Peter Lott from Cape Town and Greig Stewart from Riebeeck Kasteel are new SAMHS members. Welcome aboard, Gentlemen!
SAMHSEC 9 May 2022 meeting
André Rudman spoke about Anti-Submarine Warfare in the South African Navy from 1922 to 1945.
The centenary of the South African Navy was marked on 1 April 2022 and it is therefore fitting to give a brief overview of the origins of our Navy.
The Royal Navy at the Cape
The Royal Navy (RN) had maintained a naval presence at the Cape since the first British occupation. With the RN’s established presence, there appeared to be no need for a South African Navy, even during the First World War.
What probably prompted the Union Government to consider creating its own Navy was the fact that the British Government was charging the Union for services rendered by the RN.
Establishment of the SA Naval Service
The SA Navy was officially established as the SA Naval Service (SANS) on 1 April 1922, with three ships on loan from the Royal Navy. These were two minesweeping trawlers and a survey ship. In April 1933 the survey ship was handed back to the RN, to be followed by the two minesweepers in April 1934, leaving the SANS without any ships and only a small contingent of men.
When the Second World War (WW2) became imminent, the SANS was revived and the Seaward Defence Force (SDF) was established on 10 November 1939. There was a further change of name from August 1942, when the SDF became the South African Naval Forces (SANF), which it remained until December 1950.
ASW: A Function of the SDF
From 1922 the SANS had no A/S warfare capability and it was only when the SDF was established in 1939 that it became one of the functions of this Force. In an official letter on 10 November 1939 from the Senior Naval Officer, Simon’s Town, the functions of the SDF were promulgated: The functions of the Force will be to man and operate all the Seaward Defences of the Union, ie the M/S and A/S vessels… boom defence and other underwater defences… This marked the beginning of Anti-submarine Warfare in the Union Defence Force (UDF)
A/S Capability of SA Navy
The Navy’s A/S Capability was built up from mid-January 1940, when an A/S officer (Lt R C Burton RN) with a staff of eight RN ratings, four Type 123 Asdic sets and A/S instructional equipment arrived in SA.
The first A/S ships were two trawlers taken up from trade and renamed HMSAS Blomvlei and Mooivlei. They were converted for service as antisubmarine vessels by the fitting of Type 123 Asdic sets, depth charge throwers and rails, being ready for service in April 1940. From 1940 to 1942, a further 18 whalers were similarly converted to anti-submarine vessels.
Harbour Defence Motor Launches
In 1943, the anti-submarine fleet was further supplemented by 11 harbour Defence Motor Launches, fitted with Type 123 A Asdic sets and armed with 8 depth charges.
Loch Class Frigates
Towards the end of the war, three Loch-class anti-submarine frigates were transferred to South Africa by the British Admiralty. They were named HMSAS Good Hope, Natal and Transvaal These ships were fitted with Asdic Type 144 and 147B and armed with a new ahead-throwing three-barrelled anti-submarine mortar called ‘Squid’. They also carried two depth-charge throwers and a rail and just 15 depth-charges.
Harbour A/S Defences
Fixed underwater boom defences with anti-torpedo nets were fitted from 1940 to 1942 in all the South African harbours; initially by the SA Railways and Harbours until mid-1942 after which it became the responsibility of the SANF.
Magnetic A/S indicator loops were also installed off the harbours of Cape Town, Durban and Saldanha, with Harbour Defence Asdics Type 131 (later replaced by Type 135), also at Port Elizabeth and East London. At the entrance to Saldanha a controlled minefield was installed by March 1943.
At all the harbours, except Saldanha, Depth Charge Throwers were positioned.
The first specialist anti-submarine operator training for the converted whalers was done at the Royal Navy’s Anti-Submarine Training School situated in the East Dockyard in Simon’s Town with an ‘Attack Teacher House’, where the ship’s command team could learn how to conduct attacks on submarines.
A small A/S School for the SDF was later established adjacent to the Cape Town fish market. Here ratings were trained as ‘Submarine Detectors’ (SD) and later Higher Submarine Detectors’ (HSD)
Operations during WW2
Britain needed to safeguard her sea lines of supply during WW2, and the Cape Sea route was vital. She therefore helped South Africa to build up the SDF to ease the burden on the RN around the Cape. The German submarines were taking a heavy toll on convoys in what became known as ‘The Battle of the Atlantic’, and the Allied advances in A/S Warfare and convoy protection gradually caused the German Submarine Command to expand their operations to less protected ‘hunting grounds’, which included the waters around South Africa.
First, a note on tactics: ASW ships were mainly used to protect convoys against submarine attacks. The escorts would patrol ahead of a convoy, using Asdics to attempt to detect enemy submarines. When a contact was made, the escort would have to close the submarine and go over it to drop depth charges on it.
Air cover was indispensable to fly ahead of the convoy to look for submarines. Submarines would usually have to come to periscope depth to make a torpedo attack and could then be spotted from the air.
As the converted whalers became available, they were also deployed for anti-submarine patrols off the main ports and extensively for convoy escort duties between Cape Town and Durban and into the Mocambique channel.
The HDML’s were used to patrol roadsteads and harbour approaches, relieving the A/S Whalers previously used on these tasks for deep-sea duties.
Four A/S Whalers (The ‘Southerns’) sailed from Durban in December 1940 for service in the Mediterranean to do convoy escort duties and antisubmarine patrols as the 22nd Anti-Submarine Group. Here they did good work, earning the respect of other forces in the theatre, who referred to our sailors as ‘Springboks’.
On 11 February 1941, HMSAS Southern Floe (Lt J E J Lewis) was lost, presumably having struck a mine, losing 27 men with only one survivor picked up.
HMSAS Protea (Lt Gordon Burn-Wood), another A/S whaler, was sent to the Med to replace Southern Floe. On the 11 July 1942, Protea in company with HMSAS Southern Maid (Lt A H Hall), sighted a submarine, which then dived. The two ships made Asdic contact with the submarine, and Protea dropped three patterns of depth charges. The submarine surfaced and after a further two depth charges from a Walrus aircraft on the scene, she went down. It was an Italian submarine, the Ondina. Survivors from the Sub were picked up.
Of the Loch class frigates, only HMSAS Good Hope and Natal saw wartime service in the anti-submarine role. HMSAS Natal, fresh from the builders’ yards, was on her way to Tobermory for work-up, when she did a search near a torpedoed merchantman and made Asdic contact with a German submarine. She made two attacks with her Squid anti-submarine mortars and it was later confirmed that she had sunk the German submarine U 714.
Contributions by Other Services
SA Air Force (SAAF)
ASW was not only a naval responsibility; surface ships alone cannot counter the submarine threat. Aircraft form an essential part of ASW and the SAAF played an important role.
Several SAAF Squadrons were involved in anti-submarine tasks; notably 35 Squadron flying Sunderlands from Durban from June 1945, doing anti-submarine patrols and convoy escorts.
Other coastal squadrons were involved, flying mainly Venturas on recce and anti-submarine patrols.
The Special Signal Service (SSS) of the South African Corps of Signals
The SSS was tasked to set up secret radar surveillance at the major South African ports in May 1941. Radar stations using the South African made JB1 radars were accordingly established and manned by the SSS.
The SSS trained university-educated women as radar operators from late 1941. Possible submarine contacts would be passed to the SSS ‘Filter Room’ and the information would then be passed to nearest Combined Operations Unit. If judged necessary, aircraft or naval vessels would be sent to investigate.
From 1943, most of the JB1 radars were gradually replaced by radars with plan position indicator (ppi) screens, able to detect U-boat conning towers or even periscopes.
By 1945 there were some fifty SSS stations around the South African coast, including seventeen in the Western Cape
Though the SA Navy was unprepared for WW2 and had to build up its A/S capability from scratch, it grew to an effective force, albeit with only small ships. Those small ships saw service in home waters and in the Mediterranean, making a solid contribution to the Allied efforts against Germany and earning an enviable reputation.
They were a credit to South Africa and, sadly, did not receive the recognition due to them from the Union Government.
André’s talk is in the SAMHS Zoom library.
SAMHSEC RPC 30 May 2022
SAMHSEC requested the pleasure of the company of military historians to talk about military history on 30 May 2022.
In session 1 and in recognition of the 120th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging on 31 May 1902, Peter Griffiths of the East Rand Military History Society spoke about British gains in military effectiveness from the South African War. Peter’s presentation was based on the extract from the Kipling poem The Lesson "We have had no end of a lesson: it will do us no end of good.”
Nearly two thirds of the 20 000 British army fatalities of the South African War succumbed to disease instead of wounds inflicted by the enemy. As with the Crimean War, the last occasion on which the British Army had campaigned against comparatively trained and equipped opponents, the South African War facilitated improvements in British medical care and enhanced the standing of women nurses.
The war taught the British the value of soldiers mounted on horseback, particularly when mounted infantry supplanted cavalrymen. Although this specific lesson was not very germane to the British experience of fighting on the Western Front, the inspired use of trenches by General De La Rey at the Battle of Magersfontein definitely was.
Peter contended that British authorities implemented variations on the theme of concentration camps for another seventy-five years after 1900, as recounted in the 2016 book by Simon Webb, British Concentration Camps from 1900 – 1975. Concentration camps, however, as a counter insurgency measure, originated in the Cuban Rebellion in 1898.
In conclusion, Peter suggested that the adoption of the ‘commando’ title for individual British soldiers using guerrilla tactics in the Second World War demonstrated the lasting impact of guerrilla tactics by Boer commandos in that phase of the South African War.
In session 2, McGill Alexander reviewed the book “Eerste Daar” by Brig Gen W.S. “Kaas” van der Waals, published by Protea Boekhuis, Pretoria, 2021.
Van der Waals’s career was a fascinating one, spanning a period of intense and historic importance to the country. He covers it well in this book. But the narrative is not simply one of the successive posts he held in his career. He provides plenty of background, shares some very informed commentary about Angola and the controversial events around its turbulent independence and he expresses extremely forthright opinions on people and situations he has encountered.
He clearly has a good grasp of strategic issues and he is also a linguist of distinction, fluent in five languages (Afrikaans, Dutch, English, Portuguese and Spanish).
Born in 1941 in Appeldoorn, the Netherlands, his family immigrated to South Africa in 1955 when he was 14 years old and settled in Roodepoort. He excelled academically, went to the Army Gymnasium in 1960 and joined the Permanent Force. He underwent officer training, and after three years with 1 SSB, spent six years with 1 Para Bn, during which he took part in the first action of the Border War.
He also gained the degrees BA, Honours BA and MA, studying part-time.
He was then sent to Angola for four years as the Liaison Officer with the Portuguese Forces during their war.
Next, he became the first OC 11 Commando in Kimberley before playing a prominent role in Operation Savannah in Angola. He then established a Civic Affairs organisation at Army HQ, where he was responsible for propaganda. He visited both Rhodesia and Taiwan in this regard.
Promoted to colonel, he was appointed Attaché in Paraguay for three years before being promoted to brigadier. His last nine years in the military were in this rank, and he held posts in Military Intelligence, the Secretariat of the State Security Council, the Operations Division of Defence HQ and in Foreign Relations. During this time, he earned a doctorate for a thesis on Angola.
After taking early retirement, he joined the Pretoria City Council, where he established and ran the Department of Community Safety. He was with the Council for 14 years before his final retirement.
This is not a triumphalist or apologist book as are so many other memoirs. Rather, it is a realistic and balanced account by an intellectual officer who had an unusual and highly interesting career. His appointments brought him into direct contact with influential and powerful men, both in government and in the military, and placed him in unique positions where he was exposed to high level decision making. His perspectives are therefore certainly of value to anyone interested in that era. He does not pull his punches or refrain from expressing opinions.
I found Kaas van der Waals’s book absorbing, compelling and worthwhile. I would recommend it to anyone able to read Afrikaans and interested in the activities of the SADF in the period 1960 to 1992.
SAMHSEC 13 June 2022 meeting
Jaco Pretorius is to speak on the Jameson Raid: a cowboy connection.
SAMHSEC RPC 27 June 2022
SAMHSEC Requests the Pleasure of your Company to talk about military history on 27 June 2022.
This session is available for you to discuss a subject of general military history interest. Please contact André at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to claim this opportunity. Hurry while stocks last!
Time: 1930 South African time on 27 June 2022
Book reviews by Pat Irwin:
1. Anglo-Boer War Blockhouses: A Military Engineer's Perspective
Simon C. Green 2020
2.Anglo-Boer War Blockhouses: A Field Guide: Simon C. Green: 2022
Time: 2015 South African time on 2 June 2022