Maritime defence and the South African Navy to the cancellation of the Simon's Town agreement

  • T.D. Potgieter
Keywords: Maritime defence, South African Navy, to the cancellation of the Simon's Town agreement, Cape of Good Hope, The South African Division of the part-time Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve (RNVR), South African Naval Service, The Union of South Africa

Abstract

For centuries, the maritime defence of South Africa was a colonial responsibility. First performed by the Dutch, the British took over the task after they wrestled the Cape of Good Hope from the Dutch. The Cape was of supreme strategic value to Britain as the link with India and a great part of her empire. Therefore for more than a century and a half (from 1806 to the abrogation of the Simon's Town Agreement) the Royal Navy had a constant presence in South African territorial waters. Furthermore when the first flickers of an indigenous maritime defence organisation appeared in South Africa it was British in character. The South African Division of the part-time Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve (RNVR) came into being long before the country had a navy. The origin of the South African Navy dates back to 1922, when, the South African Naval Service was created with the arrival of three small ships from Britain. Unfortunately, the budget cuts during the Depression meant that these ships and their crews were paid off (in 1933-4) and only a skeleton staff remained. This was still the position at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. The Union of South Africa's declaration of war against Germany on 6 September 1939, meant that the country's utterly neglected Navy had to suddenly prepare for war. Ships had to be found, and as purpose-build warships were out of the question, ships from the country's fishing fleet and trade had to suffice. A small ocean-going navy was created for the defence of the Union's ports and coastline. Following an urgent request from the British Admiralty in November 1940, South Africa sent four anti-submarine vessels to join the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean. As the war progressed, more ships of the South African Naval Forces arrived in the Mediterranean. They were used for a variety of tasks, ranging from minesweeping to salvage work. South African ships and crews earned themselves quite a reputation, participating in most phases of the Mediterranean sea war, including operations along the North African coast, the invasions of Sicily and Southern France as well as subsequent operations in Greek waters. But losses also occurred, and in total four South African naval vessels were lost in the Mediterranean.
Published
2012-02-09
How to Cite
Potgieter, T. (2012). Maritime defence and the South African Navy to the cancellation of the Simon’s Town agreement. Scientia Militaria - South African Journal of Military Studies, 30(2). https://doi.org/10.5787/30-2-173
Section
Articles