South African Military History 

South African Military History Society Eastern Cape Branch
Suid Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging Oos Kaap Tak

Newsletter No. 20: - May 2006.
Nuusbrief Nr. 20: - Mei 2006.

We had a change of venue this last month and met at the SAAF War Museum which is situated behind the Port Elizabeth Airport. The good reason being that the Curtain Raiser was being presented by one of their own members and the surrounds were appropriate for the occasion.

Chairman Malcolm Kinghorn welcomed the large group of 39 persons to the meeting which besides members included a number of others from the SAAF Museum. Apologies were noted and Malcolm reported that the local branch membership now stood at a very healthy 47 members. Announcements that followed were that we would now hold our Annual General Meeting on Thursday 11th May and the Trooping of The Colour will take place at the Grey High School at 16,00 hrs on the 19th May. The Tour Group that will leaving in May for Fort Fordyce, Alice and Keiskamma Hoek has been finalized and 13 members will be taking part.

Malcolm gave early warning of the Main Lecture that will take place on the 9th November which will cover The Battle of Delville Wood. Ian Uys, a member and the leading authority on this engagement, will present the talk. It is a battle, which took place 90 years ago, that figures well in our military history and it is a talk that should not be missed.

The Society has embarked on a fresh approach. We will no longer remember the Month in History but will now deal with Gallantry Awards made to South Africans as part of our evening discussions. On this occasion Mike Duncan dealt with South Africa's most decorated man. He is Capt. Andrew Beauchamp - Proctor, VC, DSO, MC and Bar,and DFC. ( quite an awesome mouthful is it not ! ). Mike presented an interesting slide show on this diminutive pilot who was credited with 38 kills in the time he took to the skies against the Germans in the First War. In old measurement he was only 5' 2" in height !. He was born in Mosselbay and died at a young age in the United Kingdom in 1921. He initially joined The Dukes in the old South West Africa campaign as he had been turned down for the Air Force. He however persisted and joined Major Alistair Miller's Royal Flying Corps and from there he flew in France . He was awarded the Victoria Cross for shooting down 16 German observation balloons. His death was tragic. After the War he was flying an aircraft in which he did a loop. Being of small stature he sat and was propped up on cushions. The cushions then fell out of the aircraft and he was not able to control the airplane and he plummeted to his death. How sad should such a highly decorated man end his days in a rather unusual manner.

The Curtain Raiser.
The curtain raiser on the unmasking of the Zero fighter was by Geoff Hamp-Adams on the evaluation of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero-sen by the USA. This Japanese navy fighter was by far the most important Japanese warplane of the Second World War. Code-named "Zeke" by the Allies, but generally known as the Zero, it demolished all opposition it encountered in the early stages of the war and succeeded in creating a myth of invincibility such has seldom been created by any other weapon system.

The first prototype flew on 1 April 1939. Relatively under powered, it carried two 20 mm cannon in the wings and two Vickers Mk V machine guns above the nose and had a range of 1850 kms. It was the first aircraft ever to be fitted with drop tanks, which were made of wood and laminated cardboard. Its markedly superior maneuverability and firepower made it a formidable opponent.

Although deployed operationally in China in July 1940, it was virtually unknown when it burst onto the scene during the attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941. It subsequently appeared all over the Pacific Theatre and easily overcame the Allied fighters it encountered. It contributed more than any other weapon to Japanese ascendancy during the first 18 months of the war in the Pacific.

By a rare stroke of good fortune, a Zero which had been deployed on a diversionary mission during the Battle of Midway in June 1942, crash landed in the Aleutian Islands and was recovered and restored to flying condition by the Americans. Evaluation of the aircraft revealed how formidable an aircraft the Zero was and was invaluable in the development of Allies counter measures.

Geoff's well illustrated talk included photographs of the aircraft as found, during recovery and restoration and flying with American markings. The presentation did justice to Geoff's reputation as an aircraft enthusiast.

Main Lecture

The Boy Colonel of the Confederacy

John Stevens, a new member and on the Staff at Rhodes University, presented his talk on an individual who at a very young age rose to a high rank in the Confederate Army. It was a talk presented on video and slides and with sound effects resonating from a pitched battle between Confederate and Union Armies of the American Civil War. It was awesome and those members with a strong military background felt very much at home! Henry King Burgwyn, Jr (1841-63), known as "Harry", who was the youngest Colonel in the Confederate Army at the time, died at the age of 21 while leading the 26th North Carolina Regiment into action at the Battle of Gettysburg. A talented young man whose maturity, courage and strength of character belied his years.

Harry's family background was rich in the traditions of both the North and the South - his mother came from a prominent Boston family, and his father, a member of North Carolina's elite had Northern blood as well. Harry attended schools in both parts of the country. Although influenced by family loyalties to each side, he remained an ardent Southern and North Carolina patriot at the outbreak of the Civil War.

Harry was commissioned as a captain after graduating from the Virginia Military Institute. His sense of military discipline and outstanding leadership qualities led to his rapid promotion to Major and Commander of Camp Carolina, and by August 1861 he achieved the rank of Lt Colonel of the 26th North Carolina Regiment at the age of 19. A year later he succeeded Zebulon Baird Vance as Colonel, just short of turning 21.

On the first day of the battle of Gettysburg Harry led his regiment in an attack on Brigadier General Meridith's crack "Iron Brigade". Harry was mortally wounded in the engagement. This sustained attack, against almost hopeless odds, is still regarded as one of the most heroic events of the war.

His regiment had less than 200 men standing out of 875 by the end of the engagement, and this was whittled down to less than 90 when the regiment saw further action in "Pickets Charge" on the final day of the battle. This resulted in a total loss figure of approx 86%; the highest loss recorded for any regiment North or South, for a single battle during the entire war.

He was buried in a gun case in the shade of a large walnut tree near the site of the engagement, and was finally laid to rest in the Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh, North Carolina in 1867 after major effort with the authorities on the part of his parents. He died one of the most respected and distinguished officers in the Confederacy and one can only wonder what he might have achieved in life had he survived.

Next Meeting - Thursday 11th May with the venue being that of our meeting room at The PAG Drill Hall and with the usual commencement time of 19,30 hrs

Speakers Roster for our next meeting
Our topics for the evening will cover the following,

Ian Pringle
Scribe / Secretary.

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