On 04 March 2011 the CEO of
the Robben Island Museum (RIM), Mr Sibongiseni Mkize, at
the opening ceremony of the restored heavy coast gun on
the Island, indicated that the World War II De Waal
Battery display incorporated an additional historical
layer to the already impressive set of products to Cape
Town’s world heritage and premier tourist site. This
added another diverse narrative of the Island’s rich
history which would be of interest to military tourists.
A squad comprising Maritime Reaction Squadron, Cape
Field and Cape Garrison Artillery representing past and
The Robben Island Museum
together with the Department of Public Works, the
Department of Arts and Culture, the SA Navy, MLB
Architects and ARMSCOR Dockyard all played a role in
restoring the De Waal Battery and the 9.2-inch No 3 gun.
Capt (SAN) Chris Dooner, SA Navy Fleet Logistics
Division, played a significant role in assisting to
restore the gun and as a result this working display is
able to traverse 360 degrees and elevate from -5 to 35
Since the inception of
international maritime trade the sea route around the
Cape has long been of strategic importance and coastal
defences have been set up, beginning with the Dutch in
1652. The sites of over 60 forts, batteries and
redoubts, dating from the Dutch occupation can be
identified around the coast of the Cape Peninsula, most
of them on the shores of Table Bay. Most were positioned
to defend the anchorage. Technology has since changed
from smooth bore cannon firing round shot to more modern
breech loading guns using streamlined ammunition, as
typified by the restored gun.
During World War II Robben
Island was fortified against attack by ships and
aircraft. A gunnery school was situated on the Island.
Naval control of the degaussing range (it demagnetized
ships hulls against magnetic mines) was operated from
the Island and in addition a separate naval control
station for the anti-submarine loop system was also
Col Lionel Crook, former
Deputy Director Artillery (Field) and the author of
“Island at War”, in the opening address of the ceremony,
indicated that “No 3 gun had a range of almost 30 km at
supercharge. It represented the peak of coast gunnery
development and remained so until coast guns were
declared obsolete in 1955”.
No 3 gun was manufactured
by the Royal Gun Factory at Woolwich, London, in 1901
and was first issued on 23 September 1904. It arrived in
the Cape in November 1940. It weighs 140 tons. Each
piece was brought to Robben Island from the mainland
using a barge specially constructed for this purpose.
The gun was erected by human muscle using only a hand
operated 20 ton gantry.
The restoration of No 3 gun
as well as the adjoining buildings, magazines and
bunkers will give tourists an insight into the coastal
defences on the island and around the Cape’s coast
during World War II.
While the restoration of
the De Waal Battery was underway the rich hidden history
associated with this period of the Islands emerged. This
included the Women’s Auxiliary Army Service (AS WAAS);
trained in coastal gunnery, the South African Women’s
Auxiliary Naval Service (SWANs) trained in anti
submarine operations and the Cape Corps Gunners who
fulfilled artillery as well as anti aircraft roles.
Ex SWANS Lucy Edwards and Jane Bates recall their
service on Robben Island during World War II whilst Gun
No3 looms in the background.
Attending the opening
ceremony were amongst others, several past service men
and women who had served on the Island during World War
II – Major General Graham Moodie (Ret), aged 99,
Commandant of Robben Island, Joan Rabkin, ex ASWAS,
SWANS Lucy Edwards and Jane Bates.
The Guard of Honour,
provided by the Maritime Reaction Squadron, Cape Field
and Cape Garrison Artillery regiments did themselves
proud by ensuring that the strong traditions and
commitment of the artillery, past and present, were
Anyone wishing to arrange a
visit to Robben Island to view the De Waal Battery
should contact the Robben Island Museum Media Officer,
Shone Khangala, on 083-628-3428.