THE SOUTH AFRICAN NAVY AND ITS PREDECESSORS, 1910–2010: A CENTURY OF INTERACTION WITH COMMONWEALTH NAVIES

  • André Wessels

Abstract

In this article, the history of the South African Navy (SAN) and itspredecessors is reviewed, as well as the interaction with other Commonwealthnavies during the years 1910 to 2010. Although the Union Defence Forces wereestablished in 1912, the Union only acquired its first naval force in 1922, when theSouth African Naval Service (SANS) was formed. In the meantime, the country’snaval defence was conducted by the Royal Navy (RN). During World War I, 164members of the South African Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserveserved in the RN. The SANS’s three small ships were withdrawn from service in1933 to 1934, and when World War II broke out, the country’s naval forces had tobe built up from scratch – but soon played an important role in patrolling the Capesea route (and also saw action in the Mediterranean). After the war, South Africa’snaval forces were rationalised, but – in the context of the Cold War and the Sovietthreat to the Cape sea route – the SAN then gradually grew in size and importance,albeit that it was (and today still is) small in comparison to major Commonwealthnavies. In 1957, the SAN acquired the RN’s Simon’s Town Naval Base. Manyexercises were held with the RN and other navies, but gradually South Africabecame more isolated internationally because of the National Party government’sracially-based policy of apartheid. In due course, this impacted negatively on the SAN and its interaction with other navies. In 1975, the Simon’s Town Agreementwas abrogated and in 1977, the United Nations imposed a mandatory arms embargoagainst South Africa. In the meantime, the Republic of South Africa (RSA) becameembroiled in the Namibian War of Independence (1966–1989) – a war that spilledover into Angola. The SAN played a small, albeit important, role in the war, but theconflict affected the navy negatively. The advent of the truly democratic RSA in1994 opened new opportunities for the SAN, and since then, the SAN hasundertaken many flag-showing cruises to several Commonwealth and othercountries, while many foreign warships, including from Commonwealth navies,have visited the RSA and exercised with the SAN.
Published
2011-08-10
How to Cite
Wessels, A. (2011). THE SOUTH AFRICAN NAVY AND ITS PREDECESSORS, 1910–2010: A CENTURY OF INTERACTION WITH COMMONWEALTH NAVIES. Scientia Militaria - South African Journal of Military Studies, 38(2). https://doi.org/10.5787/38-2-92
Section
Articles