The first South African warship to visit the USA

The Statue of Liberty as seen from the “grey ambassador” SAS President Kruger on a “flag showing” exercise.  In this historic cruise the SAS President Kruger also became the first South African Navy ship to visit the United States of America.

The SAS President Kruger was invited to participate in the 200th anniversary of the independence of the USA in 1976.  The trip was not without controversy.  Due to policies of Apartheid diplomatic relations between the Republic of South Africa and the United States of America were very strained by mid 1976.  However militarily speaking South Africa was supporting USA policies in Angola, and assisting CIA covert missions in the region just six months previously.

This meant meant that South Africa only received a last-minute invitation to send a warship to the USA.  One of South Africa’s Flagships the President Kruger, known affectionately as the “PK” left Simon’s Town on 3 June 1976, and sailed for the USA via Walvis Bay, Abidjan and Las Palmas to Norfolk, Virginia, and sailed from there, as part of a fleet of 53 warships (representing 22 countries) to New York where a naval revue took place on 4 July.

Members of the ship’s crew participated on 6 July in a parade through the streets of New York, after which the frigate sailed to Charleston, South Carolina. From there, the ship sailed via Las Palmas to Simon’s Town (return date 6 August).

‘Grey ambassadors’ (as these warships are called on diplomatic exercises) on “flag showing” cruises are very important for international relations between countries. During this cruise to the USA the Soweto Riots began in South Africa and such was the political strain that exactly twenty years would pass before a South African grey diplomat would again visit the USA.

Unfortunately in the intervening years the SAS President Kruger lost in a tragic accident at sea on 18 February 1982, and in 1996 the Navy’s most respected grey diplomat, SAS Drakensberg would return to the USA,

The Drakensberg left Simon’s Town on 14 June 1996 and participated with approximately 25 other warships from seventeen countries in naval manoeuvres, referred to as “Operation Unitas”, the ship visited the large US naval base at Norfolk, Virginia, as well as New York and Newport.  Here she is seen alongside Staten Island in 1996.

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Reference – South African Navy website and Wikipedia

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