South African Navy Frigate, SAS President Kruger – 1982

Hartseer oomblikke is vasgevang en meer as 37 jaar gelede en heelwat sal steeds met hartseer terugdink wat hier plaasgevind het.
More than 37 years ago on 18 February 1982 the SAS President Kruger and 16 of the crew were lost at sea.

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The SAS President Kruger was a frigate of the South African Navy. She sank in 1982 with the loss of 16 lives after colliding with her replenishment ship, the SAS Tafelberg, in the South Atlantic. SAS President Kruger was one of three President-class type 12 frigates obtained by the South African Navy in the 1960s following the Simonstown Agreement with the Royal Navy. She was christened upon launch by the wife of Admiral Hugo Biermann; her home port was Simonstown, near Cape Town. On 5 August 1969, she was recommissioned after an extensive refit and modernization. She participated in various operations during the South African Border War, including the Ambrizete Incident. The aging President Class frigates were earmarked for disposal in 1978, with newer D’Estienne d’Orves class vessels scheduled to replace them. However the imposition of United Nations Security Council Resolution 418 put an end to both the sale of the replacement corvettes, as well as any refurbishment of the President Class frigates. On 18 February 1982, while under the command of Captain de Lange, the President Kruger was conducting complex exercises with the submarine SAS Emily Hobhouse, another frigate, the SAS President Pretorius and the replenishment ship SAS Tafelberg. The high-intensity exercises progressed from 6 am to 11 pm over several days, with different candidate submarine captains being given an opportunity of executing a mock attack against the Tafelberg. From 11 pm until 6 am, the ships followed a narrow zip-zag course that allowed the submarine repeated opportunities to engage the surface ships in lower-intensity exercises while the bulk of the crew rested. The frigates too were using the opportunity to carry out anti-submarine exercises, with each ship given a patrol sector ahead of the Tafelberg. The escorts were expected to patrol their areas in a random fashion, between 2,000 feet (610 m) and 5,000 feet (1,500 m) from Tafelberg. The President Kruger’s station was on Tafelberg’s port side between 10 and 330 degrees. The President Steyn had a reciprocal box on the starboard side. At approximately 4 am, the whole formation had to change direction by 154 degrees, a near complete reversal in direction. The frigates had to change direction first to maintain their protective positions ahead of Tafelberg on the new heading. President Kruger’s options were to turn 200 degrees to port, or 154 degrees to starboard. While the latter turn was smaller and tactically sound, it was more dangerous as it involved turning towards the other two ships. Critically, the officer of the watch (OOW) elected to turn to starboard, and initiated a 10 degree turn. A 10 degree turn had a larger radius and would take longer to execute than a 15 degree turn, thereby allowing Tafelberg more time to close on the ship turning in front of her. Partway through the turn, the operations room lost radar contact with the Tafelberg in the clutter. At that point, an argument ensued between the OOW and the Principal Warfare Officer over the degree of wheel to apply. The OOW was unable to recover the situation, and the bows of the Tafelberg impacted the President Kruger on her port side at the senior ratings’ mess. The President Kruger sank 78 nautical miles (144 km) south west of Cape Point with the loss of sixteen lives. A Westland Wasp helicopter, operated by 22 Squadron SAAF from the other frigate, rescued crew members from the water. A naval board of inquiry was commissioned, leading to a finding of a lack of seamanship by the captain and officers of the ship. The Minister of Justice introduced a retrospective change in law to allow him to hold an inquest into the death of one of the seamen. The inquest aportioned blame on the captain and PWO. However none of the officers was court-martialled. As a result of an international arms embargo against apartheid South Africa, the ship could not be replaced, and was therefore a great loss to the capability and morale of the navy for many years afterwards. The Navy’s prestigious ‘Cock of the Fleet’ trophy, which had been won by her ship’s crew in the annual rowing regatta, was lost with the ship.

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SAS President Kruger which sank in a collision with SA Tafelberg on the 18 Feb 1982

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Die seewind bring heimwee oorspronklik gedoen deur Sias Reinecke word meestelik vertolk deur Suid-Afrika se gunsteling panfluitspeler, Ryan Walt.

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“On 18 February 1982, while under the command of Captain de Lange, the President Kruger sank 78 nautical miles (144 km) south west of Cape Point after colliding with SAS Tafelberg in the early hours of the morning. The ship was involved in an anti-submarine exercise with another frigate, the President Pretorius that involved intricate manoeuvres around the Tafelberg. The bows of the Tafelberg impacted on the SAS President Kruger on her port side at the senior ratings’ mess, resulting in the loss of sixteen lives. A Westland Wasp helicopter, operated by 22 Squadron SAAF from the other frigate, rescued crew members from the water. “

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The following information was submitted by Steve Johns who was on the President Kruger at the time of its sinking. He kindly agreed to send in his story of the tragic events.

Diagram of collision between SAS President Kruger SAS Tafelberg on the 18 Feb 1982 near Simon's Town

SAS PRESIDENT KRUGER – 18 FEBRUARY 1982

On the morning of 18th February 1982 at approximately 0355B I was sleeping in my bunk in Mess 1.  I woke up thinking that the ship felt strange, then the “action alarm” sounded. I jumped out of my bunk and put on my Nutria uniform which was hanging next to my bunk. The “action alarm” did not sound for long although there was lighting in the alleyways.

I rushed to the Main Signal Office to collect my life jacket and on the way into the MSO I saw a number of ratings running up the alleyway from aft covered in black streaks, which I later realised was FFO (furnace fuel oil) . I put on my life jacket and went to the Ops Room which was where I expected command to be.

In the Ops Room I found only CPO Seyfret, who was picking up books and tidying the Ops Room. I asked him where the Captain was and he told me he was on the Bridge.

Going  through the Ops Room and up to the Bridge, I found my junior rating on watch standing next to the starboard signal desk. He told me that the tactical circuit was dead. I then listened on a headset, and as the circuit sounded live, I carried out a radio check with SAS President Pretorius.  We informed President Pretorius of the situation as instructed by the Captain.

As the ship already had a bad list to port  and all hands were being told verbally to muster on the forecastle as the piping system was not functioning, it was suggested that we move onto the starboard bridge wing with a portable radio, which we did after securing our books in the “meat safe” in the bridge. We were still in communication with President Pretorius.

The Engineering Officer had carried out an inspection below and on return reported to the Captain that there was nothing that could be done to save the ship. All hands were instructed to start abandoning ship, which was done calmly without any panic. The President Pretorius was asked to pay out her life rafts on lines so that they would drift towards us.

As my job is with the Captain, I was amongst the last to leave the ship. We had already secured the bridge wing doors and I remembered that CPO G Neil and some of his ratings were probably still in the Wireless Office, so I went back into the Bridge and called down the voice pipe to them to abandon ship. When he came on deck, we checked that all the communications staff were accounted for except for PO M. Whitely, who had been in Mess 12, asleep.

On leaving the ship we had to go from object to object to avoid slipping due to the very heavy list to port. I removed my shoes and the Executive Officer, Cdr RAS Myers advised all those left to go as soon as possible as he did not think the ship would float much longer. I stepped over the side into the water which was nearly level with the Flag Deck (the area “ringed” in white in the photo above.

I had seen two people in the water and knew I had a better chance of being picked up if not alone, so, as I could not see a life raft near me, I swam as fast as possible towards them, to get away from the ship in case I got sucked down.

The two people in the water were not wearing  life jackets. One of them was without a shirt and was full of oil, so I held on to them as I had inflated my life jacket .

Sometime later we were joined by Cdr Myers, who also was also wearing a life jacket, but had no light. We had found some floating debris, a piece of coffee table and a canvas type of cover, and we used this for buoyancy.

We kept on swimming towards where we thought we had seen a life raft, and eventually we were quite near to President Pretorius. I took out my pocket torch, which I had used to try to attract attention with earlier when we were too far away, and waved it in the air. After some time we were seen and a 20” signal projector was shone on us by President Pretorius.

Just before we were alongside President Pretorius, Cdr Myers let go and started to drift away. One of the ratings swam after him and brought him back, and we held on to him. Then a diver from President Pretorius was in the water with us, and asked if we were okay. I said the XO wasn’t and he helped him first into an empty life raft tied alongside the quarterdeck. Next went the two rating and then me, after hanging on to a rope dropped over the side, and being ducked and banged as the ship rolled.

It appears now, after reading some of the other survivors’ accounts, that we were in the water for approximately two hours before being rescued.

Also we were being coated with FFO (furnace fuel oil) from the ruptured fuel tanks as every swell crested over our heads while we floated in the water. It took a few days for my eyes to recover from the thick oil I had rubbed into them…

Afterwards there were some “flashbacks” and nightmares, but they tended to fade with time. I did spend some time later that year in a  Military Hospital with stress and anxiety, but in those day they weren’t really very clued up about PTSD, not even for those that went through some very rough stuff up on the Border. It was more just a case of take these pills and get over it!!

Steve Johns

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SAS President Kruger which sank in a collision with SA Tafelberg on the 18 Feb 1982 near Simon's Town

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Three President-class frigates were ordered by the South African Navy in the late 1950s following the Simonstown Agreement with the Royal Navy (RN). The ship that became President Kruger was actually the second ship to be ordered of the three sisters and was ordered from Yarrow Shipbuilders on 18 September 1957 with the name President Steyn. The government wanted the first ship to be completed to receive the name of Paul Kruger, the first State President of the South African Republic, and a strike at the Alexander Stephens and Sons shipyard delayed the laying of that ship’s keel. So she exchanged names with the first Yarrow-built ship which had already been laid down and became President Kruger.

President Kruger departed England on 27 February  and arrived in Cape Town on 28 March 1963 to be welcomed by the Minister of Defence J. J. Fouché and other notables.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAS_President_Kruger

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President Kruger together with two other ships of the same class, President Pretorius and President Steyn, was ordered in 1957 by the South African Government from the firm of Messrs. Yarrow and Company, Clydebank.
S.A.S. President Kruger, the first of the “President” class, is a first rat e anti-submarine frigate, designed for the detection and destruction of the most modern submarines.  With a standard displacement of 2,630 tons, a length of 370 feet and a beam of 41 feet, she is the largest ship in the South African Navy.

The anti-submarine armament consists of two three-barrelled depth bomb mortars aft, later to be supplemented by a Westland Wasp Helicopter which will be used to carry homing torpedoes for attacking submarines out of mortar range.

A very sophisticated gunnery system is installed for use against aircraft and ships. The armament comprises two 4.5 dual purpose guns in a twinturret, forward, and two 40 mm. A/A Bofors in a twin mounting aft.

Two boilers provide steam to drive the ship forward at a maximum speed of 30 knots. She is fitted with two five-bladed propellors and twin rudders , giving her great manoeuvrability.    En route to South Africa she called at Lisbon, Gibraltar, Las Palmas and Luanda.

President Kruger arrived at Simonstown on the 28th March and was welcomed by Mr. J. J. Fouche, the Minister of Defence.

The offcer in charge of the ship is Capt. M. R. Terry-Lloyd, S.M., S.A. Navy.
There is no doubt that the arrival of the President Kruger marks the beginning of a new era in the South African Navy.

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