Flames of War


6th South African Armoured Division (Part 5)

WWII era South African flag

6th South African Armoured Division (Part 5)

By J.C. von Winterbach, Scott Sutherland, Mike Bersiks, Rex Barret and Barry Cooper.

6th South Africian Armoured Division Part 1...  

6th South Africian Armoured Division Part 2...

6th South Africian Armoured Division Part 3...  

6th South Africian Armoured Division Part 4...  

The Pursuit to the Alps

The 6th South African Armoured Division was re-organising for the pursuit, but a delay was inevitable while US II Corps adjusted its dispositions. On the evening of 18 April 1945, the 13th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade had occupied Mt. Giovule and Mt. Baco without resistance. Reinforced by the 4/13th Frontier Force Rifles and with the SSB temporarily under command this brigade was ordered to secure a bridgehead over the Reno, and continue the advance until relieved by 11th South African Armoured Brigade. The latter brigade, with the FCity/CTH under command, was to act as the main thrust of the 6th South African Armoured Division. The 12th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade with the PAG under command was to support the main thrust. The situation was so fluid that it proved impossible to adhere to the pre-arranged plans. Four American divisions, and the 6th South African Armoured Division, were all trying to debouch into the Po Valley west of Bologna, with mines and demolitions blocking the few available roads. But for the US Fifth Army engineers and staff, the traffic congestion did not become acute, and the US 34th Infantry Division was able to enter Bologna on 21 April 1945.

The 6th South African Armoured Division had virtually no more fighting in the Appenines. The one aim of the Germans was to get to the Po River crossings, but left a considerable number of stragglers in the mountains, and several hundred prisoners were picked up during the thrust down Route 64. These stragglers seldom showed any fight. The SSB leading the advance of 13th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade reached the outskirts of Casalecchio on the evening of 20 April 1945, and then the 11th South African Armoured Brigade with the SSB back under command, passed through on 21 April 1945.
The Pursuit.

The long bloody struggle in the mountains was over, and the fertile plains of northern Italy lay ahead.

On 21 April 1945, the 6th South African Armoured Division was given the task of leading the advance of US II Corps. The advance was to be carried out with the utmost speed and boldness on a broad front. German rearguards and delaying positions were to be by-passed. Important road centres, stream crossings, etc., to be held until relieved by the infantry divisions. 11th South African Armoured Brigade was directed through San Giovanni to Finale Nel Emillia and the 12th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade to Camposanto. Both brigades were to seize crossings over the Panaro River. The 13th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade was to concentrate north of Route 9 in divisional reserve. The PR was detached from the 11th South African Armoured Brigade command, and was ordered to protect the 6th South African Armoured Division’s right flank, and contact the British Eighth Army in the vicinity of Bondeno. The American units under the command of the 11th South African Armoured Brigade had now left.

South African division breaks out of the Gothic Line

By-passing Bologna, the tanks of the SSB rumbled off at 10:30 on 21 April 1945. After many weary months the 11th South African Armoured Brigade had returned to mobile warfare. The tank crews were filled with tremendous enthusiasm and were determined to make the most of the opportunity. Sweeping up the long straight road to San Giovanni, the SSB soon started to collect prisoners and stragglers. At 11:00 hours shots were exchanged with enemy tanks, supported by self-propelled guns and panzershrecks. The SSB was confined to a strip of ground on bothsides of the road, bounded by a railway line on one flank and a dyke on the other. After a severe fire-fight the SSB tanks fought their way forward to within 11-miles of San Giovanni, but further progress was barred by a blown bridge. The SSB knocked out two Panzer IV tanks and PaK40 guns, for a loss of three Sherman’s disabled.  Meanwhile, the ILH/KimR and “A” Squadron, SSB struck opposition at Calderara Di Reno to the east of the railway line, and the village was bombarded by the 4/22 Field Regiment.

A Panzer IV was put out of action and the place was occupied that evening. The 11th South African Armoured Brigade rounded up 300 prisoners on 21 April 1945, and identifications from many battalions illustrated the confusion of the retreat. Further to the east the PR reached Longara at nightfall, after meeting considerable opposition from panzerhrecks and losing two Shermans but they managed to round up 150 prisoners. It had been a successful day for the South Africans, but the country was badly cut bydykes and canals, and the going was by no means easy.

South African 6pdr San Giovanni was occupied by American troops on the night of 21/22 April 1945, and the advance of the 6th South African Armoured Division was resumed on 22 April 1945, on a two brigade front with the 11th South African Armoured Brigade advancing on Finale Nell Emilia while the 12th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade advancing on Camposanto. The 6th South African Armoured Division’s orders were to seize the crossings over the Panaro River at all costs. The SSB, with “B” Company, ILH/KimR under command, met considerable opposition just north of San Giovanni. The Germans had organised a very strong anti-tank defence with guns and Panzers concealed among houses and hayricks.

“B” Squadron, SSB, executed a flanking movement, and after severe fighting the Germns withdrew. Another strong rearguard position was encountered at Decima. “B” Squadron, SSB, again moved to a flank, while the ILH/KimR assisted the tanks by taking out Snipers and Panzershrecks. At nightfall the column was still some 5 miles south of Finale. The SSB claimed the destruction of 7 Panzers, with 8 Shermans and 3 Stuarts being destroyed or disabled.

The WR/DLR with “C” Squadron, PAG, and one Battery of 1/6 Field Regiment under command, led the advance of 12th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade, and moving very fast through San Giovanni and Crevalcore, reached the outskirts of Camposanto at 12:45. There was no opposition, and progress was not impeded by demolitions or mines. Endless columns of American marching troops were passed on the road. The Panaro has high banks overgrown by grass, and the river is unfordable on foot. “B” Company, WR/DLR, leading the advance, reached the bridge at Camposanto at about 10:30 and found it intact. Camposanto lay on the northern bank of the Panaro. American troops had already reached the river, but drew back in the face of heavy small arms fire.

The WR/DLR made an attempt to rush the bridge with an infantry platoon, but the platoon was driven back by machine-gun fire along a fixed line. For two hours nothing was achieved, and it was impossible for the troops to show themselves without being shot. The Germans were not able to demolish the bridge from a distance and tried to send parties on to the bridge to destroy it. These were driven back by the fire of the WR/DLR. Finally PAG tanks were brought up to give supporting fire and artillery concentrations were laid on. Covered by this fire, three Carriers loaded with troops rushed the bridge resulting in 46 prisoners taken in Camprosanto.

South African Units

RDLI - Royal Durban Light Infantry
NMR - Natal Mounted Rifles
DROR - Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Rifles
RLI - Rand Light Infantry
RB/RPS - Regiment Botha/Regiment President Steyn
PR - Pretoria Regiment
PAG - Prince Alfred’s Guard
SSB - Special Service Battalion
ILH/KimR - Imperial Light Horse/Kimberley Regiment
RNC - Royal Natal Carbineers
FC/CTH - First City/Cape Town Highlanders Regiment
WR/DLR - Witwatersrand/De La Rey Regiment

The WR/DLR had achieved a notable success. On the evening of 22 April 1945, the 12th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade received orders to hand over Camposanto to an American unit, and to move with all speed along the south bank of the Panaro to Finale Nell Emillia. The plan was designed to trap considerable enemy forces caught between the converging US Fifth Army and British Eighth Army, and still south of the Panaro. The German army in Italy was now in its death-throes. The pace of withdrawal was limited to that of animals and infantry, all the reserves had been engaged, and Allied aircraft speedily turned the Po crossings into deathtraps. On 21 April, 1945, a British Eighth Army Armoured column burst out from the Argenta area, and driving along the Reno occupied Reggio Renaticio that night. Sweeping on in a northwesterly direction the British Eighth Army spearheads reached the outskirts of Bondeno on the evening of 22 April 1945. A battle of annihilation began between the Panaro and the Reno.

Both 12th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade and 11th South African Armoured Brigade were now directed on Finale. This small town lay on the northern bank of the Panaro River, and now that Bondeno was lost, the bridges across the Panaro at Finale were virtually the only escape route for the numerous German forces in the Cento area. The Panaro was not a formidable obstacle, but its steep banks form an impassable obstacle for vehicles. There were two bridges at Finale - a stone bridge leading into the town, and a wooden bridge some hundreds of yards to the east. Although the SSB had halted about 5 miles from Finale on the evening of 22 April 1945, the Germans in that area had already felt the weight of the 6th South African Armoured Division. On the evening of 22 April the 7/23 Medium Regiment observed a great numbers of vehicles moving along the roads into Finale, where upon the 7/23 Medium Regiment and the 4/22 Field Regiment put down a series of concentrations and did tremendous damage.

South African engineers being passed by a dingo The advance of 12th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade was led by the RDLI with “B” Squadron, PAG under command. The RDLI column advanced rapidly along the south bank of the Panaro, and by 20:45 on 22 April 1945, the troops were within a mile of Finale. Here they struck against the flank of an enemy column of vehicles and Panzers which was moving into the town. Confused fighting broke out in the darkness, and two PAG tanks were destroyed. But the RDLI maintained positions within 500 yards of the road, and the PAG tanks and battalion mortars fired steadily into the column. During the proceedings the stonebridge was demolished.

The Germans opposing the RDLI then betook themselves to the wooden bridge and crossed the Panaro by this means with the fighting dying down at dawn, and a patrol of the RDLI entered Finale and found the place clear of the enemy.

At 07:05 on 23 April 1945, the 12th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade received orders to concentrate and resume the advance through Camposanto to the Po. The RDLI was ordered to relieve the ILH/KimR and the 11th South African Armoured Brigade was ordered to clear up the Finale area and during the day the SSB, ILH/KimR and FC/CTH rounded up some 900 prisoners south of the town. The Germans had a number of trenches in the area, and considerable opposition was encountered from snipers and Spandau posts, but organized resistance broke down during the day. The utter confusion of the enemy is shown by the fact that prisoners were taken from no less than eight divisions. During the morning contact was made with Britih 6th Armoured Division.

The road leading into Finale was choked with vehicles of every description all jammed together in a shattered mass. From the bridge over the canal to the Panaro there was a solid mass of carts, oxen, mules and horses followed by trucks, guns towed and self-propelled and panzers. On the morning of 24 April 1945, a way had been bulldozed through the mass with many of the vehicles still smouldering. Prisoners stated that the initial block was caused by fighter-bombers, and then the artillery took full advantage of the congestion. German aircraft put in an appearance on the nights of the 21/22 April and 22/23 April and inflicted some casualties on the 6th South African Armoured Division. A Junker Ju-87 “Stuka” was shot down by “B” Troop of 1/12 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery.
South African SP Bofors

On the morning of 23 April 1945, 12th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade began its drive to the Po. After a delay of some hours caused by the bridge at Camposanto being blocked by American traffic the WR/DLR crossed the Panaro at 10:30. The advance was pressed during the afternoon and “C” Squadron, PAG, which accompanied the advance guard, got in some effective shooting at disorganised groups. 150 prisoners were collected, but progress was hampered by American units moving along the roads in the same area. The WR/DLR column harboured some 5 miles from the Po. During the advance they noted that the northern sky was black with smoke, and that fighter-bombers were continually overhead.

On the afternoon of 24 April 1945, 12th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade reached the Po in the Felonica area. Large numbers of stragglers were trapped on the south bank and the area was littered with guns, panzers, transport, and war material of all sorts. The WR/DLR rounded up 487 prisoners and the RDLI 250. The latter battalion captured a complete German hospital and staff. The PR, which was acting in an independent role, also reached the Po River that day and took 363 prisoners. Opposition was sporadic and unorganised. The 11th South African Armoured Brigade completed the clearing up of the Finale area on 24 April 1945, while the 13th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade concentrated south of the Panaro ready to support the 12th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade.

South African amoured column prepares to move out Further to the west 10th US Mountain Division had crossed the Po River in the San Bennetto area. On the night of 24/25 April 1945, a RDLI patrol swam the Po River and reported that the north bank was only lightly held. This was fortunate for the Po at this point was over 150 yards broad, and a very difficult obstacle. Bridging material was not immediately available but five assault boats were brought up during the night. “A” and “B” Companies, RDLI crossed the river the next morning and established a bridgehead against slight opposition. 12th Field Squadron operated a raft for jeeps, carriers and 10 DUKWs (Amphibious Lorries) to ferry troops over. 12th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade Group concentrated on the south bank to follow up the crossing. More rafts arrived on 26 April 1945, but heavy rain made the banks of the river soft and muddy and greatly impeded loading operations.

The crossing of 12th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade was completed on 27 April 1945. The greater part of the brigade crossed via ferries, but 240 vehicles were sent over a bridge at Ostiglia.

Wholesale disaster was overtaking the Germans in northern Italy. On 25 April 1945, US 88th Infantry Division made a remarkable advance from the Ostiglia bridgehead and reached Verona. All lateral communication between the German forces in the plain was cut, and the retreat of German forces west of the Tyrol was finally closed when US Fifth Army spearheads took Como on 28 April 1945. The German Army Group C was now a mere skeleton force. All their energy had been expended south of the Po River and without weapons and ammunition their retreat had become a rout. Practically all the tanks, assault guns, and heavy anti-tank guns were lost or stranded for lack of fuel and there was little left of the artillery. In these circumstances it was hopeless for the German command to hold a line along the Adige, or even to put up a serious defence in the Tyrol. Strong defences had been constructed during the winter east of the Adige River, but neither troops nor guns were available to hold them. 

On 27 April 1945, the RDLI led the advance of 12th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade to the Adige, and the river was reached in the Castagnaro area. At 14:20 “D” Company, RDLI commenced a crossing using a boat supplied by partisans. These were soon supplemented by American DUKWs, and during the evening the whole battalion crossed the river, together with a troop for PAG tanks. The crossing was unopposed and a number of stragglers were collected on the east bank. On the morning of 28 April 1945, the RDLI occupied Boschi, and at this point 12th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade passed into reserve. 13th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade with the PR under command was ordered to take the lead, with 11th South African Armoured Brigade moving in close support.  The task of 6th South African Armoured Division was to maintain contact with the British Eighth Army, and protect the right flank of the US II Corps.

On the morning of 28 April 1945, 13th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade crossed the Adige near Legnago, on a bridge laid by American engineers. The NMR/SAAF led the way without waiting for the PR tanks to cross the river. No resistance was encountered until Noventa was reached, some 15 miles from the Adige. PR tanks were called up and the advance continued until the head of the column struck the strong defences of the Venetian Line, and came under heavy anti-tank fire with one Sherman destroyed and two Shermans immobilised. A group of PR tanks moved to flank the Germans and broke their defences west of the Legnaro -Vicenza road. Barbed wire obstacles and anti-tank ditches were not covered by fire. Pillboxes were found unoccupied. The 13th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade continued its drive to the Bacchiglione River, which was reached that evening. PR tanks advancing up the main Vicenza road were held up by a canal and a blown bridge, and were received with heavy fire. Accordingly the RNC with PR reconnaissance tanks under command, were ordered to move to Montegaldella.

The RNC collected a number of prisoners but failed to capture the bridge at this point in the face of machine-gun fire. The enemy blew the bridge in the early hours of 29 April 1945.

South African officers in Bologna

During the day the US 88th Infantry Division captured Vicenza after stiff fighting and the 2nd New Zealand Division reached the outskirts of Padua. On the night of 28 April 1945, the 6th South African Armoured Division HQ ordered the advance to continue on a two brigade front with the 11th South African Armoured Brigade advancing on Treviso and assisting the Americans in capturing that important town, while the 13th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade were to maintain touch with the British Eighth Army and follow a route south of the main Vicenza - Treviso axis. Both the 11th South African Armoured Brigade and 13th South African Motorized Infantry Brigade succeeded in capturing bridges across the Bacchiglione. Early on 29 April 1945, carriers of the ILH/KimR occupied Longare and found the bridge undamaged, while the RNC crossed by a bridge south east of Monte Galdella.

Both brigades drove on to the Brenta against slight opposition. They collected hundreds of prisoners, and reached Brenta that evening. “D” Company, RNC was involved in a sharp action at Limena, and the enemy’s resistance was not overcome until the battalion mortars and the guns of 15th Field Regiment, RA had been brought into action. A PR tank was destroyed here. A RNC patrol crossed the Brenta at Curtarolo using a captured raft, and 8th Field Squadron threw a Bailey bridge over the river during the night of 29/30 April 1945. While reconnoitring the bridging site the commanding officer and 8th Field Squadron and two other ranks were killed by Panzershreck fire.

South African armour halts by a hedge 11th South African Armoured Brigade crossed at Curtarolo on the morning of 30 April 1945, and by nightfall was within three miles of Treviso. 500 prisoners were collected during the day, and it was clear that the war in Italy was virtually over. The New Zealanders were in Venice, and the Americans had taken Treviso. The 6th South African Armoured Division concentrated in the Scorze area. From there it set off, on 1 May 1945, for Milan, to meet a threat from a German force.

En route the 6th South African Armoured Division heard of the surrender of the German Armies in Italy.

6th South African Armoured Division casualties in Italy totalled 5176, of which 753 were killed.

Axis Surrender and End of the War

Early on 2 May 1945 the German theatre commander, Generalfeldmarschall A. Kesselring, agreed to Fieldmarshal H.R.L.G Alexander’s surrender terms and broadcast orders to ceasefire. By 3 May 1945, the 6th South African Armoured Division was northeast of Milan when General der Panzertruppe Fridolin Rudolf Theodor, Ritter und Edler von Senger und Etterlin delivered the surrender of the German forces in Italy to Lt. Gen. M.W. Clark in Florence. This was followed by Winston Churchill’s announcement of the end of the war in Europe on 8 May 1945.

On 14 May 1945 the whole of 6th South African Armoured Division assembled on the Monza motor racing circuit, complete with its tanks, artillery and vehicles. A Guard of Honour was formed by the SSB, Maj. Gen. W.H.E. Poole’s first command. As Prime Minister (Field Marshal) J.C Smuts was in San Francisco writing the preamble on Human Rights for the United Nation’s Charter, he was represented by the Acting Minister of Defence, Commodore the Hon F.C. Sturrock who opened with a speech, bringing the 6th South African Armoured Division the thanks of Prime Minister and the people of South Africa for its part in the victory in Italy. 

The ‘Top Brass’ included Lieutenant-General Mark Clark (15th Army Group), General Lucian King Truscott, Jr. (Fifith Army) and Lieutenant-General Willis Dale Crittenberger (IV US Corps), all three having had the 6th South African Armoured Division under their command during operations from the Arno to the Alps. General Sir Pierre Helpperus Andries van Ryneveld and Major-General Francois Henry “Frank” Theron were the distinguished South African Generals present, together with senior Allied officers, including Italians.
South African Victory Parade at Monza 14 July 1945.

The parade was led by the ubiquitous TAC Division HQ Command Jeep with its 2 Star Plate and, as usual, flying the GOC’s pennant which so many men had seen during the year-long trek from Caddino. Maj. Gen. W.H.E Poole stood smartly at the salute as the battle-worn jeep came abreast of Commodore the Hon F.C. Sturrock. The Air OP pilots coincided their fly-past with the head of the huge march past. The Command Jeep then broke away, so that Maj. Gen. W.H.E Poole could join Commodore the Hon F.C. Sturrock at the saluting base. During the proceedings Lt. Gen. M.W Clark, presumably in his capacity as the senior US Officer in the theatre, decorated Maj. Gen. W.H.E. Poole on behalf of the President of the United States with the Legion of Merit (Commander), the Highest Award that could be made to a non-American citizen.

The South African brigades were then deployed to the Swiss and French borders for frontier duties with the 11th Armoured Brigade along the Swiss border, 13th Motorised Brigade around Turin and 12th Motorised Brigade in the Aosta Valley contiguous to the Franco-Italian border, which was drawn on the high ground separating the two countries. On 16 July 1945 the Italian Cremona and Mantova Battle Groups were placed under command of the 6th South African Armoured Division to assist in these duties, allowing some of the battalions to be withdrawn for repatriation to South Africa. The two Motorised Brigades were amalgamated and remained responsible for guarding duties in the province of Imperia until 18 August 1945 while the 11th Armoured Brigade was amalgamated with the division artillery. 

Lt. Gen. M.W. Clark commented on the 6th South African Armoured Division’s achievements during the Spring Offensive, stating:

“One of my visits was to the 6th South African Armoured Division, under a most competent leader, Maj. Gen. W.H.E. Poole. This unit had previously been shifted to the Fifth Army front, and had performed splendidly under adverse conditions. 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 day-and-night fighting, the 6th South African Armoured Division 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 of heavy guns... 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. Enough said!"

Lt. Gen. M.W. Clark – Military Memoirs

South African Troops at Helwan Helwan Riots

By the beginning of April 1945, it had become obvious that the war was coming to a close and that the 6th South African Armoured Division as well as many other South African troops serving as divisional, corps and army troops would require transportation back to South Africa for demobilisation. On 1 May 1945, the Union Defence Force realised that no plans had yet been made to get all men back and instructions were prepared, whereby No. 1 and No. 5 Wings of the SAAF were to be merged to form No. 4 Group which was to be used in an Intensified Transport Service/Shuttle Service to move 5000 troops per month by air commencing 1 July 1945.

A further 15,000 men were to be transported home by sea during the second half of the year, resulting in the repatriation of 45,000 soldiers by the end of the year.

In addition to the 6th South African Armoured Division and other troops in Italy, there were thousands of recently released South African prisoners from the 2nd South African Infantry Division who had been captured at the battles of Sidi Rezegh and Tobruk who had been held in Italy. And this also created problems as their numbers had not been factored into the demobilisation plans.

The staging depot at Helwan north of Cairo was soon overcrowded and by 20 August 1945, the depot, designed to hold 5000 men was holding 9000. 

An official announcement on 9 August 1945, stated that 3000 – 5000 men were expected to be repatriated by sea at the end of the month, but less than a week later it was announced that the expected shipping had been delayed, and that further announcements would be made later. Food was in short supply and the lack of adequate numbers of chefs caused extended queues and delays at meal times. The standard of discipline deteriorated further as the men arriving at the depot were split up alphabetically by surname, and then according to their demobilisation categories.
South African air transport back home

Priority was determined by the length of service in the UDF, The basic principle was “First in, first out”. All the members of the UDF were classified in groups ranging from Group A with attestation dates between September 1939 and 30 April 1940 to Group M with attestation dates from 1 January 1945 onwards. White men and women, the Cape Corps and Indian and Malay Corps, and the Native Military Corps were grouped separately. Demobilisation took place on an individual basis rather than a unit basis since the whole dispersal depot machinery, which was built up during the war, was based on a system of individual discharges. This meant that men were grouped together with fellow soldiers and NCO’s whom they did not know and unit structures were lost.

Military personnel within the Union were considered for demobilisation first, with the exception of those personnel serving in certain key positions and those whose demobilisation depended on the complete demobilisation of personnel from other theatres of war. The second stage commenced on the arrival of troops from areas elsewhere in Africa; and the final stage was reached on return of troops from other operations, those held P.O.W. and those on duties in enemy territory.

Delays in the repatriation process arouse with problems relating to the reconversion of aircraft to passenger planes, shortages in finding fuel and a general lack of shipping space, created problems in the repatriation of soldiers from overseas.  Some of the soldiers were of the opinion that the whole situation was pretty shocking and some described the air evacuation scheme as a complete failure. Some soldiers even questioned the sincerity of the government's promise of a speedy return and their smooth reinstatement into civilian life.

South African former POWs arrive in Helwan More changes in the official discharge policy led to a severe criticism and delays in finding suitable post-war employment. Initially, the discharges were to take place on a FIFO basis according to the soldier's date of attestation. However, this changed when the military authorities discovered that practically all A and B groups consisted of officers and NCO's; and decided to adopt a ratio scheme of 3 officers, 14 NCO's and 18 other ranks to be discharged in that order. Consequently, privates were released before officers who had a longer service record. This led to widespread criticism. The soldiers felt that those who were most likely to be prejudiced by their return to civilian life being postponed, should receive priority.

Morale declined even further when it was decided that 500 volunteers would go home as a top priority to assist in the demobilisation process back in South Africa, their return home irrespective of their demobilisation category. In addition, all trading rights except those of the NAAFI were controlled by Egyptians; the men felt that they were being exploited by inflated prices charged by these traders. There was also unhappiness over the two cinemas, when men who had bought tickets frequently found that they were unable to get in due to lack of space.

A protest meeting was held on 20 August 1945, where a crowd of 1500 men were addressed by various individuals. As the size of the crowd increased, the meeting became violent. The usually disciplined soldiers became a mob bent on trashing, looting and burning and their first objectives were the two Egyptian owned cinemas, which were set alight. The mob then split up and further Egyptian premises, blocks of shops, motor cars, bungalows and book stalls were set alight. They also set fire to one of their own messes and broke down and looted the NAAFI store. 

Maj. Gen. W.H.E. Poole flew in from Italy to address the troops, promising that immediate steps were to be taken to speed up the rate of repatriation. To tighten up on discipline and improve morale at Helwan, the housing of troops on a unit basis was instituted and a Brigadier was appointed to command the depot. A public address system was installed to keep everybody in camp up to date on the latest news and free outdoor film-shows were implemented. On 26 August 1945,, the Director General Officer - Administration (DGQ-A Italy and Egypt), appointed a court of enquiry to investigate, their report detailed the frustration and despondency related to overcrowding which had been one major contributing factor, as had the failure of the airlift to repatriate the published number of troops per day.
South African troops in Helwan
The first official statements on 24 and 31 May 1945, declared that the repatriation rate by air would be 500 a day. From 1 July 1945, this figure was amended to 300 a day. The average daily number of men repatriated during the first twenty days of July was only 108. The court assessed the total cost of the damage at £22,768,431. Then by 25 January 1946, 10,1676 men had been ferried back to South Africa with the last aircraft leaving Egypt on 26 February 1946, which included Maj. Gen. W.H.E. Poole.

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• The Special Service Battalion, 1933-1973 - W. Otto, J.N. Blatt, J. Ploeger, F.J. Jacobs (South African Defence Force Documentation Center, 1973)
• 6th South African Armoured Division In Italy. Scientia Militaria, South African Journal of Military Studies (Vol. 4, No. 2, June 1974).
• 6th South African Armoured Division In Italy. Scientia Militaria, South African Journal of Military Studies (Vol. 4, No. 3, June 1974).
• The Record Of The Coldstream Guards, 1650-1950; 1951-1974 - R. J. Marker, A. G. C. Dawnay, E. R. Hill, E. I. Windsor Clive (The Coldstream Guards, 1975)
• South African Forces World War II, Vol. 5: Victory in Italy “South African 6th Armored Division in Italy” - N.D. Orpen (Purnell, 1975).
• The History of the Transvaal Horse Artillery, 1904-1974 – N.D. Orpen (Transvaal Horse Artillery Regimental Council, 1975)
• Anti-Aircraft Artillery In The Second World War. Scientia Militaria, South African Journal of Military Studies (Vol. 7, No. 1, June 1977).
• South African Forces World War II, Vol. 6: Eagles Victorious: Operations of the South African Forces over the Mediterranean and Europe, in Italy, the Balkans and the Aegean, and from Gibraltar and West Africa  - H.J. Martin and Neil Orpen (Cape Town: Purnell, 1977)
• South African Forces World War II, Vol. 7: South Africa at War “Military and Industrial Organization and Operations in Connection with the Conduct of the War, 1939-1945” - H.J Martin, N.D. Orpen (Purnell, 1979).
• South African Forces World War II, Vol. 8: Salute the Sappers, Part 2 “Operations from Alamein through Italy” - N.D. Orpen, H.J. Martin (Johannesburg: Sappers Association, 1982).
• The “Duke’s”: A History of the Cape Town Rifles “Duke’s” – N.D. Orpen (Cape Town Rifles “Duke’s Regimental Council, 1984)
• South Africa in World War 2 – J. Mervis (Times Media, 1989)
• South African Forces In The Second World War. Scientia Militaria, South African Journal of Military Studies (Vol. 19, No. 3, June 1989).
• A Bugle Calls: The Story of the Witwatersrand Rifles and Its Predecessors, 1899-1987 – S. Monick (Witwatersrand Rifles Regimental Council, 1989)
• War In Italy: With the South Africans from Taranto to the Alps – J. Kros (Ashanti Publishing, 1992)
• Ace of Aces: M.St.J.Pattle – E.C.R Baker (Crecy Publishing, 1993)
• Demobilisation And The Pot-War Employment Of The White Union Defence Forces Soldier. Scientia Militaria, South African Journal of Military Studies (Vol. 23, No. 4, June 1993).
• South Africa In World War II, a Pictorial History – J. Keene (Human and Rousseau 1995)
• Theunissen, Maj. A.B. - “Major-General W.H. Evered Poole, CB, CBE, DSO: 1902-1969 Personal Retrospects”. Scientia Militaria, South African Journal of Military Studies (Vol. 9, No. 5, June 1994).
• Second to None: The History of the Coldstream Guards 1650-2000 – J. Paget (Pen and Sword Books Ltd; Revised and new edition, 2000)
• Silence on Monte Sole - Jack Olsen (I Books, 2002)
• The Scots Guards 1919-1955 – D. Erskine (Naval and Military Press, 2009)
• Camouflage and Markings of the 6th South African Armoured Division: North Africa and Italy 1943-1945: Part 1: Armoured Vehicles – W. Marshall (Model Centrum Progres, 2010) (http://www.sacolours.co.za)
• Camouflage and Markings of the 6th South African Armoured Division: North Africa and Italy 1943-1945: Part 2: Wheeled Transport and Artillery – W. Marshall (Model Centrum Progres, 2012) (http://www.sacolours.co.za)
• Come Back to Portofino: Through Italy with the 6th South African Armoured Division - James Bourhill (30 Degrees South Publishers, 2011)
• The Royal Newfoundland Regiment 1775-1952: A Complete History of the Regiment – J.F. O’Flaherty (Unpublished Manuscript, Museum Library Copy)
• 1:35 Decals: 6th South African Armoured Division in Africa and Italy 1943 - 1945 – Starmer’s Armour ([email protected])
• South African Military Police Corps 1939-1946 (http://home.mweb.co.za/re/redcap/1939-46.htm)
• British and Commonwealth Orders of Battle (http://www.rothwell.force9.co.uk/index.htm)
• British and US Orders of Battle (http://www.bayonetstrength.150m.com)
• German Order of Battle (www.Axishistory.com) (www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de)
• All Photographs provided by the South African Military Museum (http://www.ditsong.org.za/militaryhistory.htm)
• All Paint Guide Photos & Tactical Markings provided with Permission from Lt. Col. William Marshall (http://www.sacolours.co.za)
• List of Prefixes on South African WW2 Medals (Special “Thank You” to Mr. Gordon Bickley of the South African Military Medals Society)
6th South African Armoured Division Order Of Battle...

Notes and details on the 6th South African Armoured Division...

German Units & Elements Encountered during 1944 - 1945...