South African Military 
History Society


July 2009

Contact: Ken Gillings 031 702 4828
Bill Brady 031-561-5542

The DDH talk was presented by guest speaker John Goodrich entitled Bomber Down.
A small scrap of paper and a few letters in Flemish and French led to a story that is stranger than fiction. The wording was B-24 H Liberator, 445th Bomber Group, tail number 41-29306, radio call sign "K" for king. This caught John's attention and he decided to investigate further. He discovered that prior to WW2 US aircrews were mostly in reserve awaiting call up. Basically they would learn to shoot, salute and a few other qualities of being an officer before final training at Biggs Field, Texas, on the outskirts of El Paso. John described the characteristics of the various Liberator models and then moved on to the operational mission of the aforementioned aircraft.

Their first and last mission occurred on 22 April 1944 that was to be over Hamm in the Ruhr Valley but due to strong winds and heavy flak was diverted to the secondary target of Koblenz. The aircraft was hit by flak badly damaged and two engines stopped, soon to be followed by a third. Bombs were jettisoned, the aircraft put on auto control and the crew bailed out, all landing safely. Astonishingly the plane landed more or less intact on a farm in Belgium, where the Germans, recovered, repaired and flew it.

Meantime the British issued orders to Jean Lefebvre, a well known 26 year old Resistance Leader to rescue the aircrew and help them return to return to base. But five of the crew were captured by the Germans and only two were rescued. They hid in a farm loft for four months and actively took part in local underground activities. One was killed and the other wounded in action and taken to a local underground hospital for six weeks. On release he was taken to a safe house where he was joined by other downed airmen, eventually placed in the pipeline to take them to Spain.

It was here that a certain Monsieur Marcel, claiming to be a Canadian undercover operative handed the group over to the Abwehr and then Gestapo. The surviving crew member was executed and the others taken POW and imprisoned in Stalag Luft 111 at Sagan where earlier the "GREAT ESCAPE" had taken place. Due to the Russian advance from the east they were moved to a camp near Munich and liberated by Patton's Third Army on 29th April 1945.

What happened to Marcel is not known for sure, some rumours arose that he was operating disguised as a taxi driver in Brussels. But this has never been ascertained. After liberation, 70 000 Belgium traitors and collaborators were rounded up. 65 000 of these were charged, 4 170 were sentenced to death and sent to a disused army base. Following the temporary suspension of the Belgium constitution, (there was no death penalty in Belgium) only 320 were actually executed by firing squad.

The Main Talk was presented by chairman Bill Brady entitled Tragedy at Slapton Sands - 1944.
In the early hours of the 28th of April 1944 a convoy of eight LST's, full of American servicemen and equipment was nearing Slapton Sands on the south coast of England. Their purpose - to take part in Operation Tiger, the military code name for a D Day exercise that was due to take place in a few weeks time at Normandy. The success of D DAY, the largest amphibious assault in history, would depend on precise coordination and complete secrecy. Most of us are aware of the events of 65 years ago when Allied troops crossed the English Channel to attack Hitler's much vaunted Atlantic Wall. However, what many of us perhaps do not know is the slaughter at a practice landing whose mission was to prepare for the invasion. Their sacrifice possibly ranks alongside that of Dieppe in helping to ensure the success of D Day. Operation Tiger at Slapton Sands was one of several military exercises to simulate the landings at Utah Beach. But during this exercise hundreds of American servicemen perished mainly due to confusion and negligence.

It was also one of the military's best kept secrets and not entirely revealed until military authorities finally acknowledged the event thirty years later when the Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1974. It happened just as the assault ships and their escort vessel were manoeuvring into position to start their practice landing. Suddenly, out of the darkness a group of German E boats appeared in attack formation. In the resulting chaos and carnage two LST's were sunk and two badly damaged. The beaches became littered with dead bodies with more being brought in on each tide. When the waters of the English Channel finally ceased to wash bloated corpses ashore, the toll of the dead and missing were counted. It turned out to be the most costly training incident involving U.S. forces during World War II. 749 American servicemen had lost their lives. Three times more casualties than when 'Utah' beach was stormed on D-Day.

Due to concerns over possible information leaks just prior to the real invasion. The whole affair was hushed up and many of the dead were hastily buried in unmarked graves. Generals Bradley and Eisenhower issued orders that the families of the dead were not to be informed of how the men died. They made sure that details of the tragedy would be buried with the troops. Under pain of court martial the strictest secrecy was imposed on all who knew of the disaster. This included medical staff that treated the wounded survivors. Security of the entire D Day operation was considered compromised. The distrust between the American and British commanders makes one wonder how the invasion ever got launched. That it did is an enormous tribute to the patience of Eisenhower and Churchill stepping in time after time to intercede in bitter quarrels. Ultimately more than 800 000 British and Canadian troops and 1 300 000 American troops were assembled to take part in the great battle to liberate Europe.

The practice assault on Slapton Sands was planned to be as realistic as possible. Suitable training beaches had been identified that would simulate landings on the Normandy coast. Slapton Sands was selected because it had characteristics similar to "Omaha" and "Utah" beaches. Other beaches were also selected to the east of Portsmouth to simulate landings on the British zones, namely, Gold, Juno and Sword. The continued shortage of LST's was a major headache for Allied planners. The LST was the most valuable vessel afloat for Normandy, without which the invasion could never have taken place. These shallow draft flat bottomed assault ships of four and a half thousand tons could steam at 10 knots and were capable of carrying several hundred men, vehicles and tanks. In late 1943, the British Government evacuated approximately 3 000 local residents from their farms and villages in the Slapton Sands area and the American Army moved in. Tens of thousands of American troops were billeted around this area to undergo training for the imminent landings. Over the weeks that were to follow the Americans made many training attacks on the beaches until all was ready for the full scale rehearsal, Exercise Tiger, under the command of US Admiral Moon. The assault convoy carrying vehicles and combat engineers left Plymouth at 9.45 pm on the night of 27th April 1944 and sailed at a speed of 5 knots in a single row, keeping a distance of about 400 metres. At 06:20 it was reported to Admiral Moon that some of the LST's were behind schedule and it was requested that H Hour be delayed for an hour to which he approved. Due to a typing error in orders, the LST's were on a different radio frequency from the escort and naval headquarters ashore. When one of the picket ships in the Channel spotted German E boats soon after midnight, a report quickly reached the British escort but not the LST's. The escort commander assumed the LST's had received the same report and therefore, made no effort to contact them. Everything from then on seemed to go wrong.

Meanwhile across the English Channel at Cherbourg, E Boats were preparing for a patrol run along the southwest English coast. The German naval commander at Cherbourg was alerted by the greatly increased naval activity in the Slapton Sands area, and ordered E boats to that vicinity. The E Boat commander Captain Rudolf Petersen, maintaining radio silence to avoid detection soon came into visual contact with the LST convoy and swiftly positioned for a torpedo attack. The convoy was caught surprised even though Allied intelligence had warned about possible danger from German E Boats. Within minutes of the attack torpedoes hit three of the LST's, two burst into flames, rolled over and sank. Intermittent firing was seen and heard but could not be identified in the darkness and confusion. Further torpedoes were fired by the E Boats and found their mark as another LST burst into flame.

The E-boat commander decided to terminate the action and made for Cherbourg at high speed to escape without loss. The first round in the invasion of Normandy was won by the Germans and Captain Rudolph Petersen was awarded Oakleaves to his Knights Cross. Conversely, Rear Admiral Moon was summoned by U.S. Admiral Kirk and hauled over the coals. Three months later the death toll increased yet further. Moon never got over the disaster at Slapton Sands and because of what was officially termed "combat-related stress," due to the ill-fated Exercise Tiger; he put a revolver in his mouth and shot himself. Rear Admiral Moon was the highest-ranking American officer to commit suicide during World War II.

Ken Gillings delivered a comprehensive vote of thanks to both speakers for sharing their experience and research with the audience.

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THURSDAY 9 July 2009 - 19.00 for 19.30

Usual Venue: Murray Theatre, Civil Engineering Building, Howard College Campus, UKZN

The DDH will be presented by fellow member Brian Kennedy who will talk on John Phillip Holland - the father of the submarine.
The Main Talk will be presented by Professor Philip Everitt on The Role of Intelligence in the Desert War.

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FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: August - September 2009

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Official Opening and Welcome
Conference Chairman
08h30 - 09h15
British Volunteers and the Anglo-Boer War
Prof Stephen Miller
(Associate Professor of History, University of Maine, USA)
09h15 - 10h00
British Intelligence and the Anglo-Boer War
Prof Fransjohan Pretorius (University of Pretoria)
10h00 - 10h30

10h30 - 11h15
Tactics, Myths and Mistakes; The British Army in the Anglo-Boer War
Dr Stephen Badsey
(University of Wolverhampton, UK)
11h15 - 12h00
Boer Medical Services in Natal
Prof Kay de Villiers
(Prof Emeritus, Groote Schuur)
12h00 - 12h45
The Natal Volunteers in the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902: Reality and Perception (A Critique of the Participation of the Settler Colony of Natal and its Military Volunteer Force)
Dr Mark Coghlan
(KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Museum Service)
12h45 - 14h00
Announcements and Lunch

14h00 - 14h45
The Commemoration of the Anglo-Boer War in Great Britain
Prof Mark Connelly and Dr Peter Donaldson
(University of Kent, UK)
14h45 - 15h30
A War Within a War. The Conflict between Generals Sir Redvers Buller and Sir Charles Warren
Mr Gilbert Torlage
(KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Museum Service)
15h30 - 16h15
Restoration of Anglo-Boer War graves by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)
A CWGC Speaker
16h15 - 17h00
Everyone is Green. Ernest Luther: German-American, fighting the English with the Boers, in an Irish commando
Prof Donal McCracken
(Dean, Faculty of Humanities, Development and Social Sciences, Howard College University of KwaZulu-Natal
19h00 for 19h30
Dinner and Guest Speaker
Speaker to be Announced


08h30 - 09h15
Anglo-Boer War Battlefields of the Free State: a Tourist Attraction?
Mr Johan Hattingh
(Lecturer at the Tourism School, Central University of Technology, Free State, Bloemfontein)
09h15 - 10h00
Field Marshal Sir George White VC
Maj Martin Everett
(The Royal Welsh Museum, Brecon, Powys, Wales)
10h00 - 10h30

10h30 - 11h15
British public opinion and the war: the newspaper cartoon, 1899-1902
Prof Christopher Williams
(Professor of Welsh History, University of Swansea, Wales)
11h15 - 12h00
General Sir Redvers Buller VC and the War Office Mr Raymond Heron
(Chairman, The Battlefields Route Association)

12h00 - 12h45
Being a Natal Afrikaner, 1899-1902
Dr Johan Wassermann
(HOD, History and Social Studies Education Faculty of Education: University of KwaZulu-Natal Edgewood Campus)
12h45 - 14h00
Announcements and Lunch

14h00 - 14h40
Emily Hobhouse and the medical problems
Dr Phylomena Badsey

14h40 - 15h15
What the British Army learnt from the War Dr Spencer Jones

15h15 - 16h00
Boer POWs
Ms Elria Wessels
(War Museum of the Boer Republics)
16h00 - 16h45

"The uniforms of the Transvaal Staatsartillerie: its history and development"
Johan Wolfaardt
(War Museum of the Boer Republics)

16h45 - 17h30
Technology in the Anglo-Boer War
Gert Theart
(Friends of the War Museum)

17h45 - 18h45
Cash Bar (Possible Braai to follow?)


08h30 - 09h15
General Koos de la Rey and Lt Gen Lord Methuen - a comparison
Mr Steve Lundestedt

09h15 - 10h00
America and the Anglo-Boer War
Prof Louis Changuion
(Emeritus Professor of History, University of Limpopo )

10h00 - 10h30

10h30 - 11h15
What really happened at Vlakfontein (May 1901)?
Mr Ken Gillings
(South African Military History Society)
11h15 - 12h00
The Royal Engineers and the Ladysmith Siege
Lt Col Mike McCabe
(Fellow of the Institution of Royal Engineers)
12h00 - 12h45
de Villebois-Mareuil
Ms Glenn Flanagan
(DUT Pietermaritzburg)
12h45 - 13h00
Thanks and Conference closure


13h45 - 16h45
The Platrand - Wagon Point and Caesar's Camp
Escorted Walk from Platrand Lodge

South African Military History Society /