South Africa Declares War

On Sunday, 3 September 1939, there came the announcement broadcast by Mr. Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, that Great Britain and Nazi Germany were at war. France declared war the same day and the Australian and New Zealand governments associated themselves with Britain. Canada would follow suit only on 10 September.

Within an hour of Mr. Chamberlain's speech, telephones were ringing in the homes of Cape Garrison Artillery officers and men. By 7 o'clock that evening the guns at Wynyard Battery covering Table Bay and at Queen's Battery, Simonstown, had been prepared for action with mixed detachments of Permanent Force and Cape Garrison Artillery gunners and a sprinkling of Special Service Battalion youths who were being rapidly instructed in the simpler duties on the guns.* There was no sign of H.M.S. Erebus,† which was to have been anchored in Table Bay to provide 15-inch gun protection for Cape Town.

Next morning crowds gathered in Parliament Street, Cape Town. The Senate Bill--immediate cause for summoning Parliament at this particular time--was quickly disposed of and the Prime Minister, General Hertzog, rose to make a statement on the world crisis. All day the debate continued on a motion proposed by General Hertzog that the House approve and accept as the policy of the Government of the Union that 'the existing relations between the Union of South Africa and the various belligerent countries will, in so far as the Union is concerned, persist unchanged and continue as if no war is being waged; upon the understanding, however, that the existing relations and obligations between the Union and Great Britain, or any other member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, in so far as such relations or obligations result from contractual undertakings relating to the Naval base at Simonstown, or from its membership in the League of Nations, or in so far as such relations and obligations would result impliciter from the free association of the Union with other members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, shall continue unimpaired and shall be

* See Appendix I for developments leading to South Africa's taking over of responsibility for the coastal defences of Simonstown.

† As a result of a request from Mr. Winston Churchill in a letter to General Smuts dated 29 October 1939, the Erebus, which was then ready to sail for Cape Town, was retransferred to the Royal Navy (The Second World War, by Winston S. Churchill (Cassell), London, 1948. vol. 1, app. 11, p. 588 )


maintained by the Union; and no one shall be permitted to use Union territory for the purpose of doing anything which may in any way impair the said relations or obligations'.1

The Prime Minister's motion was defeated by 80 votes to 67, and an amendment proposed by General Smuts was adopted by the same majority. Its terms declared that the policy of the Union Government should be based on the following principles and considerations:

  1. It is in the interest of the Union that its relations with the German Reich should be severed, and that the Union should refuse to adopt an attitude of neutrality in this conflict.

  2. The Union should carry out the obligations to which it has agreed, and continue its co-operation with its friends and associates in the British Commonwealth of Nations.

  3. The Union should take all necessary measures for the defence of its Territory and South African interests and the Government should not send forces overseas as in the last war.

  4. This House is profoundly convinced that the freedom and independence of the Union are at stake in this conflict and that it is therefore in its true interest to oppose the use of force as an instrument of national policy'.2

Next day General Hertzog tendered his resignation and the Governor-General, Sir Patrick Duncan, called upon General Smuts, now in his 70th year, to form a new Ministry. The following afternoon, 6 September 1939, South Africa declared war on Germany.3


In surveying the country's resources, it was soon clear that published estimates of available trained men for the armed forces were over-optimistic* The Permanent Force--including the Special Service Battalion--was 2,032 under strength on an establishment of 5,385. Of its 313 officers only a handful were fully trained Staff officers. The strength of the Citizen Force for the training year 1938-9 was 14,631 -- or 1,015 under establishment.4

Proper registration of Reserves had only recently begun and Brigadier-General George Brink, the Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Army Organization and Training, placed the shortage of trained infantrymen at more than 39,000, for whom no pool of instructors existed, as there were only 104 other ranks in the S.A. Instructional Corps.

Brigadier-General Len Beyers, appointed Director-General of Defence Rifle Associations on 21 September 1939, reckoned that of 122,000 men in the Commandos only about 18,300 were properly armed for field-work. Only 84 trained field artillery officers were available in South Africa. There were 71 field-guns and howitzers in service but only 65 were in field army units, as the other six were being used in coast defence batteries. Ammunition available for these guns plus six 2-pounder anti-tank guns and eight 3-inch 20 cwt. anti-aircraft guns was barely enough for a moderate day's shooting.

South Africa possessed two obsolete medium tanks and two obsolete

* See Appendix 2.


General J. C. Smuts, Commander-in-Chief, South African Forces (from the portrait by the South African War Artist, Captain Neville Lewis).
General J. C. Smuts, Commander-in-Chief, South African Forces (from the portrait by the South African War Artist, Captain Neville Lewis).

Lieut.-General Alan Cunningham, General Officer Commanding, East Africa Force during its spectacular advance through Italian Somaliland aiid Abyssinia to liquidate the Italian East African Empire during 1940-1.
Lieut.-General Alan Cunningham, General Officer Commanding, East Africa Force during its spectacular advance through Italian Somaliland aiid Abyssinia to liquidate the Italian East African Empire during 1940-1.

Major-General George Brink, General Officer Commanding, 1st S.A. Division, in its successful operations in Southern Abyssinia.
Major-General George Brink, General Officer Commanding, 1st S.A. Division, in its successful operations in Southern Abyssinia.

Brigadier D. H. Pienaar <i>(seated)</i> with some of his officers (l. to r.): Major H. Mill Colman (1st Field Company, S.A.E.C.), Major S. B. Gwillam (No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company), Lieut.-Colonel G. T. Senescall (The Dukes), Major F. I. Gerrard (Brigade Major, 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade), Captain L. S. Steyn (No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company), and Lieut.-Colonel E. P. Hartshorn (1st Transvaal Scottish).
Brigadier D. H. Pienaar (seated) with some of his officers (l. to r.): Major H. Mill Colman (1st Field Company, S.A.E.C.), Major S. B. Gwillam (No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company), Lieut.-Colonel G. T. Senescall (The Dukes), Major F. I. Gerrard (Brigade Major, 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade), Captain L. S. Steyn (No. 3 S.A. Armoured Car Company), and Lieut.-Colonel E. P. Hartshorn (1st Transvaal Scottish).

Units of 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group on parade at Gilgil on the occasion when the Governor of Kenya delivered a special message from the King.
Units of 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group on parade at Gilgil on the occasion when the Governor of Kenya delivered a special message from the King.

Crossley armoured cars imported in 1925. No armoured fighting units had been formed and no armoured cars were available from Britain or America. Only two experimental armoured cars had so far been built locally.

Service aircraft available in South Africa, after taking over the Airways' Junkers, were 4 up-to-date eight-gun Hurricane fighters;* 1 Blenheim fighter; 6 obsolete Fury fighters; 1 single-engined Fairey Battle bomber; 18 twin-engined Junkers 86's with a 1,160 lb. bomb-load; and 63 obsolete Hartbeest biplane light bombers--the machines bought at nominal price and destined to render yeoman service in the not distant future.

The S.A. Engineer Corps totalled only 426 officers and men, as against 7,480 they were to need within the next few years. The S.A. Corps of Signals was organized in three Divisional Signals Companies and nine Brigade Signals Companies on a peacetime basis, but only 24 out of 50 No. 1 wireless sets owned by the Defence Force were available to them at the time. Further such sets were unobtainable.

Just before the outbreak of war, the Technical and 'QJ Services had been separated, but it was not until 10 November*that the old S.A. Service Corps, S.A. Ordnance Corps and S.A. Administrative, Pay and Clerical Corps were disbanded and the new Technical Services Corps and 'OJ Services Corps took over. The provision of stores, the processing of indents and the issue of pay were therefore in a confused state. Shortages of kit and equipment were astronomical, and no fewer than 100,000 sets of clothing were needed for the Mobile Field Force alone.

In the S.A. Medical Corps' eight Active Citizen Force field ambulance units, total strength for the training year 1938-9 was 89 officers and 1,141 other ranks, but ambulances, equipment, and the standard of medical training among the other ranks were utterly inadequate for operations in the field.

Against all this, morale in existing units was high, regiments had a fine esprit de corps based on sound traditions, and by comparison with European and other armies, the standard of physical fitness, education and intelligence of the men in the ranks was exceptional. The terms of the Defence Act were still such that citizens were only liable in wartime to render vague service 'in any part of South Africa, whether within or outside the Union', but nevertheless defence plans were accelerated. Within a week of the declaration of war General Smuts placed the Commandos under the Chief of the General Staff, to be administered through normal military channels.† On 15 September an increase of the Special Service Battalion to a total of 3,000 was approved, and the age limit was raised from 18 to 25. The Voortrekkerhoogte portion of the unit was to be organized as three infantry battalions at war strength, and to be known as 2nd Special Service Brigade.

Lieutenant-Colonel G. C. van Dam, D.T.D., was recalled from the Permanent Force Reserve to command the brigade; Lieutenant-Colonel H. P. van Noorden, former Officer Commanding, Regiment de la Rey, was appointed to command the 1st Battalion and Lieutenant-

* A fifth Hurricane crashed at Wynberg on 5 September 1939, killing the pilot, Second-Lieutenant D. Tyler.

† See Appendix 3.


Colonel C. L. Engelbrecht, formerly of Regiment Botha, was appointed to command the 2nd Battalion.

Almost simultaneously with these initial moves, the Chief of the General Staff laid before General Smuts recommendations that, apart from a Home Defence Force, a Mobile Field Force should be formed consisting of a General Headquarters, two Active Citizen Force Divisions, General Headquarters Troops (including two mounted and two dismounted brigades) plus Lines of Communications Troops.

By 22 September 1939 the outline of a concentration scheme for two 'Forces'--as the future divisions were still called--was in the hands of General Smuts and, with operations in Europe later subsiding into an extraordinary, inactive 'phoney war' along a snow-covered front before France's Maginot Line, South Africa was afforded a breathing space.

Mechanical transport, which had been negligible in the Defence Force in September 1939, was being augmented by the beginning of October at the rate of twenty-four locally assembled 1J- and 2-ton Chevrolet trucks per day in addition to the full output of the Ford Company's local assembly plant, on which peacetime requirements had been standardized not long before the war. By the end of October it was definite that--barring ambulances--standardized motor transport would be available for the whole of the Mobile Field Force from civilian sources if necessary.

This was news of far-reaching significance for East Africa, as neither the King's African Rifles nor the Royal West African Frontier Force who were to reinforce them in Kenya, were mechanized. They still relied largely on bearers carrying both guns and equipment. The South African initiative foreshadowed the first fully motorized brigade group in the Commonwealth.

Meanwhile, the South African Air Force had six fighters each at Walvis Bay, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban. As rapidly as they could be converted for military use South African Airways' Junkers in the hands of former Airways pilots were allocated to Coastal Bomber Reconnaissance Squadrons.

The Transvaal Horse Artillery (Lieutenant-Colonel G. M. Harrison), first Active Citizen Force field artillery unit to be called up for full-time service, and soon to become 3rd Field Brigade, S.A.A. (T.H.A.), was mobilized and left Johannesburg for Potchefstroom on 26 October 1939. 'A' Battery of the Natal Field Artillery joined them at the end of November and on 21 December 'A' Battery of the Cape Field Artillery also moved to Potchefstroom.

Before Christmas 1st Anti-Aircraft Battery, S.A.A. was on full-time service at Rosebank Showgrounds, Cape Town. Special regimental and weapon-training courses for 1,400 infantry officers and men were in full swing at the Military College, and recruiting was under way for the 2nd Battalion of 2nd Special Service Brigade, the only infantry formation so far on a regular footing. In November recruiting had also begun for the two mounted brigades of the Mobile Field Force.

Sir Pierre van Ryneveld warned Defence Headquarters that Italy might come into the war any day and try to overrun the Sudan, Egypt and the Suez Canal. After that, or concurrently with such a campaign,


she might advance into Kenya and Tanganyika and even against South Africa. In November, therefore, Colonel P. de Waal, who had become Director-General of Operations on 15 September, flew to East Africa to gather information on the assistance which South Africa could render in the event of an Italian attack.

On 20 December 1939 the British Government suggested that a plan for a move of South African troops to Kenya might be worked out, though no immediate action was considered necessary.


Lieutenant-General Sir Archibald Wavell had taken over Middle S ist Command--which did not include East Africa--at the beginning of August 1939 and on 22 August Brigadier D. P. Dickinson, D.S.O., O.B.E., M.C., Inspector-General of African Colonial Forces, had arrived by air at Nairobi with his Chief Staff Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel W. H. Bishop, to assume command in Kenya, where the King's African Rifles provided the only immediately available force for defensive purposes.

There were good grounds for believing that Italy was not keen on entering any war at the time, but if she did she might be able to close the Mediterranean, and Allied shipping in the Red Sea could be threatened by Italian naval and air forces operating from Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. In relation to Egypt, to close the Red Sea would block the Cape Route, thus isolating British and French forces in the Middle East. The British Chiefs of Staff therefore preferred to have Italy neutral rather than hostile. Provocative action was to be avoided, and the French were in full agreement with this policy.

Nevertheless, by 17 September 1939 the 2nd East African Brigade was forming at Dar-es-Salaam under Brigadier C. C. Fowkes, C.B.E., M.C. The Nigeria Regiment's battalions, which were not brought across from West Africa for fear of provoking the Italians, were training under command of Brigadier G. R. Smallwood, M.C. There had been no artillery in Kenya, but on 11 September 22nd Indian Mountain Battery, Royal Artillery, arrived and ten days later 1st East African Light Battery was formed. Chances of getting any further guns from Britain or the Middle East were remote, and no mechanical transport was available for any major operations.

Viewing the situation from the Middle East, General Wavell concluded that if Italy entered the war it would eventually be necessary to attack the Italian forces in Abyssinia5--when he had sufficient troops. After visiting French and British Somaliland in January 1940, he felt that with comparatively small reinforcement it would be possible to hold both of them, not only for reasons of prestige but also because Jibuti and Berbera were the best bases for any invasion of Abyssinia. Ideas of evacuating the arid waste of British Somaliland were shelved, and it was proposed to bring in two battalions of the King's African Rifles and a battery of guns from Kenya. The Commander-in-Chief visited East Africa--which had been placed under his command on 3 February6 and then flew on to South Africa on 16 March to see General Smuts. Major F. W. Pettifer of the Union Defence Force had already made a preliminary reconnaissance of a 'Great North Road'


from Pretoria to Nairobi and in South Africa General Wavell was conducted round military training and other establishments by Brigadier-General George Brink, so as to see what was being achieved.

On his return to Cairo, General Wavell recorded his impressions for General Ironside, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff: 'I have never met Smuts before and was most impressed and attracted. ... I was impressed by what I saw of the South African Defence Forces. They seem to be making a big effort to produce a military force out of very little, and to be doing it very efficiently.

'How far Smuts and the Government can commit Union forces to the war I am naturally unable to say. But we should do everything possible to encourage the effort they are making. I believe that if Italy came into the war against us, South Africa would fight her 'all out' anywhere in Africa.'7

Even before General Wavell had recorded his impressions--on 23 March--General Smuts had already received a telegram from London, reminding him of the suggestion that a plan might be worked out for a move of South African troops to Kenya. The United Kingdom, the message continued, had decided that a brigade group of the King's African Rifles must be earmarked to move from Kenya to Iran as a first insurance of the oilfields. Also, as General Wavell had undoubtedly already told the South African Prime Minister, a battalion of the King's African Rifles was soon to move to British Somaliland. In addition, in the event of a deterioration of relations with Italy, it would be desirable to move to Somaliland from Kenya a second battalion and the light battery.

Although at the time the United Kingdom had no reason to expect the latter contingency, the telegram stated, it was necessary as a precaution to reinforce Kenya as soon as possible. It would be most helpful if South Africa could dispatch a brigade and attached troops to Kenya as soon as shipping became available, and the British Government understood that South Africa would be able to equip the brigade on a scale not less than that of the King's African Rifles and to maintain such a brigade group itself.

The 2nd Special Service Brigade, the name of which had been changed to Field Force Brigade on 1 February 1940, was at Ladysmith and was still the only full-time infantry formation serving. Two battalions were up to strength and recruiting was in progress for a third.


The Defence Act still limited service to southern Africa, but General Smuts had stated in Parliament on 7 February that it was the Government's policy to 'extend operations as far as Kenya and Tanganyika', using volunteers if necessary.8 On 29 March officers and men were invited to take a new oath whereby they undertook to serve anywhere in Africa for the duration of the war. In future, no man would be allowed to join the forces unless he attested on these terms, which were optional for those already serving. All who took the oath were soon wearing the distinguishing corps sign of the Mobile Field Force, an orange strip on the shoulder straps of all garments, which was to become well known as the 'Red Tab'.


General Smuts cabled to the War Office that he could have a brigade group ready to send to Kenya by the end of June. The group could include three battalions of infantry, of which one motorized, one brigade of artillery equipped with four 3·7-inch howitzers and eight 4·5-inch howitzers, engineers, signals, medical, technical and 'Q' services, a proportion of base and lines of communications personnel, and also the three air force squadrons. The group could be completed later with a company of armoured cars when these had been produced in South Africa.

He felt, however, that it was necessary to take adequate measures to secure Mombasa against air attack and also to give the forces in Kenya the necessary confidence that they could meet the situation which might develop, on more or less equal terms. He therefore requested the British Government to consider the question of the release of modern aircraft for one fighter and one bomber squadron and equipment for three anti-aircraft batteries.

The brigade group and air force, General Smuts added, would be commanded by an officer who would be placed under command of the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East.

On 26 April South Africa House in London was informed by General Smuts that Colonel de Waal would arrive at Nairobi on 29 April to discuss details for the reception of the first South African contingent, which would total 707 officers, 11,296 European other ranks and 7,615 Non-Europeans, or 19,618 men in all. Barely a week later Germany invaded Denmark and seized the Norwegian ports and airfields before the Allies could rush to the assistance of the hapless Scandinavians. British troops landed in Norway on 11 April in a gallant but futile attempt to drive the Germans out.


General Smuts was in Cape Town for the Parliamentary Session, accompanied by the Chief of the General Staff, Sir Pierre van Ryneveld. It was not long before Brigadier-General George Brink was called to the Cape. After some discussion, General Brink suggested that South Africa should send to East Africa a brigade group representative of the whole country. The Free State, in view of the paucity of senior Active Citizen Force units in that province, hardly came into consideration from the point of view of infantry battalions, so it was decided that the senior regiments of the Cape, Natal, and Transvaal should be mobilized as soon as the need arose.

On 9 May the Luftwaffe dropped the first German bombs on the British mainland at Canterbury, and on the following day German armies invaded neutral Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, almost simultaneously with the calling to Buckingham Palace of the man who was to inspire Britain and the Commonwealth to fight on through the dark years ahead. At this crucial moment in history, Mr. Winston Churchill, admirer and friend of the South African Commander-in-Chief, General Smuts, became Prime Minister of Great Britain.

In South Africa the Field Force Brigade had lost 350 men overnight as a result of the institution of the oath for service anywhere in Africa.


Orders went out from Defence Headquarters on 11 May 1940, for the mobilization by 20 May of the first battalions of the Duke of Edinburgh's Own Rifles (Lieutenant-Colonel G. T. Senescall), the Royal Natal Carbineers (Lieutenant-Colonel Len Hay, M.C.) and 1st Transvaal Scottish (Lieutenant-Colonel D. F. Smitheman, E.D.). Provisional war establishment and equipment tables allowed each battalion 30 officers, 896 European other ranks and 5 attached Non-Europeans, with 23 three-ton trucks, 48 light vans, 15 cars and 16 motor-cycles.9

On 13 May the formation of 1st South African Infantry Brigade Group was approved, and on the same day 1st Anti-Aircraft Brigade, S.A.A.left Rosebank Showgrounds, Cape Town--more than 1,000 under strength on its War Establishment of 1,494 all ranks--and entrained for Potchefstroom, where it was generously reinforced.

The 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group was to include ancillary units, some of which had been established on a full-time footing already on 29 March, and Colonel John Daniel was to command the brigade. This calling up of a brigade group presaged full mobilization of the Mobile Field Force, Special Service Battalion, Coast Defences and the newly established Seaward Defence Force. Immediate requirements would now total 139,116 men, which was 26,000 more than the Adjutant-General's estimate of European volunteers likely to be medically fit for service. That Non-Europeans, many of whom were eager to serve, would have to be called upon--even if only in a non-combatant capacity--was obvious.

On 8 May 1940, the Cape Corps, with its World War I traditions of service, was re-formed under Colonel C. N. Hoy, D.S.O., and began recruiting Coloured volunteers from all provinces for training at Kimberley as non-combatants.

As Hitler's divisions thrust deep into Belgium on 16 May, Colonel John Daniel took up his appointment as Commander of 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group and Major E. P. Hartshorn, D.C.M., E.D., formerly of the Transvaal Scottish, opened the Brigade Headquarters at Kafferskraal. Mobilization orders excluded apprentices and all minors who could not produce their parents' consent, and the Dukes alone lost nearly 300 men.10 Nevertheless, as the battalion gathered in pouring rain at the Castle, Cape Town, on 20 May, they were again at full strength. They left amid scenes of enthusiasm that day, travelling by train to 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade Group concentration area at Premier Mine, about 25 miles east of Pretoria. In Johannesburg 1st Transvaal Scottish, with new volunteers bringing up the rear still in their civilian clothes,11 marched behind their pipe band to entrain, and next to reach the concentration area were the Royal Natal Carbineers from Pietermaritzburg.

At the same time as the infantry, 5th Field Company, S.A.E.C. (Major C. W. Couchman, D.C.M.)* was mobilized. This was the Johannesburg Engineer Company which had been under command of Major G. H. Cotton, who was now Deputy Director of Engineer

* Major C. W. Couchman was unable to proceed on full-time service, and on 12 July 1940, Major C. J. Venter was appointed Commanding Officer, 5th Field Company, S.A.E.C.


Services. His opposite number of 6th Field Company, S.A.E.C. in Pretoria, Major A. Fraser-Lawrie (now a Lieutenant-Colonel), had recently returned from attachment to the Royal Engineers in England and had been put in charge of all training within the Corps, which was based on the Engineer Training Centre near Cullinan. There Major G. A. Clark, M.C, and a small staff had been developing a camp since shortly after the outbreak of war.12

On 20 May Major H. H. Coldicott, Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General, and Captain B. A. R.Jones, Staff Captain 'A', left by ah from Swartkop Aerodrome to set up General Headquarters, Mobile Field Force, in Nairobi.

All General Dickinson had at his disposal to withstand an attack on Kenya were some 8,500 men in two under-strength East African brigades, an East African reconnaissance regiment, 22nd Indian Mountain Battery and the new light battery.13 General Wavell's instructions to him were to defend Kenya and contain as many Italians as possible on that front without compromising his own defence. In the words of the British Official History: 'He had decided to hold a coastal area in front of Mombasa; to deny the enemy access to the River Tana and to the water at Wajir; and to station detachments at Marsabit, at Moyale on the frontier, and in Turkana by Lake Rudolf, which meant that the force was stretched over an arc of 850 miles.'14

It was not a happy picture and General Dickinson must have heaved a sigh of relief when the first South African Air Force units began to reach Nairobi the day after Major Coldicott's arrival. No. 1 Fighter Squadron, S.A.A.F. (Major N. G. Niblock-Stuart) was already preparing to ferry Gladiator aircraft from Abu Suier in Egypt down to Nairobi in May 1940; No. 11 Bomber Squadron, S.A.A.F. (Major R. H. Preller) had flights at Nairobi and Mombasa by 23 May; No. 12 Bomber Squadron, S.A.A.F. (Major Charles E. Martin) was at Nairobi on 23 May and in June at Mombasa, Moshi and Nairobi's Eastleigh aerodrome. The first contingent of the land forces from South Africa was due at Mombasa the next day when Captain Jones, assisted by Sergeant de Beer (his entire staff), began to prepare the camp at Kabete to receive 350 men at twenty-four hours' notice.

Back in South Africa equipment was still desperately scarce and there was an almost total lack of armoured fighting vehicles.15 After strenuous testing, a prototype South African armoured car--forerunner of 5,746 armoured fighting vehicles to be produced in the country during the war16--had been passed for production, and in April the formation of four armoured car companies had been authorized. The first twenty-two locally manufactured armoured cars were delivered in May and on 29 May 1st Battalion S.A. Tank Corps was established as from 1 May and located at the Military College, Voortrekkerhoogte, with Lieutenant-Colonel V. C. B. O.'B. Short in command and an authorized strength of 58 officers and 1,063 other ranks. Only 326 had volunteered by June 1940,17> by which time the latest establishment tables showed a South African infantry division as totalling no fewer than 37,593 men, of whom 33,070 were to be Europeans.*

* See Appendix 4.


On 1 June part of 1st Anti-Aircraft Brigade, S.A.A. (Lieutenant-Colonel S. H. Jeffrey) reached Mombasa as the first combatant unit of the South African army to serve outside South Africa in World War II. The 1st Anti-Aircraft Battery, S.A.A. (Major G. W. Meister), with its 1918-vintage 3-inch guns, took up positions to defend the age-old coral island against attack from the air. The rest of the anti-aircraft brigade, equipped only with twin Lewis guns, had arrived by 8 June, when No. 1 S.A. Light Tank Company (Major I. M. Kat-Ferreira) and 4th Field Brigade, S.A.A. (Lieutenant-Colonel M. D. McKenzie, V.D.) also disembarked at Mombasa.

Positions were selected for sections of 2nd and 3rd Anti-Aircraft Batteries (Majors L. W. Meyer and R. G. Batho) and for the Searchlight Battery (Major H. MacKenzie) and a general plan for the defence of Mombasa against air attack was worked out in co-operation with the South African Air Force. Italy had in East Africa some 325 aircraft18 and the South African anti-aircraft brigade felt itself to be in the front line.

At 4.45 p.m. on 10 June 1940, the British Ambassador in Rome was informed by Count Ciano, Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, that at one minute past midnight Italy would be at war with Great Britain.19 At Mombasa, the pilots of No. 1 Fighter Squadron, S.A.A.F., with its four Hurricanes, and the men of No. 11 Bomber Squadron, S.A.A.F., with their Hartbeests, like the anti-aircraft gunners, waited on tenterhooks for the approach of the first wave of Italian bombers.

Nothing happened.

On 11 June South Africa officially declared war on Italy. Four JU 86's from Nairobi, led by Major D. A. du Toit,* had already taken off in the South African Air Force's first raid of the war, bombing a large Banda camp at Moyale. Hostilities had begun and overland invasion or a major raid on the Transvaal through Portuguese territory became a possibility with which the South African General Staff had to reckon. At Zonderwater 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade was held in readiness.

* Died 14 January 1967, as Combat-General D. A. du Toit, S.M., D.F.C., Chief of Air Staff.


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