Collection

Maritime Reaction Squadron (South Africa)

History

The South African Corps of Marines established on insistance of Southy African officers who had served in the Royal Marines, lead the establishment of the S.A. Corps of Marines on the 1st July, 1951, when he became the first Naval and Marine Chief of Staff, on the abolition of the post of Director-General of Naval Forces. In tribute to his services, De Waal Battery, the heavy battery on Robben Island, is named after him.

The South African Corps of Marines which began to function as a Corps in 1951, consisted of:

  • 8 Permanent Force Coast Regiments,
  • A Marine Technical Centre,
  • The Marine Branch of the Naval and Marine Gymnasium,
  • One Training Unit (PF),
  • Seven Citizen Force Coast Regiments including I and 2 Coast Regiments (CGA) and 4 Coast Regiment (DGA),
  • One Heavy Battery at Walvis Bay,
  • Two Light Anti-Aircraft Regiments,
  • Four Heavy Anti-Aircraft Batteries
  • Three Radar Companies

The role of the Marines was the Coastal Artillery, Anti-Aircraft and Radar defence of South African ports and coast, the Anti-Aircraft defence of other strategic points in South Africa and provision of Light Anti-Aircraft Artillery for S.A. forces in the field. In addition Marines, including the Active Citizen Force Marines were trained on water assault tactics and also in infantry patrolling and tactics. Marine complements were maintained on certain ships and the S.A.S. Simon van der Stel, was brought to South Africa by a crew containing a Permanent Force Marine complement. On occasion, small groups of Citizen Force Marines also accompanied naval vessels afloat. Brig. de Waal's object was to train a Marine Corps to the same standard as those of the Royal Marines and the United States Marine Corps.

The Marines were greatly favoured for ceremonial activities, owing to their striking dark blue service dress embellished with orange trouser stripes. They frequently formed the guard at Government House when the Governor-General was in Durban or Cape Town and also furnished a guard of honour for Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands on his visit in 1954. On Union Day 1952 they provided the Colour Guard for the Naval Colour at the combined parade held by all the fighting services at Kingsmead, Durban, when Brig. de Waal was inspecting officer and the parade was commanded by Commandant P. F. van der Hoven, O.C., 4 Coast Regiment, SACM. It is understood that the Governor-General of the time contemplated their constitution as a Household Corps in the manner of the Brigade of Guards, but that their disbandment prevented this. A detachment led by Comdt. van der Hoven, led the South African contingent in the Coronation parade in London in 1953.

By 1954 the Marines had been found to be functioning well and it was hoped to extend their functions to the manning of guns on defensively equipped merchant ships and the manning of coast defence vessels, such as the Gelderland (for which purpose officers would have obtained the Board of Trade Navigation Certificate). It was also intended to form fully integrated composite regiments where Coast, Anti-Aircraft and Radar elements were found at one centre, and for this purpose units were to be renamed "Marine Regiments", and the title of "Coast Regiments" being abandoned. A Marine band was established for the Fleet under the direction of Capt. Imrie.

The equipping of Russian battleships of the "Soviet Union" class with guided missile launchers at this time however, suddenly rendered counter-bombardment forces out of date and an unwarranted expense. Acting on advice from abroad, the authorities decided to abandon Coastal Artillery since it was felt there was no justification for the retention of the Corps and in the absence of the main function, the Marine Corps was disbanded on 1 October 1955. Anti-Aircraft Artillery reverted to the Army, and the Coast and Radar units were embodied in the Navy.

The last time the Marines were seen on a large parade was when the 1st Coast Regiment was disbanded and their Colours were laid up in St. George's Cathedral, Cape Town in 1955

Second creation. 1 Marine Brigade

The second marine force was formed in 1979 in order to enable the South African Navy to take a greater part in counter-insurgency operations. A brigade strength unit was envisaged and was designated as 1 Marine Brigade. However, training and operational units never exceeded one or two battalions in strength. The initial vision was for a fully sea-born amphibious brigade that could be deployed on operations in the southern Angolan and Mozambique regions / ports. However, budget cuts, a greater emphasis on land based raids into southern Angola by the SADF as well as the strong defensive capabilities of the major Angolan ports led to the original plans being changed. A more limited role role was envisaged, which included developing a force capable of providing beachhead protection to allow the extraction of special forces when required.

Furthermore, the Marines deployed Marine Companies which operated as regular infantry but were also responsible for conducting riverine patrols in the eastern Caprivi of the north eastern Border of South West Africa until 1988. Thereafter their role became that of conducting counter-insurgency operations inside South Africa while small Marine platoon sized units performed harbour protection duties using Namacurra Class Harbour Protection Boats (HPB's) in the major South African harbours.

The Marines also trained and fielded a small reconnaissance detachment between 1983 and 1989. Based opposite the submariners, within the same basin, within Simonstown harbour, they came under the direct control of the Marine Commanding Officer (and not with 111 Harbour Protection Unit (HPU) at the open anchorage boathouse) , they received infantry, airborne, diver, reconnaissance and urban counter meassures training from other army units within the SADF. A limited Marine amphibious landing capability, using Delta boat landing craft from SAS Tafelberg, was retained until the brigade was disbanded.

Establishment and Training

The initial officer cadre of the brigade was drawn from South African Infantry units as well as a number of officers from the Rhodesian forces. Senior NCO’s were selected from the South African Navy and Rhodesian Light Infantry squadrons. Officers were required to complete all SADF infantry training courses as well as specialised navy training courses for promotional purposes. Recruit training focused on regimental training as well as conventional warfare, which was then followed by rural counter-insurgency operations. After this training, some recruits moved into specialist fields whilst the majority were posted on a rotational basis to naval units and to operational deployments in South West Africa. Advanced training was carried out with 44 Parachute Brigade for conventional amphibious operations, with 4 Reconnaissance Regiment (See South African Special Forces Brigade) for small tactics amphibious operations and with 1 Reconnaissance Regiment in Durban for advanced urban counter-insurgency operations. Forward Observation Officer / Fire control training, involving directing ship's artillery fire onto enemy position targets from within enemy territory, was also regularly conducted with naval strike craft in northern Zululand. Brigade staff members were responsible for defining SADF amphibious warfare doctrine.

Together with the SA Navy and 44 Parachute Brigade, the Marines demonstrated their capability during a small amphibious exercise held during the negotiations on Angola and Namibia - Exercise "Magersfontein", in Walvis Bay in September / October 1988. It was referred to by senior Cuban officers as having convinced them that "the South Africans were serious" and certainly influenced the negotiations.

Operations

Operations included deployments to Sector 10 in central Owambo for counter insurgency operations as well as deployment in support of SADF and SWATF units during Operation Daisy in November 1981 and later SADF raids into southern Angola. Subsequently, the Marines were withdrawn from Section 10 and re-deployed to Sector 70 in the north east of South West Africa, where deployments were made from Wenela in the eastern Caprivi covering a 50 km land border with Zambia to the west and 200 km of riverine border to the east. The Marines occupied the most easterly point of South West Africa - a tiny island at the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe rivers, observing and photographing vehicle traffic crossing the Zambezi on the Kazangula ferry.

In combat dress the Marines were distinguished by a black beret, web belt and boots, worn with nutria brown fatigues. Early Marines were distinguished by being issued with the H&K G3 7.62 LAR as opposed to the traditional FN FAL used by the SADF. The G3’s were later replaced by the SADF standard R4 assault rifle and later R5s. It is rumoured that these G3’s were taken from an arms consignment captured when Special Forces and the South African Navy destroyed one ship and captured another in Namibe harbour in southern Angola. The G3’s being the Navy’s part of the bounty.

SAN Rapid Reaction Squadron

It is planned that this squadron will eventually be a battalion sized unit. Currently 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 an Army infantry battalion. Their role is very similar to the now disbanded Marines. However, it should be noted that this squadron has never had the same level of training and for a long time have been substandard when compared to basic infantry.