South African Military History 


Newsletter No 52 January 2009/Nuusbrief Nr 52 Januarie 2009

The 8 December 2008 meeting opened with Pat Irwin's series on historically significant guns in South Africa on the Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft gun. Initially a collaborative venture between the German firm Krupp and the Swedish company AB Bofors during the years immediately following WW1, the Swedes continued development on their own, producing the single barrel L/60 gun in the mid 1930s. It quickly became internationally recognized as an excellent anti-aircraft weapon against low flying aircraft and was widely used during the WW2, by both Allied and Axis forces. It was customised by both armies and navies and a range of variants, eventually 11 Marks, resulted, including air cooled and water cooled; double guns; varied pedestals; towable carriage; with or without armour/shields. The British Army first examined the weapon when they received a number of Polish-built examples in 1937 for testing. The Wehrmacht used Bofors guns captured in Poland and France. Japan captured Bofors guns in Singapore and put them into production as the Type 5. The L/60 was used in the first Gulf War and by both sides in the 1982 Falklands War. It is still in use the USAF's AC130 gunships in the air-to-ground role, as well as in a number of navies. They were used in South Africa until the early 1990s. The one most commonly found in South Africa is the L 60 Mk IV. At present 23 of these historic guns are known to exist in South Africa, most in a poor to very poor state of conservation, a sad ending to a weapon remarkable both for its design and its length of service. (Scribe' note: thanks to Richard Tomlinson for offering to follow Pat's series on historically significant guns with a series on South African fortifications).

Barry de Klerk's curtain raiser was on his visit to the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds. Other Royal Armouries museums are in the Tower of London, Fort Nelson in Portsmouth and Louisville, Kentucky. The Leeds museum houses a large part of the national collection of arms and armour and displays over 8500 objects in five themed galleries, namely War, Tournament, Oriental, Self Defence and Hunting, in a multi-million pound, purpose built building. A particularly interesting exhibit is armour Henry VIII actually wore. A team of professional interpreters give regular performances to bring history to life. During his visit, Barry saw demonstrations on swordsmanship, falconry and jousting with knights in armour doing combat in the Tiltyard. In the Craft Court, visitors can see the gunmaker, armourer and wardrobe mistress at work.

The main lecture was by Robin Barkes on the Battle of Gettysburg, fought from 1 to 3 July 1863 in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Gettysburg was the battle with the largest number of casualties in the American Civil War and is frequently cited as the war's turning point. Union Maj Gen Meade's Army of the Potomac defeated attacks by Confederate Gen Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, ending Lee's invasion of the North.

Following his success at Chancellorsville in May 1863, Lee led his second invasion of the North, hoping to influence Northern politicians to give up their prosecution of the war. Prodded by President Lincoln, Maj Gen Hooker moved his army in pursuit, but was replaced three days before the battle by Meade.

The two armies began to make contact at Gettysburg on 1 July. Low ridges to the northwest of town were defended initially by a Union cavalry division, soon reinforced with two corps of Union infantry. However, two large Confederate corps assaulted them from the northwest and north, collapsing the hastily developed Union lines, sending the defenders retreating through the town to the hills just to the south.

By 2 July most of both armies had assembled. The Union line was laid out in a defensive formation resembling a fishhook. Lee launched a heavy assault on the Union left flank. On the Union right, demonstrations escalated into full-scale assaults on Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill. Despite significant losses, the Union defenders held their positions.

On 3 July, fighting resumed on Culp's Hill and cavalry battles raged to the east and south, but the main event was a dramatic infantry assault by 12,500 Confederate soldiers against the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Pickett's Charge was repulsed by Union rifle and artillery fire with great Confederate losses. There were between 46 000 and 51 000 casualties in the battle. Following the battle, Lee's army withdrew to Virginia.

That November, President Lincoln used the dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg National Cemetery to honour the fallen and redefine the purpose of the war in his historic Gettysburg Address.

Alan Bamford has offered to organise a tour to the Kimberley area during 2009. Persons interested in joining are requested to indicate their interest to Alan on 046 622 5705 or by 31 January 2009.

The social portfolio on the SAMHSEC commitee has become vacant. Members interested in serving in that capacity are invited to contact Malcolm.

SAMHS subs are due on 1 January 2009. The National Treasurer advises that: "we have to put up subs, mainly because of the rise in the cost of paper: 20% in 2008 already and threatening more for 2009. The Journal has already gone up from June to December. Direct deposits may be made into First National Bank, Park Meadows Branch, Code 256655 current a/c named SA Military History Society, no. 50391 928 346. Please use your SURNAME as REFERENCE!"

Membership rates with effect from 1 January 2009:
Single (normal) R 175.00
Single Life R 4 200.00
Family (2 people) R 185.00
Family Life R 4 440.00

SAMHSEC's next meeting will be at 1930 on Monday 12 January 2009 at the Eastern Province Veteran Car Club. The curtain raiser will be on Winston's Secret Weapon by Clive Malkin. The main lecture will be South Africans in WW2 Special Forces by Mac Alexander.

All the best for 2009!

Malcolm Kinghorn.
082 331 6223

South African Military History Society /