Fighting Springboks : C Company, Royal Natal carbineers : from Premier Mine to Po Valley, 1939 - 1945

Bentz, Gustav (2013-12)

Thesis (MMil)-- Stellenbosch University, 2013.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Germany’s declaration of war on Poland on 1 September 1939 and the consequent war in Europe not only found the Union of South Africa politically divided but militarily unprepared to fight a modern war let alone make any worthwhile contribution toward its European allies’ war effort. The task of getting South Africa into the fight fell to newly appointed Prime Minister J.C. Smuts who cleverly outmanoeuvred J.B.M. Hertzog as leader of the nation. Not only was the Union Defence Force (UDF) severely ravaged by several budget cuts during and after the depression but it seemed to have no inclination of embracing the kind of mechanisation that was the hallmark of most European armies. Within the space of a year Smuts managed to transform the UDF and on 17 July 1940 the 1st South African Infantry Brigade set sail for East Africa where Mussolini’s Italians reigned supreme after brushing aside a couple of British border guards and laying claim to a few miles of British territory. One of the units dispatched by Smuts was the 1st Royal Natal Carbineers from Pietermaritzburg in Natal. Throughout the campaign the Regiment’s C Company fought with distinction but had the dubious honour of being the South African unit that suffered the most casualties during the whole campaign. Several of C Company’s men then become the vehicles through which the remainder of the war is experienced as the men were moved from one theatre of battle to another. Through their eyes the hunting trips into the East African bush and the death of their Commanding Officer, among other things, are relived. The victorious Springboks are then sent to Egypt where they were needed in an effort to break the deadlock that existed between the British 8th Army and the German Afrika Korps. Amidst the ebb and flow of the battle the men of C Company still found time to experience the sights and sounds of Africa’s most populous cities, Cairo and Alexandria. Here many young soldiers were exposed to pleasures and pastimes not to be had back in the Union. In spite of the eventual defeat of the German forces North Africa C Company witnessed the destruction of the 5th South African Brigade at Sidi Rezegh and suffered the loss of a combined platoon when Tobruk capitulated on 21 June 1942. After a brief period on home leave in 1943 C Company was back in action, this time in Italy as part of the 6th South African Armoured Division. Here they faced mountains, heavy snow and an enemy desperately fighting for every hill, stream and building. In the months which followed C Company were often in the midst of the action and many men lost close friends on the slopes of the Italian mountains. As final victory became apparent during the first months of 1945, C Company’s men began preparing for their post-war lives and when the first planes and ships left for the union at the end of April 1945 the men felt that they have served their country well and did their regiment proud.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Ten tyde van Duitsland se oorlogsverklaring Pole op 1 September 1939 wat die weg gebaan het het vir die gevolglike oorlog in Europa was die Unie van Suid-Afrika nie net polities verdeel nie maar ook militêr onvoorbereid op 'n moderne oorlog. Die kans dat Suid Afrika n beduidende bydrae tot sy Europese bondgenote se oorlogspoging sou kon maak was ook skraal. Die taak om Suid-Afrika voor te berei vir die komende stryd het op die skouers van die nuutaangestelde premier J.C. Smuts gerus wat deur middel van politieke manuvrering vir J.B.M. Hertzog uitoorlê het as leier van die volk. Nie net was die Unie Verdedigings Mag (UVM) erg uitgemergel deur verskeie besnoeings in sy begroting tydens en ná die depressie nie, maar daar was klaarblyklik geen begrip vir die proses van meganisasie gehad waarmee die meeste Europese weermagte doenig was nie. Binne die bestek van 'n jaar het Smuts daarin geslaag om die UVM te transformeer en op 17 Julie 1940 seil die 1ste Suid-Afrikaanse Infanterie Brigade Oos-Afrika toe waar Mussolini se magte die kruin van die golf ry nadat hulle ‘n paar Britse grensposte eenkant toe gevee het en 'n paar myl Britse grondgebied beset het. Die 1st Royal Natal Carbineers van Pietermaritzburg was een van die eenhede wat in Oos Afrika teen die Italianers sou veg. Tydens die veldtog veg die Regiment met onderskeiding, maar verwerf ook die twyfelagtige eer om die Suid-Afrikaanse eenheid te wees wat die meeste ongevalle gely het gedurende die hele veldtog. Verskeie van C Kompanie se manne word gebruik as ‘n lens waardeur die res van die oorlog ervaar word soos die troepe van een front na die ander verskuif word. Deur middel van hul wedervaringe word, onder andere, die jagtogte in die Oos-Afrikaanse bos en die dood van hul bevelvoerder herleef. Na Oos-Afrika word die seëvierende Springbokke na Egipte gestuur waar hulle benodig word om die Britse 8ste Leër by te staan in in die stryd teen die Duitse Afrika Korps. Te midde van die stryd kom die manne van C Kompanie nog tyd vind om Afrika se mees digbevolkte stede, Kaïro en Alexandrië te besoek waar baie jong soldate blootgestel is aan genot en tydverdryf wat nie beskikbaar was in die Unie nie. Ten spyte van die uiteindelike nederlaag van die Duitse magte in Noord-Afrika was C Kompanie teenwoordig tydens die vernietiging van die 5de Suid-Afrikaanse Brigade by Sidi Rezegh en ervaar ook die verlies van 'n gekombineerde peloton toe Tobruk oorgegee op 21 Junie 1942. Na 'n kort tydperk in Suid Afrika is C Kompanie terug in aksie, hierdie keer in Italië as deel van die 6de Suid-Afrikaanse Pantserdivisie. Hier word hulle gekonfronteer deur berge, swaar sneeu en 'n vyand wat desperaat veg vir elke heuwel, stroom en bouval. In die daaropvolgende maande bevind C Kompanie hom dikwels te midde van die aksie sterf vele goeie vriende teen die hange van die Italiaanse bergreekse. Namate dit duidelik begin raak dat die Duitsers die oorlog gaan verloor begin C Kompanie se manne hulself voorberei vir hul na-oorlogse lewens. Met die vertrek van die eerste vliegtuie en skepe na die Unie teen die einde van April 1945 was die manne van Natal oortuig daarvan dat hulle hul land na die beste van hulle vermoë gedien het en dat hulle die goeie naam van hulle regiment gestand gedoen het.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/85636
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