South African Military 
History Society


March 2007

Contact : Mike Laing - 031-2051-951
At our February meeting we were honoured to have as our DDH speaker, Sam Willis, a 96-year-old veteran of the evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk in May 1940. Here in his own words is how he remembers his experiences in the British Expeditionary Force.

"I joined the reserves. Two weeks later we were mobilized, then off to Aldershot, and then down to the Channel to sail for France. We were issued one day's rations, and we landed at Cherbourg on 25 December 1939. Off we went to the Pas de Calais, where we spent time digging trenches near Lille.

"On May 10 the blighters came and bombed us, and then invaded Belgium. The BEF now advanced into Belgium to the unprepared Dyle Line. Our unit moved first to Calais and then up to Dunkirk. We were armed with a 1917 Lewis gun. We moved up the road in two files. It was chaos. We were bombed and took cover often. We moved through a milling throng; there was no chain of command left. Finally we arrived in a street: Rue de la Tranquilitee, it was rather bashed about [it has since been rebuilt]. An RSM appeared: an order at last! 'Head towards the beach'.

"There we were met by polished naval PO's (with some distaste, as we were filthy dirty). Then came the welcome order: Follow me to the beach, along the Mole, and to the ship. We went on board. There were no cabins. I went below, and fell asleep. Suddenly - BOOM! I woke. The engine had stopped. Everyone was gone; water was surging along the gangway. I got out fast and into the last lifeboat. I saw the ship's hull buckle. We rowed and made it to another boat. Up a rope ladder I climbed and flopped down on top of the deck cargo-cans of petrol!

"We got back to Dover. It was a miracle to see the white cliffs. Now suddenly there was 'organisation'. We were put on a train to Clapham Junction, and fed tea and sandwiches by lady volunteers. We passed a group of City gents in suits, complete with bowlers and newspapers. (They probably still talk about us). We were sent to a training camp, then on a short leave, and then to Wolverhampton to await the invasion. We did rifle drill with pick handles.

"Dunkirk was a terrible defeat, yet somehow it raised morale". 250000 British troops got back. Two thirds of my unit made it home. Most of us had not even fought.

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The main talk of the evening was "Battleship Tirpitz" by Bill Brady, which was illustrated with pictures of the ship and her anchorages.

When commissioned in 1941 Tirpitz at 52000 tons was the largest battleship in the world, and outclassed the battleships of the British fleet. The Admiralty assigned three KG-V class ships to neutralize her threat to Britain's Atlantic lifeline. She had to be eliminated. In 1942 she was deployed to Norwegian waters. She was a "fleet in being", never making contact with British shipping, yet forcing the Royal Navy to keep massive forces at Scapa Flow (thus weakening both the Mediterranean and Far East Fleets).

In March 1942 Tirpitz sailed from Trondheim to attack a convoy. Torpedo planes from the aircraft carrier Victorious attacked her. The battle lasted 8 minutes. All torpedoes missed, and seven planes were shot down. Tirpitz steamed back to her fjord unscathed.

In July 1942 Tirpitz, Scheer, and Hipper sailed to intercept Convoy PQ 17; 36 merchantmen plus escorts. To preserve the hopelessly outgunned escorts, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Dudley Pound ordered the escorts to withdraw and the convoy to scatter. U-boats and aircraft slaughtered the merchantmen. The Tirpitz squadron returned to Altenfjord. Without firing a shot Tirpitz had achieved an outstanding naval success.

From now on Tirpitz was under constant attack by the British. But she lay in a narrow fjord protected by torpedo nets and a very effective smoke screen system. The March 1942 raid on the Normandie Dock at St Nazaire was carried out to prevent Tirpitz from using this dock. Now the RAF began its attacks on Tirpitz. 33 bombers attacked, twenty 2-ton bombs were dropped. 5 bombers were shot down, and there were no hits. In a further attack, 12 out of 107 bombers were lost, without inflicting any damage. In October 1942 came an attack by Chariots (human torpedoes).It failed. They never got within 16kms of the ship. In September 1943 Tirpitz joined an attack on an allied base on Spitzbergen. This was the only time that she fired her main armament at the 'enemy'. The next major assault was by X-craft (midget submarines). Six left Scotland, 4 reached the fjord. There were two massive explosions, and Tirpitz was out of action for 6 months. A VC was awarded to Lt Place. Many years later he visited Durban as captain of the Albion.

In April 1944 after extensive repairs, Tirpitz moved to Tromso fjord. The Royal Navy launched a major attack with aircraft from the Victorious. There were at least 6 direct hits for only two Barracudas shot down. Damage to the upper deck was severe; over 100 men were killed. On 17 July the Fleet Air Arm attacked again. 45 Barracudas bombed, but the ship was obscured by the smoke screen. There were no hits: two planes were lost. Now came a new scientific approach. Barnes Wallis, designer of the Wellington, and the "bouncing bomb", now devised Tallboy, a bomb weighing 5 and a half tons. On October 29, 37 Lancasters armed with Tallboys attacked. There were no direct hits. On 12 November 32 Lancasters came again. This time there was no smoke screen! They dropped 29 bombs; 3 struck. Tirpitz trembled, and began to list. Her aft magazines exploded. She rolled over and settled. 1000 men were trapped in the hull. 80 were rescued.

Thus was the inglorious end of Tirpitz and her sad and tragic career. She fought no fleet actions. She spent her life hiding in Norwegian fjords. But she was a tremendous threat to the British navy and a tremendous nuisance to Winston Churchill for those three years of her life. In his words: "She could not be left alone."

Vote of Thanks

Colin Lawton thanked the speakers for their fascinating talks: Sam for making it all so personal, and Bill for the detail of the strategic threat.

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THURSDAY, 8th March 2007


DDH: The Naval Battle of Copenhagen by Capt Brian Hoffman.

Main Talk: Falklands War of 1987 by Lt Col GED Argyle RLC.

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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

* The Militaria Society has elected Mathew Everitt as their KZN Chairman. We wish him all the best.

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David Rattray

Angus Allen

Our condolences to the families of these men

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Something different:


Another milestone in the transformation process will be the implementation of the new SANDF flags, depicting the new SANDF emblem. A complete new medal series was introduced.

Retreat Ceremony
On Friday, 25 April 2003, the old SANDF emblem was phased out in a Retreat Ceremony. The old SANDF flag was lowered at the SAAF Gymnasium Parade ground at 18h00, during which the respective Chiefs of the Services handed back the old SANDF flags to the Chief of the SANDF, General Siphiwe Nyanda.

Launch of new SANDF flags, emblem and 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 SANDF Emblem (colour) New SANDF Emblem (Black & White)

Our new SANDF emblem
The new SANDF emblem incorporates the nine-pointed "Star" representing the warm sun of Africa and the nine provinces. The Star is also used in divisional emblems and flags to reflect a common corporate identity coupled to a divisional-unique devise to still enable a Division to demonstrate uniqueness. The four Services are represented in their respective traditional colours. The emblem also reinforces the idea of military identity, authority and dignity.

The use of the green and gold are the traditional colours used to reflect the corporate identity of the Department of Defence. Green can also be seen as referring to the natural wealth of Africa while gold can be seen as a reference to the mineral wealth as well as nobility and purity.

SANDF Flag SA Army Flag

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8th Mar
DDH - Capt Brian Hoffman - The Naval Battle of Copenhagen
MAIN - Lt Col Ged Argyle - The Falklands War of 1982

12th Apr
DDH - Dave Matthews & Charles Whiteing - Gordon of Khartoum
MAIN - Charles Whiteing - WW2 Battlefields revisited


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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 /