Past meeting - Johannesburg - 8th July 1982
Those present at this meeting had the double priviledge of being addressed by Mr. Johan Bruwer who is both Assistant-Director of the S.A. National Museum of Military History and an academically accredited expert on his topic. He performed his military service with 3 SA Infantry Battalion and the Johannesburg Regiment and studied at the Rand Afrikaans University, receiving BA, BA Hons and MA degrees before joining the Museum as a Professional Officer in 1979. The evenings lecture 'The Battle of Monte Stanco, October 1944' was based in part on his Master's dissertation, "Die Rol van die Sesde Suid-Afrikaanse Pantserdivisie in die Ontplooing van die Geallieerde offensief in Italie; Die Slag van Monte Stanco, 7 tot 13 Oktober l944," for which he was awarded his degree with distinction.
In October 1944, 6th SA Armoured Division was under direct command of 9th USA Army Headquarters facinq the Gothic line. On October 6th the Royal Natal Carbineers captured Monta Vigese to find the fortress of Monte Stanco in front of them. Monte Stanco occupied a highly strategic position dominating Route 64. It could not be outflanked or bypassed and no breakthrough to the Po valley was possible without taking the heights. This task was not easy to accomplish. The terrain was very broken, heavily wooded and extremely steep giving every advantage of position to the defense. Also, the weather was severe with the autumn rains at their height and bitterly cold. This limited artillery support, interfered with wireless communication, made the slopes treacherously slippery and effectively orevented any move off the roads or paths. The enemy consisting of the 35th and 36th Panzer Grenadier Regiments was under a 'hold at all costs' order from Hitler.
The 4/l3 Frontier Force Rifles, a unit of Indian troops, of 11 SA Armoured Brigade was ordered to assault Monte Stanco and continue on to Monte Salvaro as the limit of their advance. This necessitated a 10 km. movement at short notice with very poor communications. The Indians were hampered by the lack of an artillery fire plan and an almost complete absence of any intelligence about the enemy desoite the fact that Divisional HQ had warned Brig. Furstenburg that there were two enemy formations on the mountain. Two companies of 47/3 advanced and established themselves on Monte Stanco but bad weather cut their communications and their artillery liason was bogged down in Stanco town where it could only be contacted by runner. The Germans launched counter-attacks from the northeast and southwest, pushing forward with fanatical disregard for loss but under very good discipline. Artillery supoort for the Indians was not possible because their positions were not known. Eventually, shortage of ammunition allowed the Germans to recapture the mountain. 4/13 fell back having suffered 37 casualties.
Next, it was the turn of the Royal Natal Carbineers to try their luck in the wet, the cold and the mud. The line of communication at this stage was a one-way road, really a muddy mountain track, running along a ridge and subject to harassing fire. Weather conditions had worsened to the point where gun positions were totally waterlogged and the gunners were scrounging wood to keep their guns from sinking into the mud. The Carbineers went in on a 2-company front up the steep slopes and achieved their objectives with divisional artillery support. Once again Germans counter-attacks followed and were pushed home even into the teeth of heavy machinegun fire. The land lines between the Carbineer companies had been cut and the wireless was failing. Divisional artillery was unable to break the German attacks and soon the position was too confused for effective support from the guns. After beating off five counter-attacks, the Carbineers were forced to pull back having sustained 56 casualties. German losses are not known but were probably close to this figure. The failure of this attack was caused by the same problems as those faced by the Indians: lack of adequate preparation and failure of communications, Furthermore, the Carbineers had not learned from the experience of 4/13 and so had not patrolled far enough to get adequate warning of counter-attacks developing.
The escalation of effort now reached the level of an attack by 12 SA Motorized Brigade. There would be close liason between guns and infantry with proper preparation and follow-up. 4.2 inch mortars were to hit the enemy start lines and troop concentrations on the reverse slopes of the mountain. Two days were given to preparing, planning and stockpiling supplies. The Witwatersrand Rifles' De La Rey Regiment was to take Stanco town and the mountain heights with 1st City/Cape Town Highlanders on their right to protect the flank and take the lower heights. 24th Guards Brigade would launch a feint attack just before the main effort. Intelligence on the enemy had improved so that it was known that 94th Infantry Division would be taking over the Stanco positiom from 16th Panzer Grenadier at the time of the assault.
At 02h30 on October 13th, the Guards made thir feint. From 04h30 to 05h00 there was a bombardment by support weapons to confuse the enemy as to the direction of the attack. This was followed by a shoot from divisional artillery as the advance started. By 06h00 the Rifles were on the objective and, although the Highlanders were held up by enemy resistance, Monte Stanco was in South African hands by 06h30. German casualties during the action were 300+ while the Witwatersrand Rifles lost 28 killed, 63 wounded and the Cape Town Highlanders had 12 killed, 32 wounded.
Following his talk Mr. Bruwer answered questions from the audience, some of whom had taken part in the action described. Interest in this lecture was shown not only by the attendance despite the July chill (relatively balmy compared to what the troops endured) but also by the distance travelled in order to be present. One couple came all of the way from Mafeking. Mr. J. Rowe gave the Society's thanks to Mr. Bruwer for his talk. It should be noted that Johan Bruwer is not only an excellent speaker and dedicated historian but also reflects great credit upon the Museum.
Before the evening's talk, the Chairman made a presentation to Maurice Gough-Palmer on behalf of the entire Society and its branches. Maurice was given a Silver tankard, which is enscribed with the words: "South African Military History Society, Presented to Maurice Gough-Palmer, In Appreciation of Services, 1971 - 1982." It is hoped that Maurice will enjoy his 'retirement' and that the tankard will see long service.
Mr. Kinsey also announced that the Journal will be available shortly and that it will be posted as soon as possible. Maj. D.D. Hall (who has been banished to the rear of this newsletter for having turned his 'kind' attentions upon our Chairman and may never redeem himself) gave his usual introductory program. This time, it was "Soldiers in Uniform" which was a depiction of the clothing and weapons of fighting men through history-from a 1st Century Roman centurion to one of the Red Devils at Arnhem. As is normal, it was well up to the high standards that we have come to expect of Darrell.
Future meetings - Cape Town
Thurs. 12th August 20h15 - "CULLODEN" a documentary film
Future meetings - Durban
Thurs. 12th August 20h00 - "The Stormberg Saga" - slide presentation by Mr. Ken Gillings
A plea for help from Maj. Alastair Martin who would like to know the author of the lines "Sleep my sons your duty done/For freedom's light has come/Sleep in the silent depths of the sea/Or in your bed of hollowed sod/Until you hear at dawn the/Low clear reveille of God." These lines appear on a memorial to Lt-Col Jonathan Netanyahu who was killed leading the raid on Entebbe Airport on 14th July 1976. If you can identify them please telephone Maj. Martin on 832-1891 or 834-2991 and help to solve this conundrum.
By now most members will have heard, with deep regret, of the death of Henry Edward (Teddy) Winder on the 19th of July. All of the newspapers have noted his career as a cartoonist and art critic over a period of 60 years. Few will have remembered him as one of the founding members of this Society and as a member of its first Executive Committee. Those of us who had the opportunity of attending his talk on a "Subaltern in the Trenches" will not forget the wit and humour of the man or the way in which he emphasized the light-hearted aspects of life in the midst of horrors. We extend our condolences to his wife, Joan, and his son, Frank. In the memory of many members of this Society Teddy Winder is one old soldier who will neither die nor slowly fade away. (Your scribe has deliberately placed this item under the above heading as the contents of the kit bag are things of personal worth.)
Rod Murchison (726-3111(B))
(Scribe - mending his ways)
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