The military parade today in Kimberley – 2 September 2015 – is to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the birth of an air defence unit in South Africa, and also the centenary of military hardware being used as an anti-aircraft weapon. The weapon used in 1915 was “Skinny Liz” and the action was in German South West Africa.
Herewith the story.
The “Skinny Liz” is a 15 pounder BLC (Breech Loading) gun, and is used as a memorial to the fallen at Kimberley’s very own 10 Anti-Aircraft Regiment at Diskobolos (on the way to Magersfontein battlefield).
The carriage was constructed at the Salt River Railway Workshops, Cape Town, around November 1914, and was made from one-inch steel. It took ten men to lift the trail. (Gerald Lange’s book “On Urgent Imperial Service” states that the gun was constructed at Fort Knokke army ordnance workshops.) The gun had an elevation of 60 degrees and was specially built as an anti-aircraft gun.
The gun, constructed as an anti-aircraft gun and as such is certainly South Africa’s first such gun, was tested at Simonstown and proceeded to South West Africa (now Namibia) under the command of Lt E.H. Tamplin MC of the Royal Field Artillery. It arrived at Walfisch Bay on Christmas Day 1914. An interesting aside is that Kimberley’s unique Long Cecil gun has a Christmas Day story as well in that Cecil Rhodes gave the go ahead to George Labram to make the gun on this holy day!
Skinny Liz accompanied the advance of General Skinner’s Infantry Brigade and was used successfully against the German aeroplanes, although that is open to debate! It was more successfully used as a field gun, particularly at the battle of Trekkopjes on 26 April 1915 where Skinny Liz was the only British gun present. She took on the German field guns and neutralized them scoring several direct hits. Owing to the construction of the gun carriage it was necessary for the gunlayer to stand on two biscuit tins in order to lay, this accentuating the already good target. Although many German shells landed between the gun and the limber, Skinny Liz was not put out of action and saw the whole campaign through to the end.
The German aircraft bombed, if that is the correct word, the SA forces with hand grenades and shells, many of which did not explode until they tied ribbons to the shell making a tail and thus allowing it to land nose first.
General Skinner, after whom the gun was named, did not approve of the name “Lizzie Skinner” and preferred the term “Skinny Liz”.
The South Africans also fired two other guns at the German aircraft, a 4-inch and a 4.7 inch.
Pictured is Skinny Liz in WW 1 and today as a memorial in Kimberley.