The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 14 No 1 - June 2007


Masonry blockhouses ...
I just want to congratulate you on another interesting MHJ and to offer a comment on one point in R W Smith's excellent article on 'Langverwacht'. The author makes the statement that the small stone forts or blockhouses built by the British during the Second Anglo-Boer War were 'proof against artillery'. Seeing this, I re-checked my article on the masonry blockhouses in MHJ Vol 10 No 6 and noted that I never clarified this point sufficiently, except to say that, by the time the corrugated iron blockhouses were being mass-produced, 'the Boers had lost most of their artillery' and, in the Summary on p 218, that they were 'designed to counter an enemy armed with rifles and no artillery'. This perhaps misled Mr Smith into believing that the masonry ones would have been able to withstand artillery bombardment.

If we look at the development of fortifications in Europe following the introduction of gunpowder, we see that very quickly it was learned that masonry defences should be built squat and low, preferably with a backing of compacted earth to cushion the impact of cannonballs and shells. In addition, attempts were made during the 17th and 18th centuries to push siege artillery further back by surrounding the main fortress defences with wide moats and outworks such as bastioned traces, ravelins and, in the 19th century, even rings of detached and inter-communicating forts around defended cities, as improvements in artillery technology produced progressively greater ranges and more destructive missiles. The days of high masonry defensive walls were over, unless they were designed as protection against small arms fire and, in the case of the three-storeyed masonry blockhouses in South Africa, to provide lookout facilities over the surrounding country.

The masonry blockhouses that I referred to in my article as 'Standard Pattern' had stone or unreinforced concrete walls which diminished in thickness from 900mm on the lowest level to 450mm on the top storey, and these thicknesses would in themselves not have lasted long under artillery bombardment. The steel plating of the door, window shutters and loopholes, up to a maximum thickness of 13mm, would be like paper tissue to artillery, not to mention the thin corrugated iron roof and timber joisted floors.

Richard Tomlinson, Port Elizabeth


Please note that the following errors appeared in the article by Robert Feenstra, 'Occupation! The experiences of a Dutch youth in the Second World War, 1939 to 1945'.
p234: The first paragraph under the heading The Allies invade' should, of course, read 'In September 1944 (not 1943), the situation in Holland .. .'

p235: Under the heading, 'No food', read, 'Central kitchens were erected in the cities at strategic points, allowing a person one meal a day in exchange for a designated coupon. In January 1945, this meal deteriorated into a plate of sugarbeet soup, which tasted extremely sweet, plus the weekly supply of a small black loaf of bread .'

p237: Under the heading, 'Food parcels', read, Tiny mini-stoves, known as 'majos', became very popular. These used a minute amount of fuel efficiently. For lighting, wicks floating in bowls of oil were lit.'

The editor apologises for these regrettable errors.

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