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

David vs. Goliath, SA Navy Strike-craft harassing the US Navy

Here’s a little bit of relatively unknown South African Navy history. Did you know that the colossal USS Nimitz nuclear aircraft carrier was harassed by the South African Navy using two small strike-craft in January 1980?

It is a little like a David vs. Goliath story for the relatively small South African Navy to take the wind out of the sails of the gigantic US aircraft carrier’s escort – the USS California some 15-20 nautical miles ahead of the carrier.  It led to a very high tense moment on the high seas and an international outcry, and we have evidence of the incident – this remarkable photograph was taken by Joe Johnson, the Navigator on the SAS Jan Smuts, a South African Strike-craft and it shows just how ‘up close and personal’ they were with the American super carrier the USS Nimitz off South Africa’s coastline.

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So what happened that found two South African strike-craft inside the Minitz’s defensive screen harassing this US task force.  Well, it boils down to two things, South Africa’s 200 nautical mile (370km) economic exclusion zone (EEZ) and a very unique strike craft ‘special force’ ethos.

High Seas Harassment

On the 4th Jan 1980, the USS Nimitz sailed in response to the Iranian crisis, leading a nuclear-powered battle group including the USS California and the USS Texas from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean . The three ships sailed out of separate Italian ports and rendezvoused, sailing at a speed of advance of 25 knots around Africa via the Cape of Good Hope to the Indian Ocean to “Gonzo Station” (named by sailors serving there, supposedly deriving the term from Gulf of Oman Naval Zoo Operation).

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On encountering this US Navy task force in South Africa’s economic exclusion zone waters – two ‘Minister Class’ South African Navy strike craft , Boat 1 (the SAS Jan Smuts) and Boat 5 (the SAS Frans Erasmus) manoeuvred right into the defensive screen of the USS flotilla – so much so the USS Nimitz’s escorts the USS Texas and USS California, both nuclear powered cruisers, had to alter course to avoid collision.  In fact one of the South African strike craft – Boat 1, cut across the bow the of the USS California which was travelling ahead of the USS Nimitz.  Whilst Boat 5 was able to move up the USS California undetected by all its modern radar until in visual range.

This action caused a massive diplomatic fury between the USA and South Africa, as much to the embarrassment of the US Navy, the South African Navy strike-craft had sailed unchallenged right through the flotilla’s defensive screen into lethal striking range of pride of the US Navy.

A true ‘David’ and his sling

To dismiss the South African strike craft with their Israeli DNA as no danger to a nuclear US Navy aircraft carrier and its escort would be folly.  Boat 1, the SAS Jan Smuts had even started out as an Israelite, it was a modified Israeli ‘Reshef Class’ strike craft, built at the Haifa facility of Israeli Shipyards, under contract between the Israeli Military Industries as part of three strike craft sold to South Africa.  The three Israeli craft were covertly sailed to South Africa and classified as ‘Minister Class’ strike (named after South African Ministers of Defence).  Boat 5, the SAS Frans Erasmus was built under licence in South Africa to the Israeli modified Reshef Class design, along with five other ‘Minister Class’ strike craft.

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Five of South Africa’s ‘Minister Class’ Strike Craft Photo, SAS Jan Smuts (P1561), SAS Jim Fouche (P1564), SAS Frans Erusmus (P1565), SAS Hendrick Mentz (P1567) and SAS Magnus Malan (P1569). Photo courtesy Frank Lima

Both Boat 1 and Boat 5 (and all other Minister Class strike craft for that matter) were fitted with a leading Israeli designed ship killing missile system at the time, the ‘Gabriel’ surface to surface missile and launching system. The Gabriel Mk 2, an improved version of original Gabriel was created by Israel in 1972 and entered service in the Israeli Navy in 1976. This missile system was subsequently built under license from Israel in South Africa under the name Skerpioen (in English meaning Scorpion).  This little arachnid packed a big poison punch, the scorpion, then took the pride of place in the newly formatted South African strike craft flotilla’s emblem in 1977.

No small thing, this guided missile system was designed to fire a missile which skimmed the water using an altimeter hitting its target just above the water line and designed to obliterate targets, a true ‘David’ could take on a ‘Goliath’ and like the arch angel ‘Gabriel’ (after whom it was named) could bring about a biblical hell-fire – especially if brought down on a small to medium-sized ship.  Each South African strike craft had 6 such scorpions in its arsenal.

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South African Strike Craft launches a ‘Scorpion’ missile (Gabriel Mk2) – Photo thanks to Chris Miller

Can it obliterate a true ‘Goliath’, a super carrier like the USS Nimitz? It’s not been tested on a vessel this size, but in all likelihood – possibly not.  It would however cause significant damage if it had hypothetically got through the anti-missile defence systems of the Nimitz in the first place.

Nerves of steel

Did the South African Navy pose a threat to the US Navy?  The obvious answer is not really.  In 1980 the South African Navy did not have an aircraft carrier (it still does not), on the sharp fighting end of the assegai. South Africa had 3 relatively small Daphné-class diesel submarines, 3 ageing Frigates and 9 fast coastal protection strike craft (who were the new focus of the South African Navy in 1980, the Nationalists deeming that since Apartheid isolation there was no real need for frigates to act as ‘grey ambassadors’ on international flag showing missions).

To the commanders of the Nimitz and its escort ships, South Africa was not regarded as hostile nation in 1980, sailing within a 200nm EEZ is perfectly legal if the vessels are not involved in fishing or drilling for energy which may be deemed as in economic competition to the country to which the zone belongs.  In effect a EEZ is classified as ‘International Waters’ and it must be noted that there is a big difference in maritime law between South African ‘territorial’ waters to which they have sovereignty which extend only 12nm from the coast – unlike South Africa’s 200nm EEZ.  There’s also nothing to really prohibit a ‘non-hostile’ nation’s naval vessels from operating near a Nimitz Class aircraft carrier and its escort’s in their own EEZ  – within reason.

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USS Nimitz in 1979

The US navy normally anticipates Russian, Iranian and Chinese naval vessels which they deem as ‘hostile’ from cutting across bows of their vessels in their EEZ waters, so a ‘friendly’ South African Naval vessel risking such a manoeuvre by cutting across the bow of an US Navy vessel would have been deemed as rather usual, so too two strike craft sneaking up on them and it most certainly would have led to surprise and a tense moment on the bridge.  Cutting across the bow of a ship is contrary to maritime ‘rules of the road’ and a violation of maritime standards.  By not reacting to such a maneuver by a rather deadly South African ‘strike’ craft and escalating the situation the Commander of the US task force flotilla most certainly demonstrated the patience of a Saint and some nerves of steel.

Here you have to also consider that the USS Nimitz’s defensive screen would not have consisted of just the USS Texas and USS California, but also the ‘silent’ and unseen service of the US Navy’s Nuclear submarines, which are almost always nearby a aircraft carrier task force and the unseen US Navy fighter/bombers routinely launched from the Nimitz for protection and patrolling in the area.

To the Commanders of the South African Strike Craft it was a different matter entirely. As South Africa was ‘at war’ in Angola and politically at odds with United Nations and ‘the outside world’ in general over Apartheid – any foreign military shipping in South Africa’s 200nm EEZ attracted the attention of the South African Navy and the South African Air Force.  This heightened state of readiness and intelligence gathering against any potential military adversity was not only directed to US Naval vessels, it was especially directed at Soviet vessels in addition – in fact as aircraft carriers go South African strike craft had already got very ‘up close and personal’ when the mighty Soviet Kiev Class  ‘Minsk’ and her escorts ventured around South Africa and its 200nm EEZ in 1978.

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Boat 3 (P1563) the SAS Frederick Creswell ‘shadowing’ the Soviet aircraft carrier ‘Minsk’ at extremely close range.

It’s this part, ‘shadowing’ any military shipping for intelligence and demonstrating fearless and bullish ‘David versus Goliath’ testing of the defence capability of the world’s naval super-powers, which had come to define this strike craft fraternity – the ability and skill to punch well above their weight.  It took special mental conditioning and discipline – and a bucket load of ‘nerves of steel’ – as a fraternity they even define themselves as a ‘iron fist from the sea’ when it came to conducting special forces operations from sea to land – and this why they saw themselves as a unique ‘special force’ in a naval context – not to be taken lightly and to be reckoned with in every respect, it’s an attitude they had to have to be as successful as they were.

Diplomatic ‘Ballyhoo’

Diplomatic demands from the USA for an answer from the South African government over their strike craft venturing undetected into the Nimitz’s defensive screen, cutting across the bow of the USS California and forcing both the USS Nimitz’s escorts to alter their course fell on the usual stoic National Party government to answer to – so much fuss and hot air was made of it for political appeasement, with little result.

48939834_2307720506123601_1085318676418134016_nSuch diplomatic protesting fell on deaf ears within the South African Navy strike-craft circles as they saw intelligence gathering in South African waters and demonstrations of fighting prowess as their job to do, and all the diplomatic ‘ballyhoo’ simply reinforced their legacy as an elitist naval force and in fact another reason to hold up their heads in pride.  So all in all, given the political circumstances of the time, the South African Navy strike personnel felt they did a great job.

To the Americans the USS Nimitz and her escorts journey from the Mediterranean around South Africa was well publicised and no secret, also sailing in 200nm exclusion zones was perfectly legal according to international maritime law and South African naval intervention was unwarranted and qualified as harassment and nothing more.

Because of the political and diplomatic fallout, the strike-craft Commanders of P1561 the ‘SAS Jan Smuts’ and P1565 the ‘SAS Frans Erasmus’ were called onto the ‘carpet’ by the top Navy brass and reprimanded, but rumour has it they where then promptly taken out to lunch to celebrate.  Nobody lost their jobs and nothing more was said of it.

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Operation Eagle Claw

The US Navy would also have considered this a minor incident as they had much bigger issues on their plate to deal with than maritime regulations and harassment experienced around South Africa’s coast. The USS Nimitz was rounding South Africa on its way to Iran to take part in Operation Eagle Claw (Operation Evening Light).  In 1980, the Iranian Hostage crisis, a diplomatic standoff between Iran and the United States of America was in full swing with fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were held hostage in the American embassy in Tehran for nearly a year starting on the 4th November 1979, something had to be done.  The American President, Jimmy Carter, elected for a special forces military operation to rescue the hostages and end the crisis.  

On the 24th April 1980, this special forces operation to rescue the hostages was launched from the flight deck of the USS Nimitz in eight Sikorsky RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters containing Navy Seal special forces personnel to much cheering and thumbs up from the Nimitz crew, but disaster loomed.  

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Repainted RH-53Ds in sand camouflage and without markings aboard USS Nimitz prior to the launch of Operation Eagle Claw.

From the get go the Operation encountered many obstacles and was eventually aborted. The eight helicopters from the Nimitz were sent to the first staging area, ‘Desert One’, but only five arrived in operational condition. One encountered hydraulic problems, another was caught in a ‘Haboob’ (a sand storm) and another showed signs of a cracked rotor blade.

During planning it was decided that the mission would be aborted if fewer than six helicopters remained, despite only four being absolutely necessary. In a move that is still discussed in military circles, the field commanders advised mission abort, which President Carter accepted and confirmed. As the US rescue mission prepared to leave, they were plagued by another ‘haboob’ sandstorm and one of the helicopters crashed into a transport aircraft which contained both American servicemen and jet fuel. The resulting fire destroyed both aircraft and killed eight US servicemen.

The failed operation took on a legendary aspect in revolutionary Iran, with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, describing the sandstorms causing the failure of the mission as “angels of Allah” who foiled the US conspiracy in order to protect Iran. They then promptly erected a mosque (the Mosque of Thanks) at the crash site.

The failure of Operation Eagle Claw was a humiliating blow for the United States Presidency and its Armed Forces on the international stage.  The hostages were scattered all over Iran to prevent a second rescue attempt.  The Ayatollah Khomeini milked Carter’s embarrassment for all it was worth declaring;

“Who crushed Mr. Carter’s helicopters? We did? The sands did! They were God’s agents. Wind is God’s agent … These sands are agents of God. They can try again”

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Iranian officials investigate the crash site.

Then, literally minutes after President Jimmy Carter’s Presidential term ended on the 20th January 1981 the Iranians ended their humiliation of Carter by releasing the 52 US captives held in Iran, promptly ending the 444-day Iran hostage crisis.

In conclusion 

These bigger events over shadowed the SA Navy ‘harassment’ of the US Navy issue somewhat and the story is lessor known to annuals of history, but to South Africa’s strike craft community it remains a time when they stood up as David as did and fearlessly challenged a Goliath. For all the political hot air and statements of grandeur they found weakness in the US Navy task force in 1980, and all the ‘blustering’ about US Naval size and fighting prowess aside, lessons on protecting such a flotilla from small and very lethal Israeli developed and South African perfected strike craft would hopefully have been learned.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

This great snippet of history is courtesy of Johnny Steenkamp and Joe Johnson – with deep thanks.  Photo copyright of the Nimitz – Joe Johnson.

Reference: Seaforces on-line, Naval information.  The South African Naval Fraternity on-line.

 

An ‘unsung’ icon of Liberty … the ‘Lady in White’

When researching wartime memories of British and Commonwealth servicemen and women during World War 2, a couple of significant memories will stick out for them, the first time in combat, the loss of a friend or comrade, even where they were the day the war ended.

Perla-Siedle-GibsonBut more often than not only one iconic South African makes it into the distinctive personal memories of tens of thousands of British, South African and other commonwealth soldiers and sailors taking part in the war – and it’s not Jan Smuts, it’s a relatively little known soprano known only as the ‘Lady in White’.

The ‘lady in white’ in her day was a living legend, she had ‘sung’ her way into the hearts of thousands, but there is a very ‘unsung’ part of Perla Siedle Gibson’s legacy, and it includes her legacy as an anti-apartheid campaigner for democracy and political freedom in South Africa alongside Sailor Malan and his ‘Torch Commando’ – now not many people know that.

So who is this South African who is emblazoned on the narrative of World War 2 in a more memorable manner than just about any politician or military leader could ever hope for, who is this prima Anti-Apartheid campaigner and why is she not appropriately recognised as one of South Africa’s most significant women in our modern history?

Perla Gibson

Perla Gibson was a wartime national South African treasure – the famous ‘Lady in White’, Perla Gibson would sing to convoys of troopships, merchant ships and fighting vessels visiting Durban harbour during the Second World War – and her memory would sink into the hearts of servicemen and women the world over.

Perla Siedle Gibson was a South African soprano and artist, she was born in Durban in 1888 at the height of the Victorian era, the daughter of Otto Siedle, a prominent local shipping agent, businessman and musician of German extraction. Her two brothers Karl and Jack were well-known cricketers in South Africa. Karl was killed in the First World War and Jack went on to international fame as one of South Africa’s greatest test cricketers.

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As a young woman in the early twentieth century she studied music and art in Europe and the United States and gave recitals in London for Granville Bantock (a British composer) and Henry Wood (a conductor) and gave a rectitude in New York before returning to Durban and raising a family.

By the start of the Second World War, she was 50 years old, with her performance life well behind her and considerable worry ahead of her, for she had reared a military family. Her husband, Air Sergeant Jack Gibson was in the South African Air Force; her two sons, and only daughter, were in the army.

A really ‘Big’ audience and a ‘Big’ heart 

During World War 2 Durban was an extremely busy station for convoys of ships en route to the fronts in North Africa and the Far East. Of the tens of thousands of Allied men and women convoyed over vast distances at sea to these battlefronts most would often round the Cape of Good Hope and then work northeast along the coast to Durban as a final refreshing stop-over before finally reaching the ports servicing battle-fronts.

Durban would quickly become the busiest seaport on the South African coast and a way station on the ocean highway to the war. Through Durban came Commonwealth soldiers and airmen en route from New Zealand, Australia and training bases throughout South Africa and Rhodesia bound for Europe and points far to the east; American servicemen bound for the jungles of Papua New Guinea, Buna and Gona; wounded soldiers on hospital ships; British and American naval ships by the hundreds and thousands of battered merchantmen and not to mention tens of thousands of South African military service men and women off to and returning from war.

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These were the stories of hundreds of thousands of men and women converging at some point on Durban and many would remember Durban as a place of not just bustling energy, but warmth and welcome.  But one person in their Durban experience really shines above all else – a short, stout woman all dressed in white, standing on the edge of the pier holding a megaphone and singing her heart out.

As each convoy of Allied ships passed through the narrow Durban harbour entrance, there she was, standing alone on North Pier, singing a welcome to them in her rich soprano voice. From April 1940 to August 1945, whether in the early dawn, wind, rain or the blazing sun, she never missed one convoy. Not even the one that sailed out on the day when she learned that her eldest son had been killed in action.

So how did this type of conviction and devotion to duty come about?

When Irish Eyes are Smiling

Gibson’s custom arose in April 1940 when she was seeing off a young Irish merchant seaman her family had entertained the day before. As his ship was departing he was said to have called across the water asking her to sing something Irish, and Gibson responded with a rendition of “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” a song made popular around the time Perla was studying in Europe.

After this she decided to sing to every ship connected with the war which entered or left the harbour.  In effect she became South Africa’s own ‘Vera Lyn’ – and in a twist she was even to meet and befriend Vera Lynn after the war.

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Two famed women for singing to troops on quaysides. Dame Vera Lynn (known to the troops as “The Forces Sweetheart”) on the left and Perla Siedle Gibson (Known to the troops as “The Lady In White”) on the right whilst Vera Lynn was on tour in South Africa in the 1950’s.

Perla realised she could make a meaningful personal contrition to the war effort by boosting troop morale and it was the start of a ritual which she would continue doing as long as there were troopships to sing to.

From her small home on a hillside overlooking the harbour, she could see the daily comings and goings in the harbour—ships rounding the point, working up steam at the dock, or preparing to cast off. She would immediately get into her big Buick sedan and drive down the dockside. While security would not allow her to know in advance of ship movements, she was given a special entertainer pass that allowed her access to the secure docks. She took to wearing a sort of uniform—a plain white dress, a wide brimmed red hat and a red necklace. Whether this was a deliberate choice to allow sailors and servicemen to see her from far away as she sang them off, or was simply a wise choice to stay comfortable in hot African weather, we will never know. Soon however, her singing, her joyous personality and her great white and red presence earned her the admiration of everyone, worldwide fame and the title “The Lady in White.”

Never missing a beat

Perla Gibson would go on to sing to every ship that sailed into or out of Durban from April 1940 to August 1945.  She went on to sing to more than 5,000 ships and a total of about a quarter of a million Allied servicemen. Clad in her distinctive white with a red hat and necklace, standng on a spot where ships entering and leaving the harbour pass quite close, and singing patriotic and sentimental songs through a megaphone – which came from a torpedoed ship, and which grateful British soldiers had given her so she could be heard with more ease.

As the crowded ships passed into the harbour, men lining the landward rails saw ‘the lady in white’ singing powerfully through the gifted megaphone such popular songs as “There’ll Always be an England!”,”Land of Hope and Glory”,“It’s a long way to Tippereray”, “Home, Sweet Home”, “When the Lights Go On Again” and “The White Cliffs of Dover”.

Soldiers’ talk led to the fame of the Lady in White spreading around the world. A British army newspaper called Parade, dated 3 March 1945, described Gibson as a highlight of troops’ visits to Durban.

Life Magazine in 1944 recorded a “52-year-old Perla Siedle is South Africa’s No. 1 dockside morale-builder. Yanks call her “Kate Smith” and “Ma”; Poles have named her the “South African Nightingale”; and to Britishers she is the “Soldier’s Sweetheart” and the “Lady in White.”   The ship’s Captain “usually stands on the bridge and salute her as the ship glides by. Czechs and Poles aboard ship click their heels and stand at rigid attention”.  When welcoming American troops Perla “would sing The Star Spangled Banner”.

Life Magazine goes further to record:

The Yanks never ask for hymns although the British sometimes do. Australians always want Waltzing Matilda. South Africans like their own Afrikaans folksongs like Sarie Marais. Czechs, Poles, Greeks and other Continentals prefer opera, so for them she does arias from Wagner, Verdi, Puccini. For hospital ships, Perla gives extra long performances.

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It was not uncommon for troops on board a troop ship to goad Perla to sing more. “Hey Ma, sing us a song… Ma, come on, be a sport. Ma, give us Land of Hope and Glory Ma…” Perla was not perturbed, singing came easily and she would break into song. There would be a silence and then the troops joined in, their voices being heard above the hustle and bustle of wartime Durban.

For South Africans off to war she sang popular South African and Afrikaner songs, – like Bokkie and Sarie Marais. But her all time favourites were singing to the British servicemen the ‘Tommies’ Perla said of them “I adore British Tommies. They make you sing and sing and never let you stop. I once sang six hours at a stretch for them.”

Consider her impact from this memoir by a Merchant Seaman Gordon Sollors:

“The next thing I observed was one of those enduring memories, which we all have. As we sailed (majestically I thought) into the harbour, I had a vague idea that “something was happening” on the quayside. When I finally looked down and took notice of what was going on, I could see a person standing there, holding what appeared to be a megaphone (no such thing as loud hailers then!) The person was a “large” lady, dressed in a long, flowing white dress, and wearing an ENORMOUS wide brimmed red hat. Although she looked quite out of place among all the cranes, railway trucks, and all the other things that generally litter a quayside, she looked absolutely stunning.

She stood on the dock side calling “Hello there” through the megaphone to the soldiers as the ship came nearer to the quay. Once the soldiers heard her, and called back, she started singing the “patriotic” music hall type songs popular in those days such as Tipperary, Roll Out The Barrel, Pack Up Your Troubles and Bless ’em All.

She did all this in a superb voice through her megaphone. Had there been a roof, I’m sure she would have brought it down as the soldiers enthusiastically joined in. Not only was it a diversion from the very boring day to day life of the last four or five weeks on board the ship, it was somebody going out of her way to entertain them. There was also a nostalgic touch of “Old England” in the content of the songs. Such a performance would never have taken place in England, not only because of the secrecy, which necessarily shrouded troop movements there, but also because in general, the public was absolutely barred from dockside areas. It was a very moving occasion indeed”.

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Two wonderful photos by an unknown photographer show Perla standing next to a bollard and singing

R.H. Nicklin recounts in his book ‘Civilian to Sailor’ the importance of ‘The Lady in White’:

The thing that makes Durban stand out above all other places, and the thing that will always be remembered by me and every sailor that enters this harbour is “The Lady in White” and why? As Dorsetshire sailed into the harbour for the first time though the entrance I could see people standing on the jetty, but what stood out from all these people is a figure standing on something higher than the rest and dressed all in white. As we closed into our berth on the jetty I could see distinctly that the figure is that of a woman and she could be plainly heard singing through a microphone [sic] loud and clear “Land of Hope and Glory.” I can tell you that there wasn’t many sailors who didn’t have a tear in their eyes or a lump in their throat” …  “I know one thing she certainly gave my moral a boost and I only hope that I hear her a lot more times

Perla would never miss a beat she would even sing her husband, two sons and daughter off to the war from the harbour. When she got a telegram that her 26-year-old son Second Lieutenant Clement Roy Gibson was killed on 14 March 1944 while serving with the Black Watch, she put away the telegram and drove to the harbour and sang to the departing ships, such was her devotion to duty and emotional strength.

13450028_10154250644792329_4746410985414422490_nAn unsung icon of Liberty 

Perla’s strength, her sense of ‘duty’ and ‘conviction’ did not stop after the war either.  A little known part of Perla Gibson history is that she even took an active stand against the National Party’s plans to implement their policies of Apartheid after 1948.

In the early 1950’s she backed the returning war veterans’ mass protests against Apartheid.  As a high profile and recognisable personality of the war, Perla Gibson was standing shoulder to shoulder with Sailor Malan and participating and singing in Torch Commando rallies in defiance of the National Party and Apartheid.

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Torch Commando rally in Caps Town. Protestors carrying thousands of oil soaked ‘torches’ of Liberty in defiance of Apartheid

She was present next to Sailor Malan during the Torch Commando anti-apartheid rally in Cape Town during March 1952 in front of 10,000 South African World War 2 veterans and 50,000 civilians on protest, it was at this rally when Sailor Malan famously accused the national party government of;

“Depriving us of our freedom, with a fascist arrogance that we have not experienced since Hitler and Mussolini met their fate”.

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Rare photograph of Perla Gibson accompanying Sailor Malan and speaking out at a Torch Commando rally in March 1952, Cape Town – Image LIFE magazine

Not afraid of the dangers which came with her political convictions, during the Cape Town “Torch” veterans carrying oil lit ‘torches’ of ‘liberty’ moved to hand over a petition at the Parliament buildings in Cape Town. The police barred the way and a scuffle broke out. 160 Protesters where injured along with 15 Policemen. As tensions grew over the protest the National Party MP Johannes Streydom finally warned them that he would use the South African security forces against “those who are playing with fire and speaking of civil war and rebellion”.

DF Malan’s Apartheid government was so alarmed by the activities and broad-based support of The Torch Commando they acted as was their custom – decisively and crushed the movement with both legislation and direct threats to veterans livelihoods, whilst at the same time painting people like Sailor Malan and his supporters like Perla Gibson as ‘traitors’ because of their wartime support for Great Britain and their ‘unpatriotic’ stance to Apartheid.

The Torch Commando, South Africa’s first mass mobilisation protest movement against Apartheid (not the ANC) was eventually very effectively buried in an unrelenting smear campaign.  It was written completely out of South Africa’s school history books and national consciousness by a Nationalist government fearful of heroes been made out iconic military veterans in countenance to their grand plans of Apartheid. As a result ‘The Torch’ remains obscure and even inconvenient to the current narrative of the ‘Apartheid Struggle’ as it was primarily a ‘white’ movement and not a ‘black’ one.

A legacy to be remembered 

The National Party’s opinion aside, Perla Gibson’s value was sincerely felt by Allied and South African servicemen and women both in South Africa and the world over.  Perla Gibson sang at the quayside at Maydon Wharf for the very last time to a departing ship in February 1971. Very fittingly that ship was a British frigate with a South African legacy – the HMS Zulu. Her very last song, ‘wish me luck as you wave me goodbye’. She passed away just a week later on 6 March 1971, shortly before her 83rd birthday.

A year later a bronze plaque donated by men of the Royal Navy was erected to her memory on Durban’s North Pier on the spot where she used to sing.  It read: Royal Navy Memorial

To the Memory of Perla Gibson “The Lady in White” who sang to countless thousands of British Commonwealth and Allied Servicemen as they passed through Durban over the years 1940 to 1971. This tablet was presented by the Officers and Men of the Royal Navy.

When the North Pier was redeveloped the plaque and plinth was moved. In 1995 a statue to Perla was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II, it was commissioned in 1995 by Sam Morley who wrote the book “Durban’s Lady in White“. The statue was created by local artist Barbara Siedle, who is the niece of the ‘Perla Siedle Gbson, and it was originally placed in a prominent place next to the Emtateni Centre (which was part of the Ocean Terminal Building on the T-Jetty).  In June 2016 it was announced that the statue would be relocated to the Port Natal Maritime Museum as it was no longer accessible due to changes in the Ocean Terminal.  The statue was relocated next to the Britannia Room, but still within the harbour area.

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The Perla Siedle Gibson Mobile Library was also founded to  serve British seamen on all ship and a 5 room unit at the Highway Hospice was created with funds raised in her memory.  The boarding establishment at Glenwood High School was named Gibson House after Roy and its colour is white in her honour.

In Conclusion

The memory of Perla Siedle Gibson left an indelible mark on those servicemen who experienced her performance, and her dedication to her task was legendary,  However her legacy is largely fading into memory in South Africa as greater socio-political events have gripped the country since the implementation of Apartheid, and the Nobel deeds of South African’s who went to war during World War 2 fall to the wayside and out of the national consciousness.

A real pity, considering Perla Gibson is one of South Africa’s most predominant women from our history, arguably one of the most well-known artists we have ever produced, and she is both a ‘wartime’ icon and even a ‘struggle’ icon.  She is at the moment a very ‘unsung’ heroine of liberty.

However, the nature of  modern media as to what it is, the truth will eventually ‘out’  – especially when it comes to our WW2 heroes and heroines like Sailor Malan and Perla Gibson, sons and daughters of South Africa who not only stood against tyranny of Nazism but also stood against the injustices of Apartheid.

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Related Works and Links

Vera Lynn and Perla Gibson The Forces Sweetheart & The Lady in White, two iconic women of WW2

Sailor Malan Sailor Malan; Fighter Ace & Freedom Fighter!

Torch Commando The Torch Commando led South Africa’s first mass anti-apartheid protests, NOT the ANC!

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


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Information sources – Wikipedia Durban’s Lady in White: Perla Siedle Gibson by Durban Local History Museums, 30 January 2017 By Dave O’Malley. Gibson, P.S., The Lady in White, Purnell & Sons, 1964. Durban’s Lady in White. An autobiography.  Perla Siedle Gibson. Aedificamus Press, 1991.  Photos Richard Mallory Allnutt Collection and Wikipedia.  Dockside Diva by John Barkham — First published in LIFE magazine in 1944. Sailor Malan’s Revolt’ in Cape Town a war hero speaks up for freedom – LIFE magazine 25 June 1951.

South Africa was represented at the formal surrender of Japan in 1945

To many South Africans  ‘VJ’ day – Victory over Japan celebrations – the official end of the 2nd World War is seen as American, Australian and British endeavour and not really a South African one – but they could not be more wrong.  Little do they know that South Africa had official representation at the surrender – and for a very good reason.

1945-Original-V-J-DAY-WWII-Pin-pinback-buttonThe 2nd of September is a significant day in the history of the world, it’s the day Japan formally surrendered to finally end World War 2. The ceremony took place on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay in 1945, and the South Africans where right there too, represented by Cdr A.P. Cartwright, South African Naval Forces.

Cdr A.P. Cartwright is seen here, overseeing the signature of Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser on behalf of the United Kingdom on the Instrument of Surrender. He’s standing in the row of four naval officers left and right of General Douglas MacArthur (behind the microphone), Cdr A.P. Cartwright is on the far left.

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Cdr Cartwright was the senior South African officer on the staff of the American Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Allied commander-in-chief in the Pacific Ocean.

The ceremony aboard the deck of the USS Missouri lasted 23 minutes and was broadcast throughout the world.  This old newsreel footage captures the moment and is the only footage on the net taken from the angle which shows Cdr Cartwright standing with the British delegation at their ceremony (please excuse the poor sound quality).

 

General Douglas MacArthur’s speech summarised the sentiment perfectly, he said; “We are gathered here, representatives of the major warring powers—to conclude a solemn agreement whereby peace may be restored. The issues involving divergent ideals and ideologies, have been determined on the battlefields of the world and hence are not for our discussion or debate. Nor is it for us here to meet, representing as we do a majority of the people of the earth, in a spirit of distrust, malice or hatred. But rather it is for us, both victors and vanquished, to rise to that higher dignity which alone befits the sacred purposes we are about to serve, committing all our people unreservedly to faithful compliance with the obligation they are here formally to assume

It is my earnest hope and indeed the hope and indeed the hope of all mankind that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past—a world founded upon faith and understanding—a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish—for freedom, tolerance and justice.

The terms and conditions upon which the surrender of the Japanese Imperial Forces is here to be given and accepted are contained in the Instrument of Surrender now before you.

As Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, I announce it my firm purpose, in the tradition of the countries I represent, to proceed in the discharge of my responsibilities with justice and tolerance, while taking all necessary dispositions to insure that the terms of surrender are fully, promptly and faithfully complied with.”

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Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic “V-J Day in Times Square” now colourised brings life the general sentiment and relief felt world over at the surrender of Japan.

When the assembled representatives of the Allied Powers and of Japan had finished signing the agreements, General MacArthur, MacArthur saved his very best for last, words that put a closure not only to the ceremony, but to the entire war itself. He stated:

Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are closed.

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nA total of 297 South African Naval Forces (SANF) personnel were killed in action during World War II, and that excludes many South Africans serving directly on British ships as part of the Royal Navy.   Many of these South Africans were lost in actions against the Japanese – especially during Japan’s ‘Easter Raid’ against the British Eastern Fleet stationed at Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) which sank the HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall on the 5th April 1942 and the HMS Hollyhock and HMS Hermes on the 9th April 1942 – with the staggering loss of 65 South African Naval  personnel seconded to the Royal Navy and on board these 4 British fighting ships.  It was and remains the South African Navy’s darkest hour, yet little is commemorated or know of it today in South Africa, and this is one of the reasons why a SANF official was represented at the formal surrender of Japan.

The South African Navy acquitted itself very well during World War 2.  In all South African Naval Forces (SANF) personnel in World War 2 received 321 awards for gallantry and distinguished service. SANF officers and ratings served in nearly every major naval operation of the war as well as large contingents fulfilling duties in the Asian theatre of operations against Imperial Japan.

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The Japanese representatives on board the USS Massouri,for the signing were the following: Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, General Yoshijirō Umezu, Chief of the Army General Staff, Major General Yatsuji Nagai, Katsuo Okazaki (Foreign Ministry), Rear Admiral Tadatoshi Tomioka, Toshikazu Kase (Foreign Ministry), Lt. General Suichi Miyakazi, Rear Admiral Ichiro Yokoyama, Saburo Ota (Foreign Ministry), Captain Katsuo Shiba (Navy) and Colonel Kaziyi Sugita

Related Work and Links:

The complete SA Navy Sacrifice during World War 2 The South African Navy’s ‘elephant in the room’

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

South African Naval Forces against Japan South African Navy at war against …. Imperial Japan!!


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens. Reference: Military History Journal, Vol 10 No. 3′ South Africa and the War against Japan 1941-1945′, wikipedia.  Image reference HMS Wager’s commemorative website http://www.hms-wager.org.uk. Alfred Eisenstaedt “V-J Day in Times Square”

Jan Smuts, Winston Churchill and D-Day

It was D-Day+6 when South African statesman, Field Marshal Jan Smuts, was also to cross over to Normandy, accompanying the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill by his side.  To this point Smuts had played a pivot role in not only the planning and strategy behind Operation Overlord and the Normandy campaign, he also played a central role as Winston Churchill’s personal advisor and using his considerable political skill, Jan Smuts was to keep Churchill in line with the wishes and objects of not only Overlord’s military commanders (mainly British and American), but also those of the King of Great Britain – George VI.

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Churchill in the lead up to the Normandy campaign was not in favour of the entire operation, he felt that the focus should remain on the Italian campaign and maintained that any available resources should be concentrated to winning it by entering Germany and Austria via what he termed ‘the soft under-belly of Europe’ and not France. The truth of the matter was that the ‘soft-underbelly’ had turned into a slow and costly grind through mountainous terrain, and instead had become a ‘tough old gut’.  Allied military planners now looked to open a third front to stretch the Axis the forces across an Eastern, Western and Southern front.

Operation Overlord

Smuts was to bring considerable expertise to win Churchill over to backing Operation Overlord and opening the third front via France, but he had another challenge, once won over Churchill insisted on meddling in just about everything to do with the invasion plans, bringing him into direct conflict with General Montgomery specifically. General Montgomery was assigned to command the 21st Army Group which consisted of all Allied ground forces that would take part in Operation Overlord, under the overall direction of the Supreme Commander, American General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Smuts was to stick to Churchill like glue, never leaving his side, not for a moment – he was to arbitrate and advise not only Churchill, but the entire supreme command, lending a guiding and experienced hand – before and during the campaign itself.  In doing so Smuts was to cement a formidable international reputation as not only a sought after military strategist but also a very skilful politician in forming the vision for a post D-Day invasion Europe and the world at large post war.

Typically Churchill had insisted on personally hitting the beach-heads on D-Day itself (undoubtably Smuts, who was no stranger to danger, would have had no option but to be at his side).  Churchill felt it important that as Prime Minister that he should be ashore with the assault forces leading from the front. His peers, the commanders and the King thought him quite mad and it eventually took an intervention from the King George VI to Churchill to insist he was too valuable to be risking his life on what would have amounted to a Public Relations antic.  Ignoring this, as D-Day approached it took a further letter from King George to literally order Churchill to stand down at the last-minute.

Not to be outdone, Churchill did the next best thing, and with Jan Smuts at his side the two of them on D-Day itself – 6th June 1944 went to the port with journalists in toe to wish Godspeed to British and Canadian troops embarking for the liberation of Europe. The troops waiting on the quayside gave the two Prime Ministers (Smuts and Churchill) a hearty cheer as they went up the gangway.

This Pathé newsreel called ‘over there’ captures D-Day and the beach-head breakout (if you watch to the end you’ll see Churchill and Smuts).

In addition, prior to the departing troops on June 6th, the newspapers of the time noted the following as to Smuts and his involvement in the planning;

“General Smuts also accompanied King George V, the Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory on a visit to General Eisenhower at Supreme Headquarters on ‘D-Day’ and went to the operations room to follow the progress of the battle. Throughout the day General Smuts received independent reports from the highest quarters, of the progress of the invasion operations.”

It was at Eisenhower’s headquarters that, a few days earlier, that Smuts had met the French soldier and statesman General De Gaulle at “a quiet, tree-shaded spot” and that “General Eisenhower, Mr. Churchill and Mr. Eden were there as well.” The group had spent “nearly two hours together, largely in the war room tent of the Allied Supreme Commander, where the walls are hung with detailed maps and the planned liberation of France.”

Not able to keep Churchill and Smuts away from the action for too long, it was a short 6 days into the landing operations (D-Day +6) on 12 June 1944, that the two of them bordered a destroyer, the HMS Kelvin crossing over to France and into the teeth of the fighting.

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12 June 1944,  The boarding party with Field Marshal Jan Smuts (right), Prime Minister Winston Churchill (centre) and Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke and Rear Admiral W E Parry (bottom right).” Crossing to France D-Day +6

The K-Class destroyer is the HMS Kelvin which reached the French coast at 9.30 a.m. and had steamed through the battle fleet during a bombardment and later joined in the shelling of the German north-east flank. Churchill and Smuts were then conveyed to the beach via a “DUKW” amphibious vehicle where they then met Field Marshal Montgomery, where-after they departed in a jeep for Montgomery’s headquarters for a de-briefing of the progress and offer him advise on the next phases.

Whilst at Montgomery’s head quarters, General Smuts took up the role of photographer (the reason he’s not in the picture) and he was to take this world-famous photograph. From left to right: The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke; Mr Winston Churchill; and the Commander of the 21st Army Group, General Sir Bernard Montgomery, at Montgomery’s mobile headquarters in Normandy.

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Smuts was rather lucky to survive his visit to Normandy, as both he and Churchill could very well have been killed while visiting Monty’s headquarters at Cruelly.

While visiting the headquarters and as senior officers stood outside with the Prime Minister (Churchill), Field Marshal Smuts sniffed the air and said, “There are some Germans near us now…I can always tell!”

And lo and behold, just two days later, two fully armed German paratroopers emerged from a nearby Rhododendron bush, where they had been hiding all along (they had become isolated from their unit, seeing that they were unable to rejoin they chose to surrender). Had they used their guns and grenades on Churchill (and Monty as well as Smuts), everything would have changed.

There you have it, Smuts’ keen sense of smell and intuition is another attribute you can add to the very long list of honours attributed to this great South African.

The below mage shows Winston Churchill and Field Marshal Jan Smuts with  General Sir Bernard Montgomery at his headquarters, 12 June 1944 looking at aircraft activity overhead.

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It is also really amazing when one considers that Smuts, an erstwhile enemy of the British empire during the South African War (1899-1906), was not only to reconcile himself to his former enemy over the succeeding years, but was also to be greatly respected by two British prime ministers: Lloyd George and Winston Churchill during the First and Second World Wars respectively and served on the appointed war councils in both.  During the Second World War he was even appointed to the British King’s Privy Council – finding himself at the epicentre on how the war was to be conducted and fought.

Notwithstanding the fact that South Africa, with Smuts as head of state, played a very key role in the liberation of Europe, Smuts also represented the large contingent of South African Union Defence Force personnel taking part in Operation Overlord seconded to the Royal Air Force, flying all manner of fighters, transports and gliders and the South Africans seconded to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines and serving on the many vessels used in the landings and in the ground invasion forces.

In conclusion

The King was even warm to an idea proposed by Jock Colville (Churchill’s Private Secretary) that should Prime Minister Winston Churchill die during the war (which very nearly happened in Normandy), Smuts would replace him, however this idea was never tested as Smuts would have to be a peer and British Parliamentary process would have prevented it. Smuts had also already refused a peerage and South Africa’s constitution would not have allowed him to do it anyway as he was already the Prime Minister of South Africa – and politics was such with his National Party opposition accusing him of being a ‘traitor’ at every turn, that Smuts in all likelihood would have refused outright lest he alienate his own very split Afrikaner community completely.

Whether possible or not it does give an idea of just how close Smuts was to Churchill and how indispensable he had become to the war effort – strategically, tactically and politically, he was South Africa’s greatest military export – without any doubt – his council sought by Kings, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Field Marshals and Generals. His role in Overlord would rid the world of Nazism and pave the way to the ‘new’ western democratic order and United Nations order that we know today. Simply put Smuts can easily take up the same mantle as Churchill and can stand at the very epicentre of our modern values of liberty and western democratic freedoms.

Related Work and Links

Churchill’s desk and Smuts; Churchill’s Desk

Jan Smuts; South Africa’s role in giving D-Day the green light

Jan Smuts; “The force of his intellect has enriched the wisdom of the whole human race”- the death of Jan Smuts.


Written by Peter Dickens.

Photo copyright Imperial War Museum – caption thanks to The Southern African History Musings of Ross Dix-Peek. Nicholas Rankin,“Churchill’s Wizards, British Genius for Deception 1914-1945”.  Colourised photo by Redux: https://www.facebook.com/Photos-Redux-2505400816200782/

 

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’.