OIL PAINTING “SPRINGBOKS ENTER CHIUSI” BY L T BURRAGE
By Allan Sinclair, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History
Figure 1: Springboks enter Chiusi, L T Burrage (Ref 1274).
In the Official Second World War Art Collection, housed at the DITSONG: National Museum of Military History, is a painting entitled “Springboks Enter Chiusi” by the war artist L T (Ben) Burrage. This painting illustrates an action fought during the advance of the 6th South African Armoured Division to Florence in June 1944 during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Division was at the forefront of the Allied line following the capture of Rome on 6 June 1944.
By 20 June the South Africans had reached the outskirts of the town of Chiusi 95 km south of Florence. On 21 June, the Division was ordered to attack the German defences and the First City/Cape Town Highlanders (FC / CTH) was given the task of launching a night attack to clear the town. The plan was not well received as the battalion had to attack in the dark across unknown terrain, without any accurate information and with no prior reconnaissance having been undertaken. The town was quite large and many centuries old. It had a maze of narrow twisting streets that offered ideal cover for the German defenders who were by then familiar with its confusing layout.
The attack was launched at midnight under the cover of a supporting artillery barrage. Almost immediately the FC / CTH came under enemy fire and, in the confusion, the various companies of the battalion lost contact with each other. On entering the main square of the town, A Company was fired upon at point blank range. Many of the men took cover in a large cinema which the Germans surrounded with tanks and infantry. The defenders fought back several German infantry assaults but the tanks continued to bombard the building.
All efforts by the South Africans to relieve the besieged company met with bitter opposition and torrential rain bogged down the tanks of the Prince Alfred’s Guard (PAG). The commander of A Company FC / CTH was ordered to break out if possible but he replied that this was impossible and there was no alternative but to fight it out until the end. Eventually, with no hope of rescue, many South Africans surrendered. The battalion lost 17 men killed, 27 wounded and 75 men missing in action during the ill-fated attack on Chiusi.
As the weather cleared the South African tanks were once again able to support the infantry. Eventually, on the night of 26 June, a patrol of the Royal Natal Carbineers (RNC) was able to penetrate the town and report it clear of Germans. There they found twelve survivors from the FC / CTH who had managed to stay hidden from the Germans with the help of the town civilians and partisans.
The artist, Ben Burrage, was widely recognised for his thorough research of the subjects he portrayed. He was also acclaimed for his use of colour, realism and meticulous accuracy. This is evident in the detail produced in the painting in question.
Huntingford, NEF, 1981, The World War 2 Works of Burrage (Johannesburg: DITSONG: National Museum of Military History).
Griffiths, Ronald, 1970, First City: A Saga of Service (Cape Town: Howard Timmins).
Orpen, Neil, 1970, The Cape Town Highlanders 1885 – 1970 (Cape Town: CTH History Committee).
Orpen, Neil, 1967, The Prince Alfred’s Guard 1856 – 1966 (Port Elizabeth: PAG Regt Council).