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Thread: South Africans in Special Forces during WW2

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    Senior Member baboon6's Avatar
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    Default South Africans in Special Forces during WW2

    I found this interesting article after doing a search for Colonel Tommy Renfree who is mentioned a lot in a book I am reading at the moment (Ongulumbashe:Where the bush war began by Paul Els.) I have added some notes from info in this and other sources.

    http://samilitaryhistory.org/9/p09febne.html

    Around 100 South Africans, almost all officers, volunteered for secondment to the British Forces and were employed in some of these Special Forces.[ This refers to the British Army; many more South Africans were seconded to the RAF, Royal Navy and Royal Marines ] At least four served with the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), one of them as the 2IC and another winning the MC. Ten served with the Raiding Support Regiment (RSR) and three with the Special Air Service (SAS). There was one with Popski's Private Army (PPA) [Lt A. A. Reeve-Walker, OC S Patrol during 1944]and a considerable number were in the Special Operations Executive (SOE), mostly with Force 133 or No 1 Special Force. These were dropped behind enemy lines by parachute or inserted by kayak for missions of up to five months at a time. Mostly, they operated in Greece and the Balkans [ Force 133 and Force 266], as well as in Northern Italy [No 1 Special Force]. A South African in the Special Boat Squadron (SBS) was the first Allied soldier to enter Pireaus since its fall to the Germans three years earlier.[This was Lt. Keith Balsillie of S Detachment] Another, Major Adrian Hope, was killed while operating with partisans behind the German lines in Northern Italy. Seventy-four South Africans were seconded to the Royal Marines during the war and one of them, Major Gideon Jacobs, as part of Force 136, parachuted onto the island of Sumatra with only four NCOs to accept the surrender of 80,000 Japanese. He was awarded the OBE. Only two South Africans wrote books on their experiences in these Special Forces. [These were Maj Jacobs whose book Prelude to the Monsoon I have not read, and Major Jack Gage of the RSR whose book Greek Adventure I have in pdf format]



    Two South Africans had particularly interesting wartime careers with the Special Forces. One was Tommy Renfree, who fought with the SA Forces through the East and North African campaigns before volunteering to work with the SOE. [Renfree was born in 1919 and joined the Union Defence Force in 1939. He served as an NCO in the SA Armoured Corps before being commisioned in 1943] He was posted to Force 133 and deployed by kayak and by parachute behind German lines in Greece and Albania for demolition tasks and to work with partisans, for which he was mentioned in dispatches. When the war ended in Europe, he volunteered for duties in the Far East. In Australia he underwent commando training at the Fraser Island Commando School as well as a parachute conversion course at Laburne. Attached to Australia's "Z" Special Force he was sent to Morotai Island in the Pacific where he participated in kayak raids on the Japanese. After the war, he continued serving, participating in Operation Swivel in Pondoland in 1960, becoming the first 2IC of 1 Parachute Battalion in 1961 and being part of Operation Blou Wildebees, the first action of the Border War. He retired as a colonel in 1997 after 50 years' service.[According to Els he retired in 1974 after commanding the Special Service Battalion (an armoured car regiment not a special forces unit) and serving as an intelligence staff officer] Renfree's medal group is particularly interesting because it includes the Pacific Star (extremely rare for a South African soldier), a mentioned-in-despatches emblem, the Efficiency Medal and the Pro Patria.


    The other was "Pik" van Noorden. He served in North Africa as an artillery officer, firing at German tanks over open sights at Tobruk, escaping as the garrison fell, fighting at Alamein and then volunteering for the Royal Marines. Trained as a commando, he led his platoon ashore on D-Day with 47 (Royal Marine) Commando and was involved in some heavy fighting as they executed an independent task. Later withdrawn to undergo parachute training, he was dropped behind German lines to carry out a secret mission. Next he was posted to 42 (RM) Commando in India and participated in the amphibious assault on the Japanese at Myebon in Burma, as well as the subsequent bitter battle for Hill 170 near Kangaw. Later, van Noorden was attached to the Ghurka parachute battalion that jumped at Elephant Point during the capture of Rangoon. After the war he commanded 5 SA Infantry Battalion and the Infantry School, became Director of Infantry and retired as a major general. His medal group is also of great interest because it includes the France & Germany Star and the Burma Star, as well as the Union Medal and the Pro Patria.


    Some links:


    History of 47 Commando:


    http://www.47commando.org.uk/800/47%20Commando.htm

    The Raiding Support Regiment:

    http://www.89fss.com/rsr.htm

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/s...a2629406.shtml

    http://www.dawtrina.com/personal/fam...ure/index.html (You can download Greek Adventure here)

    Popski's Private Army:

    http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com...ivatearmy.aspx

    Special Boat Squadron:

    http://www.halkivisitor.com/sbs.htm

    http://www.halkivisitor.com/sbs2.htm

    Z Special Unit:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z_Special_Unit

    SOE in Greece:

    http://chimoon.com/texts/Greece.pdf

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special...ecutive#Greece

    SOE in Italy:

    http://www.adam-matthew-publications...te-Part-5.aspx

    http://www.adam-matthew-publications...ts-Part-5.aspx
    Last edited by baboon6; 07-21-2009 at 01:16 PM. Reason: Added links

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    Member sgtoutback's Avatar
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    very interesting post. I knew South Africans had served with distincition in many areas of the Second World War but the individual stories bring real life to it. Thank you.

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    Member shadowsrider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sgtoutback View Post
    very interesting post. I knew South Africans had served with distincition in many areas of the Second World War but the individual stories bring real life to it. Thank you.
    Yep in Poland there are some graves on South African airmen who participated in supply drops for Warsaw Uprising. And this was very dangerous and costly mission.

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    Senior Member baboon6's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shadowsrider View Post
    Yep in Poland there are some graves on South African airmen who participated in supply drops for Warsaw Uprising. And this was very dangerous and costly mission.
    Article on the Warsaw airlift by Major Jack van Eyssen DFC, who took part in the operation and whose aircraft was shot down:

    http://samilitaryhistory.org/vol062ve.html

    Forty-seven SAAF personnel were killed over Poland during the Warsaw airlift. Their names are here:

    http://www.polonia.co.za/WarsawFlights/Roll.htm

    These men were mostly from 31 and 34 Squadrons SAAF, flying Liberators, but 4 were attached to 178 Squadron RAF (also equipped with Liberators). In addition to the SAAF members of 31 and 34 Squadrons, 13 RAF personnel attached to these squadrons were killed. So were other men from 178 Squadron RAF, 148 Squadron RAF (flying Halifaxes), 1586 Flight Polish Air Force ( also flying Halifaxes) and the US Army Air Forces. The full roll of honour is here:

    http://www.polonia.co.za/WarsawFlights/Roll04.htm

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    Senior Member GETSOME's Avatar
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    Baboon 6 you mentioned the Pro Patria,you mean this one?

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    Senior Member baboon6's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GETSOME View Post
    Baboon 6 you mentioned the Pro Patria,you mean this one?
    Must be. Didn't anyone who served on operations from 1974 get one? I don't know what capacity Maj Gen van Noorden was serving in to qualify for this medal.

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    Senior Member GETSOME's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by baboon6 View Post
    Must be. Didn't anyone who served on operations from 1974 get one? I don't know what capacity Maj Gen van Noorden was serving in to qualify for this medal.
    Yes ,55 days combating terrorisim,border duty,i suppose he was in SWA planning etc,so he was entitled to it.

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    I could recommend Jonathan Pittaway's 'LRDG Rhodesia' here.

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    Member Akinnen's Avatar
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    I read a book about Popski. Really capable guy I must say...

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    ...but Popski was not from South Africa. The only relation could be seen that he was driving with S1 Patrol / LRDG in January 1943.

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    Senior Member baboon6's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kuno View Post
    ...but Popski was not from South Africa. The only relation could be seen that he was driving with S1 Patrol / LRDG in January 1943.
    S1 Patrol were Southern Rhodesians, not South Africans. They were from two different armies. South Africa was an independent country while Southern Rhodesia was still technically a British colony though they were pretty much left to govern themselves in most matters. As the original article I posted states a few individual members of the Union Defence Force served with the LRDG, but the Rhodesians formed several patrols and from late 1943 a whole squadron. Relations between the two forces (the UDF and the Rhodesians) became closer during the war though and in 1944-45 a couple of Rhodesian tank squadrons, a rifle coy and an artillery battery served with the 6th SA Armoured Div in Italy, as part of South African regts/battalions.

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    You're right! Sorry. But.... closer than Rhodesia is hardly possible

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    Senior Member baboon6's Avatar
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    Obituary (from a couple of years ago) of another South African officer, Lt Col Mike Webb MC, who served in the desert with the Transvaal Scottish, in the Mediterranean and Aegean with No.2 Commando, and post-war with the Scots Guards:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obit...Mike-Webb.html

    Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Webb, who has died aged 82, fought with 2 Commando in wartime operations in Italy, the Dalmatian Islands and Albania, and held the MC and Bar.


    In July 1944, the Albanian partisans were desperately in need of weapons, and the decision was made to try to establish a beachhead through which arms could be supplied. The coastline chosen was in the area of Mirara, south of the Linguetta Peninsula.

    First, however, the German garrison of 150 troops at Spilje had to be overcome, and this task was given to 2 Commando, which formed part of the force that embarked from south of Bari, Italy. The landing and the approach march were made in darkness, but the Germans had been forewarned by Albanian quislings, while the barking of dogs reinforced their suspicions that an attack was imminent.

    Webb, then a captain, in command of two troops of 2 Commando, had to attack a series of strongly defended enemy houses and machine gun posts. He led several assaults himself with great dash and determination, and his infectious, aggressive spirit was an inspiration to his men when he rallied them for the final attack.

    His force was called upon to assist other troops who were pinned down by snipers lying up in the vineyards. Later, during a difficult disengagement, when a large number of casualties had to be evacuated to the beaches, Webb proved a tower of strength. The attack by 2 Commando accounted for most of the garrison, and the remainder was soon rounded up by the partisans. Webb's courage, unflagging energy and leadership were recognised by a Bar to his MC.

    Michael Hinton Webb, the son of an officer in the South African Army, was born on June 6 1921 at Hove. His home was in Johannesburg but he was educated at Stowe and, after the outbreak of the Second World War, he returned to South Africa and enlisted in the 1st Battalion Transvaal Scottish.

    He was commissioned in 1941 and embarked for the Middle East in June that year. On May 28 1942, 1/3 Battalion Transvaal Scottish, part of the 1st South African Division, was at Bir-En-Naghia in Cyrenaica, northern Africa, when a fierce attack by the Italians forced the forward outpost to withdraw. It was vital to hold this position because it dominated the battalion's lines and also the sectors on both flanks. Webb, then a lieutenant, was detailed to take two sections and occupy the outpost.
    His small force, despite coming under heavy shell and machine gun fire, succeeded in re-occupying the post. The next morning, he led an attack against the Italians. More than 100 prisoners were captured, and Webb was awarded an immediate MC.
    In March 1943 he was seconded to the British Army on his appointment as ADC to General Sir Brian Robertson, the Commander Tripolitania Base. Webb was fascinated by higher strategy - but a life of action held still stronger attractions and, eventually, he persuaded the general to release him. After parachute training, Webb joined 2 Commando, part of 2 Special Service Brigade and, in January 1944, he accompanied his unit to Vis.
    The Germans were determined to capture the island, the last of the Dalmatians still in the hands of the partisans; for the Allies, it was essential to maintain a foothold there to keep open communications with Marshal Tito.




    The commandos raided the German garrisons on the nearby islands, harassed enemy shipping and ran supplies to the partisans on the mainland. The Germans were forced on to the defensive but, although they had to shelve their invasion plans, they kept up attacks from the air.
    To escape from the hurly-burly of life on Vis, 2 Commando treated the nearby island of Hvar (which was under German occupation) as a recreation centre. After telephoning the postmaster there to make sure that the coast was clear, they would take a schooner across after dark, lodge with the local partisans, spend the next day swimming and sightseeing and return that night to Vis and the war.
    After the operation at Spilje Bay and, subsequently, at the port of Sarande, in which he played a key role, Webb fought with 2 Commando in the Battle of Lake Comacchio and finished the war at Molinella, north-east of Bologna.
    On being released from full-time military service in April 1946, he went back to South Africa to try his hand at farming and the Stock Exchange. But life in the peacetime Cape seemed dull, selfish and safe and in 1951 he returned to England to sign up again.
    With the support of a number of distinguished soldiers, including Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer, Webb joined the 1st Battalion Scots Guards. Undeterred by his loss of seniority, he accompanied the battalion on two tours in Egypt as a company commander, serving with distinction and panache for the next 12 years.
    In 1959 Webb was posted to the War Office as GSO2 to the Director of Military Intelligence. He retired from the Army in 1963 in the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

    In retirement, Webb used his excellent connections and numerous Arab friendships to help the Arab cause in the Yemen and elsewhere. A colourful figure who eschewed anything but the best, he liked the champagne life and could live only in Belgravia. As old age caught up with him, he was sustained by his friendships with Sir James Goldsmith, John Aspinall and many others.
    Mike Webb was unmarried.

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