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South African Official Histories

In response to a recent inquiry, here is some information on "official" South African histories of World War II.

The first three volumes were produced by the Union War Histories Section of the Office of the Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa. Four more books were planned, but the Histories Section was closed down in 1961 and the remaining volumes in this original official series were never produced.

The published volumes:

Agar-Hamilton, J. A. I. and L. C. F. Turner. The Sidi Rezegh Battles, 1941. Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1957. Operation Crusader and the destruction of South African 5th Infantry Brigade.

Agar-Hamilton, J. A. I. and L. C. F. Turner. Crisis in the Desert, May-June 1942. Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1952. The fall of Tobruk and the First Battle of el Alamein.

Turner, L. C. F., H. R. Gordon-Cumming, and J. E. Betzler. War in the Southern Oceans, 1939-1945. Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1961. Naval operations in South African and adjacent waters.

After the official series was cancelled, the South African War Histories Advisory Committee was formed and donations were raised from ex-service organizations, newspaper groups, and commercial businesses to fund a new series of books which would complete the history. This "semi-official" set comprises eight volumes, with one of those divided into two parts. While not quite as detailed in its moment-by-moment description of operations, and intentionally skimming over some of the subject matter covered in the original series, the second series is also very well done and certainly fulfills the intention of being accepted "...as the authoritative records of the part played by the South African land and air forces...."

The "semi-official" volumes:

Orpen, Neil. South African Forces World War II, volume 1: East African and Abyssinian Campaigns. Cape Town: Purnell, 1968. Ground operations in East Africa.

Brown, James Ambrose. South African Forces World War II, volume 2: Gathering of Eagles: The Campaigns of the South African Air Force. Cape Town: Purnell, 1970. Air operations in Italian East Africa, 1940-1941.

Orpen, Neil. South African Forces World War II, volume 3: War in the Desert. Cape Town: Purnell, n.d. (c. 1971). Ground operations in Egypt and Libya, 1941-1942.

Brown, James Ambrose. South African Forces World War II, volume 4: Eagles Strike: The Campaigns of the South African Air Force. Cape Town: Purnell, 1974. Air ops in Egypt, Cyrenaica, Libya, Tunisia, Triplotania, Madagascar; 1941-1943.

Orpen, Neil. South African Forces World War II, volume 5: Victory in Italy. Cape Town: Purnell, 1975. South African 6th Armored Division in Italy.

Martin, H. J. and Neil Orpen. South African Forces World War II, volume 6: Eagles Victorious: Operations of the South African Forces. Cape Town: Purnell, 1977. Air ops in Italy.

Martin, H. J. and Neil Orpen. South African Forces World War II, volume 7: South Africa at War. Cape Town, Purnell, 1979. Overall strategy, organization, manpower, economy, etc.

Orpen, Neil and H. J. Martin. South African Forces World War II, volume 8: Salute the Sappers, part 1. Johannesburg: Sappers Association, n.d. (c. 1981). Formation of SAEC and operations through Alamein.

Orpen, Neil and H. J. Martin. South African Forces World War II, volume 8: Salute the Sappers, part 2. Johannesburg: Sappers Association, n.d. (c. 1982). Operations from Alamein through Italy.

These volumes are relatively difficult to find and usually quite expensive. One good place to hunt is Clarke's book store in South Africa.

Reviewed 5 January 1996
 

 

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