South African Military 
History Society


November 2007

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

The DDH talk "Normandy Cameos" was delivered by fellow member Charles Whiteing in the form of a power point presentation.

Pegasus Bridge & the Gondree Café was the first building to be liberated in France on D-Day by Major John Howard's Glider troops. Today it is transformed into a small museum and is the focal point of returning veterans who can be identified by their maroon blazers & berets. The café is now run by Mme. Arlette Gondree the daughter of the original owners. A new bridge now spans the canal, the original located on the canal bank, preserved for all to see.

A remnant of a "Mulberry" harbour can be seen lying on the beach at Arromanche. An example of a section of one of the roadways which connected the concrete caissons can also be seen in Arromanche.

It was believed that heavy German artillery was located Le Pont du Hoc and capable of shelling both Utah and Omaha beaches. The only way to ensure their destruction was to scale the cliffs on D-Day. The Rangers attempted this by using grappling hooks fired from mortars. After heavy fighting from bomb crater to bomb crater, and bunker to bunker, they found the casemates empty of any heavy guns. The Germans had in fact moved them some miles inland after the initial bombing raids in April. The Pont du Hoc Memorial was erected by France to honour the 2nd Ranger Battalion under command of Col. James E Rudder.

During the summer a paratrooper hangs from the steeple in his parachute in the square at St Mere Eglise. This is in memory of John Steel who found himself suspended in his harness and used as a target by the Germans below. Seriously wounded he feigned death for two hours until his comrades were later able to cut him down. At the corner of the square is an excellent Airborne Museum containing among other exhibits a C47 Dakota and a Waco glider. The Giant Wurtzburg German Radar Station at Douvres can be identified from the road by its 7.5 metre dish aerial. It was mainly used to direct Luftwaffe fighters but could also detect enemy aircraft and ships within a range of 60 kms. The defenders held out and the site was only captured 11 days after D-Day by 41 Royal Marine Commando. Immediately inland from the coast are sunken roads and hedges known as the Bocage that hindered the use of motorized vehicles especially tanks and seriously impeded the progress of the advancing Allies. In 1944 the plains of Caretan & Sainte-Marie-du-Mont were grassland extending towards the coast. Rommel destroyed the sluice gates which protected flooding and rendered them impassable. This impeded transport and resulted in many paratroopers drowning on landing in these flooded areas.

There are over 20 museums varying in size displaying artifacts, uniforms, weapons, armour etc. Adding to the atmosphere were numerous restored military vehicles including Jeeps, American trucks, and DUKW`s manned by "US Troops" in authentic uniforms. It was amusing to see in the coastal village of Arromanche at Gold Beach some of the townsfolk dancing in the street with the "American troops" to the dulcet tones of Vera Lynne singing 'The White Cliffs of Dover."

Much of the coastline is now vastly different to what it was in 1944, and it's difficult to imagine what it must have been like to have been in Normandy on D-Day. One of the German bunkers on Utah Beach has been converted into a beach kiosk selling ice cream and soft drinks from the very opening that used to dispense death. In fact when standing on Omaha Beach, it was near impossible to comprehend what had taken place on those sands 62 years ago. Only those veterans, who were there, truly know, and that is why their memories are so precious for generations ahead.

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The main talk was by fellow member Robin Smith, entitled: "Chancellorsville, Robert E Lee's Greatest Victory". This presentation was illustrated with fine black-and-white portraits of the commanders, photographs of the battlefields then and now, and beautiful maps in full colour showing the deployment and movement of the armies of North and South. One could not wish for better.

This was the most complex campaign of the Civil War. It begins in December 1862, when the army of the Potomac was severely mauled by the Confederates at Fredericksburg, losing 12 000 casualties. The Union general, Burnside, was relieved of command and replaced by Joseph Hooker. The letter from Lincoln appointing him is remarkably candid and points out his less than honorable actions towards his fellow generals and enjoins him to "beware of rashness". Hooker established the Bureau of Military Intelligence. He introduced distinctive badges for each corps and had fresh vegetables and bread issued regularly to his troops. This produced an enormous improvement in the morale of the Union troops. By 31 March, 1863 the Army of the Potomac numbered over 130 000 men, more than twice the size of Lee's Confederate army. Hooker planned carefully, based on his newly gathered intelligence. He divided his forces, leaving the centre to hold Lee's forces across the river. On 15 April he was ready, and his column of 40 000 men began their flanking move aiming to cross the river upstream and come in on the flank and rear of Lee's forces. On the map this maneuver could not be bettered.

Things now become complicated. Finally on 1 May the forces clashed at Orangeturnpike.

Now it was Lee who divided his forces, and on 2 May Jackson led his flank march screened by the Wilderness. It was Jackson's chaplain who advised him of the route to take. Surprise was complete as Jackson's army of 21000 men came charging out of the trees and overwhelmed the Union troops at Chancellorsville.

It was now dark, and Jackson rode forward to his front line. Suddenly there was wild and confused firing by the Confederate troops. Jackson was hit by three bullets, his left arm was shattered. Early morning on 3 May the arm was amputated, and it was buried at Ellwood in a family graveyard.

Hooker had a narrow escape when a shot struck a pillar next to him. He was bruised and concussed, and unconscious for an hour. The Union army withdrew. They had lost 1700 dead, 10 000 wounded, and 6 000 missing [many of them prisoners].

For Lee, this was a great but Pyrrhic victory. Its cost to him was great. The army lost 1 700 dead and 9 000 wounded, casualties they could not afford: they could not be replaced. But the greatest loss was Stonewall Jackson, whose condition slowly deteriorated until he died on 10 May.

With Lee's genius, a smaller force had defeated a larger one. To do this he had split his force of 55000 men, but success had come from a secret flank march and the speed and violence of the attack out of the Wilderness. This cost him one quarter of his army. Hooker's plan of the flanking movement should have produced an overwhelming victory but it did not. Hooker was replaced by General George Meade, who became the victor at the battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of the civil war.

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This year Armistice Day falls on a Sunday and with many members of both the MOTHs and our Society attending Remembrance Day parades on the same day, your committee has decided that the our annual Armistice Day meeting at Warriors Gate will not take place. However, Society members have been invited to attend the Durban High School Remembrance Service on FRIDAY 9 NOVEMBER. The school holds an annual service on Armistice Day which ends in time for the 2 minute silence at 1100 hours. Parking is available on "Top Field" which is located at the top/back of the main school buildings in Windmill Road. The Service will be held in the Des Thompson Hall at DHS and all attendees are asked to be seated by 1035 hours. If you are planning to attend please advise Paul Kilmartin on 031-572-6085 or 082-449-7227 so that he can advise the school for seat planning and the serving of tea, etc, after the Service.

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Annual Dinner;
13 Dec. 2007 - 19h00/19h30 - Chez Nous Restaurant

We have been most fortunate to secure a booking at the above restaurant in 13 Blue Heights Centre, Westville Rd., Westville; The cost is R100,00 per person less 10%. Menu consists of a three course meal with four selections from each course. Limited bookings for members and guests. Rest. Tel No. 031 266 7011 Please notify Bill Brady for bookings on tel/fax 031 561 5542 cel 083 228 5485 or

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THURSDAY - 8 November 2007 - 19.00 for 19.30

Usual Venue: Murray Theatre, Civil Engineering Building, Howard College Campus, UKZN

Opener. Dave Matthews will present a brief slide show on "candid shots from previous battlefield tours." This event has proved most popular and entertaining.

DDH: The Guns at Nery - 1 September 1914 by former chairman Paul Kilmartin; the 1st World War is remembered for the massive battles that were fought, and the enormous casualties. But, men also fought and died in hundreds of minor confrontations. Nery was hardly more than a peripheral event but its influence was immense to the big picture of the War in 1914.

Main Talk: Russian front of the Second World War by guest speaker Andrey Sharashkin. Andrey will describe the German invasion of the then USSR, the siege of Leningrad, the battle of Stalingrad through to the battle for Berlin. Andrey will also touch on the South African contribution towards assisting the Russian people during the war.

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FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: December 2007 to February 2008

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South African Military History Society /