The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 1 No 1 - December 1967

The South African Corps of Marines

by MAJOR DEON FOURIE (Pretoria Regiment)
(formerly of the SA Marines)

It is not unknown for units and corps to trace their origins back further than their establishment or embodiment under a particular name or title and so, although the S.A. Corps of Marines was embodied as a corps in 1951, this account begins with the establishment in 1912, parallel to, and independent of the Active Citizen Force, of the Coast Garrison Force.

In his memorandum on "A Scheme of S.A. Defence" which served as a basis for the Defence Act of 1912, General J. C. Smuts wrote: "At Durban and the Cape Peninsula a strong garrison artillery would be required."

Accordingly, there was established in terms of Section 13 of the S.A. Defence Act, 1912, in addition to the Permanent Force and the Citizen Force, a Coast Garrison Force divided into two Corps, the South African Garrison Artillery and the South African Coast Defence Corps.

The South African Garrison Artillery consisted of two Divisions. The First Division, SAGA, which had previously been a Cape Colonial Force Volunteer unit, was the Cape Garrison Artillery. The Second Division, SAGA, of six officers and 75 men, converted from "A" and "B" Batteries of the Natal Field Artillery, was known as the Durban Garrison Artillery commanded by Lt.-Col. C. Wilson. The Cape Garrison Artillery manned such well-known Batteries as Sea Point, Fort Wynyard, The Castle at Cape Town, as well as Noah's Ark and other Batteries at Simonstown. The Durban Garrison Artillery manned four 15-pounder guns mounted on the concrete gunpits on Durban Bluff and abandoned years previously after being manned by the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

Each division was supported by a form of reserve force known as the Cape Coast Defence Corps and the Durban Coast Defence Corps. These Corps were to assist the Garrison Artillery in time of war by providing engineer, signalling, telegraphy and harbour control services. In World War II a new Corps was constituted as part-time gunners and fire-control operators who were employed as civilians during the normal working hours, and acted as reliefs at night. In this way the Coast Garrison Force was able to allow able-bodied troops to man the Heavy Artillery abroad with the South African Field Force during time of war.

Embodied on 1 July, 1913, the Coast Garrison Force was, together with the Active Citizen Force, called upon to prove itself within 13 months, when in August, 1914, South Africa entered World War I and the Coast Garrison Force was mobilised to man the coast defences together with the SAGA.

On the decision to invade German South West Africa, the need for Heavy Artillery was recognised and a Heavy Artillery Brigade (as Artillery Regiments were then called) was formed in 1915 to accompany the S.A. Expeditionary Force. Command was given to Lt.-Col. J.M. Rose, Royal Marine Artillery, and the Brigade was constituted from elements of the RMA stationed in South Africa, together with officers and men of the SAGA (No.2 and 6 Companies) Cape and Durban Garrison Artilleries.

The Brigade was eventually expanded into three Brigades, ultimately consisting of 60 officers and 1,000 other ranks. Durban Garrison Artillery provided "K" Heavy Battery armed with 12-pounders, which accompanied Col. Berrange's Eastern Force in German South West Africa, and "N" Heavy Battery armed with 6-inch 30-cwt. Howitzers, which was attached to Northern Force. Northern Force was also strengthened by the remainder of the Heavy Artillery Brigade consisting of "0" Battery, armed with 4-inch Naval Guns; "D" Battery with 12-pounder Naval Guns and "F" Battery with 5-inch Howitzers.

In South West Africa the Heavies accompanied Brig.-Gen. Beves' 1st Infantry Brigade in the Northern Force on the remarkable march of 230 miles in 16 days from Karibib to Otavifontein.

Once the South West Campaign was over, troops were available for service elsewhere, the Heavy Artillery Brigades provided the 7lst/75th Siege Batteries (the 73rd, 74th and 75th being the Cape Eastern Province and Natal Siege Batteries) and the 50th S.A. Brigade, Garrison Artillery for service in France with great distinction, commemorated by the S.A. Heavy Artillery memorial below the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

In 1918, before the war ended, the Durban Bluff was provided with two 6-inch guns, and two 3-inch Quick Firing Naval guns in new emplacements and these were maintained until the end of the war.

On the conclusion of the War the Coast Garrison Force was reconstituted, and in 1921 the S.A. Permanent Garrison Artillery was established to undertake maintenance and instruction with the Coast Garrison Force and in due time became so integrated with the Coast Garrison Force that Coast Garrison units were commanded and administered by permanent officers understudied by Coast Garrison Force officers who formed the main portion of the unit complements.

The well-known Coast Artillery Band also became prominent this time and the Cape Garrison Artillery consisted of 18 officers and 346 men. The approach of war led to expansion and in 1934 the Cape Garrison Artillery became 1 and 2 Batteries of the Cape Artillery Brigade, sometimes called the Cape Peninsula Artillery Brigade, which was equipped with Heavy Coast Batteries, two medium Batteries with 60-pounders and 6-inch Howitzers, and operated No.1 Armoured Train and for a while the Cape Field Artillery was attached to the Brigade. In 1936 Coast Artillery units were established in Port Elizabeth and East London. By June, 1931, the disbanded Cape Fortress Engineers had become No. 4 Company of the Cape Garrison Artillery. The Cape Fortress Engineers ultimately took over search-light and signals operations and this resulted in the disbanding of the Coast Defence Corps.

During World War II permanent Batteries of Heavy Artillery were established from Walvis Bay to Durban and took command of examination service duties and general coast defence. With the aid of the new part-time Coast Defence Corps units specially created to assist the Permanent Units, many troops were released for full-time volunteer service with Artillery in the Desert and Italy.

This Coast Defence Corps was different from the Corps created by the Defence Act of 1912. It was created at the time of Japanese landings in the Far East and when the East Coast of Africa was believed threatened. Consequently the object was to train a force specially to repulse coast landings. The effectiveness of the S.A. Coast Defences can be gauged from the fact that no German vessels ever attempted to bombard South African ports and the onlytime that a shot was fired in anger was when the Portuguese frigate "Alfonse d'Albuquerque" neglected to respond to signals on passing a shore station. One round was suffident to bring her to however, and she was identified.

When South Africa took over full responsibility for her coasts in 1921 the British Government handed over batteries at Cape Town (Fort Wynyard and Lion), Simonstown (Queen's, Scala, Upper, Middle and Lower North), and at Durban (Bluff).

On the outbreak of World War II all these batteries were modernised and a number of new batteries were established at Walvis Bay, Saldanha Bay, the Cape, Simonstown, Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban.

Robben Island was taken over in 1936, shortly before the War and became a keystone in the defence of Cape Town and maintained the Coast Artillery wing of the School of Coast and Anti-Aircraft Artillery.

In 1949 the Defence Amendment Act abolished the division between the Coast Garrison Artillery and became part of the Active Citizen Force.

Shortly after the War there were hopes expressed by some of the 75 odd South African officers who had served in the Royal Marines that a marine corps would be established in South Africa, but it was left to the initiative of the brilliant South African gunner, Brig. P. de Waal, C.B., C.B.E., to establish the S.A. Corps of Marines on the 1st July, 1951, when he became the first Naval and Marine Chief of Staff, on the abolition of the post of Director-General of Naval Forces. In tribute to his devoted labours in the service of the Coast Defence of the country, which began in 1925 when he became the first South African Coast Instructor-in-Gunnery, De Waal Battery, the heavy battery on Robben Island, is named after him.

The South African Marines which began to function as a Corps in 1951, consisted of eight Permanent Force Coast Regiments, a Marine Technical Centre, the Marine Branch of the Naval and Marine Gymnasium, one Training Unit (PF), seven Citizen Force Coast Regiments including I and 2 Coast Regiments (CGA) and 4 Coast Regiment (DGA), one Heavy Battery at Walvis Bay, two Light Anti-Aircraft Regiments, four Heavy Anti-Aircraft Batteries and three Radar Companies, one of which, 62 Radar Company, was composed of Natal University Students. The Corps fell under the command of the Naval and Marine Chief of Staff; aided by a Marine Staff; and operationally under the Officer Commanding, Coastal Command, to whom Officers Commanding units were directly responsible, with the exception of the Officer Commanding, School of Coast and Anti-Aircraft Artillery who was directly responsible to the Naval and Marine Chief of Staff for training. The Citizen Force Coast Regiments were commanded by the Permanent Force commanders of the similarly numbered Permanent Force Coast Regiments. The Radar and Anti-Aircraft units were commanded by Active Citizen Force Commanders.

The role of the Marines was the Coast, Anti-Aircraft and Radar defence of South African ports and coast, the Anti-Aircraft defence of other strategic points in South Africa and provision of Light Anti-Aircraft Artillery for S.A. forces in the field. In addition Marines, including the Active Citizen Force Marines, such as those of 4 Coast Regiment who were able to make use of facillties of Salisbury Island, were trained on water assault courses suitably enlivened with "cortex" and thunder-flashes and also in infantry patrolling and tactics. Marine complements were maintained on certain ships and the S.A.S. Simon van der Stel, was brought to South Africa by a crew containing a Permanent Force Marine complement. At least one detachment commander qualified in navigation before passing out at the top of his Staff Course. On occasion small groups of Citizen Force Marines also accompanied naval vessels afloat. Brig. de Waal's object was to train a Marine Corps to the same standard as those of the Royal Marines and the United States Marine Corps.

The Marines were greatly favoured for ceremonial, owing to their striking dark blue service dress embellished with orange trouser stripes. They frequently found (formed) the guard at Government House when the Governor-General was in Durban or Cape Town and also furnished a guard of honour for Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands on his visit in 1954. On Union Day 1952 they provided the Colour Guard for the Naval Colour at the combined parade held by all the fighting services at Kingsmead, Durban, when Brig. de Waal was inspecting officer and the parade was commanded by Commandant P. F. van der Hoven, O.C., 4 Coast Regiment, SACM. It is understood that the Governor-General of the time contemplated their constitution as a Household Corps in the manner of the Brigade of Guards, but that their disbandment prevented this. A detachment led by Comdt. van der Hoven, led the South African contingent in the Coronation parade in London in 1953.

The South African Marines played a large part in the Durban Centenary Celebrations in 1954 when a guard, commanded by Maj. D.E. Peddle, and selected from Marine units in Durban, Simonstown, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, beat the retreat with full ceremony at Natal Command and again at the request of the Mayor, in front of the City Hall, to the slow march "Scipio" and the quick march "Lillibulero", which were informally adopted as the Corps marches. During these celebrations 4 Coast Regiment and 55 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery took part in the defence of Durban against a mock attack by R.N. and S.A.N. ships and maritime aircraft.

The last time the Marines were seen on a large parade was when the 1st Coast Regiment was disbanded and their Colours were laid up in St. George's Cathedral, Cape Town.

By 1954 the Marines had been found to be functioning well and it was hoped to extend their functions to the manning of guns on Defensively Equipped Merchant ships and the manning of Coast Defence vessels, such as the Gelderland, for which purpose officers would have obtained the Board of Trade Navigation Certificate. It was also intended to form fully integrated composite regiments where Coast, Anti-Aircraft and Radar elements were found at one centre, and for this purpose units were to be renamed "Marine Regiments", the title of "Coast Regiments" being abandoned. A Marine band was established for the Fleet under the direction of Capt. Imrie.

The equipping of Russian battleships of the "Soviet Union" class with guided missile launchers at this time however, suddenly rendered counter-bombardment forces out of date and an unwarranted expense and acting on advice from abroad, the authorities decided to abandon Coast Artillery since it was felt there was no justification for the retention of the Corps and in the absence of the main function the Marine Corps was disbanded on 1 October, 1955. Anti-Aircraft Artillery reverted to the Army, and the Coast and Radar units were embodied in the Navy.

Curiously enough, the sole function and reason d'etre of the Naval Units was Coast Artillery, the very function whose abandonment had led to the disestablishment of the Marines. Subsequently the Naval units were also disbanded, thus sadly bringing to an end a military tradition which by no great stretch of imagination can be traced back to the gunners who manned the batteries which protected from the enemies of Holland, the vessels riding at anchor in the shadow of the Cape Castle three hundred years ago.

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