South African Military History Society

NEWSLETTER No.262 Cape Town Branch


As a curtain raiser on 14 October, we were privileged to listen to a brief talk by RUDI ROTH from Switzerland, one of the foremost experts on brass and iron cannons, who is on a visit at the request of his sponsors, DURR ESTATES. Combining the skills of a detective, chemist and metallurgist, he brings great enthusiasm to the science of identifying cannons all over the world, and is invited by museums and societies to lecture. RUDI described his interesting techniques and research problems, and answered questions from the audience about his unique profession. His definitive book on Dutch Bronze cannons can be purchased through fellow member Gerry de Vries at (021) 557 1299.

Fellow member JOHAN VAN DEN BERG presented his well researched and illustrated talk about two skirmishes of the Anglo-Boer War which both took place on 17 Sept 1901, but almost 1 000 km apart. The first skirmish was at Blood River Poort. Gen. Louis Botha's forces were en route to Vryheid and Dundee without having been detected by the British columns under Gen Hildyard. But an advance patrol from a British mounted infantry unit under Maj Hubert Gough came across a small Boer force at Scheepersnek on the road to Vryheid. Gough planned to attack, but before he could do so, the Boers had moved off to Blood River Poort and disappeared behind Aasvoelkrans. Expecting the Boers to dismount and set up camp for the night, as was their custom, Gough decided to launch a surprise assault. What he did not know was that the Boers had posted lookouts on Aasvoelkrans, and as soon as the three companies of mounted infantry came into view, the forewarned Boers attacked on foot directly at the approaching troops. This move caught the enemy totally off guard, but worse was to come. Botha had arrived unobserved and devided his forces into two groups, one of which attacked Gough's right flank, the other scaled Aasvoelkrans and fired at his left, while the Boers who charged on foot dashed through the centre to get at Gough's guns. It was all over in ten minutes, and while the Boers only lost one killed and three wounded, British casualties were extremely high and they also lost all their equipment.

The second skirmish happened at Elandsrivierpoort and was memorable for a number of unusual factors. Gen.Jan Smuts and his commando of 250 men invaded the Cape Colony near Zastron on 4 Sept and trekked through the Stormberg region, harassed by the enemy and plagued by atrocious weather conditions: rain, sleet and high winds, with temperatures dropping to freezing. The men's clothes deteriorated to rags, they were frozen and starving, and in one disastrous night 30 horses died. But Smuts kept his men together by sheer power of his personality. At last weather improved and, as Smuts entered the valley of Elandspoort, they found an "enemy for breakfast" in the form of a squadron of 17th Lancers under Capt Sandeman and Lord Vivian, who blocked their advance. The British were 200 men strong, with 300 horses and mules, guns and machine guns. Gen.Smuts sent a small section forward to scout and when they reported the enemy, he decided to attack. "If we don't get those horses and a supply of ammunition, we are done for," he was heard to say. The skirmish began when the Boers clashed with a Lancer patrol and fired. Then they set off in hot pursuit towards the camp. In the meantime other Boers had scaled a low outcrop and found the camp below in total confusion and two guns being brought into action right in front of them. They fired at the gunners, a second group fired at the troops from another hill and the rest of the commando swept through the camp and the dedefensive positions, completely overwhelming the enemy, despite heroic resistance by a few officers and men. Once again the skirmish had taken less than twenty minutes, Boer casualties were low, while the British lost many men and all their equipment, enabling the Boers to fit themselves out in new clothing, food and supplies.

Both skirmishes boosted the morale of the Boers and shocked British confidence at home and abroad in their military, although in the final analysis they were of no consequence to the outcome of the Anglo-Boer War itself.

It was a most interesting and thought provoking talk of which printed copies will be available at a future meeting.


Thursday, 11th Nov 1999

December 1999: In Recess.

Next Meeting: 13 January 2000. A list of TALKS for 2000 will be printed in our NEXT NEWSLETTER

Any member willing to speak, or anyone who knows of a good speaker on a topic of interest, or who would like to have a specific subject presented at our meetings, is asked to kindly contact our Chairman: Derek O'Riley, at 689 2300.

Mrs Harriet Deacon, recently appointed Heritage Director of the Robben Island Museum, is very keen to contact and interview anyone who served on the island during WW 2. She is particularly looking for the many Cape Corps men who manned the guns. If you can assist, please phone Mrs Deacon at 461 9710.

Mrs Helen Binckes is undertaking a study, through U.C.T., of War Memorials in the Western Cape. She would like to hear from anybody with knowledge of ANY type or kind of memorial (excluding the main cemeteries, which will be covered by committee member Maj Tony Gordon). She can be contacted at 689 3711 (phone/fax).

Mr Johan v.d.Berg Offers a large range of OSPREY Military Titles at a greatly reduced price. For enquiries: (021) 92 7923.

Chairman and committee members wish every member of our Branch a Happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

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

South African Military History Society /