At our March Lecture evening our speaker, Guy Ellis, presented us with another facet of the Cape's rich maritime history. He showed slides and described the Crash Boats which had their operational beginning in False Bay as the Maritime Wing of the South African Air Force, while being stationed in Gordon's Bay. But instead of being manned by sailors, the SAAF sent their own crews, a fact which led to some unkind criticism. The first armoured boats and a rescue launch arrived in 1940. Originally, the boats were to be used in False Bay during gun exercises, assisting the air force in practice bombing and training, and were employed to tow and service the targets. Later on they spread their wings and went further out and up the coast, searching for aircraft which were reported to have crashed.
The boats had a speed of 36 knots, a crew of two and a wireless operator, and the bulk of the hull was filled with a rubber compound to make it unsinkable. Another boat came from a Saldanha Fishing Company. Later the boats were built of wood by Miami Shipbuilding Corp., 20 metres long, with a top speed of 42 knots. Four arrived in May 1941, another four in July, and they had a crew of 8-10.
A 32-strong training staff from the RAF was sent from Great Britain and left after they had trained local staff. The local crews were, unfortunately, not looked after very well. Their accommodation was rudimentary and consisted mainly of old aircraft crates. For a time they were the orphan children all along the coast where they were in service.
When German U-Boats began attacking and sinking allied ships along the coast, the Crash Boats were involved in many operations saving the lives of about 600 merchant sailors, never once refusing to go out to assist anyone in need. They even ventured forth when U-Boat alarms had been given, to try and put in a presence with the aim of forcing the enemy to alter course away from the shipping lanes or to dive. They worked very long ours, servicing their boats after they had come in from operations.
Further boats arrived in 1944, and, interestingly, altogether 491 of these crash boats were built and served successfully in Russia, with the US Coast Guards, for the Dutch Navy in Surinam, in Australia and elsewhere.
Their deployment was scaled down from the end of WW II on, many of the boats were scattered around the globe, even arrived in Korea. In South Africa the crash boats served at Langebaan, but, unfortunately, were unable to rescue any ditched Spitfire pilots who were training there at the time.
Two boats, R 30 and R 31, were ordered from Germany, they became air force boats. But because they had diesel engines, one of the two always had to stand by with warmed-up motor. Between 1971 to 1973 new boats, made of fibre-glass, were delivered, this time taken over by the SA Navy.
Our speaker ended his most interesting presentation by describing the fate of the various Crash Boats in the ensuing years, some were used as pleasure boats, others for fishing, but eventually they reached the end of their lives and were broken up or disappeared from memory altogether.
Guy has written a very well researched, illustrated book about the Crash Boats with the appropriate title SERVE TO SAVE. It is full of detail, technical as well as descriptive, and it can be ordered from the author, cell 083-655-2636.
All Visitors welcome. Tea and biscuits will be served.
Jochen (John) Mahncke (Vice-Chairman/Scribe) (021) 797-5167