South African Military History Society


Past meeting - Johannesburg
The Annual General Meeting of the SA Military History Society was held on Thursday, 16th April 1998, at the Museum.
The Chairman George Barrell reported that the Society begins its 33rd year in a reasonably healthy financial state, and with signs that the long-term decline in membership may be slowing down. Last year 44 members left the Society, and 26 were recruited. This net loss of 18 compares with one of 45 in 1996/1997. The report presented by retiring Hon. Treasurer Mike Marsh revealed a loss for the year of R2 924, the bulk of it accounted for by the function the Society held to celebrate the Museum's 50th anniversary, which has nevertheless been counted a PR success.
There was a significant improvement in the amount of publicity gained in the past year, and the Chairman thanked committee member Marjorie Dean for her achievements in this respect. He also thanked committee member Kemsley Couldridge for his efforts in improving the quality of the lectures delivered during the year. It was announced that the Society had implemented a web site, courtesy of Mike Marsh, and that this was attracting considerable world-wide attention. The Chairman offered himself for re-election and was returned unopposed.
The following members have resigned from the committee: Mike Marsh, Ivor Little, Louis Wildenboer and the Rev. Russell Campbell. The Chairman thanked them for their services in the past and previous years, and particularly Mike Marsh for the 15 years he had served as Hon. Treasurer. Joan Marsh has offered to take over her husband's work, and was duly elected to the committee. The Chairman also expressed thanks to Tania van der Watt of the Durban branch for her 25 years service as secretary, and to Paul Lange, long-time secretary of the Cape Town branch.
The committee now comprises:
George Barrell(National Chairman and Scribe);Martin Ayres(Deputy Chairman);Joan Marsh (Hon. Treasurer);Prof Ian Copley;Kemsley Couldridge;Colin Dean;Marjorie Dean;Heinrich Janzen;Lt-Col Dr Felix Machanik;Hamish Paterson (Museum Representative)
Museum Director Maj-General Philip Pretorius told the meeting that the Government still intended to merge the Museum with a number of other cultural institutions with which it has nothing in common, and that he and his committee were still seeking ways to avoid this politically dictated and potentially disastrous move. He suggested a solution would be to merge the Museum with the Military Museum of the Boer Republics in Bloemfontein to form an historical heritage institution. The General appealed to the Society for all the help it could give in maintaining the character and independence of the Museum.
The Roderick Murchison Memorial Prize for the best contribution to the Journal during 1997 was awarded to Richard Tomlinson for his article in the December edition: "Britain's Last Castles: Masonry Blockhouses of the SA War 1899-1902". This will be the last Roderick Murchison Prize to be awarded.
The Felix Machanik Prize for the best main lecture of the year went to Louis Wildenboer for his talk at the March meeting entitled: "The English Castle".
The George Barrell Prize for the best curtain raiser went to Colin Dean for his talk "Sun Tzu. A Philosopher of War", given at the November meeting. This is a new annual prize, awarded for the first time.

The lecture of the evening was presented by Hamish Paterson and was entitled "The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot". This Battle of the Philippine Sea was the biggest carrier battle in history, and was the last. The term "Turkey Shoot" was how one US pilot decribed the air actions which virtually eliminated Japan's remaining naval air power.
By June 1944 the relentless American advance toward Japan was facing the Imperial Navy with a do-or-die situation. Its strength had been severely depleted in previous battles, whereas US naval capability had grown massively along with its air power. For the Japanese, the only hope seemed to be a single, decisive victory such as the one they had won against the Russian fleet in the Tsushima Straits four decades before.
The US threat to Japanese-held islands in the Marianas group gave the Imperial Navy its opportunity, although the odds were against it from the start. Its three fleet and six light carriers faced the Americans' seven fleet and eight light carriers. In all, 472 American fighters, 233 dive bombers and 190 torpedo bombers, faced Japanese numbers of 255, 126 and 99 respectively. The Japanese bombers and torpedo planes had the advantage of range and speed, but the US Hellcat fighters outclassed the Japanese Zeros in speed and protection, although not in range.
The Japanese hoped that land-based aircraft from the Marianas, Japan and elsewhere, would boost their numbers. However, they suffered from one vital deficiency which even their superior range and search capabilities were unable to counter. Owing to their previous heavy losses, their pilots lacked both training and experience.
First contact between the opposing fleets was on 18th June 1944. The Turkey Shoot comprised four engagements. In the first the Japanese lost 44 aircraft and succeeded only in damaging the US battleship South Dakota. Raid two lost 97 aircraft and was repulsed with only slight damage to the carrier Wasp and the battleship Indiana. Meanwhile US submarine Albacore torpedoed the Japanese carrier Taiho. Raid three did not make contact, but seven of its 47 aircraft fell to marauding Hellcats. The final raid was a complete failure, losing 30 aircraft out of its 49. The US submarine Cavalla torpedoed the carrier Shokaku, which blew up and sank, as did the Taiho. Altogether the Japanese lost 342 aircraft to the Americans' 30.
The US triumph was marred the next day when 97 aircraft, many of which ran out of fuel, went down in an attack on the retreating Japanese ships that was launched too late in the day and at too great a distance. Although only 34 aircrew were lost, it was a heavy price to pay for sinking one light carrier and two oilers.

Members are reminded that it is still possible to book for the 26th May to 1st June Namaqualand Battlefied Tour up to 14 days before the date of departure. The tour leaves from and returns to Kimberley, although it can be joined at Okiep. Travel is in air-conditioned vehicles and includes visits to Springbok, Brandewynkop, Okiep, Gares, Leliefontein, Augrabies, Scotty's grave, a wine-tasting, Porth Nolloth, a Cornish pumphouse and interesting geological formations. Cost of the tour, which is fully escorted by Satour guides, is from R1 740 per person. More information can be obtained by fax or phone from Steve Lunderstedt on (0531) 814006


14th May:
ML F W Bullen All the Queen's Men
ML Lt-Gen. J Dutton With the Armour in Korea
11th June :
CR Terry Willson A Relic from Berea: Facts and Speculation, or Coincidence
ML B Bunyard Military Music

14th May
Paul Kilmartin First Battle of Ypres -- 1914

Cape Town:
14th May
Johan van den Berg German Paratroops in Belgium and the Assualt on Fortress Holland -- 1940

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

CR = Curtain raiser ML= Main Lecture

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