n Journal for Contemporary History - South Africa's Naval Forces, 1922 - 2012

Volume 37, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0258-2422
  • E-ISSN: 2415-0509



This study analyses and evaluates ninety years of naval activity in South Africa. Although the Union Defence Forces of South Africa were established in 1912, the country's first permanent navy, namely the South African Naval Service (SANS) was only established in 1922. This article shows how in practice the SANS continued only in name from 1934 until 1939, and that when the Second World War broke out, South Africa had no warships. It then follows the establishment of the Seaward Defence Force (SDF) in 1939, how it was built up, became the South African Naval Forces (SANF) in 1942, and made a small but nevertheless significant contribution to the Allied war effort. It is shown how the post-war navy was drastically scaled down, but then gradually built up again to serve as guardian of the Cape sea route. The SANF became the South African Navy (SAN) in 1951, and acquired Simon's Town as its main naval base in 1957. The study indicates how political developments in the Republic of South Africa in due course impacted on the country's navy, leading to increasing isolation and eventually a mandatory United Nations arms embargo. The SAN's role in the post-apartheid South Africa is also discussed, with special reference to flag-showing cruises, and it is indicated how, after many years as a small-ship navy, the SAN regained its blue-water capability.

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