Now, you’re wondering – what has Prince Philip (husband to Queen Elizabeth II) possibly have to do with the South African Navy’s SAS Simon van der Stel. Well here it is.
These are officers of the HMS Whelp – notice the tall and rather familiar HMS Whelp First Lieutenant – Prince Philip.
Philip joined the Navy as a cadet after leaving Gordonstoun School in 1939. In January 1941 he joined the battleship HMS Valiant in Alexandria and was in charge of its searchlight control during the night action off Cape Matapan, for which he was mentioned in dispatches. After serving aboard the HMS Wallace, he was appointed first lieutenant of HMS Whelp, which was present in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese signed the surrender.
In fact Prince Philip has quite a combat record, in a remarkable act of heroism Prince Philip saved scores of lives during the Second World War when he foiled a Luftwaffe bomber which looked certain to destroy their ship, the HMS Wallace during the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943. During a night-time attack, Prince Philip conjured up a plan to throw overboard a wooden raft with smoke floats that would create the illusion of debris ablaze on the water, and as he hoped, the German plane was fooled into attacking the raft while the HMS Wallace sailed to safety under cover of darkness.
A young Prince Philip with Princess Elizabeth and HMS Welp in 1944 W Class Destroyer
The last wartime ship the Price served on was HMS Welp, and 1952 was sold to South Africa as the replacement for HMSAS Natal. HMS Whelp was renamed SAS Simon van der Stel, after the 17th century colonist reputed to be the founder of the South African wine industry. Much of SAS Simon van der Stel′s service was as a “grey ambassador”, on good-will visits to Europe and Europe’s African colonies, including a 147 day cruise to Europe in 1954. This role, however, declined as South Africa became increasingly isolated during the apartheid years.
SAS Simon van der Stel was placed in reserve from 1957, but was modernised as a Type 15 frigate (in common with other destroyers of her generation) in an anti-submarine role from 1962 to 1964, and re-commissioned in February 1964. She now had helicopter facilities, which were used by South Africa’s 22 Flight (later 22 Squadron).
Photo of the South African Navy Frigates in their heyday. Here are the three President Class Frigates together, the SAS President Kruger, the SAS President Steyn and the SAS President Pretorius – neck to neck with the SAS Simon van der Stel in the background, now converted to a Type 15 Frigate (note additional helicopter hanger on the stern).
SAS Simon van der Stel was eventually scrapped in 1976 in Durban.