South African Military History Society

NEWSLETTER Cape Town Branch JANUARY 1998

Everyone in the US Pacific Fleet, and certainly the Japanese High Command, knew of the CinC Pacific Fleet, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel's custom of keeping his fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbour on Sunday mornings. And thus history records that the Japanese forces began their operations in South East Asia with amphibious landings and airstrikes on Sunday, 7th December 1941, with the most devastating blow being the one on Pearl Harbour, once labelled by Admiral Yamamoto of the Japanese Imperial Navy as "the dagger at our throat".

Our speaker on 13 November, Mr. C. NEWTON, after sketching the background of relation between the USA and Japan, and the latter's expansion in the Far East, masterfully described the series of mishaps, bungles and missed opportunities that are the delight of military journalists everywhere. They all make excellent copy - with hindsight.

The original plans of the Japanese attack were formulated by Admiral Onishi, the training and preparation by Commander Genda was thorough and was kept secret, and the execution of the attack almost flawless. It was assisted by the fact that the only two radar sets in Hawai - sited on less prominent peaks by order of the US National Parks Dept - which reduced their effective range, only operated between 04h00 and 07h00 on weekends.

At 04h00 on 7 Dec 1941, a periscope was sighted offshore; three hours later, a hostile submarine was depth-charged by a US Navy vessel, but, still, no alarm was raised. A US Army radar operator spotted incoming blips; they were reported but ignored. In any case, it was by then, too late. At 07h50 the attack started and the Japanese aircraft wreaked havoc among the 100 vessels at anchor that made up 50% of the US PacIfic Fleet.

The first wave consisted of dive bombers were deployed against land targets; the second wave was torpedo bombers, which attacked the ships at anchor in Pearl Harbour, and the third wave was Zero fighters, strafing everything in sight. The attack achieved total surprise, and the resultant losses of US warships, aircraft and men were heavy.

Thus the Japanese victory dealt a severe blow to US morale and prestige. However the oil tanks and repair facilfties had remained intact. Of 86 warships damaged, most were repaired within six months, and by their fortunate absence from Pearl Harbour at the time of the attack, the three big aircraft carriers were saved to deal the crucial blow to the Japanese Navy at the Battle of Midway in June, 1942.

It was a presentation thoroughly enjoyed by all, and the map of Pearl Harbour supplied to each listener was most handy for following the narrative and understanding the tactical situation.


MAJOR ANTHONY GORDON had to cancel his announced tour of the Coast Defences due to other commitments. However, it will take place next year, but on a weekday, which will, hopefully, encourage some Cape Town municipal officials to join in.

Elements of the Western Cape military community, such as Western Province Command, are now taking a much greater and very welcome interest in the future survival and management of Fort Wynyard.

Following a serious illness, our Secretary, PAUL LANGE, informed the committee that he wished to relinquish his portfolio, although he wished to remain active as a committee member. Paul has been with our branch since its founding in 1976, and has acted in all of the executive positions on the committee and he is a hard worker. In the early days, he and the then chairman, Dr. Ken Gunn, kept the branch going by financing it personally when things got tough. We are all glad that he will continue to assist the Society and wish him well on his road to total recovery.


15 Jan 98 Meeting No.242 (3rd THURSDAY)
Slide-illustrated talk by Mr Stan Lambrick. The coastal blockade of the southern ports, the battle of Mobile Bay, the capture of New Orleans, and the engagement between the MERRIMAC and MONITOR.

19 Feb 98 Meeting No.243
Slide-illustrated talk by Cdr W.M. Bissett on some of the coast artillery batteries in the Cape Peninsula, tracing their history from 1899 to 1955.

Enclosed please find a renewal form for 1998. Due to increased costs in mailing ( - you now receive one Newsletter each month instead of every two months), printing, rent for lecture hall, and other basics, your Committee was unfortunately compelled to increase subscriptions slightly.
Individual Associate Membership: R 30,00 pa
Family Associate Membership : R 35,00 pa
Individual Full Membership : R 90,00 pa *
Family Full Membership : R 105,00 pa *
(* Due to Increased cost of printing the Journals)

It would be appreciated if you could mail your subscription in the pre -paid envelope provided before 28 February 1998.

If you have a short military anecdote, be ft serious or humorous, that lends itself to be included in our monthly Newsletter, please send ft to the branch scribe at P.O. Box 12926, Mowbray, 7705.

Meetings of the Cape Town Branch are normally held on the second Thursday of each month (barring December) at 20h00 (8.00 pm sharp), in the Recreation Hall of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Lower Nursery Road, Rosebank, (off Alma Road), opposite the Rosebank railway station, below the line. Visitors are welcome. Donation R 2.00. Scholars and Students free. Tea and biscuits will be served.

John Mahncke, (Vice-Chairman/Scribe), (021) 797 5167

South African Military History Society /