South Africa Navy Reserve Force Units

Images & Information – Courtesy SA Naval Museum Simonstown


At times we are not mindful of the proud history, fluctuations and challenges that were agreed too, to be the Arms of Services we find in the SANDF today. As the threat, human factor and the military world transformed so did personnel numbers, military hardware and unit’s chanced. The SA Navy has an amazing history and both permanent and reserve units had to contribute to establish the Naval Power that is responsible for a modern era of sea operations. The Naval Citizen Force Bases originally formed part of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) (SA Division). The bases were used mainly for training during the war periods.

In the 1950s the SA Navy had 17 Naval and Maritime establishments. In 1957 the majority of training for the SA Navy (ACF) was cancelled in order to financially provide for the increased Permanent Force establishments. The SA Navy (ACF) structure was re-organised and as of 1 January 1958, nine of the establishments were closed. The remaining bases were SAS Unite (Cape Town), SAS Donkin (Port Elizabeth), SAS Port Rex (East London), SAS Inkonkoni (Durban), SAS Rand (Johannesburg), SAS Springs (Springs) and SAS Yselstein (Simon's Town).


The unit was established 26 April 1948 under the command of Cdr D.H. Owen, situated at Wemmer Pan, with 160 volunteers. The unit was declared a Naval Reserve Base in 1950 with 200 volunteers and was officially named SAS Rand. In 1957 an Anti-Submarine Warfare simulator was installed at the unit to further its training role. The unit also obtained its own diving tank and decompression chamber for diver training. In 1975 a Theta Class keel yacht was obtained for sailor training on the Vaal Dam. The unit celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1998 with remarkable accomplishments and six years later was decommissioned in November 2004.

Naval Reservists leave from Johannesburg station to Durban to undergo a training cruise to Cape Town on the minesweeper Bloemfontein and the frigate Transvaal.


A Naval establishment in East London was first started July 1921 with a company of members under the command of Lt J Jarvis. At the start of World War II a new Naval Base was build and in 1954 the base was officially named SAS Port Rex. During the times gone by the unit efficiently assisted with search and rescue missions of SAA Flight 406 and the Oceanos. The unit was decommissioned in Oct 2004.

South African Airways Flight 406, also known as the Rietbok Crash, was a scheduled passenger flight on 13 March 1967 that crashed into the sea on approach to East London, South Africa. All 25 passengers and crew on board were killed.

On 3 August 1991, the Oceanos set out from East London, South Africa and headed to Durban. She headed into 40-knot winds and 9 m (30 ft) swells. Usually there would have been a "sail-away" party on deck with musicians and British entertainers. While engulfed in a gale, the ship began taking on water after a main engine explosion damaged the hull. Powerless, the ship drifted in 80 knot winds and 30 feet seas, with flooding waters rising deck by deck within. A growing list developed, eventually taking the ship to the bottom.

Miraculously, all 571 souls aboard the Oceanos survived - a tribute to the courage and professionalism of the South African Air Force and ships. Helocopter crews opertating out of cape Town and Durban reportedly hoisted 225 passengers from the deck of this sinking vessel in conditions that were described as distressing. Private vessels rescued 346 more survivors from the ship's lifeboats.

South African Airways Flight 406, also known as the Rietbok Crash, was a scheduled passenger flight on 13 March 1967 that crashed into the sea on approach to East London, South Africa. All 25 passengers and crew on board were killed.

A Viscount 806, similar to the accident

South African Navy along with the South African Air Force launched a seven-hour mission in which 16 helicopters were used to airlift the passengers and crew to the nearby settlements of The Haven and Hole in the Wall), about 10 km (6.2 mi) south of Coffee Bay. Of the 16 rescue helicopters, 13 were South African Air Force Pumas, nine of which hoisted 225 passengers off the deck



The first so called Navy Unit in the Cape was the Sailors Company of the Cape Town Guard (1901 -1902). On 1 February 1905 the Corps of Naval Volunteers Unit was established in Cape Town Harbour. It moved to the Castle in 1922. From 1 July 1913 until 31 July 1942 the unit was known as the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve South African Division. In order to meet the training requirements during World War II in 1942 HMSAS Unitie was established. In 1948 the base was handed over to the South African Naval Reserve. In November 1954 the base was renamed SAS Unitie. This unite celebrated the appointment of Cdr Trunell Morom, the first female commanding officer in the transformed South African National Defence Force. In February 2005 the Active Naval Reserve in Cape Town celebrated their 100th anniversary.

Female commanding officer in the transformed SANDF.


The SAS Inkonkoni is a volunteer naval unit based in Durban which traces its origins to the Naval Volunteer Artillery (Natal) which was formed in 1885 to counter the threat of a Russian invasion. A popular legend had it that the unit was the first of its kind in the British Empire, but it seems that a naval volunteer unit was formed in Port Elizabeth in 1861 but that soon merged with an artillery unit.

Gun batteries were built on Back Beach, where Battery Beach is today, and on the Bluff and were manned by the unit until the end of WWI. Men from the unit were involved in action during the Anglo Boer war in the siege of Ladysmith and in the relief column. One volunteer, Lieutenant Nicholas Chiazzari, was the first non-regular to be awarded a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) by Britain. The Naval Volunteer Artillery later formed the Durban base of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, in which guise it performed sterling service during WWII providing basic training for recruits to the South African and Royal Navies. In 1954 the unit was named SAS Inkonkoni, which is the Zulu for wildebeest. The unit was decommissioned in Oct 2004.


In July 1921 a Company Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (SA) was formed in Port Elizabeth under tae commend of Lt NEJ Wells. In 1939 the Seaward Defence Force was formed and Lt Cdr GV Thomas appointed as officer commanding of the Port Elizabeth base. After the war the base reverted back to a Reserve Establishment. Until 1954 the base was known as the Port Elizabeth Royal Navy Volunteer Base South Africa. During 1954 the name of the base was changed to SAS Donkin, after Elizabeth Donkin in the wife of Sir Rufance Donkin who was the acting Governor of the Cape Colony during the arrival of the 1820 Settlers in Port Elizabeth. In 1974 a diving school was established and in July 1996 the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Naval Reserve Base.

Between 1939 and 1945 (Second World War a number of ships docked in the Port Elizabeth harbor for repairs and logistical support)


The very first office was the signals office at Naval Command. All they had was a filing cabinet and Mrs Smith was employed to do the admin work. It was called the citizen force component of Simon’s Town Naval Command which came into being on the 1st April 1965 and was called the C F component until the 31st January 1973, and then on the 1st of February 1973 the unit became SAS Yselstein. The name was chosen by Now Capt Martinelli after consultation with his friend the heraldic expert on the Navy Capt van der Merwe. Yselstein was the original name of Simon’s Bay. It was chosen because our units function as CF component was to man the gun batteries around Simon’s Town which was originally used as a winter resort to save the Dutch East India ships from the storms in Table Bay in winter. The first office was in the signals office which the unit shared with the signals people of Simon’s Town Naval Command. Most of the people who came to the unit initially were people who would have been on the strength of SAS Unitie who were living in the South Peninsula. The unit was housed in the East Dockyard, Warfare School, Scala Barracks and Log base before it was closed. The unit was closed in 2004 and now all that remains is an active Yselstein Association.

It is evident that the South African Naval Reserves played an essential role in the development of Naval Power in the South African National Defence Force. We salute all those who contributed to the voluntary and dedicated service.

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