South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


Our speaker on 12th April was Mr Achilles Kallos, one of the foundation members of the Cape Town Branch of the SA Military Society and author of histories of the Greek War of Independence and of the Balkan Wars 1821 to 1922, who spoke about the Balkan Wars during the period 1821 to 1922. The Balkans have always been a turbulent area and have seen many wars over the centuries, not least in our own 20th century. Politics in the area have been and are very complex and volatile.

The period covered by Mr Kallos saw numerous wars not only between the states in the Balkans but also involving neighbouring states. Russia, Rumania, Italy and Bulgaria all interfered in Balkan affairs as did the two large empires bordering on the area - the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian Empires. The latter controlled the modern Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. The Turks at the beginning of the 19th century controlled Greece, Albania and other areas.

Adding fuel to the fires in the Balkans were the religious differences - Catholic versus Orthodox versus Moslem. These dated back to the Middle Ages when the Ottoman Empire was on the ascendant and the Byzantine Empire was collapsing. As in Ireland, such differences were and are useful ammunition for troublemakers!

Mr Kallos also spoke about the various leaders in the area, including kings, generals and politicians, giving the audience an insight on their part in the various wars. His lecture was supported by slides showing excellent maps of the various battles and campaigns as well as portraits of the leading protagonists - a very rough looking lot they were! These came from Mr Kallos' book. The royal houses of Bulgaria and Serbia came under the spotlight as did the Sultanate. The rise of the Young Turks movement was covered in some detail.

From a Greek point of view the most important war was the Greek War of Independence that took place in the years 1821 to 1833. Various foreign powers got involved - Britain, France and Russia destroyed the Turkish fleet at Navarino. At the end of this war, Greece existed as an independent country in more or less the same boundaries as the present state. This war had a great influence on other parts of the Ottoman Empire and was the cause of further conflict.

He then discussed the main battles and campaigns in the period 1828 to 1918, including Russia's involvement in 1827 and 1877 and including an account of the siege of Plevna. The First Balkan War of 1912 to 1913 as well as the Second Balkan War of 1913 were also discussed. Mr Kallos compared the military and naval strengths of the various countries during the 19th century, noting that the Greek Navy was able to keep the Ottoman Navy out the Aegean Sea. The Italians became involved in the Balkans towards the end of the period when they invaded Libya and colonised this part of the Ottoman Empire. They also occupied the Dodecanese Islands, only returned to Greece after 1945.

He then discussed the relations between King Constantine of Greece (1864 - 1923) and Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizilos (1864 -1936). The king wanted Greece to remain neutral during WW1 but the Prime Minister was more bellicose! Greece eventually came into the war when the Bulgarians decided to occupy Greek and Serbian territory. This gave rise to the Salonica campaign, involving Britain, France and Italy as well as assorted Balkan states. The Austro-Hungarians had invaded Serbia in 1915 and WW1 ended with the Macedonian Campaign in 1918.

The Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of the war and Turkey came under the leadership of Mustapha Kemal "Ataturk". Greece decided to invade Asia Minor in 1919, an act not to the liking of the major powers, and this resulted in the defeat of the Greeks and the expulsion of over one million Greeks from Turkish territory.

Questions followed and the chairperson, Derek O'Riley, thanked the speaker for a very interesting presentation.


Committee for 2007

The 2006 committee was re-elected at the AGM with the exception of Mr John Mahncke, who was not available for re-election. The Chairman is Mr Derek O'Riley. The Secretary/Treasurer is Bob Buser and the members are Messrs Mac Bisset, Tony Gordon and Johan van den Berg. The position of Vice Chairman is open.

Mr John Mahncke served on the committee for some 12 years. A familiar sight at our meetings, he was a tireless worker behind the scenes. He edited the newsletter, sent this out every month and did a host of other jobs relating to society matters, including keeping the members list up to date. All of this work has been divided out between the remaining committee members and I think that we are in for a shock when we contemplate the volume of work this entails! Thank you, John, for a job done superbly. We wish you every success with your father's memoirs and look forward to seeing it in print in the not too distant future. We are looking forward to your continued presence at our meetings.


Future Programmes:

Speaker: Colonel Lionel Crook
This is the second instalment of a two-part lecture. The first part was given in October 2006 to great acclaim and we look forward to the second part. The latter part of the battle covering the infantry breakthrough and the tank battles that followed, leading up to the final defeat of the Axis forces, will be discussed. Both the military aspects of the battle as well as the experiences of those taking part will be covered.
Speaker: Mr Colin Eglin
Well-known in SA political circles, Mr Eglin was leader of the Opposition. He served in the First City/Cape Town Highlanders with the 6th SA Armoured Division in Italy and took part in the Battle of Monte Stanco in 1945. He will be speaking about his service in Italy with particular reference to this battle, probably the fiercest battle in which South Africans were involved during WW2. This is provisional as we still await final confirmation from Mr Eglin.


Bob Buser (Secretary/Treasurer)
Phone: 021 689 1639 (home evenings) & 021 689 9771 (office mornings)

South African Military History Society /