South African Military History Society

NEWSLETTER -- September 1997

Past meeting - Johannesburg
The 14th August meeting of the Society was dedicated to commemorating the Museum's 50th anniversary. It was attended by a number of invited guests and speakers, notably Commander Mac Bisset SAN, Director of the Naval Museum in Simon's Town, and the Honourable Ronnie Kasrils, Deputy Minister of Defence.

The first speaker of the evening was Commander Mac Bisset, who described the development of the South African Navy (SAN) from the raising of the first naval unit, the Port Elizabeth Naval Volunteer Brigade in 1861, and its establishment as a separate force in 1922, to the present day.

The navy started life with three surplus British minesweepers, one of which was used as a survey ship and the other two for training. The training ship General Botha, donated by Mr T B Davies, also came into service in 1922. In 1933 and 1934, the Great Depression forced South Africa to return the former Royal Naval ships, and all but two officers and three ratings were retrenched. The Royal Navy (RN) retained five officers, 12 ratings and 10 civilians to train and supply the RNVR (SA).

A new unit, the Seaward Defence Force (SDF), was formed in South Africa to take over coastal duties when South Africa entered WW2. The first four South African warships to serve abroad sailed to join the British Mediterranean Fleet on 15th December 1940 as the 22nd Anti-Submarine Group. They were used to relieve destroyers escorting convoys to Tobruk, and were later joined by others. The salvage ship Gamtoos earned personal congratulations from General Montgomery for opening Tripoli harbour for the 8th Army.

In 1944 the SAN was offered three Loch Class frigates, which were placed at the disposal of the RN, one of which, HMSASNatal®, made history by sinking a German U-boat only four hours after leaving the building yard. In addition to the men who manned the SAA navy ships, 3 000 officers and ratings were seconded to the RN and served in all manner of ships and in all theatres of the war. The South African Women's Auxiliary Naval Service (SWANS) was established in October 1943 to man technical and clerical posts.

After the war the SAN was reconstituted as part of the Permanent Force, and in July 1955 was augmented with a corps of marines to man coastal and anti-aircraft artillery and radar. Also that year the navy began its period of maximum expansion with the signing of the Simon's Town Agreement under which South Africa agreed to share the defence of the Cape Sea Route, and the new base at Simon's Town with Britain. Three French Daphne class submarines, were acquired.

The SAN played its part in the border war patrolling the army's exposed seaward flank, but with the end of hostilities its active role has declined, and under the new political dispensation it faces an uncertain future

The pre-supper talk was given by Mr Heinrich Janzen on the the Imperial Light Horse Regiment (ILH), the Royal visit of 1947, and "the parade that wasn't".

Founded in September 1899, the ILH is the oldest regiment in the Gauteng area. Traditionally it holds a church parade at the Rand Regiment Memorial every October. The ILH participated in the parade held at Voortrekkerhoogte, or Roberts' Heights, in Pretoria, on 31st March 1947, and was presented with its third regimental colour and a new King's colour complete with its latest battle honours. The following day another parade was held at the Cenotaph in Johannesburg, at which the Royal party congratulated the ILH band and was introduced to the regimental mascot. He was a 29-inch high Shetland pony whose name, Queen's Hussar, was thereafter changed to Queen's Own Hussar.

It remains a mystery why this parade was not held at the Memorial, unless the answer lies in its dedication to "Rand" regiments, whereas the occasion was held in honour of "all the brave men and women of South Africa". This was "the parade that never was". But the ILH still held its church parade at the Memorial the following October along the Eastern vista adjacent to the museum, which had been established just two months before.

The post-prandial speaker, Deputy Defence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, joined the ANC following the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, received military training in the former USSR, and subsequently fulfilled various roles in the movement, including in its armed wing Umkhonto weSizwe (MK).

The MK was formed in 1961 in response to the perceived "Government violence...and repression... to carry on the struggle for freedom and democracy by new methods", these being "necessary to complement the actions of the established liberation movement..." The Manifesto published on 16th December 1961 described MK as "a new, independent body, formed by Africans", which "includes in its ranks South Africans of all races..."

The Manifesto went on: "The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices:submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means within our power... The Government has interpreted the peacefulness of the (liberation) movement as weakness; the people's non-violent policies have been taken as a green light for Government violence. Refusal to resort to force has been interpreted... as an invitation to use armed force against the people without fear of reprisals." MK was formed to "break with that past..."

Mr Kasrils described how, after the formation of MK and the publication of its Manifesto, its early sabotage campaign was followed by the Rivonia arrests and nationwide setbacks. From 1965 the movement reassembled and trained in exile, conducted armed incursions into Rhodesia, and created a Revolutionary Council at the Morogoro Conference in 1969.

The Soweto uprising in 1976 prompted a resurgence of MK as fresh recruits poured in and bases were established in Angola and Mozambique. Between 1984 and 1989 the objective became to make apartheid unworkable and the country ungovernable.

Mr Kasrils expressed regret for the civilian casualties incurred in the freedom struggle, but extolled the benefits for the country of the establishment of a non-racial, democratic regime.

The annual SA Militaire will be held at the Museum on 20th and 21st September.

Members are reminded that Kimberley's 2nd Annual SA War Expo '97 will be held from 8th-11th October. The programme will include lectures, historical tours, military displays, video films, pipe bands and numerous ceremonies. One-day, three-day and seven-day tours can be arranged to local battlefields, including Modder River and Magersfontein, and over the ground covered by the Highland Brigade, the Canadians, the Australians and New Zealanders, the Boer retreat, and the siege and relief of Kimberley. Those interested should contact organisers Steve Lunderstadt on 083 2656436 or 0531-814006 or Owen Coetzee on 0531-31434.


11th Sept
CR H Janzen Nowotny's Final Encounter -- 1844
ML BEK Couldridge The Battle of The Little Big Horn - The Greasy Grass -- 1876
9th Oct
John Murray The Battle of Flodden - 1513 - England v Scotland
W Murton Words and Music during Conflict
11th Sept
Video: A debate between Sir Redvers Buller and Louis Botha on the Natal Campaign
Cape Town
11th Sept
Cdr. G de Vries The Dutch Signal System and the Muzzle Loading Guns of the Western Cape

George Barrell (Chairman/Scribe) (011) 791-2581

CR = Curtain raiser ML= Main Lecture

South African Military History Society /