South African Military 
History Society


October 2009

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

The DDH was presented by chairman Bill Brady entitled The Outbreak of World War 2
World War 2 was the most terrifying reality of modern times. It was the first global conflict to be fought with equal intensity in almost the entire world. It was fiercer and more destructive than any in history with domination of the world at stake.

The German Weimar Republic was a creation of the First World War, it was born out of defeat and humiliation. By 1933 the Weimar Republic was wholly discredited, blamed both for the Treaty of Versailles, which shackled Germany and for the Great Depression. Neither of which it could have done much to avoid. The Treaty of Versailles imposed upon Germany at the end World War I undoubtedly sowed the seeds of World War 2. Germany sought vengeance and this was given added stimulus when Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party came to power in January 1933. Britain and France did not begin to stir until Hitler's troops re-occupied the Rhineland in March 1936. When Hitler marched the Wehrmacht into Austria in March 1938, Britain and France merely complained and did nothing. As long as he confined his activities to Eastern Europe, the West was more or less content to let him have his way.

On 15 March 1939 in the aftermath of Munich Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia and drove through Prague in triumph.
Millions of Slavs were unwillingly wedded to Germany, and Hitler's long-term goal of a German empire in the east was now evident. Now it could no longer be argued that Hitler only wanted to bring the Germans in Central Europe into his Reich. The belief that security can be obtained by throwing a small state to the wolves proved to be a fatal delusion. The will of Britain stiffened and with it the resolve of France.

With Austria and Czechoslovakia now in his hands Hitler turned his attention to Poland. On April 1939 the British gave a public guarantee to Poland that were she to be attacked by Germany, Britain would go to war. This led Hitler to conclude the Nazi-Soviet non aggression pact. War broke out on 1st. September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland.

A British ultimatum was delivered in Berlin. The German government made no reply, the ultimatum expired at 11 a.m. on 3rd September. War was declared. The French followed suit at 5 p.m. What all Europe had dreaded for the previous twenty years was about to happen again. Unlike in 1914, the outbreak of war was not greeted with patriotic hysteria. People could remember only too well the awful carnage and were fearful of the threat of mass bombing. In 1939 the situation was accepted soberly, with the realisation that Hitler was a cancer within Europe which must be eradicated before peace could be achieved.

The legacy of appeasement which itself was the legacy of the First World War hung like a pall over the West. The First World War seemed to have accomplished nothing, and with so many millions of lives lost, it seemed insane to repeat the error. Even as late as May 1940 there were still those in Britain who favoured a policy of accommodation with the New German Order. However, the appointment of Churchill rather than Lord Halifax as the replacement for Chamberlain finally put an end to any thought of appeasement.

It was the disillusionment and horror of war which blinded the West to the threat Hitler posed. By trying to pretend that aggression was not really aggression, that events in far-off countries about which they 'knew nothing' did not concern them. By callously ignoring human suffering, the western democracies themselves were forced to suffer. It can only be hoped that this lesson, lost on the generation who did not want to repeat the First World War, is not lost on the generation which does not want to repeat the tragedy and horror of the Second World War.

The main talk was delivered by fellow member Donald Davies on "The Men that went to War" (31 & 34 Squadron SAAF.)
On December 1, 1939 when the original 31 Sqn was formed, the former 13 Sqn became it's 'A' Flight and 14 Sqn became it's 'B' Flight. 31 Sqn's first taste of action came on the eve of the declaration of war between South Africa and Italy on June 9, 1940. Realising that war was imminent, the captains of two Italian ships docked in Durban harbor decided to slip their moorings and make a dash for neutral Mozambique. The aircraft of 31 Sqn were ordered off in chase. Their Blenheim located the TIMVARO just short of neutral waters and dropped bombs ahead of its bows in an attempt to stop it. When there was no response the vessel was machine gunned and the Captain subsequently ran his ship aground. The other ship the GERUSALEMME was captured by HMS RANCHI of the British Navy. The new 31 Sqn was to be equipped with the latest American built B-24 Liberator bomber and the task of forming the Squadron was entrusted to Lieutenant Colonel JA Williams, DSO, DFC, a thirty five year old Johannesburg businessman whose family form of Construction Engineers were wel known throughout the Country....

Whilst at the SAAF Base Depot at Almaza near Cairo in Egypt the air crews were sent to an operational training unit at Lydda in Palestine where they attended a conversion course to familiarize them with the American built Liberator bomber. The SAAF joined the Heavy Bomber league when it formed 31 and 34 Sqns (2 Wing) operating Consolidated B-24 Liberators. 2 Wing formed part of 205 RAF Bomber Group bases at Foggia in Italy.

This group also included 178 and 614 RAF Squadrons (240 Wing) and 37 and 70 RAF Sqns (231 Wing). On the night of 14/14 August 1944 Capt van Eyssen and his crew were on a supply drop sortie over Warsaw. When they came under 20mm ack-ack fire they were very low and slow so they were hit again and again. When number 3 and 4 engines caught fire they lost height. Jettisoning their containers they turned Eastwards towards the Russian forces.

The second pilot was ordered to feather the burning engines and activate the fire extinguishers, but this was of no avail. With only the engines on their left wing operating they were down to 150ft. The fire on their wind was so extensive that it lit up the country side below them like daylight. Capt van Eyssen realized they were in real trouble. They were too low to bale out and the aircraft could not climb on the two remaining engines. Nor could they crash land as the fire would kill them on landing. Suddenly the mid Upper Gunner Sgt Pearston shouted that no. 2 engine on the left wing was also on fire. With only one engine left Capt van Eyssen decided that they had only one chance to survive. He asked the second pilot 2Lt Hamilton to restart the other two burning engines.

Number 3 engine came back to full power, but number 4 engine remained dead. The Aircraft rapidly reached 1000 ft and the crew were told to bale out. Capt van Eyssen pressed the bale out alarm for almost a minute since nobody had heard anything from the tail and waist gunners. All survivors baled out except co-pilot Hamilton who was waiting in the catwalk to see if his pilot could get out. As soon as Capt van Eyssen left the controls the Liberator flipped onto it's back. Both Pilots jumped, van Eyssen pulling his D-ring immediately. His parachute had just opened when he hit the ground. 2Lt Hamilton's body was found with the 'chute unopened. The survivors were taken to the Russians by partisans, then onto to Moscow, then to Stalingrad, Tehran and to the Middle East.

In 1981 it became known that a Pole, Mr B Kowalsky of the village of Michelin had erected a shrine on the spot where van Eyssen's Aircraft had crashed. When veterans of 31 and 34 Sqn SAAF meet to remember comrades who lost their lives during the 1944 supply dropping flights to Warsaw, they recall with bitterness the infamy of the Russians that turned the glory of their finest hour into an appalling tragedy. Inevitably the old question arises; 'Was the sacrifice of eleven heavy bombers and eighty - three airmen worthwhile?'

A comprehensive vote of thanks was proposed by former chairman Paul Kilmartin who thanked both speakers for their presentation and research.

* * * * * * *

THURSDAY - 8 October 2009 - 19.00 for 19.30

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

The DDH will be "Dusty Warriors" - Modern Soldiers at War. (The Princess of Wales Regiment in Iraq 2004) by Col. Basil Carlston

The Main Talk will be presented by fellow member Robin Smith on "Picket's Charge - Gettysburg July 1863. "

* * * * * * *


Battlefield Tour - 9th to 11th October 2009

This year's tour will be to eNtombe (12th March 1879), Hlobane (28th March 1879) and Khambule (29th March 1879) in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, over the weekend of the 9th to 11th October 2009. Due to the vast distances involved and the remoteness of Hlobane, we have suggested a departure on Friday 9th October 2009 and have negotiated a special rate with Oxford Lodge, Vryheid, at R500 per room sharing (R250 pp) / R380 per person single accommodation on a B & B basis (dinner for own account at one of the nearby restaurants). MEMBERS ARE REQUESTED TO MAKE THEIR OWN BOOKINGS DIRECTLY WITH THE LODGE. The contact details are 034 980 9280 or via e-mail on Please ask for Heidi or Juanita and refer to the SA Military History Society Tour - Ken Gillings. If you wish to join the tour on Saturday 10th October 2009, we intend leaving the lodge at 08h00. Please bear in mind that the travelling time to Vryheid from Durban is between 3 ? and 4 hours! You will still qualify for the special rate if you only stay for one night. NOTE: We intend transporting members to the summit of Hlobane by 4x4 vehicles. If you have a 4x4 available, please indicate by e-mailing Ken on . An application form will be circulated at the next two meetings. The cost will be R30 per person for members and R50 per person for non-members.

* * * * * * *

Annual Lunch

This years function will be held on Sunday 22 November at Durban Country Club, 12 00 for 12 30. The cost is R100, 00 per person. Please contact Charles Whiting for booking arrangements 031 764 7270 or 082 555 4689.

* * * * * * *

South African Military History Society /