A tank called Jannie Smuts

Italy 1944, a crew of the Pretoria Tank Regiment, 6th South African Armoured Division, christen their Sherman tank with the names of Prime Minister, Field Marshal Jan Smuts, during their advance north of Rome.

Jan Smuts and his wife, Isie K. Smuts affectionally known as “Ouma” (Grandmother) by the troops proved incredibly popular to South African servicemen during the Second World War.  In part because of the compassion shown to the troops via the South African Gifts and Comforts Fund run by “Ouma” Smuts and the annual gift packs sent to all in service during the war.

The Pretoria Regiment featured here in Italy, went on claim great status as a fighting Armoured Regiment.  It was formed in Pretoria on 1 July 1913 as the 12th Infantry (Pretoria Regiment) – a unit of the Active Citizen Force – by the amalgamation of several units: the Pretoria Company of the Transvaal Scottish, the Central South African Railway Volunteers, the Northern Mounted Rifles and the Pretoria detachment of the Transvaal Cycle and Motor Corps. In 1928, it was renamed The Pretoria Regiment.

On 24 October 1930 it was once again renamed, to The Pretoria Regiment P.A.O. (Princess Alice’s Own). During World War II, the Regiment was converted to an armoured formation attached to the 11th South African Armoured Brigade, South African 6th Armoured Division.

In Italy the Pretoria Regiment (PAO) was the armoured regiment for the British 24th Guards Brigade (Grenadiers, Coldstream and Scots Guards) in the 6th SA Armoured Division. At the end of six months together, in honour of fighting prowess of the Pretoria Regiment (POA), the Brigade Commander obtained King’s permission for award to the Pretoria Regiment (PAO) of a theatre honour in the form of stylised wings in Guards Brigade colours.  This is carried on the Pretoria Regiment’s insignia to this day.

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After the Second World War the unit was demobilised, and in 1946 it was re-organised as a part-time force, consisting of two separate regiment-sized formations. These were re-integrated in 1954. After the establishment of the Republic of South Africa in 1961, the unit was again renamed The Pretoria Regiment by the South African Defence Force.

Since the end of compulsory national service in 1994.  As part of the SANDF Reserve the Pretoria Regiment now recruits volunteers from among former Reserve and Regular Force soldiers and focussing on University of Pretoria students, men and women.

Image Copyright Imperial War Museum Collection.  Image of insignia courtesy Dudley Wall. Reference – The Pretoria Regiment by Brig Gen (Ret) D Fourie and wikipedia

The need for South Africa to hold onto Namibia for as long as it did.

The capture of German South West Africa as part of the start of World War One, by South Africa, had a profound impact on the next 100 years of South Africa’s history. Whilst its invasion was important to the outcome of WW1, its period as a protectorate of South Africa’s after the war had a longer and more profound impact.

Politically speaking, the incorporation of the South West African white electorate into the South African electorate after the National Party came to power in 1948, set South Africa on a path which was to see it embroiled in a two and a half decade long war with South West Africa’s liberation movement and Angolan coalition forces (1966-1989).

The inclusion of this very pro German – anti British ‘whites only’ South West African voters into South African elections provided the National Party with a very large loyal voting block – it added to the campaign to reconcile constituencies to keep Smuts’ old United Party from getting back into power. Between 1950 and 1977, whites in the territory were represented in the South African Parliament by four Senators and six Ministers of Parliament.

Its also this loyal base of conservative white voters that the National Party found obligated to, so much so it was prepared for a protracted war to keep them.  The National Party in some senses saw South West Africa as a 5th province of South Africa and not an independent state.

It’s a fascinating period of South Africa’s history, and very ironic to think that it was this military campaign by Smuts and Botha that started it all.  Funny how history turns out.

South Africa’s World War 1 German South West Africa campaign is best and briefly summarised as follows:

An invasion of German South-West Africa from the south failed at the Battle of Sandfontein (25 September 1914), close to the border with the Cape Colony. German fusiliers inflicted a serious defeat on the British troops and the survivors returned to the Cape Colony.

The Germans began an invasion of South Africa to forestall another invasion attempt and the Battle of Kakamas took place on 4 February 1915, between South African and German forces, a skirmish for control of two river fords over the Orange River.

The South Africans prevented the Germans from gaining control of the fords and crossing the river. By February 1915, the South Africans were ready to occupy German territory.

General Botha put General Smuts in command of the southern forces while he commanded the northern forces.

Botha arrived at Swakopmund on 11 February and continued to build up his invasion force at Walfish Bay (or Walvis Bay), a South African enclave about halfway along the coast of German South West Africa. In March Botha began an advance from Swakopmund along the Swakop valley with its railway line and captured Otjimbingwe, Karibib, Friedrichsfelde, Wilhelmsthal and Okahandja and then entered Windhuk (Windhoek) on 5 May 1915.

The Germans offered surrender terms, which were rejected by Botha and the war continued.

On 12 May Botha declared martial law and divided his forces into four contingents, which cut off German forces in the interior from the coastal regions of Kunene and Kaokoveld and fanned out into the north-east.

The South African column under General Lukin went along the railway line from Swakopmund to Tsumeb. The other two South African columns rapidly advanced on the right flank, Myburgh to Otavi junction and Manie Botha to Tsumeb and the terminus of the railway.

German forces in the north-west fought the Battle of Otavi on 1 July but were defeated and surrendered at Khorab on 9 July 1915. In the south, Smuts landed at the South West African naval base at Luderitzbucht, then advanced inland and captured Keetmanshoop on 20 May. The South Africans linked with two columns which had advanced over the border from South Africa.

Smuts advanced north along the railway line to Berseba and on 26 May, after two day’s fighting captured Gibeon.

The Germans in the south were forced to retreat northwards towards Windhuk and Botha’s force. On 9 July the German forces in the south surrendered.

This German surrender was the first major tactical win of World War 1 for the Entente Alliance’s Allies.

Reference wikipedia

The sad fate of Pelican 16

South African Air Force Shackleton – Pelican 16. This iconic image by photographer Dietmar Eckell for his photo book ‘Happy End’ – stories about miracles in aviation history, says it all.  The fate of Pelican 16 carries with it a tale of heroism and sadness.

Restored to flying condition by volunteers in 1994, Pelican 16 was offered to take part in a air show tour in the United Kingdom and departed South Africa for England on July 12th, 1994.

Flown by a group of active SAAF pilots, Pelican 16 was operating over the Sahara desert in temperatures exceeding 38*C on the night of July 13th when her #4 engine began to overheat from a coolant leak and had to be shut down. Moments later, a bolt connecting her two contra-rotating propellers in her #3 engine failed, causing the assembly to overheat and melt and leaving the fuel-laden plane without any functional engines on its right wing. Left with no option but a controlled ditching in the desert below.

Pelican 16’s pilots successfully belly-landed their aircraft on flat sands where it slid to a stop at this location. Though none of the crew were seriously injured by the landing, all 19 men were miles from any assistance and in the middle of an active warzone. The crew of Pelican 16 where quickly located and returned safely to South Africa.

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This is the photo taken from the French rescue aircraft “Pelican 16” shortly after the belly landing in the Sahara desert – the ’19’ written on the ground is to inform any rescue aircraft of the number of surviving souls from the crash.

She is still where she landed – located about 2 hours drive from Zouérat in northern Mauritania in contested territory – lying open to the desert elements and subject to decay as there is no means of retrieving this beautiful aircraft.

Image Copyright Dietmar Eckell

Simonstown Agreement – a thorn in the UN’s position on South Africa

After the signing of The “Simonstown Agreement”, in this colourful ceremony, the Simon’s Town Naval base was handed over by the British to the Union of South Africa on the 2nd April 1957 – after being in British hands since 1813.

The Simonstown Agreement between the United Kingdom and South Africa had been signed less than two years before this ceremony on 30 June 1955. Under the agreement, the Royal Navy gave up its naval base at Simon’s Town, South Africa, and transferred command of the South African Navy to the government of South Africa.

In return, South Africa promised the use of the Simon’s Town base to Royal Navy ships. The agreement also permitted South Africa to buy six anti submarine frigates, ten coastal minesweepers and four seaward defence boats from the UK valued at £18 million over the next eight years. In effect, the agreement was a mutual defence arrangement aimed at protecting sea routes between the UK and the Middle East.

The agreement was controversial, especially with the United Nations, because of South Africa’s policy of Apartheid. The Agreement stood in stark contrast to United Nations resolutions against South Africa as the United Kingdom was still supporting the South African military by way of this quid pro quo agreement.

The United Kingdom terminated the agreement on 16 June 1975. However, ships of the Royal Navy still continued to call periodically at Simon’s Town and other South African ports, although the Royal Navy was not able to use any South African ports by the time the  Falklands War started in 1982.

South Africa was a member of the Commonwealth at the time the agreement was signed (South Africa left the Commonwealth in 1961), so the United Kingdom and South Africa took the position that the agreement was not an international treaty requiring registration with the United Nations under Article 102 of the United Nations Charter and continued regardless of the United Nations’ protests.

A personal perspective 

I often hear this old one from many people “we fought in the First and Second Wold Wars for Britain and in our hour of need they abandoned us” (referring to sanctions and fighting “terrorists”).  Well, that’s not strictly true, the Simonstown Agreement saw to it that South Africa was using British produced Buccaneer Fighter Bombers and Naval vessels at the onset of the Border War and the internal armed insurgency and well into it.  It’s obvious that after 1976 (the Soweto riots) that even this relationship would be strained let alone the implementation of Apartheid Legislation and the withdrawal by the National Party from the British Commonwealth of Nations – which would have made supporting South Africa exceptionally difficult for the United Kingdom in any event – and even then they continued military support well up to, and beyond the point where it became truely internationally impossible to continue to do so.

The South African Naval Forces – WW2

South Africans in the service of the Royal Navy in World War 2. Here is a great photograph of the members of the South African Division of the Royal Naval Volunteers Reserve on board HMS NELSON posing for the camera between two of the enormous 16 inch guns of A turret. July 1941.

During the war thousands of South African Naval Forces (SANF) members like these were seconded to serve on Royal Navy vessels, almost every large Royal Navy ship had its contingent of South Africans and this is the HMS Nelson’s allocation.  This has a lot to do with the fact that Simonstown in South Africa was a British Naval port.

South African Naval Forces (SANF) in World War 2 where either allocated to Royal Navy ships (titled HMS – His Majesty’s Ship) or on South African Navy ships (tilted HMSAS – His Majesty’s South African Ship).

What is lost on South Africans, and even lost on the British today is that every-time a large British naval vessel was sunk or attacked, South African naval personal on it inevitably lost their lives or where wounded.  These days, South Africans and also the British, very seldom count the sacrifice and commitment of South African men to the Royal Navy (due to this unique arrangement), especially when remembering the great deeds of the Royal Navy during the war.

Image – Imperial War Museum copyright.

The first German General to surrender his forces in WW2 – surrendered to the South Africans

Nugget of South African military history, the very first German General to formally surrender his forces to the Allies during the Second World War – surrendered to the South African forces in the North African theatre of operations.

Generalleutenant Artur Schmidt was the first German General to formally surrender to a Allied General which was General De Villiers (Commissioner of the South African Police) and Commander of the South African 2nd Infantry Division.

As part of General Rommel’s skillful retreat in December 1941 to the El Aghelia – Marda strongpoint in Libya, key defensive actions where set up at Sollum, Halfaya Pass and Bardia. On 30 December 1941, South African troops supported by a heavy air, sea and land bombardment began their attack on Bardia. A counterattack on the city’s perimeter slowed the advance, but supported by tanks the South Africans launched their final assault on 02 January 1942 to take the city. Seen here on that day is General Schmidt formally surrendering himself and the Italian and German forces under his command to the South Africans.

Ironically the South African 2nd Infantry Division would themselves all become captured at the Fall of Tobruk by Rommel’s German Afrika Korps and other Axis forces on 21 June 1942.

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 14.14.16Note the identification patch of the South African 2nd Infantry Division on the person standing on the far right of the image.

Not to be confused with the “capture” of Generalleutnant Johann von Ravenstein a couple of months earlier by New Zealand soldiers.   There is a big difference between a formal surrender of forces to an opposing force, than simply been randomly ‘captured’ driving around in a staff car and taking a wrong turn as General von Ravenstein was. General von Ravenstein did not “surrender” himself nor did he surrender any German forces.

Ironically General von Ravesnstien served the first part of his POW life in South Africa before been shipped of to Canada.


Written and researched by Peter Dickens. Thank you to Sandy Evan Haynes for the background information and to Marc Norman for the image.

Pro Nazi movements in wartime South Africa – the SANP “Greyshirts”

Here is a rare and very unique display of South Africa’s very own Nazi Party’s shirts, flags and bunting.  Of interest, is the use of Orange, Blue and White in the Nazi swastika configuration – this was intentionally done to reflect the national colours of the South African flag at the time, the “Oranje-blanje-blou”   These items  belong to  South Africa’s “Greyshirts”, read on for a in-depth chapter in South Africa’s hidden history, here we focus on the SANP  – The South African Christian National Socialist Movement (also referenced as the South African Gentile National Socialist Movement).

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South African statute forces had fought a hard war against Italian Fascism and German Nazism, the same war had been fought on the “home-front.” South Africa, as with the USA and the United Kingdom, also had its own National Socialist parties prior to the war (it had actually been a quite popular doctrine across many “Western” European states prior to the war).

Imagine the sheer frustration felt by the South African war veterans returning after winning “The War for Freedom” (as WW2 was known in South Africa at the time).  This war had been fought with a massive cost in South African lives to rid the world of Nazism and Fascism in the “good fight” – only to come home in 1945 and within three short years in 1948 find the “home grown” pre-war Nazi and Neo Nazi politicians swept into government. The very men and their philosophy they had gone to war against in the first place.

During the war the Smuts’ government took severe action against three pro-Nazi South African movements on the Afrikaner right wing political fringe – the SANP (the Greyshirts), The New Order and the Ossewabrandwag  and jailed their leaders for the duration of the war. Many of these movement’s leaders and members where folded into National party after the war to one day become South Africa’s political elite (including a  Ossawabrandwag General – BJ Vorster who became a future Prime Minister and State President of South Africa).

One such South African politician was Louis Theodor Weichardt (21 May 1894 – 26 October 1985) and this is his relatively unknown story of South Africa’s very own Nazi Party.

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Louis Theodor Weichardt was a South African political leader who founded the “Greyshirts”, a National Socialist organisation following German Nazi doctrine.

Louis Weichardt was born in Paarl of German extraction. In Cape Town, on 26 October 1933, he founded South Africa’s Nazi party equivalent – The South African Christian National Socialist Movement (SANP) with a paramilitary section (modelled on Nazi Germany’s brown-shirted Sturmabteilung) called the Gryshemde or Greyshirts.

The “SANP” grew to about 2000 members in South Africa, central to their cause in the 1930’s where Jewish immigrants escaping Nazi Germany to South Africa, and their numbers were growing significantly over the decade – in response the SANP and their Greyshirts launched a campaign calling for an end to Jewish migration and even arranged mass protests in Cape Town.  Their primary communication  mouthpiece was a newspaper called “Die Waarheid” (the truth) which was nothing more than a vehicle to spread Nazi doctrine in South Africa

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The nature of the movement was clearly seen in March 1934 when the SANP held a rally in Aberdeen in the Eastern Cape, Harry Victor Inch – one of the Greyshirt leaders – announced that he had in his possession a ‘stolen’ document from a Port Elizabeth synagogue – signed by its Rabbi – which outlined a secret plot by the Jews to destroy the Christian religion and civilisation.

The Rabbi in question, Rabbi Abraham Levy, took the SANP Greyshirts to court in Grahamstown and in a landmark case the document was scrutinised legally, it was found to be a complete falsehood and fabricated by the SANP. As a result three Greyshirt leaders were fined and  Harry Victor Inch was found guilty of perjury and was sentenced to serve six years and three months in prison for forging documents defaming the Jewish race and swearing under oath that those documents were genuine. Inch and his fellow defendants, David Hermanus Olivier and Johannes Strauss von Moltke faced other charges which grew out of the Grahamstown trial.

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The result has been widely hailed here as a complete vindication of the Jewish people and of Rabbi Abraham Levy  who brought suit against the Grey Shirt leaders.

As the leader of the SANP, Weichardt was arrested and imprisoned during World War II at Koffiefontein detention barracks by the Smuts’ government as an “enemy of the state” – along with all the other far right pro Nazi Germany, anti British militants and held there for the duration of the war.

Weichardt disbanded his Nazi party in 1948 and closely worked with Oswald Pirow’s “New Order” (another South African neo Nazi anti-communist movement). Moving on, Weichardt then gave his full attention and allegiance to D.F. Malan and the National Party (NP) itself. He had a very successful political career with the NP and went on to become the National Party’s senator from Natal Province from 1956 to 1970.

On becoming an elected Parliamentarian Weichardt quickly changed his spots, and rather infamously declared that he had never been against the ‘Jewish race’ but only against the actions of certain ‘Jewish communists’. Not a single Jew, in his “opinion” had suffered through his actions.

By the early 1950’s the South African National Party government was littered with men, who, prior to the war where strongly sympathetic to the Nazi cause and had actually declared themselves full blown National Socialists along Nazi political doctrine lines: Oswald Pirow, B.J. Vorster (a future President of South Africa), Hendrik van den Bergh, Johannes von Moltke and Louis Weichardt to name a few, and there is no doubt that their brand of politics was influencing the National Party’s government policy.

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By the early to mid 1950’s, this state of affairs led to open Anti-Apartheid protests from the South African military veterans community returning from WW2 – in their tens of thousands, and it also ultimately led to the marginalization of South African World War 2 veterans and their veteran associations by the ruling party.

References Wikipedia, “Not for ourselves” – a history of the SA Legion by Arthur Blake, “Echoes of David Irving – The Greyshirt Trial of 1934” by David M. Scher. The Rise of the South African Reich by Brian Bunting.  Primary images thanks to David Strappini