South African Military 
History Society


April 2007

This evening's DDH talk was by Capt Brian Hoffman: The Naval Battle of Copenhagen; 2 April 1801. The politics behind this battle begins in December 1800 when Russia, Prussia, Sweden, and Denmark (including Norway), backed by France, formed a free-trade pact in opposition to Britain. Britain retaliated by sending a fleet to the Baltic, under Sir Hyde-Parker, with Nelson as 2IC. [Parker was 62 years old, and had recently married an 18-year old girl. He had served mainly in the warm West Indies.] The fleet had a terrible crossing of the North Sea, cold and ice. They reached the Kattegat. The Danes rejected an ultimatum, so Nelson recommended an immediate attack. "The Danes have 600 guns, they look formidable. I can annihilate them" said Nelson. There was a minor problem: the British had no reliable charts. So the Amazon spent two nights surveying The Sound and laying buoys.

Nelson's plan was to take twelve ships to the south of the Middle Ground shoal and when the wind changed to sail northward blasting the Danish fleet as he moved. He sailed south on April 1, 1801, and when the wind changed on April 2 he advanced north. To his surprise, the Danish resistance was far greater than expected. The low-lying floating batteries with the better-than-expected gunners gave trouble. Things seemed to be critical, so Parker sent a flag signal: You have permission to disengage. He knows that Nelson will fight on if he can and wants to. (Nelson put his telescope to his blind eye to read this 'disengage/recall' signal.)

Captain Riou withdraws the frigates from bombarding Trekoner fortress, but he is killed. (a tragic loss to the British navy). By about 14.00 the Danish fire slackens, Nelson offers a truce, and negotiations begin for an armistice. Tzar Paul of Russia has just been assassinated, making negotiations easier because he was the most forceful member of The League. On May 5 Nelson replaced Parker as CinC and by October 1801 peace was formal.

The Russian fleet never interfered although it was in Tallinn. As for Copenhagen, in 1807 the British who demanded that they give their navy to England, again bombarded it.

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The Main talk was by Lt.Col. Argyle of the Royal Logistics Corps. He spoke on: The Falklands War of 1982, as seen through the eyes of a young subaltern logistician: his. The political background to the Argentine invasion of the Falklands is long and complex. The British government had for more than 10 years been negotiating with the Argentine government about the possibility of incorporating the islands into the Argentine. The islands are 8000 sea miles from Britain and 400 from the Argentine mainland. Britain in 1982 was in a dire economic situation. The Tory government was planning a 40% reduction in the navy. The last major war for the army was Suez in 1956, with an amphibious assault. The infantry meanwhile had received good training in Northern Ireland.

All seemed quiet during March 1982, there was no sign that the Argentineans would invade. Then suddenly: on 2 April, prepare a plan for mobilization! This involved 9000 tons of supplies. British Rail could not cope. So 600 road trucks had to be "borrowed" to move the supplies to Plymouth. The loading was complete in three days, a great achievement. But the order was no good, so everything had to be unpacked and repacked when the ship got to Ascension Island in mid April. The regiment sailed on 6 April in the RFA Sir Galahad, a flat-bottomed LSL, not the best in stormy seas.

On the way south from UK the London Marathon team kept busy running the 26 mile course set out on the deck. There was a terrain briefing: "Islands- where? " There was first aid training, after years of injecting oranges. Radio procedures were improved; even so the army was still bothered by fake messages sent by the Argentines. The French air force helped in a practical way by arranging practice dogfight exercises for the Harriers on the way to the Falklands. WideAwake airfield on Ascension Island suddenly became busiest in the world. (There is a photograph showing: Boeing 707, Hercules, HP Victor tankers, Vulcan bomber, scores of helicopters.)

At this stage USA General Al Haig was trying to arrange a diplomatic solution. The British ships are sailing in circles in the Atlantic because of the threat of submarines. The weather was miserable, cold, windy, raining. The logistic staff was hopelessly undermanned. The Commando Logistics Regiment needed at least 600 trained men, yet had only 350 for this deployment to the Falklands. And the regiment ended up being required to support twice the normal number.

Impossible! But it was done. The April interregnum came and went. The Island of South Georgia was retaken on 26 April, with the Argentine submarine Sante Fe being crippled by a Sea Scua missile fired by a helicopter. Things were hotting up.

Next came the major landings on 21 May at San Carlos Water and at Ajax Bay, where the Command Log. Regiment set up shop to supply three Commandos AND 2 and 3 Para. The forklifts burned out from overwork, as did the drivers (a lesson that we forget. You can't work men continuously 20 hours per day.) The Argentine Air Force attacks vigorously. Ardent is sunk; Antelope is sunk; then Coventry and Atlantic Conveyer, but it costs them more than 20 aircraft. Bombs hit many ships but they escaped destruction because the bombs were incorrectly fused and did not explode due to the Argentinean air force flying so low that the fuses did not have time to unwind. The BBC duly announced this to the world, and so the Argentineans corrected their errors.

On 28 May the Commandos take Goose Green after a bloody struggle. There was a shortage of 105 artillery rounds due to the sinking of the container ship Atlantic Conveyor. New supplies were liberated when an Argentine ammunition dump was over run. POW's may not be used for military work. The POW's volunteered to move ammo to clear the sheep-shearing shed. There was an explosion, and a POW was engulfed in flames, being burned alive. A British soldier shot him. Two years later a court of enquiry cleared the soldier of all possible charges.

On 8 June the Welsh Guards were to be transported on Sir Galahad to Fitzroy/ Bluff Cove. There was a delay of several hours in the landing and both Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram were hit. The Welsh Guards suffered 50 dead and 200 wounded, mainly burns. 11 June was the assault on Stanley. The men had carried two day's rations and 1500 rounds of ammo for a "yomp" across 90 miles of rough terrain.

On 14 June the Argentineans surrendered. The log support had made it possible but it was touch and go they were down to their last rounds and if the battle had carried on for any longer they would have had to withdraw. The Volvo BV tracked snowmobiles saved us by operating successfully over the soft peat bogs. There were no roads. The troops had to slog it out with wet feet in wet boots. The Medics were amazing; they carried on with 3 unexploded bombs in the roof above them. There were now thousands of POW's. One of the Argentine officers had been at Camberly and owned a house in England that was at present rented out to officers at the Staff College.

Lessons? Oh yes. Had all of the Argentine bombs that struck the ships exploded, the British would have been forced to withdraw. Truly this was a close run thing. And was it worth the deaths of 250 men and the loss of so many ships? Yes, politically. It also offered valuable lessons to learn. Unfortunately eight years later at Ryad, they had still not been learned.

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Vote of Thanks

Paul Kilmartin thanked the speakers for their talks: Brian for the graphically detailed description of the action and the amusing anecdotes of the life in those times. Lt Col. Argyle was thanked for his firsthand impressions of the Falkland war and for really bringing home how critical the Logistics are in an operation such as this.

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THURSDAY, 12th April 2007


ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING will be held first and then we will continue with the program

DDH: Gordon of Khartoum presented by Dave Matthews this is an excellent talk not to be missed

Main Talk: WW2 Battlefields Revisited by Charles Whiteing. Some photos here are really amazing

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* 30th March - Scottish evening at the DLI. For further information please contact Lt Col Fuller

* 1st April - Swartkop Challenge at Wagon Hill, Ladysmith. Thanks to Charles Aikenhead for giving the society a detailed breakdown of the event.

* 12th April - AGM. The Society will be asking paid up members to vote for the 2007 committee and chairman. This will take place prior to the talks on that day. If anyone should wish to stand on the committee please would they pass their nomination to Ken Gillings prior to the day.

* 14th April - Highland Gathering at Fort Nottingham. Thanks to David Fox for giving the society a detailed breakdown of the event.

* 27th April - Highland gathering at Amanzimtoti.

* August - Battlefield tour at Elandslaagte. Hotel cost about R260 per person. For further details please contact Ken Gillings

Something different:

Launch of the new medal series
A colourful parade took place on Tuesday 29 April 2003, constituting a very visible identity change for the SANDF. During this parade, General Nyanda presented the new SANDF flags and emblem to the senior echelon of the SANDF, as well as the representative groupings of members of all Services and Divisions. On this day the new medal series was also presented to General Nyanda.

New Medals

Bravery/Gallantry Medals
Merit Medals

General Service medal

Long Service Medal

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10th May
DDH - Philip Everitt - The other side of Gen Sir Charles Warren
MAIN - Nicholas Schofield - Napoleon's invasion of Egypt, 1798. Its influence on European tastes

14th June
DDH - Maj Adrian van Schaik - Some SANDF A & B Vehicles
MAIN - Robin Taylor - Yorktown 1781. The Last Battle of the Revolution

12th July
DDH - Mike Laing - Who is it? (quiz)
MAIN - Brian Kennedy - The English Civil War in Ireland


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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 /