South African Military History Society

NEWSLETTER No.249 Cape Town Branch September 1998

We were very fortunate to have two speakers at our August Meeting.

The first was LT COL ANDREW DINWOODIE SAEC, who, as a SA Army Engineer Staff Officer (Mines), was attached to the Allied Rapid Reaction Force and to IFOR (NATO Implementation Force) in Bosnia for seven months during 1995/96. South African Engineer Corps officers are regarded in military circles as being experts on mine warfare, and as such, he was invited by the Royal Engineers of the British Army to serve as their staff officer expert on land-mine warfare. His primary duties included compiling comprehensive minefield maps of the region, to be used both by higher authority and the local population. He informed us about the very tragic, tangled and confused history of this bloody part of the Balkans which, for generations, has suffered almost continuously from religious and ethnic persecution under a long line of chieftains, tyrants, dictators and terrorist leaders until this day. His prognosis for its future, unfortunately, left little hope of peace for the many different clans, tribes and religious groups that he described.

Our second speaker, MAJ HELMOED-ROEMER HEITMAN, provided us with a close look at South African air-to-ground missiles, guided booster bombs, rockets, including anti-personnel bombs with rather impersonal names like RAPTOR and MUPSOW. Some of these were used in the Angolan campaign, where their long-range standoff capabilities, from 60 km to 300 km, was of great assistance to our small mobile forces on the ground who faced a widely scattered, numerically stronger enemy in the vast, bush-covered territory.

MAJ HEITMANN'S main talk entitled "A STRATEGIC COOK'S TOUR OF CURRENT CONFLICTS" was anything but a travelogue in the accepted sense of the word. Starting in the Middle East, where hatred between Israelis and Palestinians keeps old and new wounds festering, occasionally spilling over into Syria, Jordan and, further north to Iran and Iraq with their own personal squabbles, he moved to localised fighting in Yemen and Eritrea. From there, it was a short jump to Pakistan and India, where a nuclear stalemate exists - for the moment - although the presence of the very large Indian army, navy and air force, of a size more suited to an empire rather than an apparently peaceful nation, poses a threat to other nations far beyond their immediate zone of influence. China and its south-east Asian allies were next, all driven by a compelling need for oil to sustain their economies, but also facing a host of other problems, one of which being a steadily increasing population, which, in turn impacts upon the region. Australia, which has for years been living a blessed existence of non-involvement, is hastily re-arming in the face of anticipated future threats from Asia. South- and Central-American states are largely peaceful, although their national govemments are fighting Narco-terrorists on an ever increasing scale, with small localised border squabbles and clan infighting adding to their already serious financial troubles.

European countries are relatively peaceful, on the surface, but political discontent is brewing everywhere, from Ireland, through Spain, Belgium, the former East Germany, down to the Balkans, and even a jittery Turkey still worrying over its tenuous foothold in Cypms. Russia, with its legacy of the last great war still haunting its people, commerce and industry, is now unstable and therefore dangerous. There are minor insurgencies in many parts of the former Soviet Union and there is also a standoff between Russia and China over ownership of oil fields in the disputed border regions. But perhaps the biggest threat is the prospect of a Russian armed venture to compensate for its inability to meet the promise given its people with regard to a better life. The USA has largely lost credibility in the world and might opt for a reversion to "splendid isolation", leaving the European and other countries in the lurch, and at the mercy of other superpowers who are beginning to flex their muscles

Finally, it appears that most of the countries in Africa are unstable, threatened by, or drawn into war by semi-legitimate terrorists. But whatever their economic positions are, whether famine, pestilence or natural disasters occur, there seems to be no shortage of all kinds of arms and ammunition for them to kill each other.

It was undoubtedly, an informative, if not exactly reassuring evening, and our speakers were thanked for presentations well done.

Thursday,10 September 1998
Slide-illustrated talk of the mountain war between Italy and Austria. This was a particularly bloody campaign characterised by extensive mining, and, in the winter of 1916 alone, over 60 000 combatants perished in avalanches, most of which had been set off deliberately by opposing gunfire.

Thursday, 8 October 1998
Slide-illustrated talk about the capture of the Mississippi River and the Confederate Sea Raiders like the CSS Alabama, CSS Shenandoah and CSS Florida.

Your Committee would like to acquire an EPIDIASCOPE (2nd hand) to be used during presentations. If you know of an epidiascope for sale, kindly contact the Chairman, Derek O'Riley at (021 689 2300).

REFERENCE BOOKS : Through a fellow-member the Society has received, and has gratefully accepted, a complete set of the 1986 Orbis Publication "WAR MACHINE" (12 volumes). This set is being kept in trust by the Vice-chairman. He also owns a set of the 1981 ORBIS Publication 'THE ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AIRCRAFT' (18 Volumes). Anyone requiring extracts from these books for research may contact him at (021) 797-5167.

KIMBERLEY ANGLO-BOER WAR EXPO : This event will be held from 4-11 October 1998. Please telephone Steve Lundestedt at (0531)814006 for further details.

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 3.00. Scholars and Students free. Tea and biscuits will be served.

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

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