In 1885 the Cape Colonial Parliament passed a law transferring the dock and patent slip of the Simon's Town Naval Dockyard to the Commissioners for the executing of the office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom. This law remained in existence until 1921, when the Smuts-Churchill Agreement entrenched the right of perpetual user for naval purposes of the RN, although transferring responsibility for the defence of Simon's Town to the Union Defence Force. Three years after WW II ended, the new SA Government under Prime Minister Malan stated that Simon's Town was unfinished business which proclaimed to a wider world that South Africa was not truly ndependent. But it then took another six years until the Simon's Town Agreement was negotiated and signed. Simon's Town was transferred back to South Africa at a direct cost of £750 000 and the purchase of £ 18 million worth of ships from the UK. However, the Royal Navy retained command in time of war of all joint forces, and also the right to the use of Simon's Town, even in a war in which South Africa was not involved.
For the above sum, the SAN's "expansion program" was to be made up of four Seaward Defence Boats, ten Coastal Mine Sweepers, three type 15 Anti Submarine Frigates and three type 12 Anti-Submarine Frigates. It was these type 12 Frigates whom our speaker then described in detail, quoting Rear Admiral Paul Wijnberg's statement that in 1953 we were a 'mickey mouse' out-fit, but in 1963 we were a pretty professional set-up and able to hold our own with the Royal Navy.
This was no idle boast; in 1955 the Naval and Marine COS had affirmed that the SAN's aim was to keep South African waters clear of enemy submarines and mines, so as to ensure the safe movement of Allied shipping passing through these waters. But obviously, with only two destroyers, three frigates and a small minesweeping squadron, all outdated and not fitted to withstand atomic attacks, and considering our long coastline, this could not be achieved. The threat of attacks on our harbours and the laying of mines off our harbours' approaches and focal areas such as Cape Agulhas also had to be taken seriously, especially since the Russian Navy had made great strides in the development of mine warfare.
A statement by the National Party Government of the time, relating to recruitment of dockyard workers, is interesting:
There will be no bar to the recruitment and emolument of non-Europeans; there will be no discrimination based on colour in the rates of pay for comparable jobs; non-Europeans, once recruited, will have the same security of tenure as Europeans.
Of the Type 12 Frigates, the authoritative Warship World wrote: These ships are widely regarded as one of the finest post-war escort designs, with outstanding sea-keeping qualities. They were beautiful warships, sleek, fast and bristling with arms, loved by their crews, and they served the SA Navy and our country well. The President Kruger was launched in October 1960, President Steyn one year later, and President Pretorius in September 1962. From 1964 on they were all in business.
For 22 years the frigates sailed South African waters and not only protected our coastline but also took part in Operation Savannah and went on visits to Argentina in 1967, Australia in 1968 and New York, as well as fetching our submarines.
It was on 18 February 1982 that President Kruger was involved in a collision and sunk, fortunately with very small loss of life due to excellent seamanship and heroism of the crews. President Steyn was decommissioned for the last time in August 1980, was then used as an accommodation ship, became a rusty hulk alongside the wall at Simon's Town, and eventually a target ship, to be sunk some ten years later. The President Pretorius was finally decommissioned in July 1985 and seven years afterwards towed to a breaker's yard.
So ended an era that saw the SA Navy come to maturity and develop into a highly effective and very operational little navy.
A lively question and answer session followed, and thus the last Society Meeting of the year ended on a most satisfactory note.
Fellow Member Prof. Peter Beighton, professor of human genetics at UCT, was honored with the Order of the Mapungubwe in Bronze by President Thabo Mbeki for his outstanding work and lifetime achievements as a scientist, and research into the inherited disorders of the skeleton.
Sir Basil Schonland, (Dr. B.F.J.), posthumously received the Order of the Mapungubwe in Bronze for outstanding achievements as a physicist and founding president of the CSIR. He was also intimately and successfully involved in the development of Radar during Ww II, and was known as the "father" of South African radar. He died in 1972.
Renewal Forms will be included with the February Newsletter.
All visitors are welcome. Tea and biscuits will be served.
Jochen (John) Mahncke (Vice-Chairman/Scribe) (021) 797 5167