South African Military History Society

News-sheet No. 93. DURBAN BRANCH April 1981.


At the April meeting of this branch fellow-member Ron Melrose treated us to an entirely new and different fare than that which other speakers had presented in more recent times. He went back some eight hundred years in time and many thousands of miles away to the vast steppes of Mongolia to tell an absorbing story about that invincible army, which once became the scourge of Europe, under its legendary ruler Genghis Khan.

By way of an introduction Ron showed a series of slides depicting ancient Mongol culture and ways of life, which in many respects persist to the present day.. The Mongols are herdsmen with nomadic dispositions and almost live in the saddle, women being nearly as adept at riding as the men. The horsemanship of the Mongols can best be judged by the ride of one of their best men, who did the 1 500 miles from Jibhalanta to Peking in eight days, changing ponies at each of the posting places, 15 miles or so apart, which used to be kept up along the imperial routes. In both their light and heavy cavalry every man kept three or four shaggy horses which he would ride alternately. The national weapon was the bow with arrows of different 'caliber'. Their weaponry also included lances and sabres. In addition their light artillery consisted of various missile-throwing machines, mangonels, and catapults. These were taken to pieces and formed a pack artillery. They could fire rapidly and accurately, could go anywhere, and were adequate for open fighting. The Mongol forces were a war machine which worked like clockwork, and its great mobility made it irresistable to troops far more strongly armed and numerous.

The political history of the Mongols as an entity begins with Genghis (or Jenghiz) Khan whose father was the ruler of only a few clans. He succeeded in binding the Mongols into a loose political organizations which in its original form did not survive his death, but our speaker showed by means of a series of projected campaign maps that the fruits of his military genius were sufficient to carry the Mongol horsemen over most of Asia and as far into Europe as Austria, Silesia and Poland.

The date of his birth is not quite certain. It was a couple of years either way of the year 1160. At birth he was given the name of Temuchin and he was in his early teens when at the death of his father he was placed on the Mongol throne. Having overcome earlier troubles and tribulations he emerged with the passage of time as a war lord and empire builder who then assumed the name and title Genghis Khan (Mongolian Chingiz, 'perfect warrior'). Ably assisted by three brothers and his sons Juli, Jagathai and Ogothai he defeated in battle one khan or shah after the other. City after city, and province after province fell to his strategy of psychological intimidation, surprise, speed and terror tactics. On his way home from one of his campaigns he was seized by an illness. On 18 August 1227 he died at his travelling palace Ha-lao-tu, on the banks of the river Sale in Mongolia.

Thus ended the career of one of the greatest conquerors the world has ever seen, born and nurtured as the chief of a petty Mongolian tribe he lived to see his armies victorious from the China sea to the banks of the Dnieper; and though the empire which he created ultimately dwindled away under the hands of less competent descendants, leaving nothing behind, we have in the Turks of Europe a consequence of his rule, since it was the advance of his armies which drove their Osmanli ancestors from their original home in northern Asia and led to their final advance into Europe.

Major (Dr) John Buchan expressed the thanks of the meeting in appropriate terms.

Suggested reading :

1. "Military Life of Genghis: Khan of Khans" by T.N. Dupuy.
2. "History of the Mongols" by Bertold Spules.
3. "The Mongols" by E.D. Phillips.
4. "The Mongol Empire" by Peter Breuf.



Field Day : Restoration of Fort Eshowe (kwaMondi) - POSTPONED

Some five members have already indicated their intention to assist in adding some final touches to the improvements undertaken at Fort Eshowa, These will involve affixing aluminium plaques, bearing various inscriptions as markers, to cement bases (bearers) and digging shallow holes to place the precast cement bases in position in the ground. Will anyone who intends participating please indicate their intention to either the Chairman, Cmdt 'SB' Bourquin, or the undersigned. PLEASE BRING YOUR OWN PICNIC LUNCHES AND REFRESHMENTS. Eshowe is a comfortable two hours drive from Durban. The RENDEZVOUS will be at the Port at 9h45. 'SB' can be contacted at Telephone 857607 (home)).

May get-together

May 14th Our own Chairman, CMDT 'SB' BOURQUIN will present a slide talk on ANDREAS HOFER (A true freedom fighter)..

The venue will be the Lecture Room, 'SB' Bourquin Building, (Port Natal Administration board's head office) on the corner of Jan Smuts Highway and Buro Crescent, Mayville, on the second Thursday in the month, commencing at 8 p.m. Glasses and ice will be supplied so please bring your own bottled or canned refreshments. Friends and interested persons are welcome to come along.

(Mrs) Tania van der Watt,
Secretary, Durban Branch,
S.A. Military History Society,
Box 870, HILLCREST, 3650.
Telephone 742970.p>

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