South African sacrifice on the HMS Hecla

As Simonstown was a British naval base during the Second World War thousands of naval ratings and officers who volunteered to serve in the South African Navy – known as the South African Navy Forces – landed up on British vessels. So when one was sunk, as HMS Hecla was, inevitably there is a very long honour roll of South Africans. Read on for their story.

HMS Hecla was built on the Clyde as a destroyer depot ship and after being commissioned on the 6 January 1941 was based at Havelfjord in Iceland as the mother ship for the destroyers escorting the Atlantic convoys which kept Britain from starving.

In the summer of 1941 Hecla was joined by the repair ship USS Vulcan and that Autumn returned to the Clyde for a short refit after which it headed south to an unanounced destination in the southern hemisphere. It was to have joined the fleet being assembled to defend Singapore against the Japanese but detonated a mine off the coast of South Africa and limped into the naval port of Simonstown where it spent several months under repair. These months were a happy interlude for its crew and it took on South African Naval Force personnel.

On the 20 October with Capt G.V.B. Faulkner RN in command Hecla left Cape Town with Convoy CF.7 for Freetown escorted by HMS Shropshire. On arrival at Freetown on the 2 November they joined the destroyer depot ship HMS Vindictive as part of Convoy CF.7A whch left with a strong escort on the 4 November for Liverpool. A young RNVR rating, Tom Davis, on the destroyer escort HMS Active took this last photograph before it was torpedoed less than a week later.

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The two destroyer depot ships, HMS Hecla and Vindictive, were joined by the destroyer escorts, HMS Venomous and HMS Marne, near the Canaries on the 8 November and detached for Gibraltar to support the ships taking the troops to the invasion of north Africa, Operation Torch.

HMS Hecla was torpedoed by U-515 commanded by German U-boat ace, Werner Henke. At 00.15 hours on 12 Nov 1942,  U-515 fired a spread of four torpedoes at HMS Hecla commanded by A/Capt G.V.B. Faulkner, Royal Navy.  The HMS Hecla was misidentified as a Birmingham-class cruiser and hit her in the engine room. Two torpedoes were surface-runners and the last also malfunctioned and was a circle-runner. The U-boat then hit the ship with three coups de grâce at 01.28, 01.49 and 02.06 hours, sinking the vessel west of Gibraltar.

Werner Henke und Piloten an Bord eines U-Bootes

At 02.11 hours,  U-515 fired two torpedoes and badly damaged the HMS Marne (G 35) (LtCdr H.N.A. Richardson, DSO, DSC, RN) whilst she attempted to rescue the survivors of HMS Hecla. Fifty four ratings and ten officers were rescued by HMS Marne before she was hit in the stern by a torpedo intended for Hecla killing 14 of her crew.

HMS Venomous broke off its rescue efforts to pursue the U-boat.

More survivors of the HMS Hecla were then eventually picked up by HMS Venomous (Cdr H.W. Falcon-Steward, RN) and landed at Casablanca.  The performance of Cdr Falcon-Steward and his officers and crew in fighting the U-boat while rescuing survivors was praised by Admiral Cunningham in his report. Every member of the crew played their part in the rescue of survivors, some risking their own lives by diving in to help the men in the oil covered water.

The Anti Submarine Bosun on Venomous, Warrant Officer H.J.B. Button RN was an unsung hero. Herbert “Jimmie” Button, was a strong swimmer. He gave his own life to save the lives of others, diving in repeatedly to rescue the men struggling for their lives in the oil covered water, only to die a few days later from his exertions.

One survivor was Lt. Herbert Hastings McWilliams of the South African Navy. This recently commissioned 35 year old officer in the South African Navy, an architect in his father’s practice in Port Elizabeth before the war, had enlisted as an ordinary seaman in 1941 and joined HMS Hecla at Simonstown on the 4 September 1942.  He was an exceptionally gifted artist and his wonderfully realistic paintings of Hecla sinking on the back of old charts (based on sketches done with a throat brush and a mixture of iodine and rum  from the sick bay of Venomous).  His paintings are in the Imperial War Museum, London.

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The Sinking of HMS Hecla with the Destroyer HMS Marne by Lt. Herbert Hastings McWilliams SANF.

HMS Venomous arriving at Casablanca with her decks crowded with survivors from HMS Hecla

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South African Honour Roll – HMS Hecla, ship loss

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

U-515 sinking on her Sixth and Final Patrol

On 8 April 1944, U-515 spotted a carrier-based aircraft and submerged; an hour later she surfaced and was attacked by another aircraft. U-515 engaged the machine with her 3.7-cm anti-aircraft gun. The plane’s bombs missed the U-boat and U-515 failed to shoot down the aircraft.

On 9 April U-515 was attacked north of Madeira by the destroyers USS Pope, USS Pillbury, USS Chatelain and USS Flaherty.  Flooding and loss of depth control forced the U-Boat to the surface, where she was sunk by rockets fired from Grumman Avenger and Grumman Wildcat aircraft and gunfire from the destroyers.

Sixteen of U-515s crew were killed, but 44 survived the attack. The survivors were picked up by the destroyers and later transferred to the aircraft carrier USS Guadalcanal.

Survivors of U-515 climb aboard USS Chatelain and USS Pope after their boat was sunk

Reference: A HARD FOUGHT SHIP. The story of HMS Venomous.  Image copyright Imperial War Museum

 

The Leonardo da Vinci wreaks havoc off South Africa’s coastline

There is good reason why South Africa’s coastline was so heavily defended by the Royal Navy and South African Navy during World War 2, especially protecting shipping rounding the Cape, and none more so than protection from the submarine menace. One such submarine was the RM Leonardo da Vinci, an Italian submarine fighting alongside Nazi Germany as part of the Axis Pact.

The RM Leonardo da Vinci carried out 11 war patrols, sinking 17 ships, a total of 120,243 Gross Register Tonnage, which included the 21,500-ton Ocean Liner RMS Empress of Canada.  The da Vinci was Italy’s most successful submarine in World War II, and her captain, Lt. Gianfranco Gazzana-Priaroggia, Italy’s leading submarine ace.

The Leonardo da Vinci was one of six Marconi-class submarines built at Monfalcone in 1938 and 1939. The Marconi-class were fairly large boats, 251ft long with 1,510 tons submerged displacement and a crew of 57 men. Armed with four bow and four stern torpedo tubes, one 3.9in deck gun and four 13.2mm machine guns (mainly for anti-aircraft defense) they had a range of nearly 3,000 miles, a top surface speed of just over 17 knots and so were formidable weapons capable of operating far from home.

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The Last Patrol

In February 1943, the submarine began a long mission to hunt in South Africa’s waters – the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, it is the final patrol for the Leonardo da Vinci.

This patrol was conducted in collaboration with another Italian submarine, RM Finzi. On March 14th 1943, the da Vinci sunk her most notable target, the troopship SS Empress of Canada.

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 12.18.39The 21,516-ton RMS Empress of Canada, was a liner of the Canadian Pacific Steam Ship Company, which had been converted to a troop transport. To the German U-boat captains she managed to elude for three and a half years, she was known as “The Phantom”.

She was sailing from Durban, South Africa to the United Kingdom via Takoradi on the Gold Coast, West Africa. On board were 1,346 persons including 499 Italian prisoners of war and Greek and Polish refugees.

Just after midnight the first torpedo struck. The commander of the Leonardo Da Vinci then gave Captain Goold, the commander of the Empress of Canada half an hour to abandon ship.  She sank in about 20 minutes after a second torpedo was launched.

A total of 392 people were lost due to exposure, drowning and sharks, including, 90 women and 44 crew.  In the “fog of war”, the sinking of the Empress of Canada can be ironically seen as a “own goal” as nearly half of the fatalities reported were the Italian Prisoners of War.

The survivors were picked up by the destroyers and corvettes HMS Boreas, HMS Petunia and HMS Crocus and the Ellerman Line vessel Corinthian.

Following this on the 19th March 1943 – The British merchant vessel SS Lulworth Hill – 7,628 tons – was da Vinci’s next victim northwest of South West Africa (now Namibia, but then a South African protectorate). 14 survivors made it onto a life raft. The Leonardo da Vinci captured and took on board one survivor of the sinking, James Leslie Hull.

LulworthHillSurvivorsAfter 29 days the UK authorities assumed that the Lulworth Hill had been lost with all hands and duly informed their families.On 7 May the HMS Rapid picked up the Lulworth Hill’s liferafts. Of the 14 men that had survived the sinking, after 50 days adrift only two, Seaman Shipwright (i.e. carpenter) Kenneth Cooke and Able Seaman Colin Armitage, remained alive.

By mid April 1943, the Leonardo da Vinci had rounded the Cape and was in the Indian Ocean, just off Durban, South Africa and here the tally of destruction was to escalate:

17 April 1943 – The Dutch merchant vessel SS Sembilan – 6,566 tons – is torpedoed and sunk by the Italian submarine Leonardo da Vinci east of Durban.  The attack also totally destroys two American Landing Crafts, LCP-780  and LCP-782 which were being carried aboard as freight.

The next day, 18 April 1943 – The British merchant vessel Manaar – 8,007 tons – the second victim of the Italian submarine Leonardo da Vinci within two days, is sunk east of Port Elizabeth.

21 April 1943 – The American vessel (Liberty Ship) John Drayton – 7,177 tons – is sunk by the da Vinci east of Durban, after being Torpedoed twice and shelled while en route to Cape Town. 4 died when Lifeboat #1 capsized during launching. The men in Lifeboat #4 were rescued on 23 April by the Swedish vessel MV Oscar Gorthon; a raft was picked up on 27 April by HMS Relentless.  The men in Lifeboat #2 picked up by the Greek freighter SS Mount Rhodope a month after the sinking on the 21st May. By that time only 8 of the original 24 men were still alive and of them, a further 3 died in hospital in Durban. In all, 21 of the 41 merchant crew members and 5 of the 15 Naval Armed Guards aboard John Drayton lost their lives.

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Painting by Ivan Berryman depicting the final hours of the John Drayton

The last vessel to be sunk by da Vinci was on 25 April 1943, British vessel operated by Shell as a petroleum tanker called the Doryssa – 8,078 tons – is was sunk south of Port Elizabeth.

As a result of all the successes the Commander of the da  Vinci, T.V. Gazzana-Priaroggia was promoted Capitano di Corvetta with immediate effect from 6th May 1943.

A Fatal Decision

With a string of victories and promotions after its very successful patrol to South Africa’s waters, on 22 May 1943 Leonardo da Vinci unwisely signalled its intention to head home for Bordeaux, France.

The decision to radio home its intentions proved fatal.  Its position having been fixed by Allied direction-finding equipment, on 23 May the destroyer HMS Active  and the frigate HMS Ness subjected the submarine to an intense depth charge attack and sank it 300 miles (480 km) west of Vigo (off the West African coastline).  There were no survivors.

HMS Ness (Left) and HMS Active (Right)

Today

Gazzana_2Gianfranco Gazzana-Priaroggia was a massive loss to the Italian war effort and the Italian Navy, he was posthumously awarded the Knight’s Iron Cross from Germany and the Gold Medal for Military Valor by King Vittorio Emanuele III.  Rather unusually given the outcome of the war, as testament of this legacy, two modern Italian Sauro-class submarines are named:

  • S520 Leonardo da Vinci, completed in 1981 and named after the original RM Leonardo da Vinci
  • S525 the Gianfranco Gazzana Priaroggia completed in 1993 (the last of its class) and named in honour of Gianfranco Gazzana-Priaroggia

Source: Wikipedia, the Italian Monachist – Saga of the Submarine Leonardo da Vinci.  Merchant ships – attacks by Italian submarines.

South African sacrifice on the HMS Neptune

This image of HMS Neptune with Table Mountain in the background says a lot about the South African naval personnel seconded to serve on Royal Navy vessels and their supreme sacrifice.

As Simonstown was a British naval base during the Second World War thousands of naval ratings and officers who volunteered to serve in the South African Navy – known as the South African Navy Forces – landed up on British vessels. So when one was sunk, as HMS Neptune was, inevitably there is a very long honour roll of South Africans. Read on for their story.

HMS Neptune was a Leander-class light cruiser commissioned into the Royal Navy on 12 February 1934 with the pennant number “20”.

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HMS Neptune at sea in her heyday.

Force K, operating in the Mediterranean, including HMS Neptune, was sent out on 18 December 1941, to intercept an Axis forces convoy (German and Italian) bound for Tripoli,

On the night of 19 – 20 December, HMS Neptune, leading the line, struck two mines, part of a newly laid Italian minefield. The first struck the anti-mine screen, causing no damage. The second struck the bow hull. The other cruisers present, HMS Aurora and HMS Penelope, also struck mines.

While reversing out of the minefield, Neptune struck a third mine, which took off her propellers and left her dead in the water. HMS Aurora was unable to render assistance as she was already down to 10 knots (19 km/h) and needed to turn back to Malta. HMS Penelope was also unable to assist.

The destroyers HMS Kandahar and HMS Lively were sent into the minefield to attempt a tow. The former struck a mine and began drifting. Neptune then signalled for Lively to keep clear. (Kandahar was later evacuated and torpedoed by the destroyer Jaguar, to prevent her capture.)

Neptune hit a fourth mine and quickly capsized, killing 737 crew members. The other 30 initially survived the sinking but they too died. As a result, only one was still alive when their carley float was picked up five days later by the Italian torpedo boat Achille Papa.

The loss of HMS Neptune was the second most substantial loss of life suffered by the Royal Navy in the whole of the Mediterranean campaign, and ranks among the heaviest crew losses experienced in any naval theatre of World War II.

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The Royal Marine band on the jetty by the stern of HMS Neptune at Simon’s Town in July 1940

This is the honour roll of South Africans lost that day lest we forget the heroism and sacrifice of these brave South African men.

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, 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

May they Rest in Peace, these brave men whose duty is now done.

Sources – Wikipedia
Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, World War 2 by Don Kindell

 

 

Dick Lord – A SAAF legend who was initially discouraged from joining the SAAF

Richard Stanley Lord (nickname “Dick”) was born on June 20 1936 in Johannesburg, and educated at Parktown Boys’ High School.  His fascination with flying took hold playing “Biggles” high up in Johannesburg’s famous jacaranda trees.

In the late 1950’s Dick Lord wanted to join the South African Air Force.  However at the time the governing National Party had targeted South Africa’s defence forces for “transformation”, effectively ridding the defence arms of all their “British” heritage and socially engineering the forces using job reservation, political appointment and nepotism to progress white Afrikaners.

In this changing political environment Dick Lord was despaired of a career in the SAAF, his Afrikaans was limited and his strong “English” heritage was against him in the now Afrikaner-dominated South African Services.

So instead he, joined the Royal Navy. His initial naval training was at the Royal Naval Engineering College, Manadon, and he gained his wings in the Fleet Air Arm in June 1959, flying Sea Venom and Sea Vixen fighters from the aircraft carriers HMS Centaur, HMS Victorious, HMS Hermes and HMS Ark Royal.

A very eventful FAA Legacy

In 1966 Dick Lord found himself in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm flying from Ark Royal off Beira, Mozambique, to enforce the oil blockade of Rhodesia following its Unilateral Declaration of Independence. After one mission to intercept a suspected blockade-runner, he returned to find that the carrier had been overtaken by a tropical storm and that her flight deck was pitching through 65ft: his aircraft caught the third arrester wire and damaged its undercarriage – reckoned a near perfect landing in the conditions.

An American “Top Gun”

Dick Lord was instrumental in the development of America’s Top Gun fighter pilot academy, made famous by the film of the same name. He established his unusual role in 1968, when he was the foremost British instructor sent on exchange at Miramar, California, to train American pilots then suffering significant losses at the hands of MiG-21s flown by the North Vietnamese.

While some criticised the performance of America’s multi-million dollar Phantom jet, Lord concentrated on sharpening his pupils’ Air Combat Manoeuvring (ACM) skills to improve their odds in a dogfight.

He and a handful of other Fleet Air Arm graduates of the Royal Navy’s gruelling Air Warfare Instructors (AWI) school in Lossiemouth, Scotland, introduced rigorous new methods for recording and scrutinising the performance of trainees during exercises.

Lord, for example, scribbled notes on a pad on the knee of his flight suit during mock dogfights, which he then exhaustively analysed on a blackboard at post-flight debriefs.
Such was the trust placed in Lord that he was granted access to classified American military documents comparing the performance of US aircraft against that of enemy fighters. This access allowed him to write, with others, the US Navy’s Air Combat Manoeuvring manual.

A year after Lord’s arrival, the tuition and methods introduced by British pilots, all graduates of the AWI school at Lossiemouth, made their way into the US Navy Fighter Weapons School, which was set up in 1969. Better known as Top Gun, it remains the most famous programme in the history of naval aviation. Soon after it was established a Phantom flown by one of its first students shot down a MiG-21, the first time a US Navy aircraft had succeeded in aerial combat in two years.

Lord enjoyed the film Top Gun, but mused that it was “remarkable that any history book studiously avoids mention of any British involvement” and added that the film had not “given us due justice”. He remained proud of his involvement, however, and during his time at Miramar had insisted on using the call sign “Brit 1”. This meant that his wingman, though American, was forced to use the call sign “Brit 2”.

Dick Lord’s wife June Beckett, a BOAC air-hostess said of the movie “Top Gun” that while Dick complained about it, she contended that the film’s portrayal of big-talking fighter pilots was extremely true-to-life, and she should know.

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On his return to the Royal Navy he was senior instructor with 764 Naval Air Squadron where he passed on the skills and confidence that had made such an impact in America.

Back to South Africa

Dick yearned to return to South Africa, he resigned from the Royal Navy and in 1970 returned to South Africa where he converted to commercial flying and became a civil aviation instructor pilot.

However the Royal Navy would intervene in his life again, this time after a visit to Cape Town by HMS Ark Royal where a “deep chord” was struck in Dick’s heart, rekindling his love of more adventurous military flying.

Joining the SAAF

Although Dick Lord was still unable to pass the Afrikaans language test, he was able to join the South African Air Force this time due to capability gaps in SAAF caused by all their social engineering and transformation policies, it was also now at war and in need of very skilled and experienced military pilots.  Conscription in the SADF had also been implemented by this time, and it involved both English and Afrikaans speaking white South Africans, so policies had to be softened somewhat.

During South Africa’s involvement in the South West Africa (Namibia)/Angola Border War and whilst in the SAAF Dick Lord flew Impalas, Sabres and Mirage Ills.

Dick Lord’s leadership skills were quickly apparent and he ultimately commanded No 1 Squadron SAAF from 1981 to 1983, later directing SAAF operations during the Border War from Oshakati and Windhoek as well as flying SAAF Mirage F1AZs.

He ended his career in charge of the Air Force Command Post in Pretoria, where he was given high accolade for his role in helping to organise the rescue operations that saved all 581 passengers and crew of the Greek cruise-liner Oceanos, which sank off South Africa’s eastern coast on August 4 1991.

Another highlight of his career was to organise, in 1994, the fly-past at the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa. Lord then retired as a Brigadier General and began writing about his life as an aviator.

He also wrote a number of books including

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Fire, Flood and Ice (1998) about SAAF Search and Rescue missions
From Tailhooker to Mudmover (2000) – a biography
Vlamgat (2000) – a history of the Mirage fighter jet in South Africa
From Fledgling to Eagle: the South African Air Force during the Border War (2008)

Apart from flying, his passion was military music, his favourite piece being Sarie Marais, the march of the Royal Marines, which is based on an Afrikaner folk song.

Brigadier General Dick Lord died on the 26th October 2011 after a long illness.  He is still sorely missed to this day.

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References:  The Daily Telegraph, Article on Dick Lord by Rostislav Belyakov. Military History Journal Vol 15 No 4 – December 2011.  Feature photo via Dean Wingrin.

The connection between HRH Prince Philip & the SAS Simon van der Stel

Now, you’re wondering – what has Prince Philip (husband to Queen Elizabeth II) possibly have to do with the South African Navy’s SAS Simon van der Stel. Well here it is.

These are officers of the HMS Whelp – notice the tall and rather familiar HMS Whelp First Lieutenant – Prince Philip.

Philip joined the Navy as a cadet after leaving Gordonstoun School in 1939. In January 1941 he joined the battleship HMS Valiant in Alexandria and was in charge of its searchlight control during the night action off Cape Matapan, for which he was mentioned in dispatches. After serving aboard the HMS Wallace, he was appointed first lieutenant of HMS Whelp, which was present in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese signed the surrender.

In fact Prince Philip has quite a combat record, in a remarkable act of heroism Prince Philip saved scores of lives during the Second World War when he foiled a Luftwaffe bomber which looked certain to destroy their ship, the HMS Wallace during the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943.   During a night-time attack, Prince Philip conjured up a plan to throw overboard a wooden raft with smoke floats that would create the illusion of debris ablaze on the water, and as he hoped, the German plane was fooled into attacking the raft while the HMS Wallace sailed to safety under cover of darkness.

A young Prince Philip with Princess Elizabeth and HMS Welp in 1944 W Class Destroyer

The last wartime ship the Price served on was HMS Welp, and 1952 was sold to South Africa as the replacement for HMSAS Natal. HMS Whelp was renamed SAS Simon van der Stel, after the 17th century colonist reputed to be the founder of the South African wine industry. Much of SAS Simon van der Stel′s service was as a “grey ambassador”, on good-will visits to Europe and Europe’s African colonies, including a 147 day cruise to Europe in 1954. This role, however, declined as South Africa became increasingly isolated during the apartheid years.

SAS Simon van der Stel was placed in reserve from 1957, but was modernised as a Type 15 frigate (in common with other destroyers of her generation) in an anti-submarine role from 1962 to 1964, and re-commissioned in February 1964. She now had helicopter facilities, which were used by South Africa’s 22 Flight (later 22 Squadron).

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Photo of the South African Navy Frigates in their heyday. Here are the three President Class Frigates together, the SAS President Kruger, the SAS President Steyn and the SAS President Pretorius – neck to neck with the SAS Simon van der Stel in the background, now converted to a Type 15 Frigate (note additional helicopter hanger on the stern).

SAS Simon van der Stel was eventually scrapped in 1976 in Durban.

Able Seaman “Just Nuisance”

In 1939 the British Royal Navy did the unthinkable… Strange but true, they enlisted a South African dog who then went on to win the hearts and minds of sailors on two continents and become a legend.

Able Seaman ‘Just Nuisance’ is one very famous South African, and as he was an enlisted rating he received rank, pay, rations and duties – the same privileges as any other rating with the rank of ‘Able Seaman’ (AB).  This is how he got there.

He was a Great Dane who between 1939 and 1944 served at HMS Afrikander, a Royal Navy shore establishment in Simon’s Town, South Africa. He died in 1944 at the age of seven years and was buried with full military honours.

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Although the exact date of Just Nuisance’s birth is not known, it is usually stated that he was born on 1 April 1937 in Rondebosch, a suburb of Cape Town. He was sold to Benjamin Chaney, who later moved to Simon’s Town to run the United Services Institute (USI). Just Nuisance quickly became popular with the patrons of the institute and in particular the ratings, who would feed him snacks and take him for walks. He began to follow them back to the naval base and dockyards, where he would lie on the decks of ships that were moored at the wharf. His preferred resting place was the top of the gangplank. Since he was a large dog even for a Great Dane (he was almost 2 metres (6.6 ft) tall when standing on his hind legs), he presented a sizeable obstacle for those trying to board or disembark and he became affectionately known as Nuisance.

Nuisance was allowed to roam freely and, following the sailors, he began to take day trips by train as far afield as Cape Town, 22 miles (35 km) away. Despite the seamen’s attempts to conceal him, the conductors would put him off the trains as soon as he was discovered. This did not cause the dog any difficulty, as he would wait for the next train, or walk to another station, where he would board the next train that came along. Amused travellers would occasionally offer to pay his fare but officials of the State-owned railway company (South African Railways and Harbours) eventually warned Chaney that Nuisance would have to be put down unless he was prevented from boarding the trains or had his fares paid.

The news that Nuisance was in danger of being put down spurred many of the sailors and locals to write to the Navy, pleading for something to be done. Although somebody offered to buy him a season ticket, naval command instead decided to enlist him by the book. As a member of the armed forces, he would be entitled to free rail travel, so the fare-dodging would no longer be a problem. It proved to be an excellent idea. For the next few years he would be a morale booster for the troops serving in World War II.

He was enlisted on 25 August 1939. His surname was entered as “Nuisance” and, rather than leaving the forename blank, he was given the moniker “Just”. His trade was listed as “Bonecrusher” and his religious affiliation as “Scrounger”, although this was later altered to the more charitable “Canine Divinity League (Anti-Vivisection)”. To allow him to receive rations and because of his longstanding unofficial service, he was promoted from Ordinary Seaman to Able Seaman.

Just Nuisance - Certificate of Service_02

He never went to sea but fulfilled a number of roles ashore. He continued to accompany sailors on train journeys and escorted them back to base when the pubs closed. While many of his functions were of his own choosing, he also appeared at many promotional events, including his own ‘wedding’ to another Great Dane, Adinda. Adinda produced five pups as a result, two of which, named Victor and Wilhelmina, were auctioned off in Cape Town to raise funds for the war effort.

Nuisance’s service record was not exemplary. Aside from the offences of travelling on the trains without his free pass, being absent without leave (AWOL), losing his collar and refusing to leave the pub at closing time, his record shows that he was sentenced to having all bones removed for seven days for sleeping in an improper place — in the bed of one of the Petty Officers. He also fought with the mascots of ships that put in at Simon’s Town, resulting in the in the deaths of at least two of them, one of them was the ship mascot of the HMS Shropshire, for which AB Nuisance was charged.

Nuisance was at some point involved in a car accident. This caused thrombosis, which gradually paralysed him, so on 1 January 1944 he was discharged from the Navy. His condition continued to deteriorate, on 1 April 1944 he was taken to Simon’s Town Naval Hospital where, on the advice of the naval veterinary surgeon, he was put to sleep. The next day he was taken to Klaver Camp, where his body was draped with a Royal Naval White Ensign and he was buried with full naval honours, including a gun salute and the playing of the Last Post. A simple granite headstone marks his grave, which is on the top of the hill at Klawer, at the former SA Navy Signal School. A statue was erected in Jubilee Square in Simon’s Town to commemorate his life.

The Simon’s Town Museum has an exhibition dedicated to his story and since 2000 there has been an annual parade of Great Danes from which a lookalike is selected.

 

Information – Wikipedia.

U-504: The sinking of the “City of Johannesburg”

The submarine “U Boat” menace of the Second World War became commonly known as the “Battle of the Atlantic”, but it also extended to all oceans and the strategic point rounding the South African Cape became a focus point of the submarine war and German attention – and subsequently the attention of The South African Navy and her British Allies.

A typical example of the danger, survival and sacrifice in South African waters is the story of the sinking of the “City of Johannesburg” by German submarine U-504 (seen in the featured image above).  U-504 was a Type IXC U-boat of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine during World War II, the SS City of Johannesburg was a merchant vessel carrying supplies off the coast of East London, South Africa.

Of the merchantmen on board the SS City of Johannesburg, 90 in total, 4 perished and there where 86 survivors. Their survival in open water is remarkable considering the conditions in South African waters and typical to the dangers of operating at sea in WW2. This is one of many stories of the sinking of vessels and bravery of men off the coast of South Africa.

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SS City of Johannesburg

At 23.12 hours on 23 Oct 1942 the unescorted City of Johannesburg (Master Walter Armour Owen) was hit by one of two torpedoes from U-504 while steaming on a zigzag course at 10.75 knots about 80 miles east-southeast of East London, South Africa. The torpedo struck between the deep tank and #4 hold on the port side, blowing the hatches off the deep tanks and opening a hole that flooded these compartments immediately. All electricity failed and the engines had to be stopped when the engine room was flooded a few minutes later, causing the ship to settle by the stern with a slight list to port. No distress signals could be sent as the main aerial was brought down and fouled the emergency aerial and it was later discovered that the portable wireless set had been damaged while lowering into a lifeboat and was useless.

Two lifeboats had been destroyed and the rafts aft were jammed in the rigging, so the 21 crew members, 60 Lascars (Indian sailors) and nine gunners (the ship was armed with one 4in, one 12pdr, two 20mm and four machine guns) abandoned ship in the four remaining lifeboats which were launched safely within five minutes despite rough sea and high swell.

Before leaving the gunners tried to train the 4in gun, but it was damaged and could no longer be turned. The master was the last to leave the ship after making sure that no one was left on board. At 23.40 hours, the U-boat surfaced after firing a coup de grâce at the ship which was hit at #2 hatch on the port side, but only settled further on an even keel.

The Germans then questioned the survivors in one of the lifeboats and left the area after the City of Johannesburg suddenly broke in two amidships and sank at 00.00 hours. Four Lascars were lost.

The boat in charge of the master had 11 persons on board and rescued two men swimming in the water. Quartermaster H. Birnie was picked up by a boat with 28 persons and later stated that he was alongside the U-boat after it had surfaced and even touched the plates when he was told to swim astern to the lifeboat. He was asked no questions and the engines of the U-boat remained stopped until the man was clear.

The other two boats held 19 respectively 25 persons, but owing to the rough sea the lifeboats could not approach each other to even up the survivors in them. The master told the other boats to remain in the vicinity while his boat set sail in order to get help and made 140 miles in 24 hours before he and twelve survivors were picked up by the Dutch steam merchant Zypenberg about 8 miles from the coast in 33°50S/26°50E on 25 October and landed at Durban two days later.

However, the boat with 19 occupants also set sail and only made half the distance before they were rescued by the British motor merchant King Edwin on 26 October and landed at Cape Town three days later. The 54 survivors in the two boats that waited near the sinking position were picked up by the British steam merchant Fort George after 12 hours in 33°24S/28°31E and landed at Port Elizabeth on 25 October.

U-504: South African Patrol

This submarine had caused a lot of damage off the coast of South Africa, here is a short history of her 4th Patrol in South African waters:

U-504 left Lorient on 19 August 1942 and sailed south to the waters off South Africa as part of Wolfpack Eisbär. There, on 17 October, about 450 nautical miles (830 km; 520 mi) south of Cape Town, she torpedoed and sank the unescorted British 5,970 ton Empire Chaucer. On the 23rd she sank the 5,669 ton SS City of Johannesburg, and on the 26th she attacked the unescorted American 7,176 ton Liberty ship Anne Hutchinson. The crew abandoned their vessel after she was hit by two torpedoes and fatally damaged. However the ship remained afloat, and on the 29th was taken in tow by the South African armed trawler HMSAS David Haigh (T13) and a harbour tug. Lacking sufficient power to tow the ship to port explosive charges were set, cutting the ship in two. The aft section sank, and the fore section was towed into Port Elizabeth. Part of the crew were picked up at sea, while the rest made it to land in their lifeboats.

U-504 sank two more British merchant ships on 31 October, about 200 nautical miles (370 km; 230 mi) east of Durban. First the unescorted 7,041 ton Empire Guidon, then the unescorted 5,113 ton Reynolds, which, hit amidships and in the stern, capsized and sank within seconds.

Finally on 3 November she sank the unescorted and unarmed Brazilian 5,187 ton cargo ship Porto Alegre en route from Rio de Janeiro to Durban, off Port Elizabeth. Hit by a single torpedo, the crew abandoned ship before the U-boat delivered the coup de grâce. Only one crew member was lost. The survivors were questioned by the Germans, and later made landfall about 50 nautical miles (93 km; 58 mi) from Port Elizabeth on 7 November.[22] U-504 arrived back at Lorient on 11 December 1942 after a patrol lasting 115 days.

The fate of U-504

U-504 also met a grisly fate.  Whilst on her 7th Patrol U504 was depth charged and sunk with all hands on board (53 in total) on 30 July 1943 in the North Atlantic north-west of Cape Ortegal, Spain, in position 45.33N, 10.56W, by depth charges from the British ships HMS Kite, HMS Woodpecker, HMS Wren and HMS Wild Goose.

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Image shows HMS Kite whose Commanding Officer at the time of the sinking of U-504 was the famous U-boat hunter Captain “Johnnie” Walker, DSO and three bars.

The Commander from her one patrol off South Africa to when she was lost are two different men (and possibly evena different crew as well).

During the South African Patrol (4th patrol) the Commander was KrvKapt Hans-Georg Friedrich Poske (he command U-504 for the first four War Patrols). KrvKpt Wilhelm Luis did the next three patrols, his third being the fatal one.

This U Boat spent a total of 372 days a sea and sank 85,299 tons of shipping. All ships sunk were under her first commander KrvKapt Hans-Georg Friedrich Poske and on the second, third and fourth patrols.  U-504’s most successful patrol in terms of tonnage suck was on her South African patrol.

KrvKapt Hans-Georg Friedrich Poske survived the war, he also served post war as well and retired in 1963.  Note on the image below he was awarded a Knights Cross.

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KrvKapt Hans-Georg Friedrich Poske

Thank you to Sandy Evan Hanes for additional input, reference wikipedia