The man with the MGL

Infantry section seen here during South West Africa and Angola Border War. This is a SADF patrol final inspection (thought to be 5 SAI), this task was usually performed by the section leaders before the platoon moves out. His job was to check that every man’s kit is in full order. Here he checks the ammunition and kit of the man allocated the 40 mm multiple grenade launcher.

Infantry sections like this were made up of 10 men comprising a section leader – usually a corporal, two machine gun groups – LMG (Light machine gun) and one man on the multiple grenade launcher (MGL) in the rifle group.

Three Infantry sections made up a Platoon headed which report to a HQ group of 5 men, including a Platoon Commander (usually a Lt or 2Lt) and a Platoon Sergeant. Total platoon strength 35 men.

The MGL (Multiple Grenade Launcher) is a lightweight 40 mm six-shot revolver-type grenade launcher (variations also fire 37/38mm) developed and manufactured in South Africa by Milkor (Pty) Ltd. This MGL was the world’s first mass-produced multi-shot 40mm hand-held weapon.

The MGL was demonstrated as a concept to the South African Defence Force (SADF) in 1981. The operating principle was immediately accepted and subjected to a stringent qualification program. The MGL was then officially accepted into service with the SADF as the Y2. After its introduction in 1983, the MGL was gradually adopted by the armed forces and law enforcement organizations of over 50 countries. Total production since 1983 has been more than 50,000 units.

The MGL is a multiple-shot weapon, intended to significantly increase a small squad’s firepower when compared to traditional single-shot grenade launchers like the M203. The MGL is designed to be simple, rugged, and reliable. It uses the well-proven revolver principle to achieve a high rate of accurate fire which can be rapidly brought to bear on a target. A variety of rounds such as HE, HEAT, anti-riot baton, irritant, and pyrotechnic can be loaded and fired as fast as the trigger can be pulled; the cylinder can be loaded or unloaded rapidly to maintain a high rate of fire. Although intended primarily for offensive and defensive use with high-explosive rounds, with appropriate ammunition the launcher is suitable for anti-riot and other security operations. A newly patented modification allows the MGL to fire less lethal (very low pressure) rounds.

Photo copyright John Liebenberg, sources Wikipedia and Defence Network.

A German of French descent shot down by a South African of German descent in a country occupied by Italy ….

Another amazing and very human story about one of our World War 2 South African heroes. This one where two former enemies became close friends long after they met in the skies of North Africa during Word War 2. A German and a South African pilot fought to the death, the South African shooting down the German, later only to become friends.

The colorised image is Stuka pilot Lt. Heinz-Georg Migeod, shot down in Libya, 11/11/1942 by SAAF fighter pilot DB “Hoefie” Hauptfleisch (in the black and white portrait insert).

After the war Heinz relocated to South Africa where he met Hoefie and they became good friends. Hoefie passed away in 2009 and Heinz in 2010.

Tinus Le Roux was fortunate to have met Heinz. He once said to Tinus that the incident on 11 Nov 1942 was very funny: “a German of French descent was shot down by a South African from German descent in an African country occupied by Italy”

Now that is sheer irony.

With thanks to Tinus Le Roux for the colorised image and story as well as the families of Heinz Migeod and Hoefie Hauptfleisch for their stories, pictures and memories.

Image copyright – Tinus Le Roux

The horrible history and many names of Thaba Tshwane

This photo of the South African Army College in Thaba Tshwane has a lot of hidden history. South Africans just love re-naming things in pursuit of one political parties agenda over that of another one, all in the interests of political narrative – all of them serving to either change or hide South Africa’s strong military and cultural heritage to suite this or that political likeness.

Take the military compound in Pretoria as an example – First it was called Roberts Heights – then Voortrekkerhoogte – now Thaba Tshwane  – even the changes in language used in the name and subsequent name changes speaks volumes.

Founded around 1905 after the Boer War by the British Army, and called Roberts Heights after Lord Roberts. It was renamed Voortrekkerhoogte (“Voortrekker Heights”) to commemorate The Great Trek in a flurry of Afrikaner nationalism which accompanied the Great Trek centenary – and what better than re-naming the “English occupiers” military base and removing the name of Lord Roberts – a man loathed by the National Party and its supporters as well as some members of the United Party.

Following the end of the National Party and their influence of Afrikaner Nationalism as an ideology to govern South Africa, it was renamed again on the 19 May 1998 by the incoming ANC regime, this time called Thaba Tshwane instead.

The meaning of which is a little lost in translation, but some say it’s after Tshwane, son of Chief Mushi, an Ndebele leader who settled near the Apies River, although there is some debate to whether he actually existed.

In any event, the name was changed again, and once again it was done to suit the next incoming regimes’ political narrative – the replacement of Black African culture and history over that of White African culture and history and scrubbing out anything the National Party or United Party did in the name of Afrikaner or English identity.

The casualty of all this re-naming and one-upmanship is the actual history, the actual legacy – that it was British military compound established and named after Lord Roberts – and it is now sadly lost to the generations of South Africans who served there in the decades after 1948 and now even more so to generations of South Africans to come.

Just a little bit of the “lost” history of the place itself – the oldest building in the military complex is the one pictured – the “South African Garrison Institute” what is now re-named as the “South African Army College”. But here’s the really interesting bit – Lord Kitchener laid the cornerstone of this College on the 12th June 1902.

During the Second Boer War, both Lord Kitchener and Lord Roberts arrived in South Africa together on the RMS Dunottar Castle – along with massive British reinforcements in December 1899.

Following the defeat of the conventional Boer forces, Kitchener succeeded Roberts as overall commander of British Forces in November 1900. He subsequently inherited and expanded the successful strategies devised by Roberts to force the “Bittereinder” (Bitter End) unconventional Boer forces to submit.

The “Bittereinder” Boer Commandos had changed their tactics and were now using highly controversial and relatively new “hit and run” guerrilla tactics. The British in turn – in order to figure out how to stop “guerrilla war” – came up with the idea of containing the Boer’s supply line (their horse feed, shelter and food which where been provided by their families/homesteads) and placing all involved in supply (families and farm workers /servants alike) into both “White” and “Black” concentration camps respectively – and then burning the farms (a policy known as “scorched earth”).

Conditions in the concentration camps, which had been conceived by Roberts as a form of control of the families whose farms his forces had destroyed, began to degenerate rapidly as the large influx of Boers outstripped the ability of the minuscule British force to cope. The camps lacked space, food, sanitation, medicine, and medical care, leading to rampant disease and a very high death rate – especially among women and children (children particularly).

You’ll recognise Lord Kitchener anywhere – he became the poster model for the “Your Country Needs You” campaign to spur British and Commonwealth men to sign up and fight in the trenches of World War 1. The poster is funnily seeing a little contemporary resurgence in celebration of the centenary of WW1.

It’s a “Horrible” history – but it’s history none the less – and for this very reason – that it is “horrible” that this history really needs to be told – lest we forget the sacrifice that it took.

Covering over it by re-naming everything, for the sake of a political one-upmanship merely washes out the country’s history, heritage and cultural understanding – it cleanses the rich tapestry that makes us unique as a nation.

South Africans in the Royal Navy during WW2

Due to the fact that Britain was able to operate a naval base from Simon’s Town in South Africa, South Africans who volunteered to join the South African Navy usually landed up seconded in the service of the Royal Navy in WW2.

To the point where hardly a ship in the Royal Navy did not carry a South African contingent.  Also, any tragedy – involving high combat loss or a sinking of a Royal Navy ship during WW2 usually carries with it a South African (SANVR) honour roll.

Here is a photo of the members of the South African Division of the Royal Naval Volunteers Reserve on board HMS NELSON posing for the camera sitting on one of the enormous 16 inch guns of A turret. July 1941.

Image – Imperial War Museum copyright.


Great photo of South African infantry troops in the distinctive ‘brown’ nutria combat fatigues of the period. Here SADF troops return to their Ruacana base. March 26 1989. The nutria uniform was affectionally and officially known as ‘Browns’ and over time, sun and extensive washing and ironing exposure it became a ‘lighter’ brown with ‘houding’ (attitude) – browns with extensive exposure turned a milky brown eventually and this became the hallmark of a ‘ouman’ (old man) who had been serving for a while. The distinctive browns issue bush hats are also seen with a little ‘bush houding’ – a grenade ring pull and ‘toggle’ attaching it to the owner (and the stitch line was always worn at the back, never the front).

Camouflage fatigues – as part of the SADF’s “Soldier 2000” program began to replace “browns” in 1992/3

Photo copyright and courtesy: John Liebenberg

SAAF action camera close up

Not often seen is a close up of like this of the South African Air Force in action during the North African campaign – WW2.  Here  cannon shells can be seen as they explode around the tail of a German Junkers Ju 52 forced down in the Western Desert by three Bristol Bisleys of No. 15 Squadron South African Air Force, 12 October 1942.

The starboard (right) engine is already on fire, and a member of the JU 52 crew can be seen trying to take cover lying face down on the ground beneath it. The Bisleys, escorted by four Bristol Beaufighters of No. 252 Squadron Royal Air Force, intercepted the German transport aircraft while returning from a strike on an enemy train.

The Beaufighters shot down a Ju 52 and damaged one of the escorting Messerschmitt Bf 110s, while the Bisleys forced down a second Ju 52 and subsequently destroyed it with their bombs. One of the Bisleys was shot down by return fire.

Image Copyright Imperial War Museum

Carrying the “Torch of Remembrance” for the South African Fallen

Probably about the most disturbing and hard hitting photograph that I am likely to post, but it brings home why we remember on Remembrance Sunday and on Armistice Day and why the date and time 11am, on the 11th day in the 11th month is so significant and what it means. This is the day and time the guns fell silent on the western front in 1918, it’s at this time on this day that we recount the massive sacrifice made in war – not just for WW1, but for all war.

This is the capture of Meteren by the 9th Division. Stretcher-bearers of the Royal Scots Fusiliers collecting the dead after The South African Brigade attack on the 20th July 1918.

It is our privilege as veterans to carry the torch of remembrance, we carry the thread that binds us all the way to these fallen South Africans lying in the mud and devastation that was World War 1.  It’s this torch that we carry that marks all of our fallen in 1918, our fallen in 1945 our fallen in 1989 and it’s the same torch that marks our fallen in 2015 – it binds everyone who has served their country – and it stands as the marker of sacrifice.  As veterans, to hold this responsibility is a great honour and we are indeed a privileged few.

Rest in Peace brothers … We WILL Remember.

Photograph – Imperial War Museum copyright.  Posted by Peter Dickens