South African Military History Society


Our August meeting was extremely well attended, with almost twice as many visitors as members, who listened to tall U-Boat stories from WW II. From 1941 to 1944 German U-Boats operated along South Africa's coast and caused considerable losses to allied ships.

But the talk was not about their actions, rather on the legends and anecdotes that grew from the presence of their crews on land. The stories came from Namibia and the west Coast, made their way around the Cape, then along the East Coast, and ended north of Mocambique. In addition, no self-respecting village or town was without its own resident spy who made contact with U-Boats by light signals, and who was invariable captured and put away. At Arniston a farmer regularly supplied boats with diesel and on one occasion even carted a crankshaft to Swellendam for repairs. In Table Bay two officers rowed from sub to shore, strolled along blacked-out Adderley Street and enjoyed a drink and show at the Alhambra Theatre. Months later, two Alhambra ticket stubs were found among documents from a damaged and captured boat. Another officer contacted a German family in Kommetjie who lent him their car to drive to Cape Town and make his purchases at Stuttafords.

In DEAL'S Hotel reception in East London once hung the picture of an officer in uniform who had spent a couple of nights as guest, and even his signature in the register was shown in a photocopy. Fishermen in False Bay sold part of their catch one night to a sub which had surfaced alongside. They were very well paid, albeit with counterfeit money. How they succeeded to change the notes into proper money has not been recorded! At one time a rusty Tramp was anchored one mile off Hout Bay. Nobody took any notice but this rusty hull was a sub supply ship, and very often, until it was boarded, the subs came in to collect provisions.

Over X-Mas 1939 boats used to creep close to Humansdorp to confiscate drums of diesel from government road construction sites. If they were the early type of boats, this is totally feasible, since their action radius was very limited. At Renosterkop, just west of Cape Agulhas, a crew was invited by members of the O.B. to a soccer game and braai while look-outs were posted on hilltops.

As Portugal was neutral, U-Boats were welcomed with open arms in Mocambique. German and Italian officers used to lounge at the Polana Hotel enjoying drinks and a shower, while their boats, anchored in the harbour, were topped up with diesel and provisions. Further up on Bazaruto Island an enterprising trader had a row of huts built for crews to rest in, and it has even been said that repair pens for boats had been built which were used in the fifties as original base for a tourist lodge.

But the U-Boats did not have it all their own way. From late 1942 on increased vigilance by Navy defences and the effectiveness of SSS, the radar chain, curtailed shore adventures severely. From then on, and much to the disappointment of U-Boat sailors, they had to rely on their own ordinary rations brought from home.

The talk, supplemented by pertinent background information, as well as additional stories as they come in, will appear in the form of a booklet early in 2003 with photographs and a map of South Africa showing the numerous contact locations.

The number of members is on the decline, due to advanced age, illness or relocation. Enclosed you will find a Promotional Leaflet which we suggest you hand to a friend who might be interested in joining our Society. Any new member will receive our [Cape Town Branch] Newsletter at once and pay only the 2002 fee which will be valid until end of next year = 2003.

Our Noon Gun turned 100 years old at Lion Battery, on 3 August 2002. It had 61 780 shots to its credit. The two guns have been fired since 1806 from Imhoff Battery, - now from Lion Battery. The 18-pounders, which are the oldest in daily use in the world, were originally fired to provide ships and residents with accurate time. To commemorate the occasion, fellow member Gerry de Vries had arranged an appropriate ceremony. Present were serving and retired members of the South African Navy, members of the Black Powder Club of Cape Town, from the Cape Town Highlanders, who also provided the pipers, and a great number of good friends. Anyone interested in the Noon Guns can contact Gerry via e-mail at:

This Trust was started in 1995 and has focussed on the promotion of Cultural-, Natural- as well as Military History. It is currently busy with the East Fort on the slopes of Chapman's Peak, having restored one of its eight 18 pounder guns to firing condition. The other seven guns will also be reconstructed, and it is hoped that with help from SAHRA permission will be given to renovate some of the buildings on site. On 11 Nov. 2002 the Trust will open a Fynbos Garden of Remembrance and all are welcome to attend. Anyone wishing to know more may contact Dave Cowley on 021 790 2008 or 082 2927140.


12 September 2002
Illustrated Lecture by J.M. Sweeney
10 October 2002
Slide Show and Talk on the GERMAN FLIEGERTRUPPE and ZEPPELINS: 1910 - 1918
by John Mahncke
14 November 2002
To be advised - Maj Kelmoed Roemer-Heitmann
December 2002
In recess

Your Committee is engaged in compiling a list of lectures for the coming year. Any Member who has suggestions for speakers and/or subjects is asked to contact any committee member.

Meetings are normally held on the 2nd Thursday of each month, at 20h00 in the Recreation Hall of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Lower Nursery Road, Rosebank (off Alma Road), opposite Rosebank Railway Station, below the line.
All visitors welcome. Tea and biscuits will be served.

Jochen (John) Mahncke (Vice-Chairman/Scribe) (021) 797 5167

South African Military History Society /