Navy teaches disadvantaged children to ‘Roll with the Punches’

Did you know that the South African Navy in the 90’s spearheaded community outreach using the “sweet science”?  In 1998 the SANDF initiated the first boxing clinic on the West Coast to showcase local talent and generate role models for children who might otherwise gravitate to gangsterism.  Seen in the featured image are these children Shadow boxing with Jan Louwrens.

Boxing has always been a key sport in the South African military, with many of our great boxing heroes serving at one time or another in the armed forces, and nothing showcases this remarkable talent than a boxing outreach program to the community.

Equally, boxing has a long history of thriving in deprived areas. What better was to marry the two together by way of an outreach programme?

The first boxing outreach programme for children from previously disadvantaged backgrounds ever to be held on the West Coast took place at the Navy base SAS Saldanha in 9 December 1998, with the positive after effects continuing to this day…

Like all outreach programs the purpose of the clinic was to motivate children, making them aware of the benefits of sport as a conduit to physical and mental wellbeing, to make them healthy, confident and self-assured; providing role models and thereby turning them away from negative adult behaviour – alcoholism, drugs and warn them against the evils of gangsterism.

This community outreach programme was organised by the then Chairman of the Military Academy Boxing Club, S/Lieutenant Claudio Chistè a combat officer in the South African Navy, with the support from the University of Stellenbosch and the Military Academy, South African National Defence Force (SANDF). More than 70 children attended the training and instruction session which featured boxing stars such as the former world Boxing Champion, Gary Murray, former South African light-middleweight champion, Coenie Bekker, top SANDF trainer and referee, Jan Louwrens. The aim of the project was not only to teach children how to box, but to teach life skills and to facilitate the community building process.

South African military’s proud boxing legacy

1_Gary Murray winning the word championship title

Gary Murray after winning the World Championship

The South African military has a very proud legacy of boxing.  Former World Welterweight Boxing Champion Gary “The Heat” Murray is a leading example of this.  Gary was just 12 years old when he started sparring, but after he knocked out the local champion, he was hooked.  Gary’s family moved from Scotland to South Africa and he boxed for both Scotland and South Africa as a youngster, winning the South African National Title in Cape Town.  He joined the South African military for two years of his national service and won the prestigious “Super Trooper” title for the fittest soldier in the defence force, as well as the crown of Best Boxer two years in a row. After Gary left the army, he turned pro sharing the ring with greats such as all time knock-out king, Buck Smith (120 knockouts to his name), Dingaan “Rose of Soweto” Thobela and tough as teak Rusty Derouen (the fight was billed “War on the Foreshore” and won the “Fight of the Year” award).

2_Coenie Bekker in his army days pre winning SA Light-middleweight title

Coenie Bekker before winning the SA Light Middleweight title

Former South African Light-Middleweight Champion Coenie Bekker had a similar story to Gary Murray.  His family moved to the rough suburbs of Cape Town and after getting into a street fight with a local gang member Coenie resolved to get formally trained as a boxer.  In a long and impressive amateur career Coenie had 87 bouts suffering only 6 defeats, he won many titles in this time which included the Western Province Title as a Junior and Senior and also the South African Coastal Title at Junior level and Senior. Coenie also boxed in the South African army during national service and won many fights while serving as well as representing the then OFS Province, (Orange Free State, prior to 1994). After completing his military service Coenie decided to turn professional, with career highlights being his famous duel with Charlie “the Silver Assassin” Weir (who also served in the SADF) and winning the national championship to be crowned South African champion.

Inspiration leading to first Community Outreach

One particular moment in the early part of Claudio’s life would prove to be rather poignant in demonstrating the power of the sweet science to bring a community together. Back in 1991 when he visited the then Ciskei with his grandmother, Selma, at the invitation of her close friend, the late Chief Lent Maqoma, Chief of the amaJingqi (for a period served as Acting Paramount Chief of the amaRharhabe Royal house after the death of Inkosi Enkhulu Mxolisi). During this visit,  they were invited by a local to a boxing match in nearby Mdantsane (where over 23 world champions and 50 national champions hail from, amongst them Nkosana “Happy Boy” Mgxagi, Vuyani “The Beast” Vungu, Welcome “The Hawk” Ncita, Nkosinathi “Mabhere” Joyi).  The atmosphere was electric, with the community in full spirit behind the two sportsmen in the ring. The power of the sweet science was clear. Claudio’s dad, Diego, being a former Italian welterweight title contender, reinforced the affinity with the sport.

Claudio joined the South African Navy immediately after school, taking up boxing as a sport, going  on to have 10 bouts ranging from development tournaments in townships to representing the SANDF at provincial level. Being trained by top defence force coaches John Jantjies (former SA Kickboxing Champion & SA boxing contender, who had taken over from Steve Kalakoda as coach of the SA Navy team)  and Jan Louwrens,  with SA Kickboxing Middleweight Champion, Chad Alexander, as his sparring partner. Subsequently Claudio went on to win the Western Cape & Western Province championship.

3_Claudio being congratulated by world champion Gary Murray after beating provincial champion Heindrich Pienaar

Claudio Chistè being congratulated by world champion Gary Murray after beating provincial champion Heindrich Pienaar.

Legacy of Community Outreach makes social impact

It was these experiences which led Claudio to hold training camps for military personnel assisting in training aspiring paratroopers in preparation for their gruelling parabat selection, and to organise this community outreach programme which has since gone on to be an inspirational training ground for aspiring Olympic boxers and South African national champions. This project received praise from the University of Stellenbosch and the Military Academy, SANDF for community service in social upliftment, consequently promoting the perception of the defence force amongst the local community.

At the time, organiser Chiste stated with what now seems a prescient understatement, “I think it was very successful. There were about fifteen kids who really showed talent and if we got them interested, we’ve achieved our goal”, adding: “The idea was to let them have fun while learning a skill to exercise their bodies and develop their minds”. This laid the seeds for follow on outreach programmes, which indeed provided a learning environment for the acquisition of these skills. A case in point being  Gregory “The Hitman” Gans, where at the age of only 13 he attended one of the follow-on outreach programmes, showing tremendous talent. With extremely hard work and dedication he obtained his National Colours (Protea) for Kickboxing within the first year of starting with the sport. He won the SA Kickboxing Championships and was selected for the National Team where after he represented South Africa in an international bilateral competition against Mauritius and won his fight with a spectacular knock-out. He went on to represent South Africa in numerous international events, including two World Kickboxing Championships in 2012 and 2014 whereby he brilliantly achieved second place during both World Championships (1).

The link in South Africa with the military and boxing are deep rooted.

Fist-fighting as a sport came to South Africa only during the first British occupation of the Cape in 1795 (preceding even soccer and rugby 1862), with boxing as a sport being one of the legacies of colonialism. Bouts were conducted under the London Prize Ring rules for close on a century but illegal bare-knuckle fights-to-a-finish were common in military camps in Cape Town and the Eastern Cape. In fact, one of the earliest references to boxing in South Africa is a report about the arrest of two characters, Japie and Mahmoud, after a fight in Cape Town in the early 1860s (2).

Perhaps the overall impact of this sport was best summed up by Professor Njabulo Ndebele who researched extensively the effect on the community when he said at a recent seminar, “What is also fascinating is to reflect on the contribution of boxing to one’s moral compass and character. The values espoused in the ring. The restraint of power. The demonstration of discipline and self-control. A code of conduct. These men have huge potential to injure but instead there is an instinct to protect – to win through technical skills, thought and the following of the rules”.


Sources:
Sunday Times, Die Weslander, Boxing World, Military Academy Yearbook, Department of Defence, Supersport.
(1) Source: http://www.dod.mil.za/defence_people/PteGans.htm
(2) Source: https://www.supersport.com/boxing/blogs/ronjackson/SA_boxings_Happy_Anniversary

The first South African warship to visit the USA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reference – South African Navy website and Wikipedia

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

 

 

The small South African minesweeper that went down fighting – HMSAS Parktown

South Africa lost four ships during WW2, all of them minesweepers.  The second one to be lost was the HMSAS Parktown and it has a truly extraordinary fighting legacy.

A small whaler converted to a minesweeper, the “tiny boat” HMSAS Parktown sailed into action in April 1942 in company of another “tiny boat” – the HMSAS Langlaagte, sailing  from Cape Town to the Mediterranean and joining the 167th Minesweeping Group working from Alexandria, Egypt.

Service in the Mediterranean

Parktown had arrived in the Mediterranean from South Africa during May and had sailed from Alexandria on 9 June as part of the escort for a convoy bound for Tobruk. During the passage the convoy is attacked and Parktown is involved in the gallant rescue of 28 survivors from a ship that had been sunk, many of whom are badly burnt. After their arrival in Tobruk on 12 June Parktown and her consort, a fellow South African ship the HMSAS Bever under the command of Lt P A North, are tasked to keep the approaches to Tobruk clear of mines.

Fall of Tobruk 

At that time Tobruk was under siege and by 20 June it is clear that a crisis of some kind is imminent. Late that same afternoon Parktown and Bever are ordered to enter harbour to embark evacuation parties. At 20:00 that evening they watch the Axis forces entering the western end of town and then reach the harbour shortly afterwards.

These two South African minesweepers were to distinguish themselves during the Allied evacuation from Tobruk fighting their way out of the harbour.  The Bever and Parktown fought side by side as they were loading up with as many Allied and South African troops and equipment as they could take, all the time whilst Rommel’s German forces closed in around them. The rapidity of the attack caused great confusion, however, the ships still manage to embark most of the men allocated to them before they sail.

On 20 June 1942 General Rommel’s “Deutsch-Italienische Panzerarmee” (German and Italian Tank Army) attacked the Tobruk garrison from the south and south east. By 18:00, the German and Italian forces had overrun the main defence lines and were closing on the harbour and all Allied ships were ordered to embark personnel for evacuation.

The escape 

By 19:00 German tanks and armoured cars were within the town and started shelling the ships in the harbour. HMSAS Bever received a direct hit as she cast off.  Next is The Parktown and her escape is also quite remarkable.

Using her machine guns she checks the advance of the enemy land forces whilst embarking a further 60 men, even though hit by shell fire. As she is casting off, more men keep arriving and several try to swim to the ship. A few are hauled on board, some assisted by one of the ship’s company, Able Seaman P J Smithers, who swims to their assistance. However in the confusion of sailing A/B Smithers is left behind to be captured and placed in an Italian POW camp.

As the last Allied ship to leave Tobruk, Parktown attracts a tremendous concentration of fire as she steams out at full speed. Although she is hit several times, no hit causes fatal damage to the ship and only one man, an army NCO, is killed.

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The Fall of Tobruk

Under cover of a smoke screen laid by a motor torpedo boat, but still receiving shell-fire from the town, the two ships left the harbour for the open sea. During the night off Tobruk port the Parktown and Bever became separated and the Parktown goes to the assistance of a disabled tug, also crowded with men.

The sinking of the HMSAS Parktown

After taking it in tow Parktown is only able to make five knots (9.3 Km/h) and thus gets left behind by the rest of the fleet. At daybreak on the 21 June they are still only 50 miles from Tobruk and can see the coast 14 miles away with a heavy fog bank to seaward.  At 06:45 Parktown’s crew sighted what they described as an Italian “MAS” torpedo boat (E-Boat), which had been directed to the slow moving vessel by a German reconnaissance aircraft.  The Parktown then turns north towards the fog bank, only to be confronted by four more E-boats at close range. Fire is immediately opened by both sides.

The E-boats using their higher speed and longer range guns open the range and attack from different directions. Even though Parktown, having only one 20mm Oerlikon, was heavily out matched, one or two of the E-boats appear to be hit by her fire and end up temporarily out of control.

However, within 30 minutes, completely outnumbered and outgunned the Parktown suffers sufficient damage to put her completely out of action.  The Captain, Lieutenant Leslie James Jagger and the coxswain are killed by a direct hit to the Bridge as well as a Royal Navy officer on passage.  Within 15 minutes Parktown was stationary with a hole in the boiler, half of the crew and evacuated soldiers as casualties, out of ammunition and with the upper deck on fire. The only surviving officer, Sub-Lieutenant E R Francis, although himself severely wounded, takes charge and orders the ship to be abandoned as a fire is spreading rapidly and no guns remain in action.

In the aftermath it is noticed that the E-boats appear to be firing at the men in the water, however a plane, which was thought to be German, appears and heads towards the E-boats where it then circles over them and opens fire on them, after which they make off at high speed.

The remaining crew and soldiers abandoned ship and clung to carley floats. At this time, an aircraft drove off the hostile ships. The tug which had been in tow had not been engaged by the E-boats and managed to rescue some of the survivors and some of the remaining survivors were rescued by an Allied Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) which found them close to the burning minesweeper. The Allied MTB then sank the burning wreck of the Parktown with depth charges before returning to Mersa Matruh that evening.

Accounts on the final hour of the Parktown differ:

Orpen states that the Italian ships were driven off by a South African aircraft. He also records there being four Italian torpedo boats involved in the action.

Du Toit states that there were six Italian torpedo boats involved and that the aircraft was in fact a German aircraft which erroneously attacked the Italian ships.

Harris supports the fact that there were four torpedo boats and states that the German aircraft deliberately attacked the Italian vessels as they were firing on survivors in the water.

MAScamo

Camouflaged Italian World War II MAS that sunk the HMSAS Parktown (Motoscafo Armato Silurante – Italian: “Torpedo Armed Motorboat”)

Out of her complement of 21, Parktown suffered 13 casualties; five killed and eight seriously wounded.

Decorations and awards won

In this action alone the HMSAS Parktown’s crew would amass the following decorations and awards (we will leave the account of the HMSAS Bever to another post on her and her loss in November 1944 specifically):

Distinguished Service Order, D.S.O 
Sub-Lieutenant Ernest Rowland Frances (H.M.S.A.S. Parktown).
Comes from Krugersdorp. Age 34. Was in Training Ship General
Botha, 1923-23. Badly wounded during Tobruk withdrawal.

Distinguished Service Medal, D.S.M.
No 66921. Leading-Stoker John Charles Rohlandt (H.M.S.A.S. Parktown).
Home. address, 12, Hillyard-street. Woodstock.
No 71431. Leading-Stoker Leslie Ronald Mitchell (H.M.S.A.S. Parktown).
Home address. 16, Wesley-street. Observatory. Before war was
employed by Customs Department, Cape Town
No. 71048. Able-Seaman George Kirkwood (H.M.SA.S. Parktown).
Comes from Maraisburg. Transvaal. Was a miner in peace time.

Mentioned in Dispatches (Posthumous)
Lieutenant Leslie James Jagger (H.M.S.A.S. Parktown) Came from Johannesburg, was killed during this operation.

No. 71464. Stoker Andrew Henry Jooste (H.M.S.A.S. Parktown). Comes from Vrededorp Johannesburg. Age 21. A gold miner before joining Seaward Defence.

The honour roll  – HMSAS Parktown (SANF),

The following South African men were lost with the sinking of the Parktown (MPK means “missing presumed killed”)

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

May these brave South Africans Rest in Peace, their duty done.

References: Article essence copied from Wikipedia, Military History Journal Vol 9 No 1 – June 1992. THE STORY OF A WARSHIP’S CREST by F V Demartinis and Day-to-Day in the SA Navy by Chris Bennett (social media). SOUTH AFRICAN NAVAL FORCE
Ship Histories, Convoy Escort Movements, Casualty Lists 1939-1947

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.