General Mark Clark’s praise of the South Africans

WW2 – In December 1944 an American General – General Mark Clark – took overall command of Allied ground troops in Italy (15th Army Group). This included taking overall command of the South African 6th Armoured Division, and he said this in praise of the South Africans:

“It was a battle-wise outfit, bold and aggressive against the enemy, and willing to do whatever job was necessary. In fact, after a period of severe day and night fighting, the 6th had in an emergency gone into the line as infantrymen. When the snow stalled their armour they dug in their tanks and used them as artillery to make up for our shortage in heavy guns. Whenever I saw them, I was impressed by the large number of decorations and honours they had earned the hard way. Their attacks against strongly organised German positions were made with great élan and without regard for casualties. Despite their comparatively small numbers, they never complained about losses. Neither did Smuts, who made it clear that the Union of South Africa intended to do its part in the War – and it most certainly did”.

General Mark C. Clark, Calculated Risk. p. 391

The featured image shows General Clarke inspecting South African troops at the end of the war during a parade in Monza,  Italy (held on the famous Monza race track).

G10154203_282011528635253_3582423716020249574_neneral Mark Clarke was ultimately made the Supreme Commander of the AFHQ in the Mediterranean, replacing Field Marshal Sir Maitland Wilson, He was promoted to the four-star rank of General on March 10, 1945, aged 48, the youngest in the United States Army. Clark led the 15th Army Group in the Spring 1945 offensive in Italy codenamed Operation Grapeshot, which brought the war in Italy to an end, and afterwards he accepted the German surrender in Italy in May and became Commander of the Allied Forces in Italy at the end of World War 2 in Europe.

WW2 SAAF Pilot drives for show and putts for dough – Lt. Bobby Locke

With a very special Masters finishing this weekend and Sergio Garcia achieving what has become one of golf’s truly special wins (especially on fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros’  birthday)  .. I am now reminded of a very famous South African golfer and war veteran – Bobby Locke, seen here taking some time off at a Services Golf Tournament held in Rome during World War 2.

When World War 2 interrupted Locke’s burgeoning career as a golfer, he joined the South African Air Force as a bomber pilot, serving in both the Mediterranean and the Western Desert theatres of combat.

At the end of the war Locke returned to golf, famously playing in a series of matches in the USA against Sam Snead.  Bobby Locke’s legacy is remarkable, triumphant and tragic. He was a four-time Open Champion Champion and winner of 72 professional tournaments, but a car accident in 1960 damaged him physically and mentally and had an ultimately devastating affect on his wife and daughter.

In terms of the game of golf Locke quickly realised: “No matter how well I might play the long shots, if I couldn’t putt, I would never win”.  He therefore became a magnificent putter, in many people’s opinion (including Gary Player’s) the best there has ever been.

His unorthodox playing style translated to his putting, trapping the ball and imparting a hooking, top spin to it.  He later coined the often used golfing maxim: “You drive for show but putt for dough”.

It was on the greens that this remarkable South African truly excelled. He used an old rusty putter with a hickory shaft and employed his unorthodox technique, echoing his wider approach to life. He was an extrovert who sported baggy plus fours with shirt and tie on course. He liked singing music-hall numbers and played the ukulele.

Bobby – or “old muffin face” as he was known (because he never changed expression) was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1977.  He was only the second non-USA or United Kingdom entrant after his fellow South African Gary Player (1974) to be inducted.

Featured photograph above shows: Lieutenant Bobby Locke during the war, now serving in the South African Air Force, playing while Private Tommy Bolt, the American golfer looks on – note: on this occasion as he is in the Air Force he is not playing in his legendary baggy plus fours.

Feature image – Imperial War Museum Collection copyright.  Reference Bobby Locke: From Triumph to Tragedy by Fergus Bisset.

Skin colour is irrelevant in a foxhole!

The culture of owing a debt of gratitude to South Africa’s military veterans is sorely lacking – for all of them, then and now.  But especially to these very forgotten South African “Black, Indian and Coloured” WW1 and WW2 heroes of which the current generation really does have little or no understanding.  It’s truly a tale of the suppression of history and the fight for recognition.

The featured image is a very rare photograph of South African medics in combat in WW2 during the Italian Campaign, dramatically caught running stooped under intense fire to stretcher bear a wounded man out of the combat zone. What is even more interesting is the make-up of these South African 6th Armoured Division medics. Here we have men from the South African Cape Corps, the South African Native Military Corps and the South African Indian Service Corps all involved in this casualty evacuation.

The politics of the day had an odd philosophy underpinning it. During the Second War the South African Union Defence Force still differentiated and segregated Corps according to race. However such was the odd politics of the time that men drawn from the Cape Coloured and Indian communities into their respective corps could function in combatant roles and carry firearms – as well as non combatant roles – such as a medic. However Black men drawn into the Native Military Corps (NMC) could not function in a combatant role and where not allowed to carry firearms – although they could carry a spear when on guard duty. They could however step into harms way in combat and put their lives on the line, as is seen here doing stretcher bearing as a medic.

All this politically driven segregation mattered not a jot when the bullets started flying around. This picture stands in stark testimony to this.

The separation of these men became quite irrelevant when serving in combat areas and in many instances combat units quite quickly also “unofficially” issued firearms to their NMC members

As is often the case in combat, and many veterans will attest to this, the man who joins you in the fight is your brother – irrespective of the colour of his skin – there is no such thing as racial segregation in a foxhole.

There is certainly no such thing as segregation when it comes to your fellow countrymen from across the racial spectrum risking their lives to save one of their own countrymen in a full blown firefight – as is so demonstrably shown here. These are all South African heroes – it’s that simple.

During the Second World War Black, Coloured and Indian South African community and political leaders, agreed to support the South African Union government’s declaration of war against Nazi Germany and send members of their community into the fight. The hope was that it would buy them more political currency and leverage at the negotiation table after the war for extended rights and political representation. Initially it looked like this would pay off as Jan Smuts and his United Party proposed giving qualified franchise votes to Black citizens whose service in the military was also deemed as such a qualification.

Unfortunately this very progressive way of thinking did not sit well with the National Party and their supporters and they used it as a Political “race” card in their campaigning in the 1948 elections. So much s that they rather unexpectedly and very narrowly won the elections and ousted Jan Smuts and the United Party.

The true tragedy was yet to come.  Not only was all this sacrifice and valour in vain – the National Party went to great lengths to further marginalise these soldiers – denying them medical aid, reduced pensions and excluding them as veterans from Remembrance and Military Parades, as well as denying them access to veterans facilities and organisations.

It was not unusual to find a small grouping of Native Military Corps veterans sitting under a tree away from the national parade with their medals proudly flickering in the sunlight, telling their war stories to anyone prepared to take the time to listen to them.  Excluded, forgotten and vanquished as traitors for serving “Britain” by the reigning Nationalists.

The political philosophy of the time substantially down-played the contribution of “non white” servicemen lest heroes be made of them. History in South Africa would record both the First and Second World War’s as a white man’s one – when nothing can be further from the truth.

It’s an often ignored fact and statistic – one which most certainly the National government after 1948 did not want widely published – which was that 40% of the standing South African servicemen in WW2 where persons of “colour”. In all more than 146,000 whites, 83,000 blacks, and 2,500 people of mixed race served in the standing forces of the Union of South Africa at this time.

This forgotten and “lost” valour is something South Africa’s oldest and most prestigious veterans organisation – The South African Legion of Military Veterans, has been fighting for from day one; at times the Legion went to serious loggerheads with the government of the day over pensions and representation for these men. The South African Legion eventually won the fight on pensions by the late 1980’s, when equal pensions where finally awarded these men.

We as South Africans need to work to address the historic void created by political posturing at the detriment of the country’s forgotten WW1 and WW2 heroes. This is why the recognition of the sinking of the Mendi and other commemorations becomes so important – it’s our duty as South African veterans to uphold honour where honour is well due. Not only to these men, but to anyone who has served in South Africa’s defence forces.

Image – SANDF Archive, Researched by Peter Dickens

An unsung South African hero; Cpl W. Cloete

Honouring real South African heroes and here stands an exceptional one. Corporal William Cloete was a Cape Coloured Corps member and the leader of a stretcher bearer team attached to the Cape Town Highlanders regiment in Italy during the Second World War.

During a fierce fight with German troops when his company was pinned down on three sides by mortar and machine gun fire, under persistent enemy firing, Cloete and his team carried ten of their own wounded soldiers to safety; for this he received the Military Medal for bravery.

Nearly a year later, at the age of 24, Cloete was struck by a bullet from a German sniper and permanently blinded in both eyes. After the war Cloete attended the School for the Blind in Bellville. He became an expert basket-maker for the rest of his working life and passed away in 1993.

On the 11th of November, your fellow veterans salute and remember you Cpl Cloete.

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

 

The origin of SAAF 1 Squadron’s nickname – “Billy Boys”

Spitfire Mk IX of South African Air Force’s 1 Squadron preparing for take-off from a Sicilian airfield, perhaps Pachino on 1943, these are the famous “Billy Boys”.  How they got their nickname is actually quite interesting and distinctively South African.

This squadron had an incredible success rate and whenever one of it’s pilots had an aerial victory shooting down an enemy aircraft his fellow South African pilots would all shout “Jou BIELIE” down their radios.

The term “bielie” is an Afrikaans term for a prime example e.g. ‘n bielie van ‘n bul, meaning a prime example of a bull. Calling someone “‘n bielie” is a term of recognition of something special. Calling a pilot that after a successful aerial shoot down would have been equal to saying that he is a prime example of a fighter pilot. “Jou bielie van ‘n skut” meaning “you cracking shot”.

The British Royal Air Force pilots who where on the same frequency as the South Africans where slightly perplexed by the term thinking they where calling out “Billy” instead of “Bielie”, so they quickly started to refer to the SAAF 1 Squadron pilots as “Billy Boys”. The nickname stuck.

To give an idea of the success rate 1 SAAF Squadron total for the war was 165.5 kills, the highest scoring SAAF squadron.

Here are South African Air Force 1 Squadron Hurricanes taking off from Msus, Libya. Image copyright Imperial War Museum.

10649706_376892759147129_7713225561556526636_n

Feature image of SAAF 1 Squadron Spitfire Mk IX colourised and copyright to Tinus Le Roux

“War is 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror”

There is an old saying: “War is 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror” and here we see exactly that – aircrews sitting around waiting for instructions, once up in the air, literally in an hour or two they will be in full combat with all the stressors involved in it for only a quarter of an hour or so.

Here aircrews of No. 16 Squadron South African Air Force  and No. 227 Squadron Royal Air Force sitting in a dispersal at Biferno, Italy, prior to taking off to attack a German headquarters building in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. A Bristol Beaufighter Mark X, armed with rocket projectiles stands behind them. 14 August 1944.

The Bristol Beaufighter (often referred to simply as the “Beau”) is a multi-role aircraft developed during the Second World War by Bristol Aeroplane Company in the UK. It was originally conceived as a heavy fighter variant of the Bristol Beaufort bomber. The Beaufighter was a versatile aircraft used in service initially as a night fighter, and later mainly in the maritime strike and ground attack roles; it also replaced the earlier Beaufort as a torpedo bomber.  This tough and versatile fighter bomber served in almost all the major Allied forces of the war: Britain, The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Image and caption copyright Imperial War Museum Collection, additional references Wikipedia.