South African Military History Society


Our November speaker Helmoed Roemer-Heitman was unfortunately unable to address the meeting, but Rear Admiral Chris Bennett, SA Navy, stepped in and saved the evening by kindly agreeing to talk on the Simon's Town Naval Dockyard and the President Class 12 Frigates.

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 But obviously, with only two destroyers, three frigates and a small minesweeping squadron, all outdated and not fitted to withstand atomic attacks, and considering our long coastline, this could not be achieved.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.


16 January 2003
(HMS EAGLE) in the 1960s.
Illustrated Talk by Major Anthony Gordon
13 February 2002
Extensively illustrated Lecture by Robin Smith
13 March 2003
Botha's advance with the U.D.F. Burger Commandos and the Tvl Horse Artillery up the Swakop River
Illustrated Talk by Rodney Warwick
10 April 2003
2) THE WW 2 GERMAN ARMED MERCHANT CRUISER ATLANTIS and its historic 622 days, 102,000 miles raiding voyage in 1939/1940.
Talk by Captain Robert Taylor RD RNR with Maps and pictures.
Extensively illustrated Lecture by Robin Smith
8 May 2003
Operations in the Mediterranean 1941, Greece and Crete (62nd Anniversary of the Battle)
Illustrated Lecture by Johan van den Berg

for the next five months as reference. Thereafter only the following month's Lecture will be announced in every Newsletter to save space.

Fellow member Dr. Dan Sleigh was awarded the prestigious Molteno Medal in Gold for his lifetime achievements in historical research. The award was presented recently by the Cape 300 Foundation at the Castle.

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.

The Committee is pleased to announce that subscriptions for Associate Members will remain at R45.- for single and R50.- for family members. Full Members will have to pay R 155.- and R 170.- respectively. The small increase has become necessary due to higher printing costs of the Journal.

Renewal Forms will be included with the February Newsletter.

Fellow Member Ken Sheppard from Mossel Bay has intimated that he would like our Branch to become the ultimate guardian of his considerable military history book- and video tape collection. The Committee has debated this very kind gesture and will pursue a number of options. Any member wishing to take part in the discussion or having any suggestions is welcome to contact the Scribe.

SELECT BOOKS are moving:
Fellow Member Dave McLennan informs us that he is now situated in larger premises at 232 Long Street, Cape Town, where he will welcome all members.

Meetings are normally held on the 2nd Thursday of each month at 20h00 in the Recreation Hall of the SA LEGION ROSEDALE COMPLEX Lower Nursery Road, Rosebank, off Alma Road, opposite Rosebank Railway Station, below the line.

All visitors are welcome. Tea and biscuits will be served.

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

South African Military History Society /