Military Contributions in World War II
South Africa and its military forces contributed in many theaters of war. South Africa's contribution consisted mainly of supplying troops, airmen and material for the North African campaign (the Desert War) and the Italian Campaign as well as to Allied ships that docked at its crucial ports adjoining the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean that converge at the tip of Southern Africa. Numerous volunteers also flew for the Royal Air Force. (See: South African Army in World War II; South African Air Force in World War II; South African Navy in World War II.)
- The South African Army and Air Force played a major role in defeating the Italian forces of Benito Mussolini during the 1940/1941 East African Campaign. The converted Junkers Ju 86s of 12 Squadron, South African Air Force, carried out the first bombing raid of the campaign on a concentration of tanks at Moyale at 8am on 11 June 1940, mere hours after Italy's declaration of war.
- Another important victory that the South Africans participated in was the liberation of Malagasy (now known as Madagascar) from the control of the Vichy French who were allies of the Nazis. British troops aided by South African soldiers, staged their attack from South Africa, landing on the strategic island on 4 May 1942 to preclude its seizure by the Japanese.
- The South African 1st Infantry Division took part in several actions in East Africa (1940) and North Africa (1941 and 1942), including the Battle of El Alamein, before being withdrawn to South Africa.
- The South African 2nd Infantry Division also took part in a number of actions in North Africa during 1942, but on 21 June 1942 two complete infantry brigades of the division as well as most of the supporting units were captured at the fall of Tobruk.
- The South African 3rd Infantry Division never took an active part in any battles but instead organised and trained the South African home defence forces, performed garrison duties and supplied replacements for the South African 1st Infantry Division and the South African 2nd Infantry Division. However, one of this division's constituent brigades - 7 SA Motorised Brigade - did take part in the invasion of Madagascar in 1942.
- The South African 6th Armoured Division fought in numerous actions in Italy from 1944 to 1945.
- The South African Air Force SAAF made a significant contribution to the air war in East Africa, North Africa, Sicily, Italy, the Balkans and even as far east as bombing missions aimed at the Romanian oilfields in Ploiești, supply missions in support of the Warsaw uprising and reconnaissance missions ahead of the Russian advances in the Lvov-Cracow area.
- Numerous South African airmen also volunteered service to the RAF, some serving with distinction.
- South Africa contributed to the war effort against Japan, supplying men and manning ships in naval engagements against the Japanese.
Of the 334,000 men volunteered for full-time service in the South African Army during the war (including some 211,000 whites, 77,000 blacks and 46,000 "coloureds" and Asians), nearly 9,000 were killed in action.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has records of 11,023 known South African war dead during World War II.
However, not all South Africans supported the war effort. The Anglo-Boer war had ended only thirty five years earlier and to some, siding with the "enemy" was considered disloyal and unpatriotic. These sentiments gave rise to "The Ossewabrandwag" ("Oxwagon Sentinel"), originally created as a cultural organisation on the Centenary of the Great Trek becoming more militant and openly opposing South African entry into the war on side of the British. The organisation created a paramilitary group called Stormjaers ('storm chasers'), modelled on the Nazi SA or Sturmabteilung ("Storm Division") and which was linked to the German Intelligence (Abwehr) and the German Foreign Office (Dienstelle Ribbentrop) via Dr. Luitpold Werz - the former German Consul in Pretoria. The Stormjaers carried out a number of sabotage attacks against the Smuts government and actively tried to itimidate and discourage volunteers from joining the army recruitment programs.
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