South African Military History Society


The confusion of battle and its aftermath means that war is always characterised by the many mysteries it throws up. One, among the innumerable mysteries left behind by the Anglo-Boar War for historians to puzzle over, is what happened to the mortal remains of Veldkornet Cornelius Kruger, killed on 3rd June 1900 when a Boer force under Commandant Du Toit ambushed General French's cavalry wing at Kalkheuwel in the Magaliesberg during the British advance on Pretoria. This was the subject of the curtain raiser given by Professor Ian Copley at the society's 9th July lecture meeting. It is believed that Kruger, who has never been identified from available photographs, was among the 33 Boers killed during the fighting that accompanied the ambush. There is no evidence of the route taken by Du Toit when he withdrew north of the Magaliesberg the following day, but it seems safe to assume that he used the conveniently situated Silkaatsnek, and that Kruger was buried at the foot of the neck. An impressive grave and headstone was later erected by Kruger's family, but when the bricked-over grave was opened in October 1997 it was found to be empty. What happened to the body remains a mystery. Although several documents have been obtained, dealing with Kruger's insolvent estate among other things, no record of the exhumation has come to light. A possibility is that because he was a member of the Wolmaranstad Commando, he may have been buried there. It is possible his exhumation certificate may eventually be found in the National Archives in Cape Town. It appears that the exhumation of war dead, and their re-interment at home within a year of being killed in action, was not uncommon on the Boer side. It also happened on the British side as well. The case of Lieutenant Thomas Pilkington, also killed in the region, has already been the subject of a talk by Professor Copley. Pilkington's remains were eventually traced to the Brompton Cemetery in London.

If the rifle dominated the battlefields of the Anglo-Boer War, and the machine gun those of World War 1, there is no doubt that it was the tank and its accompanying armour vehicles that reigned supreme in World War 2. The main lecture of the evening, given by Heinrich Janzen, featured the life and fortunes of that war's greatest practical exponent of armoured warfare, the German General Heinz Wilhelm Guderian. Born in 1888 at Kulm on the Vistula, Guderian was a Prussian both by birth and temperament. His father was an officer in the elite, fast-marching 9th Jager Battalion of the German Army, and when he passed out of cadet school in 1907 it was to join the unit them commanded by his father. This was the Hanoverian Jager Battalion, whose soldiers were trained to move swiftly and to use their initiative. Thereafter, these two characteristics became the basis of his military thinking. Guderian qualified as a signals officer, and was in command of the radio detachment attached to the 5th Cavalry Division when that unit, along with many others, was halted on the River Marne in 1914. In the subsequent stalemate on the Western Front he was horrified at the consequences of the German Army having lost its mobility, in his opinion the result of the incompetence of the generals commanding. The idea of fast, mobile warfare, spearheaded by the tank and co-ordinated by radio, was the outcome of this experience. During the inter-war years Guderian refined and propagated his doctrine, and carried it beyond the concepts of armoured warfare beginning to take shape in France and Britain. He did this despite powerful opposition from his more traditionally minded superiors, and it was not until his successes in Poland that Hitler and his generals were finally converted to Panzer power. Hitler gave the new form of warfare the dramatic name of Blitzkrieg. During the invasion of France in 1940 Guderian resigned in protest -- until ordered to carry on -- when the victorious advance of his Panzer Group was subject to a series of halt orders. The last one came at the point when the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk was virtually at his mercy. He did not know at the time that these orders came directly from Hitler, the Commander-in-Chief himself. Guderian experienced similar frustrations during the invasion of Russia in 1941, and a bitter quarrel with his superior, General Von Kluge, over freedom of action, resulted in his dismissal on Christmas Day that year. He was subsequently recalled to fill the new appointment of Inspector-General of Armoured Troops, responsible directly to Hitler. His task was to organise and train not only the Panzer forces, but also certain field units of the Luftwaffe and the Waffen SS. In addition, he was to co-operate closely with the Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer, in the development and production of weapons, and to create new formations while up-dating tactical doctrine. His new role involved Guderian in further frustrations with Hitler, particularly over the disastrous operation Zitadelle in July 1943, still the largest tank battle ever fought. But he was careful to avoid any involvement in the subsequent attempt on the Hitler's life, and was shortly afterwards appointed Chief of the General Staff, the last incumbent of that office. During his tenure he was perceived as a rather lonely and abrasive figure among a bunch of frightened sycophants. His attempt to assemble a central reserve after Germany's armies on both their eastern and western fronts had been virtually destroyed were defeated when Hitler insisted it be used in what came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. After a particularly bitter confrontation on 27th March 1945 Hitler told Guderian to take six weeks' sick leave, by the end of which time he was a prisoner of the Americans. Guderian was probably the most respected of all Hitler's generals, and was never tried for war crimes.

Members are reminded that the next lecture evening of The Friends of the Museums will be held on Wednesday 26th August. The subject will be "Museum Restoration Projects", and the venue will be the auditorium at the Museum. The bar will open at 19h00, and the lectures will begin at 20h00.


13th Aug:
CR Colin Dean The Fish That Sank
ML Prof C Miller Canada Goes to War 1899-1900

10 Sept
CR G Barrell The Yom Kippur War - 1973
ML W Murton Unsung Heroes

13 August
Visit to the Natal Carbineers in Pietermaritzburg

Cape Town:
13 August
Maj Helmoed-Roemer Heitman : Illustrated overview of developments of SA air-to-ground weapons:Strategic "Cooks World Tour" of current conflicts

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

CR = Curtain raiser ML= Main Lecture

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