The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 16 No 1 - June 2013

The South African Naval Museum: 20 years
1 April 1993 to 1 April 2013

By Lt Cdr L Steyn, Curator SA Naval Museum

The South African Naval Museum was established at its current location in Simon's Town on 1 April 1993.

The origins of the Naval Museum date back to 1966 when a naval historical collection was displayed at the Castle Military and Maritime Museum in Cape Town. In the mid-1970s this collection was transferred to the Martello Tower in Simon's Town and, thereafter, to Fort Wynyard in Cape Town, where it was enlarged to include a much wider display of naval associated artifacts. With the decentralization of museums from the former Director Military Museums to the Arms of Service in June 1987, Martello Tower was transferred to the functional control of the SA Navy, while Fort Wynyard was transferred to Western Province Command (SAArmy).

Investigations to establish a dedicated museum for the SA Navy in Simon's Town were launched during 1988 and the project, dubbed Project Oubos, was registered at Navy Headquarters. It was eventually decided that the most appropriate location for the new museum would be the former Royal Navy Mast House that dates back to 1815 and the adjacent Dutch Store House that dates back to 1743. Both buildings are located in the historic West Yard of Naval Base Simon's Town.

A 4.7 inch naval gun guards the entrance to the SA Naval Museum
in the historic Sail Loft and Mast House, built in 1814.

The new SA Naval Museum was opened by Chief of the Navy Vice Admiral Simpson-Anderson on 1 April 1993. The first phase of the new display comprised exhibitions of the historic clock tower and part of the sail loft, while the second phase of the development included the utilization of two display areas on ground level of the historic Mast House, depicting the history and functioning of the Submarine, Divers and Weapons branch.

Under the skillful guidance of the curator, Cdr Mac Bisset, a huge amount of work was done to prepare the building and displays. The South African Navy themselves assisted with much of the work to transform the building from store to museum. Units of the SA Navy took ownership of the new museum and contributed greatly to the donation of numerous items and the mounting of the new displays themselves.

SAS Assegaai Submarine Museum

In November 2003 the South African Navy decommissioned the last of its three DAPHNE Class submarines, the SAS Assegaai(formerly the SAS Johanna van der Merwe) , in preparation for the introduction of the new Type 209 Submarines. A submission was made to the Chief of the Navy and the Naval Board to preserve the SAS Assegaai as an exhibit at the SA Naval Museum in Simon's Town.

Approval was duly given and during December 2010 the submarine (still in the water) was opened to the public on a trial basis. Africa's first submarine museum was officially opened in Simon's Town on 1 March 2011 by Chief of the Navy, Vice Admiral Mudimu.

The project management team consists almost entirely of retired Naval personnel and volunteers. They provide guided tours through the submarine on a daily basis. The main purpose of the project is to preserve the submarine as a museum and to promote technology and science amongst the youth. The official opening marked the first step in the Assegaai's eventual placement ashore at the SA Naval Museum.

The SAS Assegaai, previously SAS Johanna van der Merwe, was one of three French Daphne Class submarines
that saw operational service with the SA Navy between 1972 and 2003. While the other two boats were scrapped,
Assegaai was opened as a museum in 2011, the first of its kind in South Africa.

Transformation Display

The South African Navy has been in the forefront of Transformation and Integration since the early 1970s. The successful absorption of previously excluded groups such as the SA Coloured Corps, Indian Training Corps and even women (Swans) into naval service was significant for its time.

The historic transitional events of the early 1990s brought a total of just over 500 members of UmKhonto we Sizwe (MK), the ANC's military wing, and the Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA), the PAC's military wing, to the SA Navy.

Two MK trainees, P T Duze (left) and M Lobese (middle), with three Angolan comrades
at the Naval Red Banner College in Baku in 1989. Both members integrated into the SA Navy
and had achieved the rank of R Adm by 2012.

The success of the 1994 integration training programme at SAS Saldanha served as an example for the rest of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and would eventually lead to the development of the successful present day Military Skills Development programme being followed at Saldanha by new recruits.

This new display is currently under construction and it is anticipated to open to the public by mid-2013.


Cdr W M Bisset 1985 - 2002
Cdr E Wesselo 2002 - 2004
Cdr A Dutton 2005 - 2008
Cdr C Pratten 2008 - 2010
Lt Cdr L Steyn 2011 - date

SA Naval Museum contact details:
Tel: 021 787 4686

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