The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 12 No 6 - December 2003


... 'The June 2003 issue of the Military History Journal has just arrived, for which many thanks. As always it contains much of interest. There are, though, two items which require correcting, hence my letter.

The first appears on p 172 of Cliff Lord's most excellent account of signals in East Africa. He refers to the WTS and states that they had no connection with the FANYs. This is not so; the WTS (East Africa), were formed in 1935 and were very much part of the famous First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY), which, throughout the war, had units in 44 countries. The FANY still exists as the Princess Royal's Volunteer Corps and has its HQ in the Duke of York Barracks in Chelsea. I have had quite a bit of contact with them lately because my aunt, Sgt BM Austin, was a member of the WTS (EA). On 12 February 1944, she was one of a number of FANYs on board the troopship Khedive Ismael when it was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-27 just off the Maldive Islands (cf Turner et al, War in the Southern Oceans, OUP, Oxford, 1961, p247). There were very few survivors. Sadly, my aunt was not one of them. Her name appears on a plaque at St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge, that commemorates all the FANYs who made the supreme sacrifice during the war.

The second item is on p 192 in the piece dealing with Private Louis Gladstone. There you state that the Special Signals Service (SSS).was a 'top-secret radar operation ... devoted to intercepting signals from U-boats ... ' The SSS was indeed a highly secret unit within the South African Corps of Signals, but its function was radar and radar alone; the job of monitoring radio transmissions was done by an equally secret group known as the Price-Milne Organisation. May I refer you to Peter Brain's book, South African Radar in World War II (SSS Radar Book Group, 1993, ISBN 0 620178906) for an authoritative account of the role and function of the SSS? I also devoted two chapters of my recent biography of Sir Basil Schonland, Schonland - Scientist and Soldier (Institute of Physics Printing UK/Witwatersrand University Press, 2001) to the personalities, functions and operational role of the SSS since Lt Col (later Brig) Schonland was the driving force in the formation of the SSS and was its first CO.

I think the confusion in terminology may have arisen because the original code-name for radar was RDF which is usually, erroneously, taken to mean 'radio direction finding'. However, RDF is not an abbreviation or even an acronym for anything. As I quote in my book (fn p 171), RDF was 'a code-name (for what ultimately was called radar) intended to have no identification' and this came from the horse's mouth, Sir Robert Watson-Watt, the founding father of British radar.

Yours sincerely, Dr BA Austin (Maj retd, SACS, 1963; 1976-84).
(Letter shortened).

Upon reflection, the terminology used created the wrong impression in the case of the second item. My sincere apologies. I had not intended to suggest that the SSS was involved in any operation other than radar. Thank you for your informative letter - Ed.

...'My copy of the MHJ just arrived - many thanks. I compliment you on the outstanding presentation - I was quite fond of the old, more austere format as well, but the journal as it looks today is clearly in a completely different league. Well done! The range of articles is also impressive, and I look forward to reading through them over the weekend.

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Dr Machanik, whom I spent a great deal of time with during the ABW Centenary preparing an exhibition and a special issue of Jewish Affairs. He was a true enthusiast, and one of the last of a fast fading generation.

Warm regards, David Saks, 17 July 2003.'

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