South African Military History Society


P.O. Box 52090
SAXONWOLD, Transvaal.
Telephone: 41.4703

July, 1970 (received 17 August at Johannesburg Reference Library)


Dear Fellow-member ,



At the July Meeting, Col. Pitts, who is one of our members and also the U.S.A. Military Attaché in South Africa, gave a detailed account of the Great War - the Western Front, the following of which was made easier by the showing of maps through the medium of coloured slides. Dr. Machanik, on behalf of the Society, thanked Col. Pitts.


A 45-seater luxury bus has been booked and this will leave the S.A. National War Museum at 3p.m. on Friday the 4 Sep., and will arrive back at the War Museum approx. 8 to 9 p.m. on the Monday.
So far the Society has 33 members going by this bus and so there are still l2 seats available.

Once again you are reminded that those who are going on this trip must make their own arrangements as far as hotel bookings are concerned. Do not delay in this respect.

Those who live nearby and who are going in their own transport are urged to let the Chairmen know as soon as possible. He can be contacted at Home 46-4585 or business 51-9411 or at 26, Sydney Carter Street, Hospital Hill, Johannesburg and those who are going to Ladysmith and live far afield are urged to write to the Chairman and let him know.

PLEASE Members, this is important so that we know where you are staying so that we can rendezvous at the required times and also to know how many pamphlets to have printed.

IMPORTANT: Will those members who are going with the bus please let the Treasurer, Mr Terry Sole, have the required busfare, Rll-00, (Eleven Rand) at the August Meeting without fail. If you cannot attend the meeting please send your cheque for this amount immediately. ANNUAL SUBSCRIPTIONS 37 (THIRTY-SEVEN) Subscriptions are still outstanding. A final, plea is hereby made for those in default to settle. Thank you.


For the benefit of new members we give hereunder the programme for the remainder of the year and will do so each month so that they will know what our future lectures are:-

Date Topic Speaker
August 13th "THE GREAT WAR - OTHER FRONTS" Col. K. Pitts.
September 10th "THE POETS AND POETRY OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR" Mr. Jacques van Oortmerssen
October 8th "THE EAST AFRICA CAMPAIGN 1914-1917" Col. Lunn-Rockliffe
November 12th "THE JAMESON RAID - NEW THOUGHTS" Mr. P. Cartwright
December 3rd "THE GREAT WAR - THE AIRFORCES" Sqn-Leader D. Tidy

samhs --00000-- samhs


"SHRAPNEL, Bullet or pieces of metal contained in shell timed to burst slightly short of objective and let them fly on in shower; inventor H. Shrapnel." From the dictionary.

Many men have had good reason to regret that Henry Shrapnel ever existed.

Born in Wiltshire in 1761, Shrapnel early decided on a military career. When he was 18, he received his commission in the Royal Artillery and it quickly became apparent to him that his regiment's equipment was still comparatively primitive. Used to mow down ranks of infantry as well as bombard fortifications the British artillery of the late eighteenth century still relied on grape-shot or musket ball.

At his own expense, Shrapnel began to experiment. He proposed to enclose the bullets in a shell with an explosive charge controlled by a time fuse, which would burst over or among the enemy. His invention was officially adopted by the Army and in 1804 was used for the first time at the siege of Surinam to great effect. Indeed, in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo, Shrapnel's shells played a considerable part in the victories. Wellington congratulated him.

But his engenuity [sic] went further. He invented artillery range-tables, time-fuses and other devices, and during the siege of Dunkirk in 1793 suggested decoy lights to draw the enemy fire.

In many respects, Shrapnel's was a distinguished military career - he retired as a major-genera1. But he was a disappointed man. For years he had poured a small personal fortune into his researches and inventions, but his reward was a niggardly pension. He died in 1842.

The shell he invented survived into the 20th century, but his name is now more commonly used to denote the flying splinters from any shell or bomb.


Mr. N. Gomm, our founder-member who now lives in Bloemfontein, has published his first two volumes of The Military History Chronicle. These are roneoed extracts of a military nature appearing in various newspapers and make interest ing reading. They are stapled into files and they are available from him at a cost of Rl (one Rand) per volume. Any interested person can obtain them from him at 98, Kellner Street, Bloemfontein.


The latest issue of the Journal, No.6, is certainly the best that has been published and our sincere thanks to the Editorial Committee who have done such a stout job of work.

Please keep on sending in your contributions as they are always needed, although not necessarily published immediately.


The Society is still in dire need of persons to fill these two most important post s in the Society. The present Treasurer, Terry Sole, is still carrying on in a temporary capacity and the work of the Secretary is being done by your Chairman and Vice-Chairman. Please help us in having these two posts filled as soon as possible.


It was the first machine-gun, and starting with the American Civil War, it revolutionised the art of war the world over

One day in March, 1862, a bearded, middle-aged man surrounded by hundreds of Union Army officers and government officials stood on a hill outside Indianapolis in the United States and dragged the wrappers from the most terrible weapon the world had known.
An extraordinary-looking gun, it consisted of 10 rifle barrels arranged round a central shaft which was revolved by a hand crank fitted with high-speed gears.
Each barrel had its own breech, firing hammer and extractor. As each breech came into firing position, the projectiles were fed into it by their own weight from a cylindrical magazine fitted on top of the gun.

There was some derision among ordnance experts on that day for such a complicated weapon must inevitably give trouble. And with the Civil War raging that was one sort of trouble infantry men could do without.

Now the bearded inventor stood behind the machine-gun, grasped the aiming lever, and with an easy motion rotated the crank handle.
The explosions were ear-splitting as a burst of 50 rounds spat from the muzzle in 12 seconds which represented an unheard of firing rate of 250 rounds a minute.
Thus Richard Jordan Gatling not only became part of the history of war but, by producing a weapon that was ultimately to fire at a rate of 21,000 rounds a minute, revolutionised warfare itself.

The historical ramifications of the Gatling machine-gun were vast. Indeed, there were claims that the British christianised and colonised the uncivilised World with the weapon.
It was used against the Zulus in Africa two years later. It slaughtered rioting Alexandria mobs in 1882 and was put to terrible effect in Khartoum.

Although Gatling claimed its very potency would ensure peace he never missed an opportunity to visit centres of war and hawk the weapon blatantly to both sides.

Richard Jordan Gatling was born in North Carolina on September 12, l818, to a rich planter whose chief hobby was mechanical invention. When the boy was in his teens his father' used his help for the invention and construction of a cotton seed sowing machine and another complicated device which successfully thinned cotton plants.

By the time Richard was 20 and the owner of a small country store he was well versed in mechanical principles and used his spare time (the store allowed him much of this) designing a revolutionary screw propeller for ships.
Actually he was on the point of patenting this device when he found he had been beaten to the punch by the Swedish-born naval designer John Ericsson.

Gatling was 21 when he invented and constructed an amazing rice-sowing machine. He labored on improvements for five years and then took off for St. Louis to have this machine and a new wheat drill manufactured.
Both machines, farmers soon found, allowed them to do twice the work with half the labor. The result was that sales of these farming implements boomed, throughout the Southern States.

In 1845 Gatling was on his way to Pittsburgh by river steamer when he was stricken by smallpox. The steamer's skipper raced for port only to be immobilised in the river's centre by ice.
For two weeks the vessel remained locked in the vice of ice, while Gatling raved in delirium. Then quickly the disease passed. When he had fully recovered Richard Gatling, deciding he would never be caught like that again, entered Cincinnati medical school and took his MB. Not that he ever practised. He just wanted to know how to treat himself. With farm implement sales rocketing Gatling opened factories in St. Louis, Springfield and Indianapolis. And he added to his enormous turnover by patenting a hemp-breaking machine and a steam plough.

As the threat of civil war grew Gatling turned his amazing brain to the science of ballistics. Thus when war did break out in 1861 and the Northern Army asked him for a "special objectives weapon" he was ready.

After his successful machine-gun demonstration of March 1862 Gatling took out patents on the revolutionary weapon and handed over 12 test guns to the army for which he was paid $12, 000.

Some of the Gatlings gave trouble but the two which fired continually during the test period without once experiencing a stoppage were used during the war under the inventor's personal supervision. One of these jammed but the other routed an attacking force of Confederates at the siege of Petersburg.

Although the gun was constantly improved during the Civil War there were repeated stoppages caused chiefly by jamming ammunition.

Additionally, gas escaping from the breeches reduced efficiency. To stop the jamming Gatling invented a copper cartridge case. He also found a method of containing the escaping gas, thus increasing the weapon's rate of fire to an incredible 600 rounds a minute. Realising he now had a single weapon that could make the difference between defeat and victory, he approached Emperor Napoleon III of France and tried to interest him in an order for 100 Gatling machine guns.

The emperor hedged and then consulted with his ministers. The result was that it was decided to take a single gun. Enraged at this ridiculous order, Gatling broke off negotiations and the deal fell through.
This was unfortunate for Napoleon III, for had his troops been equipped with those 100 guns he would probably have saved his throne when he provoked the Russians to attack his country in 1870.

Now Richard Gatling faced the problem of selling his guns. Europe at the time was fairly quiet with no worth-while wars even pending so he turned his salesmanship on President Abraham Lincoln, assuring him that the machine-gun would ensure the maintenance of peace.
But Lincoln had had enough of war. His chief problem now was a population that had been reduced by a 1million men and a war debt of $8 000 million. He rejected Gatling's approaches.

The inventor then took stock of the situation. He had the gun but his sales organisation consisted of nothing more than his own rather haphazard approaches to likely customers.

The result was he did a deal with the Colt Revolver Co. to produce his machine-gun and to use their vast sales organisation to find customers. This time when Colt salesmen descended on the French the Government decided to order a batch only to find all their potential enemies had also ordered the machine-gun in quantity.

As far as the Colt representatives were concerned there were no limits to their methods of making a sale. For instance during the Russo-Turkish war these high-pressure agents sold Gatlings to both sides. When the Turks were approached they insisted on a demonstration. Willingly the salesmen took one of the weapons to the front, opened fire and mowed down a line of charging Russians.

When the Russians decided to buy a large quantity of Gatling guns their government sent General Gorloff to America to arrange the sale. Gorloff was delighted by the gun but he was unimpressed by its name. Nor was he happy that his armies would heve to buy special ammunition for the weapon.
Richard Gatling had a solution to all the problems. He altered the breeches to take Russian ammunition and changed the machine gun's name from Gatling to Gorloff.

Despite his success on the Continent, Gatling was having difficulty convincing the British that his amazing gun was the answer to most of their empire-building problems.

Actually the British attitude had been brought about by the constant jamming of a Gatling when it was tested before ordnance experts on Gibraltar.
During this test 18 soldiers, armed with Martini-Henry rifles, made a better score on a target than a Gatling manned by Royal Navy sailors. But the main reason for the inaccuracy, Richard Gatling pointed out, was that his gun was being fed with outdated British cartridges designed many years earlier.

When new and stronger cartridges had been manufactured the gun worked perfectly. Apart from that, other improvements lifted its rate of fire to nearly 2000 rounds 9 minute. As a result the British took delivery of hundreds of Gatlings and the Empire began expanding at a remarkable rate.

At that time the African Zulus were threatening the security of British forces stationed in their territory. General Thesiger's army had been almost cut to ribbons by hordes of warriors with entire columns being annihilated.
Then on March 17, 1879, a force of 10,000 British reinforcements arrived at Durban equipped with Gatling machine-guns. Thinking this new force was armed only with the usual rifles, the Zulus attacked in great waves only to go down like scythed wheat.
In one such unequal encounter alone 1,500 Zulus perished in front of the muzzles of blazing Gatling guns while the British lost only 100 men.
Soon the chief of the Zulus, Cetewayo , was in flight with his followers and the British were in complete control of Zululand. This victory was attributed almost exclusively to the Gatling gun.

There was other work for the Gatling to do such as restoring order when, on June 11, 1882, an Egyptian mob rose in Alexandria and began the indiscriminate massacre of the European population.

Another British force under Sir Garnet Wolseley decimated an Egyptian army at Tel-el-Kebir then took control of all Egypt simply because it was equipped with Gatling guns.

It was Richard Gatling's amazing gun that was the world's most sought after weapon until 1889 when Hiram Maxim designed his fully automatic machine-gun in which the recoil provided the power for firing, ejecting and reloading.

When the British Army decided to replace the Gatling with the Maxim, one of history's most revolutionary weapons was finished. Nevertheless, Richard Gatling did all in his power to keep-his gun in action. For instance he fitted an electric motor to it which produced the unheard of firing rate of 3,000 rounds a minute.

He even went on to produce a fully automatic Gatling, but by that time the Maxim had the world market and no one was interested. So the inventor returned to his first love - the design and manufacture of farm machinery.

Dr. Richard Gatling died on Feb. 26, 1903, having made his fortune from such divergent interests as the peace of agriculture and the blood of war.

His name was perpetuated by American gangsters of the Prohibition era who dubbed their weapons "gats".

With acknowledgement to"PARADE", an Australian Magazine.


DEATH: It is with regret that we announce the death of one of our members, Mr. Joseph Milne. To his wife and family we extend our deepest sympathy.

CORRESPONDENCE: Please look carefully in all envelopes that contain correspondence etc. that is sent to you by the Society. When the last issue of the Journal was sent to members, many of them just assumed that there was nothing else in the envelope and so missed the last issue of the Newsletter.

PAYMENTS: In order to minimise administrative work, and therefore expenses as well, we will not issue receipts as such for subscriptions but ask that you accept your membership card as acknowledgement of the receipt of your subscriptions. This will be sent to you attached to the following newsletter.


A Committee Meeting will be held at the War Museum on Thursday the l3th August at 7.10 p.m.


Details of this lecture:-

Venue War Museum, Saxonwold
Date Thursday 13th August
Time 8 p.m.
Lecturer Col. K. Pitts

Kind regards.


South African Military History Society /