South African Military History 


Newsletter No 59 August 2009/Nuusbrief Nr 59 Augustus 2009

Richard Tomlinson opened the meeting on 13 July 2009 with the third in his series on British Fortifications of the Anglo-Boer War. His subject was the Standard Pattern, by far the most widely used of the various designs of masonry blockhouses. Built to a design by Maj-Gen Elliott Wood, CRE, Army, South Africa, they were three storeys high and 6m square, with 3 steel-shuttered windows and a steel stable door on the first floor (reached by removable ladder - with ladders thence up and down to the other floors) and a total of 40 steel-plated loopholes. Rainwater from the roof gutters drained via downpipes inside the building to two storage tanks in the storage ground floor. For enfilade defence, it had two angle galleries at diagonals on the top floor, the latter covered with a timber and corrugated iron roof with extensions over the galleries. Those surrounding Harrismith display the gabled roof. However the most common variant on this design has a pyramidal roof, with gabled extensions over the galleries, and is found defending large bridges along the Cape Town - Kimberley railway and in the NE Cape around Stormberg Junction, Burgersdorp and Aliwal North. They were built by contractors under RE supervision.

The curtain raiser by Pat Irwin was on the Ordnance QF 25 pounder, or more simply, 25-pounder or 25-pdr, which was introduced into service just before WW2, during which it served as the major British field gun/howitzer. It was considered by many to be the best field gun of the war, combining high rates of fire with a reasonably lethal shell in a highly mobile piece. It was the British Army's primary artillery field gun well into the 1960s, with smaller numbers being used in training units until the 1980s. Many Commonwealth countries used the 25-pdr in active or reserve service until about the 1970s. Ammunition for the weapon is currently being produced by Pakistan Ordnance Factories. The design was the result of extended studies looking to replace both the 18 pounder (3.3 inch / 84 mm bore) field gun and the 4.5-inch howitzer (114.3 mm bore), which had been the main field artillery guns during WW1. The concept was to build a single weapon with the direct-fire capability of the 18 pounder and the high-angle fire of the howitzer, firing a shell about half way between the two in size, around 3.5 to 4 in (90 to 100 mm) of about 30 pounds (14 kg).

The 25-pdr was towed, with its limber, usually behind a Morris C8 4x4 Field Artillery Tractor called a "Quad". Early 25 pdrs had been towed in the field by the Dragon Medium Mark IV, a tracked vehicle derived from a light tank. After seeing the utility of the M7 Priest, the British introduced the similar Canadian-designed and -built Sexton, mounting the 25 pdr on a Ram tank chassis, itself based on the M3 Lee. Before Sexton, the Bishop had been introduced using the Valentine tank chassis.

The gun was designated the G1 by the SADF. It was used in the early stages of the Border War, including Operation Savannah. The G1 is still used in a ceremonial role. The Rhodesian Army used the 25-pdr during the Bush War.

John Steven's main lecture was on the 9th (Scottish) Division. The Division was established in terms of Army Order 324 of 21 August 1914, which authorised the formation of the six new Divisions of K1, the first of the New Armies raised by Lord Kitchener. It was formed of volunteers, under the administration of Scottish Command. Having been in training at home since late August 1914, although only gradually were arms and equipment obtained, recruits were judged to be ready for war by May 1915. After the South African Brigade joined in 1916, the division was known colloquially as the Jocks and Springboks.

The 9th Division began its move to France on 8 May 1915, the first New Army division to go on active service. At the beginning of July it took over a sector of the line around Festubert. Its first major battle was Loos in September 1915, in which it suffered 6,000 casualties in three days. Among the dead was the divisional commander, Major-General Thesiger. The first half of 1916 was spent in the 'Plugstreet' sector, during which time Churchill was there, commanding 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers. In May 1916 one of the brigades, the 28th, was broken up and replaced by the South African Brigade, which had recently arrived from Egypt. For the first three weeks of July, the division was on the Somme - Bernafay, Longueval and Delville Wood, now the site of South Africa's National Memorial, - with losses of 7,200. After a rest and a month in the Vimy sector, it returned to the Somme in October, near the Butte de Warlencourt. Several unsuccessful attacks against that feature resulted in a further 3,100 casualties. From December 1916 to August 1917 the division was on the Arras front, taking part in the First and Third Battles of the Scarpe (5,000 casualties) before moving to Ypres in September at the height of Third Ypres. A month's fighting there cost another nearly 5,000 casualties. In 1918 the division distinguished itself during the German offensive, earning the praises of the C in C, and even of the Kaiser, and in the final advance to victory. The 9th Scottish was a first class division. Its members were awarded seven VCs and the total casualty list amounted to some 54,600. It was selected to be one of four New Army divisions in the Army of the Rhine. In March 1919 it was renamed The Lowland Division.

SAMHSEC newsletters are distributed by e-mail by the Scribe and by post by the Secretary, Stephen Bowker 083 630 9608.

Persons interested in joining Alan Bamford on a tour to Kimberley from 7 to 11 August 2009 are invited to contact Alan at or 046 622 5705 before 31 July.

SAMHSEC is to tour ABW sites between Uitenhague & Ann's Villa from 11 to 13 Sepetember 2009. Details to follow.

Members' assistance in filling the 2010 Speakers' Roster is requested. SAMHSEC's next meeting will be at 1930 on Monday 10 August 2009 at the Eastern Province Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. Richard Tomlinson will present the fourth in the series on British Fortifications of the Anglo-Boer War. The curtain raiser will be on Mfengu Auxilliaries by John Perrott. The main lecture will be The Modern French Foreign Legion by Brian Klopper.

Malcolm Kinghorn.
082 331 6223

South African Military History Society /