David Brock Katz, historian, author and soldier

This course covers the build-up and deployment of South Africa’s Union Defence Force to the Western Desert in 1941 where it formed an essential component of the British Eighth Army. Using new documentary evidence answers will be sought to explain setbacks the South Africans suffered at the hands of the Deutsches AfrikaKorps (DAK) led by Rommel. Before North Africa, the South Africans led by General Dan Pienaar, a pre-eminent exponent of manoeuvre warfare, enjoyed considerable military success and gained much-needed experience in their campaign against the Italians in East Africa. However, the 5th South African Infantry Brigade under Brigadier Bertram Armstrong was annihilated at Sidi Rezegh and seven months later General Hendrik Klopper was forced to surrender Tobruk with the loss of the 2nd South African Infantry Division. Pienaar regained pride at First Alamein when the South Africans finally shared in the defeat of Rommel’s DAK.



  1. The build-up of the Union Defence Force from 6 September 1939 to the East Africa campaign
  2. Twin disasters: Sidi Rezegh 1941 and Tobruk 1942
  3. Victory at Alamein


Recommended reading

M. Carver, Dilemmas of the Desert War: A New Look at the Libyan Campaign 1940-1942 (London: Batsford, 1986).

D.B. Katz, South Africans versus Rommel: The Untold Story of the Desert War in World War II (Guilford: Stackpole Books, 2017).

S.W. Mitcham, Rommel’s Desert War: The Life and Death of the Afrika Korps (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole, 2007).

I. van der Waag, A Military History of Modern South Africa (Johannesburg and Cape Town: Jonathan Ball, 2015).





Date: Monday 20–Wednesday 22 January 
Time: 11.15 am
COURSE FEES: Full R354 Staff & Students R177
Venue: LT2 Kramer Law Building UCT