Wager class Destroyers (1950)

Wager class Destroyers (1950)

south african navy South African Navy (1950-80)
SAS Jan Van Riebeeck (D278), SAS Simon Van Der Stel (D237)

Wager class joins South African Navy:

SAS Jan Van Riebeeck
SAS Jan Van Riebeeck after conversion (C.Haycocks)

On 29 March 1950, South Africa received its first destroyer HMSAS Jan van Riebeeck (former HMS Wessex), at the HM Dockyard in Simons’s Town, with the British High Commissioner Sir Evelyn Baring officially handing the vessel over to the Union Government. Nearly three years later, the South African Navy would acquire her sister ship HMS Whelp, which was commissioned into the South African Navy on 23 February 1953 as SAS Simon van der Stel, with the letters HM being dropped from the names of SA naval vessels in June 1952.

Both ships were units of the Wager class of fleet destroyers, which formed the 9th flotilla of the Emergency War Construction Program, which was constructed between 1943 and 1944. These destroyers were cheaper editions to the earlier J, K and N class destroyers built. The Wager class destroyers were fitted with guns and mountings, which were readily available and was strongly built. They were excellent sea boats and could operate their weapons in almost any weather. Wager class destroyers gave exceptional service, and most of those who survived the war would end up joining post-war fleets, one example being the South
African Navy.

HMS Wessex
HMS Wessex, which was transferred to the South African Navy and renamed HMSAS Jan van Riebeeck on 29 March 1950 (Imperial War Museum)


Armaments and Electronics

The main task of destroyers at the beginning of World War Two was to protect friendly vessels from enemy vessels, such as other destroyers and even submarines. To accomplish this, they needed heavy armament in the form of both torpedoes and guns. The Wager class were the last British destroyers to be fitted with 4,7-inch guns. They were fitted with four single 4,7-inch mountings, two forward and two aft. Working in conjunction with the guns the vessel was equipped with a combined dual-purpose HA/LA director with a Mk III range finder incorporated on the bridge.

Secondary armament includes two quadruple 21-inch torpedo launchers, one twin 40mm Mk IV Hazemeyer Bofors (one quadruple two-pounder pom-pom anti-aircraft mounting fitted in Wessex and whelp) and four twin 20mm Oerlikons. Anti-submarine armament includes two depth-charge throwers on either side of the deckhouse aft and two rails at the stern. The Wager class were also the first destroyers in its entire class to be fitted with a heavy lattice foremast with Type 276 radar.


The Wager class destroyers were powered by two Admiralty 3-drum boilers, which were positioned in separate boiler rooms, back-to-back, enabling the uptakes to be turned into a single funnel. The steam turbines developing 40 000 horsepower were arranged in two sets in a single engine room and drove two shafts through single reduction gears positioned in a separate gearing room abaft the engine room. These vessels could achieve a top speed of 36,75 knots and travel a total distance of 4 680 nautical miles at 20 knots.

⚙ Specifications: Wager class (As Built)

Displacement: Standard 1 710 tons, Full Load 2 505 tons
Dimensions: 110,60m x 10,87m x 3,51m
powerplant: Two shafts Parsons SRGT turbines, two Admiralty 3D +Melesco superheaters, 40 000 hp
Speed and range: 36,75 knots, 4 680 nautical miles at 20 knots
Armament: -Four single 4,7-inch QFSA Mk9 low-angle guns
-One quadruple 2-pdr pom-pom
-Four twin 20mm Oerlikons Mk12
-Two quadruple 21-inch Mk7
-Four depth-charge throwers
-Two depth-charge rails stern
Electronics: See notes, Radar type 276
Crew: 179

Wager class at sea

Two years after commissioning, the SAS Jan van Riebeeck was most appropriately selected to represent the SA Navy at the Van Riebeeck festival held in Cape Town in April 1952 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck at the Cape. After the festival, she underwent a refit in Simon’s Town before returning to Durban, the home port of the SA Navy in those days. During the latter half of 1952, she conducted a month-long cruise to East African ports, including stops at Diego Suarez, Mombasa and Dar es Salaam. In early 1953 she sailed from Durban to Simon’s Town, where she was laid up in reserve to provide a crew for the commissioning of SAS Simon van der Stel. This became the norm throughout their long service with the South African Navy.

In 1954, a little over a year after being handed over to South Africa, the SAS Simon van der Stel, under the command of M R Terry Lloyed, made a historic cruise to northern waters, which lasted nearly five months. SAS Simon van der Stel sailed from Durban on 14 July 1954, making her first stop in Cape Town to top up with fuel and supplies before heading to Walvis Bay. She proceeded to Freetown in Sierra Leone, followed by Dakar, before arriving in Portsmouth on 31 July 1954. After spending two weeks alongside the British battleship HMS Vanguard in Portsmouth, SAS Simon van der Stel also paid a highly successful visit to Rotterdam, being the first and to date only South African war vessel to visit the Netherlands.

After the visit to the Netherlands, SAS Simon van der Stel returned to Portsmouth and then proceeded to Londonderry in Northern Ireland before going up the Clyde to Glasgow, which was later to become home to many South Africans involved in the construction of three Type 12 frigates built there during the early 1960s. On the return voyage to South Africa, SAS Simon van der Stel escorted the newly acquired Ford class Seaward Defence Boat SAS Gelderland. The two vessels left Portsmouth on 21 October 1954 and after encountering bad weather with waves continually breaking over the bridge of the much smaller SAS Gelderland, the decision was made to visit the French naval port of Brest to wait out the bad weather before continuing.

SAS Simon van der Stel and SAS Gelderland continued on their journey, making stops at Lisbon, Las Palmas, Dakar, Abidjan, Pointe Noire, Walvis Bay, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth before finally arriving at Durban on 8 December 1954. SAS Simon van der Stel has covered a distance of 17 200 nautical miles and has been away from her home port for a total of 147 days. After four years in commission, SAS Simon van der Stel was decommissioned on 18 February 1957 and joined her sister ship in reserve.

Modernisation program

Whilst both ships were laid up, the striking power of the SA navy came under intense review. By this time, the rapid advances in submarine designs and technology meant the two destroyers were not as capable anymore of countering enemy submarines. The use of shipborne helicopters with anti-submarine capabilities would appear to be the answer; thus plans were drawn up to convert both ships into fast, helicopter-carrying anti-submarine escorts. The first ship to be taken in for modernisation was SAS Simon van der Stel, which was taken in hand by the SA Naval dockyard in Simon’s Town in 1962. SAS Simon van der Stel was recommissioned on 27 February 1964 when work started on the modernisation of SAS Jan van Riebeeck.

The conversion, which gave the ships unique silhouettes, included fitting a flight deck and a hanger for two Westland Wasp HAS Mk 1 helicopters for standoff weapons delivery. The main armament, four single 4,7-inch guns were replaced by 4-inch guns in twin Mk 19 mountings, one forward and one aft. SAS Simon van der Stel initially shipped a modified gun-director system, but this was later replaced by an Elsag NA9 fire control system, similar to that fitted in SAS Jan van Riebeeck during her refit. The operations room of each ship was also enlarged, and a great deal of new electronic equipment was fitted, along with new communications systems, with the Type 293 search radar and masthead being retained.

4-inch guns in twin Mk 19
4-inch guns in twin Mk 19 mountings at the SA Naval Museum (R.Ackerman)

On SAS Simon van der Stel all the secondary armament was removed and replaced by four single 40/60 Bofors, two fitted on each side of the bridge structure and two on the flight deck. Both depth charge rails were retained, as well as two of the four depth charge throwers. One of the two quadruple 21-inch torpedo launchers was removed in order to make space for the flight deck, the remaining torpedo launcher would be removed at a later stage.

During the SAS Jan van Riebeeck modernisation program the ship was fitted with the two single 40/60 Bofors on the bridge and two triple Mk 32 anti-submarine torpedo tubes on the flight deck in place of the two single 40/60 Bofors and would also retain the depth charge rails and throwers. At a later stage, SAS Simon van der Stel would receive the same modification as SAS Jan van Riebeeck with the removal of the two single 40/60 Bofors on the flight deck and the addition of two triple Mk 32 anti-submarine torpedo tubes, making both ships nearly identical.

SAS Jan van Riebeeck
SAS Jan van Riebeeck at the SA Naval dockyard in Simon’s Town (D. Harrison)

⚙ Specifications: Wager class (As Frigates)

Displacement: Standard 2,105 tons, Full Load 2,750 tons
Speed and range: 31,25 knots, same
Armament: -Two twin 4-inch guns in Mk19 dual-purpose mountings
-Two single 40/60 Bofors Mk9
-Two triple-barrelled Mk32 launchers
-Two depth charge throwers, Two depth charge rails
Onboard Aviation: Two Westland Wasp HAS Mk1 helicopters armed with:
Mk44 anti-submarine torpedoes
or Mk11 depth charges
Electronics: See notes, Radar type 293
Crew: 186-210

Wager class in reserve

Once the modernisation was completed for the SAS Simon van der Stel, the vessel remained in commission for just over a year before being placed in reserve in March 1965. This was due to a manpower shortage, brought about by the commissioning of three new Type 12 frigates (President class frigates) by the South African Navy. The SAS Jan van Riebeeck would also end up in the same position as her sister ship, after completing its trials in July 1966, being placed in reserve due to the manpower shortage, as a result of the new frigates being commissioned.

After spending three years in reserve, SAS Simon van der Stel was recommissioned on 17 June 1968 and joined the 10th Frigate Squadron, this however was short-lived and on 1 October 1968 SAS Simon van der Stel withdrew from frontline service and became an independent unit employed as a training vessel. Later in October 1968, SAS Simon van der Stel would visit Lourenco Marques in company with the SAS Kimberly and the SAS
Mosselbaai, where they took part in ceremonies, leading up to the unveiling of a Garden of Remembrance to the Voortrekker leader Louis Trichardt.

After numerous flag-showings and training cruises, SAS Simon van der Stel was finally decommissioned at sunset on 27 March 1972, with her role as a training vessel being taken over by her sister ship SAS Jan van Riebeeck, which has gone through an extensive electronic and general refit in March 1971 and being recommissioned for limited service on 12 April 1972. With South African Navy flag showings not taking place as often anymore the SAS Jan van Riebeeck would once again be placed in reserve in late 1975 after only a few years of serving as a training vessel.

SAS Simon van der Stel
SAS Simon van der Stel’s stern, anchored (Cape Times)

The end of the Wager class

By the time SAS Jan van Riebeeck was placed into reserve in 1975, the SAS Simon van der Stel had temporalty been reactived after its decommissioning. With only a skeleton crew, the vessel was escorted to Durban by the SAS President Kruger in early 1975, where it was planned to refit the vessel at the newly reopened Salisbury Island Naval Base. However, it was subsequently found that the general state of the ship was such that it would not be economically viable to refit the vessel.

In late 1976, SAS Simon van der Stel was stripped of all her useful gear before finally being scrapped by Sandock Austral at their Bay-Head yard. Despite her lowly end, her hanger structure eventually became a temporary paint shop at the yard, a sad reminder of a once proud ship. A few years later the SAS Jan van Riebeeck would also meet its end and be stripped of all her useful equipment. On March 1980 she was used as a missile target some sixty nautical miles south of Cape Point. Here she was sent to the bottom of the ocean in an exercise to prove the effectiveness of the weapon system fitted to the SA Navy’s new Minster class Strike craft.

The thirty-six-year-old vessel was torn apart by a single Skerpioen (Scorpion) surface-to-surface missile fired by the strike craft SAS Jim Fouche from over the horizon, which struck the vessel amidship leaving a huge hole. As a result of her light condition and the calm seas prevailing, it was necessary for additional participating units to engage her before she sunk. Her final moments above the waves obscured by dense smoke.

SAS Jan van Riebeeck after being hit by a Skerpioen missile 1980 (D. Collopy)

20/08/2022 By Reinhardt Ackerman

Read More/Src

Toit, A. D. 1992. South Africa’s Fighting Ships Past and Present . Ashanti Publishings (Pty) Ltd, pp. 193-200.
Wessels, A. 2022.A centuary of South African naval history.Naledi, pp. 95-99, 147-151.

President class Frigates (1962)

President class Frigates (1962)

south african navy South African Navy (1959-64)
President Kruger, President Pretorius, President Steyn

President Class:

President Kruger
President Kruger (Courtesy of P.Dubois)

Under the 1955 Simon’s Town Agreement, the South African Navy had to purchase modern anti-submarine frigates, coastal minesweepers and defence boats from Britain as part of the agreement to defend the sea routs around Southern Africa. With the acquisition of the SAS Vrystaat (Type 15 frigate) in 1956, the South African government continued with its expansion program by placing an order at the British yards in 1957 for the construction of three new modified Type 12 anti-submarine frigates or Rothesay class frigates as they would subsequently be known as in British service.

Specifications development

The Type 12 was designed for high speed, manoeuvrability, and good seakeeping. In total twelve of the Rothesay class frigates were laid down for the Royal Navy with the addition of two Rothesay class frigates built for the New Zealand Navy, six for the Royal Australian Navy under the designation River class and three build for the South African Navy under the designation “President class”.

The first President class frigate, “SAS President Kruger”, was laid down on 6 April 1959 at the Clyde yard of Messrs Yarrow & Company, Scotstoun, and was launched 18 months later, on 20 October 1960. The new frigate had the distinction of being the first major war vessel ever built to the order of the South Africa Navy. The second vessel to be laid down was the “SAS President Steyn”, which was launched on 23 November 1961 at the Linthouse yard of Alexander Stephen & Son. After the launch of the SAS President Steyn, the third and final vessel was launched on 28 September 1962 at the Cydeside yard of Yarrow’s at Scotstoun and would receive the name “SAS President retorius”. The arrival of President class frigates brought a close to the South African Navy’s extensive expansion phase and formed part of 19 new vessels acquired from the United Kingdom as part of the Simon’s Town Agreement.

Design of the President class

Armaments & electronics

As an anti-submarine frigate, the frigate’s main role was to search and destroy submarines.
The President class would achieve this with the use of two three-barrel Limbo anti-submarine mortars situated aft of the vessel. The Limbo mortar could fire the Mk 6 projectiles at ranges up to 2000 yards and was automatically aimed and fired by the hull mounted Type 170 short-range search and attack sonar. The Type 170 sonar would also work in conjunction with Type 164 target classification sonar and the Type 177M panoramic search sonar, allowing the vessel to detect and destroy submarines at a greater range and with more accuracy.

The main armament onboard the President class consisted of a twin Vickers 4.5-inch Mk 6 dual-purpose turret fitted forward of the bridge and was remote controlled by a Mk 5 Flyplane Predictor System which incorporated both optical sights and the Type 275 gunnery radar. The twin 4.5-inch mounting could effectively engage both surface and air targets and was also ideally suited for shore bombardment. With a maximum range of 10 miles, these guns were very accurate and could fire up to twenty rounds per minute per barrel. Further aft on the vessel a twin Mk V Bofors with its associated Type 262 radar was fitted to provide close range defence against aircraft.

Working in conjunction with the main armament onboard the vessel was the Mk 6M gunfire director which is used for calculating range and elevation for the main guns against moving targets. In order to locate potential target, the vessel was equipped with the Type 293Q combined air and surface radar, the Type 978 navigation radar and the Type 277Q height-finder. The vessel also carried HF/DF and UA3 electronic countermeasures, as well an Identification Friend or Foe Mk X antenna.

Mk 6M Gunfire Director
Mk 6M Gunfire Director at the SA Naval Museum (R.Ackerman)


When it comes to performance, the President class was fitted with two high power turbine plants using double reduction gearing to achieve low revolutions and maximum efficiency at high power. These two turbines produced at total of 30 430 horsepower and drove two shafts fitted with five bladed propellers which would allow for a top speed of 30 knots. With the correct weather and sea condition the President class could travel a total of 4 500
nautical miles.

Manoeuvrability of the vessel was very good due to the adaptation of twin rudders and the hull form, which was kept reasonably fine to assist in achieving high speeds. The vessel also featured a high freeboard and flared bow with a prominent half-raised forecastle to achieve lift forward. An all-welded hull was chosen for the vessel in order to achieve both lightness and strength and was partly prefabricated to enable rapid production.

Living conditions

SAS President Pretorius conducting Wasp helicopter recovery (Cameron Kirk Kinnear)

The President class became popular among the crew due to the habitability of the vessel being of high standards, especially when compared to earlier frigates. The vessel made provision for a cafeteria system, centralised gally system and well-appointed dining halls for the crew. The crew living accommodation was well illuminated by florescent lighting, each bunk had its own reading lamp and amenity points. A full air-conditioning system with a preset temperature was also installed to improve working conditions onboard the vessel.

It is also worth noting the President class was designed to operate under nuclear fallout conditions and were built in such a manner that all living and operational spaces could be sealed off from the atmosphere. To prevent contamination from settling, a pre-wetting system was installed, which when turned on enveloped the entire ship in an affective salt-water haze and would wash overboard radioactive particles that might have settled.

Rothesay vs President classes

The South African President class was different from the Rothesay class in that no provision was made for the Seacat system (British short-range surface-to-air missile) and instead shipped a twin Bofors Mk V with its associated Type 262 radar. The President class was also fitted with a later and more capable Type 177M hull-mounted panoramic search sonar in place of the Type 174 which is usually fitted to the Rothesay Class. In addition, a non-retractable fin stabiliser was equipped on the President class to provide a more stable platform for the ship fitted weapons and sensors due to the notorious Cape waters in which the vessels would have to operate in.

President Kruger after modernization (conways)

⚙ Specifications: President class as completed

Displacement: 2 170 tons standard, 2 605 tons FL
Dimensions: 112,78 oa x 12,5 x 5,331m ( feets)
Propulsion: -Two sets of English Electric double reduction geared turbines
-Two Turbo alternators
-Two 12-cyl Paxman Diesel generators
-Two Babcock and Wilcox controlled superheat type.
Output: 30,430 shp
Speed: 30 knots ( km/h; mph)
Range: 4,500 nmi ( km) at 12 knots cruise speed
Armament: 1x twin Vickers 144mm Mk6 Mod 1 Dual purpose mounting
1x twin 40/60 Bofors Mk5 AA
2×3 ASWRL Mk10 (Limbo, triple-barrelled) anti-submarine rockets
Electronics: (Based on Rothesay): Radar type 975, 977, 293, 262, 1994, 1978. Sonar 170, 174/177, 162.
Crew: 214

Career of the President class

All three President Class frigates formed part of the 10th Frigate Squadron and would conduct regular coastal patrols as well as participate in numerus naval exercises with the Royal Navy and other friendly navies as they rounded the Cape. The frigates also deterred territorial violations around South Africa and Southwest Africa and were also often called upon to assist those in distress in the surrounding waters of South Africa and to make mercy
dashes to outlying islands in the South Atlantic.

The first of these dashes occurred on 29 June 1966 when a message reached Cape Town by radio, from the South African weather station on Marion Island, communicating that the radio transmitting room and virtually all living accommodation had been destroyed by a fire. As a result, SAS President Kruger under command of Captain D K Kinkead-Weekes, which was on passage to Durban in company with SAS President Pretorius, was dispatched to the
island to render aid.

Besides patrolling local waters, the frigates was also frequently used to foster good relations with friendly countries. In November 1967 a South African Naval squadron consisting of the SAS President Kruger, SAS President Steyn and the replenishment vessel SAS Tafelberg, crossed the South Atlantic and paid a memorable visit to Argentine. Under the command of Commodore J Johnson, the squadron visited Puerto Belgrano and Buenos Aires, and exercised with the Argentine Navy destroyer squadron during the deployment.

A year later in 1968 the SAS President Pretorius, SAS President Steyn and the replenishment vessel SAS Tafelberg, would cross the Southern Ocean again under the command of Commodore J Johnson. On this occasion to visit Australia, the first since SAS Transvaal’s historic visit 17 years previously. As many South Africans and Australian officers worked and trained together during World War 2, the opportunity to meet the Royal Australian Navy at
home was welcomed.

During late January 1971 SAS President Kruger under the command of G N Green, had the privilege to escort South Africa’s first submarine, the SAS Maria van Riebeeck from Toulon in France. The SAS President Kruger had a particularly interesting cruise, making stop at a number of ports throughout the journey, including Luanda, Las Palmas, Lisbon, Naples, Augusta, Toulon, Gibraltar and Sao Vincente. On the return journey from Europe SAS
President Kruger assisted in towing the broken-down tanker Simfonia clear of “Danger Point” on 24 June. The vessel also acted as a guard ship for the Lipton Cup Sailing regatta held off Durban in July at the end of the return journey.

Modernisation program

Model of SAS President Kruger at the SA Naval Museum (R.Ackerman)

During 1967 the South African Navy commenced a modernisation program for its three President class frigates which were to be the most complex modernisation ever undertaken by the South African Naval Dockyard in Simons town. The first ship taken for modernisation was the SAS President Kruger on 29 January 1968, followed by the SAS President Steyn on 5 August 1969 and finally the SAS President Pretorius on 11 May 1971.

The conversion involved the removal of the forward Limbo anti-submarine mortar together with the twin 40mm guns, in order to install a flight deck and fully equipped hanger for the Wasp helicopter. The Westland Wasp helicopter onboard the President class frigates was used for anti-submarine warfare and could carry a Mk 44 torpedo or Mk 11 depth-charges.

A new fully enclosed mainmast was also constructed atop the forward part of the helicopter hanger to support a Thompson CSF Jupiter Long-range air-warning radar. The mainmast onboard President Pretorius received further improvement, being more streamlined and the size significantly reduced as a result of boiler smoke and fume dispersal problems experienced onboard the President Kruger and President Steyn. It is also for this reason the President Pretorius received a remodelled Leander type funnel which significantly changed her silhouette. The smoke and fume dispersal problem on her sister ships (President Kruger & Steyn) was eased by lengthening the funnel and extending the uptakes.

The boilers onboard President Kruger and President Steyn remained the same and continued to burn oil fuel while President Pretorius were converted to run on diesel fuel as well as her ballast tanks being converted to self-compensating fuel tanks.

Although the President Kruger kept the original Mk 6M gunfire director, gyro rate unit stabiliser and below-control unit, her sister ships (President Steyn & Pretorius) were fitted with a more modern Selenia Orion Gunfire Control System. The President Pretorius was also fitted with a modern optical director aft of the bridge. With the removal of twin Bofors Mk V anti-aircraft mounting, two single 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns were mounted on the
hanger roof, provision was also made to equip the vessel with four 12,7mm Browning machine guns.

Other improvements included the addition of two triple barrelled Mk32 torpedo tubes amidship for firing Mk 44 anti-submarine homing torpedoes, and the provision for electronic countermeasures & support equipment. A large winch was also installed for towing the Type 182 decoy, which seduces submarine-launched homing torpedoes fired at the ship. During the early 1980s President Pretorius received additional modifications, notably to the quarterdeck to enable her to lay mines and to transport new assault boats in place of the original whaler and 25-foot motor cutter.

Westland Wasp Helicopter at the SA Naval Museum (R.Ackerman)

⚙ Specifications: President class (as converted)

Displacement: 2 380 tons standard, 2 800 tons FL
Armament: 1x twin Vickers 144mm Mk6 Mod 1 Dual purpose mounting
2x 40mm/60 Bofors Mk9 AA, 4x 12,7mm HMGs (single mounts)
2×3 ASWRL Mk10 Limbo
Onboard aviation: Westland Wasp HAS Mk1 with Mk44 torpedoes/Mk11 Depth Charges
Electronics: See notes, Radar type 903
Crew: 236

The President Class at war

aft view NYC
All three President class frigates together with destroyer SAS Simon van der Stel in close formation (SA Naval Museum)

Between October 1975 and January 1976, two of the President class frigates, SAS President Kruger and SAS President Steyn, supported by the SAS Tafelberg (replenishment vessel) took part in Operation Savannah, the South African incursion into Angola. The frigates were tasked to patrol the Angola coast and prevent possible enemy landings, be available to evacuate South Africa Defence Force (SADF) personnel from Angola, provide naval gunfire
support if required and escort supply ships to the southern Angolan port of Lobito.

Under the command of Captain R D Kingon, SAS President Kruger Sailed from Cape Town on 5 November 1975 for Walvis Bay from where she sailed northwards under strict radar and radio silence due to the presence of Soviet vessels in the area. After three weeks SAS President Kruger was relieved by SAS President Steyn under the command of Captain A S Davis which had originally been scheduled for an operational visit to the Indian Ocean Island
of Reunion between 24 and 28 November 1975.

SAS President Steyn was involved in a particular daring mission when she rescued Brigadier Ben Roos, South Africa’s chief adviser to the FNLA (National Liberation Front of Angola), together with 25 other South Africans, off a beach near Luanda in pitch darkness after the collapse of the FNLA’s offensive in the north. Holden Roberto, leader of the FNLA had decided to advance and capture Luanda, a stronghold of the rival MPLA (People’s
Movement for the Liberation of Angola). Brigadier Roos strongly advised against committing all the FNLA troops to a narrow road flanked by swamps in the final assault on Luanda.

Roberto persisted and suffered a crushing defeat which led to the end of the FNLA participation in the civil war. Since the MPLA controlled most of the territory, it was decided the best way to withdraw them would be by sea. The pick-up by SAS President Steyn at Ambritzete, north of Luanda was set for 23:00 on 27 November. However, the road to Ambrizete was bad and it was not until 04:00 the following morning that Brigadier Roos and his men finally reached the pickup point and were able to signal the frigate. In the meantime, SAS President Steyn had cautiously navigated the coast in total darkness under radar silence, only using the echosounder for navigation.

Eventually vehicle lights would be sighted ashore at 04:24 and contact was made with Brigadier Roos a short while later. Three rubber zodiac boats under the command of Lieutenant R L N Erleigh, had been sent to the beach, assisted by a motor cutter and the frigate’s Wasp helicopter flown in daunting conditions by Captain Ben van der Westhuizen from the South African Air Force (SAAF). By 06:50, the daring operation was complete, and the frigate slipped away bound for Walvis Bay where she landed Brigadier Roos and his men before returning to the patrol area of the Angola coast, where the frigate remained until well into January 1976.

The loss of a President Class

Impact force between SAS President Kruger and SAS Tafelberg (R.Ackerman)

During the early hours of 18 February 1982, the South African Navy was dealt a devasting blow when the SAS President Kruger was lost in the South Atlantic following a collision with the fleet replenishment vessel SAS Tafelberg. At the time of the collision, the SAS President Kruger together with SAS President Pretorius were engaged in an exercise, protecting the SAS Tafelberg from the submarine SAS Emily Hobhouse.

The accident occurred while SAS President Kruger was executing a screen-reorientation manoeuvre in heavy seas with strong winds. SAS President Kruger turned inwards towards the SAS Tafelberg and crossed the replenishment ship’s bows, in an attempt to avert a close quarters situation, the vessel unexpectedly crossed the SAS Tafelberg bows a second time, which resulted in the two ships colliding.

The collision occurred at 03:51, as the SAS Tafelberg struck the SAS President Kruger, penetrating the port quarter of the vessel, aft of the hanger. A huge hole was torn into the side of the frigate. The two ships remained attached for about 30 seconds and then parted, with SAS President Kruger’s stern section dragging along the port side of the SAS Tafelberg. Of the 15-crew sleeping in Mess number 12 at the time of the collision, only two men
escaped death as the SAS Tafelberg sliced into the frigate and tons of water flooding the mess together with fuel oil from the ruptured tank.

Distress signals were immediately sent out following the disaster, with the SAS President Kruger signalling the SAS President Pretorius, that she had collided with the SAS Tafelberg and was sinking. The SAS President Kruger’s commander, Captain W J de Lange inspected the holed and heavily listing vessel and decided the risk of saving her was too great and gave the order to abandon ship at 04:36. The SAS President Kruger finally disappeared from her
sister’s radar screen at 05:29 and plummeted 3000 meters to the ocean floor.

SAS President Pretorius immediately commenced rescue operations and by 05:55, 30 oil-covered survivors had been rescued from the rough seas. The SAS President Pretorius was soon joined by the SAS Tafelberg and SAS Emily Hobhouse, whilst a SAAF Shackleton and two Super Frelon helicopters arrived at the scene and joined the search for survivors at 06:00. A number of civilian and naval vessels from both Cape Town and Simon’s Town also reached the area during the course of the day and continued the search for survivors throughout the night.

Of the 193 men onboard the frigate at the time of the collision, 67 were rescued by the SAS Tafelberg and 110 by the SAS President Pretorius, by 13:00. This would end up being one ofthe most dramatic days in South African Naval history since World War Two. In total 16 members lost their lives in the disaster, and despite an extensive search which continued until sunset on 21 February, only one body was ever recovered.

Life extension proposal

SAS President Pretorius post conversion (SA Naval Museum)

In order to keep the two remaining President class frigates operational, a new modernisation plan was proposed which involved stripping the vessels down to their bare hulls, rebuilding them and incorporating the latest in weapons and sensor development. The plan made provision for replacing the steam turbines and boilers with a diesel propulsion arrangement, extending the bridge deck to provide a larger flight deck for two Puma helicopters, and the complete reconstruction of the superstructure, mast, and funnel.

Planned armaments for the vessels included two single 76mm guns in superimposed position forward of the new bridge structure. In addition, Skerpioen (Afrikaans for Scorpion) surface-to -surface missile launchers were planned to be installed with close-in weapons and triple barrelled Mk 32 torpedo tubes.

Modernisation plans for the President class frigates would sadly not become a reality due to a lack of funding, ultimately leading to the frigates being decommissioned in the early 1990s. The decommissioning of the final President class meant the end of a proud era for the graceful President class frigates which were at the forefront of the South African Navy for more than three decades and would end up forming an important part of South African
naval history.

Read More/Src

Toit, A. D., 1992. President class. In: South Africa’s Fighting Ships Past and Present. Johannesburg: Ashanti Pubilshing , pp. 220-239
Museum, S. A. N., 2020. Facebook. [Online] [Accessed 22 February 2022]
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