South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


Our speaker on 9 October was fellow-member Mr Rodney Warwick, MA, of the Diocesian College's History Department whose topic was SADF leadership during the years 1960 to 1974, which forms part of his recently-completed doctoral thesis.

Mr Warwick explained that he had chosen this period as South Africa was at a cross-road, politically speaking, both nationally and internationally. In March 1960, the killing of 69 people demonstrating against the draconian pass laws (with another 180 people injured) at a Black township called Sharpeville, resulted in a State of Emergency being declared in the country. This tragedy seared the name of Sharpeville into the international consciousness and mobilised international reaction against the policy of Apartheid as implemented by the incumbent Nationalist Government. This resulted in South Africa being progressively marginalised and ostracized by the international community. In 1974 a military coup in Portugal heralded the end of colonialism in two countries, amongst other, that had a direct bearing on the security of the Republic, namely Mozambique and Angola. The resultant chaos and civil war between the warring factions made South Africa more vulnerable to attack by insurgents.

Mr Warwick introduced his talk by sharing a group photograph of Mr F C Erasmus, the then Minister of Defence and the members of the SA General Staff, taken in 1950. They included Mr H F Cuff, the Secretary of Defence, Lt Gen C L de Wet du Toit, DSO, (the Chief of General Staff); Maj Gen H B Klopper, DSO (Director-General, SA Land Forces); Brig J T Durrant, CB, DFC, (Director-General, SA Air Force); Cdre F J Dean, (Director-General, SA Naval Forces). The speaker added some background on the various personalities: Brig Durrant was axed by Mr Erasmus, and Cmdre Dean was later sent to SA House in London as the military attaché to Great Britain. Lt Gen De Wet du Toit, having had read law at Stellenbosch University, was nicknamed "Matie". He ingratiated himself with the Nationalist government and was slated to replace Lt Gen Len Beyers who had resigned after a difference of opinion with the Minister of Defence.

The next photographed shown, portrayed the SA General Staff in August 1961, some three months after South Africa became a republic and had left the British Commonwealth, a move that added further impetus to the country's international isolation. By then Mr Erasmus had been replaced by Mr Jim Fouché as Minister of Defence. Mr Erasmus is better remembered for his efforts to combat alcoholism in the Permanent Force, the introduction of new ranks, uniforms, badges and medals, as well as his purge of able personnel in the new service, purely on the basis of political afilliation. The speaker pointed out that Mr Fouché, affectionately known as "Oom Jim", was a more popular and able Minister of Defence, who restored morale in the SADF and reintroduced promotion on merit and not based upon political affiliation, thereby strenghtening the professionalism of the leadership cadre. "Oom Jim" was a member of Mr N C (Klasie) Havenga's "Afrikaner Party" which favoured good relations between English- and Afrikaans-speaking South Africans. The new Secretary for Defence was Mr J P de Villiers. This was not a very safisfactory state of affairs, as the Commandant-General (as the Chief of the General Staff was now known) did not take kindly being of equivalent rank to the Secretary of Defence - a civilian! The two posts were eventually amalgamated into one on 17 October, 1966. The new Naval Chief of Staff was Rear-Admiral H H Biermann, OBE, a respected naval officer with a distinguished war record, but more importantly, acceptable to the new government.

The Commandant-General at the time was Cmdt-Genl P H Grobbelaar, SSA, DSO, who had served with distinction in the SA Armoured Corps in the Western Desert during the Second World War. The speaker also alluded to the fact that Cmdt-Gen Grobbelaar apparantly had been urged to remain in the Permanent Force during the war, by no less a personage than the Commandant-General of the Ossewabrandwag, Dr Hans van Rensburg. Also discussed were the two previous Commandant-Generals: Cmdt-Gen H B Klopper, DSO, ADC, and Cmdt-Gen S A Melville, SSA, OBE. Cmdt-Gen Klopper joined the Permanent Force in 1924. He was fortress commander and GOC 2nd S A Division when Tobruk fell and later escaped from a PoW camp in Italy (rescued by Col Vladimir Peniakoff, the famed commander of "Popski's Private Army" - a cross between the Special Air Service [SAS] and The Long Range Desert Group [LRDG] of Western Desert fame). Cmdt-Gen H B Klopper was Director-General of S A Land Forces from 1950-1952, Chief of the Army from 1952-1953 and Commandant-General from 1956-1958. Cmdt-Gen Melville commenced his Permanent Force career in 1924 when he joined the S A Field Artillery. He later purchased his discharge and became a merchant seaman and a boxer. In 1929 he rejoined the PF and received training as a pilot in the South African Air Force (SAAF). During the Second World War he served in East Africa, Madagascar and Italy. He was Air Chief of Staff from 1954-56, Inspector-General from 1956-1958 and Commandant-General from 1958-1960. He was married to the sister of Mr J G Strijdom, Nationalist Prime Minister from 1954-1958.

When the Government announced in the early sixties that it wanted to dispose of all of its 240 "Centurion" Main Battle Tanks, Cmdt Gen Grobbelaar took a firm stand and told the Minister outright if the Government did so, he in turn would issue a statement that the Commandant-General was not in favour of the decision. In view of this impassé, it was agreed that only 100 MBTs would be sold to Switzerland. The remainder were later augmented by purchases of later models from other countries, amongst other, Jordan. The "Centurion" served with distinction in the SADF Armoured formations, not only in it original configuration, but later-on as the much-vaunted and battle-proven, completely rebuilt and refurbished, "Olifant" MBT, to the present day.

Mr Warwick clearly illustrated his mastery of his subject and the depth of his research by means of the wide range of photographs of senior SADF personalities which he produced and around which he masterfully wove a tale of professionalism, careerism and personality conflicts between career officers and politicians on the one hand and on the other, between brother officers. One of the photographs depicted Cmdt-Gen Grobbelaar on the front cover of the "Die Huisgenoot" magazine with the caption "Ons Weermag slaap nie" (Our Defences Forces are vigilant). This came about as part of a publicity campaign initiated by the Nationalist Party in 1948 to attract young Afrikaner Nationalists to the Armed Forces, which had previously been regarded as being too British-oriented.

The officer who played a key role in this campaign was Cmdt-Gen Rudolf C Hiemstra, who was appointed Commandant-General on 10 October, 1965. Cmdt-Gen Hiemstra was on of the five SAAF pilots who have had the moral courage, out of political conviction, to refuse to sign the "red tab" oath, thereby undertaking to do voluntary war service beyond the boundaries of the Union of South Africa during the Second World War. (He subsequently accepted and wore the "War Medal 1939-1945" - which he had earned - for wartime service in the Union until 1941). He spent the remainder of the war in the Department of Transport and returned to the SAAF in 1948 where he was appointed as liaison officer to Mr Erasmus. He also pursued an active political life and was the Executive Officer of the "Afrikaanse Vereniging vir Volk en Verdediging" (Afrikaner Society for People and Defence). His incumbency as Commandant-General was being viewed as extremely successful by his critics in the English News Media. Another SAAF pilot who refused to sign the the African Service oath was Cmdt-Gen J S J van der Merwe, SM, who was Quartermaster-General from 1959-1965.

An officer who played a crucial role in reconciling trust between the old and new dispensation, was Combat-General S A Engelbrecht, SM, who was Army Chief of Staff from 1959-1963. He played a very competent role and was viewed as being fully trustworthy by the incumbent regime, in spite of the fact that he had served in the Second World War. Another key personality was Maj Gen J N Biermann, SM, CBE, who was Army Chief of Staff from 1958-1959. He was a Springbok rugby player who had joined the Permanent Force in 1934. During the Second World War he was promoted to the temporary rank of Brigadier on 1 October 1943, and commanded the artillery in the 6th S A Armoured Division in Italy. He played a key role in the upgrading of the SADF after 1948.

On 5 April 1966 Mr P W Botha was appointed as Minister of Defence and under his term of office introduced the most dynamic and far-reaching changes in the SADF in what can be viewed as the most critical era of National Defence and international arms embargoes. He achieved some very important successes, such as the introduction of an improved, more equitable national service system, the establishment of a viable South African armaments industry, the recruitment of women, Coloureds, Indians and Blacks as members of the Permanent Force and important organisational changes in the SADF. In 1966 four new command & control structures were introduced: the Supreme Command; the Defence Staff; the Headquarters: Joint Combat Forces, and Maritime Headquarters.

Our speaker highlighted the contribution made by Lt Gen C A Fraser, SSA, SM. Lt Gen Fraser had commanded the Cape Field Artillery in Italy during 1945. His writings on counter-insurgency operations made a profound impression on Mr Botha. One of the most brilliant younger officers in the Office of the Director of Operations and Planning was Brig J H Burger, SM, MBE. Gen Magnus Malan considered him as one of the most promising officers with a brilliant career ahead of him in the SADF. Tragically he died of a heart-attack whilst commanding the Republic Day Parade in 1966. Another outstanding officer was Maj Gen W A Barends, SM, MC.

Mr Warwick concluded his lecture by focussing on the frantic efforts made by the SADF to acquire weaponry before the United Nations-sanctioned arms embargo was imposed on the Republic of South Africa. He also related to the progress made by the South African armaments industry, and particularly the role played by ARMSCOR, not only to make the Republic self-sufficient in its military requirements, but ultimately, turn it into a net exporter of military equipment, systems and munitions. As a concluding remark he recalled some of the many very interesting interviews he had with senior officers of the period or their families.

Cmdr Mac Bisset thanked Mr Warwick for his fascinating and well-researched talk on a field of military history that has left the audience with some insight of what is happening in the higher echelons, even if it was of a by-gone era . He wished him well in the submission of his thesis and expressed the hope that it will not gather dust as an academic dissertation, but that the contents will be published in bookform, to be shared by all. He also presented Mr Warwick with the customary gift on behalf of the Cape Town Branch as a token of our appreciation.



We are always interested in new members. If you know of anyone who might be interested in military history or who is interested in joining the Society, bring them along and suggest to them to join. This is the most effective way of attracting new members, if combined with good speakers! We seem to have had some success in this!

Virtually all members are paid up, with only two outstanding subscriptions. If you have not as yet paid your subscriptions, please do so now. If you are a full member and have not paid, you will not receive your copies of the Military History Journal.

If any member has a speaker or subject that he or she thinks would be of interest to members, please speak to a committee member and let us know.



It is with considerable regret that we need to inform members that our Secretary, Ray Hattingh, on the 13th of October, had met with a most unfortunate traffic accident on his motorcycle, as a result of which he suffered serious injuries which necessitated the amputation of his left leg at the knee. Ray is mending well and is already back at home. On behalf of all the members of the Cape Town Branch we would like to wish him a speedy recovery and with the sure knowledge that we carry him and his family in our thoughts during these trying times.

Our Vice-Chairman recently visited Dr H-G Migeod, one of our longest-standing members, who is currently recuperating in the Helderberg Village Frail-Care Unit, after sustaning a compounded fracture to his one leg as a result of a bad fall. Dr Migeod, who is 90 years of age, expressed his gratitude for wishing him a speedy recovery, conveyed on behalf of the Cape Town Branch of the Society.

In view of the Secretary, Ray Hattingh, being incapacitated, we kindly would like ask members and interested parties to contact either the Chairman, Derek O'Riley, or the Vice-Chairman, Johan van den Berg on general issues, or our Treasurer / Scribe, Bob Buser, on matters regarding administrative / membership issues (concerning the Society). Derek can be contacted at Tel: 021-689-2300. Johan can be contacted at Tel: 021-939-7923; Mobile: 082-579-0386 and email

Brig-Gen Dick Lord's latest book, From Fledgling to Eagle will be available shortly and will sell for R295,00 (excl. p&p). Due to advance interest shown, this will prove to be another Dick Lord bestseller! The re-release of a previous book of his, Vlamgat, also took place in October. It is available in paperback from the same publisher at R200,00 (excl. p&p).

Security Arrangements as the Rosedale Complex: The revised security measures at the Rosedale Complex, to safeguard the security of the residents and visitors alike, are already being enforced and seem to have worked well at the October meeting. The issue had been discussed at length in the previous newsletter, which, in short, means that members and visitors will sign in at the security gate, stating their name, motor vehicle registration number and destination. Again, it might lead to a slight congestion of vehicles at the entrance and we would kindly like to ask members/visitors to consider arriving a few minutes earlier than normal so as not to delay the start of the meeting. We kindly ask members/visitors to bear with us as it is in the interest of the inhabitants of the complex, and be considerate thereof - we apologise for any inconvenience that the new security arrangements might likely cause.