South African Military History 

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

Newsletter No. 24 - September 2006.
Nuusbrief Nr. 24 - September 2006.

We had our usual good turn out of members exceeding thirty in number for our August meeting. Apologies were noted and Chairman Malcolm Kinghorn warmly welcomed a former National Chairman of the Society, Ian Copley , to the meeting. Chairman Malcolm noted that in September the Branch would have been in existence for two years and wondered if the event should be celebrated in any way? He added that the Prince Alfred's Guard's Regiment, known to all as the PAG would also be celebrating their 150th anniversary. Chris Papenfus also advised the gathering that he would be producing a series of fridge magnets and key rings which would depict scenes of Port Elizabeth and that he hoped to also produce a CD of similar nature. We await to see the efforts of his hard work and enterprise. Chairman Malcolm suggested that we consider that upon the termination of the usual and most interesting brief talks on Gallantry Awards made to South Africans that talks on time spent in the old SANDF be considered and that would include the history of the various SANDF regiments.

Gallantry Awards.- Capt. Quentin George Murray Smythe, VC.

Mike Duncan told of a remarkable man. Smythe was one of only four South Africans who in the last war won this award and the only one to win it whilst serving in the South Africa Forces. Natal born and bred, his Grandfather was a former Administrator of that Province, he came from a farming background. He earned his VC where he was deployed on the Gazala Line in North Africa. On the 5th June 1942 he found himself, through circumstance, taking over command of his platoon. Following the evacuation of his wounded commanding officer Smythe led his platoon in the face of determined fire where he took over a strongly defended Italian position. He dispatched a number of the enemy and silenced a machine gun post. He then fought a retreat for the next one and a half hours and withdrew to safety. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry. After the second war he returned to farming but later re-joined the Permanent Force and was involved in the South West African campaign in the late 1970's. A remarkable record spanning three decades and where he was the only person in uniform to have the honour of wearing the Victoria Cross. The Victoria Cross is the only medal that enjoys precedence over a South African medal. He died in 1977.

Curtain Raiser - Elephants in War - Prof. Pat Irwin

Pat has an avid interest in these huge beasts and has an intimate knowledge of the Addo herd, its origins and times to the present day. The subject is close to him hence that his delivery on this magnificent animal and its use over thousands of years in warfare was of great interest. Pat stated that the elephant was used in four ways. In battle, for logistical purposes, for engineering purposes and also finally for diplomatic and ceremonial purposes. Elephants were first tamed in the Indus Valley about 4000 years ago and their peak use was in the period between 400BC and 700 AD. One of the most celebrated occasions of the use of elephants was when Hannibal crossed The Alps with 30 African elephants in 218 BC. They however played no role in the great Hannibal victories over the Romans for they had by that time all died of disease and overwork. Much has been gained from various sources on the history of these elephants. They are written of in ancient scripts, they appear on old coinage, stone carvings and on woodcuts, tapestries, mosaics and drawings.

In time of war elephants were often used to trample the enemy and or stampede opposing cavalry. They charged at speed and were not easily stopped and the infantry line stood little chance in the path of an elephant. They were difficult to neutralize and through their size horses and camels ran off in fear and panic. Elephants were taught to seize the enemy and with their trunks they would pass the unfortunate enemy over to the rider who would execute the victim from on high. In times of war the elephant was also used as a lookout post. At that height archers and javelin throwers had a decided advantage in overlooking the enemy from a high vantage point. With the growth of the Roman Empire the use of this beast in war largely disappeared though it continued to be used in the East for the next 1500 years.

The elephant is still found in matters cultural and the "Jungle Book "by Kipling and the recent "Lord of the Rings" are but two examples. They are quoted in poetry, in art and are found in gaming pieces such as Chinese Chess. They also form part of heraldry and examples are The Duke of Wellington's Regimental badge and also on the Thai Army flag. The elephants have however paid a high price in war. Where in early times fighting was conducted hand to hand the beast was able to boost muscle power and cause great confusion and panic amongst the ranks. We would term this psychological warfare today. On occasion they could however be as much a danger to their own side as the smell of blood was inclined to drive the beast into a frenzy and almost self induced panic.

The next time you take the family to the circus and you see an elephant performance remember that the elephant once was a war like creature and can still be!

The Main Lecture - Wargaming - A Way of recreating the Past - Dave Whitehouse.

Dave can claim to have beaten Wellington at Waterloo and lost all his carriers at Midway! Such is the game that has enthralled him since he was a teenager. It is not so much the game itself that is played with a set of rules and dice but also the research that one undertakes before playing any game of this nature. The game really had its first beginnings in 1811 when Baron Von Reisswitz was granted an audience and the Chief of Prussian Staff, Von Muffling, was decidedly impressed and excited by the outcome of what was then a game played with basic figures in a sand box. The game has since evolved to the extent that forces throughout the world have developed and planned intended engagements against their enemy by simply playing out the actions before time. Indeed it was said by US Admiral Nimitz of Pacific fame that the war against Japan had been re-enacted by many people in many rooms and in so many ways that nothing the Japanese did was a real surprise. The only curved ball was the introduction of the Kamikazes towards the end of the war.

Dave then set up and displayed a practical example of wargaming. This was an enactment of a battle between SANDF troops and FAPLA / Cuban forces in Angola in about 1987. Each side had its strengths. A well motivated and equipped South African unit, albeit short of air strike supports, against troops that had low morale, little training but aided by superior air support. Dave took us through the sequence of events and brought in troops, including the legendary 32 Battalion and the mechanized battalion and included from the opposing side an attack made by the superior MIG jets on the SANDF units. This was a classic quality versus quantity situation. The realities of the game should reflect the situation of the ground. There was dense bush which affected all the players, the SANDF could listen in to the Cubans and jam their radio at will; they were also free to change battle orders where as the Cubans etc reported to a centralized control. Prompt decisions were not readily made.

The game is a great hobby though perhaps expensive. The miniatures come at a price be they tanks, soldiers and/or aircraft. They are painted and adorned in the correct colours which in itself is a labour of love. Dave was questioned at the end of his presentation on what let Rommel down in North Aftrica in the last war. He was of the opinion that the German provision lines were too long and that the German Army's efforts could not be sustained over that terrain and climate. Dave had on display a number of his miniatures and it is amazing to think that these, when played out in a wargaming situation, actually can play out a battle to its logical conclusion!

Next Meeting

Thursday 14th September, 19.30 hours, at the usual venue of The Prince Alfred's Guard's Drill Hall, Central, in Port Elizabeth.


Curtain Raiser - The Cuchi Tunnels - Ken Stewart.
Main Lecture - Battleships - Barry De Klerk.

Ian Pringle
Scribe / Secretary.

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