South African Military 
History Society


September 2007

Contact: Mike Laing 031 205 1951
Bill Brady 031 561 5542

The DDH talk titled "The Battle of the Nile" was delivered by fellow member Captain Brian Hoffman;
In January 1798 French land forces and a substantial fleet gathered in the French Mediterranean port of Toulon. It was apparent to the British government that Napoleon intended to invade some part of the Mediterranean, but it was not clear where. In February 1798 Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson arrived at Gibraltar to command operations against Napoleon's expeditionary force. On 9th May Nelson sailed in his flagship HMS Vanguard with a small squadron under orders to discover where Napoleon's fleet and army were bound. On 20th May a powerful storm struck Nelson's squadron. The squadron was dispersed, the frigates returning to Gibraltar and Vanguard refitted in a Sicilian port in an astonishingly short period of 4 days. While Nelson was storm bound, the French expedition unexpectedly sailed from Toulon heading south east, provoking a frenzied search by the British. Napoleon intended to take Malta and then invade Egypt, providing support to Tipoo Sultan in his fight with the British and restoring French influence.

Nelson received substantial reinforcements and set sail immediately for Egypt with a fleet of thirteen 74 gun ships. He failed to find the French and returned to Sicily. On receiving confirmation that the French were in Egypt, Nelson again sailed for the Egyptian coast, reaching Alexandria on 1st August 1798, to find the port filled with French transport vessels and French warships to the East of Alexandria in the Bay of Aboukir. The search for the French Fleet was over; Nelson's ships cleared for action.

The French Fleet of Admiral Brueys was unprepared for battle. Brueys had arrayed his fleet with the 120 gun Orient in the centre and the other more powerful ships at the southern end of the line. A careful disposition would have placed the ships close together, but this was not done. The French ships saw the British Fleet as it sailed around the point into Aboukir Bay. One senior French officer urged that the fleet should sail immediately and attempt to meet the attack in the open sea, but Brueys declined to move, his immediate expectation being that Nelson would not attack so late in the day; a vain hope. It had been Nelson's practice during the months spent searching the Mediterranean for Napoleon's Fleet to assemble his captains and discuss with them plans for any eventuality that might arise, the emphasis being on aggression and immediate attack. There was consequently no need for instructions to his captains; all knew what they should do. The action began at about 6.30pm, as the sun set and the attacking British penetrated the French line, firing into the vulnerable bows and sterns of the French ships. The British rushed down on the French Fleet, firing broadside after broadside. The relentless aggression of the British captains was vividly illustrated. On Vanguard, Nelson was struck on the head and taken below. . Brueys had been wounded three times, the final injury proving fatal. The French flagship, Orient, already heavily damaged was under intense fire. The final devastating aspect of the French lack of foresight was about to play its part. Tubs of unused paint and highly flammable turpentine were stored on the deck and caught fire in the battle. Once the fire started the British ships concentrated their shot on the burning area. Soon the doomed Orient lit up the whole bay and exploded. Orient was carrying a considerable quantity of valuables including the treasure of the Knights of St John, looted by Napoleon from his capture of Malta. All was lost. The firing in the bay finally ended at 3pm on 2nd August 1798. The French Fleet had been completely overwhelmed. Of its 13 ships of the line and 4 frigates 1 ship had sunk, 2 ships were burnt and 9 ships captured. British casualties were 895, French casualties were 5,225 dead and 3,105 captured, including wounded. The immediate result of the battle was the collapse of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and the lifting of any threat to Britain's hold on India. Napoleon abandoned his army to its fate and returned to France. The battle secured Nelson's European reputation as a sea commander. The main talk, "The Hungarian Revolution of 1956", was given by our member Peter Schneider. This was a poignant presentation with wonderful illustrations, both moving and still, showing the revolution as experienced by Peter. To appreciate the terrible events in Budapest, one needs to put them against the key historical happenings that led inexorably to this uprising against Stalinism. [March 1953: Death of Joseph Stalin. Khrushchev, Malenkov, Molotov and Bulganin come to power in Russia. June 1953: Workers' revolts in East Berlin and Czechoslovakia are crushed by Russian tanks. May 1955: The Warsaw Pact is signed. All military forces come under Soviet command. February 1956: 20th Russian Communist party Congress in Moscow. Khrushchev denounces Stalin and his brutal policies.] Now in Peter's words: "What I describe today reflects my personal view, and it seems to me that there has been considerable window dressing about this sad part of our history to suit both the leftist and rightist political parties. The events of October 1956 in Budapest differ from revolts of the past. This was not a class struggle nor a conflict between rich and poor; it was not a military coup d'etat nor a resistance against an invader (during October!). Hungary erupted with spontaneous ferocity, with primeval anger to destroy a system imposed and forced upon my people by a group - Hungarian - who perverted the ideals of Marxist-Leninist Communism and subjugated and terrorized what was left of Hungary after 1945. We Magyars derive from the Hunic peoples of the Eastern Steppes of Asia. About 800 A.D., the seven pagan Magyar tribes moved into Christian Europe. We had to fight the Slavs, the Germans and the Bulgarians; steal girls from Bavaria and Lombardy. In 1 000 A.D., Steven married Gisella of Germany; the Hungarians accepted Christianity and a Nation and a Kingdom was formed. The centre of Europe has always been a path of invasions, and Hungary has suffered from the Mongols, Turks, Austrian, Germans and finally the Russians of 1945. World War I caused the breakup of the monarchy, and Hungary lost 2/3 of its 1 000-year territory to her neighbours. The German tsunami of W.W. II caused hideous losses in population and material. In 1948, the Communists (with a 15% "Yes" vote) took control on the backs of their Russian masters and, with the AVH brought back the methods of terror of their Gestapo brothers - Stalinism at its most brutal. It is October 1956. Students in Poland demonstrated against their Stalinist government. The new academic year opened; and Hungarian students distributed pamphlets on the streets calling for reforms. A total ban was imposed on all gatherings, but this was rescinded on 23 October. At 2 p.m. students gathered at the Technological University and moved to the statue of the Polish General Ben who, in 1848, had helped the Hungarians fight against the Russians. Then someone cut the Red Star from a flag: Flags with a gaping hole became a symbol of the revolution. A mass of people gathered around the Radio Station. Then came the first salvo of live ammunition fired by the AVH men. My friend beside me was hit in the neck. He died the next morning. For me, the armed uprising had begun. We got some pre-1945 carbines from the lamp factory. And at 8 a.m. on October 24th, the first 'free broadcast' was made. We had wanted the Russians to help us get rid of the Stalinist government, and replace it with a new Socialist government. It was not to be; the Russian troops attacked, and thus began one of the bloodiest weeks in Budapest's history. [The 50-foot high bronze statue of Stalin was ripped down, and Peter showed us his piece of the bronze.] The Russians deployed 300 tanks and 6 000 soldiers on the 24th and by the 28th there were 1 000 tanks, mainly T-34 s. The broadcasts from Voice of America and Radio Free Europe were almost evil, telling us to hold out and that an armada was assembling on our borders on its way to help us. I helped to collect petrol for 'Molotov cocktails', the hard variety with 10% diesel and some candle wax. A T-34 needs at least four over the engine housing. Our nemesis was the T-54 with its 100 mm canon. Russia produced more than 60 000 of these tanks. We greased the basalt paving stones so that the tank treads lot their grip and slid around. This gave us a few seconds to attack. There was an informal truce on Sunday the 28th, and on Monday 29 October, the Russian tanks began to withdraw. We, in the euphoric belief that the Russians had come to their senses and would leave, celebrated! Our freedom was short-lived." [June 1956: The last British troops leave the Canal Zone. July 1956: Egypt nationalizes the Suez Canal. 29 October 1956: Israel attacks Egypt across the Sinai 31 October: Britain bombs airfields near Cairo. 5 November: British paratroopers attack Gamil. 6 November: British seaborne invasion of Port Said] " On November 4th, a well-organised Russian Army attacked us. They did not look for insurgents. The blasted the buildings to rubble. The troops were Mongols who ruthlessly shot anyone that they suspected of resisting the invasion. A few of our cadre held out. By 11th November there was no hope; the Russian tide engulfed every little spark of freedom. We began to bury our dead. Gardens and the sides of grassy walkways became cemeteries. The Russians found a puppet to re-establish their Communist order, Janos Kadar. He was still in power in August 1968. Imre Nagy and Pal Maleter were kidnapped, held in Romania until June 1958, and then shot. Thus ended a moment in the history of Europe which probably achieved little in the 'greater picture', a moment when we gave our lives; we lost our country and our youth in the hope that one day we would be free." Dave Matthews proposed the vote of thanks. These two very different talks showed how important it is for us to look wider. The Hungarian Revolution got extensive news coverage in the West, but the United Nations effectively did nothing. Who knows how it may have ended had Britain not lost the Suez Canal. BATTLEFIELD TOUR Another important date for your diaries!! It has now been confirmed by Ken Gillings, that the Battlefield Tour will take place on the last weekend of September 2007 - the 29th & 30th September. Day 1 will concentrate on the Battle of Elandslaagte and on the Sunday we will merge with the Ladysmith Historical Society to visit the location of Brakfontein, which is the ridge between the Twin Peaks and Kranskloof in the Vaalkrans area. Brakfontein was of strategic value to the Boers as it commands one of the routes to Ladysmith. A full itinerary is attached. Any members or guests wishing to play the roles of the various commanders are requested to contact vice chairman Ken Gillings on 083 654 5880 or . THE SOCIETY'S NEXT MEETING; THURSDAY - 13 September 2007 19.00 for 19.30 Base Visit - Natal Mounted Rifles Arranged by Major Adrian van Schaik Welcome by RSM Bobby Freeman History of Regiment by Capt Nigel Lewis-Walker (historian) Training of a tank man Major Adrian van Schaik Future of Regiment and closing by OC NMR Lt Col Mike Rowe FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: August to October 2007 11-Oct DDH The Guns at Nery - 1 September 1914 Paul Kilmartin MAIN Robert E. Lee's Greatest Victory, Chancellorsville, 1863 Robin Smith 8 Nov DDH Normandy Cameos Andre Sharashkin Charles Whiteing MAIN World War 2: The Russian Front Andre Sharashkin 13-Dec Annual Dinner Bill Brady Contact: Mike Laing 031-205-1951
Bill Brady 031-561-5542

The DDH talk titled "Who Is It?" was delivered by committee member Professor Mike Laing;
Mike showed us pictures of important personalities and asked us to identify them. First was two of a Scot, one with him in trews, the second with kilt and impressive sporran. The large white cast on the right leg clearly identified him as our Chairman Bill. Next were four of General Gort, with French generals (1939, 1940), and with the senior British commanders (1939) including Dill, Brooke, Pownall and the Duke of Gloucester. We also saw him with Tedder and Park; and receiving his Field Marshall's baton from King George VI in Malta (1943). Walter Walker was shown in Malaya (1948) with troops, pointing out to Lord Zuckerman the shortcomings of the equipment; and then in 1963/65 as commander during the war in Borneo.

The l982 Falklands War gave us Lt. Colonel Jones, who was killed and earned the V.C. (photographed in 1982 with General John Frost who commanded at Arnhem, 1944), and then Lt. Colonel Hugh Pike, DSO, first with Lt. Col. Jones, and then being greeted on his return to Britain by Prince Charles; and who finally becomes Lieutenant General, O.C. Panas.

The next two were Admiral Keyes and General Hamilton, photographed together on a battleship in 1915 at the beginning of the Gallipoli campaign, and then again in 1945 in London. Keyes was O.C. British Combined Operations until 1942, and in the picture was wearing his son's Victoria Cross that he earned posthumously in W.W. II. Again connecting personalities to both Ladysmith, Spionkop and World War I, we met Birdwood, 45 years old at Spionkop. First a picture of him bathing in the Dardanelles, then him leading Lord Kitchener on an inspection of Anzac Cove (1915), and later on the Western Front (1918) with King George V, General Haig and the other British army commanders. The final picture (1940) is of him at 85 as a Field Marshall. He died at age 95 in 1951. At the special request of James Trinder, we saw pictures of a well-known angler, taken in 1904 and 1919. On both occasions he had caught a huge sea bass (over 50 kg) off the coast of California. And then one from 1897 when he was 12 years old and off to fish in the lake on the family estate. Yes, it is George Patton and, at Bill's request, we saw one of the Patton family, taken on Catalina Island (1902) showing George and a gent with a large white beard, clearly George's granddad.

To end, Mike showed us a fine picture of Darrell Hall, and two books originally from his library: one about George Patton, and one by Liddell Hart, on the philosophy of war.

It is always interesting to see who is easily recognised (Gort, Jones, Hamilton) and who is not (Walker, Pike, Keyes). Almost no one recognised General Dill, CIGS (1940) who became vital to the survival of Britain (from 1941 to 1944) as head of the mission in Washington. He died in 1944 and is buried in the National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

The Main Talk was "The English Civil War in Ireland, 1641 - 1652" was presented by fellow member Brian Kennedy; The Encyclopaedia Britannica says, "The story of the next seven years (1642-1649) is a complicated one.", and indeed it is, and Brian's illustrated talk brought us a better understanding of this brutal struggle with its indiscriminate slaughter. Brian gave us a time line:
In 1607, Maguire of Fermanagh fled Ireland, and the English under James I confiscated the lands of Ulster and brought in Lowland Scots settlers. By 1625, under Charles I, there was further confiscation and now the Catholics had no civil rights.

1641. The Irish Catholic gentry planned a coup d' etat, and to seize Dublin Castle. The attempt was betrayed, and the plotters were arrested. On 23 October the Ulster men rose and drove out the Protestant Planters with great slaughter. They then advanced on Drogheda but English Troops under Ormonde forced them to withdraw to Ulster.

1642. There were now four concentrations of rebel forces. On 15 April at Kilrush, Ormonde defeated the force under Lord Mountgarret. In mid-1642, the Catholic Confederation of Kilkenny was set up, consisting of Irish landowners and Catholic clergy. They swore an oath to uphold the Catholic religion and the liberty of Ireland. The Confederate forces were strengthened by the arrival of 300 veteran officers from Spain. An army of 12 000 Scottish Covenanters under Robert Monro landed in Ulster to put down the rebellion.

1643. On 18 March, Ormonde defeated the Confederate forces under Thomas Preston at New Ross. In September, Civil War broke out in England. The English forces were withdrawn from Dublin, leaving a military stalemate with two-thirds of the country controlled by the Confederates. Ormonde agreed to a cessation. The English garrison in Cork mutinied and declared allegiance to the English Parliament, as did the Covenanters in Ulster, who continued to fight the Irish rebels.

1644. Ormonde persuaded MacDomhnaill to send a force of 2 000 to fight for the King of Scotland, thus starting civil war in Scotland.

1645. Nothing much happened on the military front; but the Archbishop of Fermo arrived as Nuncio from the Pope, bringing 20 000 pounds and 6 000 firearms to support the rebels in the civil war. He wanted an independent Catholic Ireland.

1646. On March 28, Ormonde concluded a treaty with the Confederates, but this was rejected by the Nuncio and the truce was called off. At Benburb on 6 June, the Scots under Robert Monro suffered a crushing defeat, losing 4 000 men in two hours. This was the greatest Irish victory on Irish soil. Eoghan Rua now attempted to besiege Dublin, but failed because of bad weather and lack of provisions.

1647. The Confederates suffered two disastrous defeats. In August at Dungan's Hill, they lost 4 000 men. In November in Munster, Inchiquin's forces (who had ravaged the province with fire and sword) routed the Catholic army, massacring all the Highlanders.

1648. The Confederates concluded a new treaty giving tolerance of the Catholic religion and a form of self-government. Inchiquin changed sides and supported the Royalists. The Confederacy now split, and the Civil War raged throughout the summer.

1649. In February the Nuncio returned to the Vatican. Ormonde now combined the Confederate and Royalist forces, and on 2 August was badly defeated by Jones. On 15 August, Oliver Cromwell landed with 12 000 troops and a formidable artillery train.

On 10 September, Cromwell attacked Drogheda which was commanded by Aston. The guns blew a breach in the walls and the assault succeeded. There was "No Quarter"; all priests were killed and Aston was beaten to death with his own wooden leg. The townspeople were burned to death in St. Peter's church. Young men and women were rounded up and transported to Barbados as slaves. Irish casualties were 3 500 to Cromwellians' 150. These actions of Cromwell earned him a reputation for barbarity.

On 10 October, Cromwell stormed Wexford Castle, and as at Drogheda, the defenders were slaughtered. On 24 November, he besieged Waterford, but sickness amongst his troops forced him to retire to Youghal for the winter.

1650. In January, Cromwell advanced south from Youghal arriving at Kilkenny in mid-March. The garrison surrendered and were allowed to march out with all honours. On 27 April, he arrived at Clonmel. By 9 May, a breach was made in the wall. The Parliamentarian troops stormed the breach, and were met by cannons firing chain shot. The New Model Army suffered their most severe casualties ever: 2 500 men killed and wounded. Cromwell was forced to withdraw. The next day, the mayor negotiated honorable terms.
At the end of May, Cromwell returned to England. The war of reducing the Irish cities and fortresses went on (and on).

1652. On 27 October, Limerick finally fell, and in April, 1653. The last Catholic Irish troops surrendered at Cavan.

The Aftermath.

All armies had a scorched earth policy; they had laid waste to the whole country. The result was famine and bubonic plague. The Catholic landowners lost their properties and were driven west of the Shannon River. The Catholic religion was outlawed. Priests were hunted down and executed. There was a bounty of five pounds per head, the same as for a wolf. The Irish language was forbidden. Education was denied to Catholics. (One should compare this outcome with the 1648 treaty with Ormonde, and wonder what did the uprising achieve?)

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Another important date for your diaries!! It has now been confirmed by Ken Gillings, that the Battlefield Tour will take place on the last weekend of September 2007 - the 29th & 30th September. Day 1 will concentrate on the Battle of Elandslaagte and on the Sunday we will merge with the Ladysmith Historical Society to visit the location of Brakfontein, which is the ridge between the Twin Peaks and Kranskloof in the Vaalkrans area. Brakfontein was of strategic value to the Boers as it commands one of the routes to Ladysmith.
A full itinerary will be published in the next newsletter - but in the meantime, please put this date in your diary as our Battlefield Tours are a highlight of the Military History Society year.
Any members or guests wishing to play the roles of the various commanders are requested to contact vice chairman Ken Gillings.

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THURSDAY - 9 August 2007 - 19.30
Usual Venue: Murray Theatre, Civil Engineering Building, Howard College Campus, UKZN

DDH: The Battle of the Nile by Brian Hoffman. Brian will take us through one of Nelson's greatest victories that proved to be a turning point on Napoleon's Egyptian campaign

Main Talk: The Hungarian Revolution: 1956; by Peter Schneider. Peter will describe the heroism of the Hungarian people and how this impacted on the cold war.

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FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: August to October 2007

13th September
Natal Mounted Rifles Base Visit
Major Adrian van Schaik
11th October
DDH - Paul Kilmartin - The Guns at Nery - 1 September 1914
MAIN - Robin Smith - Robert E. Lee's Greatest Victory, Chancellorsville, 1863

8th November
DDH - Charles Whiteing - Normandy Cameos
MAIN - Andre Sharashkin - World War 2: The Russian Front

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South African Military History Society /