Our speaker on 8 October 2009 was Col Lionel Crook SM JCD, the distinguished gunner and military historian, whose topic was the history of the South African Artillery.
Col Crook introduced his talk by explaining that age had become an obsession in our Reserve Force regiments. He mentioned two units which claim to be considerably older than they are and discussed the many arguments that are used to try and substantiate these claims. The main criterion is in fact the period of continuous, unbroken service.
Col Crook served in the Cape Field Artillery (CFA) for many years and commanded the regiment from 1973 to 1979. The regiment was raised on 26 August 1857 when the Royal Artillery unit at the Cape was sent to help quell the Indian Mutiny. The CFA is the oldest volunteer artillery regiment in the British Commonwealth and the oldest volunteer artillery unit in the world. Col Crook explained that a distinguished British Royal Artillery historian had told him that the Honorable Artillery Company's claim to this distinction was invalid as that unit had originally been a club and had only joined the British Army in 1859!
Our speaker then listed the surprising number of early South African artillery units - Diamond Fields Artillery, Field Battery of the Kimberley Regiment, the Bluff Volunteer Artillery, Cape Garrison Artillery, De Beers Maxim Battery, Cape Town Artillery (Cape Town Volunteer Artillery), George Artillery Corps, Griqualand West Volunteer Brigade, Kaffrarian Artillery Volunteers, King Williamstown Artillery Volunteers, Port Elizabeth Volunteer Artillery, Queenstown Artillery Volunteers, Simon's Town Artillery, Stellenbosch Artillery, Durban Volunteer Artillery and Transvaal Horse Artillery. Some of these units lasted for a number of years and others for only a very short period of time. Only four of these units were incorporated in the Union Defence Force in 1913 - Cape Field Artillery, "C" Battery Natal Field Artillery, the Transvaal Horse Artillery and the Cape Garrison Artillery.
The Permanent Force at that time consisted of the South African Mounted Rifles (SAMR) with an artillery battery of 13-pounders in three of the four regiments. Col Crook described the two methods of controlling Artillery draught horses, namely:
- Postillion - where the rider is mounted on the front left-hand animal of the three pairs of horses; &
- Long Rein - where the driver sat on the box of the limber using a long rein to control the horses.
Col Crook described the establishment of the School of Gunnery at Auckland Park and the impact of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. The SAMR had largely been employed in a policing role in peacetime. The 1st Permanent Battery SAMR was understrength so its place was taken temporarily by the Transvaal Horse Artillery, using the title THA Battery SAMR. This served in the German South West Africa campaign where it was ambushed at Sandfontein. Twenty-eight of the forty gunners in Lt Adler's section became casualties, with two guns captured and Col Grant and his force taken prisoner.
Col Crook then described the key role played by the CFA in the battle of Mushroom Valley in the Free State during the 1914 Rebellion. At 0730 Genl Louis Botha arrived at the CFA's position on the farm Hoenderkop and looked at Genl de Wet's camp site at a distance, using his field glasses. The Rebels were starting to break camp and move out. At 0800 Genl Botha ordered the CFA to "skiet"! The shell burst high above the rebels who immediately rode off. The general then ordered the gunners to unload but this could only be done by firing the gun, which distressed the general as the gunner's aim was spot-on. About 200 vehicles and most of Genl de Wet's transport were captured. It was the 13th of November, 1914.
On 24 January 1915, the CFA had the honour of winning the four-hour battle against Lt Col Manie Maritz and his Rebel force when it attacked Upington using German guns. This was the only direct enemy attack on South African soil during the First World War. Our speaker then described the role played by the other gunner units during the German South West African campaign - the Transvaal Horse Artillery in the north, the 12th Field Battery raised in Durban with the Central Force which did excellent work at Gibeon, the Natal Field Artillery and the Cape Garrison Artillery.
Col Crook described the German bombing raids which cost the life of Cpl Keeping and wounded the rest of his 12th Battery detachment. He also described how improvisation helped to counter the danger from the air - a few artillery pieces were modified in the Railway workshops in Cape Town to serve as anti-aircraft artillery - one of which is still on view at Fort Wynyard, in Cape Town.
A Brigade of Heavy Artillery (SAHA) commanded by Lt Col J M Rose of the Royal Marine Artillery also served during the campaign. This increased to a force of three brigades. After the end of the GSWA campaign, men drawn from these units and others formed the 71st to 75th Siege Batteries and the 50th SA Brigade Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA), all of which served with distinction in France. The departure of the SAHA for England on 28 August 1915 was the first occasion on which South Africa had sent troops abroad in defence of the Empire in the Great War. The four howitzer batteries landed in France in the period April and May 1916 and received their baptism of fire on the Somme.
Col Crook then described the role of the SA Artillery in German East Africa and Palestine. The 4th Field Battery SAMR, using captured German mountain guns, served with Genl Northey's force. Five more SAFA batteries served in East Africa and two more served in Egypt.
The campaign in East Africa was fought in miserable and arduous conditions. In the rainy season the roads were impassable and the malaria mosquito and tsetse fly were rampant. All sorts of diseases flourished and food for both man and animal was difficult to obtain. The number of casualties caused by the climate and illness far exceeded the losses suffered from enemy action, which greatly aided the small German force's ability to outwit and out-manoeuvre the superior Allied forces until after the formal cessation of hostilities in November 1918.
The South African Field Artillery Brigade which served in Palestine was formed from field batteries withdrawn from East Africa in 1917 and was attached to the 75th Division. It initially comprised two 6-gun 18-pounder Batteries. On 18 April 1918 it was joined by a battery armed with four 4.5 inch howitzers. Just before midnight on 21 November 1917 the brigade took part in the capture of the heights of Nebi Samwil and on the following day they helped repulse three Turkish counter-attacks. Col Crook explained that the key which formed part of the divisional badge was painted on the guns which remained in store in Egypt at the end of the war. The same guns were once again manned by South African gunners during the Second World War!
On 1 December 1921, all of the British War Department properties in South Africa were handed over to the Union Government which assumed responsibility for the landward defence of the country. The speaker described the establishment of the SA Permanent Garrison Artillery (SAPGA) commanded by Major (later Lt Col) B C Judd OBE and the South African Field Artillery (not to be confused with the Imperial Service First World War regiment), as part of the Permanent Force in 1922. It was formed from the troops in the SAMR field batteries. This was also the source of manpower required by the various SAPGA units. Its Active Citizen Force batteries were the CFA, NFA and THA.
In 1934 the Coast Artillery Brigade was established in Cape Command. This comprised 1 and 2 Medium Batteries, the CFA and No 1 Armoured Train. 2 Medium Battery had by the end of 1938 been transferred to the Artillery School in Potchefstroom.
At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the only anti-aircraft guns in South Africa were eight 3-inch 20cwt guns. There were only six searchlights. When these guns and searchlights were sent to East Africa with 1 AA Brigade SAA, all that was left to defend the Union's ports were a few light machine-guns. By 1939 the SA Field Artillery and the infantry were training together - a revolutionary new development introduced by seconded Royal Artillery officers.
Col Crook explained that the components of the Union Defence Forces - the Permanent Force, Active Citizen Force, Coast Garrison Force, SA Division of the RNVR, National Reserve - were all governed by entirely different regulations which did not allow for efficiency! He then discussed the seniority of units, pointing out that the SA Air Force (SAAF), established in 1921, with seniority dating from 1 February 1923, is the second oldest air force in the world. The Royal Artillery dates from 1716, the Massachusetts Artillery from 1638 and so on. The SAFA will be 86 years old in 2010.
Col Crook described the primitive conditions at Potchefstroom where the School of Artillery was established in 1939. There were no sporting facilities but some people took part in drag hunts at Roberts Heights and Potchefstroom! The duration of army courses was three months.
Col Crook listed the guns available for use in the SA Artillery vis-à-vis those required. These were 3.7inch howitzers - 4 (108 needed), 18-pounders - 50 (104 needed), 4.5inch howitzers - 8 (12 needed), 2-pdr anti-tank guns - 6 (48 needed). Gunnery equipment was equally scarce - theodolites - 22 (259 needed), boards - 24 (225 needed), range finders - 14 (105 needed), field telephones - 78 (682 needed), compasses - 123 (1 068 needed) and so on. A number of badly needed guns were manufactured in South Africa including 190 3.7inch howitzers, 100 2-pdr anti-tank guns, 300 6-pdr anti-tank guns and 101 3.7inch pack howitzers.
Col Crook then gave a brief outline of the operations in which SA gunner units had taken part in East Africa, Ethiopia, Madagascar, the Western Desert and Italy. He explained that during the War, the well-known Active Citizen Force (ACF) gunner units were double-banked with volunteer units (CFA, NFA and THA) personnel who had signed the Africa Service oath but who had not been sent up north together with other people who could be mobilised if South Africa had been attacked. He also referred to the administrative shambles in which new units were established and later disestablished in large numbers.
The wartime units were disbanded with effect from 1 May 1946 and by mid-1946 the field units were 1 Field Regiment, Prince Alfred's Own, Cape Field Artillery (PAOCFA), 1 Medium Regiment, 5 Field Regiment, 2 Field Regiment (NFA), 2 Anti-Tank Regiment, 6 Field Regiment ("Oranje-Vrystaat Veld Artillerie" - OVSVA), 3 Field Regiment (THA), 22 Field Regiment (SA Irish), 7 Medium Regiment (3rd Btn, Transvaal Scottish) and 1 Anti-Tank Regiment (Pretoria Highlanders).
Col Crook discussed the university regiment experiment in which regiments were set up at Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. The units were bilingual and this was regarded as the most successful aspect of the scheme. When the new national service came into use in 1968, this scheme was abandoned. Artillery units took part in operations during the long Border War as well.
Col Crook finished with a few remarks on the present status of our field artillery, with one PF regiment and six Reserve Force regiments in existence - albeit in a parlous state. The THA is doing particularly well with two fully-manned batteries. The others at most could field a troop. Not a very satisfactory situation!
Bob Buser thanked Col Crook for another most interesting talk and presented him with the customary gift.
Fellow-member John Mahncke has made it known that the final chapter on U-Boat stories along South Africa's coastline during WW II still needs to be written and that he is still looking for additional stories, information or leads. He is furthermore also investigating reports of submarine sightings along our coast - especially the Transkei - from the early 1960s up to the 1980s. Apparently Russian submarines were active in liaising with - and supplying of - ANC military and para-military organisations, such as Umkhonto-we-Sizwe (MK). This entailed landing and picking up contact-persons on secluded beaches. He will appreciate any assistance in this regard. John can be reached at Tel: 021-797-5167 and E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A light khaki Dhobi Gold Label raincoat was found after the last meeting. Please contact the Treasurer if this is yours.
Only a very few members have not paid their subscriptions for the year. If you have not yet paid, please do so before the end of this month.
We are always looking for new members so, if you know of anyone who may be interested in military history, bring him or her along to the next meeting or otherwise persuade them to join.
Thursday 12 November 2009 - A History of Military Medicine in the Anglo Boer War
Our speaker for this month is Prof J C (Kay) de Villiers, foremost expert on the history of military medicine during the South African War, or better-known to us as the Anglo-Boer War. Prof de Villiers has recently published a boxed set of two books on the subject that is monumental in the detail and scope of the subject covered. Our speaker will address specific aspects of military medicine that will suit the intended target audience and is therefore not to be missed!
Thursday 21 January 2010 Note: third Thursday. Speaker still to be finalised - to be announced in the next newsletter.
Thursday 11 February 2010 - The story of the Cape Regiment - The SACC in the Border War
Our speaker will be Col Anthony Reiner who commanded this little-known Citizen Force unit during the Border War. The Regiment was the Citizen Force infantry component of the SA Cape Corps and served as such in South West Africa/Namibia. Col Reiner will discuss the founding of the unit and its service on the Border.
BOB BUSER: Treasurer/Scribe
Phone: Home: (evenings) 021-689-1639
Office: (mornings) 021-689-9771
RAY HATTINGH: Secretary
Phone: 021-592-1279 or 021-531-6781