South African Military History Society


For the curtain-raiser at the meeting on 13th August, we were favoured with 'A day with the column of Maj. Augustus C. Baillie' by General Pretorius who was quoting from the daily order book written by Maj Baillie, which has recently come inLo the museum's possession. The orders gave a fascinating glimpse of life on the march of squadrons of the 10th Imperial Yeomanry who were acting as escorts-for an ox and mule column in the advance of Methuen's IX Brigade.

The main speaker of the evening was Dr Walter Murton who gave a personal account of, in Churchill's words', 'The Rhine Cauldron' from the point of view of an RAF pilot in command of a troop-carrying glider in the assault of the Siegfried Line, starting and finishing with that appropriate music.

Breaching the German defensive line (centered on Wesel) crossing the North German plains and reaching the River Elbe before the Russians, became an urgent necessity. Other considerations were to give early relief to the Dutch, who were starving, and to surround and isolate the industrial Ruhr.

The objective of the 18th U.S. airborne army under Gen. Ridgeway (which included the British 6th airborne division) was the heights and bridges in the region of Wesel, including the town of Hamminkeln. The seemingly impossible task was to place 17,000 men within a five mile square area in 2 hours, virtually being dropped on top of the German defences made up of an almost equal number - 14000 of the 1st parachute army plus some 4000 auxiliaries comprising mainly old men and boys.

Some troops would be parachuted in, but the highest concentration would arrive in 1300 gliders towed by various aircraft, some capable of towing two gliders at a time.

There was an acute shortage of 600 glider pilots for such a mission which had to be made up from volunteers. 'Friends' volunteered Dr Murton in absentia for the training period on the 2 ton Horsa gliders, each capable of carrying a 5 ton load of 30 men and a jeep, or a light gun or 50 men.

After being trained and training others on gliders, Dr Murton was promoted from glider no. 8 to O/C 19 Flight in glider no. 1.

The objectives were 3 bridges on the East bank of the Rhine, specifically a railway bridge for glider no.1 close to Hamminkeln. His cargo was men of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, Royal Ulster Rifles and, unfortunately for their peace of mind, a jeep and trailer with 600 lbs of explosive. Taking off from Gosford in Operation Plunder on March 23rd 1944, the stream of aircraft of the British contingent met up with the American stream from France and together passed south of Brussels to the target as the largest airborne assault of the war.

Thanks to dust and smoke from the bombing of Wesel the night before, plus a handy smokescreen on the ground provided by Monty, the visibility of the target from the air was virtually nil above 600 feet. Fortunately, they were on target and by using the Falcon technique (diving steeply and using a fast treetop flight to the target) they were able to get unscathed through the smoke as well as the flak to land right on target, despite the co-pilot having dropped the wheels (off) instead of the flaps, and to take the bridge in a relatively short time. The glider pilot now became an infantry man; later, pilots were to report in Hamminkeln and were promptly sent back to dig in on the banks of the Issel.

The bridges were attacked that night, two had to be blown, but the others held and the advance could proceed to the eventual surrender of the German army 45 days later. Casualties, as might be expected, had been high. Only 24 gliders survived more or less intact.

The pilots were then evacuated via the Rhine and flown into Holland.

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Next Meeting
September 10th. Instead of the talk on armour which has been withdrawn at short notice, there will be a new Channel 4 documentary on the Falklands War.

October 8th: Mr Ike Rosmarin: Inside Story, Reminiscences of a POW.

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Military Medal Society
The above Society will hold its first Convention on the 24th of October. The object of the Convention is to allow members to display some of the Medals from their collections in a competitive manner and, at the same time, to allow members of the public to view and learn a little of this very interesting hobby. Behind every medal there is an interesting story and, once the story is known, each medal becomes a piece of history. For all with an interest in military history, this exhibition of medals is a must. Medal dealers will be present at the Convention and will display medals for sale.

It is hoped that this Convention will attract new members to the Society. For further information please contact either Terry Sole on 974-3725 or Willi Coates on 498-1600 during business hours. The venue for the Convention is Emoyeni Sports & Recreation Club, Prince of Wales Street, Parktown, Johannesburg. Emoyeni is next door to the Johannesburg General Hospital. Entrance fee by donation, and the medals will be on display from l0am until 5pm.

I B COPLEY pp Scribe

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