not only air traffic that was affected by the war. At sea
there was a dramatic increase in shipping around the Cape
and in the number of ships that visited the local ports. In
Cape Town alone the number of ocean-going vessels increased
from 1 784 in 1938/39 to 2 559 in 1941/42. Durban experienced
a similar increase from 1 534 to 1 835 respectively. Not surprisingly
the change in the movement of naval vessels was more pronounced.
From having only 10 warships visit Cape Town during 1938/39
the city saw up to 306 during 1942/43, while Durban's naval
traffic increased from 16 in 1939 to 313 in 1942. Approximately
400 convoys, 6 million men and 50 000 ships were processed
through South African ports.
- No 8 Flight
No 8 Motor
Boat Section became operational in Durban on 12 March 1942
with the arrival of R1 following a ten-hour voyage from East
London. This was the longest trip so far undertaken by a high
speed launch. The RN personnel stationed at the Port War Signal
Station on the Bluff reported her imminent arrival by saying
'here she comes like a bat out of hell.' The pilot who came
aboard and guided her to her berth was somewhat wary of the
sea keeping virtues of a 2 000 horsepower speedboat.
new to Durban, were required to establish a base from nothing
and on the first night had to have their meal at the BOAC
canteen. There were no mosquito nets in the quarters and the
men were severely bitten during the night, one man requiring
men who first formed
No 8 Motor Boat Section.
LA Lock (RAF)
Corporal AD Cooper (RAF)
of the various stations was often left solely to the officers
and men. They had no administrative staff or equipment and
were attached to the nearest Air Force Station for pay and
Salmon was the sole officer at No 8 MBS and it was proving
difficult for him to efficiently perform any task required
of him. He had to start up a new base, administer to its needs
and be a boat officer. To alleviate the situation, Corporal
PJJ Bailey was commissioned in April 1942. The new officer
spent a short while undergoing training at Gordon's Bay before
he returned to Durban as second-in-command. His strong technical
knowledge stood him in good stead as he honed his skills in
leadership and boat handling. On 9 May a Miss LL Wright reported
to the unit to take up the position of typist.
air force unit was at Stamford Hill, whereas the boat was
based at Congella. No telephones were available until it was
pointed out that a telephone was a basic requirement for a
unit such as the crash boats. No 8 MBS relied on the unsolicited
help of other units. Wing Commander Shenton, OC of the RAF
base at Congella provided an office in their new administrative
building, while the CO of 37 Flight SAAF allowed his Adjutant,
Lt Morkel, to take care of most of the general administrative
functions. The men had to run and maintain the launch and
clean and cook for themselves.
berthed alongside a dredger at the repair quay and the crew
had to continually clean and polish to remove the soot, which
descended from the surrounding shipping. The crew performed
all their duties under the strict and exacting eye of F/Sgt
Lock. There were no complaints, as they all expected that
proper arrangements would be made in time and meanwhile they
were there to provide a rescue service. It was a reasonably
isolated and hard existence, but this did not stop some of
the men creating their own entertainment, such as A/M WA Williamson
who took to swallow diving off a 30' high floating crane.
clear that the facilities at Congella were insufficient and
in any case the RAF required them. With this in mind, R1 was
navigated up the channel to Salisbury Island. On board were
Major Hesketh, Staff Officer Natal Command, Lt JD Barregar,
Organising Officer CFAD and Capt Salmon. The boat was moored
alongside the old tea room and the officers and men proceeded
to inspect the Sea Scout Hall and adjacent buildings.
seemed an ideal base as it would no longer be necessary to
navigate the long route through Maydon Wharf and access to
the harbour entrance was across a short stretch of open water.
The natural structure of the Island lent itself to the building
of jetties and slipways, allowing for the expansion envisaged
with the expected arrival of more boats.
demand for use of the Island came from all quarters. In June
1942 Capt Salmon was walking on the Island looking for suitable
places to build jetties when he came across Lt Commander Philmore,
Senior Naval Staff Officer and two naval architects. They
explained that they were looking for a site for a new slipway
and hanger for the Fleet Air Arm. The RAF were already planning
on using the channel as a mooring place for flying boats and
service craft and were preparing the sites. The possibility
of the navy moving in as well would only add to the congestion.
Arrangements were then made for the RAF and the SAAF to swap
jetties so that the SAAF and the navy would share adjoining
positions and could then share slipways. This plan was forward
to the C-in-C South Atlantic and it was only in December of
1942 that building commenced.
courtesy Guy Ellis
establishing a base on Salisbury Island in 1942, South
African Air Force Rescue operated from there there. Visible
in the background is the jetty at which the boats moored.
boat crew decided to take no chances and on 25 June they moved
themselves across to Salisbury Island. To short circuit the
bureaucracy, they decided not to apply for waterborne transport
and so had to make three trips in R1 to move all their possessions
and equipment from Congella to the island. Although everything
was reasonably shipshape by the evening, there was still work
to be done before the 40 NCOs and men would be comfortable.
all in very bad condition, consisted of a Scout Hall, a double
storied structure made of corrugated iron, with a boatshed
below and subdivided rooms upstairs. Next to this was a single
storied six roomed corrugated iron building and adjacent was
a double storied building made of malthoid and packing cases,
with a further eight rooms. There were a number of abandoned
outhouses and the whole area was over-grown and run down.
parties were formed, one with Lt Bailey and F/Sgt Lock and
ten men and the other with Cpt Salmon and Cpls Williamson
and Vairy and ten men. Cpl Cooper was in charge of the boats
and standby crews and was responsible for ensuring the work
parties were called to sea duty if the need arose. Cooper,
who was a member of the RAF, was subsequently posted on 1
March 1943 to Freetown and received a commission. He had been
an efficient, natural and well-liked leader and it was with
regret that his former colleagues heard that he had died of
pneumonia in Sierra Leone.
Rayverna was put to good use transporting materials as the
work parties cleaned up the camp. There were no sanitary facilities
and latrine trenches had to be dug and covers constructed
by the deckhands and shipwrights. Meals were provided from
the primus stoves aboard the ASRLs or off a small coal stove
that had been dug up behind the buildings.
surrounding bush and creepers were cleared, old fences, latrines
and chicken runs were demolished and unnecessary partitions
were taken down in the buildings. Capt Salmon approached the
Garrison Engineer Captain PLF Pearson who took an interest
in the affairs of the crash boat unit and cut through red
tape to ensure that building materials and the correct authority
was made available. A request to Gordon's Bay for more men
resulted in there being three shipwrights and two handymen
Lt PJ Bailey, R1 its crew and a party of workmen went up to
Congella to the new RAF station which was in the process of
being built. They selected an appropriate barrack hut and
proceeded to remove it from its concrete base, in six sections.
R7 stood by on duty while R1 was used as a transport vessel
to take the sectioned hut across to Salisbury Island. Once
erected on brick piers, it was realised that as there was
no means to build a concrete floor, official sanction had
to be obtained for flooring board. The hut stood unused for
three months until Lt Col Makepeace and Col Ross had personally
requested the necessary materials.
Col Makepeace Director Aerodrome Works (DAW) visited the unit
in September he was astonished at what had been achieved,
but also at the poor living conditions in which the men lived.
He requested from the Quarter Master General that immediate
improvements be made and estimated that £350 would be
required. This money was to be spent on sanitation facilities,
improved accommodation, workshops and the lengthening of the
tea room jetty.
the assistance of the DAW it was five months before some of
the more important facilities were provided. A pre-fabricated
ablution block had been built in Durban and was to be transported
to the Island on a new railway line over the causeway from
Fynnland. Although the building was completed in October,
it was only in January the following year that a very rusted
ablution block was delivered.
the water came from rain tanks, which toward the end of 1942
were drying up because of a dry season. The unit requested
piping and within three hours had connected themselves to
the RAF supply line next door, naturally without their neighbour's
Squadron SAAF, a torpedo/bomber/reconnaissance unit that had
been formed on 1 July 1942 had begun operating from Matubatuba,
north of Durban, in January 1943. The distance from No 8 MBS's
base, made it difficult for the crash boats to be effective
in the event of an aircraft ditching. Capt Salmon, flew to
St Lucia in a Supermarine Walrus to investigate the feasibility
of stationing a boat on the lagoon. Examination of the bar
proved that it would be far too risky to operate from there
and the idea was dropped.
a contractor, began work on the new slipway in December. He
also performed very useful general maintenance duties and
donated his scaffolding to the unit. This was used to create
an additional jetty at right angles to the catwalk to be used
as a ferry landing point. By 26 June 1943 R2 could be hauled
up the slip and arrangements were made with the RNAS that
the boats could be taken into their hanger to ease working
On 27 September 1943, R11 (hull 254) and R12 (hull 255) arrived
in Durban from America aboard the SS George P Garrisson. No
8 Flight collected the boats and serviced them in preparation
for allocation and duty. In the case of R13/20 and R15 (hull
258) either Air Force Station Durban or Gordon's Bay completed
the initial post delivery work.
advent of the submarine onslaught in 1942, the authorities
in Durban viewed every craft in their area of control as a
potential sub-hunter. Commander Gordon-Cumming, the OC of
the South African Naval Forces in Durban, made a request that
R1 be fitted with depth charges. His reasoning was that during
anti-submarine patrols, when a fix on a submarine was obtained,
the ASRL with her superior speed could rush in and make the
kill. It was perfectly feasible to fit depth charge equipment
to the boat, but the Director-General Air Force objected to
the launch being used for anything other than rescue work.
However, the CO SANF approached the local Fortress Commander
who issued instructions for depth-charge traps to be fitted.
military commanders were very concerned about the threat of
attack by midget submarines and felt that the crash boat was
the perfect vessel to combat these nimble craft. It was agreed
that the depth-charge traps would remain empty until an emergency
situation occurred. In addition, no anti-submarine duty would
be allowed to interfere with air rescue work, nor would the
launch be taken more than five miles out to sea on anti-submarine
patrols. Three double traps were fitted which allowed a total
of six charges to be carried - the maximum number permitted
without risking the boat's stability.
to the Nicholls yard for fitting on 6 May 1942 and lay there
until 11 May while the alterations were made. Not unexpectedly
orders came from Pretoria that the fitting of depth charges
was to cease immediately. The telegram read:
KRYG DURBAN FROM DGAF PRETORIA FOR BRIGADIER DANIEL
FROM BRIGADIER VENTER
DX 23/30 8/5 (NC10) C.G.S. HAS RULED THAT ALL CRASH
BOATS WILL ONLY BE USED FOR PURPOSES OF RESCUE. THE
SUGGESTION THAT THESE BOATS ARE ARMED FOR OFFENSIVE
ACTION CANNOT THEREFORE BE CONSIDERED
the end of any ideas to use the boats in an offensive action
and no crash boat ever fired a shot in anger.
in Durban from Cape Town on 28 June, under the command of
Lt MM Webster with 2/Lt J Plimsoll as second in command. R1
met R7 at the Harbour entrance and Lt Bailey went aboard to
act as pilot. Before R1 could return to the base she was ordered
to sea to investigate a report of a seaplane taxying up the
coast off Amanzimtoti. After a thorough search had been conducted
it was realised that R7 had been mistaken for a seaplane as
she sped towards Durban.
reports of aircraft ditched in the sea were unreliable. An
Anson was reported as having ditched 100 miles off Durban
and R1 was ordered to carry out a search and rescue mission.
Within four minutes of clearing the harbour, the crew of the
boat sighted an aircraft flying towards the Bluff and 15 minutes
later they received a message to say that the aircraft was
called out under the command of Lt Bailey after it was reported
that a Kittyhawk had crashed into the sea. The boat went to
a point 20 miles from the Bluff and carried out a thorough
search finding only an oxygen bottle floating on the surface.
No sign of the pilot or any other wreckage was found. Reports
indicated that the aircraft went in under power and possibly
hit the water at about 300 mph. A funeral service was conducted
two days later when both Durban boats took a party of 32 SAAF
officers and a padre to the sight of the crash at 16h00 on
7 July. Wreaths were cast into the sea and a bugler was meant
to sound the last post, but his severe sea-sickness prevented
this from happening. The other disaster of the day was that
both ferry boats were out of order and the padre had to be
conveyed to Salisbury Island in a planning dinghy. These dinghies
are very wet and unstable and the man of the cloth was thoroughly
wet when he was deposited on the Durban side of the channel.
of poor weather conditions, exercises and tests continued.
R1 commanded by Lt Bailey was at sea on 3 November carrying
out some tests with the Special Signals Corps 1½ miles
off the Bluff in Durban. The state of the sea prompted him
to call off the exercise, but before the order was given the
radio operator received a signal that they were to go to a
position three miles south-west of Karridene, and search for
a lifeboat that had been reported in the area. The crew experienced
immense difficulty as they battled against the sea, but with
the expert help of 22 Squadron Venturas they were able to
locate the lifeboat full of survivors.
alongside the small boat and the crew let it lie against the
stern of the ASRL in an attempt to provide some stability
for the transfer of the 32 shipwrecked men, who had been in
the lifeboat for seven days. The survivors consisted of 13
Free French Air Force personnel, two RAF officers and the
remaining 17 were made up from the crew and passengers. Seven
casualties were taken below and in the words of the war diary
'R1 bore her heavy load back to the harbour before a steep
following sea most excellently.' The survivors were from the
ship Mendoza, a Ministry of War Transport liner of 8 233 tons
sailing from Mombasa to Durban. The ship had been attacked
112 km east north-east from Durban, by U-178 (Kpt Z See, Hans
Ibekken). This was the closest submarine attack to any South
African harbour during the war and claimed the lives of 28
of the crew and 122 servicemen who were being transported.
in the method of operation was introduced in Durban to ensure
that the rescue launches could react quickly to a call for
help. Up to this point the boats had not been able to leave
port at night, or until the anti-submarine booms were lifted.
Ironically the increased threat of submarine activity and
consequently greater number of reconnaissance flights; heightened
the chances that aircraft would come to grief at sea. To ensure
that a crash boat was always available, one was stationed
every night, beyond the anti-submarine boom before it was
December 1942, Ventura 6107 of 22 Squadron ditched in the
sea 8 kilometres east of Umkomass, within site of the shore.
Two Kittyhawks of 10 Squadron, an Anson and a Battle rushed
to the scene to look for survivors. R1 was also despatched
as the crew of four had been seen to escape from the sinking
aircraft and all of them were wearing their Mae Wests. The
Kittyhawks located two of the crew and while one kept station
the other, using very lights, directed the crash boat to the
men in the sea. The pilot Major Brierley and one of his crew,
Sgt McIver, were picked up at 20h35. The search continued
for Lts le Roux and Wright who were reported by the pilot
to be within 500 yards, but they could not be found in the
growing dusk. The search was resumed the next day at 06h30
in very unfavourable weather conditions. There was a fresh
north easterly wind and heavy seas. An aircraft fired a very
light and when the boat arrived at the indicated position
a mutilated body was sighted. However sight was lost because
of the swell and the seas crashing over the boat. The search
was abandoned until, Lt Jacks, one of the Kittyhawk pilots
spotted what was thought to be a man in the water. He was
frustrated by the inability to communicate with the searching
crash boat and took drastic action. He fired a burst across
its bows but in doing so had lost site of the man and the
supposed survivor could not be relocated.
clear that the controller of the operations room at Coastal
Fortress Durban was not familiar with the standard arrangements
regarding air sea rescue procedures. He had not acted as a
command post or as a relay point for communications between
the aircraft and the boat. No attempt had been made to couple
the R/T and W/T communications. The Director-General of the
Air Force called for a re-issue of the instructions, the display
of these in operations rooms and the conducting of practice
sessions. These orders were only issued in April 1943, by
which time it was thought rather late to request an explanation
from the controller on duty at the time.
Durban crew their civic duty was of a more desperate nature.
R7 was despatched with a doctor on board to meet up with the
Admiralty tug Prudent, which was in the vicinity of Port St
Johns. The tug was on the last lap of an epic voyage from
French West Africa, with an 80-ton floating crane in tow.
A crewman had been seriously injured the previous day when
he fell from the crane onto the steel deck below. As there
were no medical supplies aboard either the tug or the crane,
the SAAF was requested to render assistance. Transferring
the doctor was made extremely difficult because the tug captain
would not heave to and allow the crash boat to pull alongside.
The doctor made his jump as the tug wallowed and the crew
of R7 saw first the inside of the captain's cabin and then
the growth on the underside of the tug. Once the medical attention
had been given the doctor was taken off and returned to Durban.
R1 went to the assistance of two RAF officers who had attempted
to land a Supermarine Walrus in the Maydon Channel. They had
unfortunately not retracted the undercarriage, probably associating
landing with gear down. As soon as the aircraft touched the
water it nosed over onto its back. The following day, March
9, R1 went to the assistance of an exhausted bather off North
days from 12 March, both R1 and R7 searched for survivors
of ships that had been torpedoed off the coast of Durban.
Severe weather conditions caused the return of the vessels
on at least one occasion.
crews were called out again on 14 March, when they received
a message at their night moorings at 01h45. Under the command
of Lt Bailey, the boat proceeded to a point two miles offshore
and six miles south of Margate, to search for a lifeboat.
Encountering heavy weather they stood out at sea to ride out
the storm. They were considerably thrown around and often
doused in tons of water, but as usual the little ship rode
the onslaught with style. Sighting a lifeboat off Palm Beach
at 09h00, the crash boat moved inshore and picked up 13 American
survivors off the ship James B Stevens, which had been sunk
by U-160. The men had been at sea in the lifeboat for seven
days but their boat had been well equipped and they were on
the whole, cheerful and healthy.
same month, two new boats arrived in Durban. R11 and R12 were
unloaded and towed from C Shed Point, to the base and R12
was put up on the slip. It was only on 1 October that work
was completed on R11 and the boat left the base on its first
test run. R12 was launched on 5 October at 14h15 and towed
to its mooring by R2. Two days later it left on engine tests,
which included speed tests off South Beach.
that occurred off Durban highlights the difficulties experienced
by the rescue services. The duty boat R12, was under the command
of Lt Brown when it was ordered to sea to search for survivors
of an aircraft that had ditched. As the launch passed north
pier at the harbour entrance a Harvard appeared overhead to
act as a guide. The direction indicated by the aircraft was
very different to that given in the original instructions,
but Lt Brown chose to follow the Harvard.
a short time the crew of R12 observed a Kittyhawk making short
dives over the sea, which indicated where they could expect
to find survivors. An inflatable dinghy was sighted and soon
after the crash boat arrived on the scene the airman was transferred
from his dinghy to the crash boat. The Coastal Fortress Operations
Room (CFOR) was radioed to request that a second boat be sent
to continue the search. As it happened R11 had only been launched
from the slipway earlier that afternoon and was being refuelled.
Within an hour the boat was at sea, allowing R12 to land the
survivor at Richetty Jetty on the Point, while R11 searched
for the other member of the aircrew. Although the rescued
observer had informed Lt Brown that he thought the pilot had
gone down with the aircraft, the search continued unsuccessfully
in fading light.
between boats and aircraft and in turn with the shore were
complex and unstable. The two launches maintained W/T communication
except for a short time when they attempted to establish an
R/T link with the searching aircraft. Because the two radio
systems could not be used together, R12 missed a very important
message on W/T from CFOR. This was that the sole survivor
had been located four and a half miles away from the last
reported position of the accident, which was the location
originally given to the boat crew. It was fortunate that the
Harvard guide had been so efficient, as the launch had not
received the message with details of the new crash site location.
It was clear that having aircraft on the scene was highly
important, as visibility was five to ten times greater than
from a launch and aircraft could cover a far larger search
area, quicker than could be managed by a boat.
ferry was extensively used and had broken down twice in its
first month of operation. A second ferry, the Lilmarie, a
30' boat capable of 12 knots, was purchased by the Defence
Department on 8 July 1942. Both of these boats were heavily
used and began to show signs of associated wear and tear.
A third ferry, Popeye, was commissioned on 19 February 1943
and this helped the transport situation considerably, allowing
two launches to run and have one under maintenance. In August
1945 the Chevrolet engine was removed from Popeye and the
hull was found to be in a bad state of repair, requiring a
month of rebuilding. The unit also purchased a fourth ferry,
the Walton, which was still running well, at the end of the
courtesy Guy Ellis.
© Dave Cooke.
of the SAAF crash boats were later taken over and operated
by the South African Navy. R9 was a Mark IV Miami class
boat and was delivered by her makers in 1943. She was
taken over by the Navy in 1969 and served until 1972
when she was disposed of and refitted as a tourist ferry.
Click image for an enlargement.
that had been stored in Durban were deteriorating. When R11
and R12 had been returned to Durban from East London in November
1945, they had cracked port and starboard forward inner engine
beds. Both boats had total running times of just over 300
hours. It was only in May and June 1947, that R11 and R12
were sailed to Gordon's Bay having accumulated 485 hours.
They were by now experiencing serious problems with the engine
beds, frames and fittings that had all deteriorated due to
lack of proper maintenance. Because R20 was in a reasonable
condition, she sailed from Durban a month later and was in
service at Langebaanweg by April 1948. R14 was returned to
Gordon's Bay in September 1947 with total running time of
356 hours. Similar to the earlier boats, there were some major
defects evident, such as fractured inner and outer port engine
beds. This boat was laid up at Gordon's Bay and was only sold
and Deryck Upton purchased six boats for an average price
of £500. Two known boats were R1 and R2. This boat was
ferried to Durban by Dougie Craig, who then skippered the
boat for Upton and Pinchen. He was the only fatality on the
Tracey Jon, a latter rescue performed by the new German boats.
These were to be used for fishing and were sailed to Durban
from Langebaan. The boats were christened, Isle of Capri I,
II and III, the Welkom, the Ooster and the Sea Joy. The boats
had been built with planking, a sheet of manedapolin cloth
and resin and white lead and then further planking, using
1½ inch screws to hold it all together. They required
continual maintenance as electrolysis took over and the screws
had to be replaced with rivets. When the rubber fuel tanks
were removed, labels indicating that aviation fuel should
be used were still in place.
resident of Durban was The Queen, a boat owned by a retired
Colonel who used it for fishing. It was extremely noisy and
smokey. He used the boat for a few years until one day while
fishing in calm seas she caught alight and sank. The crew
were all rescued by nearby fellow fisherman.
of Capri I sank at her moorings in Durban and as she was being
salvaged her back broke and she was broken up in May 1999.
A far more dramatic fate awaited Isle of Capri II. In 1972
she received a call to tow a boat from Richard' s Bay. During
the tow high seas came up. Heading into the sea her Skipper
Deryck Upton faced a monstrous wave. He went over the wave,
with the towline going through it, but could not keep ahead.
It crashed down on the stern of the boat and cut the isle
of Capri II in half. The crew abandoned ship and spent eight
hours in a life raft until picked up by a trawler.
of Capri III and Welkom continue to be used as pleasure boats.
Miami craft built to last only a few years continue to serve.
Isle of Capri III. Photo talken by Allan Jackson in
Click image for an enlargement.
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