South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


Our lecture on 19 January 2012 was a dual presentation, by fellow-members Col Lionel Crook and Mr André vom Hagen. Col Lionel Crook, one of our regular contributors, gave a historical background to the coastal defences of South Africa and, in particular, those of the Cape Peninsula. He was followed by Mr André vom Hagen who is the architect in charge of the restoration of the De Waal Battery on Robben Island. His part of the lecture covered the general preservation of the battery and the full restoration of one of the 9.2 inch guns in that battery to its original condition.

Coast defence is a subject little-known to the general public. Very little has been written about the subject and few understand its past significance. There were coastal batteries at various points round Table Bay, Simon's (False) Bay and the coastline from Van Riebeeck's day. These required money, civil engineering capacity and vast amounts of building material to build and personnel to operate and maintain. Many of these sites still exist.

Col Crook started his talk in December 1921, when the Defence Endowment Act was passed. Britain handed over all defence property, including ground in the blast angles, guns and much besides, including Zeekoe Vlei, which was used as a landing ground for flying boats.

South Africa assumed responsibility for the landward defence of the Union from 1921 onwards. The SA Permanent Garrison Artillery was established under command of Lt Col B C Judd OBE to man the coast defences. The defences existing at that time were:

Simon's Town
Noah's Ark Battery - built 1886, with two 9.2HP guns
Queen's Battery - built 1887, with four 6-inch guns
Lower North Battery - built 1793, remodeled 1987, no guns
Middle North Battery - built 1895, no guns
Scala Battery - built 1902, with one 9.2 gun.

Table Bay
King George V Battery - Milnerton, built 1914 to 1928
Lion Battery (on Signal Hill) - built 1898
Fort Wynyard - built in 1860, with 6 inch guns
Sea Point Battery - built in 1891, sold in 1922

South Africa was represented at a meeting of the Committee for Imperial Defence in 1921 when the "Ten Year Rule" was confirmed - no war need be expected before 1938. In 1932 the British Chiefs of staff noted the inadequacy of the coast defences of the British Commonwealth.

In 1928, the Committee for Imperial Defence agreed that South Africa should mount 9.2 inch guns - two each in False Bay, Table Bay and Durban. These were to be mountings that would enable the respective guns to elevate 35 degrees to horizontal.

The Great Depression caused the formation of the Pact Government, a coalition of Parties led by Smuts and Hertzog in 1933. The Minister of Defence in this government was Mr Oswald Pirow. He produced a five-year plan to revitalise the Defence Force after the ten years of depression. Our speaker explained that, in the years before the Second World War, cabinet ministers were often responsible for more than one portfolio/ministry.

Oswald Pirow was Minister of Defence from 1933 to 1939 and Minister of Railways and Harbours from 1933 to 1938. His attention was focused mainly on the construction of the new Cape Town Harbour and graving dock, costing 3.6 million pounds. This would increase the strategic importance of Cape Town. He felt that the defences of the Cape should withstand attacks from Battleships rather than Cruisers, but he reluctantly ordered two 9.2-inch guns in 1934. These were delivered in 1937 and lay in the docks for two years! He actually wanted 15-inch guns. None of these were available but, in secret negotiations with the Admiralty, Pirow achieved success by arranging for the loan of the Erebus, a monitor mounting two 15-inch guns. This was to used as a floating battery in Table Bay and would be known as the Erebus Heavy Battery and would not be part of the SA Naval Service. The Minister and Defence Headquarters both appeared totally ignorant of how warships operate! After conclusion of the negotiations for the loan of the Erebus, Pirow advised Cabinet that the two 9.2s would be mounted in Durban. They had been used as a pistol aimed at the Admiralty's head to gain concessions, and nothing more!

The Minister, however, was in for a surprise. On 28 July 1938, Mr Sydney Waterson asked in Parliament for details about the state of the defence force, stating that the Minister had failed to report annually to Parliament, as he was required to do - he had reported only twice in five years, in 1934 and 1936. The Air Force was inadequate and obsolete, the artillery was totally out of date and under-strength and there was no anti-aircraft artillery and the coast defences totally obsolete.

The Minister was shaken by the attacks but bounced back six weeks later, stating that an appropriation of six million pounds had been made by government, including one million for coast defence. A case of too little, too late!

When World War 2 started, Scala Battery was not completed, nor was anything else. A German battle cruiser twice passed our shores (albeit at a distance, but could have easily shelled the defences and facilities, but its mission was to only attack allied shipping - naval and merchant - on the open seas). Our defences were totally inadequate and all our ports could have been attacked with impunity.

On 21 September 1939, Gen Smuts acceded to Churchill's request that Erebus be returned to the RN. A few South Africans seconded to the Royal Navy served in the ship during WW2.

The plans for the development of coastal fixed defences and seaward defence were modified. While Scala Battery was being completed by the Public Works Department, a consortium started work in 1939 on the Robben Island and Apostle Batteries.

On 8 November 1939, a consortium made up of R H Morris, Christiani and Nielsen and Lewis Construction started work on Robben Island. The 9.2s mounted in Lion Battery, when fired, caused damage to property in Green Point. This led to numerous complaints and restitution claims for damage caused, so that it was decided to move the battery to Robben Island in toto.

Two 9.2-inch guns with 35 degree mountings would be placed on Robben Island, with two 6 inch QF (quick-firing) guns moved from Queen's battery in Simons Town. A third 9.2-inch would follow. The first gun was ready for operational use in February 1941, the second in September 1941 and the third in December 1941.

LEFT: Robben Island - 9.2-inch before restoration

Apostle Battery received two 60-pounder medium guns and a 9.2-inch from Lion Battery. These were later replaced by three 9.2-inch guns on 35 degree mountings. Cornelia Battery received a six inch gun from the Drill Hall (where it was used for instructing trainee gunners) in January 1940 and a second six-inch gun in February 1942. Lion Battery eventually received three six-inch Mark XIX guns. Fort Wynyard was left with two old six-inch guns and 12-pounders. Col Newman RM was appointed Acting Director, Coast Defence and concentrated on completing the 9.2-inch batteries on Robben Island, the Durban sites and the Apostle Battery.

The modernisation of the Simon's Bay defences started in March 1939, when the installation of the first 9.2-inch gun at Scala Battery started. The installation of the second gun started in October 1939, with the proofing of the guns taking place in July 1939 and July 1940.

The recoil systems of both of these guns proved to be faulty and they had be stripped completely. Only after the two Robben Island guns had been installed and test-fired were the Scala guns corrected for firing.

The site chosen for a battery on the Karbonkelberg was abandoned and the new battery was built above Llandudno and named Apostle Battery. In April 1940, Lt Col Craig reported to the Quartermaster General that the Number 1 and 2 emplacements were ready for pedestals. By March 1941 two 6-inch Mk XIX medium guns were mounted there. There were four of these in South Africa and three survive today. The first 9.2-inch gun from Lion Battery was installed in emplacement No 1 in August 1942.

In October 1939, the repository Party under Capt Schofield RA moved all stores from Simon's Town to Robben Island, preparatory to the mounting of the newly arrived 9.2-inch guns. There were some teething problems, but the first 9.2-inch BL Mk 10 gun on a Mark 7 Mounting was ready for service 18 months after the start of the war.

The second 9.2-inch arrived in Cape Town in July 1941 and was test-fired in September 1941. The third gun arrived in October 1944 and was taken into service in December 1946. All 9.2-inch gun-batteries were given a third gun and this was done. The well-known German "pocket"-battleship Graf Spee, a number of German surface raiders, as well as many German, Italian and Japanese submarines and the minelayer Doggerbank operated all in South African waters during the war, sinking 155 ships and damaging 163, but providently there were no attacks on our coastal cities!

By the end of the war, the Directorate of Fortifications and Coastal Works had spent well in excess of 30 million pounds on batteries, aerodromes, etc. The Coast Artillery Training Centre was closed down on 1 January 1944. The Robben Island personnel were subsequently transferred to the mainland and the guns left in the care of a care and maintenance party. The mainland batteries remained fully manned.

After the war, the Director Coast Artillery recommended the re-establishment of the Training Centre on Robben Island on a reduced scale to provide training and a care and maintenance capacity. In October 1950, the Coast Garrison force and the SA Garrison Artillery were merged into the SA Garrison Artillery. This, in February 1951, formed part of the SA Artillery.

In July 1951 the SA Corps of Marines was formed under Brig Pieter de Waal, Naval and Marine Chief of Staff, who took control of all coast and anti-aircraft units, their radar units and workshops.

The SA Corps of Marines was disbanded in October 1955. Coast Artillery units were transferred to the SA Navy and given ships names and anti-aircraft units returned to the army. February 1956, the decision was taken to abolish coast artillery. The coast artillery units were dis-established January 1958 and Care and Maintenance Units set up to take care of the guns and the associated technical equipment. Very few of the guns had ever fired and never in action. In 1974 a Board of Survey, consisting of Cdr Kotze and WO1 Kokott, was appointed to make recommendations regarding the guns and equipment.

The 9.2-inch guns were retained on a care and maintenance basis and examples of the radars, plotting tables, range finders and other equipment were also retained. Everything else was disposed of. The retained items were stored at Fort Wynyard. WO Kokott also started the process of declaring Fort Wynyard as a national monument. A Museum of Coast and Anti-Aircraft Artillery was opened in Nov 1987. This operated until, in 1993, all but one of the Army Museums were closed and Fort Wynyard came under the control of a Reserve Force Unit, the Cape Garrison Artillery.

In 1993, the SA Navy handed the Robben Island batteries over to the Department of Correctional Services and a plaque honouring Brig de Waal was erected and officially unveiled. In September 1996 the Robben Island Museum was established and in 1999 the island was declared a World Heritage Site under the direction of UNESCO.

Mr André vom Hagen now took over to talk about the restoration of the site and the reasons why this restoration is of such importance.

In the Cape peninsula there is a forgotten and ignored layer of military history that played an important role in the defence of on of the most important strategic choke points in the world.

Coast defences were used for centuries to protect anchorages where ships under sail could lie safely at anchor. Gunnery itself had not changed much over the centuries but the advent of the Industrial Age and the fast moving, manoeuvrable steamship in the 19th century, changed all this.

The steamship required reliable sources of coal at convenient spots around the globe, so coaling stations were established on the Imperial routes to the East - Gibraltar, Malta, Aden, Table Bay, Singapore and Hong Kong, among others. Cape Town, as a halfway house, was one of the more important of the coaling stations and its graving dock was of enormous value to any maritime power. Indeed the Royal Commission on Colonial Defence in 1881 stated that "the safety of the whole Empire may hang one day upon the control of the Naval Base at Simon's Town and the South African shores". As a result of its importance to British control of the seas and imperial trade, the harbour of Table Bay became one of the most heavily-defended ports in the world.

We should note that coast defences could successfully defeat naval attacks - two examples are Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 and Gallipoli in1915 during World War 1.

The coast defences were expanded and modernised in the period at the end of the First World War. In 1921 the Simon's Town Agreement was signed and all batteries were manned by Union of South Africa personnel. The Washington Treaty of 1922 and the London Treaty of 1930 led a drive for naval disarmament but this ended with the rise of German National Socialism, Italian Fascism and Japanese expansionism. This led to a new phase of military aggression and a need to protect ports.

Col Crook has dealt with the inter-war period and the Oswald Pirow era and the effect on coast defence and its expansion. An enormous amount of money, building materials and labour had been expended on the coast defences and to what result? Had the defences not been there our coastline and ports would have been defenceless, so the money was well spent.

The 12 9.2-inch guns were retained as they were of "great interest to the public and excellent examples of ordnance engineering". As said, a Museum of Coast and Anti-Aircraft Artillery was opened at Fort Wynyard in 1987, with Cdr Mac Bisset as curator. This was closed in 1993, when the Navy Museum was established in Simon's Town. The Cape Garrison Artillery is based at Fort Wynyard and they now store much of the collection previously exhibited.

With regard to Robben Island, all buildings and relics there are owned by the Department of Public Works who are obliged to maintain and restore all structures and buildings to comply with the provisions of the National Heritage Resources Act. The daily management and tourism are controlled by a division of the Department of Arts and Culture.

All restoration and preservation work is done within the guidelines set out by UNESCO, the SA National Heritage Resources Act (SAHRA*), Robben Island Museum (RIM) and the Departments of Art and Culture and Public Works. With so many controlling bodies, very little was done until 2001 when an inspection revealed that the World War 2 structures were deteriorating fast. An amount of some R526 000 was allocated for the restoration. The Public Works Department (PWD) would do the job, which they, in their ignorance, regarded as a chip and paint job. By 2003, MLB Architects, Hepburn Quantity Surveyors and de Villiers and Moore (electrical engineers), were appointed. A Mr van Rensburg was appointed as departmental project manager. In true civil service style many meetings were held and it was only in October 2008 that authorisation was given to start with the project.

RIGHT: Robben Island - 9.2-inch AFTER restoration

Our speaker, Mr André vom Hagen of MLB Architects, was appointed as principal agent for the project. Numerous Government departments needed to be persuaded of the importance of restoring and preserving our military heritage and much effort was put into this task by Mr vom Hagen and his team - in this instance, fortunately successfully.

Plans were submitted to SAHRA* who issued a permit to proceed with restoration in June 2009. It soon became apparent that restoration of guns would require expertise which Public Works would not have. This could only be provided by the SA Navy's Logistics Division and Armscor. The project was seen as providing excellent training for apprentices. Much research was required in the Archives and information obtained from war veterans and input from technical officials of the Navy and Armscor - Capt Dooner of the former and Mr John Sutherland of the latter being very prominent in this phase. Col Lionel Crook was appointed to do much of the research. He has written a book entitled "An Island At War" which has yet to be published.

* The Act is being administered by the SA Heritage Resources Agency also known by the acronym "SAHRA".

The restoration was concentrated around Gun No 3 of the de Waal Battery as this site is easily accessible from the current tourist route. The layout of the battery site consists of a complex system of interconnecting spaces above and below ground. The object of the work was to prevent further rusting and deterioration of the structures. The existing fabric was to be preserved to provide easy and safe access to the public. Gun No 3 has been restored to the state that the gun can be traversed, elevated and depressed between -5° and +35°, with the magazine supply mechanism and the mechanical loader in full working order. All the electrical systems work and this is the only 9.2-inch gun in the world from the WWII-era that is still in full working order. The other two guns were sandblasted, painted and preserved but not restored to working order. The fabric will be repaired and the guns left in display condition so that the whole battery can be viewed by visitors. A visitor's centre is envisaged and guides will be properly trained to both provide the historical background as well as operate the fully-restored gun.

R12.1 million was budgeted and the project started in October 2009, finishing in October 2010. Many pictures were shown by our speaker to illustrate the condition of the gun, equipment and buildings before, during and on completion. Even the most non-technical members could marvel at the skill, dedication and enthusiasm of the people involved in this project.

A ceremony was held to officially unveil the newly completed gun on Friday 4 March 2011. Present were almost a hundred-score invited guests, including the 99-year old Maj Gen Graham Dunbar Moodie (LEFT), who spent all his years of service in the Coast and Anti-Aircraft Artillery, and Mr P de Waal, son of Brig Pieter de Waal after whom the battery is named. Others included members of the ASWAAS and SWANS who served on the island, as well as many of the people whose research and expertise had helped so considerably in the success of the project.

There are approximately 27 9.2-inch guns extant in the world today. Of these, twelve are in South Africa - and of the twelve, nine are in the Western Cape - three in the de Waal Battery, three in Apostle Battery, three in the Scala Battery. The remaining three are located on the Bluff in Durban.

Three are to be found in Australia, two in Gibraltar, one at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford (far inland - near Cambridge) and nine in Portugal*. Others may be situated in New Zealand and Turkey.

* A gift from the British Government to the Portuguese Government post-WWII for services rendered during WWII.

Maj Tony Gordon thanked both speakers for giving us a fascinating talk and congratulated them on their part in this very successful project, before presenting them each with the customary gift.



Congratulations to Maj Gen Graham Moodie on celebrating his Centenary!

It is only fitting that we briefly mention and honour Major General Graham Dunbar Moodie SM, who celebrated his 100th birthday on the 3rd of January, 2012. (That the relevance of January's talk coincided with this momentous event is purely fortuitous and not planned in advance, but we are most happy that it worked out that way!)

This momentous occasion was marked by a number of "birthday" functions. The first were in Swellendam where he lives in the local retirement village. The second and biggest, by far, was the family gathering on his farm "Honeywood" near Heidelberg in the Swellendam area. This stretched over 2 days, from the 6th-7th January. There were over 80 family members present, including his two sons and daughter and their families. Only his son in the USA could not come. Over 85 people sat down to a magnificent evening meal on the farm. This included some great-grandchildren and a very few other close relations, amongst other fellow-member Maj and Mrs Antony Gordon. Gen Moodie made a wonderful welcoming speech and true to character, refused to use the loud-speaker and used his "parade-ground voice", as he put it.

The smallest ceremony was the only fully Military Lunch hosted by Rear Admiral (JG) J.E. Louw, Flag Officer Commanding Naval Base Simon's Town, at his official residence "Palace Barracks" in Simon's Town. This was limited to 18 invitations due to space restrictions and was most magnificently arranged and served by S.A. Navy staff.

Beside Admiral Louw and General Moodie and his two sons and son-in-law, the gathering included some high-ranking serving and retired military notables, such as General Constand Viljoen, Vice Adm Johan Retief, Lt Gen Ian Gleeson, Maj Gen Philip Pretorius, Brig Gen John Del Monte, Lt Cdr Bob Sharp (who served with Graham Moodie on Robben Island) and Maj "Box" Smith. Also present were Col Lionel Crook, Cdr Mac Bissett, Maj Antony Gordon, Maj Willem Steenkamp, Mrs Lorraine Martin, as well as Prof Boet Dommisse, the author of the history of "Palace Barracks".

Gen Moodie was born on 3 January 1912, matriculated in 1928 and studied Botany and Zoology at Rhodes University for his BA degree. He attended the Permanent Force cadet course in 1934 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in January 1935. He joined the SA Artillery before the outbreak of war in 1939 and was posted to Coast Artillery. He filled various Coast Artillery posts as Battery Commander, Chief Instructor and Director: Coast Artillery, mostly on Robben Island. He tried hard to get a posting "Up North" where his brothers were serving as volunteers, but was not allowed to because of the importance of his tasks in Coast Artillery on Robben Island.

After the war he attended the "Long Gunnery Staff Course in England and later was South Africa's first Military, Air and Naval Attaché in Germany. He returned to South Africa to be Army Chief of Staff (Deputy Chief of the Army) and promoted Major General.

He retired when he turned 60 in January 1972 and took over the "Honeywood" farm to go back to his great love of bees and their honey. His wonderful wife, Sheila, died some years ago, but Gen Moodie carried on with the bee-farming at "Honeywood" for many years, together with his son John and his family.

On behalf of our members we want to congratulate Gen Moodie on this singular achievement and wish him good health, the joy of family and grandchildren, as well as many happy returns!


Excursion to Robben Island to visit the De Waal Coastal Artillery Battery

Members who would like to accompany us to Robben Island must please provide their names without fail to either the Secretary or the Treasurer, as we can only accommodate 20 people in the group due to transportation limitations. PLEASE NOTE: First come, first served!

The excursion will take place on Tuesday, the 27th of March. The cost, time schedule and other details will be announced closer to the date as we are still awaiting the cost breakdown and final approval from the RIM director.


New Scribes/Editorial Staff for SAMHSEC

We would like to welcome Dr Barry, Anne and Pat Irwin, in their new role as Scribes/Editorial Staff for the Eastern Cape Branch (SAMSHEC), as successors to Gen Malcolm Kinghorn, who has now laid down the task after being scribe/newsletter editor for the past 7 years. We wish them well in their endeavours and ensure them of our branch and editorial staff's full cooperation and assistance in reporting and informing SAMHS members of branch lectures, news and events. Finally we want to wish Gen Kinghorn a well-deserved "R&R" after managing the newsletter on top of all his pioneering work in establishing and running the Eastern Cape Branch.



In the November 2011 newsletter we reported on the new DVD recently released on the fortifications of Pretoria: Pres. Paul Kruger's Fortification of Pretoria. We promised to provide Col Andy Malan's contact telephone number for orders - it is 012-654-1617 or 082-335-5167.



The membership dues for 2012 remain the same and a RENEWAL FORM for 2012 is enclosed. We also would like to welcome a new member, Mr J Hansen, in our fold and trust that he will enjoy our meetings.



PLEASE NOTE: The meetings for the rest of 2012 - starting with February - will revert back to the SECOND THURSDAY of each month.


8 MARCH 2011: SUBJECT AND SPEAKER TO BE ADVISED (Due to unforeseen circumstances necessitated by his professional career, Dr Rodney Warwick unfortunately had to cancel at short notice. His lecture will, however, be postponed to a suitable date later in the year, or at the latest, early next year.)

12 APRIL 2011: AIR WAR KOREA by Prof Derrick Dickens


BOB BUSER: Treasurer/Asst. Scribe
Phone: 021-689-1639 (Home) ;
Phone: 021-592-1279 (Office)


South African Military History Society /