FLAG-SHOWING CRUISES BY SOUTH AFRICAN WARSHIPS,
1922-2002

By André Wessels
(Department of History, University of the Free State)

Introduction

On 1 April 2002, the South African Navy (SAN) was 80 years old. At that stage a large number of the members of the Navy were involved in planning for the arrival of four new frigates and three new submarines, or had already commenced training for service on board the new ships and submarines.

On commemorating the SAN's 80th anniversary, we indeed have to reflect on the history of the Navy. This study focuses on only one aspect of the Navy's history, namely, foreign flag-showing cruises. The primary task of the SAN is to protect the Republic of South Africa (RSA) and its inhabitants and interests against any form of foreign threat. However, in peace time, the Navy has an equally important role to play; for example, it may be expected to undertake support operations, including diplomatic support in the form of visits to other countries. Traditionally, diplomatic interactions among countries involve the exchange of diplomats, mutual state and other political visits, as well as holding summits and other kinds of talks. Throughout the ages, however, seafaring nations have developed the tradition sometimes to send warships on visits to one another; for example, to participate in joint Navy manoeuvres, but mostly for purposes of strengthening or forming new bonds of friendship. In this regard, the SAN is no exception, and in the past 80 years, 53 SAN ships acted as highly successful grey diplomats for South Africa in at least 86 flag-showing cruises in peace time.


SAS Drakensberg

What follows is an overview of the 86 foreign flag-showing cruises that were undertaken for the period from 1 April 1922 to 1 April 2002 by South African warships and submarines. The aim is not to supply an in-depth analysis of each separate cruise, but to determine the general nature, scope and value of the SAN's diplomatic role. Nine phases are identified, and in conclusion, general tendencies are indicated and conclusions drawn, given the new era in the history of the Navy that is about to commence with the commissioning of new frigates and submarines.

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Phase 1: The South African Naval Service, 1922-1934

The history of the South African Navy dates back to 1 April 1922 when the South African Naval Service (SANS) was founded. The SANS's first (and only) ships were the former Royal Navy ships HMS Crozier (a "Hunt" Class minesweeper that was converted into a hydrographic survey ship, and later renamed HMSAS Protea, as well as HMS Foyle and Eden ("Mersey" Class minesweeping trawlers that were later renamed HMSAS Sonneblom and Immortelle respectively). The three ships left Plymouth in England on 28 November 1921, and dropped anchor in Simon's Bay on 11 January 1922. On their way to South Africa, they visited Gibraltar, Las Palmas, Sierra Leone, Lagos, Luanda and Walvis Bay; however, as they were not yet official South African warships, this particular sea voyage is not regarded as a South African flag-showing cruise.

As far as could be determined, the SANS undertook only one foreign flag-showing cruise, namely, when HMSAS Sonneblom and Immortelle visited Lourenço Marques (the present Maputo) in Portuguese East Africa (the present Mozambique) in July 1929. The great world depression (1929-1935) also had a negative influence on the Union of South Africa, and led to the deterioration of the SANS. As a result of financial considerations, HMSAS Protea was decommissioned in 1933, and the other two ships in 1934.

Phase 2: No Flag-Showing Cruises, 1935-1939

With no naval ships at their disposal, the SANS could not play any diplomatic role. With as few as five permanent officers, twelve seamen and ten civilian administrative personnel, the SANS was merely a naval force in name. The seaward defence of the Union of South Africa was performed by the Royal Navy, with the Simon's Town Naval Base as their most important base in the southern hemisphere. However, the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 caused a dramatic change in South Africa's naval position.

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Phase 3: South Africa and the Second World War, 1940-1945

In the same way that the Union Defence Forces' (UDF's) land and air forces underwent a dramatic transformation from September 1939 onwards, the naval forces were also extended. German submarines and surface raiders posed a threat to the strategic Cape sea route, and a total of 156 Allied ships were sunk within a radius of 1 000 nautical miles (1852 km) from the South African coast. Fishing-trawlers and whaling ships were converted locally into minesweepers and submarine hunters. By the end of 1939, fifteen of these small vessels were in the service of the Seaward Defence Force (which formally took the place of the SANF on 15 January 1940). On 1 August 1942, the Seaward Defence Force and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (South Africa) were merged to form the South African Naval Forces. By the end of the war, a total of 1 436 officers and 8 896 other sailors were in the service of South Africa's naval forces, of whom 338 died while on active service; and a total of 89 vessels were involved in active service at some or other time, including three frigates, twenty small anti-submarine vessels, 45 small minesweepers, and eleven harbour defence motor launches.

Although the overwhelming majority of South African naval operations took place in the territorial waters off the Union's coast, some South African ships saw service in other operational areas. Traditionally, war-time maritime operations are not associated with diplomatic maritime actions. However, for purposes of this study, the visits that South African warships paid to other parts of the world are nonetheless regarded as a form of flag-showing event. This was indeed the first time since 1929 that South African warships visited other countries' ports, and it was the very first time that harbours in North Africa and Europe, as well as the Central and the Far East were visited. Although these visits occurred under operational conditions, the South African flag was indeed displayed. However, since the visits did not form part of formal flag-showing cruises, we only provide a broad overview of the visits, and these visits are also not linked to identifiable individual flag-showing cruises - for this reason, the visits from 1940 to 1945 also do not form part of the formally counted flag-showing cruises from 1922 to 2002 (or rather, 1922 to 1934, and 1946 to 2002).

In December 1940, four South African anti-submarine vessels were sent to the Mediterranean Sea. On 11 January 1941, they arrived in Alexandria (Egypt), from where they initially were involved in operations. Later, Tobruk (Libya) became their base, and on 11 February 1941, HMSAS Southern Floe was blown up by a mine close to this harbour - only one survivor was found. HMSAS Protea was sent as substitute to the Mediterranean Sea. In November 1941, eight small minesweepers were also dispatched to the Mediterranean Sea, and of these, three were sunk: HMSAS Parktown, Bever and Treern. Ports visited by South African ships included Sollum (Egypt), Beirut (Lebanon), Famagusta (Cyprus), Gibraltar, Port Said (Egypt), several Greek islands, Taranto (Italy), Brindisi (Italy), Preveza (Albania), Gemeniysa (Albania), and Haifa (Palestine, the present-day Israel). Two other small South African vessels (under the operational command of the Royal Navy) visited Mauritius, Madagascar, the Seychelles and Kenya. Furthermore, the salvage ship HMSAS Gamtoos left Durban on 19 November 1942, sailing via Mombasa (Kenya), Aden (Yemen) and Port Said (Egypt) to the Mediterranean Sea - where, among others, they visited the following ports to perform salvage operations: Port Said, Alexandria, Benghazi (Libya), Tripoli (Libya), Tobruk, Algiers (Algeria), Naples (Italy), Marseilles (France), La Ciotat (France), Ajaccio (Corsica), Valetta (Malta) and Genoa (Italy), and then embarked on its return voyage via Mombasa to Durban.

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Meanwhile, South Africa had for the first time secured significant warships, namely, the "Loch" Class frigates HMSAS Good Hope (December 1944), Natal (March 1945) and Transvaal (May 1945). The first two ships visited several ports in the British Isles and France - and the Natal sank the German submarine U-714. The Good Hope and the Natal sailed via Freetown (Sierra Leone) and Saldanha Bay to Cape Town (June 1945), while the Transvaal arrived in Cape Town approximately a month later. Meanwhile, the war against Japan continued unabated. In February 1945, the boom defence vessel HMSAS Barbrake (later SAS Fleur) embarked on a cruise to Trincomalee in Ceylon (known today as Sri Lanka), later visiting Madras (India), Colombo (Ceylon) and Akyalo and Rangoon (both in Burma, known today as Myanmar) before returning to South Africa in January 1946. Shortly before the end of the war, HMSAS Natal departed for the East, visiting Diego Suarez (Madagascar), Colombo, Port Swettenham (Malaysia), Singapore and Mauritius before the ship returned to Durban on 30 November 1945. During and directly after the Second World War, South African warships did indeed display the South African flag in various parts of the world.

Phase 4: Normal Diplomatic Relations, 1946-1960

On conclusion of the Second World War, all the components of the Union Defence Forces (UDF) were scaled down dramatically. At the start of the 1946, the South African Naval Forces (SANF) had only three frigates, one mine-laying vessel, eleven harbour defence motor launches and two boom defence vessels. On 1 May 1946, the SANF were reconstituted as a permanent component of the UDF, and from 1 January 1951, the SANF became known as the South African Navy (SAN). From 20 June 1952, the prefix HMSAS was replaced by SAS - this was consistent with the policy to make South Africa less and less dependent on Britain.

In 1947, the SANF acquired three additional ships: the "Algerine" Class fleet minesweepers HMSAS Rosamund (later renamed HMSAS Bloemfontein), HMSAS Pelorus (later renamed HMSAS Pietermaritzburg), and the "Flower" Class corvette HMSAS Rockrose (later converted into a hydrographic survey ship and renamed HMSAS Protea). Although delivery cruises are not primary flag-showing cruises, these types of cruises are pre-eminently suited for diplomatic purposes. The above-mentioned ships left Britain under the South African flag on 22 November 1947, sailing to Cape Town (arriving on 24 December 1947) via Gibraltar (a British territory), Freetown (in Sierra Leone, at the time also a British colony), and Walvis Bay (until 1994 a South African territory).

In March 1948, the SANF secured an own base at Salisbury Island in Durban. In August and September 1948, the SANDF embarked on its first flag-showing cruise from its new base, when all three the "Loch" Class frigates visited Mocãmedes (known today as Namibe), Lobito and Luanda in Angola (until 1975 a Portuguese colony) and Matadi in the Belgian Congo (later to become Zaïre and known today as the Democratic Republic of the Congo). In November and December 1948, the frigate HMSAS Natal and the two fleet minesweepers visited Lourenço Marques, Inhambane and Beira in Mozambique.

On 26 December 1950, the frigate HMSAS Transvaal left Durban, and embarked on a voyage to Fremantle (Australia) via Amsterdam Island (which is still a French territory today). From Fremantle, the frigate sailed to Sydney to participate in the festivities commemorating the 50th anniversary of Australia as a unitary state. Then, the Transvaal returned to South Africa, sailing via Jervis Bay, Melbourne, Adelaide and Fremantle to Durban (4 March 1951). On 24 August 1952, the SAN's first destroyer, SAS Jan van Riebeeck (the former British "Wager" Class HMS Wessex was transferred to South Africa on 29 March 1950), and SAS Transvaal and Bloemfontein left Durban for a visit to Diego Suarez (Madagascar - at the time still a French colony), Mombasa (Kenya, at the time still a British colony) and Dar es Salaam (at the time still the British colony Tanganyika, known today as Tanzania). The ships were back in the Durban harbour on 13 September.

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The SAN's second destroyer, SAS Simon van der Stel (the former HMS Whelp, and a sister-ship of the Jan van Riebeeck, was handed over to the Navy on 23 February 1953. On 14 July 1954, the Simon van der Stel left Durban harbour on what was the longest flag-showing cruise ever by an SAN warship. The warship sailed via Cape Town, Walvis Bay, Freetown and Dakar (Senegal - at the time still a French colony) to Portsmouth in England (31 July), where the ship remained for approximately two weeks. Then, the Simon van der Stel became the first SAN ship to visit the Netherlands, when the warship berthed in Rotterdam. From there, the ship returned to Portsmouth and then sailed to Derry (Londonderry, Northern Ireland), Glasgow (Scotland) and once again returned to Portsmouth. On 21 October, the return cruise to South Africa was undertaken, together with SAS Gelderland (the former HMS Brayford, the new "Ford" Class seaward defence boat, which it escorted. On their way to Durban, the ships visited Brest (France), Lisbon (Portugal), Las Palmas (Canary Islands - a Spanish territory), Dakar, Abidjan (in the former French West Africa; today located in the Côte d'Ivoire - in other words, the Ivory Coast), Pointe Noire (the former French Equatorial Africa; today located in the Republic of the Congo), Walvis Bay, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. This successful cruise of 147 days ended on 8 December 1954.


SAS Simon van der Stel in Rotterdam during her visit to the Netherlands. She was the first South African warship to visit that country.

At the end of July 1955, SAS Good Hope (at that stage the SAN's flagship) and SAS Transvaal undertook a diplomatic cruise to Madagascar, including visits to Nossi Bé, Diego Suarez and Tamatava (known today as Taomasina). On board the flagship was His Excellency Dr E.G. Jansen (South Africa's governor-general) and his wife, Mabel. This was the first (and thus far the last) time that a South African head of state sailed on board a South African warship to another country. Meanwhile, negotiations were taking place between the governments of South Africa and Britain on the future of the Royal Navy's base at Simon's Town. The outcome of these talks was that the base was transferred to the Union on 2 April 1957 in terms of the Simon's Town Agreement, and that the SAN would purchase four additional frigates, ten coastal minesweepers and five seaward defence boats (including SAS Gelderland, which has already been referred to) from Britain.

The new "Ton" Class coastal minesweepers and additional "Ford" Class seaward defence boats sailed to South Africa in groups, without additional larger escorting ships. The minesweepers SAS Kaapstad (the former HMS Hazleton) and SAS Pretoria (HMS Dunkerton) and the seaward defence boat SAS Nautilus (HMS Glassford) left Portsmouth on 4 October 1955 and sailed via Lisbon, Las Palmas, Dakar, Abidjan, Pointe Noire, Walvis Bay, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London to Durban (22 November). The next flotilla of minesweepers that sailed to South Africa were SAS Durban and Windhoek. The voyage took them from Portsmouth (12 May 1958), via Lisbon, Las Palmas, Dakar, Abidjan, Pointe Noire, Lobito and Walvis Bay to Simon's Town (13 June). After this, the minesweepers SAS East London (HMS Chilton) and SAS Port Elizabeth (HMS Dumbleton), together with the seaward defence boat SAS Rijger, left in November 1958, visiting the same harbours (excluding Abidjan) as the latter group, and reached Simon's Town on 21 December. The next group consisted of the minesweepers SAS Johannesburg (HMS Castleton) and SAS Kimberley (HMS Stratton) and the seaward defence boat SAS Haerlem, which left Portsmouth on 14 July 1959, and visited the same harbours on the way to Simon's Town (21 August) as the May-June 1958 squadron, followed by the last flotilla, comprising the minesweepers SAS Mossel Bay (HMS Oakington) and SAS Walvisbaai (HMS Packington) and the seaward defence boat SAS Oosterland. They left Portsmouth on 30 October 1959, visiting the same harbours as their predecessors (excluding Lobito) on their way to Simon's Town (where they arrived on 5 December 1959).

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Meanwhile, in Cardiff, Wales, on 29 November 1956, the SAN obtained the former British "Wager" Class destroyer (in other words, a sister-ship of the Jan van Riebeeck and the Simon van der Stel), HMS Wrangler (which, in the mean time, had been converted into an anti-submarine frigate), henceforth known as SAS Vrystaat. The latter ship also visited Portland and Devonport (Plymouth), and on 22 January 1957, the frigate sailed from the latter harbour via Lisbon, Gibraltar, Las Palmas, Freetown, Luanda and Cape Town to its destination, Durban (23 February). Shortly afterwards, the SAN ships shifted their base from Salisbury Island in Durban to their new base at Simon's Town. The first flag-showing cruise undertaken from the new base involved the frigates SAS Good Hope and Vrystaat, as well as the minesweepers SAS Kaapstad and Pretoria. The flotilla sailed from Simon's Town (12 July 1957) to Durban, Lourenço Marques and Beira. From the latter harbour, SAS Vrystaat sailed to Mombasa in Kenya to fetch ammunition, after which the frigate returned to Simon's Town (7 August) via Durban. The other ships had already arrived in Simon's Town via Durban on 2 August.


SAS Vrystaat in Durban.

In August 1959, SAS Good Hope and Vrystaat embarked on another cruise, first to Luanda in Angola, and then approximately 150 km upstream along the Congo River to Matadi in the Belgian Congo, and next downstream again to Banana. The Vrystaat was the first to return to South Africa to deliver a sick officer to a local hospital. The SAN's next flag-showing cruise took SAS Vrystaat back to Europe as part of the commemoration of the death of the Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator 500 years earlier. The frigate sailed from Simon's Town (18 July 1960) via Walvis Bay, Freetown and Gibraltar to Lagos in Portugal where a naval revue (including 35 ships from twenty countries) took place on 7 August. After the South Africans participated in other commemorative events, and visited Lisbon, they returned to Simon's Town (9 September) via Las Palmas, Freetown and Walvis Bay. While whites were commemorating the role that a European had played in opening up Africa for discovery and exploitation by Westerners, a wave of nationalism had hit Africa, and in 1960 alone, seventeen colonies gained independence. To South Africa, with its minority government who were trying to enforce a policy of apartheid on the majority, the events in the rest of Africa held dramatic implications. As time passed, this state of affairs would also have negative consequences for the SAN's diplomatic actions.

Phase 5: Gradual Isolation, 1961 -1973

Along with the events in the rest of Africa, the year 1960 was also a turbulent and watershed year for South Africa. Some of the most important events included the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's "Wind of Change" speech in the parliament in Cape Town on 3 February, the riots at Sharpeville and other so-called townships on 21 March, the banning of the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress on 8 April, as well as the referendum on 5 October when white voters voted by a slim majority in favour of their country becoming a republic. On 31 May 1961, South Africa became a republic outside the British Commonwealth. Gradually, the Republic of South Africa (RSA) was isolated internationally, especially in the military domain, which meant that purchasing new armaments (especially warships) became more difficult - a fact that limited flag-showing cruises. However, for the time being, there seemed to be no apparent problems.

The first flag-showing cruise undertaken by the SAN for the new RSA took place in the middle of 1961 when SAS Vrystaat visited Lourenço Marques. Hereafter, the delivery cruises of three new Type-12 frigates followed. (Bear in mind that the orders for these ships had already been placed in 1957.) SAS President Kruger ("PK") was commissioned on 3 October 1962 at Scotstoun, Glasgow, left Portsmouth on 27 February 1963 and arrived in Simon's Town on 28 March. Thereafter, SAS President Steyn ("PS") was commissioned on 8 April 1963 at Linthouse, Glasgow, and the warship left Portsmouth on 17 August 1963 for Simon's Town (13 September). Finally, SAS President Pretorius ("PP") was commissioned on 18 March 1964 at Scotstoun, and the cruise from Portsmouth commenced (on 29 August) to Cape Town (26 September). On their way to South Africa, the three frigates all visited the following harbours: Lisbon, Gibraltar, Las Palmas, Luanda and Saldanha Bay.

The arrival of brand new grey diplomats meant the end of several ships: SAS Vrystaat, Transvaal and Good Hope were placed in reserve in 1963, 1964 and 1965 respectively, but were never re-commissioned. However, other World War II ships received a second lease on life: the destroyers Jan van Riebeeck and Simon van der Stel were comprehensively modernised and rebuilt into helicopter-carrying anti-submarine ships.

Since "PP" arrived in South Africa, three years passed before the SAN undertook a series of new diplomatic initiatives. Growing international isolation led to the SAN investigating new possibilities, and on 24 October 1967, the frigates SAS President Kruger and President Pretorius, along with the replenishment ship SAS Tafelberg (built as an oil tanker in Denmark, from 1957-1959, and commissioned as a replenishment ship for the SAN on 10 August 1967) left for South America where they participated in naval manoeuvres with the Argentinian Navy. The task force returned to Simon's Town on 27 November. During this flag-showing cruise, the Tafelberg showed its value. This ship - the SAN's largest grey diplomat thus far - enabled other naval ships in the next 25 years to remain at sea for periods longer than before, and in this way allowed these warships to carry out their diplomatic role. Meanwhile the minesweepers SAS Kimberley and Mosselbaai visited Luanda at the end of October 1967.

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In October 1968, two important flag-showing cruises were undertaken. Almost three decades after HMSAS Transvaal displayed the South African flag in Australian waters, SAS President Steyn, President Pretorius and Tafelberg left Simon's Town on 7 October, sailing directly for Fremantle, and from there to Sydney, and then back to Fremantle, on the return voyage to Simon's Town (3 December). Meanwhile, SAS Simon van der Stel, Kimberley and Mosselbaai visited Lourenço Marques where a commemorative plaque in memory of the Voortrekker leader Louis Tregardt was unveiled on 12 October.

On 14 October 1969, SAS Simon van der Stel, President Pretorius, Port Elizabeth, Walvisbaai and Tafelberg sailed from Simon's Town on a visit to the Angolan harbours of Mocãmedes, Luanda and Lobito. The task force was back in Simon's Town on 5 November. From 10 to 25 July 1970, SAS Port Elizabeth, Windhoek and Johannesburg undertook a cruise to Lourenço Marques. In January 1971, the first Transatlantic yacht race between Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) took place. From 16 January, SAS Tafelberg served as guardship for the voyage from Cape Town; however, due to political considerations, the replenishment ship could not visit Rio de Janeiro, and from 60 nautical miles outside the harbour, the ship sailed to Buenos Aires in Argentina and from there embarked on the return voyage to Cape Town (15 March).

Meanwhile, SAS President Kruger was recommissioned on 5 August 1969 on completion of a comprehensive modernisation process, which included, among others, the building of a helicopter deck and hangar, and three "Daphne" class submarines were ordered from France. On 28 January 1971, "PK" left Simon's Town to escort the first new submarine, SAS Maria van Riebeeck (which was renamed SAS Spear in 1999) on its voyage to South Africa. On its way to Toulon, the warship visited Luanda, Las Palmas, Lisbon, Naples and Augusta (Sicily). On 24 March, the frigate and the submarine left Toulon, sailing to Simon's Town (13 May) via Gibraltar, Porto Grande (on St Vincent, the Cape Verde Islands), Luanda and Walvis Bay. The last part of the cruise was in the company of SAS Simon van der Stel and Tafelberg, which visited Lobito at the end of April.

On 1 September 1971, SAS President Steyn departed to serve as escort for the SAN's second submarine, SAS Emily Hobhouse (which was renamed SAS Umkhonto in 1999). "PS" visited Lisbon, Hamburg, Kiel, Portsmouth and Portland on its voyage to Toulon, and on its return voyage, with the new submarine, it visited Cadiz (Spain), Porto Grande, Luanda and Walvis Bay (before arriving in Simon's Town on 10 December). On 10 April 1972, "PS" once again departed from Simon's Town to serve as escort for the last submarine, SAS Johanna van der Merwe (which was renamed SAS Assegaai in 1999). On the frigate's voyage to Toulon, it visited Porto Grande and Las Palmas, and on its return voyage to South Africa, the same harbours were visited (arrival in Simon's Town: 19 June). Meanwhile, the Navy's new hydrographic research ship, SAS Protea, was commissioned on 19 June 1972 at Scotstoun, Glasgow, and called at Lisbon, Luanda and Walvis Bay on its way to Simon's Town (14 July). More than twenty years would pass before a South African grey diplomat again sailed in European waters.

Meanwhile the minesweepers SAS Johannesburg, Walvisbaai and Windhoek, as well as the diving support and torpedo recovery vessel, SAS Fleur, visited Durban and Lourenço Marques at the end of May 1972, and in November 1972, SAS Johannesburg and Mosselbaai visited Lobito. From 13 January 1973, SAS Tafelberg once again served as guardship for the Cape-to-Rio yacht race, but once again, the ship could not visit Rio de Janeiro; rather, it was permitted to call on Buenos Aires (and then returned to Simon's Town on 14 March). From 29 March to 7 April 1973, the "PK", "PS" and SAS Johanna van der Merwe visited Lourenço Marques. The latter voyage was the last visit to a Portuguese colony before Mozambique (25 June 1975) and Angola (11 November 1975) became independent. With pro-communist governments in place in the stated two countries, South Africa's grey diplomats would in future not be welcome in these ports; indeed, the RSA experienced increasing pressure on all fronts.

Phase 6: Increasing Isolation, 1974 - 1979

At the start of 1976, SAS Protea served as guardship for the Cape-to-Rio yacht race, and was permitted to visit Rio de Janeiro. (The ship, which was painted white, could have gone through as a civilian vessel.) Later in that year, SAS President Kruger became the first SAN ship to visit the USA to participate in the 200th anniversary of the country's independence. Troubled relations between the RSA and the USA meant that the RSA only received a last-minute invitation to send a warship to the USA. "PK" left Simon's Town on 3 June 1976, and sailed via Walvis Bay, Abidjan and Las Palmas to Norfolk, Virginia, and sailed from there, as part of a fleet of 53 warships (representing 22 countries) to New York where a naval revue took place on 4 July. Members of the ship's crew participated on 6 July in a parade through the streets of New York, after which the frigate sailed to Charleston, South Carolina. From there, the ship sailed via Las Palmas to Simon's Town (return date 6 August). Exactly twenty years would pass before a South African grey diplomat would again visit the USA.


SAS President Kruger leaves New York following her highly successful visit in July 1976.

Meanwhile, the British Labour government abrogated the Simon's Town Agreement on 16 June 1975. Exactly a year later, political unrest commenced in Soweto and elsewhere, and prompted the apartheid regime to take even sterner measures in an attempt to keep the opposition under control, actions that, in turn, led to the acceptance by the United Nations of a mandatory arms embargo against the RSA (4 November 1977). The Navy in particular was affected by this mandatory arms embargo because two Type A69 corvettes and two "Agosta" Class submarines were not delivered. Moreover, the destroyers SAS Simon van der Stel and Jan van Riebeeck were decommissioned in 1972 and 1975 respectively. Albeit that nine missile-carrying strike craft were commissioned in the period from 1977 to 1986, flag-showing opportunities (as well as the means to undertake them) were declining.

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Only SAS Protea had flag-showing opportunities in the remainder of 1970s, albeit that flag-showing was not the primary purpose of the cruises in question. On 31 January 1978, the warship left Simon's Town to lend support to a krill research project of the Department of Fisheries. This project took the Protea into the South Atlantic Ocean, and this was the first time that an SAN vessel sailed around Cape Horn, through the Beagle Channel to Ushuaia in Argentina. Next, the vessel sailed to Deception Island (part of the British Shetland Islands), Grytviken (on the British South Georgia Island), and Puerto Belgrano (Argentina), and then returned to Simon's Town (on 21 April). At the beginning of 1979, the Protea served as guardship for the duration of the fourth Transatlantic yacht race. As a result of political considerations, the destination was moved from Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) to Punta del Este (Uruguay). The ship did in fact call at Ilha da Trinidade (a Brazilian island group), as well as at Montevideo (Uruguay) before returning to Simon's Town (10 March). Almost ten years would pass before the South African flag would again be displayed by SAN ships in foreign waters.

Phase 7: Total Isolation, 1980 - 1986

In the light of the mandatory arms embargo, the SAN would henceforth concentrate on safeguarding the RSA's harbours and coastal (territorial) waters. Along with the strike craft referred to above, 30 small harbour protection boats were built locally, and four "River" Class minehunters were also acquired. On 1 August 1980 SAS President Steyn was decommissioned and systematically stripped for spare parts so that the remaining two frigates could be kept serviceable. In the early morning hours of 18 February 1982, the SAN experienced one of its most devastating disasters when SAS Tafelberg collided with the frigate SAS President Kruger, which sank "PK", losing sixteen crew members. When SAS President Pretorius was decommissioned on 26 July 1985, the SAN no longer had any traditional grey diplomats at its disposal. As part of a comprehensive rationalisation process, the SAN also had to decommission fourteen other ships in 1985, including six of the coastal minesweepers that had been deployed as grey diplomats.

On the positive side, the keel of a new replenishment ship (also referred to as a combat-support ship) was laid on 30 August 1984 in Durban. SAS Drakensberg - the largest ship of any kind ever designed and built in South Africa - was launched on 24 April 1986, and commissioned on 11 October 1987. Although it was not planned at the time, this warship became the RSA's most successful grey diplomat to date. On completion of the Drakensberg, the SAN was in the unique situation that it had two replenishment ships at its disposal, but with no major surface combatants to support.

Phase 8: En Route to a New Era, 1987 - 1993

When the "Helderberg", a South African Airways' Boeing 747 crashed into the sea near Mauritius on 28 November 1987, the strike craft SAS Jim Fouché (renamed SAS Sekhukhune in 1997) was sent from Durban, while SAS Tafelberg was sent later from Simon's Town to the scene of the disaster to assist in the search for debris and the remains of the 160 passengers who had died in the accident. Although this was in essence an assistance operation, the SAN ships' visit to Port Louis in Mauritius meant that the South African flag was indeed displayed for the first time in more than eight years by RSA warships visiting foreign countries.

On 15 February 1988, SAS Drakensberg and the strike craft SAS Frans Erasmus (renamed SAS Isaac Dyobha in 1997), not only left on the first tailor-made flag-showing cruise in almost twelve years, but also transported Armscor armaments to Chile where the military hardware was to be exhibited at the FIDA '88 International Air Show. The ships sailed through the Strait of Magellan to Valparaiso (Chile's most important harbour and naval base) where the armaments were off-loaded. The ships also visited the Chilean ports of Talcahuano, Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas, and returned to Simon's Town on 16 April. This successful flag-showing cruise - two years prior to President F.W. de Klerk's watershed speech in parliament on 2 February 1990 - not only lifted the RSA's international naval isolation, but was also significant for two other reasons: it was not common that a warship (such as the Drakensberg) could undertake a long sea voyage so shortly after it had been commissioned; and small strike craft are not traditionally utilised as grey diplomats - certainly not across the vast expanses of the rough South Atlantic Ocean. The above-mentioned event was proof of what the SAN was capable of under difficult political and financial circumstances; indeed, it was testimony to the SAN personnel's skills and seamanship.

At the end of November and the beginning of December 1988, SAS Drakensberg also paid two visits to Beira to ship non-combat military equipment from Durban to this port. The vehicles and other equipment would be used in protecting the Cabora Bassa power lines (which also provided electricity to the RSA). On 11 May 1990 SAS Drakensberg and the strike craft SAS Jan Smuts and Hendrik Mentz (renamed SAS Galeshewe in 1997) departed from Durban, sailing via the Mozambique Channel, in a north-easterly direction past Madagascar, across the Indian Ocean, through the Malakka Strait and across the South China Sea, all the way to Keelung in the Republic of China (Taiwan). For the first time since 1945, the South African flag was shown in the Far East. The port city of Kaohsiung was also visited and the South African ships participated in manoeuvres with ships of the Taiwanese Navy. The return voyage took the South African ships via the Sundra Sea Strait and across the Indian Ocean to Durban (25 June). "Operation Nexus" was a major success. The SAN showed that its ships could still undertake very long voyages (without the advantage of port facilities along the way).

While the Drakensberg task force was on its way to Taiwan, SAS Protea served as guardship for the yachts that participated in the Portnet Diaz yacht race from Cape Town to Lisbon. The Protea sailed from Simon's Town (on 18 April 1990) to Lisbon via Porta Delgada (in Portugal's Azore Islands) - where the SAN's Voortrekker II was the first yacht to cross the finishing line. Lisbon was the last European port that was visited prior to the boycott years by an SAN ship, namely, the SAS Protea in 1972. On its return voyage to the RSA, the Protea's commander, Cdr B. Teuteberg, fell ill and was given permission to disembark at Abidjan from where the captain of the ship was flown back to the RSA. On 16 June, the Protea was back in Simon's Town.

More than 30 years after SAS Good Hope and Vrystaat visited the former Belgian Congo, SAS Drakensberg and the "River" Class mine hunters SAS Umhloti and Umzimkulu visited the Zairean harbours of Banana and Matadi from 1 September 1990, where crew members performed recovery and repair work and formed new friendship ties. The task force was back in Simon's Town on 25 September. "Operation Pullen" was the start of close co-operation between the South African Defence Force and other African states.

On 7 January 1991, SAS Tafelberg departed on its longest flag-showing cruise from Cape Town: across the South Atlantic Ocean and through the Strait of Magellan to Valparaiso in Chile to off-load the SAN yacht, Voortrekker II (which was to participate in the Copa Millas yacht race); then to Talcahuano and Puerto Montt for purely diplomatic visits; back to Valparaiso to load the SAN yacht (which won the yacht race, as well as Ecuador's naval yacht Alcane); next, the voyage took the ship to Guayaquil in Ecuador to off-load the latter yacht; then, the voyage took the ship through the Panama Canal back to the Atlantic Ocean (thus far the only SAN ship to sail through the above-mentioned canal); to Cartagena (Colombia), and then via Recife (in Brazil, for emergency repair work) and directly back to Simon's Town (31 March). Thus, even before political parties commenced with negotiations in the RSA, and even before the country was officially welcomed back into the international community, the SAN's grey diplomats were already involved in restoring military and diplomatic ties or were involved in forging new ties of friendship.

On 22 March 1991, the strike craft SAS Oswald Pirow (renamed SAS René Sethren in 1997) and the mine hunter SAS Umkomaas, on patrol along the RSA's west coast, were requested by Namibian authorities to capture three Spanish trawlers that were involved in illegal fishing inside Namibian territorial waters (and were moving in the direction of the RSA's exclusive economic zone). The two above-mentioned SAN ships intercepted the Spanish trawlers, accompanied them into Namibian territorial waters, and handed them over to a Namibian Fisheries' inspection ship, the Oryx. All the ships next sailed to Lüderitz. This unplanned SAN visit to Lüderitz on 23 March 1991 was the first SAN visit to a Namibian port since that country became independent on 21 March 1990.

"Operation Bob Cat" (20 June - 4 July 1991) took SAS Drakensberg on a training cruise to the British St Helena Island. "Operation Chant" (15 July - 8 September 1991) was far more comprehensive and took the Drakensberg from Simon's Town to Cape Town and Durban (where approximately 35 and 750 tons of support supplies were taken on board); in a north-easterly direction across the Indian Ocean to Chittagong in Bangladesh (where approximately 630 tons of supplies were off-loaded to relieve the plight of flood victims); through the Suez Canal to Mersin in Turkey (where approximately 35 tons of supplies were off-loaded for the Kurds who had fled from the north of Iran to Turkey); next, back through the Suez Canal to Port Sudan (however, an attempted coup in Sudan meant that the SAN ship could not enter the harbour); then to Nacala in Mozambique (where approximately 120 tons of supplies intended for Sudan were off-loaded), and then, back to Simon's Town (8 September). Although many frustrations were experienced, the Drakensberg brought relief to the victims of natural disasters and political oppression, and - as a bonus - the South African flag was displayed in parts that SAN vessels had never visited before.

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With political parties in the RSA moving closer to a political agreement, many doors opened to the country (as well as ports for the Navy). When President F.W. de Klerk visited Kenya in June 1992, the strike craft SAS Frans Erasmus and Magnus Malan (renamed Makhanda in 1997) gave further importance to this diplomatic visit by sailing to Mombasa. When the SAN was invited to send a ship to Monaco for the 14th annual conference of the International Hydrographic Organisation, the opportunity was taken to display the South African flag in the Mediterranean Sea. SAS Protea left Simon's Town on 9 April 1992 ("Operation Hyson"), sailing along the west coast of Africa (without visiting ports) and through the Strait of Gibraltar to the port of Monte Carlo (in the principality of Monaco); from there to Genoa (Italy); through the Dardanelles to Istanbul (Turkey), and through the Bosporus to Constanta (Rumania) - the first time that a South African warship visited the Black Sea. Next, the Protea sailed back through the Bosporus and Dardanelles, through the Suez Canal, and along the east coast of Africa to Simon's Town (30 June).

"Operation Flush / Big Tree" (16 September - 23 October 1992) gave SAS Tafelberg the last opportunity to serve as a grey diplomat for the RSA. In Durban, approximately 670 tons of food were taken on board to be delivered at Mombasa for distribution among Somalian refugees in the north of Kenya. Although this was primarily a relief cruise, various diplomatic visits took place in Mombasa, and ties between the navies of the RSA and Kenya were also reinforced. This was the Tafelberg's last voyage. After 26 years of service in the SAN, it was no longer economical to maintain the 35-year old ship, and on 17 March 1993, "Mamma Tafies" was decommissioned. As replacement, the Navy purchased the Arctic supply ship, the Juvent, which had been built in the Ukraine in 1992. This ship was commissioned on 8 June 1993 as the Navy's new combat-support ship, SAS Outeniqua - and although not the most beautiful ship imaginable, it soon became a highly successful grey diplomat in the service of the SAN and the RSA.

At the beginning of 1993, the SAN deployed its relatively strongest task force to date on a foreign cruise when SAS Drakensberg, the submarine SAS Maria van Riebeeck, and the strike craft SAS Magnus Malan, Hendrik Mentz and P.W. Botha (renamed Shaka in 1997) sailed to South America to participate in the first Atlasur exercise. The Drakensberg also served as guardship from 9 January 1993 for the duration of the Cape-to-Rio yacht race, but the ship first visited Rio de Janeiro on its own, while the other SAN naval units sailed to Montevideo in Uruguay. Next, all the SAN units sailed to Buenos Aires in Argentina, and then to the Argentinian naval base at Mar del Plata - including manoeuvres with Argentinian vessels. The four SAN surface ships were back in Simon's Town on 14 March, and the submarine arrived home a week later.

In March 1993, SAS Protea engaged in survey work along the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal and the south of Mozambique, visiting Durban and Maputo. On 6 May 1993, SAS Drakensberg left on a tailor-made flag-showing cruise from Simon's Town. The main purpose was to participate in the 50th anniversary of the "Battle of the Atlantic". On its way to Pembroke in Wales, the ship called on the Canary Islands. The naval revue took place on 26 May, after which 26 participating ships representing sixteen countries berthed in Liverpool. The Drakensberg's return voyage was via Casablanca (Morocco), Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire) and Libreville (Gabon) to Simon's Town (26 June).

On 18 June 1993, SAS Outeniqua departed on its first flag-showing cruise: first, it sailed to Durban, then to Majunga (Madagascar), Moroni (Grand Comore), Port Victoria (Seychelles) and then via Durban back to Simon's Town (15 July). On 11 August 1993, SAS Outeniqua again departed from Simon's Town to load a mobile 126-bed hospital and other emergency supplies for the needy in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as agricultural implements for victims of conflict in the Sudan (who had fled to Kenya). From Durban, the ship sailed to Mombasa (where the implements were off-loaded) and then through the Suez Canal to Trieste in Italy where the mobile hospital was off-loaded. The ship then visited Istanbul, Odessa (Ukraine), Constanta (Rumania), Burgas (Bulgaria), once again Istanbul, and Haifa (Israel). Next, the ship sailed from east to west through the Mediterranean Sea, through the Strait of Gibraltar, and all the way to Walvis Bay and back to Simon's Town (22 October).

Phase 9: Showing the Flag of the New South Africa since 1994

In the last week of April 1994, the first fully-fledged democratic election took place in the RSA. Although the SAN had already ended its isolation of many years for all practical purposes, and had already played a meaningful role on the diplomatic front for the RSA, especially from 1991, the political rounding-off process of April 1994 formally heralded a new era in the history of the SAN. Eight days after Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the new president of the RSA, SAS Drakensberg left Simon's Town on 18 May 1994 to display the new South African flag in as many harbours as possible. The ports and places visited were: Lisbon (to commemorate the birth of Prince Henry the Navigator 600 years earlier, along with approximately 27 warships from fourteen other countries), Rosyth (Scotland, to participate for ten days in the Joint Maritime Course 942's naval manoeuvres), Copenhagen (the first time that an SAN ship visited Denmark), Rotterdam, Zeebrugge (the first time that an SAN ship visited Belgium), Rouén (France, to form part of the La Armade de la Liberté who commemorated the liberation of France from the Nazi occupiers 50 years earlier), London, Portsmouth, Cadiz, São Tomé Island, Principé Island, Bioko Island (Equatorial Guinea) and Libreville (arrival back in Simon's Town: 18 August). "Operation Narsau" was a major success. In the course of three months, the Drakensberg visited more countries and more harbours than any other SAN ship on one cruise. Although the Drakensberg was a product of the apartheid era, the ship became the most prominent grey diplomat of the new democratic RSA.

In September 1994, SAS Walvisbaai became the first SAN coastal minesweeper in more than twenty years that was deployed as a grey diplomat. With SAS Fleur, the Walvisbaai sailed from Simon's Town (on 2 September) to Durban, Tamatava (Madagascar), Port Louis (Mauritius), Port des Galets (La Réunion), again to Durban and back to Simon's Town (29 September). This was the first time that such small South African warships (without the support of a larger ship) were deployed so far from their base during peace time.

On 17 September 1994 SAS Outeniqua left from Simon's Town to deliver approximately 8 000 tons of mealie meal and other food supplies to Dar es Salaam to relieve the plight of Rwandese refugees in Tanzania. The ship was back in Simon's Town again on 11 October. It was the first time since 1952 that the South African flag was displayed by an SAN ship in Tanzania.

SAS Drakensberg's most important flag-showing cruise in 1995 ("Operation Western Star") once again took an SAN ship to countries that the SAN had not visited before. The ship embarked on its voyage from Simon's Town (on 15 February) to Durban to load South African armaments which would be exhibited during the International Defence Industry Expo (IDEX '95) at Abu Dhabi. The ship sailed directly to Port Mina Zayed (the Abu Dhabi harbour) in the United Arab Emirates to off-load the armaments; next, the ship sailed to Karachi, Pakistan; then back to Port Mina Zayed; to Mumbai (Bombay, India); again to Port Mina Zayed (to take back on board the armaments); to Muscat (Oman), and then via Durban back to Simon's Town (23 April).

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In April 1995, the minehunters SAS Umzimkulu and Umgeni visited Namibia to confirm the RSA's seriousness with regard to regional co-operation. The ships sailed from Simon's Town (2 April) to Lüderitz and Walvis Bay, and on 13 April, they were back in Simon's Town. This was the first SAN visit to Walvis Bay since this harbour and the surrounding area were transferred by the RSA, on 28 February 1994, to Namibia. "Operation Palm Beach" (July 1995) was also aimed at promoting regional co-operation. A task force consisting of SAS Outeniqua, the submarine SAS Maria van Riebeeck and the strike craft SAS Oswald Pirow and Kobie Coetzee (renamed SAS René Sethren and Job Maseko respectively in 1997) reached Maputo on 6 July, and on the same evening the South African ambassador to Mozambique held a banquet on board the Outeniqua for members of the diplomatic corps and the Mozambican defence force. The next day the opening of the Delagoa railway-line exactly 100 years earlier was commemorated. Next, the SAN naval units visited Dar es Salaam. On 25 July, the task force was back in Durban, the home base of the strike craft, while the other two units were back in Simon's Town on 31 July.

"Operation Harmatten Wind" was the SAN's first flag-showing cruise in 1996. SAS Walvisbaai and Fleur left Simon's Town on 10 March and sailed via Walvis Bay to Port Gentil in Gabon, where several diplomatic functions were held on board the ships to forge relations between the two countries and navies. On the return voyage (again via Walvis Bay), the SAN ships were accompanied by the Gabonese landing ship President el Hadj Omar Bongo - the latter sailed to Cape Town to be repaired and re-equipped by Denel.

The most extensive flag-showing and training cruise of 1996 was undertaken by the Navy's most respected grey diplomat, SAS Drakensberg, to the USA, twenty years after SAS President Kruger paid the previous SAN visit to this country. The Drakensberg left Simon's Town on 14 June, sailed to outside Rio de Janeiro (to take on board the Navy's yacht, the Southern Maid), and from there to the US naval base at Roosevelt Roads near San Juan in Puerto Rico. After the Drakensberg participated with approximately 25 other warships from seventeen countries in naval manoeuvres, referred to as "Operation Unitas", the ship visited the large US naval base at Norfolk, Virginia, as well as New York and Newport. On the return voyage, the ship visited Dakar (last visited by SAN ships in 1959), Tema (Ghana) and Principé Island (arrival in Simon's Town on 3 September). Approximately three weeks later, the Drakensberg again left on a voyage, this time at the request of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, to transport personnel and equipment to the islands of Tristan da Cunha and Gough (both British territories) - departure from Simon's Town on 28 September; return on 7 October.


The SAS DRAKENSBERG comes alongside Staten Island, New York (1996).

From 21 to 26 March 1997, the Atlasur III naval manoeuvres (ships of the SAN and of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay participated) took place south of Cape Town, after which the establishment of the SAN 75 years earlier was commemorated from 31 March to 7 April, first in Simon's Town and then in Cape Town. An SAN submarine and fourteen other notable SAN ships, as well as 22 other warships from thirteen countries participated in this very special and successful commemoration.

In May 1997, SAS Outeniqua spent considerable time in the harbour of Pointe Noire (in the Republic of the Congo) after President Mobuto Sese Seko and the rebel leader Laurent Kabila agreed to meet on board this (neutral ) ship to negotiate the transfer of power in Zaire (today the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Among many of the Congolese north and south of the Zaire (Congo) River, the Outeniqua became a household name as a peace ship, and at the same time, it became a symbol of the RSA government's willingness (and the SAN's capacity) to play an important diplomatic role in Africa south of the Sahara.

In August 1997, the strike craft SAS Job Maseko and Shaka (until 31 March 1997 known as SAS Kobie Coetzee and P.W. Botha respectively) paid a goodwill visit to Lüderitz and Walvis Bay ("Operation Orange Desert") and on the return voyage they also visited Saldanha Bay and Cape Town. The next month a far more extensive flag-showing cruise ("Exercise Interop East") was undertaken in the Indian Ocean. SAS Drakensberg left Simon's Town on 15 September 1997, and two days later she sailed from Durban in the company of the strike craft SAS Adam Kok (until 31 March 1997 still SAS Frederic Creswell) and SAS Jan Smuts. The first port of call was Maputo; thereafter they visited Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar; Mombasa (for manoeuvres with the Kenyan Navy); Port Louis (Mauritius; and manoeuvres with the local coast guard); Pointe des Galets (La Réunion); Taomasina (earlier known as Tamatava, on Madagascar) - and next manoeuvres with the French frigate Floréal. The flotilla reached Durban on 21 October, and two days later the Drakensberg was back in Simon's Town.

At the end of 1997, and the start of 1998, SAS Outeniqua undertook two cruises to the Antarctic, at the request of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, to offer logistical support to the South African weather team at the SANAE base. Both cruises were co-ordinated with those of the supply ship of the Department of Environmental Affairs, SA Agulhas. The first cruise lasted from 4 December 1997 to 15 January 1998; the second from 6 February to 4 March 1998. During the first cruise, the ships sailed to as close as possible to the Swedish base at Rampen Bukta, and a visit was also paid to South Thule and Zavadovski (both islands form part of the British South Sandwich Islands), and during the second cruise the ships sailed to as close as possible to the Swedish base at Wasa to pick up a team of researchers, consisting of Swedes, Danes, Finns and Dutchmen, and take them back to Cape Town. On board the Outeniqua were also naval personnel from Belgium, Gabon, Mozambique and Angola, who accompanied the ship for training purposes. Thanks to these cruises, the South African flag was displayed even in the far south of the globe.

A radar picture of the SAS Outeniqua surrounded by ice during a deployment to the Antarctic.

In August and September 1998, an SAN task force was once again deployed in the Indian Ocean. SAS Outeniqua, mine hunter SAS Umzimkulu and minesweeper SAS Walvisbaai left Simon's Town on 28 August and sailed via Durban to Maputo, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar (to participate in the joint naval exercise "Interop II"), and was back again in Simon's Town on 20 September. This flag-showing cruise stood in the sign of greater regional co-operation in southern Africa, something that was strengthened by "Operation Blue Crane" which was held from 13 to 28 April 1999 along the east coast of South Africa.

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Meanwhile, SAS Drakensberg, Adam Kok and René Sethren left Simon's Town on 19 April 1999 on their way to South America where the Atlasur IV naval manoeuvres took place from 29 April to 11 May with ships from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. The SAN task force visited Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Montevideo, and the SAN ships were back in Simon's Town on 1 June. Meanwhile, two of the SAN ships that participated in "Operation Blue Crane", namely SAS Umhloti and Walvisbaai, left Durban on 8 May 1999 to participate in "Exercise Tulipe 99" in Malagassian territorial waters - a peace-keeping force exercise that involved ships and/or personnel from South Africa, France, Madagascar, Mauritius, the Seychelles and Kenya. The SAN ships were back in Durban on 30 May and two days later in Simon's Town. It is insightful that a small Navy such as the SAN was able simultaneously to deploy two (albeit small) task forces, comprising various types of ships, in two different parts of the world to participate in exercises and to show the South African flag.

For the rest of 1999, there were no foreign flag-showing cruises, and the SAN also did not have a guardship on duty in the year 2000 for the Cape-to-Rio yacht race - albeit that six SAN yachts participated. Shortly afterwards, "Operation Acromion" did in fact take SAS Protea to South America (she left Simon's Town on 14 April 2000) to participate on 29 April in the naval revue held at Rio de Janeiro - as part of Brazil's 500th anniversary commemorations. The ship was back in Simon's Town on 15 May.

By the end of May 2000, the strike craft SAS Adam Kok and Isaac Dyobha left their base in Durban to participate in "Exercise Geranium 2000" along the coast of La Réunion from 29 May to 9 June. After they called on Port Louis in Mauritius, the two SAN ships were back again in Durban on 20 June. Meanwhile, SAS Drakensberg left Simon's Town ("Operation Padler") on 8 June, and sailed via Norfolk, Virginia, to New York to participate in an international naval revue on 4 July. Next, the SAN ship sailed to Halifax in Canada - the first time that a SAN ship visited the country. The Drakensberg was back in Simon's Town on 2 August.

At the start of 2001, it was once again the Drakensberg that undertook a long flag-showing cruise. The ship sailed from Simon's Town (on 1 February) via Durban (to load approximately 320 tons of supplies for the victims of an earthquake in India) to Mumbai (where the supplies were off-loaded - the ship also participated in a naval revue to commemorate India's 50th anniversary) as well as to Kochi (known earlier as Cochin). En route to India, manoeuvres were held with units of the Kenyan Navy; in Indian waters, the Drakensberg joined other ships that participated in the naval revue in taking part in manoeuvres, and en route back to South Africa, manoeuvres took place with the French Navy close to La Réunion - the latter island was also paid a visit. The Drakensberg was back in Simon's Town on 14 March 2001 after yet another highly successful flag-showing cruise.

Meanwhile, for the first time since 1978, the SAN was able to obtain ships from abroad, namely, six "Lindau" Class (Type 351) minesweepers (built in 1958-1959) from the German Navy - four to be commissioned, while the remaining two would be used for spare parts. All six the ships arrived in Simon's Town on 9 March 2001 on board the barge UR161 (towed by the tug Fairplay XIV). The first ships to be commissioned by the SAN were the SAS Thekwini (the ex-German Wolfsburg) and SAS Kapa (the ex-German Düren) on 5 September 2001. Up to 1 April 2002, none of these "new" ships participated in foreign flag-showing cruises for the RSA.

On 18 June 2001, SAS Outeniqua and Umhloti sailed to St Helena, on the one hand, to show the South African flag in this British territory, but also to restore the graves of Boer prisoners of war from the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). The ships were back in Simon's Town again on 4 July. "Operation Desert Dune" (11-22 July 2001) took SAS René Sethren and Galeshewe on a flag-showing cruise to the Namibian ports of Walvis Bay and Lüderitz. "Operation Migrant" was supposed to take SAS Outeniqua all the way to Australia (on the first SAN visit to this country in 30 years), but after the ship left Simon's Town on 10 September 2001 and took in fuel in Port Elizabeth, the visit to Australia was cancelled on 20 September because the Australian naval revue that was going to take place at the start of October was cancelled due to the terror attacks on the USA (on 11 September). For this reason, the ship changed course and sailed to La Réunion. (En route, a sailor who had taken ill, was airlifted from a Greek freighter by means of the ship's Oryx helicopter, and he was later flown to the island of La Réunion). Exercises with the French Navy took place and on the return voyage the ship visited Durban. The Outeniqua was back in Simon's Town on 12 October.

The last flag-showing cruise that is important for purposes of this study, is the peace-keeping force exercise "Operation Tanzanite" which took SAS Outeniqua and Adam Kok to Tanzania. The Outeniqua left Simon's Town on 28 January 2002 and arrived in Durban three days later. There the small patrol boat Tobie and two Namacurra harbour protection boats were taken on board, and on 2 February the combat-support ship, accompanied by the strike craft SAS Adam Kok, left Durban. The ships visited Dar es Salaam, Tanga Bay (Tanzania's Pemba Island) and Zanzibar, and they participated in a series of peace-keeping force exercises that were held from 11 to 24 February along the Tanzanian coast. The Outeniqua was back in Simon's Town on 8 March.

Concluding Perspective

In the diplomatic world, warships indeed play an important role and the presence of a foreign warship in a harbour can be viewed as the most visible and tangible sign of bilateral (or multilateral) friendship ties (and therefore of good diplomatic ties). When warships participate with two or more countries in combined manoeuvres or in humanitarian or peace-keeping operations, the participating warships and/or submarines are in a position to generate mutual understanding and trust between the participating navies and countries. Naval vessels indeed have significant symbolic meaning. No significant Navy's diplomatic role can therefore be underrated. Warships that are deployed as grey diplomats are not merely floating cocktail-party venues, but rather invaluable diplomatic tools in the service of their country.

It is therefore appropriate that the rendering of diplomatic assistance forms part of the SAN's mission. In the past 80 years, the SAN has played its diplomatic role in excellent fashion - sometimes under difficult circumstances. During the formative years (1922-1934), the South African Naval Service had so few and such small ships at its disposal that it was not expected that it would achieve much - and then followed the years 1935 to 1939 when the Union had no warships available. The Second World War afforded the South African warships the opportunity - as part of a comprehensive Allied war effort - to show the South African flag for the first time in seas far from the Union's territorial waters. The military downscaling on conclusion of the war left the South African Naval Forces with few ships; however, this did not prevent the Union ships from undertaking flag-showing cruises. In the context of the Cold War, the Cape sea route was of significant strategic importance. For this reason, the SAN was expanded systematically and new ships' delivery cruises were used as flag-showing opportunities. In the years 1946 to 1960, South Africa had normal diplomatic relations with most countries, and the country's Navy undertook a total of seventeen flag-showing cruises. From 1961, the RSA was gradually isolated internationally, but as a result of the delivery cruises of three new frigates, three new submarines and SAS Protea, plus eight visits to the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique, twenty flag-showing cruises had nonetheless taken place in the period 1961 to 1973.

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From 1974 onwards, sanctions and boycotts began to take their toll, as reflected in the fact that the SAN undertook only four flag-showing cruises from 1974 to 1979. Thereafter - up to 1986 - followed the years of total isolation, with no flag-showing cruises (and the dramatic reduction in the number of SAN ships). The period from 1987 to 1993 may be labelled as a transitional phase (en route to a new era). Although the RSA was only officially welcomed back into the international community after the general election of April 1994, the Navy broke out of international isolation, especially from 1991, undertaking one successful flag-showing cruise after the other - in total, nineteen were undertaken in these years, or on average two or three per year. From 1994 onwards, ships indeed excelled under the new flag of a genuinely democratic new RSA in building on these successes, with a total of 25 flag-showing cruises, or on average at least three per year - more than ever before in the history of the SAN.

Most of the time the Navy cannot afford to undertake flag-showing cruises to display the flag for the mere sake of displaying it - for this reason, most cruises are tied to some or other relief operation or to assistance to another government department (something that does not in any way diminish the value of the Navy's role, but rather adds value), and all cruises are at the same time training cruises, and in this sense they are always valuable and cost-effective. However, it is ironic that since the world's doors (and harbours) have again opened to the RSA, the country's Navy has not had any of the traditional grey diplomats (such as frigates) at its disposal. Therefore, it was the Navy's combat-support ships that played the most significant role as grey diplomats, and indeed did so with significant success. See in this regard, especially the role of SAS Drakensberg (seventeen cruises to 1 April 2002) and SAS Outeniqua (eleven cruises) - and earlier also SAS Tafelberg (ten cruises). Small ships such as minesweepers, minehunters and strike craft were also used to good effect as unlikely ambassadors for the RSA. From 1947 onwards (when the Navy's diplomatic role in reality gained prominence), 48 of the 54 major SAN ships and submarines that were in commission in the years 1947 to 2002 participated in foreign flag-showing cruises. Since 1947, SAN ships visited at least 96 harbours in 46 countries on all the six continents.

The decision to purchase four new patrol corvettes for the SAN (to be commissioned in 2004 and 2005) is a timeous and necessary investment in the country's future. Warships are indeed both a reflection and a projection of the image of the countries that they represent, and the RSA requires frigates to support the country's diplomatic and other initiatives (including NEPAD and the African Renaissance).

From this brief overview of the 86 foreign peace-time flag-showing cruises that South African Navy vessels have participated in in the past 80 years (85 of these cruises have taken place since 1947), plus the role of the country's naval units played during the Second World War, it is clear what an important role contact with other navies and visits to foreign harbours have played - among others, with regard to the exchange of knowledge and expertise, fostering mutual understanding and respect, establishing co-operation in various fields, and providing relief and other assistance. From 1991 onwards, however, increasing emphasis has been on contact with African states.

Throughout its history, the SAN made a unique contribution with limited resources to South Africa's diplomatic actions - and also projected a positive image of the country to foreign countries; indeed, if one looks back over the history of the Navy's first 80 years, the role of the country's grey diplomats as unlikely ambassadors is probably the Navy's most significant and enduring achievement.

[NOTE]André Wessels, M.A., D. Phil., is Professor of History in the Department of History, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein. Prof. Wessels' fields of interest and research include military history (in particular the history of the Anglo-Boer War and the South African National Defence Force), post-1948 South African political history, and the history of post-colonial Africa.

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