South African Military History Society


Our Society evening of 10th December began with a curtain raiser by David Panagos who lectured about the Mortello/Martello Towers. It was an unusual, well researched and presented subject. Mortello towers were first built in the 13th century on Corsica but also appear in Great Britain and elsewhere and face seawards defensively to protect against a seaborne assault. Mortello towers are therefore different from similar stone structures who face inland and fall into the category of blockhouses.

The main topic of th& evening was offered by Captain Ivor Little who introduced us to HMS Dragon, a light cruiser, launched in 1917, well armed and showing a strange upper structure, a high bridge which could carry aircraft under its legs. The ship carried a complement of 450 officers and men with a high percentage of South Africans. For a time. Captain Little's father served as volunteer seaman on this ship, which was described as a ship without a spectacular career, with no battle honours, and as a combatant who was either always too late or too early.

HMS Dragon was too late to serve in WW I; during the two great wars it was known as a happy ship but did not distinguish itself. Came WW II and HSM Dragon sailed in the Atlantic on patrol duty, was relieved by the Rawalpindi which was almost immediately attacked and sunk by the German Scharnhorst. Having been ordered to the Med. sea the ship sailed through the Suez canal just ahead of Italy declaring war.

And from then on HMS Dragon sailed the oceans, roaming from Sierre Leone to Takoradi, to Lagos. It narrowly missed being mined and eventually became part of the British Far Eastern Fleet, escorting vessels of all kinds in all weather conditions.

The crew's most notable achievements were made on the rugby field where they managed to beat almost any other team, undoubtedly due to the South African contingent. The crew described their time as a lovely war.

From the Lotus eater existence in Penang they returned to the Bay of Bengal, again just before the Japanese invasion, evacuated fugitives from threatened cities and left from Singapore, once again as the last ship out. HMS Dragon missed the battle of the Java sea, where superior Japanese Navy forces dealt a heavy blow to British units, because they had had to replace contaminated fuel and thus missed the doomed convoy.

After more convoy duties, and having missed more vital battles, HMS Dragon was finally handed over to the Free Polish Forces and was renamed the Joseph Conrad. But with this change the ship's luck ran out and she was sunk by a torpedo, ending her maritime life as part of a Mulberry Harbour during the invasion of Europe.

Professor Ian Copiey thanked the speaker for his, by now annual, contribution of naval talk which was well illustrated, detailed and humorous.

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Subscriptions: As advised in our December Newsletter, the subs for single members are now R 30.- p.a., and for family members: R 35.- for 1993.

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Rustenburg Trip: This trip is scheduled to take place from 13/14 March and more details will be given during the Society's next meeting in January.

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Silkaatsnek: A follow-on trip to this battle field will be arranged to take place during winter.

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Fortress-Study-Group: A member of a Fortress Study Group in the USA seeks information on WW II coastal batteries around South Africa. Anybody with information which he wishes to pass on is asked to kindly contact the following member:

Richard Tomlinson, 51 Main Road, Walmer, Port Elizabeth 6070

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Johannesburg Branch:
Future Meetings:

14th January 93
History of Armoured Warfare to 1939. Col. Jack Murray-Wall

11th February
Herero Skirmish. Wolf Haaker

Future Meetings of Cape Town and Durban Branch will be advised in February Newsletter.

Contact in Cape Town: Paul Lange, Tel.: 617 441 (after hours)

Contact in Durban: Tania v.d. Watt, Tel.: 764 29 70

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Johannesburg Committee Members are reminded that the next Committee meeting will take place on 12th January 1993, at 8 pm.

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

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