The loss of CORNWALL, DORSETSHIRE, HERMES and HOLLYHOCK

The loss of CORNWALL, DORSETSHIRE, HERMES and HOLLYHOCK

Jacques
Jacques

April 7th, 2012, 8:01 am #1

Post-war politics in South Africa and Britain saw to the purging from history of the significant contribution made by the SANF (South African Naval Forces) and its little ships, as well as the 786 South African officers and 2151 ratings seconded and serving aboard RN warships during WW2. Until recently there had been virtually no recognition for the South Africans who lost their lives or were sent to POW camps after the sinking of EXETER and ENCOUNTER in the Java Sea, nor for the 62 men killed following the loss of the RN cruisers CORNWALL and DORSETSHIRE on the 5th of April 1942, the aircraft carrier HERMES and the corvette HOLLYHOCK sunk on the 9th of April 1942.

"The Official History of the South African Naval Forces during the Second World War (1939 - 1945)", an official government document was only published as late as 2008 - some 65 years after the end of the War.

Commander H. R. Gordon-Cumming
The Official History of the South African Naval Forces during the Second World War (1939 - 1945)
Naval Heritage Trust South Africa
Simon's Town
2008

ISBN 978-0-620-43276-4
352 pages. Illustrated, maps, index. Soft cover.

Available from the South African Naval Museum in Simon's Town or from the Naval Heritage Trust.

Regards,

Jacques

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Joined: August 9th, 2011, 1:08 am

April 7th, 2012, 11:31 am #2

Jacques, thanks for your post. I wasn't aware of the existence of this book.

fyi, a lot of casualty information on the various Royal navies is available on the excellent site www.naval-history.net. The April 1942 fatalities are listed at http://www.naval-history.net/xDKCas1942-04APR.htm. Using "find on this page" and "SANF", I got 65 hits, for casualties from Cornwall, Dorsetshire, Hermes and Hollyhock, and one for Birmingham. Fatalities for Exeter and Encounter are listed at http://www.naval-history.net/xDKCas1942-03MAR1.htm but none are marked "SANF".


Thanks again,

Rob
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Jacques
Jacques

April 9th, 2012, 7:04 am #3


Hi Rob,

Thanks for your response which allowed me to re-examine some detail about the men from SA killed or taken prisoner in the Far East. Unfortunately the available records can be very confusing because of the various ways in which a South African seaman could have found himself aboard a Royal Navy warship during WW2. To explain this, one has to go right back to when the South African Navy was born.

Volunteer naval organisations in the South African colonies had been around since 1885 but the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve - South Africa Division was only established in 1912, two years after Unification. In 1921 the South African Naval Service (SANS) was formed and a serious attempt was made to build a proper navy but due to the Great Depression, all acquired ships were returned to the Royal Navy and on the eve of WW2 the total strength of the South African Naval Service (SANS) was: no ships, two commissioned officers and three ratings!

The Seaward Defence Force (SDF) was established in early 1940 under the control of the Union Defence Force, to be responsible for all local naval commitments. Because of certain legal issues the RNVR(SA) remained under control of the Royal Navy and separate from the SDF. The SDF tried to attract experienced personnel from the RNVR (SA) and even offered better pay and other conditions but the response was still poor because most from the RNVR(SA) preferred the association with the Royal Navy and the chance of going to sea on its big ships. The fact that the "Seaweed Defence Force" came under the Army was also no attraction and the SDF had to look and compete elsewhere for its manpower. This it managed by recruiting retired Royal Navy or Royal Navy Reserve officers, SA Merchant Navy Academy graduates and seamen from various other sources, thereby quickly growing to 526 personnel manning 13 minesweepers and 5 anti-submarine vessels.

Expansion continued and the RNVR(SA) was eventually incorporated into a reorganised "navy", officially becoming the "South African Naval Force" (SANF) during August 1942. By early 1945 the number of South African Naval Force vessels had increased to 78 - a few modern frigates but the majority being converted trawlers and whalers manned by a largely volunteer force of 4 696 ratings and 504 officers. South African Women's Auxiliary Naval Service (SWANS) numbered 316. In addition, as I've previously posted, 786 officers and 2151 ratings were seconded to the Royal Navy. There was also a large number of South Africans who joined the Royal Navy or the Fleet Air Arm before or during the war, serving as full-time professionals, in which case they remained RN despite their nationality. It was also not uncommon for transfers to take place between SDF/SANF, RNVR(SA), RNR and RN.

The approximately 300 South Africans aboard CORNWALL, DORSETSHIRE, HERMES and HOLLIHOCK during April 1942 were strictly speaking still RNVR(SA) although listed as SANF. I've managed to find references to two SA individuals MPK aboard REPULSE when she was sunk, that of Lt.(E) L. Wood who was RN and Ordinary Seaman W.D. Adamson from the RNVR(SA). A photograph taken in Malta mid-1941 shows nine South African seaman aboard ENCOUNTER, all still likely to have been aboard when she was lost in March 1942 but I have no indication whether they were RNVR or RN, what their names were or their fate, except for Able Seaman Nelson Hefferman, who died as a POW.

Five South Africans served aboard EXETER at the time of the Java Sea battles - I only know of the 3 survivors who were sent to POW camps: C. Grenfell , J. Campbell and G. Tyler (Able Seaman G.O. Tyler RNVR(SA) witnessed the atomic bomb explosion while at Fukuoka 2, Nagasaki). Two South African DORSETSHIRE survivors were mentioned in despatches - Lt. G.M. Berlyn who swam from one group of survivors to another to keep their morale up and sick berth attendant C.W. Thorne who was honoured for his devoted service to the wounded when DORSETSHIRE was lost. (Again, not sure if these men were RN or RNVR)

During WW2 the SANF's efforts were concentrated on mine sweeping, harbour clearance and ASW in the Mediterranean and along the African coast. Of note are the Fairmile flotillas that operated offensively against the Japanese in Burma. During early 1945 units of the SANF were working up for deployment to the Far East but by the end of the War only the frigate HMSAS NATAL, the boom defence vessel HMSAS BARBRAKE, frigate HMS TEVIOT and salvage vessel HMS SALVESTOR actually saw service. The latter two vessels were RN but commanded and manned by SANF personnel. A total of 2 404 South African servicemen received awards for their service in the war against Japan.

Regards,

Jacques

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Jacques
Jacques

April 13th, 2012, 7:27 am #4

A number of SANF officers served as British liaison officers on ships of the exiled navies, particularly aboard submarines. Most South Africans are bilingual and able to understand Dutch so it makes sense that a few seconded officers and ratings would have found themselves aboard Royal Netherlands Navy ships during WW2. One such was Lt. Brooke Duffy who served on the submarine K-XV, here among her crew at the US Navy Submarine Base New London, March 1943.

http://www.dutchsubmarines.com/pictures ... otos_2.htm

I also have my suspicions about Lt. T.D. Vos, (an un-British but very South African surname) aboard O-19 during February 1943.

Regards

Jacques
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Felix
Felix

April 16th, 2012, 8:32 pm #5

I'd say that the statement that most South Africans were bilingual to be a bit off.

Afrikaners would be more likely to bilingual but the English group not so much so. Many Afrikaners would not easily serve with the RN, if the would serve with any navy at all. There were people from South African in the various Dutch armed forces, but those would have been mostly Dutch immigrants, who were still subjects to mobilization. Before the war a man had to complete armed forces service before immigration or placement abroad was allowed. It is well possible that this Lt Vos was one of those.

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Jacques
Jacques

April 18th, 2012, 3:30 pm #6

Felix,

With Lt. Vos (Royal Navy liaison officer) it was really just a shot in the dark. I have not been able to find out more about this man and it could well be that he was not SANF at all. An anglicised Hollander in the RN perhaps?

As for the rest of your comments, well...I'll accept a small element of truth in what you've posted but I cannot agree wholesale with your assumptions about South Africans, of their bilingualism or their willingness to serve in the Royal Navy, whether of British or Dutch/Afrikaner descent. The situation in SA at the time was a heck of a lot more complicated than most people understand but within the armed forces there existed a strong sense of unity with mutual respect and admiration between the two population groups. Wherever these men served they always very proudly presented themselves as South African and whenever the opportunity arose they did silly stuff together like playing rugby, Zulu dancing and singing "Sarie Marais". I'm not sure if the RN condoned or encouraged it but the number of group photos of South Africans taken aboard RN ships gives one the impression that they very much stuck together.

To relate this seemingly irrelevant topic to the war in the NEI, I'll quote from the memoirs of stoker Norman Macdonald (later Lt, SANF) aboard HMS DRAGON:

"When the invasion of Java became imminent the Dutch women were offered passage to safety in our ship. They refused, much to our regret. The South African sailors in our ship became the envy of the British seamen when they heard us speaking to the girls in Afrikaans!"

Bilingualism had been official SA government policy since 1925 and for high school students both English and Afrikaans were compulsory subjects. I will agree that Afrikaners were (and still are) people of the land and more likely to enlist in the army than any navy but quite a number chose to go to sea, received naval training aboard the SA Training Ship GENERAL BOTHA (named after the Boer hero) and ended up in British service (mostly in the merchant marine). Here I'm reminded of two outstanding individuals namely, Adolph Gysbert Malan (better known as Group Captain "Sailor" Malan - the famous RAF fighter ace) and Lt.Cdr. Hendrik Hugo Bierman (later Admiral and Chief of the SA Defence Force). Rather than not wanting to serve in the RN, it was more a case of the Royal Navy not wanting colonials, let alone non-British South Africans. The RAF by comparison was far more receptive and I have quite a list of GENERAL BOTHA-trained men that ended up in that service. Here are a few Afrikaners that I know of, that were accepted into the Royal Navy during WW2: Lt. Pieter de Kock (HMS GLENEARN), S-Lt. Ferdinand van Eysen MBE (HMS ARUM), Lt. H. De la B. van Alphen (HMS KEMPENFELT) whose grandfather was apparently a Dutch admiral and S-Lt. R. Franck who was offered a commission in the RAN after the war.

You stated: "Afrikaners would be more likely to (be) bilingual but the English group not so much so."

Again, not entirely so. It really depended on which region one was from or which profession one was in. For instance the commanding officer of HMSAS NATAL, Lt.Cdr. Hall was a mining official from Krugersdorp in civilian life, his First Lieutenant L. Alexander from Knysna, his Surgeon-Lieutenant R. Skea from Bloemfontein and his ASDIC officer Lt. Richards, a veterinary researcher from Deelfontein in the Orange Free State. If you know any of these places, you'd know that these men would have been rather fluent in both languages.

And while on the subject of the frigate HMSAS NATAL, I must mention her amazing feat when she sank U-714 on March 14, 1945. She accomplished this on her very first outing with her crew still in training, scarcely 3 hours after leaving the builders yard at Newcastle-on-Tyne!
Of course the Brits, to this day, still have a thing or two to say about it (like they always do!), claiming that their destroyer HMS WYVERN (sometimes spelt WIVERN) had done the deed and deserves the credit.

http://www.uboat.net/allies/warships/ship/252.html

Regards,

Jacques



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Jacques
Jacques

April 19th, 2012, 6:46 am #7

I've omitted Lt. Pieter de Kock's MBE and DSC. He was reported MPK while doing a beach reconnaissance in Sicily (aged 23 at the time). With S-Lt. van Eysen's, that make for two MBE's out of the four mentioned. Also, Bierman had an OBE and of course Malan had a whole string of awards. SATS GENERAL BOTHA graduates received a total of 53 awards for gallantry (one VC) along with numerous mentions in despatches. Out of the four South African winners of the Victoria Cross during WW2, three were seconded to British Forces.

Thanks to Mark C. Jones we can now confirm that Lieutenant Commander (Engineer) T.A. Vos was a Dutchman. He was the head engineer on the sub O-19 from September 1941 to 1 April 1944. He was a graduate of the Dutch naval academy (#2072).- an error thus on the dutchsubmarines website.

Late correction: It now appears that S-Lt. Van Eysen's ship was in fact the trawler minesweeper HMSAS ARUM which makes him SANF. HMS ARUM is a fictional escort vessel in the book "U-boat Hunter, Peter Rogers" by Bryan Perret (Peter goes to see at age 15 and single-handedly destroys the U-boat of evil Captain Von Schliegen who makes a habit of firing on survivors in lifeboats - not recommended reading)

Anyway, hope not too much harm done.
Regards,

Jacques


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Jacques
Jacques

April 21st, 2012, 12:41 pm #8

Felix,

With Lt. Vos (Royal Navy liaison officer) it was really just a shot in the dark. I have not been able to find out more about this man and it could well be that he was not SANF at all. An anglicised Hollander in the RN perhaps?

As for the rest of your comments, well...I'll accept a small element of truth in what you've posted but I cannot agree wholesale with your assumptions about South Africans, of their bilingualism or their willingness to serve in the Royal Navy, whether of British or Dutch/Afrikaner descent. The situation in SA at the time was a heck of a lot more complicated than most people understand but within the armed forces there existed a strong sense of unity with mutual respect and admiration between the two population groups. Wherever these men served they always very proudly presented themselves as South African and whenever the opportunity arose they did silly stuff together like playing rugby, Zulu dancing and singing "Sarie Marais". I'm not sure if the RN condoned or encouraged it but the number of group photos of South Africans taken aboard RN ships gives one the impression that they very much stuck together.

To relate this seemingly irrelevant topic to the war in the NEI, I'll quote from the memoirs of stoker Norman Macdonald (later Lt, SANF) aboard HMS DRAGON:

"When the invasion of Java became imminent the Dutch women were offered passage to safety in our ship. They refused, much to our regret. The South African sailors in our ship became the envy of the British seamen when they heard us speaking to the girls in Afrikaans!"

Bilingualism had been official SA government policy since 1925 and for high school students both English and Afrikaans were compulsory subjects. I will agree that Afrikaners were (and still are) people of the land and more likely to enlist in the army than any navy but quite a number chose to go to sea, received naval training aboard the SA Training Ship GENERAL BOTHA (named after the Boer hero) and ended up in British service (mostly in the merchant marine). Here I'm reminded of two outstanding individuals namely, Adolph Gysbert Malan (better known as Group Captain "Sailor" Malan - the famous RAF fighter ace) and Lt.Cdr. Hendrik Hugo Bierman (later Admiral and Chief of the SA Defence Force). Rather than not wanting to serve in the RN, it was more a case of the Royal Navy not wanting colonials, let alone non-British South Africans. The RAF by comparison was far more receptive and I have quite a list of GENERAL BOTHA-trained men that ended up in that service. Here are a few Afrikaners that I know of, that were accepted into the Royal Navy during WW2: Lt. Pieter de Kock (HMS GLENEARN), S-Lt. Ferdinand van Eysen MBE (HMS ARUM), Lt. H. De la B. van Alphen (HMS KEMPENFELT) whose grandfather was apparently a Dutch admiral and S-Lt. R. Franck who was offered a commission in the RAN after the war.

You stated: "Afrikaners would be more likely to (be) bilingual but the English group not so much so."

Again, not entirely so. It really depended on which region one was from or which profession one was in. For instance the commanding officer of HMSAS NATAL, Lt.Cdr. Hall was a mining official from Krugersdorp in civilian life, his First Lieutenant L. Alexander from Knysna, his Surgeon-Lieutenant R. Skea from Bloemfontein and his ASDIC officer Lt. Richards, a veterinary researcher from Deelfontein in the Orange Free State. If you know any of these places, you'd know that these men would have been rather fluent in both languages.

And while on the subject of the frigate HMSAS NATAL, I must mention her amazing feat when she sank U-714 on March 14, 1945. She accomplished this on her very first outing with her crew still in training, scarcely 3 hours after leaving the builders yard at Newcastle-on-Tyne!
Of course the Brits, to this day, still have a thing or two to say about it (like they always do!), claiming that their destroyer HMS WYVERN (sometimes spelt WIVERN) had done the deed and deserves the credit.

http://www.uboat.net/allies/warships/ship/252.html

Regards,

Jacques


I should also have added that Admiral Hendrik Hugo Bierman passed away, aged 95, on 27 March 2012. A brief bio can be read at:

http://www.navy.mil.za/archive/1203/120 ... rticle.htm

Regards,

Jacques
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Kerber
Kerber

April 24th, 2012, 6:02 pm #9

I've omitted Lt. Pieter de Kock's MBE and DSC. He was reported MPK while doing a beach reconnaissance in Sicily (aged 23 at the time). With S-Lt. van Eysen's, that make for two MBE's out of the four mentioned. Also, Bierman had an OBE and of course Malan had a whole string of awards. SATS GENERAL BOTHA graduates received a total of 53 awards for gallantry (one VC) along with numerous mentions in despatches. Out of the four South African winners of the Victoria Cross during WW2, three were seconded to British Forces.

Thanks to Mark C. Jones we can now confirm that Lieutenant Commander (Engineer) T.A. Vos was a Dutchman. He was the head engineer on the sub O-19 from September 1941 to 1 April 1944. He was a graduate of the Dutch naval academy (#2072).- an error thus on the dutchsubmarines website.

Late correction: It now appears that S-Lt. Van Eysen's ship was in fact the trawler minesweeper HMSAS ARUM which makes him SANF. HMS ARUM is a fictional escort vessel in the book "U-boat Hunter, Peter Rogers" by Bryan Perret (Peter goes to see at age 15 and single-handedly destroys the U-boat of evil Captain Von Schliegen who makes a habit of firing on survivors in lifeboats - not recommended reading)

Anyway, hope not too much harm done.
Regards,

Jacques

I have the book "Turns of Fate; the Drama of HMS Cornwall 1939-1942". It was written by Ken Dimbleby, who was born and lived in South Africa. He was educated at Grey High School and Rhodes University in South Africa. In the second world war he joined the Royal Navy as a volunteer because there was no conscription in South Africa. He had a four weeks' training at the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve base in Port Elizabeth. After the four weeks' training he went to Simonstown which was a Royal Navy base. After 3 days there he joined HMS Cornwall. The story of HMS Cornwall from then on until her sinking is told in the rest of the book.
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