South African Military History Society

Newsletter No 296 KwaZulu Natal Branch October 1999

Pat Budd, in the DDH lecture, traced the remarkable career of Major Helmut Wick, the 22 year old German fighter pilot, who was shot down and killed on 28 November 1940, just after the end of the Battle of Britain.

After the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, Germany was forbidden to retain an air force and restrictions were placed on the design and use of civil aircraft. However, after the 1922 Treaty of Rapello, Russia established two flying schools where German pilots could be, and were, trained. Also, gliding schools allowed former German pilots to spot talented youngsters. As a result, when the Luftwaffe was established in 1935, qualified pilots were to hand and one of those was Helmut Wick. The Spanish Civil War of 1936 - 1939 provided the Luftwaffe with a proving ground for their new equipment, their fighter tactics and their fighter pilots, and all were ready when World War II began.

Lieut. Wick, as he then was, first saw action with unit JG2 of the Luftwaffe over Phalsburg, and brought down 1 Curtis Hawk aircraft. In April 1940 he was still with JG2 when it was deployed to Koblenz, in support of the main German thrust through the Ardennes and later in the final defeat of the French forces in Operation Paula. By June 1940, Wick had destroyed 14 enemy aircraft. During the Battle of Britain (10 July - 31 October 1940) Wick was awarded the Iron Cross First Class after destroying 20 aircraft, and then promoted to Major and awarded Oak Leaves to the Iron Cross after destroying 5 Spitfires. By 8 November 1940, Wick could claim his 54th aircraft destroyed. On 28 November 1940, Wick was shot down by Flight Lieutenant John Dundas, DFC, over the English Channel. Dundas was also shot down and he and Wick and both their aircraft were never seen again.

Pat Budd speculated as to why such an experienced pilot as Wick could have been shot down. One theory was that he was utterly exhausted, having been in action since May 1940 without a break. The other theory was that, at the time of day on 28 November 1940, Wick would have been silhouetted against the setting sun when above the clouds and that Dundas approached him unseen from the darkening east side.

In the main talk of the evening, Dr. Ingrid Machin selected 5 areas where the British used African Levies and other auxiliaries in times of war. These were The Anglo-Zulu War; the early phases of the Anglo-Boer War; in Zululand and Northern Natal during General Louis Botha's second attempt to invade Natal; the involvement of allies at Holkrantz; and the African involvement in the siege of Mafikeng. During the Anglo-Zulu War, poorly equipped levies were called up from the Natal chiefdoms in the locations. In the Central Column under Colonel Glynn, African units other than levies also took part and this pattern was repeated in the Coastal Column under Colonel Pearson and in Colonel Wood's column. These were dissident Zulu, such as Cetshwayo's brothers and the Natal Native Mounted Contingent, which included Kholwa (Christians).

Those levies who took part in the first invasion of Zululand were so poorly armed as to be almost useless in a pitched battle, and a lesson was learned in spite of the British and colonial fear of arming Africans. After Isandlwana, levies defending their own homes and families on the Natal side of the Thukela were better armed and motivated, and in the second invasion more firearms were provided. The inadequate arming of Africans in the first invasion was probably linked to the British underestimation of Zulu military strength.

The Anglo-Boer War was to be a white man's war, but the African involvement was considerable. In Natal, as early as October 1899, Robert Samuelson raised 150 mounted scouts from the Kholwa settlement at Driefontein, to patrol the Drakensberg foothills and establish communications with the British at Ladysmith. The chief Driefontein scout, Teise Ndlovu, and Samuelson set out to damage the railway line at Wasbank and to raise scouts from the chiefdoms to operate between Ladysmith and Pietermaritzburg. All these scouts were able to infiltrate the Boer lines effectively. In September 1901 General Louis Botha entered Natal with 1,000 men (increasing to 1,600) to demonstrate the Boer ability and determination to pursue the guerrilla phase of the war. Samuelson again raised scouts from the chiefdoms, this time in support of the Mobile Column advancing into Zululand. In addition, the Zululand Native Police of 500-600 men took an active part. The latter scouted for the British at the Itala and Mount Prospect battles and escorted wagons transporting commissariat stores.

In May 1902 the Holkrantz Massacre was perpetrated by Qulusi men, who attacked Potgieter's Commando. They were allied to Colonel H.B.Bottomley's unit. At Mafikeng, groups of Africans and so-called "Coloureds" took an active part in the defence. The main groups were the Barolong (among whom Sol Plaatje was prominent), the Mifengu (Fingoes) and the "Cape Boys", all of whom were armed. Samuelson's scouts were ill rewarded for their efforts, as were the Barolong. It is not surprising, therefore, that when in 1912, the South AfricanNative National Congress was established (the name was later changed to the ANC) the first President was Dr. John Dube, a Natal Kholwa, while the first Secretary-General was Sol Plaatje. It is estimated that at least 30,000 armed Africans were in the British military service during the Anglo-Boer War, while about 10,000 Africans served the Boers as "agterryers" (grooms) and general servants and some of these were armed.

Ganes Pillay gave the vote of thanks and he expressed the feeling of the whole meeting for two very different but equally fascinating talks.

Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
4 Hadley,101 Manning Road,Glenwood,Durban,4001
Telephone: (031) 201 3983

South African Military History Society /