South African Military History Society


Combined operations are a familiar feature of modern war. Yet the term was unknown in 1915 when British and French submarines operated in co-operation with the land forces invading the Gallipoli Peninsula in one of the most hard-fought campaigns of World War One.

In the curtain raiser for the 13th June society meeting Dr Felix Machanik, honorary life member, described how, when the allies' naval forces had suffered failure and unacceptable losses in their attempts to force passage through the heavily defended Dardanelles, it was left to the allied submarines to attempt the perilous passage into the Sea of Marmara to harass Turkish shipping.

The aim of the Gallipoli operation was to relieve the pressure on Russia, whose Black Sea coast was under attack from German and Turkish warships. Owing to the lack of adequate road and rail links to the peninsula, the Turkish forces opposing the invasion had to be supplied either directly from Constantinople by sea, or by rail from Scutari, at the mouth of the Bosphorus, to Panderma, on the southern coast of the Sea of Marmara, thence by small boat to Gallipoli. It was this sea traffic the submarines concentrated on.

Altogether 13 allied submarines operated what came to be known as the "Dardanelles Patrol", and 27 penetrations were recorded during the three months or so the Gallipoli operation lasted.

Of these vessels eight were lost -- one crippled British vessel having to be torpedoed by another to prevent its falling into enemy hands. Heavy damage was inflicted on the Turks, who lost a total of 210 supply ships with one British submarine alone sinking 101 vessels. These feats were achieved despite the fact that at the time British submarines did not mount guns and were hampered by the need to surface frequently.

Three British captains were awarded the Victoria Cross, including the first naval VC of the war.

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The subject of the main lecture was the Battle of Bannockburn, 1314, and was given by society chairman Kemsley Couldridge, splendidly attired in Scottish dress. He was cheered into action by a piper.

After warning his audience not to accept Hollywood's version of Scottish history, Kemsley explained that the victory of Robert Bruce and his 5 000 Scots, woefully deficient in archers and cavalry, over England's King Edward II and his 20 000-man army, which included about 2 000 heavy cavalry and numerous archers, holds a special place in the Scotland's history because it marked its birth as a sovereign nation.

From the days of William the Conqueror, who invaded England in 1066, the land beyond the Tweed had been vaguely regarded as a feudal dependency of the English crown. But it was not until the reign of the warrior king Edward 1, 1272-1307, who aimed to establish the absolute power of the crown throughout England, Wales and Scotland, that the English began seriously to interfere in Scottish affairs.

A dispute over the succession to the Scottish throne following the death of Alexander Ill in 1286 gave Edward the chance he was seeking. He was invited to adjudicate between the 13 claimants, and after much delay and deliberation he chose John Balliol, whose claim was the most valid under feudal law and who was also the candidate most likely to fall in with Edward's grand design.

BaIIiol was enthroned at Scone in 1292, but was overthrown three years later by the "Council of 12", an assembly of Scottish nobles, which then formed an alliance with France -- the "auld alliance".

Edward promptly invaded Scotland in a war of such ferocity that it earned him the historic reputation of being the "Hammer of the Scots". Scotland was subdued, but Edwards' excesses strengthened the Scottish nationalism that had been growing for some time. A revolt led by William Wallace, the penniless second son of a Scottish knight, defeated the English at the Battle of Sterling Bridge in 1297 and captured Sterling Castle.

Wallace was afterwards betrayed and executed, but his successes prompted Edward, who had been campaigning in France, to strike a bargain with the French king which neutralised the auld alliance and left him free to deal with the situation. At the head of his army he again defeated the Scots, this time using their newly-acquired weapon, the long spears, or "schiltrons", at the Battle of Falkirk. Accompanying him was a Scottish noble, Robert Bruce, who had joined the English after previously leading a revolt against them.

A period of troubled peace followed during which Scotland ceased to exist as a separate kingdom in the mind of Edward, but Bruce changed sides again and took Wallaces' place as the leader of Scottish resistance. Bruce was defeated by Edward at Methven in 1303 and was forced into hiding and on the inspiration provided by the most famous spider in history - or myth.

After having himself proclaimed King Robert I of Scotland, Bruce won various victories against the English, especially at the Battle of Loudon Hill. The situation had become so critical that Edward decided to lead his army once again into Scotland, but died on his way to do battle with Bruce. He was succeeded by his son, the first prince of Wales, who ascended the English throne as Edward II.

The young Edward had none of his father's military qualities or powers of leadership, and when the English army, with Edward at its head, met the Scots under Bruce at Bannockburn, his shortcomings as a commander were soon apparent. The Scottish infantry armed with the schiltron and formed into squares, proved decisive against the English led by their heavy cavalry. The English archers were unable to make their usual contribution owing to the mass of cavalry in front of them.

It is believed Bruce's army had the help of refugee Knights Templar, the Papal Bull abolishing the Order having been implemented in England but not in Scotland.

The victory at Bannockburn began four centuries of Scottish sovereignty, which only came to an end in 1707 when the Act of Union formally united the two kingdoms under the last monarch of a Scottish dynasty.

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The De Wet escape route hike: This will take place on Sunday, 25th August (not 22nd August as stated in the June newsletter). Directions to the meeting place: From the Hartbeesport Dam wall, 2km to Dam Doryn fourway stop, continue on the Old Rustenburg Road to the filling station at Brits-Sonop turn-off. The route is approximately 10km west of Commando Nek. The cost is R5 for adults and R2 for children. It is a fairly difficult hike of about three hours. The guide and commentator will be Professor Fransjohan Pretorius.

The suggested date for the visit to the site of the Nooitgedacht battlefield from the north side is now early October. Details will be announced later. There is a possibility of joining Lionel Wulfsohn at the Elands River on the week-end of 22nd September.

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Members are reminded that society ties are still available at R45 each, and plagues at R65. Both carry the society's emblem. To order your insignia, send a cheque to the Society for the correct amount to the address at the top of this newsletter. (S.A. residents only)

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11th July
CR - Colin Dean - The First Falklands War
ML - Howard Hardy - The Rock of Chicamauga

(3rd Thursday) 15th August
CR - Capt Ivor Little - The Adventures of Merchantmen in WWII


11th July
Lt. Col. Justin Hulme - Loot Cattle

Cape Town

11th July
Johan van den Berg - The Battle of the Somme: 1916 (To mark the 80th anniversary)

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George Barrell

(011) 791-2581 (Note new phone number)

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