South African Sappers at Monte Cassino … one of the fiercest battles of WW2

South Africans are seen in this historic image taking part in one of the most bitter battles of World War 2 – Monte Cassino.  Overlooked by the ruins of the historic hill-top monastery, South African engineers of 11th Field Company, South African Engineer Corps, clear rubble from ‘Route 6’, the main road through Cassino. The final German resistance had ceased only hours before.

The Battle of Monte Cassino (also known as the Battle for Rome and the Battle for Cassino) was fierce – it was a costly series of four assaults by the American, Polish, Free French, British and Commonwealth Allies against the Winter Line in Italy held by Nazi German and other Axis forces during the Italian Campaign of World War II. The intention was a breakthrough to Rome.

The above images show German soldiers holding their positions in Cassino and a British soldier with a Bren gun assaulting an Axis position amongst the shattered rubble of the  Monastery.

Between 17 January and 18 May 1944 the Monte Cassino and the Gustav defences were assaulted by Allied troops, the last Allied assault involving twenty divisions attacking along a twenty-mile front. The German defenders (including crack German airborne troops) were finally driven from their positions, but at a high cost. The capture of Monte Cassino tolled some 55,000 Allied casualties, with German losses being far fewer, estimated at around 20,000 killed and wounded.

Polish troops entered the shattered hill-top monastery, a symbol of German resistance at Cassino, the morning of the 18th May 1944.

The images show the British and Polish flags on top of the Monastery at Cassino on the final day of the assault and surrendering German soldiers.

This is the monastery before and after it was destroyed. Repeated pinpoint artillery attacks on Allied assault troops caused Allied leaders to conclude the monastery at Cassino, which had existed as a benedictine monastery  from 529 AD was being used by the Germans as an observation post.

Fears escalated along with casualties, and in spite of a lack of clear evidence, the monastery was marked for destruction. On 15 February American bombers dropped 1,400 tons of high explosives, creating widespread damage. The raid failed to achieve its objective, as German paratroopers occupied the rubble and established excellent defensive positions amid the ruins.

The monetary has since been rebuilt and is a national heritage site.

Image copyrights – Imperial War Museum, reference wikipedia

 

Glossary of South African Military Terms

This is for the benefit of those not always understanding the language of a South African military veteran.  This is a glossary of South African military terms compiled by Peter Dickens, David Kiley, Norman Sander and other veterans in The South African Legion, it is by no means definitive of all the terms used, quite a lot can be happily added and please feel free to notify me of any omissions.

Please note this list contains words that can be judged as offensive and objectionable – however as a historic document to capture the slang and terminology it needs to be as objective as possible.

SOUTH AFRICAN DEFENCE FORCE TERMINOLOGY AND SLANG

A)
Aapjas – A long, hooded coat usually with a fake fur lining ( post 1983 issue version ).
Aapkas (1) – metal platform / cage , sited on a radio mast in SWA / Angola ops bases; used as a lookout post / fire director station for base defence mortars.
Aap Kas (2) – also know as the jump simulation cable rig at 44 Para
Aangekla/kla-ed aan – Put on a charge.
AB – Navy.Able Seaman (Lance Corporal)
Adjudant – ( 1 ) commissioned officer appointed as executive officer to unit OC / 2IC .
Adjudant – ( 2 ) abridged Afrikaans form of address for rank of Warrant Officer ( SA Police).

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Dress and Bearing of the South African Native Military Corps

Another rare and wonderful original colour photo. During WW2, Great Britain used the Commonwealth to train pilots from all over the world, under a scheme called the Commonwealth Joint Training Plan, a key part of this plan included Waterkloof in Pretoria.

Here a South African soldier from the ‘Native Military Corps’ (NMC) is seen on guard duty at No. 23 Air School at Waterkloof, Pretoria, South Africa, January 1943. The NMC where attached to the South African Army and the South African Air Force in ‘non-combat’ roles.

Conventions of time excluded “Black” soldiers from been armed with firearms,  however “traditional” weapons (spears and assagais) where settled on as a compromise (see below UDF issued weapons for the NMC).

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At the time the government was only willing to utilise Black South African manpower in non-combatant roles such as drivers, mechanics, carpenters, chefs, engineers, stretcher bearers including medical aids and general administration roles. Although it was not uncommon in cases of emergencies that the members of the NMC where provided with firearms to defend positions from enemy attacks (especially during the North Africa and Italy campaigns).

Note the slouch hat worn by all Native Military Corps members (also worn by the South African Native Labour Corps in WW1) and the “Red Oath” Volunteer tabs on his epaulettes, worn by all members of the South African Armed Forces who volunteered to take part in WW2 and join the services (from all ethnic and cultural origins).

This picture is an excellent example of this corps weapon, uniform, dress and bearing.  The NMC insignia consisted of an African Elephant with the South African coat of arms and encapsulated in a wreath.

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As war was declared in 1939 the need for manpower from South Africa increased.  During 1939 at the ANC passed a resolution of Loyalty to the British Commonwealth and Black South African political and traditional leaders expressed their willingness to support Jan Smuts’ declaration of war against Nazi Germany and get behind South Africa’s war efforts, on the condition that they would be able to win concessions and greater political recognition for “Black” South Africans after the war.

The “Native Military Guards” (which went on to become the NMC)  was established in 1940 and had 4 Battalions:

1 st Battalion: amaZulu’s from Zululand now KZN
2nd Battalion: Africans from Northern Transvaal now Mpumalanga & Limpopo
3rd Battalion: amaXhosa from Transkei (Previous Homeland) Eastern Cape
4th Battalion (Witwatersrand Battalion) Were made up of Africans in Urban Areas

Unfortunately a few years after the war, in 1948, the National Party came to power and did not honour any concessions agreed by the ANC with the Smuts government – setting “Black” political representation in South Africa back somewhat and disregarding the fine legacy, sacrifice and history of the NMC and its members.

 

Image Copyright – Imperial War Museum Collection Copyright.

Precision landing with no Rudder/Elevators = SAAF Hero

Now there are pilots with skills and then there are a cut above, this pilot is a cut above. On 1 May 1986, a South African Air Force Dakota while on a flight to Ondangwa at about 8000 ft was hit with a soviet SAM-7 shoulder fired surface to air missile. The explosion ripped off most of the Dakota’s tail. To add additional pressure to the crew, the Dakota was full of military VIP passengers including the Chief of the Army.

Captain Colin Green slowed the Dakota down to 100 knots in order to keep it under control and put in a mayday call. There was a SAAF helicopter in the area which formatted on him and relayed the damage to him. The helicopter crew also took this amazing picture showing the landing.

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To note from this picture is that the Dakota has lost all of it’s rudder and both sections of the elevator. This is an unrecoverable situation in most aircraft types and also a situation most pilots cannot recover the aircraft from in any event.

To compensate on the loss of stability Captain Green ordered the passengers around the aircraft to regulate the centre of gravity before going into land. Using flaps and throttle power to control the pitch (up and down) and thus control his decent rate and air speed, he landed it onto the tarmac, ‘greasing’ the centre line in a perfect landing.

Captain Colin Green was later awarded The Chief of the SADF Commendation for his exceptional flying skills.

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From left to right:
National Serviceman Private Walsh (loadmaster)
Captain Colin Green (aircraft commander)
Lieutenant Mark Moses (co-pilot)

All Heroes.

Edward Backhouse as he comes home

This week we especially remember the fallen from the Angolan/SWA Border War and the ‘Battle of Cassinga’ on the 4th May 1978 – in this very emotional picture we remember Rifleman Edward James Backhouse from 3 Parachute Battalion as he comes home.

There is an unwritten law to all servicemen – you don’t leave your buddies behind in a fire fight. Eddie was Killed in Action during the Battle of Cassinga. He was 22.

As a mark of respect, especially due to the highly controversial circumstances that surrounded this action, lets remember the immense sacrifice and loss experienced by all who participated in this battle and not get into any political platforming, it will only serve to disrespect the fallen.

Thank you to Graham Du Toit for the image and reference.

The forgotten war … South African “mud movers” in Korea

To many South African participation in the Korean War is unknown, but as part of United Nation contributions to the war effort South Africa sent a squadron to South Korea to fight in the Korean War. Here are South African Air Force F51D Mustangs in Korea circa 1951.

The focus of the photograph shows a SAAF 2 Squadron machine which is seen here on its way to the main runway at K10, Chinhae Airbase in South Korea during the war.  Fully armed this SAAF F51D Mustang is setting off on what is properly a ground support role in close support of American troops.  Bombing enemy defensive positions in close support of ground troops is often sarcastically referred to as “mud moving” and highly dangerous as the aircraft has to get right into the battle at very low altitude and speed (the high attrition of South African pilots lost in this role during the war is testimony to that).

Its rare to see such a quality original colour photograph of South Africa’s involvement in the Korean War and much thanks to Ian Pretorius whose shared this magnificent image from his father’s personal collection, then Lt M S (Mike) Pretorius.

Much can be said of South Africa’s involvement in the Korean War and more is to follow on this blog.  For the time being enjoy this great photograph.

Photo copyright Ian Pretorius

South African Pro Nazi movements – Oswald Pirow’s New Order

A little more South African “hidden” military history the Pro Nazi paramilitary organisations who sought to destabilise South Africa and the Union during the Second World War, three main movements existed which supported Nazi Germany and embraced its ideology, the Ossewabrandwag, the SANP “Greyshirts “  and the “pure” Nazi movement – The “New Order” – led by the well known South African Politician/Public Prosecutor – Oswald Prow.

Oswald Pirow is seen in the feature image in Nazi Germany, November 1938 being sent off in Berlin with soldiers from the Luftwaffe, to his left Wilhelm Canaris, to his right Ernst Seifert.

Oswald Pirow was born in Aberdeen (Cape Province, South Africa) on 14th August 1890, and was the grandson of a German missionary and son of a doctor. Pirow studied law in Potchefstroom, Germany and London, and then practised as an advocate in Pretoria.

He made several unsuccessful attempts to enter parliament and finally in 1924 he was elected for Zoutpansberg. Smuts defeated him in 1929 in Standerton but he returned to parliament and in the same year and he was appointed Minister of Justice in General Hertzog’s cabinet. As Justice Minister he passed the first anti-communist legislation in South Africa. In 1933 he was appointed Minister of Railways and Harbours, and from 1933 to 1939 he was Minister of Defence.

In 1936 Pirow attended the Olympic Games in National Socialist (Nazi) Germany and in 1938 again visited Europe, including Spain, Portugal and Germany. These visits confirmed his admiration for this new style of government in Europe and, in particular, for National Socialism. A vehement anti-communist – Pirow vowed to legislate communism out of existence, he also became an admirer of Adolf Hitler – especially after meeting him in 1933.

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Oswald Pirow ( left) at a reception of the Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in conversation with Erhard Milch ( right) and Walter Hevel on November 19, 1938

During this tours he also met Benito Mussolini, António de Oliveira Salazar and Francisco Franco and became convinced that a European war was imminent, with Nazi victory assured.

When General Smuts committed South Africa to war against Nazi Germany, Pirow found his position in government untenable and he gave his support in 1939 to Hertzog’s neutrality policy and then resigned on the outbreak of war as a minister.

By September 1940 he had launched his own “New Order” group within the breakaway National Party – the Herenigde Nasionale Party (HNP), backing a Nazi style dictatorship.

This group took its name from his 1940 New Order in South Africa pamphlet in which he embraced the ideology.

To understand what the concept of the “New Order” was – the New Order (German: Neuordnung) or the New Order of Europe (German: Neuordnung Europas) was the political order which Nazi Germany wanted to impose on the conquered areas under its dominion. The establishment of the New Order was publicly proclaimed by Adolf Hitler and entailed the creation of a pan-German racial state structured according to Nazi ideology to ensure the supremacy of an Aryan-Nordic master race, massive territorial expansion into Eastern Europe through its colonization with German settlers, the physical annihilation of the Jews and others considered to be “unworthy of life”, and the extermination, expulsion, or enslavement of most of the Slavic peoples and others regarded as “racially inferior”.

D.F. Malan from the “Purified” National Party initially tolerated the actions of the New Order but soon came to see it as a divisive influence on the HNP and at the Transvaal party congress of August 1941 he forced through a motion ending the group’s propaganda activities, particularly their insistence on a one-party state.

Pirow and 17 of his New Order supporters continued to be associated with the HNP and continued to attend their caucus meetings. The group finally broke from the HNP altogether in 1942 after both Malan and Johannes Gerhardus Strijdom openly rejected the Nazis.

His political career within the Afrikaner Nationalist parties was effectively over, he returned to legal practice, and during this time became a friend of Oswald Mosley (an infamous British Nazi) and with him developed an idea for the division of Africa into exclusively black and white areas.

The two met after Pirow read a copy of Mosley’s book The Alternative and by 1947 they were in discussion over founding an anti-communist group to be known as the “enemies of the Soviet Union” (although this plan never reached fruition).The two co-operated during the early 1950s, with Pirow writing articles for the Union Movement journals Union and The European, some of which were reprinted in German magazine Nation Europa.

Very famously Pirow, in his legal guise also acted as a public prosecutor during the Treason Trial of 1956. The Treason Trial was a trial in which 156 people, including Nelson Mandela, were arrested in a raid and accused of treason in South Africa in 1956.The main trial lasted until 1961, when all of the defendants were found not guilty. During the trials, Oliver Tambo left the country and was exiled. Some of the defendants, including Nelson Mandela were later convicted in the Rivonia Trial in 1964.

Following the trial Pirow largely lived in retirement, publishing several books, especially on JB Hertzog of who he was an admirer, he also wrote books on wildlife and adventure books for boys. He died of heart failure. He was cremated and his ashes are kept at his Valhalla Farm residence near Pilgrim’s Rest.

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Oswald Pirow’s influence in South African politics and Apartheid is far reaching. The Tomlinson Commission – which investigated the validity of the idea Apartheid was not a new creation, and its findings were based in part on findings made by the Native Economic Commission in 1932 and on preparatory work done by Oswald Pirow.

Very little is known in South Africa today of the frustration and disillusionment returning South African combatants from World War 2 felt and the motivation behind their eventual mass protests against Apartheid policies in the 1950’s (known as the “Torch” Commando rallies – attracting  tens of thousands of war veterans).

Effectively the returning South African statute force veterans had gone to war to rid the world of Nazism, only to come home and in a few short years find significant “home grown” Nazi’s in government or playing a key role in public prosecution (as was the case with Pirow) when the National Party narrowly beat Smuts’ United Party into power in 1948.

The likes of famous World War 2 heroes like Adolph “Sailor” Malan would have none of it and they took to the streets in the first mass protests against Apartheid and the Nationalist government who had only come into power a couple of years before hand and where already removing the cape coloured vote from the register.

The Torch Commando and veteran protests where ultimately suppressed by The National Party (including Sailor Malan) and the Nationalists where free to promote their heroes – Oswald Pirow had a major highway named after him in Cape Town as well as a strike craft – much to the disillusionment of many of South Africa’s war veterans, the disenfranchised voters and the South African Jewish community.

Feature photo copyright the German Federal Archives copyright. Reference Wikipedia.