South African Military History 


Newsletter No 49 October 2008 / Nuusbrief Nr 49 Oktober 2008

The meeting on 8 September 2008 marked the fourth anniversary of SAMHSEC, which held its first meeting on 9 September 2004. While the average attendance of meetings has declined from 31 in its first year to 21 in the past year, membership continues steady at 53.

The fifth in the series on historic artillery pieces in South Africa by Pat Irwin was on the 15-pdr BLC (Breech Loading Converted). These guns are readily identified by the large shroud housing the recuperator above the barrel, with its peculiar backward sloping front end.

The 15pdr BLC Field Gun was adapted from the 15pdr standard British field gun of the late 19th century, which probably underwent more modifications than any other gun in British service. The BLC was fitted with a hydraulic buffer and recuperator system which resulted in the gun remaining relatively stable during firing. Earlier 15-pdr guns without this system had to be re-sighted after each firing. Further modifications which were made to this gun were the inclusion of seats for the layer and breech operator, a shield to protect the crew against shrapnel and small arms fire and the mounting of a bracket for the new dial sight which was coming into use. The gun was first issued to the British Territorial Army in 1907 and sold to colonial and dominion armies, including the new Union Defence Force, over the next few years. Some batteries moved to France, Egypt and Mesopotamia with the 15-pdr BLC, and several saw action. In France they were replaced in the field by the end of 1915, but continued to be used in other theatres of the war and for training purposes.

The shell (shrapnel, starshell and case shot) was of 3 inch calibre (76.2 mm) and weighed 14 lb (6.3kg). It had a maximum range of 6,400 yards (5.85km), with this distance being covered in a little over 11 seconds.

The 15-pdr BLC was the standard field gun of the early UDF and was used in the suppression of the 1914 uprising, against the Germans at the battles of Upington and Kakamas and by the Cape Field Artillery during the South West Africa Campaign in 1915. There are, as far as can be established, only six of these field guns left in South Africa: one is in pristine condition in the SANMMH, the others outdoors at various locations.

Two of these guns were converted to South Africa's, and possibly the world's, first AA guns at the War Supplies Workshop at Fort Knokke, Woodstock in August 1914, to give them an elevation of more than 60 degrees. Both still exist. One is located at Fort Wynyard in Cape Town, where it was mounted as an anti-aircraft gun from 1917 to 1919. The other, named 'Skinny Liz' by the troops, took part in the German South West African campaign of 1914/15, being used in an AA role at the Battle of Trekkoppies on 26 April 1915. Skinny Liz is at the Anti-Aircraft School in Kimberley.

Piet Hall's curtain raiser was on the poetry of the South African War 1899-1902, which was the first major war in which Britain engaged after the Education Act of 1870 had ensured almost universal literacy. The British poetry of the war was either loyalist or expressed doubt and/or protest about the legitimacy of the war and pacifism. Poems by combatants often merged these approaches. Poems published in the media in one genre often illicited rebuttals in the other. Several nonsense verse poems successfuly conveyed the frustration felt by soldiers, especially in the guerilla phase of the war.

While there were relatively few poets on the Boer side during the war, the immediate post-war period war produced several, such as Eugene Marais, J.D. du Toit (Totius), Jan F. Cilliers and C. Louis Leipoldt. Of the four, Cilliers was the only one with extensive Commando service.

Poems relating to the war were also written by poets from non-combatant nations, including the United States.

Jock Harris' main lecture covered his own experiences as a SA Army captain during Operation Savannah. After reviewing the start of the Angolan Civil War, Jock described how he and others were withdrawn at short notice from a promotion course at the SA Army College and sent to train FNLA soldiers in Angola. He moved through Sa da Bandeira, Nova Lisboa, Cela and elsewhere. He participated in the Battle of Ebo on the Mabassa River before returning to the RSA. After a short leave period, Jock returned to South West Africa and was involved in establishing the training base for Citizen Force regiments at Oshivelo.

Jock's lecture included reference to the contrast of some towns being relatively intact, while others were extensively damaged. Abandoned personal possessions gave testimony to the haste with which the Portuguese presence in Angola was abandoned after nearly 5 centuries. Jock described encountering descendants of the Dorsland Trekkers who had settled in Angola. An amusing incident was when Jock, as the senior officer present, authorised the sailing of a merchant vessel from Mocamedes.

Members are invited to contribute to the filling of the vacant slots on the SAMHSEC 2009 speakers roster. Please contact the Scribe.

SAMHSEC's next meeting will be at 1930 on Monday 13 October 2008 in the Eastern Province Veteran Car Club. The curtain raiser will be on Operation Blou Wildebees, the heliborne assault on Ongulumbashe in 1966. The main lecture will be on the Battle of Hastings by Pat Irwin.

Members might be interested in Marius van Aardt's webpage about the South African Bush War at

Malcolm Kinghorn.
082 331 6223

South African Military History Society /