The silent South Africans in the silent service

Submariners are the true ‘heroes” of the Navy, known as the ‘silent service’ it is the most dangerous service any Navy can offer.  The death of a submarine is a harrowing prospect to those who serve in it – it takes a very special and very brave person to serve in or command a submarine.  Yet in South Africa we don’t really have any real idea of our bravest of the brave in the ‘silent service’ – we’re clueless and it’s because we “don’t know the half of it”.

Typically, in Navy circles, the South African Navy seems to begin regarding its ‘firsts’ from different political epochs and the confusion kicks in because the history of the South African Navy and the British Royal Navy in South Africa are so intrinsically muddled.

I recently came across a day to day in South African history by Chris Bennet, where he lists Lt. A. H. Maccoy DSC, serving on the Royal Navy’s submarine HM Umbra as the first South African to command a submarine.

With much respect to Chris Bennet, he does a cracking job keeping us abreast of our Naval history, but he is only partly correct. Lt. Maccoy DSC is the first member of the South African Naval Forces (formed at the beginning of World War 2) to be seconded to British Forces and command one of their submarines. BUT, and its a big but, he was not the first South African to command a submarine.

In fact, there is a long a rich heritage of South Africans who served on Royal Navy submarines who came before Lt Maccoy, and their service extends all the way back to the First World War.  Not only these early South African naval pioneers, many of whom were sacrificed in the line of duty, there is even a bunch of very decorated and very heroic South Africans in command of British Submarines during World War 2 whose service pre-dates Lt MacCoy’s command.

So, who are all these South African submariners and why don’t we know anything about them in our contemporary account of South African military history?

The answer lies in the correct account of South African Naval history.  After South Africa was formed as country in 1910 it did not have a navy as part of its armed forced. Naval protection and patrolling our shores was left entirely to the British and the Royal Navy. During WW1, all South African volunteers to join the navy found themselves in the Royal Navy from 1914.

It was only by the onset of World War 2 in 1940 that a South African Navy as we know it even started to take shape. Even in 1940, all the South African Navy could offer any South African volunteering to serve in Naval Forces were a handful of fishing trawlers converted to mine laying and mine hunting.  The bulk of volunteers found themselves in the Royal Naval directly as Royal Navy Reservists or found themselves seconded to the Royal Navy as South African Navy personnel.

So lets have a look at the really ‘silent’ history of South African’s in the ‘silent service’ of submarines – and we start with World War 1.

Notable South Africans in submarine service – WW1

The First World War properly developed the submarine as a tool of war, it can even be argued that it is the beginning of the submarine service itself.  It had been used in the American Civil War but it was only by WW1 that it became defined.

Even at this early time of submarine warfare we find some notable South Africans at the forefront of this foreboding weapon of war, here are their stories:

William Tatham

Sub-Lieutenant William Inglis Tatham, Royal Navy, was the Son of Lieutenant-Colonel The Hon. F. S. Tatham, D.S.O., and Ada Susan Tatham, of Parkside, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, the Tatham’s being a well-known Natal and South African family.

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William Inglis Tatham

William Tatham was born in Natal and volunteered to join the Royal Navy to serve on submarines.  He was assigned to H.M. Submarine “H3”, an “H” Class submarine was developed in 1915 to respond to German mine-laying ships, whose operations were taking a heavy toll on Allied Merchant shipping during the war – especially around the British Isles and the Adriatic.

H3 was built by the Canadian Vickers Company in Canada and it was commissioned on the 3 June 1915.  H3, and her sister submarines H1, H2 and H4 sailed across the Atlantic and set up base in in Gibraltar.

One short month later, H3 was on operations in the Adriatic waters under the command of Lieutenant George Eric Jenkinson age 27, when she tragically sank on the 15 July 1916 after hitting a mine in the gulf of Cattaro while attempting to penetrate defences. H3 sinks with all 22 crew and unfortunately took our 19 year-old South African hero, Sub-Lieutenant Tatham with her.  It gets worse for the Tatham family, William’s brother will be killed just 3 days later serving in the South African Infantry.

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Royal Navy ‘H’ Class submarine from WW1

William Tatham enters our history books as the very first South African submariner to lose his life.  He is not acknowledged as such or extensively remembered in South Africa by the government or South African Navy, he is however remembered in England, his and name appears on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

Charles Philip Voltelyn van der Byl

Lieutenant Charles Philip Voltelyn Van der Byl, Royal Navy, came from Cape Town, and like William Tatham he was also from an illustrious South African family. Charles van der Byl initially joined the Royal Navy and served aboard the battleship HMS Goliath, he is also a lucky survivor when the HMS Goliath was sunk during the Gallipoli campaign in the Dardanelles in 1915.

Lt. van der Byl then transferred to the submarine service and was assigned to HMS Submarine G1. G1 was a “G” Class submarine of the Royal Navy and was built at Chatham Dockyard, had a crew of 31 and a top speed of 14.5 knots (surface) and 10 knots (submerged). G1 was launched on the 14th August 1915.

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Royal Navy G Class submarine from WW1

G1 would survive the war, however very sadly Lt Van der Byl would not, he was drowned on the 9 October 1916. His drowning having occurred just three months after the loss of his fellow South African pioneer and submariner – William Tatham,

Lt. Van der Byl’s name is also only really remembered in England, and is found on the Chatham Naval Memorial,

Wiggie Bennett

Another South African who served with the silent service during World War 1, was “Wiggie” Bennett, from Johannesburg.

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Royal Navy ‘K’ class submarine in WW1

Wiggie was known as a fearless dare devil serving on K boat submarine patrols operating from Harwich, and again, rather tragically, he too paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Between the World Wars

As we pass between the First and Second World War’s we find another notable South African in the ‘silent service’ of the Royal Navy.  Lieutenant Harold Chapman.

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HMS Thunderbolt (Thetis)

Harold Chapman was a ‘Botha Boy’ having trained aboard South Arica’s notable training establishment – the South African Training Ship, General Botha. Chapman then relocated to the United Kingdom and entered the Royal Navy in 1927 as a Midshipman.

He entered the Royal Navy’s submarine service as second-in-command of HMS Thetis (N25) a T-Class submarine.  Tragically the HMS Thetis sank during her sea trials on the 4 on the 1 June 1939, taking 99 men, including our South African submariner with her.

The tragedy was attributed to a test cock on the number 5 tube which was blocked by some enamel paint and no water flowed out the when the bow cap was opened, the inrush of water caused the bow of the submarine to sink to the seabed, 46 meters below.

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The stricken Thetis, surrounded by rescue boats

Interestingly as the HMS Thetis was at a relatively shallow depth it was salvaged, brought back to operational service and became the HMS Thunderbolt, however HMS Thunderbolt was destined to be sunk again and was lost during WW2 off Cap St. Vito, north of Sicily, on the 14 March 1943, having been depth charged by the Italian corvette, “Cicogna”.

World War 2

By the beginning of the Second World War we find many more South Africans in the Royal Navy’s Submarine branch.

Voltelin James Howard Van der Byl

During the Second World War we find our first South African to command a submarine – Captain Voltelin James Howard Van der Byl, the second son of Lt.Col. Voltelin Albert William van der Byl, OBE (1872-1941), and Constance Margaret Jackson of Cape Town, South Africa.

Born in Cape Town on the 04 May 1907, Voltelin James Howard Van der Byl stemmed from famous Van der Zyl military family which attained political fame under Smuts in South Africa and ironically he was relative of Charles Van der Byl, mentioned previously who was sacrificed in a Royal Navy submarine during World War 1.

Voltelin James Howard Van der Byl joined the Royal Navy as a Cadet in 1924, attaining his commission as a Midshipman in 1925.  Serving on various Royal Navy ships, he joined the submarine service in April 1929 and assigned to HMS Submarine Odin and serving in Chinese waters.

Promoted to First Lieutenant, he continued to serve on submarines and was assigned to HMS Sturgeon in 1933 in the China seas and HMS Rover in 1934.  On the 8th August 1936, prior to the Second World War, he made history as the first South African to command a submarine, taking command of HMS Salmon serving in the Mediterranean.

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HMS Salmon (N65) – WW2

At the on-set of World War 2, he was again assigned a command of submarine, taking command of HMS Taku (N38), the Taku was a British T Class submarine. On the 8 May 1940 Van der Byl found himself in the thick of combat, when he attacked a German convoy with ten torpedoes, damaging the German torpedo boat Möwe  east of Denmark. For his actions he subsequently received the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) at the end of June 1940.

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HMS Taku – WW2

By October 1940 he found himself as a Staff Officer to the Commander in Chief of the Home Fleet and in 1943 he served with the Anti-Submarine Warfare Division of the Admiralty (HMS President).   By the end of the war in 1945 he found himself as the Commanding Officer, HMS Medway II (submarine base, 1st Submarine Flotilla, Malta).

Promoted to Captain, he remained in the Royal Navy after the war, retiring in January 1958 as the Commanding Officer of HMS Forth and as a Naval ADC to Queen Elizabeth II.

Captain V.J.H. Van der Byl, Royal Navy, DSC passed on in Hampshire, England on the 21st September 1968.

Frederick Basil Currie

Lieutenant-Commander Frederick Basil Currie of the Royal Navy, is another notable South African submariner of the Second World War. The son of Colonel O.J. Currie of the South African Medical Corps and Sarah Gough Currie. Frederick Currie was given command of HMS Regulus (N88) a R Class Submarine.

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HMS Regulus (N88) – WW2

Frederick Currie was the second South African to be given command of a submarine and as is common to this very dangerous arm of service he was lost when the HMS Regulus went on patrol from Alexandria in Egypt, on the 23 November 1940.  The general consensus is the HMS Regulus may have hit a mine just off Taranto, Italy, on the 6 December 1940.

Arthur Hezlet

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Sir Arthur Richard Hezlet

A South African born submariner became one of the most famous submariners of the Second World War.  His colourful career started in 1928 when Hezlet joined the Royal Navy aged just 13 years old.  Nicknamed Baldy Hezlet he became the Royal Navy’s youngest captain at the time, aged 36 and its youngest admiral, aged 45. In retirement he became a military historian.

Born in Pretoria, South Africa on the 7th April 1914, he attended the Royal Navy Colleges  in Dartmouth and Greenwich before going to sea in 1932 as a Midshipman on Battleships HMS Royal Oak and HMS Resolution.

Hezlet was promoted to Lieutenant on 1 April 1936, achieving the highest mark in his Lieutenant’s examinations and winning the Ronald Megaw Memorial Prize. In December 1935 he began the submarine course at HMS Dolphin, something for which he had “not applied or volunteered”.  He however later volunteered to serve on submarines and ironically cut his teeth in 1937 on HMS Regulus (the same submarine on which fellow South African Frederick Currie later lost his life).

Following which he was appointed First Lieutenant of submarine HMS H43 from January 1938 to April 1939, and later transferred to the HMS Trident.  On HMS Trident he was to see his first action when he was engaged in operations in the Norwegian Sea as the Germans launched their occupation of Norway.

He subsequently passed the notorious “Perisher” exam (Submarine Commanding Officers Qualifying Course), and thus became a submarine commander.  He then commanded the following Royal Navy submarines during the war, HMS Unique, HMS Ursula, HMS Upholder, HMS Thrasher and HMS Trenchant.

His first combat test came when he was in Command of HMS Unique, when Hezlet fired four torpedoes at the Italian troop ship ‘Esperia – his first ever torpedo attack on the enemy and sank her. In November 1941 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his attack on the Esperia.

However, it was whilst serving as the Commander on HMS Trenchant that Hezlet became a submarine warfare legend.  Taking Command on 15 October 1943, HMS Trenchant saw combat in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) during Operation Boomerang when she sank a Japanese coaster. Hezlet stopped to pick up survivors and managed to coax 14 Japanese crew to accept rescue.

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HMS Trenchant during WW2

Hezlet undertook long-range patrols in the Indian and Pacific oceans, earning him his first Distinguished Service Order (DSO). when he sank the long-range German U-Boat 859 on 23 September 1944, near the Sunda Strait after receiving ‘Ultra’ decrypts on her position.

Under his command on 27 October 1944, HMS Trenchant deployed two MKII Chariot manned torpedoes ‘Tiny’ and ‘Slasher’ off Phuket on a mission to destroy two Axis merchant ships in what would prove to be one of the most successful uses of Chariots of the whole War.

Ironically, on one of the MKII Chariot manned torpedoes was another notable South African, Sub/Lt Anthony Eldridge DSC, he had joined the Royal Navy in January 1942 and was awarded the DSC for his outstanding courage and determination.

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Sub/Lt Anthony Eldridge DSC

However it was the action on 8 June 1945 in which Arthur Hezlet walked into fame, Hezlet took HMS Trenchant into shallow and mined water in the Banka Strait to sink the Japanese heavy cruiser ‘Ashigara’,  the cruiser’s protection, the Japanese Destroyer ‘Kamakazi’ spotted the Trenchant and attacked it. Despite being under attack, Hezlet held his nerve firing 8 torpedoes at the Ashigara, 5 of them struck and the Ashigara sank quickly. The Ashigara goes down in history as the largest Japanese warship sunk by a Royal Navy warship during the war

For his action on the Ashigara Hezlet was awarded a Bar to his DSO and the Americans awarded him the US Legion of Merit.

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Japanese heavy cruiser ‘Ashigara’

After the war Arthur Hezlet would continue to have a stellar career in the Royal Navy’s submarine service and would later aspire to the rank of Vice-Admiral, and one of his subsequent appointments would be that of Flag Officer Submarines.  In 1946 he was present at the nuclear test on the Bikini Atoll and would pioneer submarine nuclear capability in the Royal Navy. In 1964 he was appointed as Knight of the British Empire (KBE) and given the prefix of ‘Sir’.  Sir Arthur Hezlet passed on aged 93 in 2007.

Peter Gibson

Lieutenant Peter Rawstorne Gibson, born in Umtata in the Transkei region of South Africa was lost with the submarine HMS Regent when it was lost with all hands on the 1 May 1943.  Accounts to the loss of the HMS Regent differ, some accounts indicate it may have struck a mine after attacking the Italian tanker Bivona another theory is the Italian corvette Gabbiano depth charged her.  In either event Lieutenant Peter Gibson and the crew of HMS Regent are ‘still on patrol’.

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HMS Regent

John Claude Hudson Wood

John Claude Hudson Wood, born in Nyasaland (now Malawi) and educated at Durban High School, another ‘Botha Boy’ after high school he joined the Navy and completed his training aboard the South African Training Ship General Botha.  He was lost whilst serving on submarine HMS Utmost on the 25th November 1943 when on patrol in the Mediterranean.

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Crew of HMS Utmost with their “Jolly Roger” success flag

On the 23rd she sank an enemy ship, but on her return journey to Malta, she was located, attacked and sunk south west off Sicily by depth charges from the Italian torpedo boat.

X-Men

Some South Africans even found themselves in the most perilous of submarine service in the Royal Navy, the ‘X-Craft Midget Submarines.

Lieutenants’ P.H. Philip and J.Terry-Lloyd, both of South African Naval Forces (SANF) seconded to the Royal Navy’s submarine service, who gained fame for their role in “Operation Source” in September 1943.

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X-Class midget submarine underway

Operation Source was a series of attacks to neutralise the heavy German warships – Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and Lützow based in Norway using X-Class midget submarines. The attacks took place in September 1943 at Kaa Fiord and succeeded in keeping Tirpitz out of action for at least six months. 

Philip and Terry-Lloyd commanded X-Class midget submarines X7 and X5 respectively in the attack – for this darning mission both South African submariners were awarded MBE’s.

Lieutenant Alan Harold MacCoy

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Lt A.H. Maccoy DSC

Now we finally get to Lieutenant Alan Harold Maccoy of the South African Naval Forces (SANF), seconded to the Royal Navy, who stands out in some historical accounts as the ‘first’ South African to command a submarine (albeit incorrect).

Lt Alan Maccoy served aboard the submarines HMS Sunfish (N81), HMS Pandora (42P), HMS Umbra (P35), HMS Porpoise (83M) and the HMS Tantalus (P98).  He received his Distinguished Service Cross on the 25th May 1943 from King George VI at Buckingham Palace for his actions and service on the HMS Umbra.

Lt Maccoy was given command of British submarines towards the end of the war, when he commanded HMS Seaborne and HMS Unruffled (P46)  having seen service nearly all theatres of maritime combat during the war.  He was to serve out his service in his final command on HMS Unruffled until on the 18 Oct 1945 it was  paid off into reserve at Lisahally.

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The men of HMS Unruffled hoist the Jolly Roger

Post World Wars

The 70’s

64493_153678184801922_1761770907_nSpool forward to the 1970’s – two significant moments stand out in the history of South Africans in the silent service, the handing back of Simonstown as a British Naval base to South Africa in a colourful ceremony on the 2nd April 1957, after being in British hands since 1813.  A thorn in the Nationalist government’s agenda as Simonstown continued to operate as official British naval base after 1957 under the ‘Simonstown agreement’ and well after the Nationalist’s rise to power in 1948.  The Simonstown Agreement terms finally ending when the United Kingdom government terminated the agreement on 16 June 1975 (citing in part – Apartheid).

In advance of this, South Africa saw the need to develop its own submarine program and began a covert operation in conjunction with the French in the late 1960’s called Operation Duiker to buy small French diesel powered shore patrol Daphne submarines.

On completion of trials the SAS Maria van Riebeeck (named after Jan van Riebeeck’s wife) was formally commissioned by Commander JAC Weideman on 24 July 1970 and accepted into the South African Navy as the first South African submarine.  In 1971, two other Daphne class submarines were added, the SAS Emily Hobhouse and the SAS Johanna van der Merwe.

In the French tradition of giving submarines female names the focus was on South African woman who mattered to the Afrikaner Nationalist (NP) history of South Africa.

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SAS Maria van Riebeeck’s launching in France

South Africa’s Dafne class submarines never fired a torpedo in anger, however the service was involved in many reconnaissance and clandestine operations in support of special forces during the Border War (1966 to 1989). The submarines also shadowed many a potential hostile nation’s military and navy shipping around the South African cape during the Border War period.

As an interesting aside, the 1970’s also produced another famous South African born submariner in the Royal Navy  – Cecil Boyce

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Lord Boyce

Admiral of the Fleet, Michael Cecil, Baron Boyce KG GCB OBE KStJ DL was born in Cape Town South Africa and currently is a member of the House of Lords.

Boyce commanded three British submarines, HMS Oberon in 1973, followed by HMS Opossum in 1974 and finally the nuclear submarine HMS Superb in 1979.  In 1983 he took Command of a Royal Navy frigate HMS Brilliant.

Thereafter Boyce achieved  higher command in the Royal Navy, serving as First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff from 1998 to 2001 and then as Chief of the Defence Staff from 2001 to 2003. In early 2003 he advised the British Government on the deployment of troops for the invasion of Iraq.

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HMS Superb

Post 1994

In so far as ‘firsts’ go, the ANC government on its accent to power in 1994 has on many occasions dismissed the entire history of South African’s involved in submarine services, whether South African or British as somehow irrelevant.  Within a short time frame they renamed all three Daphne Class submarines after African spears – the SAS Maria van Riebeeck became the SAS Spear, the SAS Emily Hobhouse became the SAS Umkhonto and the SAS Johanna van der Merwe became the SAS Assegai.

Under the ANC epoch, the South African Navy replaced the ageing decommissioned French Daphne Class submarines with updated Type 209/T 1400 ‘Heroine’ Class German made submarines.  Returning to the tradition of naming submarines after women, the submarines became the SAS Manthatisi, the SAS Charlotte Maxeke and the SAS Queen Modjadji – all heroines who matter greatly to African Nationalist (ANC) history of South Africa.

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SAS Queen Modjadji

As more firsts go the first ‘black’ South African to command a submarine was Commander Handsome Thamsanqa Matsane when he took command a the SAS Queen Modjadji in April 2012.

In Conclusion

History remains history, there is no denying facts or somehow changing it to suit this or that politically inspired take on history – the facts, people and dates remain as truths.  South Africa’s naval and submarine history in particular did not start from 1994, nor indeed did it start as some would have it from 1957 when Simonstown ceased to be officially British or from 1975 when Britain finally departed.  It started in 1910 when South Africa became a country, and it’s a simple truism – for the first 40 years of the country’s existence, the Royal Navy was South Africa’s default navy, we did not have one, South Africans serving in the Navy served in the Royal Navy – no changing that.

South Africa’s submarine service has its pioneers grounded in the Royal Navy, that’s a fact – over 100 years of this rich history in fact.  It is also a fact that many South Africans who have served in the Navy or currently serve in the Navy have no idea as to many of these South African submariners who have served with such distinction – this is represented by the fact that no formal recognition is given to any South African serving in British submarines in South Africa whatsoever, not on memorials, not in history annuals, not at remembrance events – we even get our history wrong when we try and understand ‘firsts’ in this service.

We as South Africans are really remiss in our values if we cannot honour these very special countrymen of ours and remember the supreme sacrifice and bravery they have made on our behalf.  By all standards the submarine service qualifies ‘the bravest of the brave’ – and these men are truly the ‘silent’ South African names in the ‘silent service’ and it should be a moral obligation to bring their names into the light and recognise them.  It is a sincerely hoped that this article is a first step.

Related Observation Posts and links 

Elephant in the Room The South African Navy’s ‘elephant in the room’

South Africans in the Fleet Air Arm South African sacrifice in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

References and large extracts – South Africans in the Submarine Service of the Royal Navy, 1916-1945 By Ross Dix-Peek and South Africa’s fighting Ships Past and Present by Allan Du Toit.

Images – Imperial War Museum and Wikipedia

‘Hurricat’ Hero

There are pilots, and then there are ‘Hurricat’ pilots – they are truly a breed apart, and as usual in a mustering of elite pilots we find a South African.  So what’s a ‘Hurricat’?  Even to many of the most ardent South African aviation fans, these pilots and this aircraft nickname and type would be relatively unknown.  Well, during World War 2, a ‘Hurricat’ was a Hawker ‘Sea’ Hurricane fighter which was specifically adapted to be catapulted off a ship with RAM boost, hence the combination of ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Catapult’ – Hurricat.’

So why so special?  Simply put this concept of protecting ships with a singular Sea Hurricane fighter came about when there was an urgent need for convoy protection from the air, but the problem was there were usually no places to land them once launched, no handy aircraft carrier deck around and nowhere near a shore and a nice strait landing strip – once catapulted off the ship in a blaze of rocket charge the Hurricat fighter pilot found himself alone, without vast fighter support or wingmen to take on the enemy, and if he survived that singular suicide mission – he then had to find his back to his fleet with the limited navigation aids available to him.  If he made it that far, there was more hazard to come, he then had to ditch his aircraft in the ocean (crash it in effect) to be hopefully safely found and plucked out.

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Big seas breaking over the catapult aircraft of a catapult armed merchant (CAM) ship as seen from the bridge. Specially strengthened Hawker Sea Hurricanes are used.

These  men are truly special, men of extreme bravery and there are very few of them, and one South African Hurricat pilot stands out – Flight-Lieutenant Alistair James Hay DFC.  Now not too many South Africans have heard of him, and they should, this is one very remarkable South African, with bravery in buckets – this is his story.

Background 

Alistair Hay was born in Johannesburg on the 13 September 1921, son of Frederick John Gordon Hay and Catherine, nee Metherell.  Alistair was educated at Christian Brothers’ College in Pretoria. As a young man he was also a member of Boys Naval Brigade.  At the onset of World War 2 joined up and was part of the General Botha Cadet Draft and attended the SATS General Botha from 1937-8 (Number 928).

The South African Training Ship (SATS) General Botha (named after General Louis Botha, the first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa) started out as River Class Cruiser the HMS Thames and was donated to South Africa by T B Davis, a philanthropist extraordinary, as a full-time institution for the sea training of South African Naval Cadets.

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After leaving the SATS General Botha, Alistair James Hay joined the Union-Castle Company, in which he remained until 1940.  Like Sailor Malan who followed a similar path before him on the SATS General Botha, he also enlisted with the Royal Air Force in 1942 as a Volunteer Reservist.  He joined the RAF initially as a Sergeant and was promoted as Commissioned Officer (Pilot Officer) on 18th May 1942, eventually becoming a Flight-Lieutenant on 18th May 1943.

He then signed up for what was one of the most dangerous jobs around, and because of his nautical background on the SATS General Botha he found himself seconded to the Navy again in service as a RAF fighter pilot on a Catapult Armed Merchantman (in short a ‘CAM’).

CAM

During the Second World War, German U Boats nearly won the war all on their own sinking merchant and fighting ships at a phenomenal rate starving the Allies of troops and supplies, and in a desperate attempt to close the gap in the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea that could not be covered by British aircraft flying from England i.e over the U-Boat hunting fields due to range, the concept of the Auxiliary Fighter Catapult Ships (FCS) under the White Ensign, and the Catapult Armed Merchantmen (CAM ships) sailing under the Red Duster was conceived and born.

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The Hawker Sea Hurricane being catapulted from the catapult armed merchant (CAM) ship at Greenock. Note the long flame from the rocket assistors.

The idea was simple, one of the ships in the Merchant Fleet had an aircraft to protect the convoy.  The CAMs were equipped with a single fighter aircraft, and had no flight deck with a single catapult structure fitted to the ship’s bow.  To take off the catapult consisted of a girder framework and a trolley, connected by wire ropes and pulleys to the ram of a cylinder. The cylinder was connected by a pipe to the chamber in which a charge was exploded, causing the ram to push the aircraft forward in a blaze of charge and with sufficient velocity to make it air-borne at the end of its very short take-off run.

The merchantmen CAMs were allocated 50 Hawker Hurricane fighters with specially trained RAF crews.  However launching a ‘Hurricat’ usually meant the fighter did not return, it would be ‘lost’ – either be shot down by the attacking enemy or it would be lost to sea when the pilot ditched it, they were a one way and very costly mission.  In spite of the inevitable early heavy losses and the sheer waste of perfectly good aircraft, the catapult ships remained in vital service until 1943.  By 1943 large numbers of Allied aircraft carriers had been built and they in turn took up the role of closing the air cover gap to protect merchantmen at sea.

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A Hawker Sea Hurricane Mk IA on the catapult of a CAM [Catapult Armed Merchant] Ship at Greenock.

Back to our hero, an article was later published in the “South Africa” newspaper on 14 March 1942 relates just what a special pilot Alistair Hay was:

The hazards of the sea are apparently not enough for the young gentleman trained in the S.A.T.S. General Botha. pilot-officer A.J. Hay, Royal Air Force, from Pretoria, just back from a successful cruise, tells me that his special duty is to be ‘loaded’ into a catapult that will shoot him and his fighter plane from the deck of the ship as soon as his services are needed to attack enemy aircraft. he describes the sensation as thrilling ‘until you are accustomed to it”

The HMS Empire Lawrence 

P/O Alistair Hay, on the 27th May 1942, found himself  serving as the ‘Hurricat’ Catapult Pilot aboard the CAM, HMS “Empire Lawrence”, little did he know that by the end of the day he would be a decorated hero.  The HMS Empire Lawrence was the CAM ship forming part of the Russian PQ16 convoy to Murmansk just east of Bear Island (the southernmost island of the Norwegian Svalbard Archipelago) when the convoy was attacked by German seaplanes.

To fight off the attack, Pilot Officer Hay jumped into his Sea Hurricane and was blasted off the ship to take the approaching formation of German aircraft head on singlehandedly.  The approaching attack was made up of a formation of six German Heinkel 111 and 115.  These Heinkel aircraft were adapted seaplanes for long-range patrolling and whose mission was to sink Merchantmen using torpedos which they dropped in low flight bombing runs.

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HMS EMPIRE LAWRENCE, circa 1941. Note the catapult and Sea Hurricane on the bow

Alistair Hay’s mission was to disrupt the torpedo bombing runs and destroy as many enemy aircraft as possible.  He diverted the attack and in the process destroyed one German aircraft and damaged a second one.  In a six against one attack it was inevitable that he would come under extreme fire, and as a result he was severely wounded in the attack, shot in the thigh and bleeding heavily he had to bale out of his aircraft.

The action in the air was recounted by an eyewitness, a naval officer – Neil Hulse, who had been smoking with Alistair Hay on the bridge as the attack unfolded, he recalled: 

He (Hay) butted out his cigarette and put it in his flying jacket. He had no hope of landing on friendly territory. We watched as he took off and remained in communication with him. On the speaker we could hear him going in, and hear his cannon fire in the cockpit of the plane. He got one and there was smoke trailing from the other. Then we heard his cry that he had been hit.

Spotting his parachute, he was picked up from the icy waters within ten minutes by one of the convoy’s escort ships, the HMS Volunteer, who came to his rescue, and funnily enough the Commander of HMS Volunteer was none other than another South African and fellow SATS General Botha graduate – Lieutenant-Commander Arthur Shubrook Pomeroy.  The rescue itself was also very dramatic as the HMS Volunteer also came under attack whilst they were hoisting Alistair Hay aboard and HMS Volunteer had to make some dramatic evasive manoeuvres.

Volunteer

HMS Volunteer underway – Imperial War Museum

Lt/Cmdr Arthur Pomeroy recalled the incident of reusing his fellow South African when he wrote:

“Let me tell you how I met him (Alistair Hay) in the Arctic. Our station was on the port bow of the leading ship of the port column, the ‘Empire Lawrence’, which was fully loaded with explosives and ammunition. Mounted on her forecastle was a catapult with a Hurricane fighter aircraft piloted by Alastair hay. On the first day of intense bombing, he was shot off into the air to engage single-handed the squadrons of Heinkel III and Junkers 88s.

Eventually, wounded, he had to bale out, as there was no carrier to land on. I lowered a boat to pick him up, and just as the boat’s falls were hooked on again for hoisting, two torpedo-bombers came at us low down from the North. With the boat still only a few inches out of the water and my hair standing on end, I ordered Full Ahead and Hard-a-Starboard to steady course to comb the tracks of the torpedoes, which we could see, one on each quarter.

This took us on an exact collision course with the ‘Empire Lawrence’ . There was just time to alter to port ahead of the port torpedo, and then both of them struck her and she disintegrated in an immense explosion, just a grating and a few bits of wood left floating”

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Nazi Luftwaffe Heinkel He 115 in flight

DFC

For his gallant actions P/O Alistair Hay was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and his citation (Supplement to the London Gazette, vol 35605 pg 2756) reads:

DFCLG“Pilot Officer Hay was pilot of the Hurricane on board a ship fitted with a catapult. On the approach of enemy aircraft he was catapulted off and immediately proceeded to attack and drive off a formation of six Heinkel 111’s and 115’s which were preparing to deliver a torpedo attack on the port bow of the convoy; not only did this prevent synchronisation with an attack which developed from the starboard bow, but he destroyed one Heinkel 111 and slightly damaged another. Pilot Officer Hay was himself wounded and he then baled out and was picked up by one of His Majesty’s ships of the convoy escort. He showed great gallantry and his spirited attack was a great encouragement to all the convoy and escorts, and cannot but have been a great discomfort and surprise to the enemy.”

The Battle of the Falaise Gap

Alistair Hay DFC recovered from his bullet wound, and there was still more fight in him.  He was to join Royal Air Force No. 182 Squadron to take part in the liberation of  Europe  flying Typhoon 1b’s.

Flying Typhoons was particularly dangerous at this phase of the war, they almost always operated at low altitude “on the deck” mainly employed to attack targets such as armour, anti-aircraft installations, specific buildings, transports and enemy personnel.  As a result they were frequently subjected to intense ground fire, for this reason alone, flying in a Typhoon squadron was very high risk.

Typhoon 1b

RAF Typhoon Mk1b

During the Normandy invasion, the defending German were surrounded on three sides into a pocket called the ‘Falaise Gap’, trapped in the pocket they chose to fight their way out with a staggering loss of personnel and equipment, it was a desperate battle as the only way the German forces in Europe could remain in contention was to retreat from the trap and reform – which they ultimately managed to do.

The Falaise Gap was ideal territory for Typhoons as they strafed and rocketed the high congestions of German personnel, trucks, armour, artillery and tanks trying to escape the pocket, but also highly dangerous as they came up against a very desperate defence.

fllt.-alistair-james-hay-dfc-67093-rafvr-age-22-grave-w760Flight-Lieutenant Alistair James Hay DFC was tragically killed on the 18 August 1944 whilst taking part in the Battle of the Falaise Gap flying RAF Typhoon, serial number JP427 and he encountered flak near Vimoutiers and was shot down.

He lies today in France at the St Desir War Cemetery in Calvodos, near Caen, Grave reference V.D.4. should anyone want to visit and salute one very brave son of South Africa.

In Conclusion

So why don’t South Africans know much about these remarkably brave ‘Hurricat’ pilots, their aircraft and their near suicide missions, why has someone like Flight-Lieutenant Alistair James Hay DFC and his rescue by his fellow SATS General Botha fraternity not entered our realm of standout South African military heroes or even into our general discourse and understanding of World War 2 and South Africa’s involvement?

His story like many others is just confined to the SATS General Botha old boys fraternity, his name on their Honour Roll.  We all know the reason as its politics as usual, Smuts sending South Africans to war was bad enough for the Afrikaner nationalists, serving in the ‘hated’ British Armed services was akin to treason in their eyes.  This history was buried after the nationalists came to power and it remains relatively buried to this day as more seismic political forces have over-taken it.

In a small way, we hope to keep this history alive, knowing in the full grace of time that these men and their very brave deeds are captured and not forgotten.  The Observation Post salutes and remembers you Flight-Lieutenant Alistair James Hay DFC – one of our bravest, lest we forget.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Related Work – links

South African Naval Sacrifice in WW2  The South African Navy’s ‘elephant in the room’

South African  Sacrifice in the Fleet Air Arm South African sacrifice in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm

Fleet Air Arm The first man to land on an aircraft carrier at sea was a South African

References

Llarge extracts and references from The Southern African History Musings of Ross Dix-Peek – Alistair James Hay. Hurricane Catapult Pilot from the Transvaal June 19th 2013.  Reference for Lieutenant-Commander Arthur Shubrook Pomeroy’s memories – published in General Botha’s Old Boy Association newsletter, May 2005, Part Two.  Also referenced is the History of 182 Squadron on-line and The South African War Graves Project.  Images – copyright Imperial War Museum where indicated.  Colourised image on the header by Deviant Art.

The South African Navy’s ‘elephant in the room’

There is a very big elephant in the room when it comes to the South African Naval fraternity’s commemoration and remembrance undertakings.  Very often in the veteran fraternity and South African Navy circles there’s a raging argument – why does the South African Navy and SANDF only commemorate the sinking of the SS Mendi during World War 1 when scant attention is given to the sinking of the SAS President Kruger?  It’s ‘political’ is the universal chant of disbelief and failed honour, a travesty of the African National Congress’ (ANC) rhetoric of constantly vanquishing the ‘old’ navy and SADF statutory forces.

But they are ignoring a very big ‘elephant’, something that began as a travesty long before the ANC came to power in 1994.  It’s an elephant that sits squarely at the door of the old Apartheid Nationalist government and is entirely their doing.  When they came to power they began vanquishing anyone who supported ‘Britain’ during World War 2 as some sort of traitor, made worse because the South African Navy was so intrinsically tied to the Royal Navy via the Simonstown agreement that they never really instituted memorials or commemorations to honour them.  To the old Afrikaner nationalists, especially when it came to the Navy, this was ‘Britain’s problem’ to remember any sacrifice prior to 1948 or even prior to 1957 for that matter when the naval base at Simonstown was formally handed over by Britain to South Africa.

As a result the scope of our World War 2 sacrifice barely gets a mention in the ‘Mendi vs. President Kruger’ argument.   In fact the scope, the size of this sacrifice will come as a surprise to many South Africans – including our Naval veterans fraternity and current Navy personnel.

The ‘elephant’ of sacrifice 

To give you an idea of just how BIG this ‘elephant in the room is, lets cover the Honour Roll – it far outstrips any South African Naval sacrifice in the post world war era.  Yet the South African Navy and the current government gives absolutely no attention to it, not at all – not one single official South African Navy (SAN) parade or ceremony.  Not even a dedicated Naval memorial is given to these men.

We start with South Africa’s own ship’s lost in World War 2, all of them minesweepers. (Note on the honour roll when reading it SANF means the member was part of the ‘South African Naval Forces’ and MPK means ‘Missing Presumed Killed’).

The first South African ship lost in the Mediterranean near Tobruk was the HMSAS Southern Floe with its remarkable tale of a single survivor (see this link for a full story – click here: The HMSAS Southern Floe was the SA Navy’s first ship loss & it carries with it a remarkable tale of survival.).

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HMSAS Southern Floe

The Honour Roll of sacrifice on the HMSAS Southern Floe as follows:

ANDERS, John, Steward, 69637 (SANF), MPK
BOWER, Robert, Stoker 1c, 69935 (SANF), MPK
BRAND, Leslie A, Able Seaman, 69828 (SANF), MPK
CAULFIELD, Patrick, Steward, 69802 (SANF), MPK
CHANDLER, Charles R D, Cook (S), 69613 (SANF), MPK
CHENOWETH, Richard, Stoker 1c, 67420 (SANF), MPK
FAIRLEY, Alexander E, Sub Lieutenant SANF, MPK
FRIEDLANDER, Cecil A, Able Seaman, 114703 (SANF), MPK
GARDINER, Elliott, Able Seaman, 67260 (SANF), MPK
GREENACRE, John H, Leading Seaman, 69677 (SANF), MPK
HEASMAN, Gratwicke E E, Engine Room Artificer 4c, 69784 (SANF), MPK
HOGG, Roy S, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
INNES, Ian Mck, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
LEWIS, John Edward Joseph, :Lieutenant, 70019 (SANF), MPK
MARSH, Reginald H Y, Able Seaman, 69911 (SANF), MPK
MITCHELL, William N, Able Seaman, 69787 (SANF), MPK
NEL, Eloff R, Able Seaman, 69635 (SANF), MPK
NICHOLSON, Douglas O, Able Seaman, 66833 (SANF), MPK
PUGH, John R, Able Seaman, 66877 (SANF), MPK
RYALL, David R, Able Seaman, 69999 (SANF), MPK
SHIMMIN, William, Leading Stoker, 69661 (SANF), MPK
SIENI, Joseph F, Able Seaman, 69788 (SANF), MPK
SNELL, Harold W, Leading Telegraphist, 69827 (SANF), MPK
STANLEY, Gordon J, Able Seaman, 66963 (SANF), MPK
WALTON, Dudley N, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK

The second ship lost was the HMSAS Parktown, which went down fighting during the Fall of Tobruk in Libya, with the HMSAS Bever fighting at her side out the port (see this link for a full story – click here: The feisty South African minesweeper that went down fighting – HMSAS Parktown).

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HMSAS Parktown

The Honour Roll of sacrifice when the HMSAS Parktown sank on 21 June 1942 as follows:

BROCKLEHURST, Peter S, Able Seaman, 70457 (SANF), MPK
COOK, John A, Stoker 1c, 70256 (SANF), MPK
JAGGER, Leslie J, Lieutenant SANF, 70016 (SANF), MPK
MCEWAN, William A, Steward, 69686 (SANF), MPK
TREAMER, Arthur P, Petty Officer, 71109 (SANF), MPK

The third ship to be lost was the HMSAS Parktown’s sister ship, the HMSAS Bever which went down later in the war during the liberation of Greece when it struck a mine, and carries with its story a tale of miraculous survivors (see this link for a full story – click here“Under a hail of shells”; Recounting the bravery and loss of HMSAS Bever).

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HMSAS Bever

The Honour Roll of sacrifice on 30 November 1944 when the HMSAS Bever sank as follows:

ARMERANTIS, Sideris, Stoker 1c, 282953 V (SANF), MPK
DE PACE, Luigi S, Petty Officer, 66539 V (SANF), MPK
DE REUCK, Leslie B, Telegraphist, 75320 V (SANF), MPK
DREYER, Peter, Leading Cook (S), 585236 V (SANF), MPK
HIGGS, George E, Stoker 1c, 562712 V (SANF), MPK
HUSBAND, Charles A, Stoker 1c, 280098 V (SANF), MPK
KETTLES, John D, Engine Room Artificer 3c, 562458 (SANF), MPK
LAWLOR, Robert J, Act/Chief Motor Mechanic 4c, P/KX 127225, MPK
LINDE, Carl M, Able Seaman, 71194 V (SANF), MPK
LYALL, John D R, Stoker 1c, 562179 V (SANF), MPK
MATTHEWS, William R, Leading Wireman, 562794 V (SANF), killed
PHILLIPSON, Joseph H, Signalman, 181160 V (SANF), MPK
RODDA, Harold J, Stoker 1c, 70451 V (SANF), (served as Harold J Andresen), MPK
SCRIMGEOUR, Quintin, Petty Officer, 69691 (SANF), MPK
TRUSCOTT, E (initial only) W, Able Seaman, 585184 V (SANF), MPK
WHITE, Claude, Leading Seaman, 586420 V (SANF), MPK
WILLIAMS, Desmond, Able Seaman, 70433 V (SANF), killed

The final minesweeper to be lost was the HMSAS Treern, it was tragically lost right at the end of the war with only one single survivor, and it remains the last South African vessel to be lost in action, even to this day, yet hardly anyone is aware of her history (see this link for a full story – click hereThe last South African Navy ship to be lost in action; HMSAS Treern).

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HMSAS Treern

The Honour Roll of sacrifice on the 12 January 1945 when HMSAS Treern sank follows:

ANDERSON, Robert D, Engine Room Artificer 2c, 71067 V (SANF), MPK
BARKER, Ronald E, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
BLAKE, Robert E, Petty Officer, P 6572 (SANF), MPK
BROWN, Ian H, Able Seaman, 71719 V (SANF), MPK
BYRNE, Patrick, Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
DAVIE, William, Stoker 1c, 70681 V (SANF), MPK
ENGELBEEN, Leslie C, Able Seaman, 562235 V (SANF), MPK
JACOBZ, Frank H, Stoker 1c, 70374 V (SANF), MPK
MATTHEWS, George A, Stoker 1c, 70728 V (SANF), MPK
MCINTYRE, William G, Cook (S), 585360 (SANF), MPK
MCLARTY, William D, Leading Stoker, 562246 V (SANF), MPK
MCLEAN, Godfrey, Able Seaman, 562455 V (SANF), MPK
NILAND, St John E, Able Seaman, 209905 (SANF), MPK
PERRY, Desmond A, Petty Officer, 71211 (SANF), MPK
REID, Kenneth H, Signalman, 562143 V (SANF), MPK
SALCOMBE, Francis R, Stoker 1c, 58589 V (SANF), MPK
STAPELBERG, Willem J, Steward, 562221 V (SANF), MPK
SUTTON, Donald A, Able Seaman, 70426 (SANF), MPK
SUTTON, George A M, Leading Seaman, 586403 V (SANF), MPK
TRAFFORD, William O, Able Seaman, 71222 V (SANF), MPK
VILJOEN, Dennis A, Telegraphist, 70984 V (SANF), MPK
WHITE, Charles W, Petty Officer, 562200 V (SANF), MPK
WULFF, Emil F, Leading Seaman, 562466 V (SANF), MPK

Then there is the loss of Rear Admiral Guy Hallifax, the most senior South African Naval Officer to be lost during World War 2, he counts himself as one of the founders of the modern South African Navy and yet he is hardly remembered at all. (see this link for a full story Guy Hallifax, the most senior African Naval officer lost during WW2).  He is recorded here:

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Director of South African Forces

HALLIFAX, Guy W, Rear Admiral, SANF, air accident, killed

Then, consider these South African Naval Force casualties on other South Africa ships and in other South African operations during the war:

LUCAS, E W R, Chief Engineman, 66756 (SANF), died 4 October 1939
NICOLSON, Andrew, Cook, 63827 (SANF), died 13 October 1939
BESTER, A T, Leading Stoker, 6640 (SANF), died on the HMSAS Africana
HUGHES, T J, Stoker, 71383 (SANF), died 10 May 1941
CASSON, William, Able Seaman, 252935 V (SANF), died on the HMSAS Tordonn
HOLT, Albert E, Telegraphist, 69576 (SANF), killed on the HMSAS Southern Maid
VAN NOIE, Norman, Able Seaman, CN/72134 (SANF), died 20 September 1941
ST CLAIR-WHICKER, Willie H, Able Seaman, 67292 (SANF), died on 21 September 1941
SMITH, P, Able Seaman, CN/72263 (SANF), died 7 April 1942
RUITERS, Walter, Stoker, CN/72081 (SANF), died 21 July 1942
MURPHY, J, Able Seaman, CN/72256 (SANF), died 16 August 1942
FROST, M L, Able Seaman, CN/71804 (SANF), died on the HMSAS Receiffe
PETERSON, W J, Able Seaman, CN/72184 (SANF), died 4 September 1942
REHR, Cecil, Able Seaman, 69877 (SANF), died on the HMSAS Roodepoort
CARLELSE, Frederick, Able Seaman, CN/72004 (SANF), died on the HMSAS Soetvlei
PETERS, Norman, Leading Stoker, 66847 (SANF), died 3 January 1943
DELL, Rodney, Able Seaman, 68866 (SANF), killed 24 March 1943
HENDERSON, Alexander P, Chief Engine Room Artificer, 562099 (SANF), killed at Benghazi, Libya
JAMES, H, Steward, CN/72252 (SANF), died 9 May 1943
ORGILL, C B, Able Seaman, CN/71947 (SANF), died 14 May 1943
LA CHARD, Edwin, Lieutenant Commander, SANF, died 20 May 1943
LUCAS, A W, Able Seaman, 152875 (SANF), died 28 May 1943
BATEMAN, T, Chief Engine Room Artificer, 71627 (SANF), died 30 June 1943
ROBBERTS, Kaspar, Petty Officer, P/5285 (SANF), died 1 July 1943
BOSHOFF, Christofel J, Able Seaman, 70339 (SANF), killed on HMSAS Blaauwberg
LENZ, William, Able Seaman, 69544 (SANF), died on 29 August 1943
BESTEL, Emmanuel A N M, Lieutenant, SANF, died on 21 September 1943
HARLE, Paul A, Petty Officer, 71796 (SANF), died on 3 October 1943
STEELE, Ewen, Able Seaman, 71272 V (SANF), killed on HMSAS Southern Sea
BETTS, Robert, Able Seaman, 68900 (SANF), died 18 November 1943
PAGE, Robert, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, died 29 November 1943
MCLEAN, Richard, Stoker, 562567 (SANF), died 29 November 1943
HARRIS, R H, Telegraphist, 330488 (SANF), died 16 December 1943
NICHOLLS, John, Yeoman of Signals, 66824 V (SANF), died 19 December 1943
FLORENCE, John, Stoker, CN/71982 V (SANF), died 18 January 1944
DANIELS, Adam, Stoker, 72034 (SANF), died 28 January 1944
RAVENS, Albert, Able Seaman, CN/72213 V (SANF), died 31 March 1944
DE KLERK, John, Ordinary Seaman, 585868 V (SANF), died 4 May 1944
BOTHA, Herkulas, Cook, 562093 V (SANF), died 8 May 1944
BISSETT, Alexander, Lieutenant, SANF, died 16 June 1944
JENKINS, Edward G, Engine Room Artificer, 66720 V (SANF), died 14 September 1944
KEMP, Thomas, Able Seaman, CN/71015 V (SANF), died 20 September 1944
WATSON, George, Lieutenant, SANF, died 15 October 1944
BOSWELL, Louis F W, Chief Engine Room Artificer, 69756V (SANF), MPK on the 14 November 1944 on the HMSAS Treern
ABRAHAMS, Henry, Able Seaman, CN/719204 (SANF), died 19 November 1944
BERMAN, Nicholas, Ordinary Seaman, 616728V (SANF), died 22 November 1944
DIXON, Robert, Able Seaman, CN/584276 (SANF), died on 11 January 1945
TREISMAN, Gerald, Steward, 584730 V (SANF), died on 10 February 1945
LAMONT, J, Steward, 71402 (SANF), died 24 February 1945
HORNE, P D, Chief Petty Officer, 66661 V (SANF), died 31 March 1945
POVEY, Leonard, Able Seaman, 71182 V (SANF), died 31 March 1945
PFAFF, C E, Petty Officer Stoker, 562721 V (SANF), died 20 April 1945
CHRISTIAN, J W, Able Seaman, CN/71965 (SANF), died 5 May 1945
SIMON, Frederick, Stoker, CN/72046 V (SANF), died 8 May 1945
VAN AARDT, S, Stoker, CN/721490 (SANF), died 22 May 1945
CLARE, Frederick W, Chief Petty Officer, 69599 V (SANF), died 3 June 1945
KEOWN, R J, Able Seaman, CN/71845 (SANF), died 9 June 1945
WELCOME, J J, Able Seaman, CN/72270 (SANF), died 19 July 1945
VAN WYNGAARDT, F A, Able Seaman, 585610 V (SANF), died 21 July 1945
HEARD, George A, Lieutenant, SANF, died on the HMSAS Good Hope
COOK, W, Leading Stoker, 70527 V (SANF), died 8 August 1945

As if the above loss of South African Navy personnel is not large enough and the lack of recognition by the Navy not bad enough, there is an even bigger ‘elephant in the room’, a key factor completely overlooked by the South African Naval fraternity and the Navy itself, and that’s the South African Navy personnel seconded to the British Royal Navy and lost in the Royal Navy’s ships and shore facilities during the Second World War.

South African Naval personnel were lost on the following significant British vessel losses. Consider this very big ‘elephant in the room’ for a minute, because its getting BIGGER.  The losses of these Royal Navy ships carries long lists of South African sacrifice.

We start with all the ships containing South African Naval Forces personnel sunk during the Imperial Japanese Air Force ‘Easter Sunday’ raid on the British fleet in Colombo (this is regarded as the British ‘Peal Harbour’ just off modern day Sri Lanka) and it’s the darkest hour in terms of losses for South African Navy, yet it is neither recognised as such nor is it remembered.  (See this link for more depth:  The South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’ is not recognised and not commemorated)

During this attack Japanese airman flying Japanese  D3A-1 ‘VAL’ dive bombers flying from the Japanese Imperial fleet, dropped their bombs on the HMS Dorsetshire, who had a very large contingent of South African Naval personnel, she simply blew up when a  detonated an ammunition magazine and contributed to her rapid sinking.  Click here for a full Observation Post report on her sinking: “They machine gunned us in the water”; Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Dorsetshire

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HMS Dorsetshire

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 5 April 1942 when HMS Dorsetshire sank follows:

BELL, Douglas S, Ty/Act/Leading Stoker, 67243 (SANF), MPK
BRUCE, Alexander M, Stoker 2c, 67907 (SANF), MPK
CONCANON, Harold Bernard, Surgeon Lieutenant (Doctor)
EVENPOEL, Albert, Stoker 2c, 67909 (SANF), MPK
GEFFEN, Sender, Stoker 1c, 68035 (SANF), MPK
HOWE, Horace G, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68680 (SANF), MPK
KENDRICK, George, Stoker 2c, 67910 (SANF), MPK
MCINTYRE, Norman G, Able Seaman, 67446 (SANF), MPK
MCLELLAN, Robert, Ordinary Telegraphist, 67897 (SANF), MPK
MILNE, Lawrence Victor, Able Seaman
MORROW, Douglas E, Able Seaman, 67989 (SANF), MPK
ORTON, Charles P, Able Seaman, 68009 (SANF), MPK
REDMAN, Roland A, Leading Stoker, 67406 (SANF), MPK
SCOTT, William J, Able Seaman, 68007 (SANF), MPK
SEVEL, Harry, Stoker 1c, 68100 (SANF), MPK
VAN ZYL, David Isak Stephanus, Stoker 1st Class
WILLETT, Amos A S, Stoker 1c, 67240 (SANF), MPK
WILLIAMSON, Walter N, Able Seaman, 67803 (SANF), MPK

The second British ship in this particular Japanese air attack, on the same day and within range of one another was the HMS Cornwall, also stuffed full of South African Naval personnel seconded to her. The HMS Cornwall was hit eight times by the same dive bombers who sank the Dorsetshire and sank bow first in about ten minutes.

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HMS Cornwall

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 5 April 1942 when HMS Cornwall  sank follows:

BESWETHERICK, Hedley C, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 86671 (SANF), MPK
BOTES, John S, Stoker 2c RNVR, 68924 (SANF), MPK
COMMERFORD, Noel P, Able Seaman RNVR, 66493 (SANF), MPK
CRAWFORD, Cecil E, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c RNVR, 67922 (SANF), MPK
DU PREEZ, Charles P H, Able Seaman, 68175 (SANF), MPK
DUTTON, Charles C, Stoker 2c RNVR, 68949 (SANF), MPK
HANSLO, Raymond F, Able Seaman RNVR, 68295 (SANF), MPK
KEITH, Kenneth I B, Able Seaman RNVR, 66742 (SANF), MPK
KENYON, Graeme A B, Able Seaman RNVR, 68002 (SANF), MPK
KIRSTEN, Monty G W, Able Seaman RNVR, 68917 (SANF), MPK
LAW, Edward, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c RNVR, 66760 (SANF), MPK
MCDAVID, William K, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69138 (SANF), MPK
MITCHELL, William A, Stoker 1c RNVR, 68796 (SANF), MPK
PALMER, Walter A, Able Seaman RNVR, 68344 (SANF), (rescued, aboard HMS Enterprise), Died of Wounds
SPENCE, Noel W, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68732 (SANF), MPK
SQUIRES, John E, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68728 (SANF), MPK
STEPHEN, Eric B, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68861 (SANF), MPK
SWANN, Lawrence T, Stoker 1c RNVR, 68710 (SANF), MPK
THORPE, Maurice, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69140 (SANF), MPK
VERSFELD, Peter H S, Able Seaman RNVR, 68859 (SANF), MPK
VINK, Benjamin F, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68860 (SANF), MPK
WILLSON, Gerald F, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69006 (SANF), MPK
WRIGHT, Thomas H, Able Seaman RNVR, 68039 (SANF), MPK

In earlier incidents on HMS Cornwall two South Africans lost their lives they are also remembered here:

AINSLIE, Roy, Petty Officer, 66382 (SANF), died on 5 September 1940
HAWKINS, Reginald D, Able Seaman, 66700 (SANF), died of illness 4 March 1942

The Easter Raid later offered a great prize for the Japanese, an aircraft carrier, the HMS Hermes, this massive aircraft carrier was sunk a week later by the Japanese near Colombo (now Sri Lanka), the pride of the British Pacific fleet became an inferno after it was dived bombed a number of times.  It too had a long association with South Africa and a very big contingent of South African Naval Personnel. (see this link for a in-depth article on the South African Navy sacrifice abound her “Dante’s Inferno”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hermes).

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HMS Hermes

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 9 April 1942 when HMS Hermes  sank follows:

BRIGGS, Anthony Herbert Lindsay Sub-Lieutenant (Engineer) Royal Navy (South African national), MPK
BRYSON, Neil W, Ordinary Telegraphist, 69147 (SANF), MPK
BURNIE, Ian A, Able Seaman, 67786 (SANF), MPK
CLAYTON, Frederick H, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 68102 (SANF), MPK
DE CASTRO, Alfred T, Stoker 1c, 67914 (SANF), MPK
KEENEY, Frederick W, Able Seaman, 67748 (SANF), MPK
KEYTEL, Roy, Able Seaman, 67296 (SANF), MPK
KIMBLE, Dennis C, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 67600 (SANF), MPK
KRAUSE, Frederick E, Able Seaman, 68321 (SANF), MPK
RAPHAEL, Philip R, Able Seaman, 67841 (SANF), MPK
RICHARDSON, Ronald P, Able Seaman, 67494 (SANF), MPK
RILEY. Harry Air Mechanic 2nd Class, Fleet Air Arm, Royal Navy (South African national), MPK
TOMS, Ivanhoe S, Able Seaman, 67709 (SANF), MPK
VICKERS, Colin P, Able Seaman, 68296 (SANF), MPK
VORSTER, Jack P, Able Seaman, 67755 (SANF), MPK
WHITE, Edward G, Stoker, 68026 (SANF), MPK
WIBLIN, Eric R, Able Seaman, 67717 (SANF), MPK
YATES, Philip R, Supply Assistant, 67570 (SANF), MPK

Included is also a South African who served with the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm on the HMS Hermes.

RILEY, H, Air Mechanic, Fleet Air Arm, HMS Hermes, died 9 April 1942

Next on the list of ships lost during the Easter Raid which contained a high number of South African Naval personnel on board was HMS Hollyhock, sunk on the same day as the HMS Hermes by the same Japanese Dive Bombers on the 9th of April. Click here for a full Observation Post report on her sinking  “She immediately blew up”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hollyhock

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HMS Hollyhock

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 9 April 1942 when HMS Hollyhock sank follows:

ANDERSON, Henry G, Able Seaman, 67501 (SANF), MPK
BASTON, Douglas T, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 68600 (SANF), MPK
BUITENDACH, James M, Stoker 2c, 69223 (SANF), MPK
JUBY, Kenneth J, Ordinary Seaman, 69211 (SANF), MPK
LEACH, Peter A D H, Stoker 2c, 69225 (SANF), MPK

It was not just the Japanese Imperial Fleet, the German Navy also took its toll on the Royal Navy, and once again we find South African Naval Personnel seconded to serve on these famous ships sunk during the war.

We start with the HMS Gloucester lost on the 22 May 1941 during action off Crete. They HMS Gloucester, along with HMS Greyhound and HMS Fiji were attacked by German “Stuka” Dive Bombers. The Greyhound was sunk and Gloucester was attacked and sunk while they attempted to rescue Greyhounds survivors in the water (see this link for a full story – click here A “grievous error”; Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Gloucester).

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HMS Gloucester

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 22 May 1941 when HMS Gloucester sank follows:

ANGEL, Walter J H, Able Seaman, 67351 (SANF), MPK
AUSTIN-SMITH, John R, Ordinary Seaman, 67336 (SANF), MPK
BAGSHAW-SMITH, Philip R, Ordinary Seaman, 67337 (SANF), MPK
BAGSHAWE-SMITH, Sydney Q, Able Seaman, 68454 (SANF), MPK
BARBER, Edgar F, Able Seaman, 67302 (SANF), MPK
BRUCE, John, Able Seaman, 67355 (SANF), MPK
CARTER, Frederick G, Able Seaman, 67345 (SANF), MPK
CHILTON, Ronald H D, Ordinary Seaman, 67335 (SANF), MPK
EDWARDS, Ronald E, Ordinary Seaman, 67384 (SANF), MPK
ELLIOT, Edward R, Leading Seaman, 66584 (SANF), MPK
GERAGHTY, Herbert C, Able Seaman, 67338 (SANF), MPK
GROGAN, Graham B, Able Seaman, 67343 (SANF), MPK
JAMES, Victor F, Ordinary Seaman, 67303 (SANF), MPK
JENSEN, Niels P, Able Seaman, 67347 (SANF), MPK
MCCARTHY, Henry F, Ordinary Seaman, 67223 (SANF), MPK
MOORE, Albert, Able Seaman, 67416 (SANF), MPK
SLATER, Bryan M, Able Seaman, 67358 (SANF), MPK
SMITH, Matthew S, Able Seaman, 67359 (SANF), MPK
SONDERUP, Arthur W, Able Seaman, 67356 (SANF), MPK
STADLANDER, Rowland C, Stoker 1c, 67400 (SANF), MPK
STOKOE, Cyril A M, Act/Leading Seaman, 67264 V (SANF), MPK
SYMONS, Maurice M, Able Seaman, 68245 (SANF), MPK
THOMPSON, Walter E H, Able Seaman, 67360 (SANF), MPK
VAN DYK, Cecil H, Able Seaman, 67404 (SANF), MPK
WEBBER, Reginald, Able Seaman, 67361 (SANF), MPK
WILLIAMS, Dastrey S, Leading Seaman, 67047 (SANF), MPK
WRIGHT, Gerald V, Act/Ordnance Artificer 4, 67375 (SANF), MPK

The HMS Gloucester was involved in earlier combat on the 8 July 1940 when it was bombed, the South African casualties are remembered here:

ALLISON, Oswald H, Able Seaman RNVR, 67349 (SANF), killed
NOWLAN, Francis C, Able Seaman RNVR, 67409 (SANF), DOW

Tragedy struck the South African Naval Forces seconded to the HMS Barham when she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-331,  Three torpedoes hit HMS Barham’s port side causing it to list heavily and spread fire towards the ammunition storages. Only 2 and a half minutes passed from the torpedo impact until the ship rolled onto its side and capsized as the aft magazine exploded in an almighty explosion (see this link for a full story – click here “She blew sky high”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Barham!)

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HMS Barham

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 25 November 1941 when HMS Barham sank follows:

BAKER, Dennis E W, Ordinary Seaman, 68617 (SANF)
GLENN, Paul V, Ordinary Seaman, 68906 (SANF)
HAYES, Richard T, Ordinary Seaman, 68499 (SANF)
MORRIS, Cyril D, Ordinary Seaman, 68932 (SANF)
UNSWORTH, Owen P (also known as R K Jevon), Ordinary Seaman, 69089 (SANF)
WHYMARK, Vivian G, Ordinary Seaman, 69024 (SANF)

The Italians also took a toll of British shipping, again with ships with a South African contingent and this is brought to home on the 19 December 1941, when the HMS Neptune, struck four mines, part of a newly laid Italian minefield. Neptune quickly capsized (see this link for a full story – click here South African sacrifice on the HMS Neptune).

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HMS Neptune

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 19 December 1941 when HMS Neptune sank follows:

ADAMS, Thomas A, Able Seaman, 67953 (SANF), MPK
CALDER, Frank T, Ordinary Seaman, 67971 (SANF), MPK
CAMPBELL, Roy M, Able Seaman, 67318 (SANF), MPK
DIXON, Serfas, Able Seaman, 67743 (SANF), MPK
FEW, Jim, Able Seaman, 67744 (SANF), MPK
HAINES, Eric G, Able Seaman, 67697 (SANF), MPK
HOOK, Aubrey C, Able Seaman, 67862 (SANF), MPK
HOWARD, Harold D, Signalman, 67289 (SANF), MPK
HUBBARD, Wallace S, Able Seaman, 67960 (SANF), MPK
KEMACK, Brian N, Signalman, 67883 (SANF), MPK
MERRYWEATHER, John, Able Seaman, 67952 (SANF), MPK
MEYRICK, Walter, Ordinary Signalman, 68155 (SANF), MPK
MORRIS, Rodney, Ordinary Signalman, 68596 (SANF), MPK
RANKIN, Cecil R, Signalman, 67879 (SANF), MPK
THORP, Edward C, Signalman, 67852 (SANF), MPK
THORPE, Francis D, Able Seaman, 67462 (SANF), MPK
WILD, Ernest A, Able Seaman, 67929 (SANF), MPK

Other South Africans who had enlisted into the Royal Navy were also lost on HMS Neptune, these include (and by no means is this list definitive) the following:

OOSTERBERG, Leslie W, Stoker 1c, D/KX 96383, MPK
TOWNSEND, Henry C, Stoker 1c, D/KX 95146, MPK

On the 30 April 1942, on her return leg from Murmansk, the HMS Edinburgh was escorting Convoy QP 11 when a German Submarine U-456  torpedoed into her. The Edinburgh was carrying gold in payment by the Soviets for war equipment and she is the subject of a remarkable gold salvage after the war.  Again, she had a compliment of South African Naval Personnel (see this link for a full story – click here “Gold may shine; but it has no true light” South African sacrifice on the HMS Edinburgh).

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HMS Edinburgh

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 30 April 1942 when HMS Edinburgh sank follows:

DRUMMOND, Valentine W, Able Seaman, 68043 (South African Naval Forces), Missing Presumed Killed
VAN DORDRECHT, William H, Able Seaman, 67851 (South African Naval Forces), Missing Presumed Killed

On the 12 November 1942, the HMS Hecla was torpedoed by a German submarine, U-515 hitting her in the engine room. The U-boat then hit the ship with three coups de grâce sinking the vessel west of Gibraltar.  Again there is South African Naval casualty list (see this link for a full story – click here “Every man for himself” … South African sacrifice and the sinking of HMS Hecla).

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HMS Helca

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 12 November1942 when HMS Helca sank follows:

BENNETT, John F, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 330351 (SANF), MPK
LLOYD, George H, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 330353 (SANF), MPK
PEERS, Charles V, Able Seaman, 562653 (SANF), MPK
SMITH, Ian R, Electrical Artificer 4c, 68478 (SANF), MPK

And there’s more …. many South Africans served on a variety of Royal Navy ships and many were lost, here’s an indication which just captures South African Naval Forces personnel alone, let alone those who volunteered directly for the Royal Navy, the Honour Roll follows:

ANDERSON, Richard W N, Able Seaman, 86082 (SANF), killed 21 May 1941 on HMS Syvern
WESTON, Grant E, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68498 (SANF), killed 27 August 1941 on HMS Phoebe
RASMUSSEN, Victor J S, Leading Telegraphist, 66920 (SANF), MPK 24 November 1941 on HMS Dunedin
ADAMSON, William D, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 69001 (SANF), MPK 10 December 1941 on HMS Repulse 
BECKER, Stanley H, Able Seaman, 67474 (SANF), road accident, killed 5 January 1942 on HMS Carnarvon Castle
DRURY, Frederick, Ordinary Seaman, 68315 (SANF), MPK 29 January 1942 on HMS Sotra
SCOTT, Clifford, Ordinary Telegraphist, 66973 (SANF), MPK 26 March 1942 on HMS Jaguar
BUCHANAN, Alexander, Able Seaman, 67934 (SANF), died 20 April 1942 on HMS Birmingham
COMMERFORD, Terence, Ordinary Seaman, 330258 (SANF), died 21 June 1942 on HMS Express
PRICE, David, Able Seaman RNVR, P/68529 (SANF), MP 6 July 1942 on HMS Niger
TROUT, A (initial only) N, Able Seaman, CN/72133 (SANF), died 4 August 1942 on HMS Stork
JOHNSTONE, Henry N, Lieutenant Commander (E), SANF, 66727, died 18 August 1942 on HMS Birmingham
BAWDEN, Wilfred R, Stoker 2c RNVR, 330425 (SANF), DOWS 16 September 1942 HMS Orion
NIGHTSCALES, Norman, Writer, 68148 (SANF), MPK 30 December 1942 on HMS Fidelity
GITTINS, Victor L, Ordinary Seaman, 69325 (SANF), died 27 January 1943 on HMS Assegai (training base)
PLATT, Ronald M, Petty Officer, 67160 V (SANF), accident, killed 26 February 1943 on HMS President III (shore establishment)
CROSSLEY, Alfred H, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK 7 March 194 on HMS Saunders
DE KOCK, Victor P De C, Ty/Lieutenant, SANF, MPK7 March 194 on HMS Saunders
LOUW, Joseph, Stoker, CN 72175 (SANF), illness, died 2 December 1943 on HMS Stork
ATKIN, William B, Lieutenant SANF, illness, died 26 January 1944 on HMS Northern Duke
SHIELDS, Eric E M, Lieutenant, SANF, died 12 April 1944 on HMS Pembroke IV
HOWDEN, Russell K, Ty/Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK 4 January 1945 HMS ML 1163, Harbour Defence Motor Launch
CLARKE, Reginald E, Ty/Lieutenant Commander, SANF, air crash, MPK 24 July 1945 on HMS Adamant
LIDDLE, John, Lieutenant, SANF, MPK 8 August 1945 on HMS Barbrake

Then let’s consider the South African Naval Personnel serving in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm (the Royal Navy’s own Air Force separate to the Royal Air Force), and here the following South Africans are on the FAA Honour Roll (excluding Air Mechanic Riley from the Fleet Air Arm, recorded on the HMS Hermes loss).  For a full story of these South Africans lost in the FAA see this link – click here South African sacrifice in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm

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BOSTOCK, R S, Lieutenant, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 800 Squadron, HMS Ark Royal, died 13 June 1940
BROKENSHA, G W, Lieutenant, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 888 Squadron, HMS Formidable, died 11 August 1942
CHRISTELIS, C, Sub/Lieutenant, Royal Navy Reserve FAA 803 Squadron, HMS Formidable, died 1 August 1942
JUDD, F E C, Lieutenant Cmdr, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 880 Squadron, HMS Indomitable, died 12 August 1942
LA GRANGE, Antony M, Sub Lieutenant (A), SANF, Fleet Air Arm (Royal Navy)1772 Sqn HMS Indefatigable, air operations, MPK 28 July 1945
MACWHIRTER, Cecil J, Ty/Sub Lieutenant (A), Fleet Air Arm (Royal Navy) 851 Squadron HMS Shah, air crash, SANF, MPK 14 April 1944
O’BRYEN, W S, Sub/Lt Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 762 Squadron, HMS Heron, died 26 November 1942
WAKE, Vivian H, Ty/Lieutenant (A), FAA Fleet Air Arm (Royal Navy) 815 Squadron HMS Landrail, air crash, SANF, MPK 28 March 1945

Finally there are South African Naval personnel found in the Merchant Navy, to which they were also seconded and again the Honour Roll lists:

SS Tunisia, ship loss
ADAMS, Douglas E H, Act/Able Seaman RNVR, 66378 (SANF), (President III, O/P), MPK
ST La Carriere, ship loss
DORE, Frank B, Act/Able Seaman RNVR, 67218 (SANF), (President III, O/P), MPK
SS Laconia, ship loss
ROSS, Robert, Stoker 2c, 69119 (SANF), (Victory, O/P), DOWS
SS Llandilo, ship loss
CRAGG, Ronald F, Able Seaman (DEMS), 66488 (SANF), (President III, O/P), MPK
SS Ceramic, ship loss
MOSCOS, John G, Leading Writer, 66786 (SANF), (SANF, O/P), MPK
SS Empress of Canada, ship loss
COCHRANE, Joseph, Engine Room Artificer 3c, P 68947 (SANF), (Pembroke, O/P), MPK
SS Empire Lake, ship loss
FLINT, John M, Act/Able Seaman (DEMS), P 562749 (SANF), (President III, O/P), MPK

More names…

Logo_of_the_Royal_NavyNow consider this, we have not even begun to scratch properly at the honour roll, this above list is still highly inaccurate with many names missing.  We have no real idea of the thousands of South Africas who volunteered and died whilst serving in The Royal Navy Reserve and the Royal Navy itself, in fact we’ve barely got our heads around it.  Fortunately a handful of South Africans are working on it, almost daily, but it’s a mammoth task as these names are found on Royal Navy honour rolls and it’s a matter of investigating the birthplace of each and every British casualty.  The records of South African volunteers joining the Royal Navy lost to time really.

In conclusion

The only other ship the South African Navy has lost since the HMSAS Treern at the end of the Second World War in a more modern epoch was the SAS President Kruger, and unlike the Treern, whose loss was in combat, the Kruger’s loss was due to a tragic accident at sea (see “Out of the Storm came Courage” … the tragedy of the PK).

PK

These combat losses were one thing, however the same erasing of history is currently happening with the accidental loss in more recent times of SAS President Kruger (the PK), the ‘old’ SADF were very embarrassed by the loss (in effect by tragedy and circumstance we sank our own flagship) and the SADF never really got around to undertake a National Parade to commemorate and remember it.  Also in comparison to the bigger picture the loss of 16 South African Navy personnel on the PK is very small indeed, however no less important – and here’s the inconvenient truth, they were ‘swept under the rug’ by the old SADF and remain conveniently swept under the rug by the new SANDF.

On the World War 2 losses, the incoming ANC government from 1994 have fared no better than the old Nat government – they have merely lumped all the wartime combat losses of the HMSAS Southern Floe, the HMSAS Parktown, the HMSAS Bever and the HMSAS Treern into a ‘colonial’ issue not of their history or time, and as for the SAS President Kruger that was part of the ‘Apartheid’ forces in their minds, and as such to be vanquished.

The net result is the South African Navy simply does not have any national parades to commemorate or recognise any of its major losses at sea.  The South African Army at least has the Delville Wood Parade (the South African Army’s biggest singular combat loss, a WW1 incident), the South African Air Force has the Alpine 44 Memorial Parade (the SAAF’s biggest tragedy, a WW2 incident), the South African Navy …. nothing!

Instead the South African Navy (SAN) focuses on the loss of the Mendi as a SAN Maritime loss, even though the Mendi was under commission to the Royal Navy, and rather inconveniently the South Africa Navy did not really exist in World War 1, it was only really created just before World War 2.  Then again, the SS Mendi was also carrying South African Army troops in the form of the South African Labour Corps, not South African Navy personnel (the SAN didn’t exist in any event).

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The Mendi is a both a wartime and political tragedy,  The silence and subsequence recognition is a national healing one (see Let us die like brothers … the silent voices of the SS Mendi finally heard ).  As such it’s now a National Memorial Parade, part of ‘Armed Forces Day’ and one for the entire SANDF to commemorate and remember – and rightly so.  But is it a SA Navy specific commemoration – not really – no.

In all this the Navy still dogmatically refuses to host its own National Commemoration to its own naval actions and tragedies, it’s just too politically inconvenient, and wouldn’t it be nice if South African Navy can see past it and see its Naval sacrifice on its own ships, and those of SAN personnel on Royal Navy ships and finally just institute an ‘All at Sea’ Naval Memorial Parade in Remembrance or erect a full Naval memorial (similar to the erected by the Royal Navy in Portsmouth)?

Very small ‘All at Sea’ commemorations are done by the odd South Africa Legion branch and odd MOTH Shellhole, on a very local basis – driven by a tiny group of individuals.  Nobel in their undertakings no doubt, but these remain very small private initiatives attended by only a handful and is it really enough?

As demonstrated, The South African Navy’s honour roll for World War 2 is a staggering and very long list – it’s an elephant, a very big one at that and it’s a growing elephant, even to this day.  It’s well time we seriously look at ourselves, examine our values as to what constitutes sacrifice for the greater good of man and acknowledge it properly.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.  The honour roll extracted from ‘Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, World War 2’ by Don Kindell.  Additional names gleaned from honour rolls published by Col Graham Du Toit (retired).

 

“Wounded 27 times”; When re-naming a fighting ship makes sense!

We are usually up in arms when things get re-named in South Africa, as more often than not it’s usually a political motivation that underpins it ahead of actually honouring South Africans highly deserving of it.   But now and again we get it right, and the renaming of the SAS Oswald Pirow in 1997, a South African Navy fighting strike craft, to her new name the SAS René Sethren is a case in point.

So why was Oswald Pirow singled out to get his name taken down from an honour bestowed on him and who the heck is René Sethren?  It’s almost guaranteed that most modern South Africans would have no clue who Sethren was, most would properly just assume he was this or that ‘struggle hero’.

Far from it, Rene Sethren is a hero all South Africans can stand very proud of, but more of him later, what’s the issue with Oswald Pirow?

Oswald Pirow

In a nutshell Oswald Pirow was an Afrikaner Nationalist who served as a Minister of Parliament and Minister of Defence under the nationalist Hertzog coalition.  He was pivotal in creating South African Airways and famously prosecuted Nelson Mandela in the Treason Trial.

But he had a very dark side, he was also an ardent full-blown Nazi, prior to World War 2 he launched the Nazi New Order ideology in South Africa, he adored and met both Hitler and Mussolini, and his disposition to Nazism as an ideology did not end with the end of the war, in fact with the election of the National Party in 1948 he felt more empowered in his beliefs and it ramped up somewhat.

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Oswald Pirow (in civilian dress) inspecting Nazi German forces

After the war Pirow went into collaboration with the infamous British Fascist Party leader Oswald Mosley to write a joint paper on the separate development of white and black races in all of Africa along the lines of white supremacy and black subjugation – the idea to feed ‘white’ African southern states from ‘black’ North African states with exploited migrant labour.

So, naming a South African strike vessel after him was going to be very controversial, it applauded all the old South African Navy veterans and serving personnel who went to war against the very ideology Oswald Pirow followed.  They had watched thousands of South Africans make massive sacrifices including the ultimate one, fighting on British and South African vessels against Nazism, and now they watched an insular nationalist government name a fighting vessel after an ardent flag waving Nazi.

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Oswald Pirow and Oswald Mosley

Not a military man either, Pirow had never served in the military other than to be a Minister of Defence, he had no military credentials and he was hated by the South African jewish community, the war veteran community and South African black community – in fact ‘hated’ would be an understatement.

Hardly a ‘hero’, the naming of his SAN Strike Craft vessels after Ministers of Defence called ‘Minister Class’ would be controversial from the get-go, a simple case of political one-upmanship and the case of Oswald Pirow the nationalists would be seen as rubbing the South African navy veterans noses in it for supporting Britain in World War 2.

So, no surprise really as to why the ‘Minister Class’ of defining strike craft and Oswald Pirow’s name had to go. But thankfully, this time in a breath of fresh air, the South African Navy decided on a simple hero, and not political one-upmanship, when it came to re-naming the SAS Oswald Pirow.  They chose CPO (Stoker) René Sethren, but who the heck is he and what did he do?

René Sethren

sethrenChief Petty Officer (Stoker) René Sethren CGM has a story which is simply jaw dropping to say the least. René Sethren left school after Std 7, a keen boxer and highly astute he joined South Africa’s fledgling navy as a stoker in 1940, rising in rank eventually to Chief Petty Officer (Stoker).

On the 30th June 1941, a small flotilla of ships including South African mine-sweepers is on convoy from Mersa Matruh approaching Tobruk in the midst of the fighting around Tobruk between Rommel’s German and Italian Axis forces and the British and Commonwealth Forces, with South Africans right at the centre of it defending Tobruk and El Alamein.

As they close in on the coast the convoy comes under fire from German shore batteries and is also attacked by a number of German Stuka dive bombers, JU87’s and Messerschmidt 109’s.

Enter one small South African ship, HMSAS Southern Isles, a converted whaler, performing anti submarine, patrol and general support duties in the Mediterranean during the Second World War, and its stoker René Sethren.

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HMSAS Southern Isles

Five German JU-88’s attacked the HMSAS Southern Isles, luckily with no real damage, then came a little lull in the fighting, during which a single JU-87 which had been attacking a convoy merchant called the ‘Cricket’ nearby made a close pass to the HMSAS Southern Isles and was shot down by the Southern Isles’ rear gun.

But that was not the end of it, a bigger and more fierce attack was to come.  The convoy came under attack from 50 enemy aircraft, 8 of which were concentrated on any one ship in the convoy.   The commander of the HMSAS Southern Isles described it as “The sky appeared to rain bombs”.

As a result of this action there are by then a number of casualties on the upper deck. In order to assist those fighting off the attacking Stuka aircraft Chief Petty Officer (Stoker) René Sethren is sent up from his normal station shovelling coal in the engine room, he had been at this task for a 12 full hours.  René is also a qualified reserve machine gunner and he was urgently needed, his best friend who had been manning the ships’ twin Lewis anti-aircraft machine gun was dead lying next to gun. René immediately took over the gun, standing on ammunition boxes to train his gun he starts a non stop volley of fire against the attacking German aircraft.

At this stage a German JU88 aircraft joined the Stuka attack and strafed the ship’s upper deck with its machine guns. Sethren is seen to fall after he was hit by machine gun bullets from the JU88 (he had 8 separate bullet wounds  – read that again – shot 8 times).

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Junkers JU-88

Notwithstanding his wounds he muscles up some superhuman strength and stands up, and unbelievably he again engages the attacking aircraft with the Lewis gun. At the conclusion of the battle Rene Sethren is found to have more than just the eight bullet wounds, in fact medics count a total of 27 wounds in one arm, both legs and his side.

Conspicuous_Gallantry_Medal_(Flying)_(UK)For his actions he is awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal – the highest award won by a South African rating in World War 2, the only South African to be awarded this medal and one of only 243 men who had been awarded the medal prior to that day since its introduction in 1855.

Rene Sethren received his gallantry decoration from King George V. His wounds are so extensive he spends 18 months recovering in hospital, his boxing career over and because of his injuries he is unable to ever go to sea again.

In conclusion

Wow, now that is a man we can stand around of, that is the sort of person we can name a fighting ship after.  No politics, just pure gallantry from a simple rating, an engine stoker – an inspiration to any person serving in the navy.  In every respect the right person to re-name the SAS Oswald Pirow strike craft after.

The Warrior Class South African Ship René Sethren started on her final voyage in October 2001 leaving  Durban harbour for the South African Navy’s fleet headquarters in Simonstown to be finally decommissioned after 22 years of service, with a fitting name to a proud fighting legacy.

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SAS René Sethren

Related Work and Links

Oswald Pirow;  South Africa’s ‘Neuordnung’ and Oswald Pirow

Tobruk; “Defeat is one thing; Disgrace is another!” South Africa’s biggest capitulation of arms – Tobruk

HMSAS Parktown; The feisty South African minesweeper that went down fighting – HMSAS Parktown

HMSAS Treern;  The last South African Navy ship to be lost in action; HMSAS Treern

HMSAS Bever; “Under a hail of shells”; Recounting the bravery and loss of HMSAS Bever

HMSAS Southern Floe; ‘A sole survivor and a ship’s crest’; the South African Navy’s first loss – HMSAS Southern Floe

Military Heroes; Tainted “Military Heroes” vs. Real Military Heroes


Written and researched by Peter Dickens.  References, Day by Day SA Naval History by Chris Bennett. Allan du Toit’s  ‘South African Fighting Ships Past and Present’.

South African sacrifice in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm

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FAA pilot standing on the wing of a Seafire (adapted Spitfire with arrest capability). Note the “beard”  and his wings on his sleeve above his rank.

The Fleet Air Arm (FAA) is a lessor known service in the bigger picture of World War 2, but no less important.  In essence the Fleet Air Arm is the Royal Navy’s own Air Force, designed solely to be launched either at sea from aircraft carriers and ships or from shore bases on maritime based operations and in defence of the Royal Navy specifically.

The Royal Air Force was an independent arm of service from the Navy, it worked in conjunction with the Navy and the Army in joint commands, however it also worked in conjunction with the Navy’s own Air Force – the Fleet Air Arm.

The Fleet Air Arm is interesting as it flew a wide variety of very unique fixed wing aircraft in World War 2, and rotary wing aircraft post war (helicopters).  The FAA aircraft in World War 2 were usually a little different to the ‘landed’ cousins as they to be specially adapted for operating at sea, they also had to be a lot more robust and made to ‘fold-up’ to store them on deck.  They were even given different names, for the same equivalent Royal Air Force and US Air Force aircraft, an example is the famous ‘Spitfire’ had its named changed to ‘Seafire’ when serving with the FAA along with its special additions (like assesting or catapult hooks).

Even lessor known is the fact that the Fleet Arm has had a number of South Africans serve in it, and it all ties back to the strong Naval ties Britain – and the Royal Navy specifically – had with South Africa, especially as the Naval Base at Simonstown is near Cape Town, South Africa, and it was British sovereign territory during the war (a status that existed well in the 1960’s).

Like the South African Naval Forces personnel (SANF) finding themselves seconded to the Royal Navy or South Africans joining the Royal Navy directly as Royal Navy volunteer reserve – South African branch (RNVR), so too did many South Africans find themselves in the Royal Navy’s FAA either as SANF personnel or RNVR personnel.

It also unfortunately follows that when tragedy strikes the Royal Navy and its Air Force, there are South African losses.  So, lets look at each of the South African men specifically lost serving the Fleet Air Arm, honour them by telling a little about their story, the squadrons they belonged and the unique FAA aircraft they flew.  By looking at the sacrifice it will also give us a small insight into this very unique history of the FAA.

Fleet-Air-Arm

A unique book was written and illustrated by Derrick Dickens called ‘Stringbag to Shah’ on the history of the Fleet Air Arm, illustrated because many of the aircraft used by the FAA were not recorded in colour, or at best obscure with no record of paint schemes etc – and he wanted to bring these unique aircraft to living in vivid colour using his artwork.  We’ll be using this unique catalog with the permission of the copyright owner.

In all there were 9 men according to current records (this can change as more research has been done on the honour roll) who were South African and died serving in the Fleet Air Arm.  So lets start with the first South African man lost.

HMS Ark Royal

BOSTOCK, R S, Lieutenant, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 800 Squadron, HMS Ark Royal died 13 June 1940

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Blackburn Skua during Norway Operations by Derrick Dickens

At the time of Lt. Robert Bostock’s death, the HMS Ark Royal (a massive aircraft carrier), operated a number of FAA squadrons from its flight deck.  In June 1940, FAA 800 Squadron was operating as part of the reaction force to the German invasion of Norway, 800 and 803 had dive-bombed the German Cruiser Königsberg on 10 April 1940 and sank it, flying the ‘Skua’.

800 squadron embarked on Ark Royal later that month, with the carrier providing air cover to the fleet and to Allied troops. 800 Squadron’s Skua’s claimed six Heinkel He 111  bombers shot down.  On 13 June 1940, Ark Royal launched a dive bomber attack against the German Battleship Scharnhorst with 800 Squadron losing four Skuas out of six, along with Lt Bostock (our South African) and the Squadron’s Commanding Officer, Captain R.T. Partridge.

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FAA Blackburn Skua B-24 by Derrick Dickens

“Too big too slow. too late, this was the Blackburn Skua and the reputation that followed it. Slow and big it certainly was by the standards of the day, It towered above the ground on a spindly under carriage, and was indeed a large piece of ironmongery to expect the under powered Perseus engine to hoist into the air. But considering the radical nature of its design by British standards at the time of its conception the Skua was competent enough, maintaining Blackburn’s name for rugged naval aircraft, and adequately fulfilling the demands of the specifications that had given it birth, but as a combat aircraft it was not very successful” (Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

The next South African man lost was not a FAA pilot or navigator, he was a FAA aircraft mechanic;

HMS Hermes 

RILEY, H, Air Mechanic, Fleet Air Arm, HMS Hermes, died 9 April 1942

At the time of Air Mechanics Riley’s death the HMS Hermes (also an aircraft carrier) was searching for the Japanese Imperial Fleet off Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) during the infamous Japanese ‘Easter Sunday Raid’ on Colombo – the Royal Navy’s own ‘Pearl Harbour’ and the South African Navy’s ‘Darkest Hour’ because of all the ships were lost with large South African Naval personnel on board – see this Observation Post link for the full story by clicking this link; The South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’ is not recognised and not commemorated).

While sailing south off Batticaloa on the East Coast of Ceylon, HMS Hermes and its accompanying flotilla was by Japanese Carrier-Borne dive-bombers from the Imperial Japanese Task Force in the process of attacking the Naval Base at Trincomalee.

Approximately 70 Japanese aircraft were despatched to bomb the HMS Hermes which became an inferno and sank within ten minutes of being hit by numerous aircraft bombs.

At the time of her sinking the HMS Hermes was the home to No. 814 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm flying the famous ‘Fairey Swordfish’ torpedo bomber, and these were the aircraft that Air Mechanic Harry Riley son of Alfred and Mary Ellen Riley, of Springs, Transvaal, South Africa, would have worked on.

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FAA Fairey Swordfish ‘Stringbags’ by Derrick Dickens

“Stringbag’ so named because of all the wires and stays. Archaic in appearance even when it first flew, the venerable Swordfish was the Fleet Air Arm’s premier torpedo-bomber at the outbreak of World War II and was destined to become a naval legend.

 Having arrived at a stage of World War II when a biplane, was a very rare sight, despite appearances, this beautifully ugly aircraft was no anachronism, for the Fairey Swordfish, as it was named, had then a still vital role to play in World War II. The Swordfish had the distinction in fighting the Axis from the very first days of the war until victory for the Allies in Europe had been assured.

Swordfish first saw action in the Norwegian campaign, and went on to see service in the Mediterranean, the Western desert, Iraq, the Battle of the Atlantic, and in support of convoys bound for Russia, attacks on the French fleet at Oran in July 1940 following the D-Day evacu­ation, and attacks on the Italian fleet at Taranto, and the German battleship Bismarck. The Swordfish is credited with the destruction of a greater tonnage of enemy shipping than any other allied aircraft during World War II. In so doing, the Swordfish outlived and outfought aircraft which had been designed to replace it in service, and during this period created a record of the machine achievement in association with human courage that makes pages of the Fleet Air Arm’s history a veritable saga.” (Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

The next South African man lost with FAA was lost from HMS Formidable.

HMS Formidable

CHRISTELIS, C, Sub/Lieutenant, Royal Navy Reserve FAA 803 Squadron, HMS Formidable, died 1 August 1942

FAA 803 squadron at the time of Sub/Lt. Christelis’ death was equipped with the Fairey Fulmar II and operated from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) against the Japanese (also participating in the infamous sea battles surrounding Japanese Imperial Navy’s Easter Sunday raid against the Royal Navy), joining the HMS Formidable from April 1942. Sub/Lt. Cornelius Christelis was the son of Christos and Eleni Christelis, of Germiston, Transvaal, South Africa.

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FAA Fairey Fulmar Mark II

“The first eight-gun fighter to enter service with the Fleet Air Arm, the Fulmar two-seat shipboard general-purpose fighter was designed at a time when the Admiralty held the view that navigational aids were inadequate to ensure the safe return of a single-seat fighter to its carrier in inclement weather, and that a navigator was, therefore, indispensable”.(Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

The next South African man lost with FAA was also lost from HMS Formidable from FAA No. 888 Squadron around the same time as Sub/Lt. Christelis.

HMS Formidable

BROKENSHA, G W, Lieutenant, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 888 Squadron, HMS Formidable, died 11 August 1942

Lt Brokensha had an extensive career with the Fleet Air Arm, he flew Skua II with FAA 803 Squadron, taking part in Operation “Duck” on 17th April 1940 in defence of HMS Suffolk returning from Norway and from HMS Glorious he took part in numerous operations over Norway were he was even Mentioned in Despatches.  From HMS Ark Royal he took part in numerous operations including attack on Scharnhorst in Trondheim Harbour on the 13 June 1940, for which he earned DSC.  By 1942 he was posted to 888 Squadron flying Martlets as Senior Pilot, joining HMS Formidable on 1st February 1942.  His death is a little mysterious, he is recorded as  missing overboard from HMS Formidable, at night on the 11th August 1942.

FAA 888 squadron’s Marlet Mk II aircraft are an interesting addition to the Fleet Air Arms rich history, as they are essentially American Grumman Wildcats with a Royal Navy spin.

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FAA Martlet Mk II by Derrick Dickens

“The Royal Navy’s effect upon the F4F Wildcat was considerable. The Fleet Air Arm introduced it to combat a year before Pearl Harbor, and exerted influence in its armament fit which ran con­trary to opinion in US Navy squadrons. The Wildcat was the first truly modern fighter flown from British carriers, and represented an enormous leap forward in Royal Naval aviation” (Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

The next South African man lost with the FAA was a very senior officer, a Lieutenant Commander on the HMS Indomitable.

HMS Indomitable

JUDD, F E C, Lieutenant Cmdr, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 880 Squadron, HMS Indomitable, died 12 August 1942

At the time of Lt Cmdr Judd’s death, the HMS Indomitable and its fleet of 880 Sea Hurricanes was involved with Operation Pedestal which revolved around securing supplies to Malta in the central Mediterranean.  In early August the Royal Navy were engaged in heavy combat with German and Italian aircraft bombing their ships securing these vital supplies to the besieged island of Malta.  The date Lt. Cmdr Judd died was a particularly heavy day of combat when 4 waves of German and Italian aircraft attacked the British Fleet, on 12th August the HMS Indomitable’s 880 Squadron FAA Sea Hurricane fighters had been in heavy aerial combat with Axis forces, with crew losses and in the evening the HMS Indomitable’s defensive screen was breached and she was hit by two 500 kg bombs; a 500 kg bomb penetrated the un-armoured portion of the flight deck, killing 50 and wounding 59 men causing damage that required her to withdraw from the fight.

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Sea Hurricane Mk II by Derrick Dickens

“That the Hawker Hurricane occupied a vital place in Britain’s history cannot be denied. Put simply, the Hurricane saved Great Britain in 1940; it was the right aircraft, at the right time, and flown by the right pilots. No one can deny the excel­lence of the Spitfire, nor that it one of the great fighting aircraft of World War II. Yet, outdated though the Hurricane may have appeared by comparison, its simplicity of concept and opera­tion was such that it could be — and was – dispatched to any of the danger spots that spread like cancer during those first three years of the war when events threatened to engulf the Allied nations with disaster.

Overshadowed by the Spitfire, the Hurricane was slower, less manoeuvrable and half a generation older in terms of technology. What mattered was that it was available in numbers and could be adapted to a variety of roles. One of which was a carrier-based fighter version which the Navy dubbed the ‘Sea Hurricane’ (Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

The next South African man lost was from the Fleet Air Arm’s No. 762  Squadron on the HMS Heron

HMS Heron

O’BRYEN, W S, Sub/Lt Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 762 Squadron, HMS Heron, died 26 November 1942

At the time of S/Lt O’ Bryen’s death the HMS Heron and 762 Squadron were raining units.  The HMS Heron is not a ship or carrier, it’s a shore base and one of the last of the Fleet Air Arm’s bases still in Operation now re-named Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset, England. It was used primarily during World War 2 as the home of No1. Naval Air Fighter School and later the Aircraft Direction Centre. The 700-series squadrons are generally experimental or training squadrons, which produce trained aircrew for the operational 800-series squadrons.

S/Lt William Stanislaus O’Bryen, the son of John and Ivy O’Breyen of Fynnland, Natal, South Africa is buried at the Fleet Air Arm’s Church in Yeovilton which contains a small number of FAA members killed in aviation accidents whilst training at HMS Heron.

It is unclear from records what aircraft S/Lt O’Bryen was involved with, however one of the more famous aircraft flown at HMS Heron used to train young pilots by the middle of the war was the famous Seafire, a naval adaption of the iconic Spitfire.

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FAA Seafire MK 1B by Derrick Dickens

“The Seafire which in fact was little more than a “navalised” Spitfire, it was without any doubt the most effective British built naval fighter of World War 2, even though it had the reputation of not being suitable for the rigours of carrier operations. To some degree, this reputation was deserved for the Spitfire was of lightweight design, never intended for naval service, but it filled a gap till the specialist naval types in the shape of the Corsair and Hellcat arrived, in the mean time serving in major campaigns in the Far East, Africa and Europe” (Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

The next South African man lost was from the Fleet Air Arm’s No. 851 Squadron on the HMS Shah, and he in fact was a member of the South African Navy, having been seconded to the FAA.

HMS Shah

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nMACWHIRTER, Cecil J, Ty/Sub Lieutenant (A), Fleet Air Arm (Royal Navy) 851 Squadron HMS Shah, air crash, SANF, MPK 14 April 1944

At the time of S/Lt Macwhirter’s death the HMS Shah had just completed an operation to the United States to collect equipment and airframes for twelve Avenger aircraft allocated to 851 Naval Air Squadron (FAA) on the 14th.  The Shah sailed for Melbourne, departing Australia on 8th February 1944 for Cochin.  On the 23rd February she disembarked her ferry load of American fighters; this included the Avenger airframes earmarked for 851 squadron.

851 squadron was to remain ashore until 6th March before rejoining the ship. The next two weeks would be spent working up her air department and flight deck parties; this was the first opportunity for flying operations to be carried out.  HMS Shah arrived in Colombo on February 19th and 851 was flown off to RNAS Colombo Racecourse. Aircraft were embarked as required when further training; it was on such training that 851 suffered its first operational loss when Avenger FN813 stalled and ditched in the sea off the West coast of Ceylon while conducting a night anti submarine exercise on April 14th killing all three crew members, including S/Lt Cecil John Macwhirter, our South African son of Samuel and Elizabeth MacWhirter.

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FAA Tarpon (Avenger) Mk 1 by Derrick Dickens

“When the Grumman Avenger first joined the Fleet Air Arm in 1943 it was very aptly named after a big ugly bird, the Tarpon. No 832 was the first Tarpon squadron to be formed and  in December 1942 they  sailed on HMS Victorious to America to commence training on the new torpedo bomber at the US Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Virginia They were equipped with US navy aircraft as the British machines were not ready Their first embarkation was on USS Saratoga and they landed up in the Pacific theater in April 1943. A month later they re-embarked on HMS Victorious for a period of operations in the Solomons. The FAA retained the name Tarpon until January 1944, when the name was changed back to the original American Avenger and  became known as Avenger 1s” (Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

The second last South African to be lost fighting in Fleet Air Arm was with 1772 Squadron (FAA) on the HMS Indefatigable, he was also a member of the South African Navy and seconded to the Fleet Air Arm.

HMS Indefatigable 

LA GRANGE, Antony M, Sub Lieutenant (A), SANF, Fleet Air Arm (Royal Navy)1772 Sqn HMS Indefatigable, air operations, MPK 28 July 1945

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FAA Firefly Mk 1 by Derrick Dickens

In July 1945 1772 Naval Air Squadron, flying Fireflies, boarded HMS Indefatigable and joined the British Task Force 37 which then joined the US Task Force 38 in the northern Pacific for the final assault on the Japanese Mainland. The combined Task force comprised 14 Fleet Carriers, 25 Cruisers , at least five battleships, 75 Destroyers, and many other craft…. and 1300 aircraft. This was the largest naval force ever gathered in one area in history. The American Fleet comprised at least three-quarters of that combined fleet.

Many raids and bombardments took place in these last days of the war and losses were considerable despite the fact that the Japanese forces were very depleted by this time. The previous engagement had been largely American again and of course the European war had ended. This was the final massive battle against the remaining island possession occupied by the Japanese, Okinawa. Noteworthy in this engagement, which cost many American lives, was the Kamikaze and the Indefatigable received one Kamiikaze strike on its deck, killing several personnel.

The HMS Indefatigable went on to join the Americans in Tokyo Bay for the Peace Treaty signing.  S/Lt. Antony Michael La Grange, the son of Mrs. I. B. La Grange, of Albertinia, Cape Province, South Africa is remembered on the Plymouth Memorial.

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FAA Firefly Mk IV by Derrick Dickens

“The Fairy was conceived in the late “thirties”, blooded on the mid “Forties” withdrawn from production in the mid “Fifties” and finally retired in the mid sixties such was the 25 year lifespan of one of the most versatile aircraft to lift off a carrier deck. Combining performance, handling, maneuverability, and firepower never before displayed by a previous ship board aircraft, it wrote its own history due to its adaptability for roles and weapon loads unforeseen at the time of the creation of this handsome fighter – reconnaissance aircraft. The Firefly saw relatively limited action during World War Two, never the less it earned for itself a place in naval aviation history, for although the longevity of the Firefly was to be superceded, and its remarkable versatility was to remain peerless.  1,702 Fireflies were built over a period of 14 years, the most of them in post world war two guise which differed greatly in role and different in appearance from the original aircraft which made its operational debut on HMS Indefatigable, taking part on the attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz” (Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

The final South African to be lost in World War 2 flying for the Fleet Air Arm was also a member of the South African Navy seconded to the FAA on HMS Landrail.

HMS Landrail

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nWAKE, Vivian H, Ty/Lieutenant (A), FAA Fleet Air Arm (Royal Navy) 815 Squadron HMS Landrail, air crash, SANF, MPK 28 March 1945

By the time of Ty/Lt. Wake’s death, 815 Squadron had been reformatted in November 1944 at HMS Landrail, a shore base now called RNAS Machrihanish located 5 km west of Campbeltown on the western side of the Kintyre Peninsula in Scotland.

FAA 815 Squadron by this stage was flying Barracudas on anti-submarine operations, and doing DLT (deck landing training) on HMS Campania in preparation for the final operations in the Far East against Imperial Japan.

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FAA Barracuda Mk V

“The Barracuda was a large ugly beast of an aeroplane, when its wings were folded it looked like some prehistoric bird straight out of Jurassic Park. Un-pretty, big bulky, solid and generally disliked by the aircrew, they were used to good effect in 1944 during attacks on the Tirpitz, which was lying crippled in Kaafjord, North Norway, after being damaged in an attack by midget submarines. From April 1944 Nos. 810 and 847 began operations in the pacific theatre on board HMS Illustrious. Barracudas were also heavily involved in dive bombing attacks on Japanese land and maritime targets, as well as raids against Japanese targets in Sumatra. They continued to support the Allies advance until the end of the war

Towards the end of the war a major redesign of the Barracuda was undertaken to provide an interim aircraft for use in the war against Japan, until the Fairey Spearfish became available. This development resulted in the Barracuda TR Mk V”. (Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

In Conclusion

HRH Prince PhilipThe best way to summarise the Fleet Air Arm, its commitment and sacrifice is in fact found in the forward of Derrick Dickens’ Stringbag to Shar’ written by none other than the Admiral of the Fleet, HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh K.G., K.T., O.M., G.B.E.

“When you look at the difficulties experienced by the pioneers of aviation Lord Cayley, the Wright brothers, Hiram Maxim and Colonel ‘Buffalo’ Bill; Cody – to get a machine to take off from mother earth and to fly through the air, it is not surprising that many people considered them to be extremely foolhardy, if not actually insane. To the far-sighted, the use of aircraft in war may have seemed obvious, it really needed the conviction of a saint to visualise the practical use of aircraft in a war at sea.

This splendid book traces the chequered history of naval aviation, and the extraordinary vision and determination of the designers, builders and pilots of naval aircraft against every sort of discouragement. It also illustrates the remarkable imagination of those who helped to develop all the ancillary equipment, such as aircraft carriers, catapults, arrestor wires, angled decks, ‘ski-jumps’, and all other gimmicks that enabled naval aviation to make a solid impact on the war at sea.

Looking through the illustrations in this book, it seems almost unbelievable that men could be found, not just to fly them, but to inflict damage on the enemy, and return to tell the tale.

The contribution of naval aviation to the war at sea during WW1 and WW2, may not have made the headlines in quite the same way as land-based aircraft, but, as the final days of the war against Japan demonstrated, the participation of naval aircraft was crucial to the ultimate allied victory”.

Related Work and Links

Related work of South Africans serving in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm

HMS Hermes “Dante’s Inferno”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hermes

Dick Lord Dick Lord – the combat legend who took learnings from the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm to the SAAF

Easter Raid The South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’ is not recognised and not commemorated


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens, references from Wikipedia, The Commonwealth War Graves Commissioned, SAAF and RAF Honour Roll compiled by Graham du Toit, BBC People’s War, Fly Navy – HMS Shah, Fleet Air Arm Officers Association, CASUALTIES BY DATE and SHIP Compiled by Don Kindell sourced on the Royal Naval History Homepage.

Large extracts and paintings taken from “Stringbag to Shar 1938 to 2006” Compiled by Derrick Dickens. All the images used in this book are photographs of original paintings
by the author. These images may not be used anywhere else without the
specific permission of the copyright owner – Mr Peter Dickens. Images © Derrick Dickens 2008. (All original paintings).

The South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’ is not recognised and not commemorated

1200px-Emblem_of_the_South_African_NavyHere’s a question for many,  in what action did the South African Navy (SAN) experience its greatest single loss of personnel, the largest sacrifice of South African life in a single  sea battle  – in essence when and what was the South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’?

I’ve asked this question of senior South African military personnel, including the South African Navy as well as the South African Naval fraternity, the veterans – and the bottom line is … nobody knows.

Some immediately say it was the Mendi, as the remembrance of the Mendi is now the South African Navy’s key responsibility, but the loss of the SS Mendi in World War 1 was not a loss of South African Navy personnel (the South African Navy did not exist in WW1 and the Royal Navy was in charge of this particular troop ship full of South African ‘Army personnel’) and the loss of the Mendi was an accident at sea and not a combat action.

za)nv81Most (actually the majority) of SAN officers and veterans would say it was the loss of the SAS President Kruger (16 souls) but that would also be very wrong, both in terms of scale and action, the SAS President Kruger loss was also an accident at sea and not a combat action.

A tiny handful of SAN officers and vets who have a little knowledge of World War 2 might venture to answer the question by stating the loss of any one of the four South African minesweepers sunk during the war as the ‘darkest hour’ of the war.

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nThese are the HMSAS Southern Floe (24 souls) or the HMSAS Parktown (5 souls), or the HMSAS Bever (17 souls) or the HMSAS Treen (23 souls) – getting warm but that too would be wrong, as these did not happen over a defined period of the war that would warrant a ‘darkest hour’ in Churchill’s definition of the phrase (Churchill coined the term).

Nope, the largest loss of South Africans in a single sea battle, its ‘Darkest Hour’ took place fighting against Imperial Japan from the 5th to the 9th April 1942 … yup, the Japanese – believe it, and by the end of this particular naval engagement at sea a grand total of 65 South African souls were lost.  Now how many people know that!

The reason to ‘forget’!

So why does nobody know about this, why is this incident not ‘recognised,’ why is nobody ‘commemorating’ it and what exactly happened?

Simply put, it’s because they all died fighting whilst seconded to four British war ships in an action in the Pacific called ‘The Easter Sunday Raid’ – and it involved the sinking of the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire in a single day – and later the sinking of HMS Hermes and HMS Hollyhock a few days later by the Japanese Imperial Navy.  But why should that be an issue and a reason to ‘forget’?

Imperial Japanese ensign

Japanese Imperial Fleet Ensign from World War 2

Again the simple answer is because just three short years after World War 2 the National Party in a stunning and unexpected election win over Jan Smuts’ United Party, came into power with their proposal of ‘Apartheid’ and making South Africa a ‘Republic’ independent of Britain – and they hated the British or anything to do with Britain.  The Nationalists had grounded an entire Afrikaner identity and a country’s ‘nationalism’ on two events – The Great Trek and The 2nd Anglo-Boer war, both of which carried a history of either British betrayal or British atrocity.

During the Second World war these nationalists either openly sided with Nazi Germany and in many cases (by their tens of thousands in fact) even joined Neo-nazi South African parties and/or adopted national socialist movement (Nazism) ideology publicly, some (including a future Nationalist South African President) embarked on sedition and terrorism to undermine the war effort (see “Mein Kampf shows the way to greatness for South Africa” – The Ossewabrandwag).

Bottom line, to the Nationalists thinking anyone who took part in Smuts’ campaign for South Africa to fight in the Second World War was a traitor to their ‘Volk’ (peoples).  In their minds they went to fight ‘Britain’s war’ alongside the hated British – traitors all (even though an unprecedented 1 in 4 white South African males volunteered to fight in WW2 – half of them Afrikaners).

For the Nationalists commemorating the sinking of South African ships fighting alongside British ones in World War 2 was bad enough.  However, commemorating and remembering the South African loss whilst fighting on His Majesty’s British ships themselves would be, for the nationalist government at least, an unforgivable betrayal.

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Members of the South African Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve serving on board HMS Nelson. The group is sat on one of the 16 inch gun barrels.

For this reason, the sinking of South African ships lost in World War 2 was not really extensively commemorated by the ‘old’ South African Defence Force  (SADF).  The SADF came into existence once the Nationalists declared South Africa a ‘Republic’ and replaced Smuts’ old ‘South African Union Defence Force (UDF) with a reformed military entity.  The sinking of HMSAS ships are only ‘remembered’ in small pockets of veteran South African Legion branches and MOTH shell-holes.

It is also for this reason that the SADF and the South African Navy did not ever commemorate the South African losses on British Ships, it is the reason why this particular ‘darkest hour’ in the South African Navy’s history is not recognised or remembered at all, which is utterly unforgivable as this is the very institution who supplied the men to The Royal Navy in the first place.

It is made worse in the modern epoch, by the newly reformatted South African National Defence Force’s Navy after 1994, which has not only lost the link thanks to the Nationalists, but also does not attempt to re-kindle it, party because of lack of knowledge, but also because it suits the African National Congress’ political agenda not to remember this association (commemorating or remembering a time when South Africans went to war for the ‘Colonials’ does not suit their current narrative).

So, let’s start addressing this betrayal of our armed forces personnel and understand what happened to qualify this as the South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’, who is on this honour roll and what’s been done about in now?

What happened? 

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Simonstown Dry Docks, when next there look out for the ships emblems of the Dorsetshire, Cornwall, Hermes and Hollyhock

As Simon’s Town was a Royal Navy base during World War 2 (British soil in the middle of South Africa), men volunteering for the “South African Naval Forces” (SANF) to fight in World War 2 where either allocated to Royal Navy ships (titled HMS – His Majesty’s Ship) or on South African Navy ships (tilted HMSAS – His Majesty’s South African Ship), therefore whenever a large Royal Navy ship was lost during the war it is almost guaranteed that a number of South African Naval Personnel (SANF) were lost with it.

When large HMS ships are lost in an action on the same action the number of South African naval personnel lost just rockets – and this is the case with the sinking of the HMS Cornwall, HMS Dorsetshire, HMS Hermes and HMS Hollyhock.

The Japanese Easter Raid of 1942

Zero

A Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane takes off from the deck of the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi, part of the Japanese Naval force in the Indian Ocean

With Japan’s entry into the war, and especially after the fall of Singapore, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) became a front-line British base. The Royal Navy’s East Indies Station and Eastern Fleet was moved to Colombo and Trincomalee.

Admiral Sir James Somerville was appointed as the commander of the British Eastern Fleet, and he decided to withdraw main component the fleet to Addu Atoll in the Maldives, leaving a small force to defend Ceylon (now Shri Lanka) consisting of an aircraft carrier, the HMS Hermes, two heavy cruisers – the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire, one Australian Destroyer the HMSAS Vampire and the flower class HMS Hollyhock.

The Imperial Japanese Navy, in much the same way and with the same objectives that were used at Pearl Harbour planned a decisive attack of the British Eastern Fleet to end their presence in the North Indian and Pacific oceans.  Unaware that the main body of the British fleet had moved to the Maldives, they focused their plan on Colombo.

The planned Japanese attack was to become collectively known as the Easter Sunday Raid and the Japanese fleet comprised five aircraft carriers plus supporting ships under the command of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo.

In an almost exact copy of the raid on the American fleet at Peal Harbour (as if no learnings were made by the Allies), on 4 April 1942, the Japanese fleet was located by a Canadian PBY Calatina aircraft, the Catalina radioed the position of the Japanese Fleet to The British Eastern Fleet which alerted the British to the impending attack before it was shot down by six Japanese Zero fighters from the carrier Hiryu,  However, despite the warning Nagumo’s air strike on Colombo the next day, Easter Sunday – 5th April –  achieved near-complete surprise (Pearl Harbour was also attacked on a weekend). The British Radar installations were not operating, they were shut down for routine maintenance.

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The Japanese high command had planned the bombing of Colombo very much like the Pearl Harbor operation (many of the same planes and pilots participated in both strikes); but most of the British Eastern Fleet was at Addu Atholl in the Maldives, so when the Japanese attacked at Colombo there were only three ships there.

The sinking of the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire.

The day before, 4 April, when the Japanese carrier fleet was spotted, the two heavy cruisers the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire set out for Addu Atoll in pursuit of the Japanese. On 5 April 1942, the two cruisers were sighted by a spotter plane from the Japanese cruiser Tone about 200 miles (370 km) southwest of Ceylon.

As part of the engagement known as the Easter Sunday Raid, a wave of dive bombers led by Lieutenant Commander Egusa took off from Japanese carriers to attack Cornwall and Dorsetshire, 320 km (170 nmi; 200 mi) southwest of Ceylon, and sank the two ships.  Both the Dorsetshire and the Cornwall had long associations with South Africa and had large contingent of South African Naval Personnel on board.

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Japanese combat photograph showing the Royal Navy heavy cruisers HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall on fire and sinking

In the attack, the Japanese airman flying Japanese  D3A-1 ‘VAL’ dive bombers, a total of 53 dive bombers in the attack wave, dropped 10 bombs on the HMS Dorsetshire itself (250- and 550-pound bombs) and 8 near misses, all in the span of 8 minutes.  One of the bombs detonated an ammunition magazine and contributed to her rapid sinking.  Of the two British cruisers, the HMS Dorsetshire sank first, with her stern going first at about 13:50, the HMS Cornwall was hit eight times and sank bow first about ten minutes later.

For a full story on the HMS Dorsetshire and her long association with South Africa, see this Observation Post by clicking this link: “They machine gunned us in the water”; Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Dorsetshire

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For a full story on the HMS Cornwall and her long association with South Africa, see this Observation Post by clicking this link: “A terrific explosion lifted the ship out of the water”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Cornwall

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British and Allied losses were 424 men killed; 1,122 survivors spent thirty hours in the water before being rescued by HMS Enterprise and two British destroyers.

The sinking of the HMS Hermes and HMS Hollyhock

If the above losses qualify a dark day for the South African Navy it then becomes the SAN’s ‘darkest hour’, when in the same Japanese Operation, only a couple of short days later, on 9 April 1942, the Japanese focussed their attack on the harbour at Trincomalee and the British ships off Batticaloa. The HMS Hermes left the Royal Naval Base of Trincomalee, Ceylon escorted by the Australian Destroyer HMAS Vampire and HMS Hollyhock looking to engage the Imperial Japanese fleet which had attacked Colombo.

While sailing south off Batticaloa on the East Coast of Ceylon, this British flotilla was also attacked by the Japanese Carrier-Borne dive-bombers from the Imperial Japanese Task Force now in the process of attacking the Naval Base at Trincomalee.

Approximately 70 Japanese aircraft were despatched to bomb the HMS Hermes which sank within ten minutes of being hit by numerous aircraft bombs. HMAS Vampire was also sunk by bombs a short while later.

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HMS Hermes ablaze and sinking

The HMS Hollyhock was about 7 nautical miles from the HMS Hermes escorting a tanker, the RFA Athelstane when the Hermes came under attack.  The Hollyhock came under attack by the same Japanese aircraft and it too was bombed and sunk.

Once again, the HMS Hermes also had a very large South African Naval Forces contingent seconded to it on board, and the same applied to the HMS Hollyhock, and therefore once again there is a large of loss of South African life in this action against the Imperial Japanese fleet.

For a full story on the HMS Hermes and her long association with South Africa, see this Observation Post by clicking this link “Dante’s Inferno”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hermes

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For a full story on the HMS Hollyhock and her long association with South Africa, see this Observation Post by clicking this link “She immediately blew up”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hollyhock

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HMS Hollyhock

The Honour Roll

Total South African Naval Force (SANF) losses on the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire in the single day of action were as follows (MPK means “missing presumed killed”):

HMS Cornwall

BESWETHERICK, Hedley C, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 86671 (SANF), MPK
BOTES, John S, Stoker 2c RNVR, 68924 (SANF), MPK
COMMERFORD, Noel P, Able Seaman RNVR, 66493 (SANF), MPK
CRAWFORD, Cecil E, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c RNVR, 67922 (SANF), MPK
DU PREEZ, Charles P H, Able Seaman, 68175 (SANF), MPK
DUTTON, Charles C, Stoker 2c RNVR, 68949 (SANF), MPK
HANSLO, Raymond F, Able Seaman RNVR, 68295 (SANF), MPK
KEITH, Kenneth I B, Able Seaman RNVR, 66742 (SANF), MPK
KENYON, Graeme A B, Able Seaman RNVR, 68002 (SANF), MPK
KIRSTEN, Monty G W, Able Seaman RNVR, 68917 (SANF), MPK
LAW, Edward, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c RNVR, 66760 (SANF), MPK
MCDAVID, William K, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69138 (SANF), MPK
MITCHELL, William A, Stoker 1c RNVR, 68796 (SANF), MPK
PALMER, Walter A, Able Seaman RNVR, 68344 (SANF), (rescued, aboard HMS Enterprise), Died of Wounds
SPENCE, Noel W, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68732 (SANF), MPK
SQUIRES, John E, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68728 (SANF), MPK
STEPHEN, Eric B, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68861 (SANF), MPK
SWANN, Lawrence T, Stoker 1c RNVR, 68710 (SANF), MPK
THORPE, Maurice, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69140 (SANF), MPK
VERSFELD, Peter H S, Able Seaman RNVR, 68859 (SANF), MPK
VINK, Benjamin F, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68860 (SANF), MPK
WILLSON, Gerald F, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69006 (SANF), MPK
WRIGHT, Thomas H, Able Seaman RNVR, 68039 (SANF), MPK

HMS Dorsetshire

BELL, Douglas S, Ty/Act/Leading Stoker, 67243 (SANF), MPK
BRUCE, Alexander M, Stoker 2c, 67907 (SANF), MPK
CONCANON, Harold Bernard, Surgeon Lieutenant (Doctor)
EVENPOEL, Albert, Stoker 2c, 67909 (SANF), MPK
GEFFEN, Sender, Stoker 1c, 68035 (SANF), MPK
HOWE, Horace G, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68680 (SANF), MPK
KENDRICK, George, Stoker 2c, 67910 (SANF), MPK
MCINTYRE, Norman G, Able Seaman, 67446 (SANF), MPK
MCLELLAN, Robert, Ordinary Telegraphist, 67897 (SANF), MPK
MILNE, Lawrence Victor, Able Seaman
MORROW, Douglas E, Able Seaman, 67989 (SANF), MPK
ORTON, Charles P, Able Seaman, 68009 (SANF), MPK
REDMAN, Roland A, Leading Stoker, 67406 (SANF), MPK
SCOTT, William J, Able Seaman, 68007 (SANF), MPK
SEVEL, Harry, Stoker 1c, 68100 (SANF), MPK
VAN ZYL, David Isak Stephanus, Stoker 1st Class
WILLETT, Amos A S, Stoker 1c, 67240 (SANF), MPK
WILLIAMSON, Walter N, Able Seaman, 67803 (SANF), MPK

But, unfortunately there is more.  As in the same Japanese Operation, just a couple of days later saw the loss of the HMS Hermes and HMS Hollyhock (also lost in a single day), the honour roll of South Africans on board these two fighting ships who were lost is as  follows:

HMS Hermes

BRIGGS, Anthony Herbert Lindsay Sub-Lieutenant (Engineer) Royal Navy (South African national), MPK

BRYSON, Neil W, Ordinary Telegraphist, 69147 (SANF), MPK
BURNIE, Ian A, Able Seaman, 67786 (SANF), MPK
CLAYTON, Frederick H, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 68102 (SANF), MPK
DE CASTRO, Alfred T, Stoker 1c, 67914 (SANF), MPK
KEENEY, Frederick W, Able Seaman, 67748 (SANF), MPK
KEYTEL, Roy, Able Seaman, 67296 (SANF), MPK
KIMBLE, Dennis C, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 67600 (SANF), MPK
KRAUSE, Frederick E, Able Seaman, 68321 (SANF), MPK
RAPHAEL, Philip R, Able Seaman, 67841 (SANF), MPK
RICHARDSON, Ronald P, Able Seaman, 67494 (SANF), MPK
RILEY. Harry Air Mechanic 2nd Class, Fleet Air Arm, Royal Navy (South African national), MPK
TOMS, Ivanhoe S, Able Seaman, 67709 (SANF), MPK
VICKERS, Colin P, Able Seaman, 68296 (SANF), MPK
VORSTER, Jack P, Able Seaman, 67755 (SANF), MPK
WHITE, Edward G, Stoker, 68026 (SANF), MPK
WIBLIN, Eric R, Able Seaman, 67717 (SANF), MPK
YATES, Philip R, Supply Assistant, 67570 (SANF), MPK

Included in this Honour Roll is also a South African serving with the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm on the HMS Hermes.

RILEY, H, Air Mechanic, Fleet Air Arm, HMS Hermes, died 9 April 1942

HMS Hollyhock

ANDERSON, Henry G, Able Seaman, 67501 (SANF), MPK
BASTON, Douglas T, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 68600 (SANF), MPK
BUITENDACH, James M, Stoker 2c, 69223 (SANF), MPK
JUBY, Kenneth J, Ordinary Seaman, 69211 (SANF), MPK
LEACH, Peter A D H, Stoker 2c, 69225 (SANF), MPK

 Lest we forget the tremendous sacrifice of our countrymen in this world war for the liberation of human kind.

Why is it important we get this history right?

Logo_of_the_Royal_NavySo there we have it, the South African Navy’s biggest single loss in a single day – 41 souls, a ‘black day’ and added together with the HMS Hermes and HMS Hollyhock , we see a complete total of 65 South African souls lost in one single engagement at sea – qualifying a very ‘black week’ – The Easter Sunday Raid and this then marks the Easter period as the South African Navy’s ‘Darkest Hour’.

But is this correct – is this the full complement of South Africans lost in the incident?  The answer unfortunately is – probably not.

Whilst the honour rolls distinguish the South African Naval Forces personnel seconded to British ships, they do not distinguish the South Africans who joined the Royal Navy directly in either Simonstown or in the United Kingdom – of which there were thousands and those who lost their lives are now listed under the Royal Navy’s honour roll.

The ‘old’ South African Defence Force (SADF) did not maintain these records, nor was a honour roll tracked by the South African Navy and simply put, when the Nationalists broke the formal ties with the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, and after the resultant four decades in the ‘wilderness’ during the Apartheid epoch – many of these names are now ‘lost’.to all of us as South Africans.

To find out which of these are South Africans requires research into each and every case on the Royal Navy’s record – a momentous task which some dedicated people looking into this are only now beginning to get their heads around.  Here we must thank the likes of Glenn Knox, David Bennet, Allan du Toit, Cameron Kinnear and Graham Du Toit and a handful of others for sterling work recovering this history.

So, in all likelihood more than just ’64’ South Africans died in this action, and why is this important for us to know who they were? Read this letter I received when I published this honour roll and action in a previous article on the HMS Dorsetshire it says everything as to the importance of this work:

Letter from Chris Crossley

Hi Peter,
Just another story for you! This post you put up on the Legions page has some amazing history which you wouldn’t know about but I am happy to share with you to show my gratitude for these “nuggets” of info you share with us.

My wife, Tracy, was an adopted child who after 35 years found her birth parents. Wonderful people they turned out to be and we are building a relationship with them that is priceless. As things go, curiosity led us to find out about family history and Tracy’s birth Dad told us about an uncle of his that was lost during the war. He was in the SAN and went down with “some” ship somewhere. He was married at the time and his wife, on hearing the news that her husband was lost at sea (MIA) never gave up on the hope of his return to Durban because he was never seen and not confirmed deceased. Because of this, she never remarried and passed away many years later, remaining faithful to her husband. Her husband was Roland Redman who served with the SA Navy volunteers on the HMS Dorsetshire that your story includes. His name is included in the Role of Honour for the Dorsetshire.

None of the wider family have ever known what happened to him and the facts and details of his service were not known by the surviving family members either. This last Saturday evening, I was talking to my wife’s birth Dad when he recounted the scant details he had of his uncle. I went on line and found your article and shared it with him on fb. Well he was overcome by this information as well as other members of his family and now for the first time in seventy odd years the facts of Uncle Roland, his service and his sacrifice are now known and cherished by his family left behind.

As an historian, I am sure this story will be something that you can cherish as your post has made a huge difference to some wonderful people! Thank you.

Chris Crossley

See When “nuggets” of history make a BIG difference

In Conclusion 

Now, with this letter in mind, I cannot think of a better reason to get this history right and establish the correct commemorations and full honour roll.  We owe it to our countrymen whose sacrifice brought us international freedom and liberty – it is our duty to carry this flame of remembrance and rid ourselves of the divisive and petty politics of one-upmanship played out by politicians with agendas (nationalists and the ANC) – this politicisation shrouds our most honourable history and only serves to dishonour the sacrifice of our South African servicemen and women – which is by its very nature is as ‘unforgivable’ as it is ‘dishonourable’.

Related work and Links:

For related work in the Observation Post on the above story, click on the following links:

SS Mendi: Let us die like brothers … the silent voices of the SS Mendi finally heard 

HMSAS Southern Floe:  ‘A sole survivor and a ship’s crest’; the South African Navy’s first loss – HMSAS Southern Floe

HMSAS Parktown: The feisty South African minesweeper that went down fighting – HMSAS Parktown)

HMSAS Bever  “Under a hail of shells”; Recounting the bravery and loss of HMSAS Bever

HMSAS Treern: The last South African Navy ship to be lost in action; HMSAS Treern

SAS President Kruger:  “Out of the Storm came Courage” … the tragedy of the PK

South Africans lost on other Royal Navy ships:

HMS Barham: “She blew sky high”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Barham!

HMS Edinburgh: “Gold may shine; but it has no true light” South African sacrifice on the HMS Edinburgh

HMS Gloucester: A “grievous error”; Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Gloucester

HMS Helca: “Every man for himself” … South African sacrifice and the sinking of HMS Hecla

HMS Neptune: South African sacrifice on the HMS Neptune


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.  References Wikipedia. CASUALTIES BY DATE and SHIP Compiled by Don Kindell sourced on the Royal Naval History Homepage.  Image copyright of Royal Navy, SA Naval Reserve, Imperial War Museum.  Japanese Imperial Ensign object, Imperial War Museum copyright.

 

Guy Hallifax, the most senior African Naval officer lost during WW2

29662349_2114964258732561_5863672511395231607_oThis Easter we also remember Rear Admiral Guy Hallifax, the most senior South African Naval officer  to lose his life during World War 2.  His contribution to the Navy is significant as he literally is one of the founding fathers of the modern South African Navy as we know it.

Guy Hallifax served in the Royal Navy from 1899 to 1935, and ended his RN career on the staff of the last British Governor-General of South Africa, the Earl of Clarendon.  Remaining in South Africa, at the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939, he was recruited by the South African government to form a Navy, which was to be named the ‘Seaward Defence Force’.

As the first Director of the Seaward Defence Force, he established a small fleet of minesweepers and anti-submarine vessels for coastal defence, and organised naval detachments in the major ports.  In his work, the South African seaward defence forces became a formidable institution by 1943, please take the time to watch this short Pathé newsreel which captures it.

In March 1941, Guy Hallifax flew in a small de Havilland Dragon Rapide to Walvis Bay, a small South African naval territory in South West Africa (now Namibia), for a staff visit to the base.   Uncomfortable with the old bi-plane Dragon Rapid, he elected to return in a heavier, modern and more powerful Loheed Lodestar.  This is Dragon Rapid he flew to Walvis Bay in – courtesy the SA Naval Museum.

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The de Havilland Dragon Rapide used by Guy Hallifax to fly to Walvis bay

On the 28th March 1941, when Rear Admiral Guy Hallifax returned from his staff in a civilian registered South African Airways Lockheed 18-08 Lodestar, Registration ZS-AST en-route to Cape Town, which tragically flew into the high ground near at Baboon Point near Elands Bay (Elandsbaai) in dense fog. All on board were killed which including Rear Admiral Guy Hallifax and three civilians.

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Similar SAA Lockheed 18-08 Lodestar to ZS-AST

They are all buried in a mass grave in the Plumstead cemetery, the grave is cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  Here is his final resting place.

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Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.  References Wikipedia and the SA Naval Museum, with thanks to Glenn Knox.  Video copyright Pathé news , also referenced is Day by Day SA Naval History: By Chris Bennett.