave the order to plan operation Sea Lion, the Invasion.

During the retreat from Dunkirk the British army had lost 90 000 rifles, 1 000 heavy guns, 38 000(!!) motor vehicles, and 7 000 tons of ammunition; but 250 000 men got back (thanks to the Royal Navy). The British government bought half a million rifles from the USA. The British troops were untrained, no defence plan was yet in place, but as each day passed the army grew stronger and the defences were hardened under the direction of General Alan Brooke.

The question was: who would win the race? Could the German navy build/convert the invasion vessels fast enough? Could the Luftwaffe destroy the RAF and take control of the skies over the Channel? August came, bringing with it an all-out attack on the Channel ports, then came the attack on the airfields and radar sites. Eagle Day had arrived, the Battle of Britain had begun. This would be decisive. Dowding's strategy saved Britain. He had refused to squander RAF fighters in the French debacle. For this resistance, Churchill never forgave him.

The RAF bombers attacked the German ports and barges. The RAF was receiving plenty of new aircraft, but the pilots were exhausted. Then Churchill orders a bomber raid on Berlin. Hitler responds by diverting the air attacks to London (thus saving the airfields from total destruction). The code-breakers at Bletchley were saviours, together with the 120-mile radar. Goering's attack therefore fails. Operation Sea Lion is cancelled due to the Luftwaffe not controlling the skies. But was Sea Lion a huge bluff? The plan was hopelessly flawed, there was inadequate preparation, there was no combined staff, there was no craft that could operate over open beaches. And if the landings were successful, there may have been a counterattack (planned by Montgomery), and there was the flaming oil and poison gas installed on the beaches.

Compare this strange episode of "no plan" with Fal Gelb, the invasion of the West, and the destruction of Fortress Eben Emael. For these there was detail and precision: and the invasion of Normandy on D-Day 1944; this took 2 years of planning. Perhaps it is best summed up in the statement that the plan for Sea Lion required 4 000 horses to land in the first wave for transportation. Hitler was not serious.

As a post-script one should remember Churchill's speech of June 4, 1940. " We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds........ we shall never surrender". Lord Halifax and Lord Lothian proposed that they accept Hitler's 'appeal to common sense' of July 19. The Cabinet Documents have critical paragraphs blanked out! The aim was to preserve the Empire. To continue the war must lead to financial ruin: and this indeed is where Churchill led the country.

The victory at the Battle of Britain eliminated the threat of Sea Lion. Hitler turned to plans for Barbarossa. Britain soon faced the DAK in North Africa, lost Singapore and Malaya, and Tobruk. It was the ULTRA code-breakers and American arms that saved Britain from disaster, just as they had in 1940.

Vote of Thanks

Our Chairman Adrian thanked the speakers for their talks of a nautical nature. Traditions are complex things, without system or rational order. They are certainly entertaining, especially with so much grog floating around. What was most interesting about Operation Sea Lion was that it never happened (and the reasons why) and that probably it was never meant to be.

(In the question and answer time there was discussion about the Cabinet Documents that became available in 1988, and what did occur at that key meeting of the War Cabinet. This is described in the book by David Irving.

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THURSDAY, 10 August


DDH: Mike Laing will give a talk on "The importance of General Smuts in World War 2.

The Main Talk is by Lt. Col. Graeme Fuller entitled "Behind the scenes at the Edinburgh Tattoo."

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Other events:

23 - 25 September: Battle re-enactments, Dundee. For details phone 034 2122121 ext 2262

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Information Required:

1. Allan Jackson cell 082 588 2151 would like information about troops, casualties from WW2 buried in the Hillary Military Cemetery. In which hospital were they patients? What did they die of etc

2. Allan Jackson cell 082 588 2151 would like information about Stamford Hill Aerodrome, the SAAF base and RAF Training School of WW 2

3. Robin Taylor e-mail is trying to trace information about Troopers George and Daniel Rumbell/Rumble, part of the Cape Frontier Mounted Police in the Eastern Cape from 1862 to 1867.

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1st weekend in AUGUST, being the 5/6th AUGUST. Please make a note in your diaries for this important change in dates. The tour this year will be on BULLERS ADVANCE FROM LADYSMITH, and will cover the battles at HELPMEKAAR, BOTHA'S PASS and ALLEMANSNEK. More details will be given in future newsletters, but KEN GILLINGS is planning to get 2 teams from our members to consider the problems faced by both BOER and BRITISH forces. The aim is to have a great fun weekend, with very little preparation, in order to have reactions to the reality of those events. Those wishing to take part should contact KEN GILLINGS on 083-654-5880 or 031-702-4828.

FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: August - October 2006

5/6 Aug
TOUR - Bullers Advance from Ladysmith
Ken Gillings - Organiser - 083-654-5880

10 August
DDH - The Curragh Mutiny, 1914 - Brian Kennedy
MAIN - The History of the Zulu Military - Dr Ingrid Machin

14 Sept
Base Visit - NFA HQ
Ken Gillings- Organiser

12 Oct
DDH - Brian Kennedy - The Curragh Mutiny, 1914
MAIN - Paul Kilmartin - The Battle of the Somme


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Some Committee contact details
Mike Laing 031-205-1951
Phil Everitt 031-261-5751 (after hours)
Adrian van Schaik 082-894-8122 (after hours)
Bill Brady 031-561-5542 or 083 228 5485
Ken Gillings 083-654-5880

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South African Military History Society /