South African Navy

South African Navy
South Africa Navy
Naval Ensign of South Africa.svg

South African Naval Ensign
Active 1861 – present[Note 1]
Country South Africa
Union of South Africa before 1961
Type Navy
Part of Department of Defence
Garrison/HQ Saldanha Bay, Simon's Town, Durban
Colors Green and White
Vice Admiral J. Mudimu
Emblem of the SA Navy
SA Navy Badge.png

The South African Navy (SAN) is the navy of the Republic of South Africa.




The South African Navy can trace its official origins back to the SA Naval Service, which was established on 1 April 1922.

The first ships acquired by the newly formed navy were HMSAS Protea (a hydrographic survey vessel), HMSAS Sonneblom and HMSAS Immortelle (both minesweeping trawlers).

Unofficially, however, the SAN can trace its history even further back, to the Natal Naval Volunteers (NNV), which was formed in Durban on 30 April 1885 as well as to the Cape Naval Volunteers (CNV), which was formed in Cape Town in 1905. On 1 July 1913 these two units were amalgamated to form the South African Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR).

World War II

In January 1940 a new naval unit, called the Seaward Defence Force, was formed. Rear-Admiral Guy Hallifax CMG, who had retired in South Africa from the Royal Navy, was appointed Director of the Seaward Defence Force.[1] This unit was to be responsible for operating the minesweepers, anti-submarine ships, and the other inspection and signaling duties in South African waters.

The Seaward Defence Force and the South African RNVR were consolidated on 1 August 1942 to form the South African Naval Forces (SANF).

Post-war development

On 1 May 1946 the SANF was reconstituted as part of the Union Defence Force and in 1951 the South African Naval Forces became the South African Navy.

The title of HMSAS (His Majesty's South African Ship) was changed to SAS (South African Ship) in 1952,[2] and the Crown in the SAN cap badge was replaced with the Lion of Nassau from the crest of the country's coat of arms in 1959, two years before South Africa became a republic.

The SAN also took part in the various internal and border conflicts of South Africa from the 1960s to the early 1990s, including the "Border War".

On 27 April 1994 the SA Navy together with the rest of the South African Defence Force (SADF) became part of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

Post 1994 Navy

Following the end of Apartheid in South Africa, ships bearing names of noted figures of White rule were removed and renamed after geographical names and less controversial figures in South African history.

21st Century

The current Chief of the South African Navy (SAN) is Vice-Admiral Rofiloe Johannes Mudimu.

A budget of roughly R1.8 billion ($230 million at 2008 exchange rates) was allocated for the Navy for the 2008–2009 fiscal year.

There are currently about 15 active vessels (of all types). It is planned to scale this down to about 12 in 2009–2010. Despite an updated fleet, the navy's capabilities are limited and it would have difficulty contributing to anti-piracy efforts off Somalia.[3] Currently the SAN plans to reduces the number of hours it spends at sea from 9000 in 2010 to 8000 in 2011. With the navy's current budget it will only be able to support one patrol frigate and support ship at sea at any given time. It is thought that such a deployment would deplete its current (2011) annual operational budget.[3][4]

Chiefs of the South African Navy [5]

V. Adm. Hugo Biermann, SSA SD OBE (1958–1972)
V. Adm. James Johnson, SSA SM DSC (1972–1977)
V. Adm. Charl Walters, SD SM (1977–1980)
V. Adm. Ronald Edwards, SSA SM (1980–1982)
V. Adm. Andries Putter, SSAS (1982–1985)
V. Adm. Glen Syndercombe, SD SMM (1985–1989)
V. Adm. Andries Putter, SSAS (1989–1990)
V. Adm. Lambert Jackson Woodburne, DVR SD SM (1990–1992)
V. Adm. Robert Claude Simpson-Anderson, SD SM MMM (1992–1994)

Post 1994
V.Adm Robert Claude Simpson-Anderson SSAS SD SM MMM (1994–2000)
V. Adm Johan Retief SD SM MMM (2000–2005)
V.Adm Refiloe Mudimu DMG SM MMS MMM (2005–)


Ensigns of the South African Navy[6]
Flag: St George's Ensign or White Ensign: Argent field defaced with a thin Cross of Saint George, Union Flag of South Africa in the first quarter.
South African Naval Service (1922–1939)
Seaward Defence Force (1939–1942)
South African Naval Forces (1942–1946) 
Flag: Argent field defaced with a thin Vert cross, Union of South Africa Flag in the first quarter.
South African Naval Forces 
Flag: Equivalent of St George's Ensign with Argent field defaced with a Vert cross, Union of South Africa Flag in the first quarter.
South African Navy 
Flag: Equivalent of St George's Ensign with Argent field defaced with a thin Vert cross, Union of South Africa Flag in the first quarter.  Azure Castle of Cape Town pentagon in third quarter containing Naval lion in Or
South African Navy 
Flag: Equivalent of St George's Ensign with Argent field defaced with a thin Vert cross, Flag of South Africa in the first quarter
1994 to present
South African Navy 

Current Fleet

The SAN is a small mainly littoral navy with limited blue-water operational capability.

The combat fleet (as at August 2011) consists of four Valour class frigates, three Type 209 submarines, two offshore patrol vessels (Sa'ar 4 class missile boats with their missile capability removed), three T Craft class inshore patrol vessels, two River class coastal minehunters and 26 Namacurra class harbour patrol boats. The auxiliary fleet consists of one fleet replenishment ship (AOR), one survey ship and three tugboats.[7]


There are roughly 5000 active uniformed members augmented by 1500 civilians and 1000 reserve members.

File:SA Navy Rank Insignia.gif
Current Rank Structure

Rank Structure

The rank structure of the SAN is based on the Royal Navy's rank structure.

Future Programmes

The South African Navy is at present considering additional acquisitions, although it is not clear when or if they will be funded:

  • Project Biro: A programme for the acquisition of 9 multi-purpose hull vessels as replacements of the current three T-Craft IPV and the three remaining strike craft. It is expected that these ships will be built in South Africa. To run in conjunction with Project Hotel.
  • Project Millennium: One to three multi-mission "strategic support ship", to be used for sealift, command and control, medical evacuation and humanitarian assistance and search and rescue. 200m LPD/LPH vessels contemplated. Likely acquisition cost based on a similar French design. Estimated €340 million per ship.
  • Project Hotel: Acquisition of a new generation maritime survey ship to replace the Hecla-class SAS Protea. To run in conjunction with Project Biro. Award scheduled for 2009. Ship to have a secondary OPV role and equipment fit.
  • Project Xena: A new class of 15 10.3m patrol boats and a command & control system for the Operational Boat Squadron of the Maritime Reaction Force (MRF).
  • Project Mapantsula: Acquisition of an "offboard" mine counter-measure system (autonomous underwater vehicle) for use by surface fleet. SeaOtter UUV shortlisted. Scheduled for completion: 2010.
  • Project Stanchion: Acquisition of an underwater signature measurement system. Phase 1 (the signal measurement system) scheduled for delivery December 2007. Phase 2 (magnetic treatment centre) scheduled for completion December 2009.
  • Unknown: Design and development of an indigenous OPV combat suite.
  • Unknown: Purchase of several deep-sea salvage vessels in 2011.

Future Ships

  • Offshore Patrol Vessel (3)

To be acquired under Project Biro. Replacement for remaining Warrior Class strike craft. Estimated to be between 80 to 85 meters in length and will be capable of carrying a helicopter, although it is unknown if it will be able to house one as well. They are to be armed with a 76 mm gun and light machine guns. No missiles are planned to be fitted at this time. The OPVs will also carry Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV).

  • Inshore Patrol Vessel (6)

To be acquired under Project Biro. Replacement for remaining T Craft vessels. Estimated to be between 53 to 55 meters in length. They are to armed with a 30 mm gun and light machine guns. No missiles are planned to be fitted at this time.

  • Small Patrol Boat (15)

To be acquired under Project Xena. 10.3m patrol boats to work in conjunction with the Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS).

  • Hydrographic Survey Ship (1)

To be acquired under Project Hotel. Replacement for SAS Protea. Will be similar to Biro OPV and establish a mobile hydrographic survey team.

Decommissioned ships

Naval Aircraft

Although the SAN does not operate any aircraft itself, aircraft used on ships or supporting the SAN are operated by 22 Squadron of the South African Air Force:

There is a planned programme to equip the frigates with UAVs to supplement the helicopters.


Naval Weapons Systems

Main weapon systems of the South African Navy
Alternate Text 1
OTO-Melara 76 mm gun system
(Photo: OTO-Melara 76 mm gun onboard the Sachsen Class frigate – F221 Hessen) 
non display Flag 4
Giat F2 20mm cannon
(made under licence in South Africa) 
MM40 Exocet Block 2
anti-ship missile.
(Photo: AM39) 

Other weapon systems include:


Navy Office

SAS Immortelle, located in Pretoria.

Fleet Command Headquarters

Located in Cape Town.

Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre

Located in a bunker at Silvermine[8]

Naval Bases

SAS Saldanha

Located on the West Coast and houses the Naval Gymnasium.

SAS Wingfield

Located in the Greater Cape Town area. Housing the Naval Stores Depot and workshops.

Naval Base Simons Town

The only remaining full Naval Base in the SA Navy. All combat units have been concentrated here in an attempt to curb costs.

The base also houses training facilities for the new frigates and submarines.

A Naval Dockyard is also situated here, although it is in the process of being privatised.

Naval Station Port Elizabeth

Provides support to the fleet.

Naval Station Durban

Naval Base Durban was scaled down to a Naval Station with the rationalisation of the fleet. Now provides fleet support.

Naval College Gordon's Bay

Training college for naval officers.

Naval Aviation

Aviation support for the South African Navy is provided by 22 Squadron of the South African Air Force.


The South Africa Marine Corps was set up as a sub-branch of the Navy in 1979, with the primary purpose of protecting harbours. Marines were also deployed at Katima Mulilo in South West Africa during the South African Border War, where they were responsible for patrolling the Zambezi River. The Marines also acted as regular infantry at the Border until 1988 as well as performing counter-insurgency operations inside South Africa. During township duties in the mid 1980's the detachment used facilities at SAS Rand in Johannesburg and on Signal Hill outside of Heidelberg. The Marines had an amphibious landing capability by operating from SAS Tafelberg and SAS Drakensberg. An elite company, named the Marine Amphibious Company (MAC), was formed to ensure the beach-head capability for landing large task forces.

The Marines trained and fielded a small elite reconnaissance detachment between 1983 and 1989, under the direct control of the Marine CO, they received airborne, diver and urban counter measures training from other army units within the SADF.

The Marines were disbanded in 1989, following a major restructuring of the Navy at the end of the South African Border War.

Navy Reserve

The seven old Navy Reserve units were closed down during 2006. They were modeled on the Royal Naval Reserve unit system.

A new Navy Reserve system was created consisting of roughly 1000 reserve posts. These posts are pooled and members drawn from them as needed to augment full-time units and ships' companies.

Naval Rapid Deployment Force

This force was created during 2006.

It consists of two operational squadrons.

Operational Boat Squadron

Equipped with Namacurra Harbour Patrol boats this unit specializes in riverine operations and boarding operations. Several boats of this unit are currently[when?] deployed in Burundi on peacekeeping duties.

Maritime Reaction Squadron

It is planned that this squadron will eventually be a battalion sized unit. Currently[when?] it consists of roughly two companies.

Members are sailors and use Naval ranks. They are trained in infantry combat up to company sized operations. They are also used for crowd control and conduct peacekeeping operations. During peacekeeping operations they are meant to augment and Army infantry battalion. Their role is very similar to the now disbanded Marines.

See also


  1. ^ Port Elizabeth Naval Volunteer Brigade that was raised in 1861


  1. ^ "NAVY, South African". Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa. 8. Nasou Limited. 1971. pp. 113–5. ISBN 978-0-625-00324-2. 
  2. ^ South African Navy – Unlikely Ambassadors
  3. ^ a b " South Africa: Navy's Frigates and the Somali Pirates". 2010-12-14. Retrieved 2010-12-15. 
  4. ^ Anton Kruger (2010). "SA's frigates and the Somali pirates". (Institute for Security Studies) (10): 8–9. 
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Du Toit, Allan (1992). South Africa's Fighting Ships: Past and Present. Ashanti. pp. Appendix E. ISBN 1874800502. 
  7. ^ SA Navy website - Equipment
  8. ^ "South African Navy (SAN)". 

External links

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