South African Military History Society


Britain's conquest of the Cape.
Under his heading, Martin Ayres began our evening. After France had conquered Holland in 1796 and declared the Batavian Republic; it also took over the East India Company. Great Britain felt that its shipping routes to India were threatened and took action to conquer the Cape.

A small landing force of 800 soldiers and marines under Gen. Craig routed the Dutch forces at Muizenburg pass despite being faced by artillery. The defenders fled.

In September of 1796 two British army columns, numbering 4500 men, including the original force, advanced to the new Dutch positions at Sandvlei, defeated the Dutch soldiers and eventually reached Newlands to receive the surrender of the vastly outnumbered defenders.

Still in 1796 the Batavian Republic sent a fleet to retake the Cape but the ships were captured at Saldanha Bay. Six years later, after the peace of Amiens had placed the Cape back into the hands of the Batavian republic, Britain once again sent a fleet with 7000 troops to retake the Cape.

Once more the Dutch were defeated during the battle at Blaauwberg, the Dutch commander, Jansen, leaving the defences of Cape Town to a small band of mercenaries, fled, and the town fell without a fight to remain a British colony.

* * *

P.Q. 17
This was the title of the main lecture, presented by Hamish Paterson, based on a 20-year research period, and as such a labour of love.

His interest having been aroused by the famous libel court case in Gt.Britain in 1972, he delved deeper into the history of that fateful July 1942 and investigated the ill-fated convoy PQ 17 which was massacred on a scale that exceeding all of WW II convoy battles.

It had become vitally necessary for the western Allies to supply the Russian armies with heavy equipment, and the shortest route was to Murmansk, but it was also the most dangerous, since the German Navy and Luftwaffe were within striking distance and the U-boats were able to interfere successfully as well.

Although the Royal Navy had received a wealth of intelligence and had managed to break the German Enigma cypher code, announcing the German plan to attack PQ 17, they still went ahead.

The convoy left Iceland on 27th June 1942, 33 vessels strong, to be harassed by German aircraft almost immediately, while the first serious losses were sustained on the 4th July. However, when reports arrived that German battleships were approaching, plus a sighting report by a Russian submarine, all false as it turned out, the British Admiralty not only gave the SC one, Admiral Hamilton, the order to disperse and proceed to Russian ports, but a few minutes later sent a "most immediate" signal ordering the convoy to scatter. Contrary to all naval training and tradition that the duty of an escort is to defend a convoy at all costs, the orders given were bewildering to say the least.

The escort vessels left the convoy to fend for itself and withdrew to engage an imaginary battleship force while the convoy was decimated by U-boats and German aircraft. 23 ships were lost.

The speaker described the war situation at the time, dwelling on the operations of convoys from Iceland to Murmansk/Archangel and the operations of the German sea and air forces. Having no aircraft carriers available to lend air support to the Russian convoys, British battleships could not be employed in the Barents sea and thus destroyers had to do this job.

Slides showing PQ 17 and some of the operations illustrated proceedings; the command structures of the opposing forces were examined and the effectiveness analyzed, as well as the wording of the crucial signals.

Lt.Col. Terry Leaver thanked the speaker for his well-researched and informative talk which was enjoyed by everyone.

* * *

Forthcoming events:
15th April Battle of Imjin River. - Col. T. Leaver
13th May History of the Royal Horse Artillery; History Quiz.

Details of events at Durban and Cape Town can be obtained from the Scribe.

* * *

Notice of the 27th Annual General Meeting of the Society is herewith given.

Any member interested in joining our Committee is asked to contact the Chairlady or the Scribe before the AGM.

* * *

Our Society Journal Editor, John Keene, is asking for suitable papers for publication. He can be reached at the Museum's offices.

* * *

As mentioned above, the History Quiz will take place as a curtain raiser before our May meeting and everybody is asked to bring paper and pencil.

* * *

Historical Corner:

The following snippet was taken from the Cape Town Branch's Newsletter:

The first employment of British troops against the Ashanti warriors in West-Africa came in 1823 when Sir Charles McCarthy, the British Governor of Cape Coast Castle, launched a punitive expedition. When the two armies came close Sir Charles ordered the band to play "God Save the King", which they dutifully did whist he stood to attention in the jungle confidently expecting tne Ashantees to do likewise.

Instead they immediately attacked and his foces were soundly defeated. Sir Charles was killed and his skull taken to Kumasi where it was displayed annually at the Yam festival.

(Shades of Black Mischief?).

Snippet was taken from 'Royal Naval Punitive Expeditions to West and East Africa", by Mrs. A.E. Read. Simon's Town Historical Society Journal, January 1993).

If any member can furnish the scribe with similar anecdotes for use in our Newsletter it would be greatly appreciated.

John Mahncke (Scribe)
Tel.: (011) 453 63 53

* NOTE* Fast mirror and backup site      BOOKMARK FOR REFERENCE     Main site * NOTE*

South African Military History Society /