History page

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At the outbreak of the Second World War, there was no South African Navy. Only existed the well trained men of the  Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (SA) and former cadets of the training ship Louis Botha. General Smuts requested to Rear-Admiral G.W. Hallifax, retired from the Royal Navy and living in South Africa, to form a South African naval service. All suitable whalers and trawlers of the South African harbours were bought or chartered and armed with all available guns of the arsenal at  Simon's Town.

Admiral G.W. Hallifax

Besides of the personnel cited above, ships were also manned by men who have served in the Royal Navy or in the Mercantile Marine and who lived in South Africa. The mail ship  Union Castle was requisitioned at Simon's Town and armed as auxiliary cruiser in the  Royal Navy.

2937 South African sailors served on board of units of the Royal Navy and 191 lost their lives.

Two weeks after the beginning of the War, three trawlers served as minesweepers. The Seaward Defence Force (SDF) was officially formed on 15th January 1940, but at this time several dozens of ships were armed and commisionned with 47 officers and  381 sailors. The SDF installed a base in each South African harbour.

In May 1940, the minesweepers flotilla worked off Aghulas, the honor to cut the first mine cable devolving to the Aristea. During the six following months, the flotilla was almost continually in operation to clean this minefield put by the famous commerce raider Atlantis.

Passing the leading line of the sweep

The naval crisis in the Mediterranean led, in June 1940, to the departure of  four South African Anti-Submarine units, under the command of Lt-Cdr AF Trew, to join the Admiral Cunningham Fleet. It was the Southern Isles, Southern Maid, Southern Floe and Southern Sea : 350 tons former whalers equipped with one 4-inch gun, several machine-guns, one asdic and deep charges. The active operations began on the 20th January 1941 off Alexandria, when the Southern Isles launched its deep charges after a suspicious submarine contact. Four days later, the Southern Maid made its entrance in Tobruk harbour, some hours after the Italian reddition. 

General South African anti-submarine vessel badge

The ships were often the target of ennemy air force and obtained a fine reputation by the accuracy of their anti-aircraft fire.

Rene Sethren

The first loss was sustained on the 11th February 1941 when the Southern Floe was sunk by a mine off Tobruk. It was replaced by the Protea. On the 11th July 1942, The Southern Maid and the Protea sunk the Italian submarine Ondina between Cyprus and Lebanon.

The ship's company of HMSAS Protea.

In November 1941, a second group of eight minesweepers left Durban for the Mediterranean. These ships were the  Boksburg, Bever, Gribb, Seksern, Imhoff, Treern, Parktown  and Langlaagte, all former whalers of about 260 tons equiped with one 3-inch gun and deep charges. Three of them were lost with high human losses. The Parktown was destroyed by a motor torpedoe boat during the evacuation of Tobruk. The Bever and the Treern were lost during minesweeping operations in Greek Waters, on the 30th November 1944 and on the 12th January 1945 respectivelly.

Commodore J. Dalgleish

Commodore J. Dalgleish replaced Admiral Hallifax, killed in a plane crash in March 1941. In August 1942, the RNVR (SA) and the SDF combined to form the South African Naval Forces (SANF). In October 1942, German submarines began an intensive campaign against shipping in the South African Waters. In four days, U-Boot sunk 14 ships, 100 000 tons. South African vessels, SAAF aircrafts and four destroyers of the Royal Navy stationed in The Cape, took part in the anti-submarines and rescue operations. A great submarine, the U-179 was sunk by the destroyer Active on 8th October and one other, the U-172, was damaged by the corvette Rockrose. U-Boot still sunk a dozen of merchant ships and came back to Europe. From then, the maritime shipping was organized in convoys with the escort of British corvettes and South African armed whalers, under the overseeing of SAAF aircrafts.

In 1943, The Pretoria, Standerton, Odberg, Cedarberg, Turffontein, Vereeniging, Sonneblom and Immortelle were placed under the control of the Royal Navy to the convoys escort and sailed as far as Mauritius, Mombasa and Madagascar.

In July 1944, The British Admiraulty gave three anti-submarine frigates to the SANF. Crews were sent to Great Britain. These ships were named HMSAS Good Hope, Natal and Transvaal. During a training off Scotland, The Natal detected and sunk the U-714 on the 14th March 1945.

At its peak (in 1944), the South African Navy consisted of :



Auxiliary Minesweepers


Auxiliary Anti-Submarine Vessels


Boom Defence Vessels




Cable Vessels


Harbor Defence Motor Launches


Salvage vessels


Examination Vessels




Not included are one RN Salvage Vessel, HMS Salvestor, and two RN Frigates, HMS Teviot and HMS Swale, manned by South African crews towards the end of the War. The three SANF Frigates (HMSAS Good Hope, Natal and Transvaal) were not in commission at the "peak" period.


In action


HMSAS Southern Floe

11th February 1941

HMSAS Parktown

21st June 1942


30th November 1944

HMSAS Treern

12th January 1945



HMSAS Sydostlandet

6th April 1942