South African Military 
History Society


June 2008

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

The DDH was presented by fellow member Jesse Wesseloo entitled The Dutch-East India Company as a fighting force. The 17th century was known as "The Golden Age" in the Netherlands. It marked a period of unprecedented economic, cultural and scientific development. From about 1580-1650 the Netherlands became the dominant player in European trade. By 1660, 15 000 of the 20 000 ships used in maritime trade were Dutch. This was achieved through the mass production of low-cost ships making for a cost-effective shipping service. It was during this period of economic prosperity, entrepreneurship and financial innovation that the VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie), came into being. During its lifespan VOC ships carried over 1 million men from Europe to Asia. Besides becoming the world's largest privately owned trading and shipping company, the VOC was also an important military power.

Its trade routes connected Japan, the whole of the Indonesian Archipelago, the Asian coast, including 40 fortresses and trading posts in India, the Persian Gulf states, both the east and west coasts of Africa and of course the Cape of Good Hope, with Amsterdam.

In August 1665, during the 2nd Anglo-Dutch war, the English vainly attacked a returning Dutch merchant and treasure fleet which had sought shelter in Vågen Bay, Bergen, Norway because of very heavy storms. The English blocked the harbour entrance but could only position 8 ships as the harbour was only 400 m wide. The Dutch commander, De Bitter, positioned his 8 heaviest and heavily armed VOC merchantmen north to south so that they could shoot broadsides at the English ships. The 8 large VOC merchantmen had superior firepower to that of the English frigates and were also better built to sustain canon balls damage. After 3 hours of being pounded, the English ships were routed. Their panicked crews cut the anchor ropes and fled.

The beginning of the Dutch-Portuguese/Spanish Wars for control of the Far East can be traced back to 1588 when the Dutch started to attack and invade Portuguese colonies in the Americas, Africa, and the Far East. Within 3 years of her founding, the VOC had wrestled control of the legendary Spice Islands from the Portuguese. As early as 1609 the VOC concluded that a permanent head office was needed to build an empire and to establish an inter-Asiatic trading network. For security reasons Jakarta was chosen. In 1619 a fortified base was established in Batavia (now Jakarta) which became the headquarters of the VOC in the East Indies. From the beginning it was clear that the VOC, besides economic, also had political and military goals. Their extension of power was in the first place geared to trade, but the VOC also became involved in internal conflicts between the various Sultans and Rajahs.

The VOC was also continuously at war with the other major sea powers for supremacy of the East Indies. Many battles were fought - with the Spanish in the Philippines, with the Portuguese over Goa and with the English around India. As the Dutch had a permanent naval presence in the East Indies the VOC still relied on them to fight their major battles.

But, empires fall and so did the VOC's trading empire. Many reasons have been expressed and many arguments heard. The demise of the VOC was mainly due to its inability to reform in time and recruit new manpower; the increase in naval power of its main rivals England and France; the burden of maintaining garrisons and warships, corruption within the company, the 4th Anglo-Dutch War from 1780-1784 resulting in the loss of numerous richly laden merchantmen and trading posts, and the invasion of the French army into the Netherlands. It landed the Dutch Government with a huge debt which took them a century to repay and was one of the reasons for why Belgium fought for its own independence in 1830. A number of years ago, because of its historical value, the archives of the VOC (some 34 million pages or almost 5 km) were put on the Unesco World Heritage List.

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The evening's main talk was presented by chairman Bill Brady called KENNETH CAMPBELL VC - THE NATAL CONNECTION. Eleven years ago Bill delivered a talk to the society on Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell VC. The talk was entitled "Hometown VC" and detailed events of an airman born in the same town of Saltcoats on the west coast of Scotland. The reason for reviving the talk is due to a recently discovered link to Natal. This development was explained but firstly an abbreviated version of Kenneth Campbell's action was delivered.

On 22 March 1941 the German battle-Cruisers "SCHARNHORST" and "GNEISENAU" entered the occupied French port of Brest after completing operations in the North Atlantic. Churchill ordered them to be destroyed regardless of the risks and sacrifices involved. The threat of these two awesome capital ships, venturing out again into the Atlantic to sow yet more terrible destruction upon merchant convoys weighed heavily on anxious minds at the Admiralty and the war cabinet.

A successful attack against these 'big guns' became paramount, especially after Churchill's directive. Kenneth Campbell, based at St. Eval, Cornwall with Coastal Command No.22 Squadron was put on immediate standby to strike at any German Naval activity, either at sea or in port.

RAF bombing raids had been largely ineffective, but the discovery of an unexploded bomb in Gneisenau's dry dock soon changed that. The ship had to be moved out of dry dock and she was photographed by a reconnaissance Spitfire, thus creating an immediate opportunity for Coastal Command. 22 Squadron was ordered to attack with Bristol Beaufort torpedo bombers. Kenneth Campbell's aircraft was the only one to get through.

At dawn on 6 April 1941 he piloted his aircraft towards the Gneisenau. The distance was almost too close for his torpedo to run effectively and required great skill. After releasing the torpedo he pulled up and made a climbing turn, desperate to clear the surrounding hills and intensive anti aircraft fire to reach the sanctuary of low cloud. However the aircraft was hit and crashed into the harbour. There were no survivors and this gallant crew was never to know the results of their courage and determination. But the torpedo ran true and struck the Gneisenau below the water line. Extensive damage was done and she was out of commission for seven critical months. For quite some time Hitler had become so concerned for the safety of his big ships that he ordered them to be returned to German waters.

This led to THE "CHANNEL DASH" in February 1942. All three ships (including Prinz Eugen) survived, albeit not without damage, and the operation proved a huge propaganda success for Germany and a crushing humiliation for the British. But a tactical victory for the German Navy was also a strategic gain for the Royal Navy. The Brest Squadron no longer directly threatened the Atlantic convoy routes. Both battle cruisers were damaged and ten days later "Prinz Eugen" was badly damaged by a British submarine and would play no further part in the war.

Two weeks after docking in Kiel, the Gneisenau became the target of a huge RAF attack by 178 bombers and was struck on the foredeck. Contrary to normal practice, ammunition had not been unloaded. This was a fatal error and the resultant fires set off a chain reaction and explosion that devastated the ship and killed 112 crewmembers. This somewhat compensated the British for the disgrace suffered in the "Channel Dash."

In March 1942 it was decided to decommission Gneisenau. B and C turrets were removed from the ship and taken to Trondheim, Norway. Gneisenau ignominiously ended the war as a blockship, sunk in Gotenhafen harbor and filled with concrete to deny the port to the Russians.

Also at the wars end the gun batteries were taken over by the Norwegians and used in exercises from the late 1940's through to 1953, when the guns were fired for the last time and left in decay until 1990 before being restored. The Trondheim gun turret is the only German WW-2 vintage naval main gun turret left that has not been either dismantled or is resting on the bottom of the ocean.

When intelligence reports filtered back to London it was decided to award Kenneth Campbell with the VC. Bill explained the uniqueness of Campbell's VC; it is the only one to be awarded based on intelligence reports and the only one to be won by a torpedo pilot.

Our speaker then detailed that on his next visit to Saltcoats he was horrified to learn that Campbell's bravery had not been acknowledged in the town and this local hero had not received due recognition. A campaign was launched to rectify this and a dedication ceremony was held on the day after the 59th anniversary of his death on 7 April 2000. The end result was that Kenneth Campbell VC was honoured in the town of his birth.

Bill then outlined the direct Natal connection to Kenneth Campbell's action. It had been brought to his attention that a South African pilot from Natal named Jack Stuart Simson had previously attacked and damaged the Gneisenau at Kiel harbour only a few months previously in August 1940. The pilot flew his Wellington aircraft through vicious flak to a height of 100 feet to ensure accuracy and dropped his bomb load to inflict severe damage and put the "Gneisenau" out of action for three months. Pilot Officer Simson was awarded the DFC for this action, he survived the war, enjoying an illustrious career with over 12 000 flying hours and promoted to the rank of RAF Squadron leader. At the wars end he was awarded the AFC. Bill then introduced the son of the Squadron leader to the audience and he received a warm welcome.

Former chairman Ken Gillings thanked both speakers for their thorough research and excellent power point presentations that re captured bygone historical periods in a most graphic manner. He mentioned to the members that this is military history at its best and is sure we have not heard the last of Kenneth Campbell VC.

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THURSDAY - 12 June 2008 19.00 for 19.30
Usual Venue: Murray Theatre, Civil Engineering Building, Howard College Campus, UKZN
DDH: Prof. Mike Laing will present a quiz evening that has proved most popular in recent years.

MAIN TALK: Guest speaker Bill Bizley will talk on the sinking of U 197 that proved to be a flashpoint in German/South African surveillance politics in 1942/43.

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FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: July to September 2008

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Battlefield Tour will take place on 9th / 10th August 2008.

Cost: R20 per person for Society funds. Entry fees payable at Blood River (R20 pp) and Talana (R20 pp).
1. Saturday morning: Depart Durban 07h30, RV at Ultra City at 09h00 for departure 09h30. ETA Blood River at 11h30. DVD presentation in the Interpretation Centre on the Battlefield, followed by discussion at the Voortrekker laager site. Picnic lunch at Blood River, after which we proceed to the Ncome Museum across the river. Time permitting, we'll view the battlefield from the Zulu commanders' position on Intaba kaNdlela (Ndlela's Hill) across the Mathambo plain. Cost: R20 pp entry fee.
2. Saturday afternoon (+- 16h00) we stop on the right bank of the Mzinyathi (Buffalo) River for preliminary discussion on the next day's battlefield tour. ETA Lodge 17h30.
3. Sunday morning: Proceed to site of Maj Gen Sir William Penn Symons's camp for phase 1, followed by retracing of the route through the town of Dundee taken by the British troops en route to Talana. Phase 2: Stop overlooking the Steenkoolspruit for briefing on the British assembly point. Phase 3: Proceed to Talana Battlefield for final phases of the Battle. Climb Talana Hill to view the Battlefield from the Boer perspective, followed by lunch on the battlefield and tour of the museum. Cost: R15 pp entry fee.

Please arrange your own accommodation for the tour. Special Rates have been negotiated with several lodges and B&Bs in the Dundee area and the details are as follows:
1. Fellow Member, Elizabeth Durham, owns and runs Chez Nous - a very fine B&B in Dundee. She has offered members a major discounted rate for Dinner (three courses), Bed and Breakfast at R405.00 per person. Her contact details are , telephone 034 212 1014. Please refer to the SAMHS tour;
2. Battlefields Country Lodge is situated 8 km from Dundee. They have offered a simple dinner and a DBB rate of R395 per person sharing. Contact details: telephone 034 218 1641. Please refer to the SAMHS tour. Mark your enquiry for the attention of Raymond;
3. The Royal Country Inn is a charming old hotel (originally the Royal Hotel). It is situated below the traffic circle in the town. The owners have offered the following special B & B rate. Contact details: .Tel: 034 212 2147 Dinner is about R120 per person:
Single Rate: R390.00 pppn B&B (En suite with DSTV)
Double Twin Rate: R275.00 pppn B&B (En suite with DSTV)
Family Room Rate: R240.00 pppn B&B - 3 pax sharing (En suite with DSTV)
Family Room Rate: R215.00 pppn B&B - 4 pax sharing (En suite with DSTV)
A Family Room consists of two separate bedrooms, linked by an interleading door, sharing a bathroom. Please refer to the SAMHS tour.
4. Lennox B & B is owned and run by former Rugby Springbok Dirk Froneman and his wife Salome. It is situated on a farm about 8 km from Dundee on a gravel road off the Dundee/Nquthu road. Salome's food is legendary. They have offered the Society a Bed & Breakfast rate of R346. Dinner starts from about R100 but self-catering is permitted in the annexe.
5. Zulu Wings is situated on a farm about 15 km from Dundee on the Nquthu road. They are fully booked for the night of the 9th August, but can offer accommodation if anyone would like to spend the next night there. Contact Vanessa de Villiers on 034 212 5976 or 083 283 8162.
6. Penny Farthing is run by Foy Vermaak and is situated on the Biggarsberg along the Dundee/Helpmekaar road. At the time of going to print, his rates were not available. His e-mail address is

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To celebrate this occasion the society has arranged a buffet lunch to be held at the Durban Country Club on 21st September this year. The cost will be R85,00 per person and includes wine and a commemorative set of glasses engraved with the SAMHS logo.

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Col Jan Breytenbach
The Winston Churchill Shellhole, Westville, has staged a bit of a coup. They have managed to book the legendary Col Jan Breytenbach (of 32 Battalion fame) to give a talk at Flame Lily Park, Queensburgh, on Friday 1st August 2008. Time: 19h00. Cost: R25.00 per person. Proceeds to Flame Lily Park Frail Care.

Col Breytenbach will have copies of his books available. Dress: smart / casual. Refreshments on sale.

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South African Military History Society /