NEWSLETTER No 382
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 lost 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. They 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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
South African Military History Society / email@example.com